Friday, July 10, 2009

Unfinished Business by James Van Praagh

This is another book in a series of reads designed to force me out of my reading comfort zone. I don't normally have much interest in mediums; I believe in a spirit world but I don't think you should be messing with it, on the principle that you never know what's behind the door. So you wouldn't normally catch me picking up a book by a TV medium! I got this one from the library's list of recommendations, so I guess it's flagged as a bestseller.

Maybe it's my unfamiliarity with the genre that's making it hard for me to know what I think of this book. The premise is that we can learn to live better lives from what "the spirits" tell us. Basically your dead mom, dad, uncle Joe, best friend Sally or whoever are still hanging around, just dying (the pun is totally intentional) to tell JVP or any other passing medium that "life" is pretty darn good on the other side and that you can make your life so much better by letting go of your negative emotions. I wish I could have taken a photo of the great look on my husband's face when I suggested that his deceased parents could be standing beside him. I also have a really hard time trying to imagine my late in-laws gabbing on about love and forgiveness. Not that they were bad people; just that New Age vocab wasn't their natural medium of communication. It's funny how all the spirits in the book talk like James Van Praagh.

Apart from a scattering of anecdotes of communication with the spirit world, mostly in the context of TV shows or other such venues, this is mostly a book of good advice. And a lot of it really is good advice: let go of your guilt and fear, forgive people who've hurt you, seek forgiveness from those you've hurt, love people, don't focus on material things and so on. On the less productive side IMHO, there's a big dose of "make it happen" advice along the lines that if you think positive thoughts about your future, you will become nicer, richer, and probably more beautiful. The book, as you might expect, preaches love and tolerance towards all people except, of course, religious people, who are closed-minded gay-haters according to JVP; on this point his own love and tolerance seems to take a nosedive.

The whole thing is embedded in a pink fluffy cloud of platitudes taken from various religions, other New Age gurus, things JVP's friends have said, you name it. The Higher Self is frequently mentioned. My favorite quote is probably "the Virgin Mary and other entities". Karma, reincarnation, NDEs, and all the usual suspects get paraded around in the interests of a deeper, more transcendent, understanding of ourselves.

Personally I'm against this "pick and mix" attitude towards finding a guiding rule for your life. My advice is, study the religion that underlies your own traditions first, so that you understand it thoroughly; don't just rely on what people tell you. Get an understanding of the basic tenets of the other major religions or denominations, and see where they conflict with each other (and they do; Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are all logically incompatible despite what the "all paths lead to God" people say.) Then make a decision in favor of one religion or tradition, or if you don't believe any of it declare yourself an atheist. Then keep enquiring, and if you eventually find you're wrong, start the process again. Getting a bit of your beliefs from your Auntie May, a bit from the TV and a bit from the National Enquirer is never going to get you anywhere.

My conclusion: some of you are going to love this book because you're into this sort of thing. The rest of you probably won't read it anyway. These books will always find an audience; this sort of thing has been selling well since the 19th century. Lap it up if you like.

Well, I guess I've branded myself as closed-minded by now, but it's OK as I forgive myself. And as JVP says, "Self-forgiveness is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. You know you have been healed when you feel one with yourself." So I'll slap on that spiritual Band-Aid and get on with my day. Peace.


fairyhedgehog said...

Nice review!

My thinking is more in line with Christopher Brookmyre's in Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks. I think I'll give Unfinished Business a miss.

Mauricia said...

You should have stopped after you said "my unfamiliarity with the genre." The only thought that came to mind after reading your opinion of the book was that you had personal issues with the "subject" and did not consider majority. I too do not believe in mediums, nor would i open the door to the unknown, but i also don't think it's my place to make suggestions as to how others should choose a religion, have faith or not. I do appreicate your honesty about being "close-minded," it files your comment in it's place.