Religion in the media/Religion in the public discourse

The media likes to portray religion as as ugly, and violent, and exotic, and crazy, and nuts because that�s entertaining, or as trivial and ridiculous. Yet, in our modern world, there is still the need to seek the kind of belonging that comes with a spiritual community; there is a necessity to bring spiritual wares, practices and wisdom to the public culture, whether imam, priest, or minister.
  • Transcript


I find one side saying, “You can’t use the religion that way”, and another one saying, “Religion is stupid.” And that actually makes it very difficult to get into the social space. The intellectual marketplace of ideas is very, very difficult. So for example, I work a lot trying to enter the media, whether it’s . . . I’ve been on the Today show. I’ve been on O’Reilly. These kinds of pundit shows, you know, where you can offer a “spiritual intuition” to whatever the problem is. It doesn’t make a difference. It could be taxes. It could be the war in Iraq. And not a right wing or left wing. Not God is a Democrat or God is a liberal, but a spiritual perspective that kind of gets at the fears and the hopes of everybody as we talk about it so the conversation can be different. And I find that from the media’s perspective, what they really like is religion either to be covered as ugly, and violent, and exotic, and crazy, and nuts ‘cause that’s entertaining; or as trivial and ridiculous. And religion doesn’t have to be trivial and ridiculous like the Hitchens folk claim it is. And it doesn’t have to be violent, and coercive, and abusive like fundamentalists often wind up making religion. It’s a very difficult cultural space to find out . . . that’s on the Meta level. And then the most difficult thing on a personal level is it’s amazing how many people come at me when I’m giving a talk who will wait two hours to talk about how much they have been hurt, and yet how much they seek. And that combination – to be that hurt by a religious community and at the same time still seek religious meaning, still seek some kind of spiritual connection, and even seek the kind of belonging to a spiritual community – it is remarkable, but it is also really painful to just hear that day after day. I use the ecological model in understanding how wisdom traditions ought to work in the world today. And the ecological model, we need every single species. We don’t know which species that’s gonna be extinct was actually gonna be central in figuring out something that would enhance our lives on this planet. Well I consider ancient religious wisdom traditions much like species. We don’t know which ones are contributing exactly what to the unfolding of and the development of human beings on this planet. And the greatness of this moment . . . The greatness for America, the unbelievable freedom, and openness and permeability of at least intellectual and spiritual boundaries, the greatness of the technology that now allows us to speak across every institutional, and dogmatic, and theological barrier – every single one if we want – the greatness is people can bring their wares . . . you know their wisdom to the marketplace. And not only marketplace on the low level, but into the intellectual and spiritual tables that everyone can dine at. And we need them all ‘cause you don’t know which resource and which tool you’ll need when in your life. And I understand the danger in that. The danger is everybody will become a tourist. And being a tourist is different than living somewhere; and that’s different from being a pilgrim; and that’s different than being a pioneer; but each of us have our psychological and spiritual pre-dispositions towards being in the world in different ways. And the opportunity of this moment is to bring our wisdoms – everyone. I don’t care if you’re an imam, or a priest, or a minister, or . . . to bring your spiritual wares, practices and wisdom to the marketplace, to the public culture, to the public arena and offer it. And what’s great about this kind of freedom is it’s a phenomenal test to see if your wisdom works.

It’s scary for all religions, and that’s why some religions are freaking out right now; but it’s an unbelievable cleansing moment, because now we’re gonna have evidence-based spirituality. You know like evidence-based medicine. Now we’re gonna have evidence-based spirituality. Here’s the practice. Here’s the wisdom. Try it. Meditate on it. Reflect on it. Contemplate it. Use it. Does it work? Fine. If not, then you know what? It’s not gonna make it. Recorded on: 8/15/07