Q23:37Rainn Wilson on spirituality and art
In Rainn Wilson’s new book, Soul Boom: Why We Need a Spiritual Revolution, the actor writes about the intersection of art and faith, and what happens to our world when we move away from spirituality.
Wilson has been a member of the Baha’i faith since childhood, but as a young actor, he rejected religion and spent many years as an atheist before reconnecting with his spiritual side.
“I had no room in my life for God,” he told Q‘s Tom Power in an interview. “I thought that was just a ridiculous concept. I swiftly turned to being an atheist. I didn’t want morality in my life. I didn’t want the religion of my parents in my life…. I wanted to live a bohemian life in New York City — and I did for many years. And it was great. It was wonderful until it wasn’t as wonderful anymore, and I started to get extremely unhappy.”
“I dealt with kind of a mental health crisis of my own in the ’90s, when I was in my 20s, living in New York City. I was overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, dealing with addiction, loneliness, disconnection. And, you know, about the 47th time I woke up at 3 a.m., staring at the ceiling going, ‘What does it all mean?’ I thought, ‘Well, maybe, just maybe, I’ve thrown the spiritual baby out with the religious bathwater. And maybe, just maybe, I have been premature in rejecting anything and everything to do with religion and spirituality.’ And that started me on a quest.”
Wilson’s struggle with his faith mostly had to do with morality, and strictures around sex and drugs and alcohol. “I wanted to do things for myself, I wanted to be selfish, I wanted to do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it,” he said. “I didn’t want to think about other people. I didn’t want to think about trying to make the world a better place and be of service and pray and meditate…. I wanted to have maximum fun.”
Faith isn’t something you typically hear about on red carpets or in entertainment magazines. In fact, it’s a bit of a risk for celebrities to publicly discuss religion or be candid about their beliefs.
“Hollywood is rife with hypocrisy for any spiritual person,” Wilson told Power. “The Office was on the air for one reason only, and that was to sell stuff during commercial breaks…. So I was part of this giant, capitalist enterprise of NBCUniversal just trying to make gobs of money. And guess what they did? They made gobs of money. But I will say the greater service is that we made people laugh.”
WATCH | Rainn Wilson’s interview with Tom Power:
Soul Boom: Why We Need a Spiritual Revolution was inspired by an experience Wilson had trying to pitch a show about God (titled The Notorious G.O.D.) to Netflix.
“I had a great sizzle reel and pitch deck, we had episode ideas. We wanted to look at God like AI. And what’s a modern conception of God? How do we reimagine God in the modern world? How do different cultures look at God?” he recalled.
Having conversations about God … is too controversial. This is how upside down our culture is right now.– Rainn Wilson
“At the end of the day, it was rejected across the board. And I’ll never forget, at Netflix, they said, ‘Sorry, the topic is too controversial.’ You can have television shows with like half-naked models throwing garbage at each other and getting drunk — that’s fine! But having conversations about God and the meaning of life and what’s beyond is too controversial. This is how upside down our culture is right now.”
From Wilson’s perspective, we all have a spiritual responsibility to bring joy to others, whether that be through the art we create or through acts of service.
“What helps me when my head hits the pillow is a deep understanding that one of my sacred jobs is to bring joy and squash cynicism,” he said. “I think joy can be harnessed for good. I think it’s a superpower. It’s a service to others. And you don’t have to be an actor [and] you don’t have to be a sitcom star to bring joy to people.”
The full interview with Rainn Wilson is also available on our podcast, Q with Tom Power. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
Interview with Rainn Wilson produced by Vanessa Greco.