Here's the thing. When it comes to spiritual matters--the existence of God, prayer, religion, spirituality, the soul, the afterlife ... no one knows for certain.
Is there a God? No one knows. You can say for yourself: I strongly believe in God, and I pray to such an entity. But objectively speaking, there is no definitive evidence.
Does prayer work? Same thing.
Is your religion the "true" one? No one can objectively say.
The same goes for spiritual matters as well, including the soul, and if there is an afterlife.
Materialism banks on this uncertainty. If it can't be measured, so say materialists (which includes atheists), it doesn't exist. Therefore, to materialists, the self, for example, doesn't exist. The soul doesn't exist. Consciousness doesn't exist. And, of course, God doesn't exist.
The two sides argue and fight and, occasionally, butcher one another, as though murder can prove their arguments. Both sides are responsible for hundreds of millions of dead. No one is blameless here. And still the raging and murdering continues.
Various religions war with one another, even within the same religion. Think Protestants versus Catholics. Pick whatever faith tradition you want--Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and on and on (and on, and on)--and you'll find sectarian violence within that tradition, never mind the hate and violence spewed towards those whose faith is completely different.
It doesn't change with materialists either. Theirs is a religion too, no matter how much they deny it, no matter how convoluted their arguments against that assertion become, no matter how many Ph.Ds they throw at it. Materialism has its own articles of faith, its own forms of worship. I strongly recommend the works of Keith Ward or Rupert Sheldrake for further study along these lines. There are others, many of whom come from a materialistic background. Do some research. Educate yourself. In a word, de-herd yourself.
Okay. Keep all of that in mind as I make my principal assertion, which is that we need to reject what I call "spiritual billionaires" and their messages.
What is a "spiritual billionaire"? A spiritual billionaire is a person who has, by hook or by crook (and often by many other devious and dishonest means), become famous and influential by espousing their own form of spirituality or materialism. They give big lectures to big crowds, be it in church or at a TED lecture. They write bestselling books, go on tour, appear on major talk shows, and advise other so-called movers and shakers.
Is Keith Ward or Rupert Sheldrake a spiritual billionaire? No, in both cases. Want some strong evidence for that? Here it is. It's entirely likely you don't know who either person is. Both are academics and writers, occasionally going on the road to lecture. Neither are concerned with fame or glory, with massive amounts of influence and cash. Both are humble and quiet men content to put out into the world their own truth and let it go at that. Should they hire big-time publicists and start writing books meant to appeal to the masses, as opposed to genuine seekers; if they start aiming for bestseller lists and dumbing down their arguments; if every time they appear they are surrounded by sycophants and cameras, you're looking at a spiritual billionaire.
Fame is a bitch. Humans gravitate towards those who are most visible, who, when they speak or appear, are surrounded by others. That can be a real problem, but it's especially pernicious these days, because far too often--in fact, almost every time--more truthful, more rational, more balanced, more compelling, more moral, more talented, more decent folks are ignored, drowned out, or trampled on as the herd clambers towards their chosen guru.
In this day and age, fame occurs because of two and only two reasons: cash and connections. If that guru is famous, it's one or the other that got them there, or both.
But cash isn't truth; and neither are one's connections to influential people who can boost you in the public's eye. Should Ward or Sheldrake begin utilizing either and start showing up on Oprah or The Late Show, I would likely dump their asses, because I'd know at that point that they sold out and are no longer worth listening to.
I hope you'd do the same.
This happens in a myriad of other fields as well. Think music and that band that was once truly great, but then they hit the big time and their music just fell off a cliff. It happens all over the place and in a hundred trillion different ways; but the result is always the same: the authenticity is lost. The truth and beauty that weaved it all together have been corrupted. Oh, they may be still there, and that makes it so much harder, because you can still see them amid the corruption, however weakly; you can still hear them or taste them or touch them. But the corruption is there now too, and so something quite profound has been lost. Once it is, it can never come back.
Consider as well the actual planetary, environmental cost pursuing fame and glory takes on the earth. The bigger you get, the bigger, the more massive is your footprint. That should be a major consideration for anyone who even pretends to have a moral conscience. How much will your fame or its pursuit cost the world? Far more, I'd warrant, than any message or idea puts back into it. The pursuit of fame and glory is a moral flaw. And the sheep who gravitate towards those who achieve either are similarly flawed as well. Only extraordinarily rarely does an individual achieve either organically, so rarely in fact that you'd have more luck walking into a Las Vegas casino, dropping a dollar into the big Mega-Bucks slot machine, and walking out after your first pull with the hundred-milllion-dollar jackpot. They are there; and perhaps they might be the exception to the whole "it's a moral flaw to follow them" bit. Maybe.
I can think of only one person who in the modern day has pulled off such a miracle (if you can call it that): JK Rowling. And look what has happened to her.
It isn't that Rowling doesn't deserve her viewpoint. She does. What she doesn't deserve is for her opinion to be so large, so daunting, so overwhelming. She has done actual, measurable, real harm with her anti-transgendered fascism, and she is unrepentant about that harm, continually doubling down on her latest rationalizations. Her message of inclusion and diversity, so obvious in Harry Potter, has been utterly corrupted and shown to be a heartbreaking lie. I very seriously wonder, as she was striving so hard for the big time, if that message back then wasn't completely different. I'm willing to bet it was. Regardless of whatever harm she suffered via sexual assault (I'm a sexual assault survivor as well), her own moral blindness is a separate issue. Again, I speak as a survivor myself.
Her message has been corrupted. Harry Potter has been corrupted as a direct result. I can't imagine how much pain she has caused to how many hundreds of thousands who once looked up to her, as I did.
Reject Deepak Chopra. Reject Wayne Dyer. Reject Eckhart Tolle. Reject Tony Robbins. Reject J. Krishnamurti. Reject any and all "prosperity gospel" preachers. Reject the Pope. Reject any and all white-lighty (New Age) authors, especially the biggies. Reject Richard Dawkins. Reject Neil deGrasse Tyson. Reject Daniel Dennett. Reject the Dalai Lama. Please.
Their messages, all of them, and all I haven't named, are corrupted. Start thinking for yourself. If you're looking for guidance, look for those who aren't clambering for the spotlight, who are concerned only with presenting their truth, their expertise, their own authenticity to the world, and are not aiming for the big time. That makes them harder to find by dint of their actions, yes; but it's more than worth it when you do find them.
Reject gurus, period. You don't need a guru. Gurus, however, always need a crowd. Fuck that. And fuck them.
On occasion, a quote from one of these spiritual billionaires shows up on this blog. Like I said, there are still sometimes strains of truth with them and their messages, and some of those are worth repeating. I take what I like and reject the rest. You should do the same.
The small and the authentic. Look to them for guidance. Whatever you do, don't wish fame for them or on them. This world is literally dying from the oversized and the outsized, from those who stomp around in world-sized shoes, trampling all life beneath them. We can do better. We must do better. Time is running out.