I saw some of the Nooma videos in the past and have heard about the controversy surrounding some of his books, but apart from this, I haven’t been overly familiar with Rob Bell. I heard he was going to be speaking in Nashville and, after some debate, decided it would probably be interesting enough to go. Unfortunately though, I was disappointed.
I’ll start by saying, from the little I do know about Bell, I imagine his purpose with “Everything is Spiritual” may be to give people who aren’t fond of religion and Christianity but are still interested in the spiritual and open to the supernatural, to give them a way to find space where these could possibly exist within a (somewhat) scientific view of the world.
In any case, the way I think, I like a speaker or author to make a proposition and then support it. This allows me to consider their support and decide if what they propose is reasonable or not. Bell doesn’t really communicate this way. He throws a bunch of ideas out but doesn’t really support them nor even necessarily make a strong claim to even believe them himself, though this seems to be vaguely assumed. This makes it difficult to critique; I can’t necessarily say he was wrong because he said so little definitively.
Essentially, as I understood it, with “Everything is Spiritual” Bell has come up with a paradigm of the world. He seems to pull together an amalgam of pop-science and spiritual (occasionally even Christian) concepts. His first basic assumption is an evolutionary development of the universe. Everything else is based on this premise. He states that this (evolution) is the opposite of what we would expect (decay), and uses this paradox to suggest that there must be some kind of force propelling things forward. Call it God, love, the force, light, whatever, it isn’t really important as Bell taught it. But the universe is ever expanding and evolving. Bell suggests that what Jesus was trying to explain when he talked so much about “the kingdom of God” is the next step in evolution. People are supposed to bond together to form something greater than themselves. So racism (for an example he used) is bad because it is hindering the forward progress of the evolution of the universe.
This is my best synopsis. It was far from a clear, focused speech. Bell would talk about something such as matter being made up of energy and then suggests that “energy” passes between people. What frustrated me was, while this could be true, this is quite a jump and Bell gave no support for almost any of these kind of connections which he suggested. Most of the things he related weren’t based on any evidence (at least not that he shared), but were rather based on some vague similarities. I did not find this convincing.
A friend of mine said she loves how Bell gives this space where he doesn’t nail anything down nor even support his suggestions. She said this makes her feel free to come to her own conclusions. I can understand, if a person has been in an environment in which they were expected to believe certain doctrines, how Bell would be a welcome change and how he would provide a sense of permission to question and explore. For me however, I’ve felt able to question, explore, and come to my own conclusions for some time. So for where I am at, I need more supported substance in order to evaluate an idea. Because of this, I felt that Bell really didn’t say anything, and this left me significantly disappointed.