New & Upcoming
As the battle between evolution’s believers and disbelievers wages its way forward into the twenty-first century, a new documentary has captured one of this particular culture war’s defining moments in all of its dubious splendor. Kansas vs. Darwin takes viewers behind the scenes at the infamous evolution hearings of 2005, where the Kansas State Board of Education sparked a media frenzy by actually putting Darwin’s theory of evolution on trial. From the looks of the trailer, this one promises to be a wild—and educational—ride. Premiered in September at the Kansas International Film Festival, the film is slated for general release next year.
What ever happened to Werner Erhard? For the millions of Americans whose lives were touched by est (Erhard Seminars Training) in the ’70s and ’80s, or its successor, The Forum, that question has long been more than a curiosity. A fascinating new documentary created by Robyn Symon called Transformations: The Life and Legacy of Werner Erhard provides some answers, but its main focus is a closer look at the life of this unique figure. Erhard, now in his seventies, is alive and well and is interviewed in London, where he now resides. He’s described in the movie’s trailer as a mixture of Aristotle, Frank Sinatra, and Gandhi. We’d go with Wittgenstein, Tony Robbins, and Dogen, but whatever the case, look for Transformations to be released soon.
Whether or not you wash with Dr. Bronner’s famously tingly peppermint soap, a new documentary about the famously eccentric soap maker from director Sara Lamm looks intriguing. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox explores the life and career of Dr. Emanuel Bronner, who plastered poetic admonitions to protect “Spaceship Earth” and unite humanity in world peace and “All One God Faith” across the labels of his products. His natural-soap company was one of the world’s first green businesses, and it still donates seventy percent of its profits to social causes. Now screening in select cities, the film is due out on DVD this fall.
California hotel mogul Chip Conley has just published Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow, which creatively combines his own experience of business management with twentieth-century psychologist Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs.” This pyramidal staircase of human needs and desires is often referenced by integral philosophers for its simple explanation of spiritual and psychological growth. For Conley, it was the inspiration for his own company’s dramatic turnaround, as well as the seed for a new theory of organizational transformation based on self-actualization.
The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine, by Alister McGrath and Joanna Collicutt McGrath, drew a gem from Publisher’s Weekly: “The McGraths expeditiously plow into the flank of Dawkins’ fundamentalist atheism, made famous in The God Delusion, and run him from the battlefield.”
Michael Dowd, evangelical Christian minister turned evangelical Christian evolutionist, is a man on a mission. Along with his wife, conservation biologist and author Connie Barlow, he’s spent the past few years touring the United States in a van to promote the “Great Story” of evolutionary cosmogenesis far and wide. His new book, Thank God for Evolution! How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World, is already garnering a lot of attention, including endorsements from three Nobel Laureates.
Part spiritual teacher, part journalist, Arjuna Ardagh takes a fascinating look at one of the spiritual world’s hottest new movements—deeksha. In Awakening into Oneness, Ardagh follows this popular spiritual phenomenon, which involves the transmission of spiritual energy, to the East and back, exploring its roots, revealing the ambitious dreams of the movement’s founders, Bhagavan and Amma, and even consulting neuroscientists as to deeksha’s effects on the frontal cortex.
Souls in Transition
U.G. Krishnamurti (1918–2007)
One of the original anti-teacher teachers, U.G. Krishnamurti earned widespread recognition among Western spiritual seekers during the 1980s and ’90s for his unusual spiritual awakening and his strong anti-authority message. Born in India in 1918, U.G., as he was known to students, was interested in spiritual matters from an early age; he spent time in his youth with such spiritual icons as the Himalayan master Swami Sivananda and the great South Indian sage Ramana Maharshi. In the 1940s, he began working at the Theosophical Society in Madras, eventually rising up the ranks and becoming an international lecturer for the organization.
While at the Theosophical Society, U.G. had a contentious and difficult relationship with the legendary Indian spiritual master J. Krishnamurti. At one point, he engaged in a series of discussions and dialogues with the elder teacher, but grew frustrated with what he felt was Krishnamurti’s abstract and obscure teaching style. Finally, after nearly a decade of listening to Krishnamurti’s words and lectures, U.G. left the theosophical society altogether, cynical and disillusioned. Nevertheless, the relationship with Krishnamurti would prove enormously influential in his own awakening. Indeed, it was after attending a talk by his former mentor years later in 1967 that U.G. underwent a powerful and life-changing transformation. Refusing to characterize this event as enlightenment, he instead referred to it as the “calamity.” In his book The Mystique of Enlightenment, he explains:
I call it “calamity” because from the point of view of one who thinks this is something fantastic, blissful and full of beatitude, love, or ecstasy, this is physical torture; this is a calamity from that point of view. Not a calamity to me but a calamity to those who have an image that something marvelous is going to happen.
U.G. eventually gained a reputation as an enlightened man, a reputation that earned him many requests to speak and meet with seekers around the world. Always willing to engage in dialogue with those who came to him, he nevertheless insisted that he had nothing to teach and nothing to share, and he counseled others to reject any and all philosophies, spiritual teachings and authority figures. By the 1990s, the anti-authority, anti-guru message had gone from being edgy and radical to commonplace, with a number of popular spiritual teachers espousing similar themes. In this way, perhaps, U.G. was a more influential authority than he ever intended to be.
U.G. likely would have found little to agree with in the editorial pages of this magazine; he did not see the value in philosophy or spiritual inquiry. His teaching, or anti-teaching, bordered on nihilism and is unlikely to contribute much to the spiritual canon of our age. He nevertheless was a unique figure, and will be remembered both for the authenticity of his powerful personal awakening and for maintaining his radical, iconoclastic relationship to life right up to the end. Indeed, even as he faced death’s door in a last meeting with friends and supporters, he refused to bow to any conventional religious or spiritual impulses, declaring that he was “free from all outside influences” and that when he dies, nothing sacred or remarkable would happen, but that he would simply “rot in the field like a garden slug.”
Ian Stevenson (1918–2007)
A tireless researcher, courageous academic, and esteemed leader in the much-maligned field of survival research (research into the possibility that some part of the personality survives physical death), Ian Stevenson’s work will be remembered long after his own physical death. For several decades, Stevenson traveled the world, investigating stories of young children who claimed to remember recent past lives, stories that he then painstakingly researched for any possible verification. While his work is little known outside the field of parapsychology, his careful and rigorous methodology set a standard for those undertaking similar lines of research, and his numerous books—outlining the thousands of fascinating case files contained in the Division of Personality Studies at the University of Virginia—continue to challenge the conclusions of a materialist worldview. They represent significant evidence, some of the most convincing yet, that there is more going on in heaven and earth than is yet proved in our science or philosophy.