Newsweek misses the boat on spirituality in America

How can a major newsmagazine spend nearly 20 pages on a cover story about spirituality in America and shed almost zero light on the subject?

The magazine in question is Newsweek, in its September 5, 2005 issue. What could have been most interesting, the poll, was deeply flawed by poor design. They asked people to categorize themselves as religious or spiritual or both or neither, but never bothered to define the terms! They found that 29% of Americans reports they meditate every day—a ludicrously high number, doubtless inflated by people who thought they were “meditating” if they stopped for a minute on their way past the fridge to think about the girl at work. Although the poll asked people whether they thought God created the Universe (80% say yes!), they didn’t even bother to ask what kind of thing/guy/concept/force people thought God was.

Zen Buddhism does not fare very well at the hands of these feckless journalists. It’s mentioned just three times: once quoting a Time article from the 60s pairing Zen with drugs and psychiatry; a four-line definition, saying “rooted in Buddhism, Zen involves meditation in search of enlightenment. Practitioners often focus on apparently nonsensical questions called koans”; and a bizarre quote by a Jewish scholar claiming that “…Kabbalah…conveys the message that God’s power depends on humanity’s actions. God needs our worship. It’s the same impulse behind Zen Buddhism, Tibetan masters, Hopi Indians.” My goodness, how very confused we are.

Although I realize that neurotheology is not exactly in the mainstream, it still strikes me as odd that not once in 20 pages in a single mention made of the brain, especially since the article focused on the trend towards personal experience. Whether you believe God made the brain or the brain made God or something halfway in between, the brain is still key to this riddle.

One Response to “Newsweek misses the boat on spirituality in America”

  1. Alexander M Zoltai Says:

    Very good post!
    I’m putting a link to it on my “other blog”——the one I let myself get “personal” in…

Leave a Reply