Do secular Americans secretly pine for religion?

The messages that Chase’s medium convey from Peter Kaplan give an altogether more mundane impression. They read like dispatches from some other place within our physical world — a place quite like our own, only somehow invisible to our inadequately trained senses.

And that points to a deeper discontinuity between Chase’s experiences and the spiritual outlook that undergirds all three monotheistic religions, as well as most of the world’s non-monotheistic traditions.

The teachings of the major world religions differ in an enormous number of ways, but most affirm forms of providence. Whether this providence is conceived of as the expression of a single personal Godhead (as in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), multiple personal gods (as in the world’s polytheistic faiths and some forms of Hinduism), or as an impersonal force (as in the notion of karma that plays a crucial role in Hinduism, Buddhism, and other Eastern faiths), these religious traditions are united in proclaiming that something guides human life and fate, responds to prayers, and (in some mysterious way) rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked.

Belief in providence is not just part of religion. It’s close to the core of religion. (It can even be detected in the conviction, expressed by many otherwise secular men and women after they’ve endured a personal trial or tragedy, that “everything happens for a reason.”) And yet there is no trace of it in Lisa Chase’s spiritual experiences. The medium conveys nothing at all about righteousness, grace, judgment, beatification, sanctification, deification, reproval, or punishment. Neither is there even a single mention of God or any other theological force that cares for us or our fate. There’s just Kaplan, his deceased parents and dog, and maybe some famous historical personages milling about the streets of heaven.

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