Jamie Wheal: “Gimme that Old Time Religion”

Jamie Wheal, author, co-founder of Flow Genome Project (more on that later) and defender of the “faith” – however New Agey and psychedelic his leanings.
I disagreed with this guy from the moment he opened his mouth in his 2021 Big Think video piece:

“It’s really easy to forget, that we’re just monkeys with clothes.”

No, we’re not. We are primates to be sure, but so far past monkeys in brain and behavior… its just silly to say. We are 25 million years removed from an early primate-monkey ancestor and 7 million years removed from a common ape ancestor we share with chimpanzees (AND we are NOT just chimps in clothes either) Much more on that later.
He is correct in stating that we appeared as modern Homo, (our species H.sapiens) in just the blink of an eye in geological time, and our rapidly expanding civilization has gone global and high tech just yesterday and it continues at an incredibly accelerating pace- no argument there, pal.
But he continues:
“It’s breaking our brains. We’re overwhelmed, we’re collapsing in grief. It does feel that the handrails, the things that we used to look to for stability and security, have just evaporated.”

Really, dude? Is it all really “breaking our brains” ?
For me, and I suspect a whole lot of people, I’m loving it, actually. Most of us on the planet today are enjoying things our grandparents couldn’t even dream of: TV – and in the palm of our hands 24/7, consistent access to an incredible variety of foods, world travel, immediate access to information on the Net, smartphones, social media, increased economic and social mobility, long lifespans, increased access to medical care and social safety nets – and not skirting perilously close to starvation for much of our lives as the vast majority of humans have done ever since there were humans.

Maybe YOU’RE feeling that way, Jamie. I don’t see it that way at all. In fact, it seems more people are living at least a comfortable lower middle-class existence than ever before, free-er from oppression, hunger, illiteracy, war, threat of violence – and with longer lifespans, modern medical care, and opportunities for travel and entertainment that ONLY the upper-upper classes might have enjoyed for the bulk of human history.

I get the distinct impression that Wheal, like Freud and other previous armchair theorists, is engaging in what they call “Me-Search” and not research: projecting his views onto the rest of us regular folks, just like ole Sigmund made himself famous for.

Are we really “overwhelmed…collapsing in grief”??
Good grief. “Lions and tigers and bears, Oh my!” (I couldn’t help myself).
Is this guy just given to New Age hyperbole?
When I first heard that claim I imagined people dropping like flies on the sidewalks of a big city somewhere…
Collapsing in grief, really? A bit overstated, one might say – but it gets worse.

Wheal continues:
“It does feel that the handrails, the things that we used to look to for stability and security, have just evaporated.”
Really, what things?

Do you mean Faith with a capital F in the Good Book? Omens in the sky like comets portending another plague as punishment from the Almighty? Are we (you) missing unquestioned belief in an Omnipotent Prick of a God who created us, then conveniently installed “Original Sin” in us as well, and then demanded undying loyalty to save us from His eternal Torture Chamber—is that the stability and security we’re missing: belief in an ugly, old myth?
Just what handrails do you mean, buddy? And could it be that YOU feel that way given that your thinking is so blatantly colored by Biblical perspectives and couched in Apocalytpic-with-a-capital-A terms?

The more he speaks throughout the BT talk – you get the sense of that’s where he’s coming from – disaster and strife overwhelming us any minute now, end times are a-coming, the world is only getting worser and worser- the end is near. We need to be saved.
His latest book being entitled “Recapture the Rapture” says it all.

His main claim is that we have had a “collapse in meaning.” Religion was Meaning 1.0, and Modern Liberalism is Meaning 2.0, and both have failed us – and he proposes how we ought restore meaning in our 21st Century lives with his hip New Agey version of Meaning 3.0. He’s right about the 1st claim, wrong about the second and blows a lot of hot air about the third.
According to him, we have lost our minds because we’ve lost religion – and modern liberal thinking just doesn’t cut it. Well, we haven’t lost our minds, most aren’t collapsing in grief. There is actually less grief in people’s lives than ever before and it ain’t due to religion. Like I said I think the guy is full of shit on a number of levels.

Let’s start with “just monkeys in clothes” Uh, no we are not. We are greatly evolved apes (not monkeys) and have a uniquely evolved conceptual cognition, that has allowed us to make explanations: some fanciful and silly and utterly false and ineffective (think religion), and some incredibly in-depth and effective. In the short time that we have developed civilization with its specialization, trade, and now our phenomenal instant information exchange, – we are immersed in the most effective conceptual explanation machine yet: theoretical science.

