My wife is an avid reader of Psychology Today. She pointed out an interesting article in the September/ October issue, "Holy Celebrity," by Joachim Kreuger, a social psychologist.
It's about the Dalai Lama.
Basic theme is that if you're a celebrity, spiritual or some other variety, your vacuous statements take on an aura of meaningfulness that people wouldn't ascribe to those words if a non-celebrity said the same thing.
All religions assume that certain individuals have special access to divine, esoteric, or transcendental knowledge, although they tend to be mute on just how this knowledge is transmitted. This view does not rise to the level of a testable hypothesis; believing it is part of the religious perspective itself.
The idea of privileged access among a select few is among the last to die when people fall away from a religious tradition; hence, it is also the easiest to project onto high-ranking representatives of other religions.
Kreuger shares some tweets from the Dalai Lama's official Twitter page. Sample: "Genuine peace is based on inner peace, because you cannot build peace on the basis of anger."
To the disinterested reader, these tweets blur the line between spiritual insight and the wisdom of a fortune cookie. To a reader who has accepted the idea of privileged access, however, the content is irrelevant.
What matters is that it cannot be subjected to empirical evaluation. It is in the Dalai Lama's interest not to assert anything that can be judged as true or false on the basis of fact. When people consume the Dalai Lama's messages, they respond more to his brand value rather than to the substance.
...Because he is already a supreme being, the trivial is sanctified.
Nicely put. I'm going to follow Kreuger's "One Among Many" blog now.
The Holy Celebrity article doesn't seem to be available online. However, Kreuger's January 2013 blog post, "The Dalai Lama as a Brand," was the basis for the article.
It's a good reminder to be wary of getting sucked in by someone's celebrity status, where you pay more attention to who is saying something rather than what is being said -- how believable it is, how worthwhile it is, how original it is.
From the above-linked blog post:
The DL [Dalai Lama] has successfully branded himself as a modern-age (new-age) prophet of overall goodness. The trick is that there is no there there. In the popular perception (my own included until last week) the DL is simply good. If asked just how and why and in which way he is good, what he has done for his fellow human-beings, we may come up with a list of modest achievements, but nothing that seems compatible with his rarefied status.