01.03.2015 Spirituality

Rediscovering God

Deepak Chopra's latest work The Future of God challenges us to 'reboot' our spirituality. Review by Margaret Evans

We could be excused for thinking we live in a godless age. With so much in our daily media focusing on one atrocity or dire warning after another, not to mention the petty acts of self interest that characterise the all-pervasive cult of celebrity, it's hardly surprising!

Yet that supposition couldn't be further from the truth, according to leading light of the holistic and spiritual movement worldwide, Deepak Chopra.

His latest work The Future of God challenges the whole notion that God is dead and, in the process, reinvigorates our sometimes flagging belief that life and our place in it is touched with the divine. In fact, so far from God being dead, he argues, each of us carries the divine within ourselves if only we can reach that magical state of self awareness where we begin to know that wholeness is possible.

Deepak Chopra's sights are set firmly on the militant atheist movement and its "high priests" Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion the late Christopher Hitchens, neuroscientist and former student of Buddhism Sam Harris and others. In reading The Future of God, we get the clear sense that Chopra feels this movement has been allowed to run too far and largely unchallenged - with a soul destroying effect akin to spiritual nihilism.

The parallels with a modern culture that places anything "scientific" on a pedestal while belittling and debasing anything that hints of the unknown and the unknowable are clear to see. The intense pressure exerted by science-based modern medical practice against the ancient wisdom traditions of the East is but one example.

As the celebrity face of holistic medicine, Chopra has been subjected to endless ridicule over the years, the sort of ridicule reserved for "quacks". He tells us that, "In the 1980s, faculty members from medical schools in Boston grew apoplectic whenever I - or any other MD interested in alternative treatments - proposed that the mind-body connection was real." Sadly, while so many more open minded medical practitioners have integrated holistic methods into their practices, all too often the institutions, as Chopra relates, remain resolute in their opposition.

Chopra has clearly had enough - I've rarely sensed this healer and teacher, whose career has spanned Western and Eastern methods, the scientific and the esoteric, the concrete and the realms of wonder, to be so angry. He accuses militant atheists of "bullying behaviour that seeks to crush the early shoots of personal spirituality". Tellingly, says Chopra, his own experience has shown him that people who have left "the reassurance of traditional faiths usually feel insecure". They are easy pickings for such persuasive professional wordsmiths.

Nor are many who describe themselves as atheists ready to dispense with God altogether. Chopra cites a 2008 Pew Research survey in which 21% of American "atheists" believed in God or a universal spirit, 12% believed in heaven and 10% prayed at least one a week. These are people clearly looking for some purpose and sense of greater meaning in life, suggests Chopra.

In setting out to stamp on some of the most cynical arguments of the rationalists (he suggests that professional sceptics are even more pervasive in their reach than the atheist brigade) that he believes have merely left a gaping void in place of a sustaining spiritual life for so many millions, he has given us an important book - and brought God within reach. Or at least a God that we in 21st century Western society are prepared to accept - in a memorable phrase Chopra talks of "rebooting God".

The Future of God is structured into three separate segments; from the prevailing mood of Unbelief espoused by sceptics and militant atheists combined, through the minefield of Faith and on to the final uplifting stage of our journey to rediscover God, Knowledge.

What makes this book so compelling in my view is Chopra's recognition that even while so many people have moved away from organised religion, they are anything but comfortable in believing in nothing - as the Pew Research survey so clearly illustrates. They might have reached their "zero point of faith" because of the disappointments and perhaps worse that life has dished out to them, but they can retrace their journey one step at a time simply by embracing a more open mind. As he argues, "Faith is about new possibilities. Once you realise this, you are freed from extremes of both absolute belief and absolute skepticism."

A striking example of the persuasiveness of such thinking is a comment by noted British astrophysicist Sir Fred Hoyle in 1982: "The chance that higher life forms might have emerged in this way (ie randomly) is comparable to the chance that a tornado sweeping through a junkyard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein." Chopra tells us that Hoyle was neither a creationist nor did he believe in God. The Boeing 747 analogy becomes even more powerful when we consider that human DNA strands contain six billion genetic letters - and even the misalignment of just a few letters can lead to major birth defects and genetic disorders. Enough to make even the most determined doubter of a creative force at work in the universe pause to wonder!

The final section of the book is Knowledge and here Chopra urges us to free our consciousness so that we can transcend the limitations and pain of the material world. He draws deeply on the wisdom traditions of the East, which have always understood that the source of creation is inside us. In his grounded and compassionate way, Chopra provides us with inner activities such as prayer, meditation and intimacy and hints to look for that we are opening, as a lotus flower gradually unfolds, to the subtle world and thus connecting to our deeper consciousness. As he suggests to us, "the trick is to begin looking for the grace hidden beneath the struggle, and then your trials start to ease and fade away." It's a great deal more uplifting and healing and peace-inducing than the alternative, surely.

Margaret Evans

Margaret Evans has a background in teaching, journalism and publishing. She is the editor of NOVA Holistic Journal.