June 3, 2008

Worldviews in Conflict: Secular Spirituality’s Heart-hold on Women

The Bible never promised that sharing the gospel and making disciples would be easy. What we are told is that in all ways we should represent Christ with a love for others that doesn’t call into question our integrity or compromise the message. Even further, 1 Peter 3:15 urges each of us to be prepared to give an answer for our faith, but “with gentleness and meekness.” Unfortunately, it’s not always received in the manner it is presented, but despite unintended consequences, telling the truth is, nonetheless, the call of every believer.

Showing the contrast between the historic Christian faith and the secular-friendly spiritualities of today’s world may not go over well with friends and neighbors. In fact, there are many women within the walls of the church who are attracted to the latest wave of talk-show religiosity. These age-old heresies in celebrity attire have a heart-hold on women everywhere, revealing an urgent need for apologetics--a defense of the faith--in women’s ministry.

In the Oprah-endorsed book “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle, truth is redefined as you. Forget that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, or that there are facts about God, life and reality that we can be certain about. All of this is tossed out for the sake of you. Tolle writes:
There is only one absolute Truth, and all other truths emanate from it. When you find that Truth, your actions will be in alignment with it. Human action can reflect that Truth, or it can reflect illusion. Can the Truth be put into words? Yes, but the words are, of course, not it. They only point to it.

The Truth is inseparable from who you are. Yes, you are the Truth…Jesus tried to convey that when he said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” These words uttered by Jesus are one of the most powerful and direct pointers to the Truth, if understood correctly. If misinterpreted, however, they become a great obstacle. Jesus speaks of the innermost I am, the essence identity of every man and woman, every life-form, in fact. (p. 71)

This section from “The New Earth” is laden with difficulties. If truth cannot be found in words, but is self-contained in the knower (that’s you), then Scripture has no meaning and there has been no self-disclosure from the God of Scripture. This is a direct assault on the authority of Scripture and the Christian worldview, dangerous to anyone who subjects their mind to this way of thinking. There are eternal ramifications. As well, if there is no truth to be found in words, Tolle has no truth to impart on the matter. The self-refuting nature of his argument is glaring.

The authority of Scripture is only one of Tolle’s challenges to orthodox Christianity. It cannot be suggested that every person, “every life-form,” is the way, and the truth and the life, without holding that these are all God. This is a teaching called pantheism and is a common teaching of Eastern religions, as Tolle himself explains in this book. God cannot be identified with the Universe or the created order as God is the creator of all things.

The search for truth is, I believe, the result of the search for meaning and significance. As women gravitate to the spiritual gurus of self-helpianity trying to get a handle on their place in this world, they need to know that Truth exists and is found in the person and work of Jesus. Someone needs to be ready to give an answer, the only way to peace and contentment is through knowing the God of all creation. The meaning of life is found in Christ. WFC


3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Many Christian blog websites have been fascinated with Oprah's
recent sponsoring of Eckhart Tolle's book, A New Earth. Ms Winfrey effectively used the internet to disseminate the ideas in the book. Because millions of people were exposed, certain christians feel very
threatened by this new line of new line thinking. Ironically, this
defensive behavior has been predicted by recent social psychological research on the function of ideology in the human psyche. Sheldon Solomon of Skidmore College, University of Arizona psychology professor Jeff Greenberg, and Colorado University at Colorado Springs psychology professor Tom Pyszczynski along with other corroborating
researchers have marshaled an impressive body of evidence regarding human motivation. (Does Anxiety Lead People to Religion? The Washington Post Monday, April 21, 2008; A02) Much of Tolle's spirtual writing corrobrates with this research.

This recent social psychological research has supported the idea that, along with Tolle views, that individually, within the context of our cultural customs we really don't feel we will actually die, but deep down we do feel, without conscious awareness of the feeling, it is inevitable.

Thus, we unconsciously participate in our institutionalized modes of striving for approval, status, and prestige to gain the confidence to confront life. We collectively create, support and reinforce an imaginary striving toward unlimited growth and, by extension, an imaginary
eternal life. Or, given that we substitute social influence for physical skill and mastery, a life with significance and respect of our peers.

It is the unconscious defense of our symbols representing power and
immortality that creates humanities' self-made conflict.

In particular, the confusion of symbolic abstract thinking (words and thought) with self and consciousness is the stumbling point for the vast majority. Non-symbolic animals do not harbor this confusion.

