Wealth & Spirituality went hand-in-hand with John Fetzer
Posted on 23 July 2018, 7:55
I have friends and relatives who think I have gone too far in my spiritual quest – that I am too unorthodox, too unscientific, too gullible, too delusional, even too unhinged in my pursuit of existential, metaphysical and spiritual truths. I sometimes wonder if they are right, and so now and then I’ll make an effort to focus more on mundane matters. However, I find it difficult to sustain that focus when I stop to think how utterly trivial most of our daily activities are. Moreover, it becomes increasingly difficult to find new, exciting toys to play with when one is in his 80s, and so the tendency is to revert to the esoteric. It was thus with some justification and vindication that I just read about a man who seems to have been more “unhinged” than I am, even though he found time to become one of the richest men in America.
John E. Fetzer was ranked by Forbes as one of the 400 richest Americans. His quest is set forth in a book titled John E. Fetzer and the Quest for the New Age, (below) published by Wayne State University Press and due for release August 6 (although available for pre-order by book sellers). I was fortunate enough to receive an advance copy from the publisher. My initial reaction upon seeing the cover and the title was one of disinterest, but I noted in the promotional material that Fetzer was owner of the Detroit Tigers from 1956 to 1983, and, being an ardent baseball fan, that fact prompted me to open the book. I’m glad I did, as it turned out to be a very interesting read about a very intriguing man.
Born in 1901 in Indiana, Fetzer (below) was brought up in the Methodist Church, but, following his mother’s conversion to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, he joined that faith sometime during his teens. He went on to graduate from Emmanuel Missionary College, an Adventist institution, before taking graduate classes in physics and mathematics at the University of Michigan. Sometime around 1930, Fetzer gave up on Adventism and explored Spiritualism, Theosophy, Freemasonry, Hermeticism, Rosicrucianism, UFOlogy, New Thought, and Buddhism, adopting something of an amalgamation of all those belief systems as a worldview, at the same time clinging to his Christian roots while attending a Presbyterian church.
Along his journey, Fetzer read the works of Alice Bailey, Frederic Myers, Edgar Cayce, Arthur Findlay, Carl Jung, Charles Leadbeater, George Meek, Jane Roberts, and countless others. He was especially enamored with The Urantia Book, The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus, the Seth material, and A Course in Miracles. He seems to have been very discerning in what he held on to and what he rejected.
“Spiritualism and divination had a decided impact on Fetzer’s spiritual quest,” author Brian C. Wilson, professor of comparative religion at Western Michigan University, writes, “but it was only the beginning of his investigation into metaphysical traditions and techniques. After his experience with [Adventism], never again would Fetzer be tied down to one belief system, and indeed, from this point forward, a fundamental pattern developed in his spiritual quest in which Fetzer acted as the consummate bricoleur, sampling many spiritual traditions, accepting some of their elements and rejecting others, all in the attempt to create a worldview that would work for him. In this sense, Fetzer’s worldview was always a work in progress, with one discovery leading him on to another and new discoveries continually enriching his approach to life, the universe, and God.”
All the while, Fetzer was pursuing a career in radio. After buying radio station WKZO in Kalamazoo, Michigan, while in his 20s, he expanded to WJEF in Grand Rapids, and then, during World War II, accepted an appointment by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as assistant director for broadcast censorship, then later an appointment from General Dwight Eisenhower to survey the state of radio in postwar Europe. After the war, he moved into television and gradually built a media empire. Various other investments along the way apparently gave him enough wealth to buy the Tigers baseball team, as an investor in 1956 and then outright in 1961.
All of Fetzer’s business ventures and successes do not seem to have distracted him from his spiritual quest. He attended many Spiritualist activities at Camp Chesterfield in Indiana. Through one medium there, he heard from his deceased younger brother and father, reinforcing in him the idea that family bonds are eternal. According to Wilson, Fetzer found in Spiritualism, Freemasonry, Hermeticism, and Rosicrucianism “a [spiritually] monistic cosmos composed of conscious energy; the conception of the body as microcosm; the reality of psychic powers and the possibility of scientific discovery of spiritual laws; the operation of karma and reincarnation; the continuing centrality of Jesus; the contemporary relevance of ancient wisdom from past civilizations such as Atlantis, Lemuria, and Mu; the divine destiny of the United States under the watchful eye of a brotherhood of secret masters; the harmony of science and religion; and the impending global spiritual transformation leading to the New Age.” However, it was, Wilson suggests, Theosophy that wove them all together in a comprehensive cosmic scheme for Fetzer.
