Why Jesus?: Rediscovering His Truth in an Age of Mass Marketed Spiritualityby Ravi Zacharias
The author believes that over the past forty years movements like New Age spirituality and society's obsession with human potential have combined like a "perfect storm" to redefine for popular culture what has been for centuries the classic biblical definition of the person, work, and teaching of Jesus Christ.
In WHY JESUS?, Ravi Zacharias looks at the impact of… See more details below
The author believes that over the past forty years movements like New Age spirituality and society's obsession with human potential have combined like a "perfect storm" to redefine for popular culture what has been for centuries the classic biblical definition of the person, work, and teaching of Jesus Christ.
In WHY JESUS?, Ravi Zacharias looks at the impact of this "storm" by discussing the 60s-70s "Age of Aquarius," actor Shirley MacLaine's book and TV series Out On a Limb, author James Redfield (The Celestine Prophecy), Rhonda Byrne (The Secret), Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code), and other books by Eckart Tolle, Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, the Dali Lama, and Marianne Williamson. Special attention will be given to the influence of Oprah Winfrey's media platform in reshaping society by introducing and promoting certain books and authors.
Major new age and human potential tenets will be discussed like: the belief that we are all gods and have to discover our divinity; Jesus was only a good teacher; Christianity is but one among many ways to eternal life; reincarnation is real; Jesus was married; truth is relative; there is no sin; and perfection is possible.
The truth of and the arguments for the bodily resurrection of Jesus will be presented as the most important argument for the exclusive claims about Jesus and Christianity.
Ravi takes a scholarly yet imaginative approach to aplogetics."Bruce Wilkinson, author of the #1 "New York Times" bestseller The Prayer of Jabez"
The works of Ravi Zacharias are a vital resource around our house."Frank Peretti"
I am not aquainted with a brighter mind or a more relevant and devoted defender of the faith than Ravi Zacharias."Charles Swindoll"
To every generation God sends a prophet. Ravi Zacharias is that prophet for this generation. You must hear him."Josh McDowell"
Ravi Zacharias presents an outstanding defence of the Christian faith for our times."R.C. Sproul
"Ravi Zacharias presents an outstanding defence of the Christian faith for our times."
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Why Jesus?Rediscovering His Truth in an Age of Mass Marketed Spirituality
By Zacharias, Ravi
FaithWordsCopyright © 2012 Zacharias, Ravi
All right reserved.
MOVIE MAKING OR SOUL MAKING
It’s a Dream World
From the first moment of the movie Inception, you are taken through enough mysteries and plots strung together that you are not sure whether you are watching the movie or the movie is watching you. You feel yourself trying to determine whether you are dreaming that you are awake or are awake and dreaming. You begin to question whether you understand reality at all or if reality has conned you, and a series of mind games follows: Is consciousness a cause or an effect? Are we human beings eternal entities given a quantity of time to exist or are we time-laden bodies pretending to be eternal? In short, in the complex mix of the drama, the biggest struggle is whether you, the watcher, are the ultimate dreamer or merely the dream.
Ironically, the unavoidable reality in this brilliant production is that dreaming or awake, the lead characters display their infinite capacity for human depravity. The schemes that wreak devastation—wholesale slaughter, explosions, killing, everything in the news that clutters our daily lives—are the staple of this movie, whether the characters are in a state of slumber or awake. One thing has to be said for Hollywood: there are some real geniuses behind the levels to which they can carry the imagination.
The plot of Inception is built on the idea that a person can infiltrate another individual’s mind through their dreams and steal that person’s subconscious thoughts and plans. The extractors of the information that is gained through the dreams and their victims sleep in close proximity to one another, linked by a device called the “Dream Share,” which administers a sedative that allows them to share the dream jointly. Interestingly, pain experienced in the dream world is real, and if one awakes in the middle of the dream, death will result from the abrupt crossing of consciousnesses. So one must remain in a state of sleep and endure the pain in order to accomplish the extraction. The sedation has to last. So in this depraved reality, if you are the extractor you must remain asleep, enduring someone else’s pain, until you can extract the information you want. That’s about it.
The lead character carries a little spinning top called a “totem” that either spins unceasingly or topples, allowing him to determine whether he is dreaming or awake, respectively. Odd, isn’t it, that even in the wanderings of our imaginations we still want to know the difference between fantasy and reality by implanting a world within a world to separate the realities? No human emotion is missing from Inception: family longings, children at play, the usual array of surreal underworld figures and big-business shenanigans and the angst of marital strains all form the tapestry of the story.
The overall mission in this film is to secretly implant an idea that will topple a business adversary. Just trying to figure out what is going on is enough to keep your attention as you are swept into the story with its gripping motif of how the power of an idea planted in the mind can change an individual and in fact, rearrange reality when it is given motivation and direction. The web that is being spun becomes even more complex, delving into deeper and deeper levels of the subconscious with proportionate ramifications. Just enough of the supernatural is included to tantalize the viewer with a world beyond the physical, and the producers have created a psychological terrain and breadth of imagination that would have made Freud look sophomoric.
Intriguing about this mix is how its creators concoct a mesmerizing blend of mutually exclusive worldviews. But in the world of moviemaking the irrational and the rational work hand in hand to create worldviews that, in the end, endow a human being with divine powers. That seems always to be the desired result, and the means are harnessed to accomplish that end.
