An article on a $5-million grant to an academic atheist to study immortality and an advertisement for “Hope in a Jar” shared space in the L.A. Times this morning.  They stuck me as examples of how culture distorts and takes advantage of spiritual longings.

As someone who believes deeply in the eternal nature of life, I think that $5-million would be better used attending to the temporal needs of my 925 million hungry brothers and sisters around the planet. And, while it doesn’t surprise me that academics want to study this topic, it seems ironic that an avowed atheist who considers the afterlife unlikely is heading the project.

Spirituality for Sale Here

“Hope in a Jar” sells their moisturizer as a product that will help me “wake to limitless possibility” – capitalizing on my supposed fears of aging and death in order to sell products that I don’t need and probably contain chemicals that will do more harm than good.

The longing for hope in something beyond death is a shared human experience that needs to be treated with reverence, wonder and respect. I hope that academic integrity will guide the researchers to do that. I long gave up any hopes on the advertising industry doing their jobs with integrity.

Personally, instead of trying to change the culture, I am committed to critical ingestion of it–especially advertising that subtly play upon our vulnerabilities in order to convince us to buy stuff we don’t need. It’s also an integral part of my work with others.

For more on critiquing the culture see my colleague Michelle Lelwica’s blog in Psychology Today or the book I collaborated with her on: The Religion of Thinness. We need to educate ourselves and our children on being wise consumers of culture–to be in the world, but not blindly buying into all the distorted views of reality it offers.