The Death of Religion and the Rebirth of the Spirit: A Return to the Intelligence of the Heart

The Death of Religion and the Rebirth of the Spirit: A Return to the Intelligence of the Heart

Joseph Chilton Pearce
Rochester, Vt.: Park Street Press, 2007. 257 pages, hardcover, $22.95.

Joseph Chilton Pearce, the well-known author of The Crack in the Cosmic EggThe Biology of Transcendence, and several other works, has written another provocative book, this time about the evolution of the brain, personal development, and what has corrupted our society. Sources for his thought range from the poet William Blake and Baba Muktananda (Pearce’s own guru) to Rudolf Steiner, Elaine Pagels, and Jean Piaget. His aim is to free the power of the heart—which for him is both a physical and a spiritual reality—from the confines of religion, culture, and, perhaps most importantly, bad mothering.

Pearce is an opponent of birth in hospitals, bottle feeding, religion as it has developed, and, it would appear, culture in general. Much of what he says is based upon various psychological studies that are mentioned but not examined in depth. This raises a major problem, for this reviewer has a strong suspicion that mainline psychologists would not be happy with the studies Pearce cites or with the conclusions he draws from them. In fact, mainline psychology is part of the scientism Pearce severely criticizes. So the reader is really asked to accept his findings largely because they “sound good” and not because they are proven in any conventional sense.

Pearce believes that one of the major problems with our culture is that children are often not breast-fed and do not receive the careful, face-to-face attention that mothers need to provide. Sending children off to daycare will not do. At the same time, he seems to favor “free love” for teenagers so that they can find their “soul mates.” But if a young girl becomes pregnant, it is difficult to see how she would be able to provide the nurturing care and love that mothers, according to his teaching, are supposed to offer. In fact, free love may very well end in child neglect, the very problem he seeks to solve.

Pearce is very critical of what he calls culture, but he never clearly defines what he means by the term. Indeed the very center of culture is language, which embodies that culture’s attitudes and prejudices. Nevertheless, he uses language to write this book. Publishing, then, is a very cultural act. What he really seems to be against is a culture (and religion) that judges some people as evil. Even here, however, his view of mothering condemns women who do not breast-feed and do not, perhaps cannot, provide the nurturing he thinks so important. So, in fact, his attempt to improve society proves to be really no better than other “cultural” attempts to do the same.

This does not mean, however, that this book is of no value. It is a challenge to our established culture and may provide many moments of insight. It is doubtful, however, that Pearce’s philosophy will change things. Culture has a way of accepting the “Eureka!” moment he so savors and turning it into another form of cultural control. If his views of nurturing were turned into law, they would become repressive indeed.

Jay G. Williams

The reviewer has served as chairman of the department of religion at Hamilton College. He is the author of Judaism and Yeshua Buddha, both published by Quest Books.