Interestingly, the same man who brought us this movie spectacular also brought us The Dark Knight, which was really Batman made postmodern. In that movie, award-winning actor Heath Ledger played the sinister role of the Joker with near satanic powers. Once again, you walked away from the movie thinking it was “just a movie.” But was it? One can write a whole book on some of the lines in that story. You can’t seem to escape the question of whether that was all there was to it… just a movie.
In the real world, devoid of pretense, when the news of Heath Ledger’s sudden and mysterious drug-related death at the age of twenty-nine hit the news, the question being bandied about was whether his portrayal of the Joker had so overtaken his thinking that he couldn’t break free from the script of Batman. According to his co-actors and friends, Ledger ended up possessed by the Joker and unable to break free from the character, even away from the set. He so immersed himself into the thought processes of the character he was playing that the dividing line between imagination and being imagined, from acting to becoming one with the character, was erased. The sinister won the day and the Joker was no longer a phantom character, but was embodied away from the set with dire real-life consequences.
It’s Just a Story
Is it possible to read a story and not enter into it; to write a story and not become part of the script?
When I was writing my first book, my family and I were living in Cambridge, England. Our young son, who was just nine years old at the time, decided to write a book as well. So every evening after school, he would get out his pad of paper and start dreaming his plot. Needless to say, every second page was filled with some kind of crisis. One day, I came to the table where I had my material all set up and I saw him seated there as well, pen in hand, pad in front of him, the weight of the world apparently on him as tears ran down his face. I immediately put aside all I was thinking of and asked him what on earth the matter was.
“I know it, I just know it,” he said between sobs.
“Know what?” I asked gently.
“I just know the dog is going to die.”
I had to pause to process what he was talking about and realized that the world of make-believe and his make-believe characters had taken over his own will to believe. It was amazing to see in his eyes the sense of inevitability from which he wanted to escape but couldn’t, even though it was in his power to do so. Frankly, I didn’t know whether to break him out of the role of storyteller or let him know that when you write a story, it tends to take on a life all its own. Such is the immense power of the imagination when it intersects with reality. This is actually how cultures are shaped.
It is one thing for this to happen in the mind of a nine-year-old who enters the world of make-believe; quite another for it to happen in the mind of an actor employed in the billion-dollar industry of sophisticated storytelling, the biggest imagination-controlling business in the world today. If Heath Ledger couldn’t break free from the story, being close to the script and knowing he was just acting, how can the audience break free from the story when they don’t know what is going on behind the scenes?
Watching a movie with my mother-in-law is worthy of a script all its own. She sits there almost in a trance, watching every move, and often she will call out to the character, “Watch out, there’s someone hiding behind the door!” I have a lot of fun reminding her that actually the actor knows better than she does that there is someone behind the door and that he is going to get mugged, and the only reason he appears to be unaware of it is that the director has told him to look that way. Not only that, he has practiced this a few times before it looks real enough for the director. Perhaps she has a greater grasp of the imagination; and it is true that there is fun in drama, even if it ushers us into the surreal and then traps us there.
The important point I am making is worthy of repetition. If the actors themselves, aware that they are playing roles, are unable to break free from the media and the message, how is it possible for the viewer to be freed from the stranglehold of the imagination? In fact, we go even one step further than crossing the line between the imagination and reality by deifying the actors. And movies become narratives played out by gods.
What we are witnessing, at the very least, is that the propensity within us to blur the lines between what is real and what is imagined has been deliberately taken advantage of by fiction writers and especially movies. Stories can alter one’s way of viewing things. The playwright or author is no longer writing the play or story. The play or story is writing the playwright or author. And, in turn, the playwright and the play rewrite our own stories. This is the real world of our time. The world of entertainment has become the most powerful means of propaganda, and the audience is unaware of how much it is being acted upon and manipulated, paying for it not only in cash but in having its dreams stolen.
It’s a Growing World After All
What Disney World is for fun and for children in their small world, the intrigue of the movie and media world is now for adults, encouraging us to believe what is most often make-believe.
I bring these thoughts regarding the deliberate overlap between imagination and reality to the beginning of our journey through the minefield of conflicting worldviews to help us find the truth about life’s greatest quest. Why is there so much of the supernatural in story lines today, and why do those assumptions so often promote a worldview that tries to make the human divine? And why is that not possible without including our fascination with evil within the human story? In a strange way, is not the marring of beauty now the force of entertainment? Is not the spiritual always irrepressible in its power to tell a story? What is it about us that we constantly seek answers? What lies beneath the physical? In country music it is always about a broken vow; in the world of stories it is invariably about a broken world. Where do we go to be mended? Has Christianity had its say and been rejected in the West? Are old answers passé?
Certainly old answers once deemed doctrinaire and dogmatic seem totally irrelevant today. Why are we always on a quest for the spiritual without categories? Why do we always find ourselves at odds on matters of the sacred? It is a terrifying indictment of our existence that, unable to solve our problems in the phenomenal world, we now dig deep into dream states and, with the aid of technology, leave audiences in a dream world of their own. The visual has, in fact, distorted the spiritual rather than clarify it. How easy it is to forget that behind these story lines are storytellers who are often themselves in knots in their own private worlds. Have we been trapped by a means that has engineered the ends? Are there now manipulators at work who have grasped the ends and means better than any preacher ever has? These stories are not just tales for the imagination; they are entire bodies of belief that are reshaping society beyond recognition, doctrines dressed up as entertainment.
