MOVE over style makeovers, house and garden makeovers, diet makeovers and even sex makeovers: the latest part of our lives to go under the knife and emerge refined, reshaped and recharged with enthusiasm is something a tad less tangible: the spirit.
It started out innocently enough with a few reiki healers and sacred circlers here and there, started to mushroom in the last couple of years as weekly yoga became better attended than weekly mass, and was hinted at by a recent TV series in which a group of men ranging from an advertising executive to a poet went to live in a monastery for 40 days and 40 nights to see if life held any deeper meaning. And it became official with the first major spiritual makeover TV show last week, Channel 4's Spirituality Shopper.
This wasn't just any of those wishy washy new-fangled religions we were dealing with here, but the big guns: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism. Was it designed, with its consumerist title, to enrage the truly committed Christian, Jew, Muslim or Buddhist, for whom religion isn't something you can just pick out on a whim, like choosing cereal in a supermarket? Hard to tell: on the one hand, the producers got their hands on spiritual guides from each religion who were more than happy to play along and coach the befuddled candidate, Michaela. At the end of the day, however, what went on was definitely a kind of uncommitted browsing, as highlighted by the footage of Michaela going on a shopping spree for mini-Buddhas and incense sticks.
Hmmm, you thought at that point, for something that's supposed to be lifechanging, doesn't it all seem like a bit of an easy ride? What happened to the years of study and fasting, and all the other stuff you usually have to endure for the prize of becoming more enlightened than the rest of us lazy sods? Easier than Gillian McKeith, this was.
In fairness, they probably had to make it seem easy, because if they told the truth, they'd put people off ever trying out the whole religion thing. Which wouldn't be a great idea, given how much the sales of Prozac already seem to be profiting from the hordes of disillusioned agnostics who accidentally chucked out the baby (the meaning of life) with the bathwater (organised religion) and are now desperately trying to find an alternative.
Just look at all those people who queued up to get hugged by the "hugging saint" Amma, in the RDS last November.
The problem is, trying to find religion is a bit like trying to find a man: the more you try, the less you believe in it. I know this, because I've tried it once or twice myself (the looking for religion bit, I mean, not the looking for a man . . . although that too). The first time, I was about seven years old . . . an age when most kids were probably busy concocting ways to bunk off mass, but as they say, you always want what you have not got. Having stayed the night at a friend's house, I watched with envy as they got themselves ready for church the following morning. What beautiful and mysterious ritual was this, I wondered, that required the combing of hair, the shining of shoes, the donning of pop socks?
Were they going to church to communicate with this same God who had been listening to their prayers last night, for each and every member of their family to be kept safe?
Envious, I lined all my teddy bears up as soon as I got home and conducted my own church service for them. But while I quite enjoyed the power I wielded over them, alas, God did not appear to be present with me, and it was an experiment soon forgotten about. In Michaela's case, however, the presence or otherwise of God (or Buddha or Allah or whoever you're having yourself) did not seem to be a requirement of the experiment.
If you're wondering how on earth she managed to grapple with the finer points of four major world religions in four weeks, then the answer is: she didn't. Her engagement with Christianity stretched only as far as a sacrificial ditching of her hair straighteners and a bit of dabbling in charitable community work; Buddhism was covered by a bit of meditation, and Islam was represented by some Sufi whirling dance. And as for Judaism, well, having dinner with family and friends on a Friday night is hardly a privation, even if you do have to make a nod to discussing spiritual matters.
People worry about a la carte Catholicism, but this was more like a serveyourself buffet of spiritual practises, where each dish had its own attraction and noone worried if they didn't go together.