After my initial recent correspondence with an Eckhart Tolle fan (previous post), I began a dialog with some of my close associates. We were wondering if there was any way we could come to accept new age thinking as a bridge from fundamentalism to a more rational worldview. Could authors like Tolle and Chopra be providing a sort of halfway-house between extreme religious literalism and humanism? Could they actually be helping?
The answer is a resounding no. It goes back to what Ken Wilber would term the green meme, which he defined as the expansive underlying idealism which had its origins in much of the political and faux spiritual philosophy of the 1960s. He deconstructed the green meme in Boomeritis: The idea of a spirituality based on self-effacement and the “oneness of all sentient beings” falls apart because it denies the balancing forces of hierarchy and competition. Both are an essential and innate part of our human genetic lineage, but are heretical to egalitarian and communitarian idealism.
Not only that, Tolle’s philosophy includes viewing relationships through a negative “addiction” paradigm. Since one of evolution’s “good tricks” is to get us to stay together long enough to raise a child, we may well find ourselves chemically addicted to our partners. This seems to be an unavoidable part of the human condition. But this reality is lost on Tolle.
Now, these are just a couple of small examples of the gross errors and misconceptions he perpetrates. I don’t know if I could stomach reading more of his work long enough to expose the rest of these kinds of fallacies. Ironically, like pretty much all new-age teachers, Tolle encourages people to feel superior to those who don’t “get it” yet. Which is suspiciously similar to what religions do to those who haven’t drunk their kool-aid. Here’s an example:
If you are consistently or at least predominantly present in your relationship, this will be the greatest challenge for your partner. They will not be able to tolerate your presence for very long and stay unconscious. If they are ready, they will walk through the door that you opened for them and join you in that state. If they are not, you will separate like oil and water. The light is too painful for someone who wants to remain in darkness.”
There’s absolutely no way this statement doesn’t involve ego and a dismissive callousness toward a relationship partner. Like every guru, spiritual teacher, or religion I’ve ever known, the new-age remains “holier than thou.” So let’s recap:
- The new age encourages people to deny their ego. Making a goal of eliminating the ego is contradictory. Only a person with a strong ego could hold and attempt to execute such a goal. If you could get rid of the ego for a brief instant, even the act of recognizing that you had done so would re-create a new ego. Humanism promotes healthy individualism, and the forging of cooperation through reciprocal altruism while drawing firm boundaries.
- The new age fosters mushy concepts of love and light in relationships. Humanism encourages people to understand themselves, their psychology and drives and discover the real reasons behind their conflicts, which are often rooted in profoundly different evolutionary priorities between men and women. (See The Red Queen by Matt Ridley.) Humanists try to make the best of their relationships, but don’t have unrealistic expectations for resolving these differences.
- The new age encourages shadow-denial. Humanists understand, as was famously said by William Shatner in Star Trek’s A Taste of Armageddon:
“[War] is instinctive. But the instinct can be fought. We’re human beings with the blood of a million savage years on our hands! But we can stop it. We can admit that we’re killers…but we’re not going to kill…today. That’s all it takes! Knowing that we’re not going to kill…today!
The new age promotes quick fixes. Humanism understands that we are products of our genetics, environment and brain chemistry. We don’t have unfettered free will. We may feel free in our desires, but we are not free in what we desire. To sum it up in a cliche, “wherever you go, there you are.” That includes wherever you go in your mind.
So against that background, here is round 2 of my correspondence:
Sean, we all have an opinion, all 6 billion plus of us, and I appreciate your ideas. We mature and grow, hopefully, through seeking and listening to each other and applying the lessons life brings.