Animals do not go to war over philosophical stances nor do they
exploit the environment greater than immediate needs. Given the state of environmental crisis in the world, consideration of these ideas and reforms resulting from them might be worthwhile. Here is a summary

1) We are animals first, humans with imaginations second. We live in a dangerous world, in an unsure world where death is just around the corner. Try to remember your own anxiety as an infant or notice the fearful stages of growth in your children, especially when they
realize how dependent they are on the adults. Humanity was also in
this state of anxiety in our early history. Tigers were big and all we
had were spears. Part of us feels this all time. We feel vulnerable in our animal natures and limited. We strive for growth, mastery and
propagation just like every living thing that has ever existed. We
crave and greed for anything that represents more abundant and secure
biological life - even when it is actually taken care of in our
advanced civilization. In the following essay remember we are animals. Thinking animals but animals nevertheless.

2) However, we are social animals - like some herd or pack animals but
not at all like big cats, sharks, or hawks. We need each other and the group to compete against other animals and nature. But we also compete with our fellow humans for mastery and status. Knowing our place allows us take on specific jobs in the group and to feel purpose and meaning. We test and gauge our status within the group. We especially need each others love and recognition.

Early in history and our physical
skills were the important measure of worth but that soon turned to
social skills. The function of our direct perceptual senses is to
gauge our level of security, protection and worth/recognition within the group. Getting our fellow humans approval and esteem enhances this protection because somebody is literally watching your back. In a sufficiently advanced civilization, when the food supply, health care,
shelter and education are taken care of, the impulse to grow - to have more abundant life - does not go away. That is because the emotional part of us knows we are still limited and vulnerable without our cultural and group protections. So we unconsciously compare worth, significance and power in our society - to find our place in it and to gather as many protective and power affiliations around us as possible.

3) As the human brain evolved and abstraction and symbolic abilities
developed we imagined we could be gods! Words and conceptual thinking
allowed us to create simplified representations of reality and
sometimes useful survival models in our heads. Our situation was so
perilous in the wild we allowed our newly found symbolic ability to
make false correlations in nature, soothing our very real fears. Thus
the creation of "magic" allowed us to feel more in control. Our egos
created complex systems of symbols representing physical skills. We
created institutionalized ritual to control the environment and its
ceremonies and hierarchies to control each other. Magic turned into religion. Religion turned into divine kingdoms and states. Divine states turned into secular society and political philosophies.

Thus, magical ritual, religion and its descendant institutions allowed for defined hierarchy, castes, classes and organizational efficiencies. This organized our efforts at unconscious immortality and made them more effective.

However, in the process of organization, we freely give up our
freedoms to perceived "heroic" higher authorities. Our egos do not
like to hear we have weaknesses or we cannot, alone, take care of
ourselves, and we are simply competing status seeking animals, or we are the cause of our own suffering or that we are vulnerable, limited and will one day die. So we seek ways of removing our guilt and feelings of vulnerability by latching on to anything or anybody who can make us feel secure, safe and confident. We need to assured that
all will be well, and in their care that we will prosper, grow, be
significant and live a much fuller life. This is the "heroic impulse".
Our politics and religions are based on it. It is pervasive within all cultures except the most simple and egalitarian. We value and acknowledge those
symbols (not reality and tolles world of form) that which will make us feel safe or make us
feel like winners. Of course, this had loads of survival value in the
forest because some did have the real skills that directly contributed to survival e.g. the hunter-gatherers - but the impulse has been distorted to an absurd point.

Heroic ideas turn into religious and political ideologies with which we use for direction and
meaning. Acquisition of possessions, titles, status, large families, and attachment to symbols far and long divorced from actual survival needs replace immediate survival skills. In fact, the symbolic consumer economy drives much of our culture and politics. It is our quantitative need for symbols representing security, health and status - whether they are
ideas or material goods - creates the exploitative economic system - a system that depends on 4% growth per year despite that fact that we
live in a finite world with finite resources.

Unbridled and un-reflective thinking in service of the fear of death is what makes the human animal so destructive to the environment in comparison to
other species. The fundamental confusion is taking mere words or
concepts and the opinion of others to be reality.

