My Answer to the New-Ager Who Claims to Know God

Not.

Thanks, a great deal, to everyone who left a response to the New-Ager about whom I wrote in A New-Ager Asks: MUST I Know Jesus Before I Can Know God? Lots of marvelous stuff, from both sides of the God/No God aisle. Way to reward me for blogging, people!

My own answer to the question, “When the New Ager is deep in [her New-Agey] meditation, and feels what he experiences as nothing less than the full and absolute presence of God, is he simply and absolutely deluded about that?” is no, he’s not deluded about that. That is God he’s feeling. But that peaceful, I’m In Touch With The Universe feeling that everyone experiences when they meditate or behold the majesty of nature has about the same relationship to the totality of God as the soundtrack of a movie has to the movie itself.

I like movie soundtracks. One of my favorite is from Peter Weir’s The Witness. It’s beautiful music: uplifting, rich, inspiring, powerful. But it’s not the movie. It’s connected to the movie. It derives from the movie. One could make a case for it being the very essence of the movie. But it’s no more the whole of the movie than its preview is, or a clip of it on YouTube.

To really experience The Witness, you have to see and watch the film itself. Not doing so means never understanding the context in which its soundtrack achieves its full purpose and meaning. It’s not necessary to see a movie in order to enjoy its soundtrack. But if you don’t—if you just stick to the soundtrack—then you’ll always be lacking the big picture.

The New Ager’s experience of God is to the totality of God what a chocolate-chip cookie is to the totality of a three-course meal. It’s tasty, and sweet—but it has no substance. She can enjoy it, but she can’t live off it.

For the record, I have a lot of experience as a New-Ager. My mom, a late-blossoming hippie, was a fervent New-Ager, and I myself embraced it, until its fuzzy, crystal-vibey vagueness drove me to the brilliant philosophy of Zen, where I stayed (and from which I greatly benefited) for some two decades. (For a bit about that, see Me, My Wife, Zen, and the Evangelizing Christian Who Broke the Great Commandment.) I’ve also lived in a couple of New Age Meccas, such as Santa Cruz, California. And you can’t get more New-Agey than where I live now: Encinitas, CA, home of the Self Realization Fellowship Temple and Ashram Center.

Ultimately, the New Age belief system fails like a symphony conductor on crack. In my next post, I’ll talk about exactly I why that is. (And then I promise–assuming anyone actually cares, of course—to get back to answering the question I raised in The Holy Spirit = God = All You Need to Know, that question being why I think the Holy Spirit receives so very much less attention than either Jesus or God.)

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter. If you shop at Amazon, help support John by entering the site through this link right here--Amazon will then send John 3-4% of the cost of anything you buy before exiting the site again.

 

  • http://jeffthomann.wordpress.com mastermesh

    You are right, the great Paraclete (Holy Spirit) does not get as much attention as it should sometimes. The thing is – there are multiple realities… To lump a lot of Eastern philosophies and religions in to a category called "New Age" is something rather silly that a lot of Christians do. Meditation, Yoga, and crystals is not all that there is to religions outside of the traditional Christian religion. The old Western Christian idea of calling everyone non-Christian a demon worshiper is a bit insane – and it's even more insane to take that ancient biased idea in to today's world and call all non-Christians "terrorists" because they have a different belief system than yours, etc. is also slightly insane – but a lot of folks that call themselves Christians – including but not limited to former President George W. Bush to some extent, seem to be doing that a lot… or start on a slippery slope towards it…

    I am not a Freemason, New Age anything, or whatever… but do read a lot about various religions and things on occassion, and think about how it all relates…. The resurrection of the self in the here and now – which the Freemasons partake in, as described in the Hiram Key, etc. is extremely similar to the Christian idea of being "born again"…

    …and more particularly about the idea of being born again in to a community of believers. The Catholic idea of the transubstantiation – i.e. the real presence of Christ in the body of believers and individually during Communion is one of the truest physical signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit… and is somewhat similar to this idea, as is the Confirmation.

    At each communion, the Catholic is brought in to union with the Body of Christ, and union with fellow mankind, etc..

