Pop Culture

Rainn Wilson uses 'Star Trek' and 'Kung Fu' to explain the need for a 'spiritual revolution'

We sat down for a delightful Upworthy Book Club chat with actor and author Rainn Wilson.

Annie Reneau and Rainn Wilson side by side on Upworthy's Facebook Live

Annie Reneau and Rainn Wilson talk about his bestselling book, "Soul Boom: Why We Need a Spiritual Revolution."

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If we were to ask who should write a book about the individual and collective spiritual journey of humankind, Dwight Schrute from "The Office" would likely be wayyyy down on the list.

But the actor who played Dwight Schrute is a different story.

Rainn Wilson may have gained his fame playing a quirky, cantankerously loveable paper salesman (and Assistant to the Regional Manager), but outside of "The Office," he's spent much of his time publicly exploring "life's big questions." He founded the media company SoulPancake for that very purpose, he's gone deep with guest host Reza Aslan and fascinating guests on his "Metaphysical Milkshake" podcast, he's now on Peacock with "Rainn Wilson and the Geography of Bliss," and he has shared his perspectives on life, faith and humanity through various writing and speaking venues.

So it's perhaps not surprising to see him writing a NYT Bestseller, "Soul Boom: Why We Need a Spiritual Revolution," exploring how we can transform humanity for the better by focusing on the problem-solving benefits of spirituality. And since we're on a mission to highlight books that bring out the best in humanity, it's also no surprise that we chose Wilson and his book for our inaugural Upworthy Book Club author chat.

"My thesis is that the world needs a transformation," Wilson says. "The way that we are doing things is wrong-headed and upside down. The way that every system works is based on the worst of humanity—it's based on competition and aggression and one-upsmanship and survival of the fittest." A spiritual revolution, he says, is about replacing those systems with ones based on our higher human nature, which "seeks not to be self-interested, but other-interested, that is altruistic and compassionate at heart, and seeks to create a better world and better communities."

"So a spiritual revolution is a reimagining, a reenvisioning of how we're going to interact with each other at a foundational level," Wilson says. "That has to do with cooperation, community, collaboration, consultation…all of the things that bring us together, that unite us, that make us whole, that connect us. These are what I would call the 'divine attributes' of being a human being. This is the higher-level humanity stuff."

The funny thing is his opening statement for this thesis isn't necessarily what one would expect from a book about spirituality. Rather than diving into holy scriptures or the ancient wisdom of history's great spiritual thinkers, he starts his book by talking about two iconic 1970s television shows: "Star Trek" and "Kung Fu."

Wilson explains how the premises of these two TV shows tie into the global spiritual revolution he advocates by offering us examples of what it looks like for humanity to transform itself as a whole ("Star Trek") and for humans to transform themselves individually ("Kung Fu"). Wilson says we all have a role to play in these two parallel spiritual paths of personal and collective transformation.

Wilson is upfront about the fact that many of the ideas he shares come directly or indirectly from the Baha'i Faith, but he pulls from a diverse range of faiths and other spiritual sources as well to make his case for a spiritual revolution. He posits that we've "thrown the spiritual baby out with the religious bathwater," and that while people have tragically used religion as justification for all manner of cruelty and injustice, there are fundamental spiritual truths common to the major religions that can help us through this needed transformation. With chapters like, "The Notorious G.O.D.," "Religion, Schmeligion," and "The Fabulous Foundations of Faith," Wilson fearlessly (and often hilariously) delves into ideas and understandings about spirituality and the divine in a way that respects people of all beliefs. Even atheists and agnostics will find a welcome message here, as there is room for disagreement on the details even as we focus on what unites us.

Reviews reveal that Wilson has managed the seemingly impossible—to talk about religion and spirituality in a way that unites people of various backgrounds around a common cause:

"I am NOT religious or spiritual by any stretch of the imagination. Rainn Wilson addresses the topics in his book with the precision & care as to not offend, yet enlighten all with ideas and thoughts as to how we can all work toward achieving a better culture and environment for the youth of today. If I could give this book 10 stars, I would. A must read for ANYONE with children, especially between the ages of 2 & 18 years of age. HIGHLY RECOMMEND!!!" – SLMSLC

"If you’d told me years ago I’d be reading a book on spirituality from Dwight from The Office I’d have called you crazy. Of course that would have been before I knew anything about Rainn Wilson other than his hilarious character from The Office. I’ve since learned about his desire to explore life’s big questions and his SoulPancake project. Right from the start of Soul Boom Rainn admits he’s not an expert in spirituality and says you may very well not agree with all he says, in fact since he is pulling lessons from quite a few different religions/spiritual belief systems, he doesn’t expect readers to agree with it all and merely encourages you to keep an open mind, take what you want from the book and leave the rest. While he repeatedly discusses his own religion, Baháʼí Faith which focuses on unity and teaching the worth of all religions, he isn’t preachy about it, doesn’t insist his is the only way, and I definitely appreciate that. He tackles serious issues but does so in an entertaining, enjoyable, and thought-provoking way." – Amazon Customer

"Thank you Rainn Wilson for writing this book. The world seems to be on a path towards glorifying fear and division, and we need books like this to present unifying lessons and values. Service to others, loving one another and explaining the necessity of spirituality in our daily lives. I wholeheartedly recommend this book to everyone seeking a better life, a better world, and the unity of all mankind." – Saeedeh

"I don't say this often, but I do think this is a "must read" in that it is part of a bigger conversation being carried out in real-time in our society (and the world), and this is "An Idiot's Guide" to the basics of the topic. This world is...challenging. Physically, mentally, socially, and...yes...spiritually. Rainn Wilson (yes, THAT Rainn Wilson) posits the theory that perhaps spirituality (however you shape it) has the answers we need to those challenges. He seeks the solutions to what he calls the "global pandemics" of racism, materialism, climate change, unjust economic systems, nationalism, and sexism--solutions that he believes lie within us as humans, if only we can access them. This is his Spiritual Revolution. He approaches the subject as an adherent of the Baha'i faith, but demonstrates a good working knowledge of the tenants of many other of the world's major religions. He also honestly examines from those varied perspectives some of the big questions in life, such as death, a higher power, purpose, suffering, etc. But he does it in a clever, witty, approachable way--a dry tome this is not! I can almost hear his voice reading it and I may very well get the audiobook so I can hear it for real. His prose is very expressive. What he did was make me think, about how we can individually seek inner tranquility and also collectively seek solutions and revolutionize how we live this thing called life." – Debra

Find "Soul Boom: Why We Need a Spiritual Revolution" at our Bookshop.org store and join us to continue the conversation in the Upworthy Book Club Facebook group.

And watch our full chat with Rainn Wilson here:

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