During the last decade of his life, an interviewer asked him about his thoughts on life after death. “I don’t believe that man comes into this life to have a shallow experience, make some improvements and developments, only to fade away to nothing,” he responded. “There’s something more. Five minutes after man discards his material body in this world, he could assume another body, another form. He could be operating on another channel, a new frequency, a new plane of existence. I think that every person will transfer to that new plane, but he or she will be precisely in the same place of life status as when the person was in the previous plane….”
Fetzer transitioned at age 89, while living in Honolulu, but the John E. Fetzer Institute exists today in Kalamazoo to encourage spiritual development for all people, while supporting inclusive communities and institutions around the world that are grounded in spirit and exploring the relationship between science and spirituality to support a fuller understanding of our existence.
In the Hall of Records of the Fetzer Administration Building there are eight busts done in bronze. They represent Socrates, Ramses II, Francis I, Joseph of Arimathea, Louis XIV, St. John of the Cross, Henry II and Thomas Jefferson – men who Fetzer believed brought humanity to a new level of awareness and potential.
The “New Age” label in the title also discouraged me in the beginning, since as Wilson points out, the New Age movement “has devolved to the point that many contemporary observers see it as a shorthand for shallowness and reject the label outright.” However, Fetzer accepted it before it began to devolve and saw it as signifying “the path of attainment and complete personal fulfillment.”
So many people react to such a spiritual mindset by saying “one life at a time for me” or something to that effect. They don’t grasp the fact that seeing and embracing the larger picture can make this life more meaningful and fulfilling. There is no indication in the book that Fetzer read the works of Stuart Edward White, a popular author on spiritual matters during the 1930s, and ‘40s. I suspect he did, and, if he did, I’m sure he would have agreed with White and his wife Betty that “habitual spiritual consciousness” is the key to enjoying this life. As it was explained to Betty, a medium, by the spirits she was in contact with, the objective is getting to know the higher self “and a gradual training of your spiritual muscles to maintain it, once recognized.” Habitual spiritual consciousness does not mean retirement into some cloistered nunnery. “It means simply that each day, when you finish your practice, you do not close the experience like a book, but carry it around like a treasured possession. Instead of being completely forgotten, it remains in the back of your mind, communicating its influences automatically to your actions and reactions, and ready at any moment, if specifically called upon to lend a helping hand.”
In finishing this book, I saw Fetzer as the personification of “habitual spiritual consciousness.” That said, it’s back to the mundane for me. It’s time to watch baseball.
Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.
Next blog post: July 23
I also wondered about that, but I don’t know Louis 14 from the other 13 and didn’t care to research it.
Michael Tymn, Tue 4 Sep, 00:32
Louis XIV “brought humanity to a new level of awareness and potential”? I sure must have missed something in my history studies….
Elene, Mon 3 Sep, 20:12
Very interesting article.
Your blog always provides wonderful information and ideas for contemplation.
I mostly tend to look at things from a spiritual and/or moral point of view.
Once you know what we know, I don’t see how a person cannot.
Plus, I have all these psychic and mediumship experiences. It is a part of my life.
Yvonne Limoges, Mon 6 Aug, 00:57
I believe there are many who do as well.
I’m not quite sure how to read your comment. I infer that you don’t think a wealthy person can be spiritual; however, there are many degrees and kinds of spirituality. Would a wealthy person give all his riches away to the poor to qualify as spiritual?
I understand your concern, but I gather that we continue to evolve even in the very high levels. I’m content to accept it as beyond human comprehension.
