I usually have two problems with most spiritualists. First to clarify, when I say "spiritualist" I categorically DO NOT mean people who say they are "spiritual but not religious." I've already written at length my distaste for those people. Spiritualism is the belief that spirit exists distinct from matter (or within some realm of more rarefied subtle matter or etheric or astral matter) and can be contacted through mediums. And this has been tested scientifically and there are really only two possible options to explain the data:
1. The Survival Hypothesis. The minds and personalities of people survive death of the body in pretty much the same state as when they were alive and they can communicate, at least at a rudimentary level, with the living.
2. The Super-ESP Hypothesis. The minds of certain living people are capable of extraordinary feats of ESP bordering on omniscience, whereby they can access information about the deceased by reading the minds of multiple living people all over the world simultaneously and access other information through remote viewing of locked drawers, diaries, or other varied sources, often coming up with information that is not known to the bereaved person or persons and not verified until much later, all this coupled with a subconscious dissociative personality disorder that the medium believes with absolute conviction is a real deceased individual they are communicating with.
And that's it. And after 150 years of testing no one has devised an experiment to distinguish between the two conclusively for the unfortunate reason that all the scientists working on the problem are stuck trying to convince die-hard atheist materialists who serve as the gatekeepers of what is and is not officially sanctioned science that real information is being attained through psychic means.
You might think that's a false dilemma and decide to take the third option, but, to be honest, if you take the third option I question your intelligence and would be surprised you would even know what a false dilemma is or that you had the capacity to fully comprehend the issue.
3. The Demon-Haunted World. A class of non-physical (or astral) beings called demons exist and they are omniscient, or at least as intelligent as necessary to trick humans that they are deceased humans because God is an asshole and filled the universe with billions of demons who trick people because God is an asshole and wants to send 99.999% of people to suffer in Hell forever.
If you accept options 1 or 2 you are a rational person who has examined the evidence. If you accept option 3 you are a moron. If you reject them all and accept option 4, that it's all deliberate trickery from often Nobel Prize winning scientists who want to ruin their reputations by studying ghosts, you're either ignorant of the data or a cynical asshole and most likely never even bothered looking at the data because you reject it a priori.
As a side note, we can get into metaphysics, with astral and etheric and subtle energies and all that stuff some other time, and I know Ken Wilber has talked down the issue and has promoted his "Integral Post-Metaphysics" and Kant's critique of metaphysics, but if you read Excerpt G (page 46), Ken does admit to true metaphysics within his model:
" The fact that the subtle (and causal) bodymind can transmigrate the gross bodymind is indeed metaphysical; but the fact that these subtle energies are postulated as real, concrete, detectable, often measurable—if subtler—energies, stops the whole conception from spinning off into the vaporware of pure metaphysics. If you read hypothesis #4 in conjunction with the first three hypotheses, I think you will see that they are at least consistent with each other; and thus I believe that an integral theory of subtle energies can accommodate the existence of transmigration, if we decide, on other grounds, that there is enough evidence to conclude that transmigration occurs."
It's a good read, but if you're in a hurry you can watch this video.
Getting back to the central issue of what my problems with spiritualists are.
The first problem is the denial of the good that other religions (specifically Christianity and to a lesser extent Buddhism) have and continue to bring to humanity. I wouldn't say this is the hatred of religion, as we see in the "spiritual but not religious" people (except Islam, which they adore), and it probably is not cultural relativism either that says "all religions are equal" or some such nonsense. It might be a sort of spiritual myopia. They are so invested in the truth claims of their own beliefs – the messages delivered by spirits – that they reject out of hand the truth claims of opposing beliefs. So, for example, if spirits say reincarnation does not exist they will believe it without hesitation even though the spirit they are communicating with might be lying or ignorant or both. A second possibility is similar to when you're a teenager and you're embarrassed by what you did as a child, which is basically how climbing the developmental ladder works all through first tier. First tier stages (archaic, magic, mythic, rational, pluralistic, or egocentric, ethnocentric, worldcentric, or any other conceptions) are all exclusive in their thinking. Someone who is ethnocentric looks down on someone who is egocentric (and on someone who is worldcentric), just as someone who is worldcentric looks down on someone who is egocentric and someone who is ethnocentric, even though they themselves necessarily had to pass through all the lower stages to get to where they are. This continues, quite naturally, until one reaches second tier – integral – and can appreciate that all levels have truth and utility appropriate for people at that level.
