Thursday, 7 September 2017


I read an interview recently with a comedian who had been through extensive drug use, multiple sexual relations and the rest of the celebrity lifestyle but had now supposedly rejected all that, settled down, married and found 'spirituality'. What did he mean by spirituality? He thought that traditional religion had been meeting a human need but there was too much bigotry in it, too much sexism, too much emphasis on sin and not enough on fulfilling human potential. He thought we were right to reject it on those scores but that our descent into secularism and materialism was not the answer. We needed a new big idea and, of course, he was going to provide it. He now believed in a higher power which we needed to get in touch with in order to find true meaning and fulfilment in our lives.

This sounds like the old story of the hedonist who no longer finds any pleasure in his previous satisfactions so needs to look elsewhere to find pleasure. He's not interested in spirituality because of a love of God or a desire for truth. He's not concerned with real goodness. He's not willing to sacrifice or serve or really submit to a true higher power. He wants that higher power on his own terms and he wants it while staying resolutely faithful to the values of this world which can't possibly be questioned. Spirit has to accommodate itself to this world in his eyes. The notion that it should be the other way round does not occur to him.

For so many people nowadays 'spirituality' is a lifestyle choice which they want to add to their other worldly possessions. It's an addition to their self image, adopted for purely egotistic reasons. Tell them that it means you have to 'take up the cross' and, like the rich young man, they will walk away. Tell them it means you must sacrifice and renounce and they will look at you blankly. They want heaven while staying firmly in this world. In my view they are further away from true spiritual understanding than an honest materialist. I know that some might say that this is a start but I don't agree. Truth is unlikely to grow from such rotten roots. This is just worldliness disguised as spirituality.

Does this comedian acknowledge the wisdom of the 'archaic' Ten Commandments? Does he renounce the sins of the sexual revolution? Does he accept the reality of evil and see its power in the world? I may be coming across as a bit of a Bible thumper here but just as some old fashioned Protestant religion could focus too much on sin and not enough on love so the modern 'spiritual but not religious' person focuses far too much on love, horizontally understood (i.e. not love of God which is the only real basis for the other kind), and not at all on sin unless that is understood as sins against worldly values or political correctness as it is known these days. He sees spirituality as something waiting there for him to take and make him feel happier as he is now and does not understand that it is something that requires a radical transformation on his part. He might be willing to engage in some kind of technique to get what he wants but he doesn't see that techniques belong to this world and can never get you beyond it. They might work on a physical or psychological level. They can never work on a spiritual one.

The fact is that modern 'spirituality' has no place for God, not the living God who is a Person, who has a will and a purpose. It might give him a token acknowledgement but he is not absolutely central, and he must be if spirituality is to be real and not dissipate into self-centredness and triviality. Yes, I know about Buddhism but the situation in the modern West is so totally different to that in the ancient East that I don't think it is applicable here. Besides, traditionally proper Buddhists were monks and lived a life of sacrifice and renunciation which the spiritual but not religious of today certainly do not do.

We must ask why God is persona non grata in so much spirituality of today, and the answer clearly is that the acceptance of God would mean you had to acknowledge something greater than yourself which was real, not vague like an unidentified higher power. Something to which you had to incline yourself and give yourself up to, holding nothing back. You could not have spirituality as part of your own personality. You would have to sacrifice that personality in order to have spirituality. And this the narcissist of today is not prepared to do.


Bruce Charlton said...

@William - Important point here. Even when I myself was a New Age kind of person, I assumed it was essentially a kind of 'technology' of this-worldly gratification; a way of making people feel-better about their mortal lives.

this is perhaps why New Age thinking always seems eventually to gravitate to one or another kind of 'healing'. For instance, I wrote the following before I became a Christian - it appeared in a 2008 book called Healing, Hype or Harm edited by Edzard Ernst

William Wildblood said...

The problem with New Age spirituality as I see it is that it is basically self-centred. It's the response of a worldly person who wants the gifts of spirituality without renouncing their intrinsic worldliness. So you could say it relates to the psychic world but not the spiritual.

Essentially it wants spirituality without repentance.