Get Your Enlightenment Here
Echart Tolle's A New Earth gives readersespecially fans of Oprah Winfreyjust what they want: spirituality without strings. Tolle's new bestseller is smooth and soothing, presenting an easy form of Buddhism designed for on-the-go Westerners with a lot of anxieties, and a little time to deal with them. A kind of Buddhism–lite. While it may appear to give welcome advicea breath of fresh air from the wisdom of the EastTolle is actually calling for the annihilation of personhood. Despite Tolle's continual claim that Jesus also spoke the truths of Buddism-lite, Christ and Buddha (heavy or life) could not be more opposed.
There is an ever-present temptation for human beings to try to fix things by entirely eliminating the possibility of them ever breaking.
Take Marxism, for an example. Human greed causes great human misery, especially the grinding and inhumane oppression of the poor. At the twisted heart of such greed is the desire to possess. Why not rid ourselves of the desire to possess, by ridding ourselves of all possessions? If there were no private property, no ownership of anything, then there would no longer be either rich or poor. So thought Karl Marx.
The problem with such logic, as the history of Marxism amply testifies, is that in the zeal to eliminate private property, Marxists had no compunction about eliminating the owners of the property—millions of them. Such good intentions paved the way to hell in the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin.
What does this have to do with the soft-speaking, pop Buddhism of Tolle?
Buddhism deals with personal problems by eliminating the person, not the problem. It tries to fix the human condition by entirely eliminating the possibility of real human beings. In this, it sets itself dead against Christianity, which in contrast to the very human temptations of Buddhism, affirms with the greatest possible energy, the reality of God, human beings, and everything else.
Boiled down to its spiritualist bones, Tolle's lesson is this. There is only one thing, which itself is both formless and divine. All particularity, every distinct form, is an illusion. Your identification with your own particularity—be it with your thoughts, your individual history, your body—is the source of all your suffering. Your problem is you—not in you, but you.
The goal of "enlightenment" is this: To rid yourself of this personal attachment to your person (your ego, your mind) and become "conscious" of your complete identity with the formless and divine essence behind all illusory form.
Ironically, what begins in humble self-destruction ends in shameless deification. "When forms around you die or death approaches, your sense of Beingness, of I Am, is freed from its entanglement with form: Spirit is released from its imprisonment in matter. You realize your essential identity as formless, as an all-pervasive Presence, of Being prior to all forms, all identifications. You realize your identity as consciousness itself, rather than what consciousness has identified with. That's the peace of God. The ultimate truth of who you are is not I am this or I am that, but I Am."
Tolle's message comes down to: annihilate yourself and you become God, "I am," Being Itself. The result is a great shift of how evil is understood. Evil is attachment to the particular. Salvation is annihilation of it through the recognition that one is not really particular after all, but rather, one with the formless divine. "Ego is no more than this: identification with form, which primarily means thought forms. If evil has any reality—and it has a relative, not an absolute reality—this is also its definition: complete identification with form—physical forms, thought forms, emotional forms".
For those familiar with early Christian history, Buddhism appears to be merely another incarnation of Gnosticism. This view denies the reality and goodness of the material world, and posits salvation as an escape into divinity. It would probably be more accurate, however, to say that Tolle's Buddhism has more in common with the modern pantheism. Pantheism sees all particularity, including particular human beings, as ephemeral bubbles on the surface of the ebb and flow of energy and matter.
Tolle violates common sense. We know that we are both particular and real. We experience ourselves as real, distinct persons, and feel deep down in our very particular bones that our annihilation would be evil. That is why a violation of common sense is also a violation of sound doctrine. In Judeo-Christian terms, what Tolle is calling the annihilation of creation and especially the human creature by collapsing everything into the Creator. This is not only blasphemous, but foolish.
At the heart of the Genesis account is the radical affirmation of the fundamental distinction between Creator and creature. Following upon this is the no less important affirmation of creation as real, the divinely-intended, true reality of everything from plants to planets, hamsters to human beings. When God pronounces all "good," He is simultaneously and emphatically declaring it all both real and distinct.
In so doing, the Bible is affirming common sense against the possible confusions of misty philosophical or theological speculations, whatever their source. As G. K. Chesterton rightly said in his classic The Everlasting Man, "Christianity does appeal to a solid truth outside itself; to something which is in that sense external as well as eternal. It does declare that things are really there; or in other words that things are really things. In this Christianity is at one with common sense; but all religious history shows that this common sense perishes except where there is Christianity to preserve it."
But Tolle is out to destroy Christianity by coopting it, by reforming Christ in Tolle's image. The difficulty is that those who swallow Tolle's books also ingest his false presentation of Jesus as cheerfully compatible with Buddhism, and in so doing, will likewise lose their grip on common sense.
Benjamin Wiker holds a Ph.D. in Theological Ethics from Vanderbilt University, and has taught at Marquette University, St. Mary's University (MN), Thomas Aquinas College (CA), and Franciscan University (OH).
He is a full-time writer, husband, and father. Dr. Wiker is a Senior Fellow of Discovery Institute and a Senior Fellow at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. He writes regularly for a variety of journals.
Dr. Wiker has written Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists (IVP), The Mystery of the Periodic Table (Bethlehem), Architects of the Culture of Death (Ignatius), and most recently, A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature (IVP). His newest books are Answering the New Atheism: Dismantling Dawkins' Case Against God (Emmaus, co-authored with Scott Hahn) and (Regnery).
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