The term “just monkeys” implies a primitive critter – incapable of handling what we find ourselves in: clueless and unaware of the reality around us. It sets up a helplessness that can only be fixed by…faith, in something. We need help (from on high), we cant do it ourselves.
But, we are not just monkeys or apes in clothes. And we don’t seem to be as overwhelmed and collapsing in grief with our brains broken as much as he proclaims.

But since he says we have lost our minds and are overwhelmed with grief, well then, we need his New Age fix – the Flow Genome Project: a mix of tribal customs, trance practice, catchy neuroscience, transcendental thinking exercises – and sex. Sounds like just more New Age elixir being peddled, that good ole timey religion pitch: setup the misery and damnation first – that we are hopelessly lost in this human condition (Life is all about Suffering, the First Buddhist Noble Truth) – unable to cope. And sure enough, the Only True Path to salvation is belief in one thing or another. This time its Meaning 3.0 provided by Wheal’s Flow Genome Project – which is chock-full of Buddhist symbolism and perspectives like any good New Agey-sorta quasi-religious belief. Gotta love that Eastern Mysticism to get the rich white folks to buy in for some transcendental salvation.

It’s the same old scam: we are merely poor, depraved little monkeys, riddled with sin, lost, adrift in a sea of uncertainty, hopeless without some kind of Divine Guidance, destined for a miserable, meaningless life now, and eternal suffering in the next one- UNLESS- for a mere $5,000 – Flow and Meaning 3.0 can set you straight!
Not mere paltry salvation, or a cheesy, ephemeral Nirvana, achieved only thru years of tedious meditation- NO, cousin, you can dig my new- fangled FLOW – full of neurological and sexual fulfillment and recapture the hopelessly lost meaning in your life that has you collapsing on the sidewalk – your brain broken by it all- whatever “it” is. Same old snake oil elixir magic cure setup,- YOU NEED THIS and for a mere $5,000 you can have it.

“Overwhelmed and collapsing in grief”…Wow. I don’t know, in the 2020’s, yeah we got issues. Climate breakdown from global heating is getting harder for the conservatives to deny, we have some ugly conflicts in Syria, Ukraine, Gaza, and Sudan (among others), that are killing tens to hundreds of thousands and displacing millions, and conspiracy theories spreading faster than ever through the Net.

But Ill take those issues, and the comforts we now enjoy in 2024 to escape them, any day, over what 20th century humans had to deal with:

1. The 1920’s with WWI, the Spanish Flu, the Russian Revolution and other major problems of the day, killing upwards of 100 million – and no antibiotics, no vaccines, none of the modern medicine we take for granted, and no anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medications either- with fewer rights for most people on earth than today, 1/3 of the world couldn’t read, and 60% lived in extreme poverty.

2. Or, how ’bout the 1940’s and WWII, Hitler and Stalin and Imperial Japan killing over 100 million again, and the first threat of nuclear war on the horizon – and a very real threat for much of the world to wind up living under the subjugation of one of these three guys/regimes if the war didn’t end the way it did. Half the world in food insecurity and threat of violence or subjugation as a way of life – just as for millennia before. Overwhelming, you betcha!

3. Wanna go for the US -1960’s? The Cold War, blatant white racism, Vietnam, Civil Rights protests and backlash, regular assassinations of political and Civil Rights figures, the sexual and drug revolutions, and on the global stage – Chairman Mao killing another 40 million plus in his Great Leap Forward? The Rights Revolutions with Civil, Women’s, Gays, just getting started, segregation and misogyny was the norm, 100+ service people dying per WEEK at the height of the Vietnam War, a President (JFK) assassinated, then years later his brother RFK, and Martin Luther King, and Medgar Evers all murdered in the same year (’68)- plus Woodstock and the first moon landing a year after that—and 4 Vietnam protestors shot at Kent State another year later…talk about “breaking our brains”…with tremendous strife, death, destruction, and immense social change all served up together in less than a decade – one could make a real claim to being overwhelmed. Looking back, it was our “normal”.

Each of those 3 Eras had their awful tragedies, many of those times horrible enough for way too many on the planet who truly “collapsed in grief”… and for real…not some overblown description of supposed 21st Century angst…, no, 100’s of millions killed, millions more displaced, millions dying of disease and hunger.

