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This review is from: Dispirited: How Contemporary Spirituality Makes Us Stupid, Selfish and Unhappy (Paperback)
Webster's book starts out slightly facetious, which I know has turned some readers off, but it manages very quickly to demonstrate the necessity for an intervention into the world of Mind-Body-Spirit writing. The spirituality movement is often considered harmless if kind of kooky. Webster is fair, I think, in separating out the merely vapid from the intellectually dishonest and dangerous.
Some of spiritualism's claims are easy to dismiss (correctly, I find) as trivial. Webster prefers to focus on the problems that come with being totally inclusive, even at the cost of serious philosophical/ethical contradictions. He attacks the idea of a "feminine essence" which pleases so many alternative healers and gurus, and exposes it for the regressive cliche that it is. Treading slightly more familiar territory but from a philosophical (not scientific) perspective, Webster shows how incredibly tenuous and meaningless the link really is between the scientific method (and literature) and the spiritualism movement. There are also considerations of what, exactly, "spirit" even means. Is it just a metaphor, or do fans of New Age have a particular meaning in mind?
In what I am certain will be one of the book's most misunderstood and misinterpreted passages, Webster writes of the challenge of dealing with the contradictions in a "conventional" religion like Christianity:
"In conventional religion, once you accept its fundamental tenets, you are challenged in two primary ways. Firstly, there may be beliefs, or doctrinal notions, that you find hard to believe. You cannot abandon them though, and have to enter into a reflective, thoughtful, possibly hermeneutic process to try and make sense of them. This is intellectually and personally demanding. It challenges you to take propositional statements, doctrinal beliefs, as serious and worthy of engaging with, no matter how painful and challenging that engagement becomes. Secondly, mainstream religion tells you what to do. This can be seen as negative, and certainly fits with widespread views of religion as a means of social control. But another perspective, not denying the potential for such a usage, is that religion demands that we resist, or at least seek to resist, our most selfish desires. If we follow a religious faith, with sincerity, we are challenged to do some very difficult ethical work: to put others first; to love enemies; to forgive those who do wrong; to cultivate humility."
This is not, strictly speaking, a defense of religion. Nevertheless, it does touch on something that is problematic within spiritualism in general: there is no "grappling with" anything. All ideas are welcome. You don't have to deal with contradictions. You don't even have to make much sense in conversation with someone who claims to hold the same principles as you do. In other words, there is something totally resistant to logic, reason or even common sense at the heart of the spiritualist vision which is bound to lead to intellectual laziness, selfishness and, indeed, stupidity.
author of Praise of Motherhood