How else does one explain the tragic self-destruction of actor Charlie Sheen, a news item for millions to watch and be entertained by? He himself made the incredible statement that his producers have broken their contract with him because he was living in reality like the loose-living, “anything goes” character in his very popular TV sitcom. When he translated his values from the show to reality, they broke ties with him. Is it that we think by watching his meltdown we can change the ending? How else does one watch comedians humor their way out of embarrassing and frankly immoral situations?
The message is massaged into the subconscious by media that make the undesirable attractive and the good appear boring and flat, while shattered lives look intriguing and full of the divine. Worldviews are being smuggled in by the power of the lens, far beyond what any evangelist could have done. Inception reminded me of the aphorism of the famed Chinese philosopher Lao Tse: “If, when I am sleeping, I am a man dreaming I am a butterfly, how do I know that when I am awake I am not a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?”
It’s a Science
If the person promoting the fantasy is incapable of defending it and wishes to be taken seriously, then it becomes clever to inject into the argument a dose of the final authority—science. What novelists were to existentialism and deconstructionists were to postmodernism, pseudoscience or selective science has become to the postmodern spiritual quest. This is quite ironic. At its core, postmodernism is a philosophy of inexactitudes. But in an effort to find credence, it goes to the exact sciences. The wiggled-in entry point is generally the branch of science called quantum physics so that it can seem to hold on to the worlds of the empirical and the uncertain at the same time.
Marilyn Ferguson, one of the earliest voices to announce “the Age of Aquarius,” opined in the early days of what is now branded broadly the New Age movement that “the brain’s calculations do not require our conscious effort, only our attention and our openness to let the information through. Although the brain absorbs universes of information, little is admitted into normal consciousness.”
With that no-man’s land of comprehension one is supposed to buy into a whole metaphysic of religion. Just think of that line: “The brain’s calculations do not require our conscious effort.” She is telling us something of our susceptibility to belief even though we might not be willing to believe. And so the abnormal is now normal in entertainment, because the normal is treated as subnormal in the world of the media. That, I can assure you, is consciously done.
Scientist Stephen Hawking espouses a “multiverse” theory, meaning that ours is not the only universe there is; there may be an infinite number of universes out there. He does not need God to explain the universe. Gravity does that. So while Richard Dawkins, an atheist, espouses that this show on earth is the only show in town, Hawking suggests that though our show may be the only show in town, there may be other towns, perhaps many of them. And one day, supposedly, we will discover those other towns or, more to the point, we will be found to be just one of many.
In a strange way, the New Spirituality may comfortably cling to both positions—this town that we know and the make-believe towns that are made by science to look real. What Hawking proposes with his “physics,” the arts had already implied in its metaphysics. In a made-to-order spirituality, the multiverse theory may also be positioned as being inside us, not just outside. In a not-so-subtle way, we are beginning to believe that we are inhabited by a multiverse within us.
Coming to terms with what is happening, then, we have a multiverse within us, immersed in the pluriverse around us, in which we are pursuing an imaginary universe that will unite us. And all this is done in dark theaters or in the privacy of our own homes, giving us the illusion of being entertained while we are actually being indoctrinated by ideas that are deliberately planted within us.
This is truly to have our cake and eat it, too. It makes for a charming story, but the spoiler is that our depravity gets in the way. Everyone knows that Karl Marx said that religion is the opiate of the people. But very few go on to finish what he said next; that it is the sigh of the oppressed and the illusory sun that revolves around man as long as man doesn’t revolve around himself. The New Spirituality has solved that dilemma. We have found a religion that has helped us to revolve around ourselves, and once we have believed that the spiritual imagination needs no boundaries because we are gods, everything becomes plausible and nothing needs justification. We are now in the precarious situation where science has given us the tools—and possibly the imperative—to convey fiction, and fiction has the persuasive power of science. This is the New Spirituality.
One major news network carries the distinctive tagline “Go Beyond Borders.” There is a pun intended. But when crossing borders worldviews often collide, and on that, there is a strange silence. When Deepak Chopra (a household name to many in the spirituality movement of our time) was on a program with scientist Richard Dawkins, he tried to smuggle some terminology of quantum physics into his argument. Dawkins, rather puzzled, asked him what his spiritual theory had to do with quantum. Chopra tried to explain his position by saying, “Well, well… it’s a metaphor.” “A metaphor?” countered Dawkins, looking even more puzzled. It could have been a comedy routine, but it wasn’t. It is one thing for Deepak Chopra to impress the popular audience with scientifically rich terms, but when pushed by a rigorously pure scientist, all of a sudden his science becomes a metaphor… whatever that means! Chopra looked like a little boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar. But gurus can get away with saying nothing if they cloak it in ponderous terminology.
