Soul Boom: Why We Need a Spiritual Revolution
Written by Rainn Wilson
Published by Hachette in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook
“Let me be blunt with you, dear reader. I know what you might be asking right now: ‘Why the hell is the actor who played Dwight on The Office writing a book on spirituality?’”
Rainn Wilson, known to Trek fans as Harcourt Fenton Mudd on Star Trek: Discovery (and Short Treks), as well as Lahnk in Galaxy Quest, or Frank Darbo in Super, believes that modern Western society is suffering from a plethora of pandemics, and he believes that the core solution can be found in two television shows from the late 1960s and early 1970s: Kung Fu and Star Trek.
As with all of us, Wilson the man is more than just what those on the outside see of him through his work. The actor went through a crisis of despair, addiction, depression, and suicidal thoughts in his 20s and 30s that brought him to a personal rock bottom, and his way out was found with the assistance of 12-step recovery groups and a personal spiritual search that led him to study the sacred texts and practices of a large number of religious and spiritual traditions from around the world, studying with Native American shamans, Buddhist monks, Christian priests, and many more. His quest ultimately led him back to the faith of his youth – the Bahá’í religion but with a broader understanding of spirituality, and an approach to faith that was more about asking good questions than about settling dogmatically on specific answers.
Wilson believes that the greatest threat of our time is a crisis of despair, brought about by a series of ongoing parallel pandemics that Western society is losing the resources to combat. These pandemics include drug addiction, anxiety, and depression, suicide, loneliness, isolation due to social media, racism, sexism, materialism, unjust economic extremes, nationalism and materialism, and climate change. Wilson does not believe that piecemeal political or cultural solutions can fully address the root causes of these overlapping pandemics, and instead points to a solution that is both ancient and ever-fresh: he says we need a spiritual revolution, a revolution that borrows its approach from the stories of Kwai Chang Caine (played by David Carradine in Kung Fu) and Captain James T. Kirk (played by William Shatner in Star Trek).
Kung Fu presented its protagonist with a series of dilemmas, week after week, which could only be solved by personal growth along his own spiritual path. At its core, Wilson argues, Kung Fu was about personal spiritual transformation. In contrast, Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek presented its protagonists with a series of dilemmas, week after week, which could only be solved by a diverse crew, working together to better the common condition of humanity. Wilson believes that a modern spiritual revolution must involve both personal inner transformation and an abiding commitment to the betterment of our common world.
There’s a lot to unpack in Soul Boom. Wilson peppers his text with quotations from religious and irreligious luminaries from throughout human history, talking with humor, intelligence, and compassion to committed religious believers, to apathetic skeptics, and to fervent nonbelievers alike. Along the way, he addresses the problem and possibilities of death, the God question, theodicy (the problem of why evil exists), the nature of the sacred, the thorny issue of religion(s), and many more potentially-divisive topics. But Wilson believes that all the good beliefs and believers (and skeptics and atheists) in the world have certain common, shared values and principles, and that attention to these commonalities, which he describes as a higher power, life after death, the power of prayer, transcendence, community, a moral compass, the force of love, increased compassion, service to the poor, and a strong sense of purpose, can lead humanity to spiritual and communal health. He even proposes creating a new religion out of these principles – he calls the religion “SoulBoomTM” – that he believes can heal our “broken blue marble” and guide us into the future.
If that sounds awfully grandiose, it kind of is, though Wilson takes care to puncture his perceived pomposity with frequent admissions of his own inadequacy as a religious guide. And if the description of his new religion sounds a lot like the tenets of his own faith, Ba’hai, at least Wilson recognizes and acknowledges that fact. It is sort of a given that if you go through the world’s religions, picking what you like out of each one and discarding what you don’t, what you end up with will always appear as though all religions are basically the same. In that case, you are the organizing principle. Of course, the proponents of each religion might well disagree with your choices of what’s important and what’s not in their faiths. But what Wilson has going for him are his wide reading, study, and practice, his cheerful optimism, and his willingness to concede that he might be wrong.
Trek fans, whether religious, spiritual, or not, will find much to enjoy in this book, as Wilson ties many of his points to examples from Trek series ranging from the ‘60’s to today. Atheists and agnostics will find some of their questions discussed with integrity and respect, and others of their questions dismissed quickly out of hand – and adherents to many of the world’s faiths will have much the same experience. But Wilson is an engaging and intelligent conversation partner, and it is probably best to see this book as an invitation to dialogue, rather than an airtight prescription for everyone.
Bottom line? Soul Boom is a fascinating, friendly, funny entry point to some of the most important and vexing questions facing human beings of any century. Wilson treats his conversation partners with respect, and even the deepest of his discussions is made with a twinkle in his eye. It’s a book that’s worth reading, especially if you agree with his diagnosis of modern society and its ills.
It is also available as an audiobook at Amazon on CD and Audible, read by the author.
Last week Wilson did a virtual TED Talk about the book, talking about spirituality and Star Trek.
Denes House is a lifelong Star Trek fan, Fleet Chaplain for Starfleet Command Quadrant One, a nationwide fan club, and serves as the Senior Pastor of New Beginnings C&MA Church in Poughkeepsie, NY.
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