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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Oprah at the Gym

Yesterday on the circuit a woman (I'll call her Stacy) was raving about Oprah's spirituality, and how it so unifies people. I think she was excited by reading one of Oprah's new book club books, The Power of One by Eckhart Tolle. Stacy explained that we need to live each day in the moment (very wise), with the knowledge that God is within. Furthermore, the wisdom of many religions demonstrates that they all show different aspects of the same Truth-with-a-capital-"T".

Wow, this was heavy, especially coming in the middle of my leg presses!

I love philosophical issues, though. What fun to ponder these abstract concepts, and so my thoughts ran as I listened to this woman go on. I had a few questions for her. I asked if she could summarize the book's concepts for me since I hadn't read it. Hmm.

The ideas that Stacy was espousing sounded to me like Classical Pantheism: the belief that "God" is in everything, and that religions are essentially the same. It's certainly appealing to think that we all carry the Light within us, we are good, we make our own reality etc. etc. This seems to be a common message of many "spiritual" people who I talk with: that we can somehow tap into this god-power, live successfully and prosperously by "drawing" good things to ourselves, and help ourselves by helping others. We all must work out "God" our own way, and follow what we believe. No one's belief is wrong; all roads eventually lead to "God" (or whatever we wish to name it), that free-flowing energy force of light and love that permeates all things.

But...what if this is wrong? For example, as a scientist I was immersed in a different view: there is nothing but evolution and chance, and therefore what we do doesn't matter anyway since there is no God.

Alternatively, what if "God" does indeed exist but he is separate, a Super-Being who has already revealed himself? Surely the monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) say as much, and for anyone who thinks otherwise I challenge you to actually read their writings (Old Testament, New Testament, Koran) rather than cherry-pick verses. Jesus, especially, is misquoted. He claimed to be God, yes, but the Holy, separate "I AM" omnipotent God. He did NOT believe others were God, and he was railroaded by the Jewish leaders to execution because of his claims to deity. Read the book of John.

Can all of these beliefs (God is a force, God doesn't exist, God is a separate Super-Being) all be true?

Religion is a notoriously "squishy" topic: after all, if we can't see God (Higher Power, Life Force, whatever), how can we know what the truth is? Even so, people often have very strong opinions about God. Many times these opinions stem from the person's upbringing, but not always. As I've studied religious systems, I've found that Christianity stands out for two reasons.

First is Christianity's notion of "grace." All other religious systems seem to say that you must do X, and/or avoid Y, in order to be acceptable to God (monotheistic) or to understand and join with the life force (pantheistic). Christianity is the only belief system that says we humans CANNOT become good enough to be united with God: God himself must build the bridge (Jesus) that allows us to cross over to Him.

Second, the historical evidence seems to document the existence of a real live miracle, the resurrection of Jesus. I took a year studying the circumstances surrounding Jesus' death with the goal of destroying the claims of Christianity. I was shocked at what I found. At the end, I reluctantly admitted defeat and became a Christian. I was very angry at first :-)

I don't watch Oprah's shows, but I have a great respect for her. I believe she is a genuinely good and kind person, and that if more people were like her, this world would surely be a better place. She has overcome great personal odds to become a successful and remarkable woman; more power to her. Still, I am uncomfortable with her pantheistic ideals. There is much room for respectful debate and the give and take of ideas over this issue. Truly, this question of "Who is God?" must be the most important one that anyone could ask.


These are issues that are challenging to address in just a few paragraphs. Wow, how did I dig myself in this deep starting from a visit to the gym? Oh well. As they say, "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread," so here am I my dear friends, foolishly yours.


Andra M. said...

I quit watching Oprah for that reason among others. To believe all roads lead to God is lazy. It means we don't have to work to show Jesus to others.

It's also dangerous, because those who need Christ's message may never hear it.

Allie said...

I stopped watching Oprah long ago.... but not because of her beliefs. If I know something is coming on that I want to see, I'll set the DVR to record it while I'm at work - but I don't bother finding out if there is anything I want to see. LOL

Sarah Salter said...

While reading your post today, I was arrested by a mish-mosh of emotions that were so strong that I decided to take a few hours to stew on them. I needed a little time to untangle them and identify them. When I got to the end of the knot, I was able to identify two:

First- gratefulness. I am aware that the enemy lives to throw lies at me and try to get me to believe them. But in the midst of this, God opened my eyes to enough truth to allow me to choose Jesus (THE TRUTH) instead of some other "truth".

Second- sadness. As deeply as God longs for all of his children to come home, some of them are too blinded, too wounded, too stubborn, too oppressed, etc. to accept His Truth. (I've been there, too!) How the Father must grieve His prodigals!

One of my favorite prayers for myself and my loved ones is, "Lord, please bind your truth to our hearts."

Jesus, I am so grateful for the trail of breadcrumbs that ever leads me home to YOU!

Tony said...

WoW,very intresting post but even more intresting are the comments. Sarah said "enemy lives". Is this the middle ages, who doesen't believe in God or in your God is an enemy? Andra said "It means we don't have to work to show Jesus to others" Perhaps others are satisfied with their own religion.
I agree with religion unifies people but does that mean we have to fight other religious beliefs to be united?

Andra M. said...

Hi Tony,

Interesting comments. If you don't mind, I'd like to address a few of them.

When Sarah mentioned "the enemy" she's not talking about any human, but Satan, or the devil. I sincerely doubt she considers anyone who does not believe in Jesus as the enemy.