So, someone who is a spiritualist would reject the truth and utility of organised religion even though for the vast majority of people who have ever lived organised religion is the only thing keeping them from stealing and killing and raping. Religion not only serves as a social glue, it serves as the only affective social glue that has ever been discovered. And since everyone starts out at square one when they are born and has to learn reason and morality, eliminating religion is a particularly bad idea because until people mature to the level where they can apply reason to appreciate natural law and morality (which for most people is never), religion is necessary to keep people from becoming monsters.
Sometimes, yes, religions do influence people to become monsters, particularly lower level religions, but certainly Christianity has had its reformation and the worst Christians you will ever likely encounter are assholes who protest soldiers' funerals.
Aside from legitimacy, religion provides the only affective means of bringing people enlightenment. This ties into the second problem I have with most spiritualists, which is something I'll call subtle reductionism, what Ken Wilber calls the Vishnu Complex. I'll get to that in a minute.
One of the central beliefs of spiritualists is the extreme gradualist approach to development, that spirits develop astronomically slowly, though inexorably, over gazillions of years to reach ultimate perfection. If I could spend fifty trillion eons in an astral heaven where my thoughts instantly manifest my desires I'd say that's a pretty good deal. The general idea is that it gets boring after a time and then you decide to progress. And I'll admit, after the hell and hardship of this life I might look forward to some downtime.
The classic counter to this, which makes sense to me, is the argument of reincarnationists that once your merit is worn out you have to come back here, so the astral worlds are temporary. The only way out of the cycle is enlightenment. The idea of progression through infinitely more rarefied realms does have somewhat of a parallel with the idea of a pure land in Buddhism or Sri Yukteswar's Hiranyaloka from Autobiography of a Yogi. You can progress to a special astral world where the infinite merit and compassion of an enlightened being permits you to progress spiritually without the need to reincarnate.
Now you might not want to believe in reincarnation, and I think most spiritualists don't, for the pretty thoughtless reason "Who would want to come back?!" Very few people, I suspect, would want to come back, but the traditions maintain that it's more like jumping off a cliff. Once you jump you don't get to choose whether you fall down or not, gravity will take over automatically. You don't get to choose whether you reincarnate or not, unless you're already enlightened, your spiritual gravity pulls you unconsciously where you are most suited, and for most people that's back here on Earth. Even if you don't believe in reincarnation, and I think it makes a certain degree of sense, there's still one more reason to see the gradualist approach as not all that's great.
The gradualist approach really does not solve the problem of suffering in this life, it defers it to the next. There is a bit of an inherent laziness to it. "If I'm going to get there anyway I might as well take my time." That is very similar to the traditional religious approach of suffering through life with the knowledge of a reward in the afterlife. The idea of a metaphysical safety net is certainly comforting and has served humanity very well for millennia, but it does not bring about true transpersonal development. Even in an astral heaven there is still self and other, there is still separation, and where there is separation there is suffering. That is why spirits choose to leave the lower astral heavens, often called "Summerland", where thoughts manifest instantly, because it gets boring after a while. The types of suffering in astral worlds are radically different than in the physical world (and in the astral hells are much worse), but as long as separation exists suffering necessarily exists. Enlightenment is the only way out, and religion provides the only door to enlightenment.
That brings us to my second objection, subtle reductionism, which is nothing other than the denial of the causal. Subtle reductionism is nowhere near as disastrous as the gross reductionism of fundamaterialists, it is definitely a step in the right direction, but in denying the existence of the causal one is also denying the ultimate end of suffering.
Basically the subtle realms work like psychotherapy. One reaches an end of psychotherapy when one realises that one can go on forever. The subtle realms are like that. You ascend higher and higher, into ever more subtle planes of illumination and bliss, and it just doesn't stop. There is no upward limit, there is no ultimate end. In meditation people can spend a lifetime just getting to more rarefied states and just bliss-out and as soon as they come down and have to go to work they are the same jerk as they were from day one. You can certainly gain psychic powers through forms of meditation, but if you just keep ascending through all the essential lights and sounds you will not reach enlightenment. This inertial desire to keep ascending through the subtle is what Ken Wilber calls the Vishnu Complex. You are so enamored with God you don't want to seek your true identity. And since you have to stop meditating eventually you will suffer when it ends. As long as separation exists suffering necessarily exists. And that's all the gradualist approach of most spiritualists promises, ever higher states of lights and sounds.
This denial of the causal is wonderfully presented in Greg Stone's book Under the Tree. It's a pretty obscure book, so I'll explain it a little. This man with a punny name encounters ice on the highway and runs his car off a cliff and goes into a coma. He has a near death experience that spends a great many pages just trying to convince him he really is dead, since he doesn't believe in an afterlife, and then it goes off into explaining how the universe works.