We absolutely do have problems today – but in comparison, are we really so overwhelmed with lack of meaning?
The wars going on today are regional and will kill and displace in the low millions-horrible enough to be sure, but they are not global in scope, nor killing/displacing tens nor hundreds of millions decade after decade as before. And there are no leaders of the monstrous stature or reach of the Hitler’s, Stalin’s, or Mao’s. Democracies and modern economies have spread worldwide since the end of WWII.

In taking a break from writing this post, I sauntered over to the 7-11 for a soda and had to walk over a couple of people collapsed in grief just to get back to my car. They’re fucking dropping like flies, dude! In the school cafeteria last week, a half a dozen had to be resuscitated…
Sorry, it was there, I had to take it.

And if you think it is only me that feels Mr. Wheal tends toward the overblown and obtuse:
A 2017 NYT article describing his FLOW project How to Hack Your Brain (for $5,000) observes wryly that:
“At moments he is given to phrases that are not immediately comprehensible, like:
‘We are broaching the possibility of midwifing humanity into the infinite game.’
Yup, spewing inanities that sound so heavy – he would make a Deepak Chopra proud.

Among his most exaggerated and just plain wrong claims is when Mr. Wheal waxes downright bombastic:
“Basically everything you’ve ever seen on a TED Talk is probably not true.”

Now there’s the asshole statement of the year, maybe the decade.
Think about it, of the 1,000’s of TED talks, on subjects like astronomy, agriculture, anthropology, astrophysics, biology, banking, biomedical engineering, …you get the picture…how likely is it that EVERYTHING in those talks is wrong. He is so desperate to knock-down what he calls Modern Liberalism as a failure in meaning he’s willing to stick his foot in his mouth enough to swallow it whole.

Here’s just a little data on TED (that despicable bastion of modern liberalism that has failed in its delivery of meaning to modern man):

Not counting Tedx or TED global talks, just from TED.com, over 3,500 talks have been posted as of 2020. From the 23 main topics, with Headings such as Technology, Business, Psychology, Health, etc., let’s just look at the topic most easily trusted as empirical, data-driven, and minimally speculative:
There are over 1,700 science talks alone, on such subjects as Astronomy, Chemistry, Evolution, Electricity, Marine Biology, Physics, Space, and about a dozen others…Whaddya think the odds are that EVERY ONE of those talks is wrong, eh? In fact, there is a wealth of just good modern science made available to the general public, from a host of disciplines on platforms like TED nowadays – like Big Think – where Wheal peddles his Flow elixir.

He just had to make that stupidly extreme claim in service to his thesis that meaning as provided by Modern Liberalism (read human rights and science) is as much a failure as religion. I have no doubt that some New Age speculative bullshit has crept into a TED talk or two. It would be impossible with that many speakers and even a tight screening- fact-checking process (whatever criteria TED uses) that some nonsensical, purely speculative claims have not seeped through. Surprisingly, TED has excluded or relegated to text-only blogs, or added disclaimers to unproven, maybe even crack-pot, fringe talks like those of Rupert Sheldrake or Graham Hancock. Bully for TED to at least have some guard-rails up, and ones they have taken heat for. I have watched a lot of TED talks, mostly science ones and they are pretty damn good and just chock-full of solid info from those couple dozen disciplines. Not wrong at all, but the best that we know at the moment.

But “everything” you ever heard on TED was wrong? Wow. You can’t pile it any higher than that. Makes you wonder what he has against science when at the same time he uses so much of it (mostly neuroscience) in his Flow seminars…sure seems like he’s once again just steeped in a typical religious perspective that science must be wrong as it continues to humiliate and replace primitive mythological explanations, by showing their childishness and absurdity?
I could go on.

Wheal’s biggest mistake:
“If we want to create Meaning 3.0, which is a blend of traditional religion, and modern liberalism, how do we have the salvation that religion promises, and the inclusion that modern liberalism is committed to.”

Religion is a dismal failure. We need nothing from religion. The billion or two of us that live secular lives show it aint necessary for a good, fulfilling, meaningful life. None of its explanations ever worked, no gods of any culture’s mythology from any time ever showed up. And the archaic, patriarchal, ignorant rules of the world’s religions are too repressive to be compatible with what he thinks is right with Modern Liberalism, which is tolerance, of all human beings.”Salvation that religion promises” – and has never delivered! There is no evidence of any afterlife, there will be no rapture, end-times are not just around the corner. Christians have been predicting the end of the world for nearly 2,000 years now and the Buddhists cant show that anyone, not even the Buddha himself, ever reached nirvana. We don’t need ANYTHING from religion.
The rise of the Nones embracing tolerance and rejecting religion demonstrates we don’t need any meaning from tired old myths or their –
“Foolish rules of ancient date, designed to make you all feel great” Frank Zappa
Thnx, FZ!

