Sunday, September 30, 2007

Teaching or Infomercial?

This morning I sat through yet another alleged spiritual teaching at the church where I play every Sunday. I will withhold the name of the speaker because I don't wish to create any kind of negative vibe with respect to the church, its attendees or my band-mates. Suffice it to say that today's speaker is a bigwig in the New Thought movement.

Let me start by saying that some of the concepts I generally hear espoused in this "prosperity" church are benign enough. The idea that there can be positive transformation in individuals and in society based upon raising consciousness through study, developing compassion, creativity, love, forgiveness and kindness makes good sense to me. I embrace progress, ethical behavior and generally spreading the good vibe in every possible way. But some of the ideas I hear strike me as overly simplistic; some lean heavily on what I call god-dependence; and some of the talk (especially today's "word") is downright insulting.

Today I was told that "I don't know who I am" because I'm an atheist. I'm supposed to be depressed, cynical and poverty stricken because I don't believe in a supreme being who knows all and sees all. Well, sorry; I'm neither sad nor poor nor ungrateful nor unethical. I simply don't have the evidence I would need to believe that there is some "it" out there to whom I must be devoted. I could be wrong, but I feel fine taking my chances by trying my best to behave ethically and to cultivate in myself the qualities that I feel will promote the greater good for myself and others.

Our evangelist proclaimed that every child comes into the world "with god" and it is only our society and educational system that drums godliness out of our progeny. That is exactly the opposite of what I observe and believe. Children come into the world without the need for some imaginary being that requires their obeisance in order for them to lead happy and prosperous lives. The prevalence of religion in our culture, along with depression, anxiety, poverty and misery should be proof enough that "giving it up" to some supreme being is no panacea. In fact, just the opposite may well be true. When people get strong enough in themselves to know that their happiness does NOT depend on anyone or anything outside of themselves they do not need to praise jesus or allah or any other "supreme" being.

The opening line of the advertising for this speaker reads:

No need to work hard, just be spiritually smart!

Let me get this straight: I just attend your seminar, buy your books and/or CDs, follow the 21 day plan and, bingo! all will be well? Talk about magical thinking. My experience as a sentient being tells me that progress in ANY area of my life requires work, hard work. It doesn't have to be unpleasant, though the task of, say, working through one's psychological terrain can certainly put one through some interesting emotional states. For example, becoming a competent musician requires many, many hours of focused work. I can't think of a single endeavor that is worth pursuing that doesn't involve hard work no matter how "spiritually smart" one becomes. I'm not sure what that phrase is even supposed to mean, even after hearing the "teaching" this morning.

The people I've met at this church seem to be pleasant, intelligent, peace-loving, good-humored folk. They really appreciate our music and that feels really good to me. They've been treated to some great musical performances, including today's gospel choir which killed, and they seem to know when it IS really good. The minister often speaks in ways that resonate well with me, though I do have issues with "christ consciousness" as a positive state of mind. In short, I like this gig; it doesn't really pay enough to do it if I didn't enjoy the experience.

But I just don't get how otherwise seemingly intelligent people can listen to some of the stuff we heard today and not see it as pandering and, yes, demeaning. That's a strong word, I realize. There was no hard sell today, like there was from the idiot who spoke the previous week (I can't waste pixels on that dude). But it was clear to me from the start that the underlying goal of the "teaching" was to get as many congregants as possible to attend the afternoon workshop. I'm sure some good might come from the things this person has to say. She certainly has a "motivational" personality and some of that energy might rub off on attendees. There may be some good advice on how to change one's habits in her seminar. I just wish I didn't have to hear how I'm god's favorite child and how devotion to him/her/it will be my salvation. I already possess the internal wherewithal to do the WORK I need to do to keep moving in the right direction.