Many Universal Life Church ministers are familiar with the growing body of research indicating that meditation calms the nerves, improves concentration, and even yields measurable health benefits. Now, a new study from the University of Toronto suggests that meditation may make people more liberal. As journalist and spiritual author Richard Schiffman points out, however, the hypothesis deserves further testing.
The authors of the study, which was published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, draws two conclusions. The first is that people who identify as “spiritual” tend to hold more liberal views than people who identify as “religious”. The second is that meditation makes people more liberal, at least temporarily. Study co-authors Jacob Hirsch, Jordan Petersen, and Megan Wahlberg compared the political attitudes of people who had just participated in a guided meditation to the political attitudes of a control group. What they found was that the people who participated in the guided meditation tended to show more progressive or lenient attitudes than people in the control group–for instance, they showed a greater preference for liberal political candidates as well as decreased support for “tough-on-crime” policies.
Hirsch offered one explanation for the results in an e-mail interview with Schiffmann for The Huffington Post. He described what he believed to be the psychological mechanism behind the ideological shift in people who meditate: “We suspect that meditation lowers the rigid boundaries between self and other that people normally experience in their lives, promoting a more egalitarian mindset (it’s hard to maintain a competitive frame with another person when you don’t believe that you are separate from one another). Preferences for egalitarianism, in turn, are one of the key motivational factors underlying support for liberal political attitudes.” In other words, meditation seems to make people less selfish and egotistical, and more compassionate and fair-minded, recalling the popular New Age maxim “We Are All One”. And, undoubtedly, many ministers ordained online have latched on to this philosophy.
But should we embrace these findings as the “gospel truth”, or take them with a grain of salt? Both Schiffmann and the study’s authors have expressed apprehension over praising the study’s findings. According to Schiffmann, “God is on the side of Truth. And Truth is not the exclusive possession of any particular group or political ideology…there may actually be times when conservatives have got a better handle on things than I do.” Echoing this position, Petersen said that “both right and left are necessary; it’s not that either is correct, it’s that the dialogue between them produces the best chance we have at getting the balance right. If people could understand that both sides have an important role to play in society, some of the unnecessary tension might be eliminated.” So, while meditating might make people more liberal, it does not necessarily always make them right.
The findings of the Toronto study would seem to mesh nicely with the Universal Life Church Monastery’s motto: “We are all children of the same universe”. A lot of people who get ordained online are more spiritual than religious, and they enjoy the physical and mental health benefits of prayer and meditation. This, in turn, might make them more liberal than the average person. Despite this fact, it is also our duty as ministers ordained online to challenge beliefs–including our own–and this may mean recognizing, on occasion, our own shortcomings as well as the value of other viewpoints.
The Huffington Post