A New Earth, An Old Deception
- Thursday, August 07, 2008
We are coming to the end, Tolle says, of all mythologies, ideologies, and belief systems—i.e., "A NEW HEAVEN AND A NEW EARTH."
The reimbursements seem endless, as evidenced by an Oprah-produced PR video for Tolle's book (downloadable from oprah.com). It is an emotionally moving series of images that feature all kinds of people interacting joyfully, blissfully, and lovingly in a variety of situations and at beautiful locations: a park, a hillside, a picturesque street corner. The musical soundtrack is lush and heartrending, perfectly complimenting the subtle text that gently fades on and off the screen:
Discover the depth within yourself. A sense of awe, of wonder, will arise within you. It can only awaken those who are ready. Are you ready? Find the goodness already within you.... The past has no power to stop you from being present now.... Only by awakening can you know the true meaning of that word. To love is to recognize yourself in another. In order to attract success, you need to welcome it wherever you see it.... The source of all energy is within you. You will come to life. A new year. A new you. A New Earth.
These sentiments may sound wonderfully poetic and inspiring. But what do they actually mean? What is "the depth" within yourself? What does it mean to be awakened? What does it mean to be "present now"? What does it mean to be "aware"? Aware of what? And what is the "truth" about who I am? We must also ask: How might Tolle's teachings contradict or compliment scripture? What does he say about religion in general, and about Christianity specifically? Where does he stand on God, Jesus, and salvation?
The answers to these and related questions are found in Tolle's book, which one reviewer called "a profoundly spiritual manifesto for a better way of life—and for building a better world." However, what many people do not realize is that Tolle's answers, once all the evocative language and colorful imagery is stripped way, reflect the same teachings that have been around since the sub-structures of the New Age Movement were laid back in the mid-1800s. Tolle, in other words, is saying nothing new. He has simply restated New Age beliefs using a fresh vocabulary.
Here Comes the New Age—Again
Doctrinally speaking, Tolle's writings categorize him as a typical New Ager who advances the same list of beliefs that have long been popular with persons in the Western world who are enamored with the spiritual philosophies of the Eastern world. But Tolle discusses these beliefs in a way that is far removed from how they are usually discussed in New Age circles. Instead of plainly stating his case, he runs his teachings along a circuitous route of emotional appeals, invented words/terms (e.g., the "pain-body"), and even self-contradictory statements.
This is not to say that Tolle is insincere. He often expresses himself using extraordinarily sincere and heartfelt arguments, poignant observations, and deeply personal anecdotes. But sincerity and best intentions are not the issue. Truth is the issue. Is Tolle communicating truth? The answer to that question, surprisingly, is sometimes yes. For instance, on pages 10-11 of A New Earth he correctly notes that humans have "suffered more at the hands of each other than through natural disasters," going so far as to equate human brutality with a kind of madness that takes hold again and again. Then, on page 12, Tolle astutely identifies fear, greed, and the desire for power as prime reasons for the destruction of so many personal relationships. He writes: "They bring about distortion in your perception of other people and yourself. Through them, you misinterpret every situation, leading to misguided action designed to rid you of fear and satisfy your need for more, a bottomless whole that can never be filled."
None of this sounds too problematic. In fact, when it comes to certain issues, Tolle makes some rather interesting and thought-provoking points. But herein lies the problem. His insightful comments, which resonate as true, lull readers into believing that everything else he says is true. This, in turn, leads them to accept without question or pause what he states about: (1) our real identity; (2) the only way to peace and purpose; (3) the substance of truth; (4) the identity of Jesus; and (5) the nature of "God."
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