    I guess if everyone actually followed the teachings of their faith and did not continually argue about things the world would be a better place… Why do some Christians that go to Church on Sunday to learn to be at peace and forgive his fellow mankind there continually chastizes anyone that does not believe their way of doing things… and thinks these "terrorists" should be murdered by our own hands in our prison systems?… Why do so many folks in the KKK consider themselves Christians? Why did George W. use the Lord's name in vain standing before our people as he called for war?!?.. a war which we are now paying for, that has tanked our economy…

    Why do so many Conservative Christians consider themselves gun loving Republicans?

    A lot of religions are stories… the Zen idea that all stories are just fiction is sort of true… The fanatical believers in the various fictions find differences between their fictions so they call for war and start killing one another for stupid, silly reasons… Logic is really just a way for someone to explain why their way of doing things is better than your way… which is why all logic is somewhat flawed on some level. In some ways, science even falls in to this flaw… If you want to change a statistic, just change the size of the population being studied… yet we use statistics all the time to make opinions about one another, about our world, our universe, and use statistics as the basis for all of our sciences in some way or the other…

    All men are created equal. In other words, when a baby is born, (s)he does not have any of the fictions in their heads yet… so does that mean the child is "born in sin" or that the child is sin free and learns sin from the corrupt world around them that is full of factions that tell fiction to one another and continue to try to sway one anothers beliefs in their fictions?!?…

    You have to believe in something or you will fall for anything?!?… Is there truth to that?!?… Pehaps, perhaps not.

    Some non-believers believe that stuff like the 10 commandments, the new covenant, etc. are really just ways for the ruling parties to sort of "sway" the folks of the time that that stuff was introduced in to believing their systematic way of doing things… There are some resurrection types that existed before Christ came around…

    Some say that Moses was an investor and Jesus is a Saver when referring jokingly to money… something to think about…. Which way was better, investing in a nation that we are destined to live in but never get to since we might die before we get there, or living in poverty and saving trying to save the world one soul at a time?… Leading a nation to freedom or leading one person to freedom one at a time, in a fairly slow process? Both are valid, both are right… Jesus's way is just a bit newer… Does that make Christians New Age since they are not Jews?

  • textjunkie

    Enh, John, I dunno–I've heard a lot of New Agers talk about how they were raised Christian and did their Bible studies and went to Sunday School and confirmation classes and youth group and all that stuff, and they come to the same conclusions re: Christianity that you do about the New Age movement. Or possibly a less charitable conclusion, because you at least allow that there may be some experience of God there whereas the folks I'm thinking of argue Christianity is the biggest scam ever.

    But nonetheless it boils down to "I did not find what I was looking for there."

  • Diana

    "But nonetheless it boils down to “I did not find what I was looking for there.'"

    And that, to me, is the bottom line–which is why I'm not a big fan of pushing my religion onto other people or having other people push their religions onto me. Interesting discussions, yes. Pushing beliefs onto others, no.

    Ultimately, I believe God finds us regardless and that pushing a particular religious path onto someone else only delays what God is trying to do in that person's life. Of course, I could be wrong.

  • textjunkie

    Well if we're ever in the same town I'd love to have a cuppa joe with you, Julia. ;) Happy New Year to you too!!

  • Diana

    Wow! Thanks Julia for all that you've written–a lot to think about in that response.

    Question: Have you ever read Jack Miles' books on God, "God, a Biography" and "Christ, Crisis in the Life of God"? These books are a somewhat unorthodox approach to the God of Hebrew and Greek scriptures (otherwise known as the Old and New Testaments) and I imagine that there are Christians who strongly disapprove of what Jack Miles has written. Still, I found them insightful and they gave me a certain amount of peace around the whole "God of blood and death" issue in the Bible.

    I find that the Bible is best read as a collection of various writings by people who had an experience of God and who wanted to share, rather than as "The Word of God, Which is Completely Inerrant and You Have to Believe Every Word of It as Written or Else You're Going to Spend Eternity in Hell!" But, I could be wrong.

    Anyway, thanks again for your reply and for sparking this extremely interesting discussion. Peace be with you and with all whom you love (this last sentence goes out to all the readers of this blog as well.)

  • http://ramblingsofaspiritualidiot.wordpress.com ~Julia~

    Okay. Let’s see if the comments section has a load limit….

