Larson's Book of World Religions and Alternative Spirituality

Larson's Book of World Religions and Alternative Spirituality

Paperback(Revised Edition)

$22.99
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Friday, June 28

Overview

An indispensable reference tool for parents, students, and pastors alike. Larson analyzes dozens of world religions and spiritual movements—from Islam to UFOs, from the New Age movement to witchcraft—and presents the information in a reliable encyclopedia format. Larson's Book of World Religions and Alternative Spirituality is a ready reference that will help address answers to tough questions from a biblical perspective.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780842364171
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Publication date: 05/28/2004
Edition description: Revised Edition
Pages: 592
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.25(d)

Read an Excerpt

Larson's Book of World Religions and Alternative Spirituality


By Bob Larson

Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2004 Bob Larson
All right reserved.


Chapter One

FAITH MATTERS

Do you remember where you were during the final days of March 1997? That was when thirty-nine members of a group called Heaven's Gate dressed in identical black outfits, lay down on identical metal beds, and methodically killed themselves.

The members of Heaven's Gate had been told that death would be the portal taking them to another life in a galaxy far away (see the entry on Heaven's Gate for more information).

This whole idea sounds silly to reasonable people, but for the thirty-nine people who died because they believed this lie, the outcome was tragic.

Today many people believe that all religions teach the same thing, or that they are all equal, or that it doesn't really matter what someone believes. But the tragedy of Heaven's Gate reveals that it does matter. In some cases it's a matter of life and death. If you aren't convinced, check the entries on Jonestown, the Order of the Solar Temple, and some of the other deadly cults found in the pages that follow.

In most cases people don't die from believing a lie, but often their lives aren't all they could be. In the case of some controlling religious groups, people sacrifice their money, their relationships, and their free will for a self-proclaimed guru's promise of salvation.

TRUTH AND CONSEQUENCES

In recent years there has been a paradigm shift in the way people in the West think about religion. Concepts of truth are now considered less important than subjective experience. The late Joseph Campbell said as much in his book The Masks of God: "The swamis are coming from India, and they're taking away the flock. They're speaking of religion as dealing with the interior of life and not about dogmatic formulae and ritual requirements."

Today many people don't care whether a religion is based on solid truth like the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Instead, there is a voguish interest in experience and mysticism with little concern about truth or falsehood. If Marshall Applewhite, founder of Heaven's Gate, says that aliens in a spaceship are waiting to pick up the group's true disciples, some people respond by saying, "Well, that may be true for you."

Did Mormon founder Joseph Smith really discover golden plates buried in Palmyra, New York? Did Victor Wierwille (founder of The Way) actually hear the voice of God? Did Scientology's L. Ron Hubbard truly discover the essence of religion that has eluded saints and scholars for millennia? Millions of Americans have placed their faith in such questionable claims, regardless of whether or not they are true. In fact, it matters little to many mystics whether their system of worship is historically accurate. If we point out that Krishna's discourses with Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita are mere legends, our assertion is dismissed with a shrug. Experience is what counts.

Consequently, the historical anchors of Christianity of a bloodstained cross and an empty tomb have little meaning to contemporary spiritual seekers. Whether Calvary and the Resurrection actually took place seems less important to them than what they see as the allegorical grandeur of the story.

But truth does matter! And when the myths of other world religions and New Age philosophies have been shattered, Bible-based Christians must be ready to offer disillusioned seekers an objectively valid response to the "whys" of life. We must be ready to present the claims of Jesus' divinity and his sufficiency as our Savior and Lord. "If anybody asks why you believe as you do, be ready to tell him, and do it in a gentle and respectful way" (1 Peter 3:15, TLB).

This book has been written to help provide those answers. The reader whose faith is experientially rooted in the living Word of God will find in these pages a concrete, intellectual rationale for pointing spiritual seekers to the historical Christ.

A SPIRITUAL BATTLEGROUND

Americans value independence, freedom of thought, and the entrepreneurial spirit. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that our nation has given birth to thousands of new religious groups. As a result, the United States has become one of the foremost battlegrounds in the struggle between Christianity and non-Christian faiths.

