The God Within Heresy

The God Within Heresy June 20, 2012

In the end, the God Within heresy is a kindly apocalypse: it overwhelms with niceness, tolerance, and is a make-up-your-own religion that is safe as long as you and I leave one another alone to make up our own religion for ourselves. Ross Douthat, in Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, takes direct aim at the following: Elizabeth Gilbert, Oprah Winfrey, Eckhart Tolle, Karen Armstrong, and some others like Deepak Chopra, Paulo Coehlho, James Redfield, Neale Donald Walsch, and Marianne Williamson. My read of American religion is that the God Within heresy is far more pervasive and far more threatening to Christianity than the prosperity gospel. These are the “spiritual but not religious” crowd, Douthat says.

How pervasive is this God Within theology/religion/spirituality? Where are you seeing it in the church? Why is it so appealing?

Douthat goes after Gilbert, famous for her book Eat, Pray, Love, a journey from a marriage, to divorce, to seeking God in the Far East at an ashram recommended by her (ex-)lover, and then finally finding love in Bali with a Brazilian man … she had arrived, and her secret is what Douthat calls the God Within. She found a voice within, a voice within her own self, it was God’s voice, it was God, it was herself. God and Self, more or less the same. For Gilbert, all religions offer the path to the divine — and all religious teachings are “transporting metaphors” leading to the infinite — you can cherry pick your own religion, make it all up, bricolage spirituality. Here’s her creed: “God dwells within you as you yourself, exactly the way you are” (214). We are to “honor the divinity that resides within” us (215).

What does this God Within stuff believe? Four points:

1. Organized religions offer only a glimpse of God.
2. God is everywhere and within everything; it is a form of pantheism ultimately.
3. All will eventually be reconciled with God — pantheistic universalism.
4. The good life, peace, etc, is available now.

They think they are truer to Christianity and Christ than most of Christianity. Here is where it becomes not only the God Within, but even more: the Me in the God Within. The person finds his or her own voice, or God, or the Soul.

It depersonalizes God — not the Father, Son and Spirit; not Yahweh; instad it is Being, Soul of the World, Highest Thought, Supreme Love. He gives Karen Armstrong a good sketch too: not about propositions but about encounter. The problem is that the theologians who are colonized into this new bricolaged religion of God Within, seen in #1 above, were all fiercely dogmatic — Gregory of Nyssa, Aquinas, et al. They knew their limits, but what they knew they really knew — and held out for. The faith exists because of the Flannery O’Connors, not the Paulo Coelhos.

He gets after a point that I have found so often among this crowd, and I see it at times in some in the spiritual formation movement: baptizing egomania and divinizing selfishness (his terms). That is, it becomes about Me and what God is doing in Me and my Soul and my Own Inner Self. It’s a kind of solipsism, he says. Religion for such people is the great Self-Enabler!

Critics or prophets were Philip Rieff and Les Kolakowski and Christian Smith and Melinda Denton. Moral therapeutic deism is where this stuff leads. God is out there for Me. So just be nice.

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