May 09

Book Review: The Universe Has Your Back

The Universe Has Your Back: Transform Fear to FaithThe Universe Has Your Back: Transform Fear to Faith by Gabrielle Bernstein

I wanted to like this book. I wanted to be uplifted by it and feel like I’ve been warmly hugged by a soft and kind woman who tells me everything is going to be okay. So when someone lent me this book, which has line-by-line phases my own mother would use, I thought it would hit me right in the spiritual cozies.

Gabrielle Bernstein is on the same spectrum as Brene Brown and Elizabeth Gilbert. They are all women who write for other women who are looking for spiritual development. But whereas Brown uses research and Gilbert uses experience, Bernstein seems to rely mostly on whatever occurs to her while she’s meditating. She is to spirituality what Aristotle is to science, and no, I don’t really mean that as a compliment. I mean that they both rely too heavily on “stuff I thought up that sounded cool” and not enough on “things which have been validated by actual evidence.”

As the title suggests, Bernstein is of the “Secret” camp who believe a variation on “wishing will make it so.” Reading her work was like hearing my mother say things like “if you stop worrying about it and get out of your own way, it will turn out just fine” and “if it’s meant to be, it will happen” and “thinking negative thoughts will just bring negativity into your life.” Maybe I should mention this is the thing my mother and I fought about most often. I’m not suggesting that this philosophy, if you can adopt it, won’t make you happier. I think it might do just that. But it require a level of credulity I just can’t muster.

If you replaced “the Universe” with “God” Bernstein would sound like the creepiest born-again Christian you’ve ever met. Just replace the Kundalani meditation with bible verses and it would sell like hotcakes in the bible belt. Open yourself to love, she says, and the way will be clear. Make a prayer, toss it into the fire, and trust God/The Universe will make it happen. In my own experience, fortune favors the prepared, and the idea that prayer can change anything in the world relies on a completely illogical and irrational mythology.

But I went into it hoping to change, hoping to get some kind of enlightenment. Richard Bachman once managed to convince me that magic was real and possible, just through his confident prose. Bachman just alienated me. You have to first accept the suppositions that god is real, kind, and not so distracted by real things that he cares about every person. These are three huge suppositions which have never been adequately defended to my satisfaction. Skeptical agnostics will not find much in this book: you have to be predisposed to believe in micromanaging angels. I think she means well, and I have no doubt that a lot of people respond to her message of kindness and divine intervention awaiting everyone who asks for it. But her salesmanship wasn’t enough to convince me to drink her flavor of kool-aid. I am too skeptical to trust my future to anything other than my own hard work.

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