There have been numerous examples over the last year of religious leaders causing difficulties for the people that they guided or advised. The most famous amongst them was Barack Obama’s former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Obama was forced to distance himself from his pastor after Wright was exposed as making anti-American comments.
Then there was the story of John McCain and Pastor John Hagee. After it was alleged that John Hagee made anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic comments, the then Presidential Candidate John McCain publically rejected Hagee’s endorsement.
But it is not only politicians who have very public relationships with their religious guides. Madonna is often outspoken about her respect for Michael Berg at the Kabbalah Center. And Tom Cruise is public about his faith in scientology. In fact Scientology leader David Miscavige was best man at Tom Cruise’s wedding to Katie Holmes and in 2004 Miscavige awarded Cruise a medal for being “the most dedicated Scientologist I know.”
Now clearly the rich and famous are as much in need of religious and spiritual guidance as anyone else. And any successful spiritual guide or clergyperson will count the rich and famous amongst those that they have relationships with.
There have been lots of discussion about the authenticity of spiritual and religious leaders such as the Berg family of the Kabbalah Center, David Miscavig of Scientology and those who have tried to cultivate an image of spiritual guide to the stars.
People should certainly be free to say whatever they want and if a famous individual thinks highly of a particular spiritual guide they should feel uninhibited to say so. But what should the role of a clergyperson or spiritual guide be in the life of the guidance seeker? Should the relationship be similar to that of a lawyer and a client, a doctor and patient or a coach and the coached? Is it correct for a spiritual or religious guide to ride the fame of a celebrity guidance seeker to further their own reputation?
The answer lies in why people turn to a religious or spiritual guide. They do so because they believe that the guide not only has greater knowledge but is also more spiritually evolved than they are. Unlike qualifying to become a doctor or a lawyer, spiritual development cannot be attained by passing a university exam.
It is very personal and it is often difficult for the layperson to discern between an authentic spiritual guide and a fake. This is why there are so many charlatans and narcissists posing as religious leaders and spiritual guides.
A real spiritual guide
An authentically spiritual person is one who accustoms themselves to see beyond the external veneer of reality and into the higher more sublime spiritual realm. For them the ego and its materialist externalities are worthless.
Such a person has, to a great extent, overcome their egos entrapment into narcissistic and selfish behavior. A genuinely spiritually evolved individual does not look out for their own gain. Everything they do is in service of a cause higher then themselves.
Such an individual does not feel flattered when a famous person seeks their guidance and they certainly do not look for what they can personally gain from such a relationship. For spiritual and religious guides fame does not necessarily translate into authenticity.
A real spiritual guide does not seek fame or publicity rather it comes to them. They will spend an equal amount of time with the rich as they will with the poor. A famous person will be treated no better or worse than an unknown. Monetary gain will not feature in any of their decisions. They will do what is right because it is right and will avoid doing what is wrong no matter what the cost might be.
The relationship between a clergyperson or spiritual guide and the guidance seeker or congregant must therefore be very different from any other type of professional relationship.
None of this is to say that any of the people mentioned above are charlatans. Not knowing them personally I have no right or ability to make such a judgment. But, if guidance seekers truly understood what to look for in a religious or spiritual guide, beyond their oratorical and teaching abilities, imposters would not succeed in posing as religious or spiritual masters. Considering all of the bloodshed and suffering that has taken place in the name of religion, this would ensure that our world becomes a better place.
Rabbi Levi Brackman is author of Jewish Wisdom for Business Success: Lesson from the Torah and Other Ancient Texts