Marcus Buckingham's Love + Work: Spirituality Good, Christianity Bland (Part II)

THIS BLOG POST IS PART II OF IV POSTS (To go the beginning see Part I).

Marcus Buckingham’s New Age spirituality is shamelessly reflected throughout Love + Work. References to Christianity as an occasional bland backdrop. His superficial spiritual musings are an egregious overreach from his strengths-based research foundation. 

Buckingham uses his various Christian experiences as a bland backdrop of story prompts, apparently of no relevance or value to his thinking. He talks about his childhood brushes with Christianity. For example, he needed to read in chapel as a youngster--and non-miraculously his stammering was gone. He also talks about performances in plays in Christian celebrations. Yet, apparently, none of the roots of Christianity proved of value. They are part of his past or framework, but not part of his understanding.

Yet, this did not lead him to dismiss spirituality, which has become embedded in his quest for purpose and fulfilment. Dawkins would not approve. When it comes to spirituality, however, he has an opinion, but not insight. He also assumes his opinion has value, as it is readily offered to others.

Buckingham’s approach requires a nuanced approach to understanding. He is essentially offers a spiritual cum religious viewpoint. What is “religion?” It is a response to providing meaning in life, in an organized fashion, drawing on accumulated wisdom and adhering to principles. What is “spirituality?” This is a response to providing meaning in life, generally in a personalized fashion, drawing on individual time-limited experiences, untested, and devoid of broader context. So religion is far from dead; rather, it has morphed into shallow plate spirituality. 

Buckingham's book is about "love + work." He defines love inadequately and ambiguously throughout his book. Interestingly, he doesn’t reference possibly the most-quoted reference to love, espoused by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.

His talk about the uniqueness of each person and their purpose. His discussion is interesting, but far from new. In fact, it’s thousands of years after the fact. He is a pale imitation of the Christian concept of calling. 

He offers a New Age equivalent of secular devotions. Christians have developed devotions into an art form, from Ignatius of Loyola to Rick Warren. Here, too, Buckingham provides his counsel: “So, begin each morning by spending a few minutes anticipating what the red threads [unique opportunities] of the day might be” [190].

He reflects superficiality with respect to religion. He apparently discovered the origins of religion.  He cites an Indonesian anthropologist who discovered a drawing from 44,000 years ago and opines, “Perhaps this scene revealed the dawning of religious belief” [210]. Perhaps, he should stick to his knitting.

He refers to spirituality occasionally. For example, he talks about the specific characteristics that lead someone to identify their purpose and find their red threat--this can be "spiritually uplifting” [100]. We are not sure what this means.

He uses ill-defined religious imagery. Part Two of Love + Work is about the “Seven Devils.” Why the Christian concept of “the devil?” He elaborates, not with some description of the evolution of society’s concept of the devil, or even references to Medieval artists, but by citing a present author. He states that "the devil’s greatest power—according to the author Catherine Goldstein—is not his evil intent and forked tongue. It is instead that he doesn’t know he’s the devil. He is, she tells us, so powerful and persuasive precisely because he believes he is a force for good” [104]. This is confusing. 

Buckingham refers to the Golden Rule but doesn’t delve into its origins and what it actually means. He explains: “The Golden Rule states that you should treat people as you would like to be treated” [130]. But, what golden rule? He helpfully states The Golden Rule doesn’t work since everyone has different loves.

His parents factor into the book, too. He quotes the little-known apocryphal Gospel of St. Thomas via his mother [160]. He explains that “My mom inherited her faith, and her gift [as a faith healer from her mother], and now spends her days—she’s eighty going on sixty—healing the scars and souls of her patients” [275]. His father appears, too. His dad was an empiricist though “faith had its place” [274]. This implies a dichotomy that faith is where reason ends, but it is not explored in detail. He speaks well of his parents who gave him space to grow and learn.

In short, Buckingham offers a superficial New Age spirituality as pablum for the soul and his brushes with Christianity are part of a bland backdrop. Next, in Part III, he is about to get the “wyrd.”