    First off, I hope the New Year is finding all in good spirits and well.

    Let me introduce myself. Hi. I’m Julia. I am the one who became the topic of several of John’s latest entries. Pleasure to meet y’all.

    Now. Where to begin?

    Well, this whole shebang was started with my queries and comments on John’s recent post: The Holy Spirit = God = All You Need to Know. Specifically it is this statement by John that got me a-thinking (which always gets me in trouble, just ask my Hubby.):

    “In order to merge yourself with the full truth of God, you don’t need a seminary degree, classes, sermons, home study tapes, the latest Christian bestseller, or anything else. All you need to be is alive, and you’ve automatically got, right there within you, virtually everything about God that you could possibly need to know.”

    I was curious as to what was the qualifier for his statement and I asked: “Does that also mean you dont need a bible? Or even be a Christian to know god?” And this apparently got the show running.

    Now, in hindsight I realize that I sometimes forget who I am talking to, in this case it was John. In which to John, who is a Christian, there can be only one possible answer to my query and that is yes, you must be a Christian before you can know the fullness of God.

    Duh. *smacks forehead*

    What was I thinking? (Told you that gets me into trouble.) Well of course you must FIRST be a Christian. Big duh.

    According to mainstream Christian thought: There can only be one. And that is Christian. Well, that is the nature of Christianity after all: it must be the only one. I, mean, Christians have God and no one else does, correct? If they weren’t then that means God can and does work quite well with non-Christians thankyouverymuch. But if that was true then Jesus would be without a job so that cannot be true. Had I only remembered that I wouldn’t be sitting here on my first day of a glorious three day weekend off writing such a lengthy reply.

    Or, so I thought. More on this in a bit….

    As things would be much to my surprise, the following day John decided to make me the topic of his next entry: A New-Ager Asks: “MUST I Know Jesus Before I Can Know God.

    I was surprised for John gave no indication he was going to do that nor did I have any idea as to his intentions behind it. I had some ideas though and made some predictions to myself and decided to see where it all would go and joined the game.

    Oh, and my query to John as to his choice of labels for me: I was not asked directly what faith I claim. ‘New Age’ is what John said he labeled me based on what he thought he knew of me by my own writings and replies. (In which I claim no single faith, save one reply a couple months ago referring to my Native American heritage.) But in John’s defense, he did say he’d change it if I said so. I chose to let it slide for I wanted to see how the labeling influenced the discussion. It pretty well went the way I thought it would.

    Among the replies were the predictables: the ‘Jesus is the Only Way!’, the Sermons, hell, the more open minded Christian: ‘Yes, God can work with non-Christians’, the Christian not sure or not willing to judge, the Very Predictable Prayer Vigil: ‘I Will Pray for You to Find Jesus!!!’ And a few asked ‘Why not try Jesus?’ (In which I will address later as well.) Not surprising for I expected all those.

    Now, back to the ‘Or, so I thought’ (and here’s the surprising part for me.): I was pleasantly surprised by the many open minded replies. And they made very good points to their stances, too. Way kewl. That is refreshing. I had expected more fire and brimstone; non-Christians are doomed to hell for rejecting JC and all that. It was there, but just.

    I’m impressed. Thanx guys.

    Now, to the questions posed to me by a couple: Why not Jesus?

    Several reasons. The bible for one. Way too much blood and death in there. Waaay too much. I simply cannot justify something like 33 million deaths by the god of the bible’s hands. And if Jesus and that god are one and the same, then count me out. Frankly, that god is horrifying in its bloodlust. No thank you.

    Second; I walk a different path. Always have.

    Thirdly, Christianity simply does not fit. Too small. Contrary to popular thought I didn’t go looking for a faith that had the best god. I went looking for the best faith that fit what God had revealed to me. Oddly, not one really fits. Many come close, but there is no single one. God just is too big for all of them. Guess you could say I walk naked….? *wink*

    Now, to further elaborate I must refer to John’s next post in his little series of ‘What Does Julia Believe’:

    My Answer to the New-Ager Who Claims to Know God (again, what’s with that New Ager label? Oh well…)

    In it John says: ““When Julia is deep in [her New-Agey] meditation, and feels what she experiences as nothing less than the full and absolute presence of God, is she simply and absolutely deluded about that?” is no, she’s not deluded about that. That is God she’s feeling. But that peaceful, I’m In Touch With The Universe feeling that everyone experiences when they meditate or behold the majesty of nature has about the same relationship to the totality of God as the soundtrack of a movie has to the movie itself.”