In a way, however, it's ironic this struggle has occurred here, because the deists and the devout Christians who settled this land were committed to a transcendent faith that recognized a God based on the Judeo-Christian model. However, a careful study of America's past reveals that the breeze of freedom that became the tumultuous gale of do-it-yourself spirituality in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries influenced even the early years of settling and exploration.

The promise of freedom of religious expression that originally lured people to this land also fostered utopian, communal, and apocalyptic dreams. American visionaries have always been enamored of idealistic, simplistic, and sacred explanations for life's purpose. This philosophy of manifest destiny has been most evident in times of cultural transition such as during the Armageddon-crazed days of the industrial revolution. Today's rapid growth in non-Christian religious and spiritual groups is the cultural by-product of this uniquely American attitude.

As an American, I support my country's commitment to freedom of religion. On the other hand, I believe that souls for whom Christ shed his blood deserve more spiritually fulfilling answers than those provided by modern myths.

As the reader, you have a right to know I am an evangelical Christian committed to a biblical theological perspective in this book. Does that mean I have slanted the information in an effort to recruit converts? No. But I have tried throughout to compare the teachings of various groups to the Christian faith taught in the Bible and proclaimed by the church for centuries.

However, I have not been commissioned by any church or denomination. Nor do I have a particular bias against any non-Christian spiritual group or leader. My analysis of each religion, spiritual movement, and philosophy in this book is based on orthodox Christian presuppositions alone.

Two basic theological principles have guided my study:

1. "In Christ the fullness of God lives in a human body, and you are complete through your union with Christ. He is the Lord over every ruler and authority in the universe." (Colossians 2:9-10, NLT)

2. "Don't just pretend that you love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Stand on the side of the good." (Romans 12:9, NLT)

This book is not intended to be a sociological or theological treatise. Its purpose is to aid and inform the average person whose friends, neighbors, coworkers, or loved ones may be involved in a non-Christian religion or other spiritual movement. It is also intended to prepare readers to respond knowledgeably and in love the next time a canvassing missionary from a religious group rings the doorbell.

I bear a solemn obligation in writing this book. If Jehovah's Witnesses, for example, really do have inside information about the world's end, and if Scientology really can extinguish our hang-ups from past lives, then you, the reader, have a right to know. If Sun Myung Moon is the Messiah, or if Baha'u'llah was the Christ, then no personal prejudice on my part should stand in the way of proclaiming these facts.

But if these spiritual leaders and philosophers are in error, then every person whose life this book touches deserves to know the unvarnished truth.

SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE

Some people think it is wrong to criticize another person's religious beliefs. But is it better to smile and say nothing as people follow self-proclaimed messiahs to a false paradise or worse?

I believe it is my obligation as a Christian to talk to non-Christians about their faith, but in doing so I must follow the example of Jesus Christ, who attracted many people to his message through his grace, love, and compassion. Sound theology, doctrinal purity, and aggressive evangelistic techniques are not the whole answer. We are involved in a spiritual battle, but our weapons are not angry words or intimidating techniques. Rather, our mandate is to speak the truth in love.

John 13:34-35 reminds believers that love is the mark of discipleship. And love for our neighbors is the distinguishing characteristic of our love for God. Such is the message of the Good Samaritan parable recorded in Luke 10:30-35. A personal anecdote may emphasize this fact in a practical manner.

As I was writing the first edition of this book at the Colorado cabin where I did most of my writing, there came a knock at the door.

It was pouring rain outside, and when I opened the door, I saw two drenched Japanese-American girls standing on the doorstep. Once inside, they explained that the friends with whom they were traveling had slid off a muddy road and wrecked their car. They asked for a ride to a nearby lodge where they could call a tow truck.

No writer appreciates an interruption, but there was no choice but to render immediate assistance in their distress. The two girls, Harriet and Ellen,were soaking wet and covered with mud. Needless to say, my vehicle suffered the consequences! To make matters worse, on the way to the lodge, the heater fan conked out and the knob to the defroster fell off. One annoyance after another was heaped upon me to exacerbate the situation. After phoning for the wrecker, the girls asked me for another ride to the place where they had joined their friends and left their car-a half-hour's drive away.

