‘For an organized religion, we’re quite disorganized’: Rainn Wilson’s take on the Baha’í Faith, Spirituality and Dwight Scherute on Oprah’s Soul Series
March 11, 2009
While I had heard of Oprah’s Soul Series webcasts before, I never had taken the time to watch any of them. It mostly has to do with the fact that, when it comes to thought-provoking material, I’m more of a reader (it’s so much easier to pause and ponder while reading I find). But when I heard that Rainn Wilson was the featured guest on March 9th, I just had to check it out – because I love to hate his Dwight Scherute on The Office or because he’s a Bahá’í, or (most probably) because of both.
First off, what is Oprah’s Soul Series? The Woman-Who-Can’t-Be-Stopped (a.k.a. Oprah) created them as part of her many efforts to bring spirituality back into the lives of people. She refers to them as uplifting, enlightening and truly powerful conversations with interesting people. So she meets all these amazing thinkers and doers, talks to them and shares the experience with us via satellite radio and her website.
Seriously, does Oprah ever sleep?
Rainn Wilson came to Soul Series to talk about his big project: SoulPancake (www.soulpancake.com), a website designed to encourage big debates on life’s big questions (some examples of recent questions: Why is talking about God so dang awkward? Should we be afraid of death? If you had one hour left on earth, how would you spend it? And the list goes on). This website aims to make spirituality less lame and Rainn Wilson does so by contributing his own spirituality as well as his creativity.
This is probably the most unique and original feature of this website; it doesn’t just host discussions, it also hosts creative ways of expressing these ideas and makes liberal use of humour. Don’t think that this site is the usual airy-fairy hippie type of spirituality, nor that Rainn Wilson is trying to convince you to become religious or become Bahá’í. I spent a couple of hours on SoulPancake trying to get a feel of it, and to be honest, not only did I have a lot of fun, but had I not known he was a Bahá’í , I would never have guessed. It seems that the only thing Bahá’í about this site are two concepts at its core: to independently investigate the truth about spirituality (there are all kinds of opinions posted) through a process of consultation. I have already learned a couple of things during the research I did for this post. I might even have created myself an account and posted some comments of my own, who knows?
The reason why Rainn Wilson decided to create this website is also inspired by a Bahá’í principle, that of service to humanity. While exploring the various possibilities of service (other than the usual ones of donating to charities, cleaning up parks etc, etc) that were opened up to him through stardom, he spent a lot of time talking to young people. One of the questions he asked them was if they believed in God. Their answer was usually something to the effect of: “Kind of, yes”, which Rainn found interesting: what these young people meant is that while they did believe in a Higher Force, they didn’t think It was an old man sitting on top of a mountain hurling lightening at offending little humans (I added that last part. I quite like the visual, to be honest).
What Rainn Wilson realized after talking to these people is that many of them aren’t taking the chance to go on a spiritual journey, apparently satisfied with their “Kind of, yes” perspective on God. But that’s not quite the case – the real reason behind why many young people aren’t taking that spiritual journey is because spirituality is often portrayed as an “airy, ippy-dippy fairy crystal” thing (check out Rainn’s take on that sentence here).
So what was needed weren’t answers; but rather, a way for young people to discuss about spirituality, air out emotions, share point of views, and investigate the reality of things. Because no young person is just going to accept something as a given anymore, especially nowadays, with Wikipedia and Google (my best friends) quite literally at the tip of everyone’s fingers. While some might say that young people are arrogant nowaways and think they know everything, I would like to counter with the argument that rather, young people nowadays have potential beyond the scope of what anyone could imagine a mere 20 years ago, and that if we adopt a posture of learning all together and develop a culture of growth… The possibilities are endless.
This seems to be part of what SoulPancake does. It doesn’t tell young people why talking about God is hard or if they should be or shouldn’t be afraid of death, but rather, it adopts a posture of learning by asking these questions, offering its own point of view and accepting the point of views of everyone else (barring disrespect, which I guess would get a comment deleted or at least edited). The culture of growth will have to be developed locally, between participants in the SoulPancake discussion; this idea probably has yet to be explored. As Rainn Wilson explained to Oprah, it’s still a work in progress.
There are different parts to the website. As mentioned above, there is one section that’s all about asking life’s big questions and people sharing their answers in forum after forum. The questions are sometimes very typical, and sometimes seem to come out of the blue. The answers are the most interesting thing though, and although most people manage to remain civil and polite, they still manage to convey a lot of emotion and stir up very interesting and animated debates. To enhance the deepened understanding of the websites visitors, there are also challenges. What these challenged do is to take the debate at another level and in other formats… which does make sense, when you remember that words are only 5% of the communication between two people. Since most of the forum participants probably will never meet, one way of compensating for the lack of 95% of the communication is through these artistic challenges. The participants are encouraged to express their opinion about something deep that has to do with some of the questions asked through pictures, poetry, music, videos etc. If it can be uploaded, it will be used. The latest challenge: to think about what your soul smells like. Yes, you read that right: “You can’t see your soul, but can you smell it? Create a 30-second video that tells us what your soul smells like and why. Be creative. Don’t just talk into the camera. After all, we can’t smell you through the screen.” And here is the video they came up with… The Features section contains a bunch of articles about various subjects that all have to do with spirituality, be it serious or totally weird. Check out the latest post: Ride the Atheist Bus. Did someone say God? No way, say United Kingdom atheists. Their message: “There’s probably no God, so stop worrying and enjoy your life.” And to make sure you heard them, they put the message on, of all things, London’s bright red double-decker busses (as well as in a couple of Tube stations) during the month of January, according to a story in The Guardian. You’d think that would be the end of it, but (shocker) the pro-God camp didn’t take the ads lying down. They countered with bus-side signs saying, “There definitely is a God. So join the Christian Party and enjoy your life.” Pretty hilarious if you think about it (and especially if you check out the pictures), and yet material for some pretty deep debates. Kind of what Sahar’s Blog is about, too. Perhaps Rainn Wilson has been reading my blog?
There is much more to say about SoulPancake, and there are probably going to be more and more pancake-inspired posts going up here. Until then, I would encourage you to give the website a go, and see how your vision might be enlightened in an amusing way.