By the visual media and a selective if not perverted use of science, new consciousness patterns were introduced into the West just four decades ago when Transcendental Meditation (TM) made its first foray onto Western soil. The lead voices at that time caught the West on the turn culturally, and the result was a fork in the road in Western spirituality. As innocuous as it seemed then, it has redefined spirituality for Western culture so that a whole new way of thinking about ultimate reality has emerged. The Eastern gurus arrived in large numbers, using terminology that sounded scientific but, when challenged, became “just metaphors.” I will deal with three of these gurus and their specific teachings later.
These meditation experts offered a systematized teaching that could plumb the depths of the subconscious and enumerate several states of consciousness. And while scientists talked of dimensions far beyond the three we know, spiritualists jumped into the narrative with a meditation technique that was actually more of a psychological theory of the spirit, though it was asserted as an exact science. Starting from the crassness of the material world, their theories led to a spiritual journey that progressed through different stages of meditation to a state of dreamless sleep and, ultimately, to attaining a transcending sense of cosmic consciousness where the pilgrim became one with the universe. The biggest challenge, then, was to make what was momentary, normative: to breathe one’s way into a relaxed consciousness.
To be sure, we were told again and again that TM was not a religion; it was merely what sages have taught for centuries, nothing more than a method to awaken the dormant divinity within each one of us. It was continually reemphasized that one did not have to change their religion in order to participate in this spirituality. The magical potion in these meditative techniques was not a spinning top, as in Inception, but the taming of the spinning mind. And as a culture, we entered the brave new world of self where everything is viewed through individual, tailor-made lenses. At the same time that we were on the cusp of technological advances, our high-paced lives and stress were tearing us apart inside. How and where could we experience both technology and spirituality? The best of Western technological advances combined with the best of Eastern ancient divinizing techniques made for the inception of a nirvanic world where we could become the new avatars.
Back to the Future
The meditative techniques that were introduced to the West four decades ago were a hybrid of automation and stagnation: If only this spiritual secret could be transmitted through the utterance of some words of empowerment by a teacher who has already attained this nirvanic bliss, what peace would ensue individually and cosmically! There was a time in the West—not so long ago—when words like mantra, chakra, tantra, moksha, and nirvana needed explanation. They are still not generally understood, even by most of those who use them regularly, but they make for an intellectual veneer in a subculture. The ensuing patent wars that have emerged over which theory or guru owns the rights to yoga are a bizarre twist in these spiritual schemes that are purported to release stress and induce peace.
One medical practitioner with an avocation in spiritual apologetics for Hinduism is on a crusade “to give credit where credit is due,” insisting that the world owes a debt to Hinduism for these techniques. Meanwhile, Deepak Chopra, also a medical practitioner whose primary practice is writing on spiritual themes, challenges that claim and declares that yoga, among other practices, is part of a universal religion and not the private possession of just one: Sanatan Dharma, he brands it… the “Eternal Religion”… essential and pure spirituality that goes beyond any “ism.” The inescapable conclusion of all this is that whether meditating or awake, ancient or new, depravity is the constant. Stay tuned! We will fight one another verbally or legally for the right to preach a stress-free life, and do so with material means for material gains, all for the glories of a nonmaterial transcendence.
I was pondering the other day how much in our lives has to do with boxes: We give gifts in boxes, we buy our food in boxes, we drive in boxes, we live in boxes, we sleep in boxes, and we ultimately leave this world in a box. But this brand of spirituality hates to be boxed in by absolutes, so the edges of reason are erased and spirituality oozes into another realm like a vapor or a cloud. As boundaries have been erased our world has changed, and the means by which we now share this world are not necessarily that far removed from planting ideas in a mind that is half asleep. The resulting inability or even desire to reason and think through an idea logically is demonstrated by one-liners such as “I’m not into ‘isms.’ ”
Existentialists don’t want to be boxed into an “ism” either; nor do postmodernists. The person who isn’t into “isms” gives himself the liberty to conveniently dismiss anything he doesn’t like or agree with as an “ism,” which by his definition does not deserve to be taken seriously, while his own beliefs are defended against being considered an “ism.” Giving yourself the privilege of destroying other positions while parking your own position in an unidentifiable location is a form of linguistic terrorism.
In the world of non-isms, you are introduced to terminology that seems to have magic powers. You make an appointment for a massage and are told that they will work on your chakras so that you will reach the tantric stage and ultimately nirvana. I shall resist further comment on this right now. This form of spiritual communication has unfortunately hijacked reality and holds truth hostage, never to be released until one is willing to pay the price of relativism. Couched in jellylike terminology, reality reshapes itself, and rather than being a constant, it can become whatever you want it to be. But like the actors who still have to leave the set and live in the real world, we all now have to return from the escape of a story to the harsh questions of our private worlds.
Where can we find reality the way it was meant to be? Allowing ourselves to be beguiled by foreign terms is not consolation for reality. The greatest and most notable casualty of our times in which we are inundated with spiritual terminology is, unquestionably, truth. As Malcolm Muggeridge would have stated it, “The lie is stuck like a fishbone in the throat of the microphone.” I would add that today it is not so much the microphone as the camera and the vocabulary of the verbal magician.
