“I don’t have to go to church — God comes to me. He’s with me and around me wherever I am.”
Those words, offered by a mother to her son, contributed to the apparent self-actualization of best-selling author — I’m talking been-on-the-New York Times-bestseller-list-for-hundreds-of-weeks-best-selling — Neale Donald Walsch. His books, which all revolve, in one form or another, around the very appealing premise of “Conversations with God,” speak to people in ways that apparently rival Sacred Scripture; however, Sacred Scripture they are not.
This prompts the question: How do millions of Christians get duped into believing the ramblings of New Age messengers like Neale? What is the draw that sends books like Neale’s to the top of the New York Times bestseller list for 100+ weeks?
Before answering, consider the more recent phenomenon that was catapulted to the top of the New Age heap after being hawked by Oprah: The Secret . This book by Rhonda Byrne rivaled Neale’s in appeal and sales. At the core of the book is the “Law of Attraction” in which, according to its author, like attracts like — and since you deserve all good things, your good thoughts about all you deserve will bring you all you deserve.
Maybe it’s the Catholic in me, but when I think of what I deserve… yikes !
Needless to say, these sorts of books have a lot in common. At the heart of teaching is the underlying belief that we each make up and are responsible for our own reality. We are able to work independently of an Absolute Truth for there are no absolutes, only relative absolutes where every person is entitled to a great and wonderful life experience.
Every situation can be read from your own perspective.
A neighbor irritated with your late night parties can be ignored because the problem is his, not yours. (Maybe he hasn’t bought the book yet.)
The promotion you lost wasn’t because of your lack of skills or ability but rather was the fault of your supervisor who was blind to the gift that is you.
No harm, no foul, right?
I readily admit that on a blistering cold, winter Sunday morning in Michigan, the philosophy of Neale’s mother is mighty appealing — I would love to stay wrapped up in my jammies and let God come to me versus braving the cold to go see Him. But when I begin to make up my own rules about attending Church I am in disobedience to God who has clearly called me to worship Him on Sabbath and keep the day holy. Once I start sliding down that slippery slope it is only a matter of time before other commandments fall by the wayside as I more easily accept my own shortcomings and see no need to address them in a way that develops virtuous habits.
Along with the likes of Neale’s book Conversations with God (which he says was intended to be his own letter to God but then he found the pen moving of its own accord), it has long been my own personal belief that the teachings found in the popular, ungodly Oprah-touted book, The Secret, played a role in the recent collapse of our American economy. The book’s philosophy goes something like this: I will “see” the promotion that I want and will help actualize it by buying things based upon this new promotion that I “see.” When the bills begin piling up I will “see” the money in my checkbook — I may even write out checks to help the vision become clearer, more “real.”
I can’t help but wonder: how many people followed this “Law of Attraction” to their economic suicide? I’m no statistician but I believe that if one were to look at the number of books sold against the number of economic disasters in the months that followed there would be some sort of direct correlation.
Sure, maybe some people were greedy but let’s assume that most simply wanted a nicer home or a second car or a vacation. Let’s be honest, it is quite easy to succumb to New Age messages.
I have a dear friend whose husband got hold of a Joel Osteen book that was dripping with prosperity doctrine. According to my friend, her unemployed husband, after reading Osteen’s message of God’s deliverance from pain and despair, took that to mean that God would blow a job in through an open window and thus the husband sat, waiting patiently, for the miracle to arrive. He trusted God because, well, God is good and wouldn’t want his family to starve or get evicted.
Yes, God is indeed good; but He values virtuous living in the form of trust combined with diligence. Faith goes hand in hand with action.
Was this the intention of Osteen? I do not necessarily believe that to be the case and yet Osteen’s book is a great reminder that in the wrong hands or with a misguided frame of mind, even a good-intentioned Christian message becomes toxic.
As Catholic Christians we ought not to forgo the Cross set before us. This is part and parcel of our faith – and most certainly why our numbers have dwindled over the past couple of self-indulgent decades. Who wants to pick up a cross when a pot of gold is right around the corner? Who wants to own up to personal responsibility when a new perspective can change things in our favor? When faced with a difficult challenge or particularly heavy burden, very few of us would embrace a Cross or personal responsibility with eagerness.
However, our salvation is not separate from our earthly sojourn. The intention is that we are able to — and ought to — work out our salvation in fear and trembling; the crosses we bear and the burdens we carry are joined to Christ, not for His good, but for ours.
In part two: An interview with Sharon Lee Giganti.