When people open their mouth to express an opinion, they are convinced, of course, that they are in the right. But often, as you have observed, we need only see them in action to realize that the opposite is true. It is people’s behavior that reveals whether or not they are in the right, not the theories and wild imaginings they present to others. Although people consider truth some kind of abstraction, it is in their concrete manifestations, in their actions that they demonstrate whether they are moving closer to the truth or farther away from it. It is impossible to say what truth is, because it does not exist in and of itself. It only exists as wisdom and love, manifested in human beings. So people must stop claiming to be in the right, since there is nothing to claim. Those who possess love and wisdom have no need to say anything whatsoever, because their actions speak for them.
Truth is not an abstraction. There is a way of knowing what is so, and that way is science. Opinions don’t matter at all. My motto: “The quest for empirical knowledge and reason gives purpose to life. Supernaturalism, mysticism, and religion take it away. The best anyone can do is to attempt to eliminate all beliefs and subjective biases.”
Engrave it on my tombstone.
The philosophies expressed by Tolle, Chopra, et al are pure confusion. You may find them beneficial, or at worst innocuous. But the comfortable lie spoonfed with a coating of truth is far worse than the obvious one. Millions have been led down the primrose path by these charlatans. Don’t let yourself be one of them.
Thank you for sharing. As for me, if you ask, science and religion are two sides to the same coin and neither is whole without the other. But then, that’s my opinion, obviously different than yours. So much for opinions. Opinions, when all is said and done, add no weight to the reality of how things work. This is what captures my attention and focus—what is SO about things. And to discover that I must get beyond my ego, no small challenge. As a matter of fact, I think it’s the only enemy I have. Know thyself, as they say of old.
Where is the evidence that religion or the new-age is in any way SO? And what’s up with the weird capitalization, as if to avoid any further questions?
Actually, the reason [getting away from the ego is] “no small challenge” is because it’s impossible. Remember all those “Dweller on the Threshold” calls? That was all about denying the ego and the shadow. Where did that get anyone? If you want to be whole, stop fighting yourself. It’s about integration, not repression. This is the whole problem with religion and the new-age. You can’t get where you want to go that way. You might as well be a cat trying to pick a fight with its tail. Tolle’s got you spinning, along with millions of other people. Spinning in circles. Wheeeeee……
Please let me fill my own page. After all, I’m the only one who is responsible to myself for choices I make, and sometimes I goof, but hey, I also learn. I will do the same for you. I have no clue what is to go on your page, none whatsoever, only you can know that. And you have no idea what I am to do. Let us go on for now and perhaps meet down the road a bit. Peace, brother.
There are no separate pages, there is only one reality. It’s about finding the reality, making peace with what is. That is the only lasting peace. As humans, we are all subject to the same rules: It’s about finding a method to discover evidence-based truth, and having the self-discipline to let go of everything else.
You will do what you will do, I can’t “let” you fill your own page. You are responsible for that and the consequences. I have no stake in it, having already left those methods behind. But since you approached me, not the other way around, I’m going to try to steer you in the right direction. I spent the first 30 years of my life listening to and trying to follow the ‘spiritual’ approach and got nothing but confusion and ashes. Now, I’ve spent the last 13 studying the scientific and rational. It has yielded the fruit, understanding, and peace that was so lacking before. The two cannot coexist–they are mutually exclusive.
Spiritual people often try to claim they embrace science, because its efficacy is undeniable. Though they like its results, they don’t want to be bound by its rules. Convenient. Notice, however, that the scientists for the most part want nothing to do with the spirit. (Only 7% of top scientists are religious). There’s a reason for this: The spiritual approach is a giant vortex of vague, subjective, sentimental, unprovable and unaccountable poison. It is a worn-out leftover from the infancy of the human race. Daniel Dennett’s wonderful book Breaking the Spell discusses this in detail.
In this sense, resolving this question can only be looked at as a high-stakes battle for your life and ultimate self-awareness: Participate in reason and true introspection for as long as you are alive, or join the skeletal pile of the billions who have wasted their lives caught up in their vain hope for “something more.” Life is enough! Live it to the fullest! What more could anyone want?
I hope you find the shadow and ego-integration, self-acceptance, and inner peace you deserve.