Wheal again:
“From Meaning 1.0, (religion) we need healing, inspiration and connection.”

Wow. That may not be the wrong-est statement, but it is the dumb-est.
Healing? Really. The 2 largest religions on earth, Christianity and Islam, with nearly 1/2 the worlds population between them (about 4 billion souls) aren’t in the least bit about healing! Or connection. Give it a rest!

Catholicism preaches against women’s rights, such as reproductive – no birth control, no abortion choice, and the old white guys in long skirts in Rome were dead against the HPV vaccine. Healing, eh? Let ’em die of cervical cancer later – bishops and cardinals cant appear to acknowledge or condone premarital sex so to hell with the wonders of modern medicine (liberalism). And the institution is a bastion of Iron Age misogyny- women are second class citizens and cant be priests, bishops, cardinals, or Pope. Charmingly, the Catholic position on gays is expressed in a number of Biblical passages- its wrong, evil, sinful, punishable by death. Some healing, some connection.

Islam is just as ugly toward homosexual behavior. Its ironic watching American trans and queer teens supporting the Palestinians when if they set foot in Gaza, they’d have a good chance of being thrown off a roof. Muhammad had 11 wives, one was only 9 years old when the marriage was consummated- isn’t THAT just special? And he took sex slaves. So Islamist terror groups like ISIS, Boko Haram, the Taliban, Hamas and others – emulating the Prophet – take sex slaves too when they get the chance. Let the healing begin!

Want some real healing and connection? Check out any of the suras in the Quran which preach about killing infidels: anyone who doesn’t or wont submit to the will of Allah and revert (as they call it) to Islam: Violence to Infidels in the Quran. Kill them where you find them, behead them if necessary. Really, Jamie? Religion?

And for all that we do enjoy, whether it is personal freedoms, longer lifespans, trade and cooperation on a global scale, daily comforts, and the juggernaut of modern science striving to explain the world a little deeper each day and make people’s lives even better…
Religion got you none of this.

We don’t need to recapture any rapture – and we don’t need to frame the human condition in apocalyptic terms, we need to continue to dump once and for all the ridiculous Biblical eschataology: end of world, second coming, true believers to be raptured, and sinners to be left behind to suffer- idiot ideas that color his entire talk and book. These perspectives are drawn from one tiny sample of the world’s cultural myths, from one tiny corner of the world and from ignorant, barbaric times. Its time to drop them and their undue influence from our modern discourse.

Modern liberalism, with it’s secular humanism is not a failure of spiritual meaning. Humanism emphasizes our normal human empathy which all of us possess except for a rare, few psychopaths. It is growing just fine thank you, which he acknowledges readily as growth of the Nones: the Non-religious who check the box “No religious affiliation”. It is now at 30% of the overall US population and nearly 50% of Gen-Zers. Maybe that is because in our ubiquitous, rapid information transfer world, the young especially are recognizing rather quickly the patriarchal, misogynistic, homophobic and science denial elements of our culture are promoted solely by the archaic religions: full of silly myths and ugly old rules.

And evidently its not just the US catching up to the many secular-dominant countries in Europe. I just saw a Tik-Tok of a mullah from an Arabic-Muslim country complaining that 25% of young Muslims are leaving Islam. Boo frickey-hoo.
Wheal is correct in noting that:
“Hey, those stories, those codes, those ways of being, don’t match my identity. Don’t match my choices. Don’t match my community.” So organized religion is no longer a place to hang our hats.”

He has got that part right. The anti-gay, anti-women, anti-science, and anti-progress built into all 3 Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is in direct contrast to the increasing knowledge about sex, gender, and sexual orientation we have from science in the 21st century, that increases our granting respect and rights to those of that vary from typical male or female. The old stories aren’t relevant and are as childish and ignorant as they seem.