Some years ago I sat in as a visitor on a trial in London at the Old Bailey. It was the trial of a man accused of raping two minor girls. I was there for the opening arguments, watching from the gallery. I remember the defense lawyer’s plea so clearly. He looked intently into the faces of the two minor girls separately and said to each of them, “I am interested in only one thing: one thing and nothing more—the truth. Do you understand me?” he asked. “All I want is the truth. If you have the answers, give them to me. If you don’t know the answers, tell me you don’t know. I want the truth. That’s all.”
Here is my question: If the truth is so important in one isolated courtroom case, how much more important is it in the search for the spiritual answers to our deepest hungers?
“The most valuable thing in the world is the truth,” said Winston Churchill. “The most powerful weapon in the world is the truth,” said Andrei Sakharov, the man who gave the Soviets the atomic bomb. “God is Truth and Truth is God,” said Mahatma Gandhi. From its value, to its power, to its deification, even as an abstract category truth becomes the final question in any conflict. Yet, again and again we find ourselves uncertain as to what truth means and why it matters. “What is truth?” asked Pontius Pilate impatiently… and walked away, without waiting for an answer. The irony is that he was standing in front of the one Person who, as the personification and embodiment of Truth, could have given him the answer.
In the musical play by Andrew Lloyd Webber The Phantom of the Opera, the Phantom sings a beautiful piece titled “The Music of the Night.” One of the lines intimates that under the cover of darkness it is easy to pretend that the truth is what each one of us wants it to be. When there is no light held to our version of truth to call our bluff, we confuse what is with what we think ought to be, and infuse “the ought” with our own ideas to make it what we want it to be. Truth is that foundational reality we often resist but that, ultimately, we cannot escape. Nothing is so destructive as running from the truth, even as we know it will always outdistance us.
Tragically, we seem to be at a time in our cultural history when we no longer care about this question whatsoever. Seduced by terminology carried by a media that distorts, we willingly, it seems, buy into a lie. From the news to the weather to advertising to entertainment, we are sold feelings, not truth. I have often pondered the vast terrain of uncertainties that surround us: mystery—we love mysteries and are held in their grip; manipulation—we dabble with the mind and find it fascinating; money—we all fear it, yet we all live immersed in it; more—we all spend most of our lives either earning it or desiring it, hardwired, it seems, to keep adding to what we have already accumulated. When mystery, the manipulation of the mind, and the accumulation of wealth are offered to us all tied up in one neat package, our dreams are being tapped into and we have become the dream-givers, having our dreams taken from us. Add to this the dimension of music or chanting, and we have the beat to which we can lull ourselves into other consciousnesses.
Mystery, the manipulation of the mind, the desire for money and accumulation of wealth, music—what a recipe for feeling! One practioner of Ayurvedic medicine sums it up by saying that you can create your own universe out of desire; that when you empty your mind and focus on the thing you want, the distance between you and your desire disappears, your brain cells rejuvenate, and you become open to all possibilities.
The truth is that if you repeat this kind of self-inducement often enough, you begin not only to believe it, but to smile in pity on those who don’t. You begin to feel a sense of security in a world that has become like jelly because you don’t really have to make sense of it all. It is somewhat like being a college student who doesn’t have to be an earning member of the family or lead an orderly life because he has not yet finished his preparations for life. A disheveled room and appearance are acceptable in a college student… after all, that’s a license that dorm life gives you.
Such is the vocabulary and narrative of the New Spirituality, which has leveraged and thrived on a privatized logic while claiming the ultimate strength of philosophy wedded to science. But how did we get here? How did we reach such an incredible way of reasoning? Who stole the fire of reason from us?
As an easterner, raised in the East, I see such irony in all this. A short time ago I was asked to address a small group of the entertainment elite in the East. They sat listening with courtesy and concentration as I reminded them that they were the icons of our time, the envy of the masses, while they themselves knew that inside each of them was a big vacuum. By the end of the talk, some were in tears and after the talk there was a lineup of these successful people, asking for time alone and the opportunity to open up the depths of their own struggles. I admired their candor and transparency.
As I left that setting, I thought to myself, Why are we always beguiled by something foreign? In the West, Eastern mysticism is “in”—chants, sounds, and practices with foreign words have made an appeal of culture-shifting proportions—while in the East, where these very same techniques have been tried for centuries, many are disillusioned and are seeking solace somewhere else. Before me the entertainment elite of the East gave their full attention to a talk on “Why Jesus Is the Ultimate Fulfillment,” while in the West, entertainers are looking toward the East for their answers.
The movies of the East have been played out in an artificial dream world interwoven with the spiritual long enough. The lyrics of their music often speak of disappointment. The setting for a very popular song in the Hindi language is a man standing in front of a sage, asking his advice. He sings that he has been to the holy river and to the holy sites, but his heart is still searching for fulfillment. It is not gold or silver that he is seeking; it is the fulfillment of his soul.
Pilgrims go to the sacred sites of India by the millions, in search of inner liberation. The devout of every religion embark on spiritual journeys in the hope of finding God. Thus, in the final analysis, it is actually to God himself that we go, asking, “Where is the answer?” That’s the irony, as I see it.
In the 1960s there was a song made famous by Tom Jones titled “The Green, Green Grass of Home.” Hearing it for the first time is a thrill that dies by the last verse. The song describes the thrill of touching the green, green grass of home and seeing loved ones long missed. But as the story progresses, we get to the last verse.