    He goes on to explain:

    “Julia’s experience of God is to the totality of God what a chocolate-chip cookie is to the totality of a three-course meal. It’s tasty, and sweet—but it has no substance. She can enjoy it, but she can’t live off it.”

    John, John, John. Wrong answer me bucko. (And hence my mild disappointment, even though it should have been expected.)

    You see, John, you did something I’ve seen many a Christian do, and I was so hoping you were not one of those kinds of Christians: you applied and assumed based on assumptions without first knowing. You applied the label and then assumed by the label based on what you thought you saw and knew of me based on several comment post scattered across many months and my few little writings on my tiny first ever blog. Did you once ever ask me how I even meditate or pray? Have you ever taken the time to really get to know me? Spend a few hours at least in private conversations and share a virtual cuppajoe and biscotti? No? Why not? Heck, you got my email. Drop me a line or a PM sometime will ya? Oy. Why the assumption of me? That’s why I asked why not label me simply a non-Christian. And here is where they whole labeling gets in the way. ‘New Age’ translated in the standard Christian viewpoint to about as deep and clear as a mud puddle. IOW’s, ‘New-Agey’ aint deep at all but just some blissed-out happy hippy horse hockey.

    Gee. Thanks, John.

    Do you really think that is all I do when I pray or meditate? Sheesh! Getting all warm fuzzy is not it. Never was. Step one is to get relaxed. That can be mis-conscrewed as the happy hippy affect. But that’s just the warm up. Like stretches before you exercise once you warm up you then get down to it. You focus and go deeper. MUCH deeper. You plunge in, full body, full mind with full intent. You look deep into yourself. You ask hard, blunt questions. You and God get into each others’ mind. You and God challenge each other. It’s the Smackdown. You wrestle and neither takes no quarter. You dive deep and pull up everything and you and God dissect every nook and cranny of it all, the good, the bad, the ugly, the stuff you rather would disappear but you know wont. You get mad, kick at things and stomp. You cry, you kick yourself in the head and in ass. But you don’t hold back and you don’t expect God to either. And He doesn’t. This is serious business, this communion with God. It is not taken lightly. It must be fully explored. It is a lifetime commitment. It is taken as deep and as far as God will lead you. And that is pretty damn deep and far, believe you me. For you understand that this is a partnership. You and God are in this together ‘til the end and beyond. This relationship is journeyed together in the deepest respect for each other. Honesty, humility and truth first and foremost. In all that is the most profound truth of all, the mission and message of your life with God: You are Loved. And that, my friends, is amazing.

    It is way sooo much more than a ‘movie soundtrack’ or a ‘chocolate-chip cookie’.

    And that is where I think some Christians get hung up on and trip over: God will lead you where you need to be. And for some –gasp!- that path is NOT Christianity.

    Whoa. Stop the presses. She did not just say that did she?

    I did.

    Why would God lead some to a non-Christian path you say. No way! Cant happen! But, but, but, what of Jesus you say. Silly non-Christian, new-agey hippy you say, what does she know?

    Let’s take a brief look at that, shall we? Did he not walk his path with God? Did he not wrestle with God, pour out all his heart, love, pain despair and joy to God? Did not he and God commune so deep, so thoroughly to the point of literally being inside of each other?

    To me that is what he meant by; ‘No one comes to the Father except through me.’ He wasn’t saying he was God. He was saying he and God walked so close as to be one. God was inside him. God spoke through him for that is how deep his relationship with God was. They were inside each other so pure and so deep as to be nearly one and the same. That is pretty deep. He became God’s spokesperson. He was saying follow my example. Not to worship him. You do not worship a man. You worship God. And God spoke through him.

    ‘No one comes to the Father except through me.’ Jesus wasn’t God. God was within him as pure and deep as ever seen at that time. No wonder he was put on a pedestal, (something he nor God didn’t want IMHO.) And what a simple yet profound message of Jesus: ‘No one comes to the Father except through me.’ Did he not also say we all can do what he did? Follow his example and get go deep, people. We can do it.

