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Prophets to Profits: The Corporate Takeover of Spirituality

Vida Morris, Guest Waking Times

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FW:  Feb. 24, 2016

The self-help and “mind-body-spirit” scenes are billion dollar industries, but how has the commodification of spirituality affected our ability to practice it? As sacred principles are co-opted and watered down to sell feel-good mass-market products, those unwilling to sellout spiritual principles are pushed further to the margins – where they are increasingly maligned as “cultist” for putting spirituality ahead of materialism.

Alternative spiritual teachings and groups that encourage a way of life outside of mainstream values are being marginalized and suppressed from all sides.

On one side, what is deceptively being presented to the general public as a viable and appealing alternative to mainstream religious institutions is largely owned by corporations and individuals looking to profit from people’s natural interest in spirituality, making it nothing more than a cleverly disguised offshoot of the mainstream itself.

Corporations and individuals who sell spirituality select fragments of ancient spiritual concepts or teachings and then repackage them to be more appealing as a product to sell. In the process, however, they violate the integrity of the original source and distort the original meaning and purpose.

Additionally, by charging money to access the majority of their products, these merchants of spirituality break the timeless cycle of freely giving and receiving spiritual knowledge (which is a fundamental spiritual principle found within the origins of many spiritual traditions).

This has created a confusing landscape that is difficult to navigate for spiritual seekers looking for truth beyond the mainstream and has begun to change the very definition of what “spirituality” is, as it turns more into an alluring commodity to be bought and sold instead of a way of life.

With corporations having massive funds to market and advertise, along with the power of the media and the charm of spiritual “celebrities,” alternative spiritual groups who don’t conform to this new form of commercialized “spirituality” often can’t “compete” and are drowned out by those selling products designed to have mass appeal. This makes genuine alternative voices increasingly difficult for spiritual seekers to even find.

As corporations push new religious movements to the margins they become more obscure and are seen as outsiders of society. This then makes them more susceptible to vilification by the anti-cult movement with the assistance of the media, which often portray these groups in a sensational way, employing stereotypes that are derived from intolerance and play upon fear of difference and the unknown.

These forces have been successful in cultivating a taboo towards groups of people who seek a spiritual life that does not conform to mainstream values. In many cases the anti-cult movement unjustly describes members of alternative groups with the derogatory label “cult member” because of a commitment and dedication to spiritual ideals over materialistic ones, and for pursuing this commitment outside of a mainstream religious institution.

This taboo has created a hostile (and in some cases dangerous) environment for those seeking to commit their lives to a spiritual lifestyle that doesn’t conform to the parameters of either mainstream religions or the new commercialized spirituality promoted heavily through various large corporations and major media icons.

The end result of this two-fronted assault is that all “socially acceptable” spiritual options are establishment-controlled via either religious institutions or corporations. This creates an illusion of free choice and alternatives, but genuine alternative choices are actually vilified and pushed to the margins.