Yes, those who know the song know the ending. The singer is on death row, and the morning brings the harsh reality of his last steps to the grave, a different green, green grass than that with which the song begins.
We all have yearnings and longings. We all dream of hope and peace. We all long to align our hearts with ultimate reality. We need to be grateful for at least one thing that the New Spiritualists have done: They have awakened us to a place of our need. We all search for deep fulfillment and yearn for answers that are satisfying at the level of our feelings, not just at the philosophical level of truth and logic. Is there somewhere that the two existences align? Stay with me as we endeavor to broach this subject in the pages ahead and find some life-transforming answers.
HOW THE WEST WAS LOST THROUGH ITS GAINS
Barely twenty years after trying to reshape the world in the horrific aftermath of the Second World War, America was caught in a war of her own making from which she has not recovered. In the backdrop was the Civil Rights movement, guilt over the past, cultural blunders, and spiritual hungers. And in the foreground was a brewing rebellion as the young questioned why they were being sent into a war in Vietnam that they felt was unnecessary and ultimately unwinnable. It was the perfect storm for the overthrow of what had been believed and held inviolable for generations.
This was also a time of forging new horizons, nationally. The landing on the moon did not merely happen; the nation actually watched it happen on the new television sets in our own living rooms. And this same new medium allowed America’s military enemy to win because they were able to harness it and make it serve their advantage more than it served those who had developed it. The medium of viewing at home made the war cabinet room not a single location in some subterranean setting where war strategy was determined. Rather, every household was able to watch the carpet-bombing by the B-52s. Every home was able to witness the psychological breakdown of the nation’s troops. The pictures of war that could be seen and experienced at home through television changed the war from one fought just on the battlefield and brought it into each home. The burning of draft cards and the uprising from within the nation made the Vietnam War a very personal thing. More than fifty thousand individual lives were ultimately lost. And the nation returned from the war with its soul in a body bag.
The camera had won the battle of seeing and believing. The world, and America in particular, was foundationally transformed. The zeal of the young, combined with the material means that their parents had fought to give them and the invasiveness of the medium of television, made for a powerful overthrow of the reigning worldview.
There were really several wars going on. Politically, though the administration that supposedly brought “peace with honor” had inherited the war, it has been forced to carry the blame for it ever since. Conservatism became the pariah of political verbiage, and “politically correct” became synonymous with anti-traditional values. It was really the absolutizing of relativism, the new anti-values value. The Cold War was at its grimmest and weapons of intimidation and destruction were piling up, with each superpower living in fear of the other.
The battle was carried into the universities, whose own academic experts were flaying America, and the intelligentsia hit hard at political demagoguery, as they called it. At the same time, the race struggle was reaching conflagration points on many fronts. Watts became synonymous with rioting. And all this was reflected in the arts as rock stars changed the mathematical rules of music and discord became entertainment. Noise became deafened to reason. Woodstock became the stage for selling propriety in exchange for public nudity. Sexual mores were questioned as the gender exploitations of the past came home to roost. In all of these areas of debate there was just one identifiable winner.
At the time, most people failed to understand the power of the media to change their views and reshape their thinking. Instead of viewing the world through the medium of television, they allowed the medium to define the world for them. A new purveyor of truth and relevance was in the making, one that has triumphed over all and is here to stay. And from now on, whatever our view on any issue, not just war or a particular war, we cannot get away from the assault of the visual even if we don’t watch television, because of its impact on the way the rest of society makes its judgments.
There is a war raging. It is the battle for thought and belief through a weapon of mass deconstruction. In that battle, it is not firepower we need to fear as much as it is electronic power. From the conscious to the subconscious we are in its grip. From wars in different lands to battles for moral acceptability, the television set has won the day. I stress this because I believe that almost none of the New Spiritualities would be so pervasive if it were not for the genius and built-in distortion of television. It reinforces what we want to believe, and if what we want to believe is what we are told to believe through the medium, no amount of logic or argument can shake that conviction. Whichever way you want to look at it, television—and now viral media—is the shaper of everything we think and believe.
Life’s Dim Windows
William Blake long ago warned us about the vulnerability of the eye when he said:
This life’s five windows of the soul
Distorts the Heavens from pole to pole,
And leads you to believe a lie
When you see with, not thro’ the eye.
We are intended to see through the eye, with the conscience. Instead, the visual media, especially television and movies, manipulates us into seeing with the eye, devoid of the conscience, whose role it is to place parameters around what we see. The supremacy of the eye-gate makes it easy to strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.
Seeing is believing, it is said. But by seeing something only in its narrow sense, one may miss the big picture and believe something that is actually not true. And that belief, even though it may be false, may become the generator of culture and national mood.
What is it about television and movies that makes them both attractive and dangerous? In so many ways, television is truly a fantastic medium. Which of us who watched the first landing on the moon can ever forget the awe-inspiring sight? How incredible it is that we can sit at home and watch some of the greatest performers, as if they were in our own living rooms! The experience of being able to watch a great sporting event or national and world event such as a royal wedding or the funeral of a great leader or a national memorial service is a memory that lasts forever. It allows the imagination to soar and gives wings to dreams. The imagination is one of the most vulnerable, though fascinating, faculties that we humans have. Nothing better describes the beauty and vulnerability of the human imagination than the song written and sung by John Lennon years ago, “Imagine.” He wanted us to imagine no heaven, no hell, no countries, and no religion. No, he said, he was not a dreamer, just offering possibilities.