    And that is the only real message in the bible for me. And I knew that long before I even heard of Jesus. Oddly enough, that same message is out there in many other faiths. So yes, it does seem that God does work in everyone.

    I didn’t go looking for a God I wanted or a faith that made me feel all warm and fuzzy. What’s the point of that shallow fluff bunny stuff? No, I went looking for a faith that fit the God that I already knew. And, also not surprisingly, there is no one faith that fits. All are just too… tiny. I really dont have a need for them either. You could say I walk naked for I don’t wear any one faith. Nor dress like a hippy. I do like tie-dye for it has all colors, and I like jeans… Damn, there’s that image again… Ah well.

    Anyhoo, I do hope I answered some queries and furthered understanding between us. There’s more, much more of course, but this is John’s place after all, and I dont want to break the load limit on this thing either. Thanks to John y’all know where I call home (my meager little blog,) so do drop by now and then and say ‘Hi.’ I always have a pot-o-joe on when company does happens to drop in. And I’ll keep in regular touch here too.

    Yes, John, I’m sticking around. Ya see, ya done went and grew on me John, you big lunk you. You’re cool beans and goshdernit, I’ve come to actually like you. Whodathunk, eh? Even if you are a Christian. *wink* So, guess you’re stuck with me, even if we never did get to share a coffee and biscotti. If we ever do (and I think that would be so way kewl) it’s on me. No really, I insist.

    See y’all around! Happy New Year Y’all!

    Kthanxbai.

    ~julia~

  • Roger Coffman

    Happy New Year, John. I have enjoyed reading your stuff this last year and hope you have a wonderful 2010!

  • http://living3dfaith.blogspot.com/ Tim

    I believe that if one honestly sets out to seek God's face, they will succeed no matter how many philosophies or religious disciplines they study. Don Richardson wrote a book, "With Eternity In Their Hearts", that suggests the seeds, or keys, to finding the one true God are planted in every culture. The Old and New Testament are full of verses about "seeking God with a whole heart". To me, that is a heart that never stops seeking after God. That heart is never satisfied because God Himself is unending, infinite, and unsearchable. Also that our heart is not divided into two portions. One after God, and another after our own selfish interests and agendas.

  • Diana

    Thanks, Tim. Good point. I'm going to put that book on my Amazon wish list.

  • http://ramblingsofaspiritualidiot.wordpress.com ~Julia~

    Tex, thank you! As with John if we ever do meet up the coffee is on me. :)

    Diana, thank you too! No, I havent read the book, but thanks for the tip. I'm so far behind on my reading list that'll take years to catch up!

    Maybe when I retire and have a life again I be able to get to some of them…. ;)

  • http://odgie.wordpress.com odgie

    Julia,

    Thanks for your thoughts. I'm a regular reader/infrequent commenter here. I think that you've been decent and honest throughout the discussions.

    However, I have to ask: What did you expect John to say? Why would John or anyone else become a Christian if we didn't think that was the way to know God?

    I also have to say that the message of the NT is very much that Jesus is God. Accept it or reject, but to suggest that the NT is remotely ambiguous on that subject requires some seriously creative interpretation.

  • http://ramblingsofaspiritualidiot.wordpress.com ~Julia~

    Thank you Odgie. And a valid question too.

    Having been following John’s blog for many months there was enough in his words to suggest he was a more open minded Christian. With his post on Dec 29 he seemed to be. Hence why I asked him if one needed to be Christian.

  • Moonshadow

    (For a bit about that, see Me, My Wife, Zen, and the Evangelizing Christian Who Broke the Great Commandment.)

    Hi, I came from Julie D.'s blog and am new here. Are non-working links part of the humor? Just wondering. I would like to read about you leaving Zen. Thanks.

  • Diana

    Moonshadow: Try this one: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/2008/02/01/me-my-wife-zen-an

    If that doesn't work, look in the archives under 02-01-2008. Hope this helps!

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Thank you, Diana, very much.

  • Diana

    You're welcome! More than happy to be of service!

  • http://mp3musicplayeronline.info Catalina Thorton

    Really enjoyed this blog article.Thanks Again. Fantastic.


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