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."

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:

All images provided by Prudential Emerging Visionaries

Collins after being selected by Prudential Emerging Visionaries


A changemaker is anyone who takes creative action to solve an ongoing problem—be it in one’s own community or throughout the world.

And when it comes to creating positive change, enthusiasm and a fresh perspective can hold just as much power as years of experience. That’s why, every year, Prudential Emerging Visionaries celebrates young people for their innovative solutions to financial and societal challenges in their communities.

This national program awards 25 young leaders (ages 14-18) up to $15,000 to devote to their passion projects. Additionally, winners receive a trip to Prudential’s headquarters in Newark, New Jersey, where they receive coaching, skills development, and networking opportunities with mentors to help take their innovative solutions to the next level.

For 18-year-old Sydnie Collins, one of the 2023 winners, this meant being able to take her podcast, “Perfect Timing,” to the next level.

Since 2020, the Maryland-based teen has provided a safe platform that promotes youth positivity by giving young people the space to celebrate their achievements and combat mental health stigmas. The idea came during the height of Covid-19, when Collins recalled social media “becoming a dark space flooded with news,” which greatly affected her own anxiety and depression.

Knowing that she couldn’t be the only one feeling this way, “Perfect Timing” seemed like a valuable way to give back to her community. Over the course of 109 episodes, Collins has interviewed a wide range of guests—from other young influencers to celebrities, from innovators to nonprofit leaders—all to remind Gen Z that “their dreams are tangible.”

That mission statement has since evolved beyond creating inspiring content and has expanded to hosting events and speaking publicly at summits and workshops. One of Collins’ favorite moments so far has been raising $7,000 to take 200 underserved girls to see “The Little Mermaid” on its opening weekend, to “let them know they are enough” and that there’s an “older sister” in their corner.

Of course, as with most new projects, funding for “Perfect Timing” has come entirely out of Collins’ pocket. Thankfully, the funding she earned from being selected as a Prudential Emerging Visionary is going toward upgraded recording equipment, the support of expert producers, and skill-building classes to help her become a better host and public speaker. She’ll even be able to lease an office space that allows for a live audience.

Plus, after meeting with the 24 other Prudential Emerging Visionaries and her Prudential employee coach, who is helping her develop specific action steps to connect with her target audience, Collins has more confidence in a “grander path” for her work.

“I learned that my network could extend to multiple spaces beyond my realm of podcasting and journalism when industry leaders are willing to share their expertise, time, and financial support,” she told Upworthy. “It only takes one person to change, and two people to expand that change.”

Prudential Emerging Visionaries is currently seeking applicants for 2024. Winners may receive up to $15,000 in awards and an all-expenses-paid trip to Prudential’s headquarters with a parent or guardian, as well as ongoing coaching and skills development to grow their projects.

If you or someone you know between the ages of 14 -18 not only displays a bold vision for the future but is taking action to bring that vision to life, click here to learn more. Applications are due by Nov. 2, 2023.

The Gen X 'stay at home mom' crisis is real, but what's the solution?

Some moms in their 40s feel like they were lied to about what their "resume gap" would mean.

40-something moms who stayed home to be with their kids are finding themselves in uncharted waters.

A few generations ago, parents had pretty clearly defined roles, with the dad generally being the breadwinner and the mom being the homemaker/stay-at-home mother. Then women's rights movement came along, empowering women in the workplace, ushering in the era of two working parents and producing an entire generation of "latchkey kids."

Now those Gen X latchkey kids are parenting Gen Z, with the pendulum of working motherhood having swung somewhat to the middle. We were raised to believe we could be anything we dreamed of being and that we didn't have to choose between being a mom and having a career. Gen X also became mothers during the heyday of parenting self-help books that impressed upon us the importance of attachment and hands-on childrearing, as well as the era of super-scheduled kids, whose activities alone require a full-time manager.

As a result, those of us in our 40s have raised our kids straddling two worlds—the one where women can have all of the career success we desire and the one where we can choose to be stay-at-home moms who do all the things. At first, we were told we could have it all, but when the impossibility of that became clear, we were told, "Well, you can have it all, just not at the same time."

But as many moms are finding as their kids start leaving the nest, even that isn't the full truth.

Keep ReadingShow less

TikTokker Mackenzie Waddell shares a heartfelt story about her daughter.

A mother on TikTok shared a heartfelt moment when her 9-year-old daughter opened up about her self-image concerns, wondering about her appearance as she grows up. The story was a wonderful example of a mother delicately dealing with an issue that far too many young women face. It was also a difficult moment because the conversation brought up the mother's body issues as well.

The conversation happened while the two were clothes shopping at Target. “My 9-year-old’s saying she's fat, and this is because she has to wear adult sizes versus kids 'cause she's really tall, just like me,” Mackenzie Waddell told her 222,000 followers.

Keep ReadingShow less

Mother of 7 stunned to learn the ‘Alphabet Song’ has been changed to get with the times

There's a good reason for the update. But it's jarring, to say the least.

Jessica Skube can't believe that they changed the 'Alphabet Song.'

The oldest published version of the melody to the “Alphabet Song” was in 1761. However, because it’s the same melody as “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” it's hard to trace it to its original composer.

The “Alphabet Song” is so deeply entrenched in American culture that it almost seems sacrilegious to change a piece of music that’s one of the first most of us ever learned. But after all these years, some educators are altering the classic melody so that there is a variation when the letters L-M-N-O-P are sung.

This change shocked popular TikTokker Jessica Skube, who documents life raising 7 children with her 2.6 million followers. Nearly 10 million people have watched her video revealing the significant change, and it’s received over 56,000 comments since first being published in late 2020.

Keep ReadingShow less

Single dad receives letter from late wife and immediately gets a DNA test

"She wrote a letter for me before she died, but I couldn’t bring myself to read it until now."

A devastated man sitting by the ocean.

Ten months after a man’s wife passed away, he finally got the courage to read a letter she left him, which contained a devastating admission. The 4-year-old son they had together may not be his.

“My ‘darling’ wife passed away 10 months ago,” the man wrote on Reddit’s Off My Chest forum. “She wrote a letter for me before she died, but I couldn’t bring myself to read it until now. She told me how sorry she was that she didn’t have the guts to tell me this to my face when she was alive.”

In the letter, the wife revealed that there was a “good chance” that the son he thought was his wasn’t his biological child. A few weeks before their wedding day, the wife got drunk at her bachelorette party and had a one-night stand with another man. Soon after that night, she became pregnant but was unsure who the father was.

Keep ReadingShow less

Delivering packages AND safety.

Amazon delivery drivers don’t have the easiest job in the world. Sitting through traffic, working in extreme temperatures, hauling boxes … not exactly a fun time. So when a driver goes out of their way to be extra considerate—people notice.

One delivery driver has gone viral for the way she delivered a little bit of safety education, along with some lighthearted advice. The TikTok video of the encounter, which now has more than 4 million views, was shared by Jessica Huseman, who had only recently moved into her new house.

Keep ReadingShow less

"I had to unlearn it because it never was okay."

There is certainly no shortage of stories from women highlighting the glaring disparity between society’s expected responsibilities of husbands vs. wives. Some are a bit more lighthearted, poking fun at the absurdity. Others reflect utter frustration and had-it-up-to-here-edness with partners not doing their share of the work.

However, self-proclaimed “Clueless Husband” J Fisher’s honest, thoughtful retrospection on the subject shows that it’s not just female partners noticing that things need to change.

In a now-viral TikTok video, Fisher describes how he used to consider himself the “main character” of his relationship.

Keep ReadingShow less