There was no question that these young ladies needed my help. What concerned me was that their plight interfered with what I thought was a more important spiritual responsibility-writing this book.

On the way to retrieve their automobile, the conversation centered on the weather and how the accident occurred. Finally, Ellen asked what I did for a living. That led to a lengthy explanation regarding my personal faith in Christ, something neither girl seemed to understand.

"Where do you attend church?" I asked.

"We're Buddhists," they replied.

Suddenly I knew why God had allowed this interruption. What I had considered an annoying infringement on my time was God's way of reminding me that writing this book was not as important as showing God's love and helping someone in need.

The young ladies' devout Buddhist beliefs soon collided with my scriptural insistence that Christ is the only means of salvation. When we reached their car, Ellen's parting words climaxed the episode.

"Well, I guess we won't really know who's right until we're both dead," she concluded.

"But if Jesus is correct," I answered, "it will be a little too late for you to find out."

As I drove off, the Holy Spirit impressed upon me an important lesson: God loves mankind so much that he is willing to provide shelter and kindness even to those who reject his Son.

My knowledge of world religions, particularly Buddhism, would have enabled me to argue effectively on an intellectual level with Harriet and Ellen. But God was more concerned about my extending a Good Samaritan act of love than my winning a theological debate in defense of truth.

When I arrived back at the cabin, I was prepared to pursue this book with new resolve and enthusiasm. Most importantly, I felt the need to do more than simply issue a warning about the dangers of groups like the ones in this book. Dismantling the myth of false religious beliefs is not only the work of biblical apologetics; it is also a labor of love.

BALANCING LOVE AND TRUTH

I wrote this book out of genuine love and concern for people who follow other beliefs. As a Christian, I believe that God has revealed his will to humanity in many ways over the centuries. Most importantly, he revealed himself through Jesus, his only Son, who came to earth to redeem us. People are free to believe whatever they like, but I want them to be aware that there are consequences to their beliefs. Faith matters.

I also want to help people develop better critical thinking skills so that they won't be seduced when a charismatic leader declares that he alone has the key to understanding the secrets of the Bible.

God created all of us, and as it says in the Old Testament book of Genesis, we are created in God's image. This means we have a deep spiritual hunger. Over the years, people have developed thousands of different ways of filling that hunger. Can all these religions be true? Not when they teach different things.

It is only through studying what the various groups have to say and comparing that to the standard we find in the Bible that we can find our way through the confusing maze of today's religions, alternative spirituality, and cults.

It is my hope that this book will help you in your study.

Chapter Two

A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE ON WORLD RELIGIONS, ALTERNATIVE SPIRITUALITY, AND CULTS

It is important for Christians to evaluate other religious groups according to biblical criteria. Not every group will have obvious cultic characteristics, but what they teach-their principles and values-may be contrary to the truth of the Bible. As Dr. Walter Martin, one of the pioneers of cult research, has observed, "A person can be morally good, but if he sets his face against Jesus, his fruit is corrupt." Whether or not a particular religious group claims to be Christian is not our primary concern. Its members may quote the Bible and claim the endorsement of Christ for their efforts, but if their doctrine and practices are out of step with what the Bible teaches is true, then they are leading people astray. In determining whether a group is essentially non-Christian, we have based our analysis on two central factors:

1. They ignore or purposely omit central apostolic doctrines.

2. They hold to beliefs that are distinctly opposed to orthodox Christianity.

Deviation from either criterion rules out a group's inclusion in the Christian community. The ultimate gauge of truth and error is whether a belief system conforms to Scripture or the extent to which it departs from biblical precepts. Thus, any group that intentionally manipulates its language to mimic evangelical beliefs must have its semantic distortions exposed. Any group that

THE AETHERIUS SOCIETY

* * *

One of the best-known UFO groups, the Aetherius Society encourages members to be willing channels of communication with extraterrestrial beings.