Mr. Pun's spirit guide explains to him why all the religions are wrong when they say that we are all one. You see, we really are all separate, but when you incarnate on the Earth you have to pass through a filter, and that filter only lets one soul through at a time, and since we all have to squeeze through that filter we think, "Oh, only one can fit, so there must be only one of us," but that's just faulty logic.
Except that's not what any religion says at all. Remember, you do not automatically become enlightened upon death. If you did there would be absolutely no point to life here on Earth at all. It would all be a waste of time and you could be a child rapist or an axe murderer and it wouldn't matter because we all go up into light and bliss when we die anyway. That's exactly the same horrible belief as the materialists who say you die and rot, just in the opposite direction. If nothing you do in this life has any impact on the next, and we're all just here to learn lessons, or to experience suffering, or because it's rousing good fun, then life truly is meaningless and you might as well just shoot heroin all day, because it won't make one bit of difference. If Hitler and his victims go to the same place after death then the universe is completely lacking in justice or compassion and was created and run by Satan.
Since you do not become enlightened upon death (and we know this because spirits coming through mediums admit to it; they admit to not knowing everything), then anything you hear from spirits about anything other than their particular state of being is just their own guess. If spirits tell you they enjoy coffee and cigars and fine velvet arm chairs on the other side, then you can believe them. If spirits tell you what is happening at the ultimate level, and that they know with absolute certainty how everything works and the mechanisms of reincarnation or whatever, they're either outright lying or they are guessing. Since the personality remains intact then a liar on the Earth is a liar in the afterlife, and subconscious biases and fears still cloud one's thinking.
One group of people we can believe are enlightened individuals on this Earth, because they all say the same exact thing. There is no guessing with enlightenment, there is just experience, or more accurately lack of experience. In the causal there is nothing arising. There are no separate things, just consciousness as such. Nothing bad arises to torture you and leave, nothing good arises to torture you when it leaves, there are no others, there is no you, there just is. And they all say this, for the past 3000 years, they all say this. No one is guessing since this is not speculation of what is happening at higher levels because all levels have been left behind. You step off the ride completely.
Ramakrishna explains this beautifully. He was a life-long devote of Kali, and he would go into spontaneous ecstasy and be engrossed in her image. When he met the naked swami Totapuri and tried to learn Advaita he kept seeing Kali when he meditated. Furious, Totapuri stuck a piece of broken glass between Ramakrishna's eyes and admonished him to meditate on that spot. The next time Ramakrishna meditated he says "As soon as the gracious form of the Divine Mother appeared before me, I used my discrimination as a sword and with it clove Her in two. The last barrier fell. My spirit at once soared beyond the relative plane. I lost myself in samadhi." (The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, page 49)
You can see a wonderful depiction of this from the 1955 Bengali film biography of Ramakrishna.
And it's like that for everyone. Ramana Maharshi, Richard Rose, Ken Wilber, everyone. You too can check it out for yourself. I did. You do not need to take anyone's word for it, you need accept no beliefs handed to you from spirits, you can meditate for a really long time and see for yourself if enlightenment is all it's cracked up to be. You don't need to consult mediums, you don't need to wait countless eons to ascend higher planes in the afterlife, you can do this right now, in this lifetime, and it is the single most important thing you ever will, or can, do.
There is nothing in the causal. It is completely empty. If ascending higher subtle realms is like climbing stairs to higher and higher floors in a building, then the leap to the causal would be like going from the third to the fourth dimension. It's not higher than the highest floor in the building, it bypasses height all together. It is not getting to the next level in a video game, it's shutting the game off and realising that it was a game all along and not real. It's not that there is no you, there is only me, there's no me either. You step into the causal and no one is home, there is just consciousness as such. There is awareness but it is in no way tied to any identity, and you realise that any identity you held was just a contraction of all that is, no more real than the characters in a movie are to the actors who play them.
All that said, spiritualists are leagues ahead of the average person in the world today, and light years ahead of the fundamaterialists who are the elites who run the world and act as gatekeepers to what is and is not science. I would love for all the world to adopt the beliefs of spiritualists, I would love for mediumship to be taken seriously, for psychical studies to become the paramount branch of science. It would solve very nearly all the world's problems. At the same time it is imperative to realise that mediumship can only take one so far, and that we all must take up the discipline and strive toward enlightenment, whether now or in some future life. The comfort value of survival wears off once you survive death. Then a whole new set of challenges arise that you must face. Psychological challenges from all the subconscious baggage you have accumulated over this and possibly other lifetimes. All that needs to be worked through eventually. The choice is yours to deal with it over the next gazillion years or right now, all at once, in this lifetime. Most people can't, but you definitely should try. Try as if your life depended on it.