4) Individually, on an emotional level, and collectively through
institutional conventions, we deny the bodily perception (or true
awareness) that we will actually die. Perceptions are bodily feelings and senses that can be more attuned to reality than mere IDEAS or concepts. This is the real physiological reason for our gross acculturated behaviors. Since we can imagine to be greater, more powerful and special than we are, we do. We imagine ourselves as angels or having multiple reincarnated lives Because this creates confidence and ability to act in the face of danger. Non symbolic animals are more realistic about physical limits thus are more conservative in their actions.

5) Biologically, abstracting egos arise from the left hemisphere of
the brain. The symbolic processors of the left brain take fear arising
from the amygdala and rationalizes an insulating symbolic defense -
many of which are words or concepts. The left hemisphere also tends to
mask perceptual realities of the right hemisphere since this holistic
part does not harbor linguistic processors. The right hemisphere
cannot argue for itself even though it harbors many intelligences!
This effectively removes feelings of vulnerability and fear from our
thinking selves but it also veils broader realities and perceptions
that could have survival value. This is a necessary condition for
mental health and negotiation in a highly symbolic environments which
most people live in.

Cultures are systems of symbols that reinforce a consensual strategy
against this fear of death. Or, at least, a "social symbolic death".
To the ego, a life with insignificance or loss of approval among our
fellows is death. Cultural values change as the demands of survival
from the environment change. We create complex symbolic absolutist
views and cultural sanctioned rituals, rules and behaviors that
institutionalize the strategy against death because total faith brings
the most confidence. That is why suicide bombers say they love death
as much as we love life - they are assured at place in paradise. These
emotional displacements provide order and sense of meaning to our
world and provide confidence. The value of the concept of immortality,
gods and single great hero, God, has provided the greatest sense of
relief for many cultures.

6) Furthermore, we create conflict and suffering through mutual
exclusive competing symbols within and between our arbitraryrule-bound
cultures. Thus, individuals will constantly compare who's up and who's
down, one street gang will fight another over graffiti, how clothing
is worn, territorial encroachment; soccer games will erupt in violence
over a game, republicans and democrats will demean and "symbolically"
fight each to other's social death (the inability to influence
others). Our egos constantly strive to strengthen its stature compared
to others. Our egos are willing to defend, belittle or even fight to
the death any symbol or person who threatens our unconscious
immortality symbols because our ego's imaginary life is at stake. The
impulse to prove oneself right and the other wrong is
simply the defense of the ego against imaginary death. This
comparative activity results in petty jealousies to all out war.

7) The need for human connection and approval is primary and real, as
is the physical ecology of our environment. Cultural values are
secondary and imaginary. Whether it be God, Nirvana or our imagined
legacies on earth, or our political philosophies our egos find
something to latch on to, no matter where we live. Cultures, religions
and all absolutist philosophies exist to provide approval-seeking
humans ways of organizing, encouraging, coping, prospering, staving
off fear of death and moving civilization forward. We are social
beings that create our own artificial environments whose need for a
sense of belonging and self esteem is universal, so we conveniently
adopt the prevailing notions that imply worth. Our self created
environments (culture) harmonizes, more or less, with real
environmental survival factors. Since the environment changescultures
must change to survive.


8) Our egos can be exploited, controlled and abused by those who use
our needs, hopes and dreams to suit their own agendas or by those that
insist to withdraw their respect unless we tow the cultural line. We
all, quite naturally, give our loyalty and our lives to those who best
can communicate to our emotions the symbols that promise security and
strength but most importantly - a sense of belonging. The success of
leadership is proportional to the level of alignment of culturally
adopted values to the real demands of the environment. Blind following
often leads to disaster. Following, a worldview, hero or personal
expression is only useful to the extent that it actually harmonizes
with the reality of others, other cultures and the physical
environment.

9) So, we only contribute more suffering in the world when we allow the ego unbridled comparison, identification and power-seeking or when we let our egos get competitive, defensive huffy and violent over whose coping mechanisms, behaviors, roles, opinions are best. This behavior depends on the processing words and concepts which we identify with protection, worth and significance. Thus, much of thinking is dysfunctional. Judgment and negativity is the primary diagnostic of absolutism - whether it is unbridled praise or
criticism. Some level of acceptance (tolerance), enjoyment and enthusiasm is the primary diagnostic for awareness of the extreme comparative activity of the ego. Actually, very little of what we think, goes to solving problems in the moment. Most of it is the comparative kind.

10) Ultimately, all human activity is "religious" or "political" in
that any activity that provides a sense of mastery of life over death
tends to held on to. The unconscious denial of death is the primary motivation for humanity. This irrational motive lies behind science, art, technology, politics, philosophy and culture.