To answer your question about fighting other religions to be united, some may believe that, but most do not. Religion, to me, is not the same as faith. Faith is what we believe or who we believe in, religion is the method by which we express or practice that belief.

Fighting over those differences is never wise. Debating them can be, as long as both sides listen with respect, and try to see from the other person's point of view.

Amy Deardon said...

Hi Tony, when Sarah says "the enemy lives to throw lies at me" I'm sure that she is referring to Satan, not people (Ephesians 6:12: For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.)

Andra I believe is making the point that all roads DON'T lead to heaven, and we have to be aware of the religious definitions that people use. You see, Christians believe that G-d really truly exists, and He has certain characteristics that exclude other characteristics. For example, He can't be a force permeating everything, and yet separate from His creation, and yet not existing.

I don't doubt for a moment that other people are satisfied with their own belief systems, and this is fine. I'm not going to hit them over the head, because obviously we all must have the freedom to choose what to believe. At the same time, I am convinced (through rational arguments; I'd be happy to elaborate) that Christianity is true, and since there are such high stakes involved (souls) I wish to help others understand this viewpoint so that they can make a choice. You see, I don't believe all roads lead to heaven. It's like a doctor who wishes to give an unpleasant yet correct diagnosis to a patient, so that he can be cured if he wishes.

When I talk with someone about faith, I listen to understand, and I speak to be understood. I have friendly chats; I don't believe that I'm superior and know everything; I am humble and eager to learn. People are completely free to accept or reject my ideas. I don't harass anyone, but I do pray for them.

Christianity is a complex entity, and made more difficult to understand because people impose their own belief systems on top of what the Bible says. You mentioned Galileo in your blog; he and Copernicus are a fabulous example of man extrapolating past the limits of what is actually said in the Bible. I'd like to post a longer response on your blog tomorrow if I may.

Before I quit to stay home with children, I worked as a scientist doing bench research and teaching college-level courses. I have studied these issues in depth, and don't see conflicts between God and science.

Have a nice evening.

Sarah Salter said...


Andra and Amy are correct. When I refer to my "enemy" I am referring to Satan and not to any human person. The Bible says that Satan is our enemy and that he is like a roaring lion, seeking to devour us.

Thanks Andra and Amy for helping to clarify this.

Jessica Thomas said...

Amy, I agree, Christianity is unique among all other religions and philosophical beliefs. I will add, something else which makes it unique is that the Bible's depiction of evil and Satan is very clear cut. There is good and there is evil. Here's how you define it, here's how you spot it, and here's how you fight and overcome it.

As for Oprah, you are kinder than I am. I know she is one of God's children and it is not my place to judge her sins, but lately, I must admit, I feel some anger rise in my chest when I see her or hear about her. She may be a "good" person, but she is leading many many astray. At the same time, she calls herself a Christian. She is twisting the message of Jesus into a message from the evil one. It makes me sick and I shudder to think how angry it makes God. I pray I never do that, especially in front of millions upon millions who look up to me and hang on my every word. (Well, I will doubtless ever have that grand opportunity, but, hopefully you get my gist.)

Tony said...

I am convinced (through rational arguments; I'd be happy to elaborate) that Christianity is true, and since there are such high stakes involved (souls) I wish to help others understand this viewpoint so that they can make a choice.

All religions involve souls yet you are convinced Christianity is the One. There is no extraordinary evidence that proves one religion over the other just our upbringing and culture we live in. As for Satan we only ever heard one side of the story. I wonder if any of you have read the "His dark matter" trilogy, the books not the film. Althought it is a story as real as Harry Potter it also makes us think that there are always two sids to a story.

Tony said...

Im sorry its his His Dark Materials

Amy Deardon said...

Jessica, I too cannot make a judgment. I admire certain things about Oprah very much: she has triumphed over difficult circumstances, and genuinely (I believe) wants to do good in this world. Unfortunately she is a pantheist, and her tremendous platform allows false teachings by Eckhart Tolle and others to be widespread. I pick up a grain of sand (Stacy) if I can.

Tony, I loved Harry Potter. Since I'm always looking for interesting books, I appreciate your reference to *His Dark Materials* by Philip Pullman. I haven't read it, but looked through a quick summary of the plot on Wikipedia. The human-daemon construct is quite imaginative! I know The Golden Compass as a film came out last year, but didn't see it. Wikipedia mentioned the series has negative portrayal of organized religion, especially Catholic church. As a Christian I believe there is a great difference between faith/relationship with G-d, and organized religion -- just because organized religion has many hypocrisies and human failings, this doesn't translate to failings within G-d Himself.

Yes, I am convinced Christianity is *the One* (as you put it). This is a long answer so I'll write a blog entry about this in a day or two. I'll just mention briefly now: of all the belief systems -- Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, *god force*, being a good person, atheism, and I'm sure I've missed something -- only Christianity is based on an actual historical event: the resurrection of Jesus. Paul writes: And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead...And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins...If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (1 Corinthians 15: 14, 15, 17, 19 NOTE: The skipped passages do not diminish this statement; simply that they are in reference to what risen bodies look like, which is distracting to this discussion).

In other words, if you disprove the resurrection, then you have Paul's blessing to not be a Christian, since believing in Christ under those circumstances would make you wretched and pathetic and stupid.

Hope this is helpful? Check out my website under resources if you want a bit more explanation of Christianity and apologetics (rational proofs). Thank you again for your thoughts -- you have some excellent points.