Michael Tymn, Thu 26 Jul, 21:10
How can someone with such personal wealth be spiritual? Did he have selective perception? He obdviously took nothing of any worth from spiritualism.
Gavin Doyle, Thu 26 Jul, 12:42
What I mean is that I think that the only truly meaningful activity is the acquisition of existential knowledge of the mind, it’s origin and it’s future state after death. If at some future time in the afterlife one acquired answers to these questions what then?
If the afterlife is comprised of other dimensions of existence then it is likely that there will be other activities not available here on Earth. But I believe as did the philosopher Gilbert Ryle, that the greatest contentment is to be found in the intellectual/abstract realm of the mind.
Chad W Luter, Wed 25 Jul, 14:33
Five million dollars for the Templeton Research Grant, huh? It seems to me that you probably predicted the results of the 5 million dollar study down to the letter. I smiled when I read your predictions in your August 4, 2012 blog Unbelievable that someone would get 5 million dollars to basically start from scratch when 80% to 90% of the work has already been done over a period of almost 200 years.
I agree, what is needed is someone to winnow the chaff from the grain, that is, sort out from the abundance of possible evidence from all of the varying sources what is likely to be fraudulent from what is likely to be truthful and evidential. Granted, that a lot of it is open to criticism but there are some difficult-to-question accounts that should be made known to mainstream academia. (Victor and Wendy Zammit’s July 20, 2018 “Afterlife Report” has a very interesting imbedded video of a conference given by Carol Bowman in which Ms Bowman provided some convincing reincarnation reports of children. )
I find that often those who are the biggest critics of these accounts of survival have not actually read the voluminous materials available. Why would they want to when they already have their minds made up? - AOD
Amos Oliver Doyle, Tue 24 Jul, 22:10
I think I read The Urantia Book many years ago, but I don’t recall anything about it.
See my post of August 4, 2012 in archives at left re The Templeton research grant. As I recall, the results of that study were a complete dud, as was expected.
What is the “but”?
Michael Tymn, Tue 24 Jul, 21:09
I had never heard of Mr. Fetzer before and am glad to learn about him. Here is one camel that seems to have succeeded in passing through the eye of a needle.
Another millionaire businessman with a deep interest in spirituality was Sir John Templeton, a pioneer in international mutual funds. His obit in The Independent says:
“John Templeton was a highly successful stock investor who, starting in 1937, made a fortune on Wall Street and by mid life had become a philanthropist noted for encouraging rational exploration of spirituality. His name is synonymous with the annual Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion which this year  stood at £820,000 ... .
“The John Templeton Foundation ... leads the world in funding research that seeks connections between science, spirituality and faith. Templeton once stated: ‘If spiritual leaders would begin to use scientific research, experimental scientific research, there is no reason we couldn’t multiply spiritual information like we have multiplied scientific information.’”
Begin to? Was he completely unfamiliar with the history of psychical research? Nevertheless, we can appreciate his quest to use part of his worldly fortune to advance the field of spiritual “information.”
Rick Darby, Tue 24 Jul, 17:05
You say that Fetzer “. . . was especially enamored with The Urantia Book”. Do you have any thoughts about the book? Have you read it? - AOD
Amos Oliver Doyle, Tue 24 Jul, 13:44
Wendy, thank you for the comment and the link.
Michael, I agree that cricket and spirituality are not mutually exclusive. The same can be said for most sports. See my post of July 23, 2012 regarding running and dying or click on
Michael Tymn, Mon 23 Jul, 20:02
Yes, when we attempt to answer the big questions in life it is possible that we can become focused only on abstractions, but the big questions are the only things worth pursuing in this life.
I do hope that the afterlife will be meaningful.
Chad W. Luter, Mon 23 Jul, 19:01
Cricket in my case Mr Tymm but thank you for your reassurance. I struggle to get the balance right. I do not believe however that cricket and spirituality are mutually exclusive on some occasions mercifully.
Michael Alexander, Mon 23 Jul, 15:03
MIke, fabulous post. Thanks so much for drawing our attention to this incredible man.
This little video from his Institute…
Wendy Zammit, Mon 23 Jul, 10:22
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