So, what do we do with this information? A good place to start would be stop denying that we don't what is actually happening. We certainly don't need more research to confirm the thousands of years of evidence that have accumulated along these lines in religion, literature and science. In fact, these ideas have been expounded in various guises by many teachers.

A stumbling block for many confronted with these facts, is that personally they do not feel fear or feel vulnerable. This is because most acculturated people have successfully adopted cultural symbols that stave off feelings of vulnerability. So, by definition, they cannot independently verify these ideas through emotions. However, social psychological experiments have proved otherwise. Others, more alienated from cultural expectations, feel naked and know the anxiety
more acutely.

Absolutists will, no doubt, use the semantic trick of imploring that non-absolutism is absolutism, taking advantage of the tendency of the human species of taking named and labeled phenomena, disregarding the reality of the categories. Or, they will cite pseudo-scientific biased research, as equal counter-weight to the genuine evidence-based research. Again taking advantage of the tendency of people to believe that scientific knowledge is mere opinion - as relative as other unsubstantiated fear-based opinion. The difference of these modes of thoughts is a self corrective function. Non-absolutist and rational thought gives room to changing beliefs and concepts based on real
world evidence. Absolutists have little or no real self corrective
mode. All thought is biased toward confirmation of what is already believed based on fear of death. The teaching of critical thinking based in real world evidence is essential.

The second thing is, we must be vigilant in the tendency for our minds to impose absolutist concepts or world-views on others, despite the personally empowering function of faith and belief.

Stilling and recognizing comparative thought based on status consciousness is
essential. This is the essence of Tolle's teachings as well as many
other wise men including Jesus. Otherwise, we are doomed to the
dysfunctional behavior when threatened by other, mutually exclusive, symbols or when personal crisis takes certain cherished symbols away from us (Confronting another's political stance, loss of a job, when very compelling world view mentions "your religion", or even the impulse to prove another wrong because of the sense of "winning" or "losing". Why should tolerance be extolled? There is a dangerous byproduct of unawareness of these unconscious motivations.

Experiments have shown
acts of uncooperation, distrust and aggression are more likely when
these protective symbols are unconscious. At this time, minimizing fear and greed that aggression resulting from it may be good thing in our social policies at this time.

Another reason is that the world will not survive unless we increase
cooperative behaviors. Climate change is being driven by the
competition for a limited natural resource base. Much of the economy
is based on competitive status seeking behavior of consumers.
Unbridled growth in service of security above and beyond for actual survival cannot be supported any longer. The American Dream is unsupportable by the real world environment especially since there is now a Chinese, Brazilian, and Indian dream as well. We may not have the luxury to wait for real envirnonmental crisis to cause us
disregard our penchant beliefs.

Sustainable economic systems rather than a growth model will depend on safety net of shelter, food, health care, and education programs.

But even more importantly, less materialism will require a compensatory sense of community and belonging. Minimizing status seeking behavior will require encouraging values of cooperation and community participation above competition. Surprisingly, the answer is what the Beatles sung about - All We Need is Love.

The paradox is, that we absolutely need to develop some "healthy"
anxiety displacements to develop self esteem and confidence in
maturation. Sometimes children need to know that a "guardian angel" is protecting them from the "boogey man" in the closet. Adults, to develop direction, need to believe and be part of something greater.

Religion and culture has its place. In fact, a lack of magical
thinking destroys creativity - we lose the ability to fluidly
associate and marshal genius. However, when the displacements become rigidly absolute, people will become very aggressive in defending them and eventually, environmental changes out-pace the cultural values that helped in real world survival.

JaaJoe said...

I must suggest Christians and Atheist to read this book "The End of Reason" by Dr. Ravi Zacharias. This book forces the reader's mind to do the critical thinking that is so lacking in Christianity today. It should also be considered required reading for the atheist who has never really looked at a logical argument for the existence of God, or the Christian who has never really critically analyzed his own faith. Check out more information on The End of Reason here

Melvin_H_Fox said...

When you humbly and sincerely ask Jesus to come into your heart He does. Henceforth, your fundamental belief is in Him and who He is. That we are taken as irrational by unbelievers is the result of differing fundamental beliefs. There is no escape from this disconnect other than a change in fundamental beliefs. The Gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing; but, to those who are being saved it is the power of God.
In the love of Christ,
-Mel