The Love Guru

Some concern has been expressed from the Hindu community that the forthcoming Mike Myers movie, The Love Guru, is disrespectful of the Hindu faith. A recent story on is heartening in that people of faiths other than Hinduism are expressing concern as well.

This is hardly an isolated incident of how religious images, symbols, and language are appropriated within a popular culture context, usually for entertainment purposes. Several members of R.E.M. joined up with Warren Zevon before he died to record an album under the name of the “Hindu Love Gods.” Meanwhile, zen has for quite some time now been represented in popular culture in ways that have little to do with Buddhist meditation: think of books with titles like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance or Zen and the Art of Making a Living.

Lest we think that westerners are just colonizing eastern spiritual culture, remember how Madonna came roaring onto the pop culture landscape, bedecked with crucifixes and rosaries — basically using Catholic paraphernalia to forge her quite secular image.

Is this some sort of postmodern thing, where the externalities of religion have become fodder for a self-referential civilization bent on using any kind of cultural detritus to forge meaning, identity, or entertainment? Or is something more sinister at work: how market forces in a consumerist economy relentlessly deconstruct anything in pursuit of a quick laugh or a startling image, all in the pursuit of nothing more noble than ratings or dollars?

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  1. The lines both ways are being blurred so that the authenticity of the sacred is ever harder to discern. Rock and roll and mass entertainment tactics are serving as the medium of delivering Christian messages all over the US in the “megachurches.” My mother told me of her creepy Easter experience in a North Georgia Methodist church that she attended for the first time. She said this is one of three churches in Georgia started and preached by the son of a well-known radio preacher. She got to the megachurch late, so she and my sister sat in the kiddies’ room where she watched the service on a screen. The band was loud with guitars and movie screens showed the lyrics Karaoke-style. When the preacher presented himself to speak, he was a HOLOGRAM! Allegedly he preaches in the flesh at one of the three churches, and the other two are holographic images and recordings. She said she didn’t know what was real and what was a virtual image as she sat in the adjacent room watching it all on yet another medium. Her comment was, “Well, it’s good that it’s drawing so many to hear the Lord’s message, but I just didn’t feel anything.”

    My reply to her was Marshall McLuhan’s quote, “The medium is the massage,” (which he had cynically edited from the earlier: the medium is the message) and that the message was likely to be lost in the medium. Where is the silence? And how is one’s ability to discern affected when such blurring is occurring between the sacred and the secular? Or is everything sacred?

    As quite a contrast, I attended the highly ritualistic Catholic Paschal Triduum Masses at the church I attend a block from my house in Baltimore. During Holy Thursday the priest washes the feet of 12 representatives of the parish. The Mass ends in carrying the host away from the usual tabernacle to where Jesus is kept until the Saturday Easter Vigil. During the procession, the church chants an a cappella Latin hymn, and afterwards the priests and attendants strip the altar of all tapestries, candles, crosses. They process out and the church goes dark. At Good Friday Mass, there is no Eucharist. And the Easter Vigil on Saturday begins in darkness as the priest is at the nave of the church in front of a cauldron of fire. He lights the Paschal candle, and from it each parishioner’s candle she picked up on the way in is lit. Slowly, with anticipation, there is gradual light to expose a glorious altar of lilies. People are sprinkled with Holy Water after new candidates are received into the church, symbolic of our own baptism.

    The church has ancient ritualistic elements of fire, water, light and darkness, solemn chants, procession, an abundance of flowers, and silence. I assert that there is something that happens when someone enters ritual-mind, that doesn’t happen living in the nonritual mind. The ritual-mind is a pathway for an individual and a group to enter into the unconscious, a place of power, insight, and revelatory unity. The key piece is authenticity of the ritual. I have experienced this in group trances induced by the ancient beat of a rattle or a drum, in Catholic Masses and processions in Latin America, North America and Europe, and in ceremonies presided over by Curanderas. What constitutes authenticity is a question here. Is a rock concert an expression of an authentic ritual? And if a non-something uses images from a known religious-something, can it be authentic? Are we all able to access and co-create pathways to the unconscious, the great unifying spirit? What elements need to be present to generate an authentic ritual moment? There are studies of drum beats per minute to induce the brain into a ritual-mind that accesses unconscious visions. And we can jump hard-wired habitual mind and induce a pathway to the unconscious by doing prolonged behavior of what is not habitual. What else is there to ritual and authentic ritual?

    I wonder.

  2. What is a symbol anyway? Is it merely the hand pointing to the moon? A Curandera recently spoke a prayer with me that is to be left unwritten; however, the intention of the prayer is to have no limiting attachments so that we may dart past the eagle. The eagle is the symbol of freedom. If we become attached to the symbol, we lose the greater opening of the freedom it represents.

  3. judith collier says:

    This explains it all. I wondered why I was drawn back to the RCchurch after several years of absence. I thought it was because of the entire truth being there but I see clearly it was the ritual of my childhood. I joined a bible class but left after several weeks because I was under the impression we were going to speak of the things of God but everyone was into Catholicism.I felt bad about it and wondered what was wrong with me. I’m getting more clarity here, thanks to all of you. judy

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