Separating Meditation from Faith is a Dubious Business

Separating meditation from faith is a dubious business, morally and sometimes in its effects

Article originally appeared in the Spectator

The chances are that by now either you or someone you know well has begun to practice ‘mindfulness’ — a form of Buddhism lite, that focuses on meditation and ‘being in the now’. In the past year or so it’s gone from being an eccentric but harmless hobby practiced by contemporary hippies to a new and wildly popular pseudo–religion; a religion tailor-made for the secular West.

I would suggest also that if mindfulness helps with mental health, then let’s not forget that so does organized religion. This ‘active ingredient’ isn’t some new miracle cure: it’s the same grounding effect that Christianity has, or Judaism, or any prayerful religion. We’ve all, over the years, seen studies show that religious people are happier, and that both meditation and prayer are beneficial to the brain. Mindfulness can join the queue. Seldon’s 21st-century boys may find it beneficial to meditate, but their 20th-century counterparts may have found it just as calming to sit in the chapel for morning prayers and just as bonding to sing hymns together.

Not everyone is strong enough to confront their inner self: in that case, meditation can be an affliction, not a therapy. That phenomenon is being studied at the so-called ‘Dark Night Project’ at Brown University Medical School, where Dr Willoughby Britton deals with the psychic disturbance that meditation can sometimes cause. And that’s of a piece with Buddhist as well as Christian understanding of contemplation; that you can undergo what St John of the Cross called the Dark Night of the Soul. The contemplative life, in Christianity, isn’t for everyone. It is understood that only a few, those with a vocation for it, have the strength to take it on.

Read entire article via Mindfulness is something worse than just a smug middle-class trend » The Spectator.

0 comments

  1. Scott@SkepticMeditations

    @David R: Agree. People often turn to meditation or religion for salvation: from evil, drugs, problems, suffering, life. Escape from suffering and life was a big reason why I originally took up meditation. Humans are funny that way. They want someone or something to “save” them.

    Meditation itself is not bad. Meditation is a method or tool. How one uses the tool or method and what one values in the process is what seems important. Cave-men prayed to fire, the sun, and probably even to to their useful clubs and spears. Human nature.

  2. David R

    I would suggest, though I don’t believe in it really, that meditation really has nothing to do with prayer and especially in Christian circles it is said that meditation can lead to states of possession and other unwanted experiences of a similar nature. Meditation involves stilling, or emptying, the mind in the Eastern traditions whereas in the western tradition prayer is simply using the mind’s vocal apparatus or subvocalism to talk to God and there seems to be a great difference between these two. That is, notwithstanding the Christian mystics. I don’t think it is just a coincidence that people turn to meditation in an effort to clean up their lives after alcohol usage and drug usage, almost as if meditation is supposed to bring some high better than drugs. How could that be a coincidence? Drugs are harmful and they alter consciousness, and so it seems, meditation is the same.

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