Blending Business and Spirituality
Photograph courtesy of the Fetzer Institute
A new biography, John E. Fetzer and the Quest for the New Age, by Brian C. Wilson, Ph.D., charts the career of the influential radio pioneer, media entrepreneur, philanthropist and owner of the Detroit Tigers baseball team for almost 30 years beginning in 1956, revealing his powerful motivation provided by spiritual influences.
Fetzer started a long preoccupation with radio in 1922 and built an empire to become one of the 400 richest Americans by participating in new communication technology, including radio, television and even cable. He was also a longtime board member of the National Association of Broadcasters.
Fetzer employed his wealth to open the doors of higher consciousness, spiritual empowerment, paranormal insights and energy medicine to humanity through study for more than 60 years. He attributed much of his success to spiritual practices. Meditation, psychic consultants, pendulums, water dowsing and other occult practices featured prominently in his decision-making process.
To insure that his legacy to illuminate the horizon between science and spirituality would continue along with his mission to elevate mankind’s conscious evolution, he made endowments that include The John E. Fetzer Memorial Trust, The John E. Fetzer Institute and The Fetzer-Franklin Fund. Fetzer said, “I feel that we are on the threshold of a new order, where people will be seeking enlightened change... This will all come about with the infusion of spirituality into science.”
Wilson, a professor of American religious history in the Department of Comparative Religion at Western Michigan University, discovered that for those seeking validation that business success and enlightenment can actually work hand-in-hand, Fetzer’s extraordinary life stands as evidence. He uses Fetzer’s quest to chronicle the breadth and depth of the historic emergence of the New Age movement. Wilson writes, “Originally called the Fetzer Foundation, the Institute was created in Kalamazoo in the 1950s. In the 1980s, when Fetzer was beginning to wind down his business activities, he decided to use his fortune to endow the Institute permanently.”
The author notes, “Fetzer, born in Indiana in 1901 at the turn of the century, traveled along two parallel paths throughout his life. Influenced by the prevailing values of the time and his mother’s faith, he joined the Seventh-Day Adventists, but a deep yearning for more ‘freedom of spirit’ than the church offered was a springboard for exploring the insights of emerging spiritual leaders, movements and approaches—Eastern and Western—including Theosophy, Freemasonry, UFOology, parapsychology and Buddhism. He was drawn toward a philosophy that offered personal experience of ‘unity’ or ‘oneness’, as it is called today, seeing the individual as part of the universal whole, with direct access to that master intelligence, connected to all things.
“Although it might seem a bit out of fashion today, John Fetzer wholeheartedly believed in the sacred destiny of the United States to inaugurate the New Age. Fetzer always revered the nation’s founding fathers, especially Washington, Jefferson and Franklin, and he believed that the constitutional democracy that they helped to create was no accident, but was inspired by the divine will.”
Wilson explains that for Fetzer, the spiritual world and its practical effects were closely intertwined, noting that he often said, “Money is energy.”
“For him, spirituality was a recognition that all is spirit, which he conceptualized as an eternal, conscious energy that, if one were open to it, would inevitably lead one back to the ‘great central source,’” says Wilson. “Everything consists of this energy—even money. And if one understands this connection and taps into it psychically, then wealth and success, he believed, were within one’s grasp. This meant to him that money was to be used in the service of good, since business success and wealth could only be spiritually uplifting if used for love and service.”
Wilson explains that although they were very wealthy, Fetzer and his wife, Rhea, always lived frugally, spending most of their lives in a modest home in a middle-class Kalamazoo neighborhood. “For Fetzer, wealth was not for self-aggrandizement, which would have embarrassed him, but rather for the pursuit of a spiritual mission in service to the world,” says Wilson. “Fetzer believed in karma, and John’s approach was to serve first, and then money came back to him. The lesson here is to weigh what legacy you can leave for the world, and while it may not be funded by great wealth, it can be the fruits of your time, efforts and gifts from which others can enjoy and prosper in the future.”