New Age Ego Booster

Meditation & Other Spiritualist Ways to Glorify the Self

A recent piece from Daily Mail1 reported a correlation between “spiritualist” practices, such as mindfulness, meditation, and reading spiritual auras, and the tendency to view oneself as “spiritually superior” toward other people. The Daily cited a study headed up by Professor Roos Vonk, who commented, “We find evidence for spiritual superiority among both mindfulness and energetic students, but more strongly in the latter group.” The study did not conclude that such practices were causal of these superiority complexes but did suggest a strong association. Vonk went on to point out that, theoretically, spiritual training is meant to cultivate wisdom and a transcendence over self-interest, although “it often turns out quite differently.” Instead of acting from a motivation to seek a real sense of humility, many people pursue these practices out of a desire to see themselves spiritually elevated over those who aren’t as “advanced.” This sort of spiritual superiority is subtle, since it often masks itself in piousness. In the study, they developed “scales” for measuring superiority by asking participants to respond to statements like “I help others whenever possible on their path to greater wisdom and insight” and “I am patient with others because I understand it takes time to gain the insights that I gained in my life and education.”

Paradoxically, those who affirmed these statements scored much higher in superiority than those without similar “training.” They were more condescending and smug towards people who had no experience with mindfulness or meditation practices. Even if the original motivation was wholesome, these side effects are often the natural result, said the researchers. Quote:

 “The road to spiritual enlightenment may yield the exact same mundane distortions that are all too familiar in social psychology, such as self-enhancement, illusory superiority, close-mindedness, and hedonism, under the guise of allegedly ‘higher’ values.”

Even if meditation practices are sold as spiritual and transcendent, this doesn’t insure them against abuse by fallen humans, who, as John Calvin once remarked, are capable of making practically anything a self-serving idol. It is easy to convince ourselves that we are being enhanced spiritually when really all we are doing is self-deceptively cultivating more self-absorption and pride.

Eastern and New Age spirituality has become a popular alternative to a generation disillusioned with institutionalized Christianity, but studies like this cause one to wonder if these alternatives are merely spiritualized methods of self-indulgence. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has pointed out that a strand of the American population, younger people in particular, operates under this therapeutic, vague brand of spiritualism. He calls it the “Oprah Winfrey” kind of spirituality. This new “religion” can be personalized to your own tastes and preferences, makes no real demand on you, and is ultimately just another method for attaining self-realization. In fact, it has been argued that New Age spiritualism, because of its pantheistic emphasis on the divinity of nature, is strongly correlated with narcissism and self-obsession. If “I am god,” such as the New Age thinker Eckhart Tolle might suggest, then it is no wonder how these spiritual practices so intensely bloat one’s ego.

Jesus spoke harshly towards those in his own day who used spirituality and religion to set themselves apart from other people instead of humbly connecting with the real God. They were the Pharisees, the teachers of the law, the “gurus” and “guides” who travelled the world to make a convert just to lead them into greater confusion. To this, Jesus brought grace, perspective, and truth. While He taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer as a model for daily use, he did not give them spiritual formulas or exercises, and called for total obedience to Himself if anyone wished to attain true life and identity. “Whoever finds his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Luke 10:39). Now that’s something to meditate on.


Peter Biles is the author of Hillbilly Hymn and Keep and Other Stories. He graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois in 2019 and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He has also written stories and essays for a variety of publications, including Plough, Dappled Things, The Gospel Coalition, Salvo, and Breaking Ground. He was born and raised in Ada, Oklahoma and is now Writer and Editor for Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture.

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