And the Eastern religions aren’t much better. Buddhist nuns are second class citizens, homosexuality while not a sin is considered un-natural, and could get you reincarnated at a lower level for such bad behavior – fucking absurd, right? And Hinduism, like some Buddhist sects prohibits women from entering a temple while they are menstruating, lest they defile them. NPR had a whole special report a few years ago on the struggles of young girls around the world, and featured Hindu girls relegated to their “menstrual sheds” made to avoid the family, and especially food, lest they contaminate it and get everyone sick-during their periods. Unbelievable. This is the 21st century isn’t it? And then there is the caste system, maintained by a number of cultural institutions, religion being one of the prominent maintaining factors. So much connection and healing!!!!

The handrails he seems to yearn for from religion are steadily being replaced by a rising secular humanism: a decidedly non-religious emphasis on human rights and flourishing. For some reason, he cant handle it, its not enough for him. He needs that salvation pitch. He looks to be in his 40’s but sounds to me like he’s in his 70’s!
I strongly suspect most of the Nones, and other folks who are still religious-but decidedly less religious than their parents and grandparents, have never heard of the term, Secular Humanism. It is what many of them gravitate to (especially the young) without even knowing what to call it, that there even is a name for it.

I’m reminded of the author Katherine Ozment – who figured out as a non-church going, still spiritual person, tolerant and empathetic of all humans – in trying to answer her child’s question about what their “faith” or “religion” was (since they appeared to have none): “What are we, anyway?” – and discovering her inclinations were precisely defined by secular humanism – a term previously unknown to her. “I guess that’s what we are” accurately paraphrases her response. Secular humanists.

To me, that is just what is going on with the rise of the Nones in the US (catching up to much of Europe) with young people worldwide being more connected than ever to folks on the other side of the planet and eschewing the inherent intolerance and tribalism of the world’s religions. For example, the many chat-rooms that mostly young people use worldwide to converse with other kids on the other side of the world. Or you can be playing a video game against a competitor from another country, another culture, a continent or two away from you – as easy as you might converse with someone at the local coffee shop. Phenomenal. Does that “break our brains” too? Quite the contrary, I think it brings u closer together than any religion or national ideology can.

Wheal sets up a false dichotomy to explain one result he sees from this “loss of meaning”:
“So in that collapse, we’re getting fundamentalism on one side, and we’re getting nihilism on the other.”

Fundamentalism has always been with us -it’s just religion taken seriously. Thankfully most believers of any stripe are moderates that are blissfully unaware of the ugly parts of their faith, or practice only snippets of their religion. Religion is to blame, not modern, rapid culture change for fundamentalism.

As far as his take on nihilism: Modern liberalism is humanistic, not nihilistic at all. Absence of religious belief is not denial of humanity, in fact it is just the opposite. That whine is so typical of religious plaints against secularism: if one doesn’t believe in a god of some kind, you must be a dismal, bleak, creature with no meaning, no purpose…blah, blah. blah. Most non-believers are quite spiritual and reject religions for their blatant intolerance and choose human rights and flourishing as their primary motivation. A worthy goal, the end of discrimination and suffering, and an equal opportunity for fulfillment for all. Its SO nihilistic!

He really misses the point when he blames misinformation and conspiracy theories running rampant as the result of modernity. Again, just a little research on his part and he would discover that its the religious, often the most religious- that already believe in the unfounded fantasies of their faith, that buy into and promote the most whackadoodle ideas going. Conspiracy theories thrive among the religious, not the secular types. Religion sets you up to believe bullshit and reject modern knowledge and makes fertile ground in the minds of the faithful for science denial and conspiratorial thinking. After all, the devil is always lurking just around the corner, disaster awaits us at any moment…so its but a short leap to assuming there’s a cabal of evil others plotting against us. The Q-Anons in Amerika are almost all heavy-duty Christians.

So to reply to his plaint that:
“It does feel that the handrails, the things that we used to look to for stability and security, have just evaporated.”

My answer is, sonny, we all still have the love of family, friends, coworkers, even total strangers who share our common humanity. The love of children or a loving spouse, a brother or sister, parents, watching your children grow up, fulfilling work, charity work. Giving back, aiding others – even people on the other side of the planet we will never, ever meet can be some of the most rewarding, fulfilling, worthwhile of endeavors – and they tend to make us the happiest.
Looking for meaning in silly old myths or worrying about salvation from some fatalistic end of the world expectations are a futile, bleak, endeavor. We could instead embrace all of humanity, freed from the barriers of religious claims we dreamed up thousands of years ago when we didn’t know any better.

We are one species, we could be one tribe (we have a good shot at it now with an expanding global culture) – without religion.
end religion now





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