On paper, I have a lot of similarities with Anjali Kumar. We both grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, were raised in the Jain religion, and eventually left it. But while I’m an atheist, Kumar is one of those spiritual “Nones.” She doesn’t belong to an organized religion, but she does believe in a higher power of some sort.
In a talk for TEDWomen 2017, which just went up online, she explained her “failed mission to find God.”
About two minutes into the talk, she mentions how, as an adult, she was “spiritually homeless.” So she went on her search for God… and the rest of the 16-minute speech is all about that journey.
But it was really difficult to take her seriously after those first two minutes because I kept wanting to ask, “Why the hell are you wasting your time?” Kumar has this assumption that somebody must have the truth, and that truth must be in the realm of supernatural nonsense. So it might be amusing to hear her talk about meeting a shaman in Peru, a tequila-drinking medium, a guy who chants into her “chakras,” and a famous Brazilian faith healer, but it also makes her sound incredibly gullible.
What was she hoping to find by chatting with a variety of deluded people?
Kumar says a couple of times in the speech how her goal was to keep an “open mind,” but as the cliché goes, she was so open-minded, her brain fell out.
She didn’t need to go on a worldwide spiritual journey to discover that bullshit artists were full of crap.
For example, when visiting “John of God,” the Brazilian faith healer, she talks about how she’s allowed to act as a proxy for friends who can’t visit him, which is why her inbox was full of emails from friends listing things they needed fixed. While you’re rolling your eyes at all that, check out how she brings up her friends’ variation on Pascal’s Wager:
… they gave me full addresses, with, like, apartment numbers and zip codes, as if John of God was going to stop by their house and see them in person or send along a package. It was as if, in the highly unlikely event that their wishes were granted by John of God, they just wanted to make sure that they weren’t delivered to the wrong person or the wrong address. Even if they didn’t believe, they were hedging their bets.
This is the sort of irrational thinking that Oprah might celebrate, but reasonable people should ignore. I get that people need hope, and that some of them are desperate for help, but how the hell does a lawyer for Google throw all her education out the window and take a stack of emails to a charlatan in another country so he can supposedly make everybody’s problems better?
Kumar’s speech ends on a hopeful note, about how we all really want the same things and how we’re not so different after all. That’s nice. But reaching that conclusion didn’t require a spiritual journey to the middle of nowhere.
This is why it’s so frustrating when demographers lump atheists in with “spiritual” people who don’t belong to any faith, all under the umbrella of “Nones.” It muddies the waters. It makes no sense to lump people who know how to think critically with people who will believe damn near anything if it sounds good.