Anyone who has heard the song cannot help but stop and hum the tune as they read these words, and even hear Lennon’s voice in the words. It’s a beautiful, haunting melody… especially after sitting through the daily news and wondering when all the strife will end. When you think about it, why did he need all those descriptions about an ideal world? Why not just one or two lines? A world without killing and all of us living as one—that’s the dream, isn’t it? Who can take issue with that? And nothing could have been more instrumental in killing the dream than the senseless killing of Lennon himself at the hands of an assassin. En-glish journalist Steve Turner writes of Lennon’s brief struggle with Christianity, a struggle that his wife, Yoko, strongly influenced him against and toward magical stones and astrology instead.
Isn’t it interesting that no astrologer was able to warn him and protect him from that fateful day? Just because Lennon could imagine such a world doesn’t mean that it exists, or that there is any chance of it existing. Just because he wanted to believe in such a world didn’t make it real, even for him. And here is the contradiction: He imagined a pure world without any ultimate reason for life and destiny. He amputated accountability but wished for a world of responsibility. That’s the privilege of music… it doesn’t have to justify its flawed reasoning.
Fame, fortune, and adulation are generally based on measurements that serve only to disfigure reality and make the imagination king over common sense. Common sense ought to tell us that there is no guarantee that a person with a gifted voice and musical genius is any better a person than someone who cannot sing or write music. Common sense ought to tell us that a world without heaven or hell in the future generally leads to one or the other in this world. But a gifted voice and an errant imagination can angle a lie to fit into the worldview one wants to believe.
It has been said that at first art imitates life. Then, life imitates art. Finally, life finds the very reason for its existence in the arts. This visual medium of television was catapulted into our private living space via electronic advances and we understood its power very little. I believe that this medium was a key means by which the truth came to be seen as a lie.
The Displacement of “It Is Written”
Throughout the history of man, communication from one person to another had been primarily oral. The faithful transmission of tradition was key and human beings could rightly have been called Homo rhetoricus. Language was the medium. Story was the form. When in 1456 the Gutenberg press was invented, a print culture was set in place. Texts and contexts were in focus. Ideas could be distilled, disseminated, argued, spread, and debated. Still, it was language and concept that carried the day.
In 1839, a key advance was made in communication: Photography was discovered. Within four decades, in 1873, transformation in mass communication took a giant step. And when it was discovered that light could be converted to electrical impulses, transmitted over a distance, and then reconverted into light, the age of television dawned.
When one studies the viewing habits of the young and considers the thousands of hours spent unthinkingly in front of a TV screen or iPhone, it is easy to see why the power of abstract reasoning has died since the advent of television and, in the words of Jacques Ellul, we are living with the humiliation of the word. The loss of reading has also reduced the individual’s capacity to write. “Enlightenment” has a whole new meaning now, each person in front of his or her own screen deciding for himself what is truth and what is fancy. No longer does one have to leave his palace to see poverty, disease, old age, and death, and meditate on its meaning under a tree as Buddha did. Death, disease, old age, and suffering are all visible on the televisions in our own living rooms or on handheld devices in our own cars.
One can turn on a television station and “meditate” using the direct-dial numbers that are given. Some advertisers even promise a worry-free life after just a fifteen-minute call. The end result is spirituality without dogma, religion without God, argument without substance, rationalization without rationality, and tranquillity by transfer of funds from the seeker’s bank account to the company that makes the best offer of nirvana, at the same time producing dogmatism about relativism in matters of ultimate meaning.
I mentioned in the introduction that Deepak Chopra, the Western-marketed, Eastern proponent of the New Spirituality, visited Thailand to become a monk for a week. On his website there are pictures of him, clean-shaven, a begging bowl in his hand, sleeping on the floor of a temple. When I mentioned this to an Indian friend, he wondered aloud if Chopra would have done this had there been no photo op to tell the story. Curious, that that was his first response. Perhaps the cynicism that has been bred through the caricatures of reality that are created by the visual is what makes the nighttime stand-up comedians on television so popular.
After reading the article, I went to the leading computer mall in Bangkok, where I happened to be while writing, to buy some accessories for my laptop. I had to wait my turn, because two monks were talking to the salesman, buying their own hardware for who knows what.
First, we had a monk for a week; then, we have computers for saffron-clothed ascetics. I can’t imagine a greater contradiction than monks at a computer store, nor a greater manipulation of spirituality than becoming a monk for a week, with publicity to boot. One may as well be married for a week and think one now knows everything there is to know about marriage. I’m sure the Buddha would have had some thoughts on Chopra’s exploits. And on his fellow ascetics buying computers.
Electronic dissemination became the progenitor of the computer, and now the visual has gone viral with each person having his own network. One police beating or one errant act anywhere in the world can be viewed by millions within minutes. Not too long ago a student in the United States was covertly filmed by a roommate while engaging in a private act, and within minutes thousands were watching it on their cell phones. The young man could not live with the shame of the world watching his private conduct and committed suicide.
While television and movies became the means and the microchip was making its entry, the very substance of our culture was at risk. First to fall was our values. What we treasured and what we revered became expendable and profaned. There was a new way of popularizing rebellion against age-old values. Humor became vulgar. Sensuality was mass-marketed, and that which we thought should be private now became public. How else could a late-night talk show host have humored his way through a public disclosure of his duplicitous life other than by skillfully using the medium to his advantage? The normally immoral became the brilliantly creative. Television triumphed again.
The Eye Is the Lamp
Jesus made a very profound remark about the eye. He said that our eye must be “single” because the eye is the lamp of the body (Matthew 6:22 KJV). “If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” he said (6:23 NASB). I cannot think of a more powerful metaphor for the imagination than the metaphor of light. Pretense and distortion are at the heart of a world without any light. That is why the light emanating from the TV screen, or better still reflecting off the screen, must be examined to see whether what is being revealed is truth or a distortion of the truth. Where is the light of reality in a setting where everything is staged?
Four words that are easy to grasp capture the medium of television: induction, seduction, deduction, and reduction. Take a good look at those four words, and it is easy to see how we have found ourselves playing mind games in a world of images, running counter to truth and redemption.
A Problematic Induction
The Latin word for induction literally means “to lead to.” Inductive reasoning moves from the particular to the general or from the individual to the universal. Induction is simply a process that leads from something or some assertion to an inference for something else. It starts with particular truths. New Age Spirituality runs amok by displacing inductive reasoning and replacing it with a personalized mystical revelation as the sufficient if not sole basis for universal truth: Person A found enlightenment while meditating; person B found enlightenment while meditating; therefore, silence and meditation are the answer for all humanity. No matter how much it is denied, this kind of thinking surfaces in key assumptions. This is an invalid basis for establishing universal truths because it fundamentally ignores the contradictory conclusions that others have come to in the same process. It is not a valid means of truth testing. The correspondence and coherence tests for truth are discussed in the closing chapter.
In a cartoon I saw some time ago, a man dressed in a tuxedo lay apparently dead on the floor, surrounded by a host of other men, also in black tuxedos. One tuxedo-clad man is saying to another, “Where does one begin when something like this happens at a Butlers’ Convention?”
If intuition is the only test for truth, to say “The butler did it” doesn’t help.
No court of law can function in such mystical fog as exists in the New Spirituality. Consider, for example, the famed Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, one of the most influential gurus today. Based in Bangalore, India, his charming smile, flowing locks of hair, and pithy one-liners have made him the person to know and to quote.
By the way, it is fascinating to consider how one even gains such titles. Normally, one would use one titular name, “Sri,” which actually means to diffuse light and implies respect, reverence, or even lordship, as it was used by Bhagwan Sri Rajnesh. He was content with only one Sri in his name because he placed Bhagwan (meaning “God”) before the Sri: How can one exceed that? But for Ravi Shankar, one Sri is not enough. In effect his name means, “the Revered Revered, Ravi Shankar.” But even that is not enough for him, and now his title is Poojya Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (“poojya” connotes the idea of “His Worship”), so what we actually have is “His Worship, the Twice-Revered Ravi Shankar.”
Ravi Shankar’s take on truth is that there are two ways of knowing: through logical understanding, which comes from intellectual analysis and for which there must be empirical proof… even though that proof may not stand for long; and the knowing that comes from intuition or through deep meditation, for which you need offer no proof to support its claim to truth. The latter, he says, is more reliable. If you meditate long enough, he says, you will recognize the connection that has always existed between all religions, even today. And when through meditation and intuition you have recognized that all religions are connected to every other religion, it’s quite reasonable to see, in that light, that Jesus lived in India for twelve years and returned to Israel in a saffron robe… or as a Hindu holy man.
His essay ends with these words:
Jesus is the only way. Jesus is love. Jesus has many names. He is Buddha, he is Krishna, and he is you. Your name also belongs to Jesus. Do you really think that your name is yours? Jesus is the Son of God. He inherits what belongs to God. Do you inherit what belongs to God? Then you belong to Jesus. Isn’t it? What do you say?
But that is not all. He has to add in a sarcastic footnote that there was a group of people in America who believed that the world would end on a certain day in 1994. They gathered in their churches on that day, but “obviously nothing happened,” he says. “All fears and anxieties are caused by believing wrong things. You need that guru to tell you what is right and what is wrong.” His prescription is that meditation, yoga, and a guru will help you distinguish truth from nonsense.
This is amazing stuff! How does one respond to assertions that are so flatly induced with false premises and deductions and then given to the masses as “truth”? There is something extraordinary going on here. When any statement is made concerning the oneness of all religions, either meditation, intuition, or textual extrapolations are used. The differing doctrines of each religion are always left unaddressed. But when the mystics are questioned, they resort to falsifying other systems by switching to induction (e.g., “These misguided people went to a church expecting the end of the world, but obviously it didn’t happen”). According to his own argument, how can he say they were misguided if their “intuitive awareness” guided by a guru—or minister—impelled them in this direction?
Excerpted from Why Jesus? by Zacharias, Ravi Copyright © 2012 by Zacharias, Ravi. Excerpted by permission.
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