FOUNDER: Dr.

Continues...


Excerpted from Larson's Book of World Religions and Alternative Spirituality by Bob Larson Copyright © 2004 by Bob Larson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

IntroductionPART 1: An Overview of World Religions and Alternative Spirituality 1. Faith Matters.......................................................................................3 2. A Christian Perspective on World Religions, Alternative Spirituality, and Cults.....................9 3. Understanding the Growth of Non-Christian Groups....................................................15 PART 2: An Encyclopedia of World Religions and Alternative Spirituality The Aetherius Society..................................................................................25 Tony Alamo Music Square Church; Holy Alamo Christian Church, Consecrated..............................26 Aleph Aum Shinrikyo...................................................................................29 American Indian Spirituality (See Native American Spirituality) Ananda Marga Yoga Society..............................................................................33 Angels.................................................................................................34 Anthroposophical Society Rudolph Steiner; Waldorf Schools.............................................37 Arica Institute........................................................................................40 Asatru Free Assembly (See Odinism) Ascended Masters I AM Movements.......................................................................42 Assemblies of Yahweh Sacred Name Movement.............................................................45 Association for Research and Enlightenment (See Edgar Cayce) Astara.................................................................................................49 Astrology..............................................................................................53 American Atheists Atheism; Madalyn Murray O'Hair......................................................59 Meher Baba Sufism Reoriented..........................................................................62 Baha'i Faith...........................................................................................65 Black Magic............................................................................................69 Black Muslims (See Nation of Islam) Boston Church of Christ (See International Churches of Christ) Branch Davidians.......................................................................................74 William Branham Branham Tabernacle....................................................................77 Buddhism Theravada, Mahayana, Tibetan, and Zen Buddhism...............................................80 Burning Man Festival...................................................................................92 Carlos Castaneda.......................................................................................94 Edgar Cayce Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.).......................................96 Children of God (See The Family) Christian Science Church of Christ, Scientist.........................................................101 Church of Armageddon Love Israel; Love Israel Family; Love Family.....................................107 The Church of Bible Understanding Forever Family......................................................109 The Church of the Living Word The Walk................................................................111 Church Universal and Triumphant Elizabeth Clare Prophet...............................................114 Terry Cole-Whittaker...................................................................................119 Conspiracy Theories....................................................................................123 A Course in Miracles...................................................................................126 Benjamin Créme Maitreya; Share International..........................................................129 Aleister Crowley.......................................................................................133 Da Free John Da Love-Ananda; Franklin Jones...........................................................136 Deepak Chopra..........................................................................................139 Divination Devices and Tarot Cards.....................................................................143 Divine Light Mission Guru Maharaj Ji; Maharaji........................................................148 Drugs..................................................................................................155 Earth Changes Movement.................................................................................161 ECKANKAR...............................................................................................165 Enlightenment..........................................................................................170 Esalen Institute.......................................................................................173 est Werner Erhard.....................................................................................175 Falun Gong.............................................................................................180 The Family Family of Love; The Children of God........................................................183 The Farm Stephen Gaskin...............................................................................189 Feng Shui..............................................................................................191 Findhorn Foundation....................................................................................194 The Forum Landmark Forum..............................................................................196 Foundation Faith of God Foundation Faith of the Millennium............................................200 Foundation of Human Understanding Roy Masters.........................................................203 Freemasonry............................................................................................206 Fundamentalism.........................................................................................211 Goddess Worship and Feminist Spirituality..............................................................215 George Gurdjieff Subud; Renaissance; Fellowship of Friends; The Work..................................220 Hare Krishna (See International Society of Krishna Consciousness) Heaven's Gate..........................................................................................224 Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy Swami Rama...........................226 Hinduism...............................................................................................228 Holism and Alternative Medicine........................................................................238 Holy Alamo Christian Church, Consecrated (See Tony Alamo) Holy Order of MANS.....................................................................................242 Human Potential Movement...............................................................................245 I AM Institute of Applied Metaphysics..................................................................248 I AM Movements (See Ascended Masters) Rev. Ike United Church and Science of Living Institute................................................250 International Churches of Christ Boston Movement......................................................253 International Community of Christ The Jamilians.......................................................256 International Society of Krishna Consciousness Hare Krishna...........................................259 Islam..................................................................................................268 Jainism................................................................................................277 Jehovah's Witnesses....................................................................................279 