I saw this book at the library, and as a Christian, I was fascinated by the claim that the scientific studies reveal differences in the brain based onI saw this book at the library, and as a Christian, I was fascinated by the claim that the scientific studies reveal differences in the brain based on one's sense of spirituality and connection with the transcendent, irrespective of a specific religion or practice. Since I believe that all humans are made in the image of God and have an imprinted need for spiritual fulfillment, it was an interesting idea to explore.
This book was long and extremely repetitive. It seemed like each chapter could have stood as an academic paper on its own, because even though some themes did build on each other, much of the same information was rehashed with each new context, be it the burgeoning development in adolescence or a suggested means of rehabilitating the "severed spirit" of one who has suffered from Western society's suppression of the spiritual and feels lost and directionless. I wish that the book had been more compact and less repetitive, but with determination and occasional skimming, I got through it.
Much of this book dealt with the psychological health benefits of spirituality, which seemed like a no-brainer: of course you're less susceptible to paralyzing depression if you have some sense of worth outside of your accomplishments and believe that life has purpose and meaning. However, this book also affirmed many things which I thought but could not articulate well, introduced me to new concepts, and helped me develop a better framework for viewing childhood and adolescent spiritual and emotional development.
The author managed to remain at a respectful distance for most of the book, explaining scientific and practical concepts of spirituality and development without dictating it on her own terms, but there were a few chapters full of subtle hypocrisy. I understand why she encouraged to parents to let their child explore spiritual ideas without dictating what the child should believe, but if a parent believes in a certain religion and is convinced of its truth, it follows that they should teach those beliefs and principles to their child. It is possible for a parent to teach their own beliefs without manipulating a child or overstepping the line of personal autonomy. As the chapter on adolescent spirituality explained, once the child comes of age, they will seek out truth on their own and develop their own life and beliefs, be it apart from or in accordance with their parents. Until then, every parenting approach teaches something, whether it's groundless spirituality, atheism, confusion, skepticism, or religion. It is unfair to assume that a parent teaching religion is limiting their child's growth while everything else is fair game.
This author's own ideas about spirituality and what is true came through clearly in the work, and although that is unavoidable, it became off-putting when she told parents how they should approach spiritual discussions with their children and explained from her own opinions and beliefs how transcendent relationships ought to work. With all of her remarks on the dangers of organized religion, which admittedly can breed self-righteousness and even violence, her solution was to pick and choose the bits and pieces of ritual and practice which appeal to an individual. The mishmash of the "loving, sentient universe," family values, and delight in nature which she suggested is not abusive or evil, but the smug sense of satisfaction that you're more right than religious people is counterintuitive to the values she claimed.
Although I understand the author's desire to give people practical tips for how to encourage their children's spiritual curiosity, it irritated me to see how she made broad, universal truth claims based on nothing other than her own personal preference and ideas. Those who adhere to Christianity may be guilty of metaphorically hitting someone over the head with their Bible, but at least they believe that it's divine revelation with something universal and unequivocal to say to humankind. Bashing someone over the head with your own bits-and-pieces collected framework of disorganized spirituality is just as annoying, and has far less validity or reason behind it.
My other objection is that this book largely avoided addressing the topic of atheism and how a denial of the spiritual plays into life. In the introduction, the author said that everyone has some belief about the supernatural, whether you embrace or outright deny it, and she assured us that she would address the latter topic elsewhere. I kept waiting for it, but aside from bringing up atheistic people as antagonists in the stories of people who needed spiritual guidance at home and were quashed, nothing else came up about an atheist's spiritual journey or the impact that has on their life. That disappointed me, both because it was promised and because the concept fascinates me. Because I naturally desire truth and certainty in life, I believe that if I were not a Christian, I would have embraced atheism, and I wondered what science and insight she had to share about that.
In conclusion, because I desire for my life to be undergirded with truth and reason, I am not the ideal audience for this book, which emphasizes make-your-own-reality. Despite that, I enjoyed the facts which I learned, and gained much from thinking through why and how I disagree with other elements. More than anything, I'm glad I read this because it deepened my appreciation and valuation of the spiritual heritage which I have in my family. I am grateful for my faith, my upbringing, the love of family and appreciation of nature, and the sense of morality and inner compass which I have developed. My teen years have been full of meaningful growth and transformation, and I appreciate what a good spiritual foundation I have on which to build my adult life....more