John-Roger Church of the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness (MSIA).................................285 Jonestown People's Temple; Jim Jones..................................................................287 Kabbalah...............................................................................................290 Kirpal Light Satsang...................................................................................293 Krishna Consciousness (See International Society of Krishna Consciousness) Krishnamurti Foundation of America.....................................................................298 Swami Kriyananda Ananda Church of Self-Realization....................................................300 Ku Klux Klan White Supremacy..........................................................................301 Frederick Lenz Zen Master Rama........................................................................305 Life Training The Kairos Foundation....................................................................306 Lifespring.............................................................................................309 Macumba, Umbanda, and Condomble........................................................................310 Charles Manson Cult....................................................................................313 Martial Arts...........................................................................................316 Meditation.............................................................................................324 Metropolitan Community Church..........................................................................327 Mind Sciences..........................................................................................329 Rev. Sun Myung Moon (See Unification Church) Mormonism Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.................................................331 Swami Muktananda Paramahansa SYDA Foundation..........................................................340 Nation of Islam Black Muslims.........................................................................343 Native American Spirituality...........................................................................346 Neo-Gnosticism.........................................................................................350 New Age Movement.......................................................................................352 Nichiren Shosh Soka Gakkai............................................................................360 Nostradamus............................................................................................362 Odinism Norse Neo-Paganism; Asatru Free Assembly; Asatru Folk Assembly................................365 Order of the Solar Temple..............................................................................370 Osho Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh...........................................................................372 Paganism and Neo-Paganism..............................................................................378 Patriot Movement.......................................................................................380 Penitentes.............................................................................................383 Psychics...............................................................................................384 The Raelians...........................................................................................387 Rainbow Family of Living Light.........................................................................390 Ram Dass Baba Ram Dass; Richard Alpert................................................................391 Rastafarianism.........................................................................................393 Rebirthing.............................................................................................398 Reiki..................................................................................................400 Reincarnation..........................................................................................402 Reorganized Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints................................................412 Rosicrucianism AMORC..................................................................................416 Satanism...............................................................................................421 Sathya Sai Baba........................................................................................426 Scientology............................................................................................430 Self-Realization Fellowship Paramahansa Yogananda.....................................................437 Seth (See Trance Channeling) Shinto.................................................................................................439 Sikh Dharma 3HO Foundation; Yogi Bhajan...............................................................442 Sikhism................................................................................................443 Silva International Silva Methods; Silva Mind Control.................................................446 Snake Handlers.........................................................................................448 Spiritualism and Spiritism.............................................................................451 Sri Chinmoy............................................................................................461 Sufism.................................................................................................463 Swedenborgianism.......................................................................................465 Tai Chi and Qigong.....................................................................................468 Taoism.................................................................................................471 Temple of Set..........................................................................................474 Theosophy..............................................................................................477 Trance Channeling......................................................................................482 Transcendental Meditation (TM).........................................................................486 UFOs...................................................................................................495 Unification Church Rev. Sun Myung Moon................................................................501 Unitarian Universalist Association.....................................................................510 Unity School of Christianity...........................................................................512 Urantia................................................................................................515 Vampirism..............................................................................................520 Vedanta Society Swami Vivekananda.....................................................................523 Voodoo, Santeria and Yoruba............................................................................524 The Way International..................................................................................529 White Supremacy (See Ku Klux Klan) Wicca and Witchcraft...................................................................................531 Worldwide Church of God................................................................................536 Yoga...................................................................................................542 Yoruba (See Voodoo, Santeria, and Yoruba) Zen Buddhism (See Buddhism) Recommended Reading....................................................................................549 Index..................................................................................................567

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews