Eckhart Tolle, Oprah Winfrey, and Exclusivism

Oprah Winfrey has asked how can there possibly be one way to God? Is God more concerned about how our hearts are or if we call his son Jesus? What about jealousy? How can God be a jealous God? After all, Exodus 34:14 says his name is Jealous.

Let’s notice something first. The number of people on the planet has nothing to do with the number of possible ways to God. What if we changed some words?

“With 6 billion people on the planet, there can’t possibly be only oxygen that keeps us alive!”

“Are you going to tell the person who has never heard that murder is always wrong?”

“It is judgmental of you to think that we are all carbon-based lifeforms.”

Most of us would at least accept statements 1 and 3. If you don’t accept 2, please go get counseling. Why do we accept them? Because we know they’re truth claims. Truth claims are either true or false as I’ve said in the blog on Eckhart Tolle on truth. I urge the reader to go see that blog if they haven’t for I have no intention of repeating myself here.

This isn’t just Oprah’s idea though. While not using the same terminology, Eckhart Tolle seems to come from the same kind of pluralistic view point.

Let’s remember this to begin with. This is a truth claim. The claim can be understood and makes sense. Let’s take some presuppositions of Oprah’s in the claim of hers about 6 billion people and one way to God.

First off, it does not follow. How many ways must there be for each, say thousand people?  One way? At what point do two ways show up? What is the connection?

Second, is she presupposing also that God wants people to come to him? How does she know there isn’t some sick and sadistic god up there who is just toying with everyone?

Third, is she not presupposing truth doesn’t matter to this God but only conduct? How does she know this about him?

Let’s look though from a Christian view. Also, keep in mind that Christianity is NOT the only exclusive religion. Islam is exclusive. Judaism is exclusive. Hinduism is even exclusive and Buddhism was founded on the exclusion of Hinduism.

Can Christianity defend its claim though?

The Christian claim is not that you go to Hell for not believing in Jesus.

Some of you may be shocked by that.

The Bible makes it clear what you go to Hell for. Your works. They’re not good enough. God demands absolute perfection and if you don’t have perfection, then you’re not in. It’s the only fair way for God to judge you. Now Jesus is the way out of that judgment. When you accept Jesus, you get his works instead of your own and God judges you based on what he saw in Christ. If you don’t have Christ, then in Christian though, you must be absolutely perfect.

I don’t know about you, but it’s way too late for me on that one.

This is not God being fussy about a theology exam. Now someone might ask “Well that’s understandable, but Oprah does ask about those people who’ve never heard. What about them?”

Frankly, we don’t know for certain. We do know though that Revelation 7 tells us that a great crowd will be there from every people group out there and Christ tells us that many will come from the North, South, East, and West to the marriage supper of the lamb. Thus, whatever conclusion we reach, it will have to account for a large number of people.

What’s my stance? Romans 1 speaks of God’s existence being made clear from all that there is and some of his attributes are known. Romans 2 speaks of the moral law written on our hearts. We all know that some things are right and we all know that some things are wrong. My conclusion with that data then is that God judges people rightly on the light they have. However, considering they don’t have much really, I greatly push the Great Commission to get the gospel to as many people as possible. In the end though, I am confident no one will walk away from judgment day saying “It wasn’t fair” and I believe that if anyone out there is truly seeking, they will get that light somehow.

“But isn’t right conduct important?”

Of course it is. The problem is, it’s not good enough. What you do should flow out of what you believe. God’s standard is perfection. That’s not arbitrary either! What would be arbitrary is if God said “Each good act is worth X points and each bad one takes away X points and the value of X depends on the act. If you get to judgment with Y points, you win!”

For Christians, I do believe how we live on Earth will determine our rewards in Heaven. It won’t determine whether we get to Heaven or not. We live right though simply because of Christ. He died for us so we are to live for one another. That also includes taking that one way to everyone that we meet out there so they can know him as well.

“Okay. That’s sensible. What about God being jealous though?”

Good question.

First off, there is some jealousy that is good. Gentlemen. I want you to picture yourself newly married on a honeymoon with your bride. You are walking down the beach holding her hand and some guy comes up to you who you don’t know and says “Hey! Your girl is hot there! Do you mind if I take her with me for awhile and have some fun?”

Whatever you take “having some fun” to mean, and I think most of us know what most guys would have in mind, I would hope you would tell the guy to get lost. Why? Because this is your lady and you have a right to be jealous of her.

The Handbook of Biblical Social Values edited by Pilch and Malina says the following on page 210 under Zeal/Jealousy:

Zeal/Jealousy refers to the concern for maintaining possession and control over that to which one claims to have honorable and exclusive access.

So when God says he is jealous, it’s not an unloving thing but a LOVING thing. It is even stronger than the man with his new bride. Every man should be jealous for his wife. He should want that exclusive intimacy he shares with her not an action that is cheapened by being shared with anyone else. He alone has the right to that kind of love from her.

That is what God is saying also to Israel. He doesn’t want them with other gods. He alone has exclusive rights to her. He wants to love her with all he has and doesn’t want her to run after other suitors. In doing so, she doesn’t hurt God. She hurts herself. Those other suitors are no gods at all and they cannot give the love that he can give.

Sadly, what Oprah saw as unloving was one of the most loving at all. God loves so much that he used the cross to illustrate that and Ephesians 2 promises us God will spend the rest of the ages showing us how much he loves us.

I realize for a lot of people, this won’t answer the claim entirely about exclusivism. I will say in Christianity, God has a specific nature and he has a specific requirement and he’s made it very simple to get to him. It just simply requires that we give up being god. We just fall down and confess that only Christ can save us and not we ourselves and we will trust him with our eternity. In doing this, we live accordingly. For those interested in the journey, I recommend getting a copy of “Basic Christianity” by John Stott.

So where do I think Tolle went wrong ultimately? That will be answered tomorrow.

3 Responses to “Eckhart Tolle, Oprah Winfrey, and Exclusivism”

  1. janek Says:

    Here is a concise summary of the findings of Otto Rank and Ernest Becker with my own personal opinions (items 7, 8, 9).

    Lets get real here…

    1) We are animals first, humans with imaginations second. We live in a dangerous world, in an unsure world where death is just around the cornor. Try to remember your own anxiety as an infant or notice the fearful stages of growth in your children, especially when they realize how dependent they are on the adults. Humanity was also in this state of anxiety in our early history. Tigers were big and all we had were spears. Part of us feels this all time. We feel vulnerable in our animal natures and limited. We strive for growth, mastery and propagation just like every living thing that has ever existed. We crave and greed for anything that represents more abundant and secure biological life – even when it is actually taken care of in our advanced civilization. In the following essay remember we are animals. Thinking animals but animals nevertheless.

    2) However, we are social animals – like some herd or pack animals but not at all like big cats, sharks, or hawks. We need each other and the group to compete against other animals and nature. But we also compete with our fellow humans for mastery and status. Knowing our place allows us take on specific jobs in the group and to feel purpose and meaning. We test and gauge our status wihin the group. Early in history and our physical skills were the important measure but that soon turned to social skills. The function of out direct perceptual senses is guage our level of security, protection and worth within the group. Getting our fellow humans approval and esteem enhances this protection because somebody is literally watching your back. In a sufficiently advanced civlization, when the food supply, healthcare, shelter and education are taken care of the impulse to grow – to have more abundant life – does not go away. That is because the emotional part of us knows we are still limited and vulnerable without our cultural and group protections. So we unconsciously compare worth, significance and power in our society – to find our place in it and to gather as many protectve affliations around us as possible.

    3) As our brains evolved and abstraction and symbolic abilities developed we imagined we could be gods! Our situation was so perilous in the wild we tended to make false correlations in nature, thus creating “magic” to allow us to feel more in control. Eventually, our egos created complex systems of symbols representing physical skills. We created institualized ritual to control the environment and its ceremonies to control each other. Magic turned into religion. Religion turned into divine states. Divine states turned into secular society and political philosophies. Thus, magical ritual, religion and its decendent instutions allowed for defined heirarchy, castes, classes and organizational efficiencies. Our egos do not like to hear we have weaknesses or are simply competing status seeking animals, or we are the cause our own suffering or that we are vulnerable, limited and will one day die. So we seek ways of removing our guilt and feelings of vulnerability by latching on to anything or anybody who can make us feel secure, safe and confident that all will be well, and in their care that we will prosper, grow, be significant and live a much fuller life. This is the “heroic impulse”. It is pervasive within all cultures except the most simple and egalitarian. We value and acknowledge those symbols (not reality) that which will make us feel safe or make us feel like winners. Of course, this had loads of survival value in the forest because some of us did have real survival skills that benefited the group – the hunter gatherers. But, this real need to affliate with heros has been distorted to an absurd point in the arbitrary symbolic world of culture. Acquisition of possesions, titles, status, large families, and attachment to symbols far and long divorced from actual survival needs is what drives our culture and politics. The impuluse for more, more, more drives our economic systems. In fact, it is OUR need for MORE and our unconsciousness of why we desire MORE that creates the economic system – a system that depends on 4% growth per year despite that fact that we live in a finite world with finite resources. Unbridled and un-reflective thinking in service of the fear of death is what makes the human animal insane in comparison to other species. The fundamental confusion is taking mere words or concepts to be reality.

    4) Biologically, abstracting egos arise from the left hemisphere of the brain. The symbolic processors of the left brain take fear arising from the amygdala and rationalizes an insulating symbolic defense – many of which are words or concepts. The left hemisphere also tends to mask perceptual realities of the right hemisphere since this holistic part does not harbor linguistic processors. The right hemisphere cannot argue for itself even though it harbors many intelligences! This effectively removes feelings of vulnerability and fear from our thinking selves but it also veils broader realities and perceptions that could have survival value. This is a necessary condition for mental health and negotiation in a highly symbolic environments which most people live in. Cultures are systems of symbols that reinforce a consensual strategy against this fear of death. Or, at least, a “social symbolic death” with insignificance or loss of approval among our fellows. Cultural values change as the demands of survival from the environment change. We create complex symbolic absolutist views and cultural sanctioned rituals, rules and behaviors that institutionalize the strategy against death because total faith brings the most confidence. That is why suicide bombers say they love death as much as we love life – they are assured at place in paradise. These emotional displacements provide order and sense of meaning to our world and provide confidence. The value of the concept of immortality, gods and single great hero, God, has provided the greatest sense of relief for many cultures.

    5) Furthermore, We create conflict and suffering through mutual exclusive competing symbols within and between our arbitrary rule-bound cultures. Thus, individuals will constantly compare who’s up and who’s down, one street gang will fight another over graffiti, how clothing is worn, territoral encroachment; soceer games will erupt in violence over a game, republicans and democrats will demean and “symbolically” fight each to other’s social death (the inability to influence others). Our egos constantly strive to strengthen its stature compared to others. Our egos are willing to defend, belittle or even fight to the death any symbol or person who threatens our unconscious immortality symbols because our ego’s imaginary life is at stake. The impulse to prove oneself right and the other wrong is simply the defense of the ego against imaginary death.

    6) Whether it be God, Nirvana or our imagined legacies on earth, or our political philsophies our egos find something to latch on to, no matter where we live. Cultures, religions and all absolutist philosophies exist and function to provide approval-seeking humans ways of organizing, encouraging, coping, prospering, staving off fear of death and moving civilzation forward. We are social beings that create our own social environments whose need for a sense of belonging and self esteem is universal so convienently adopt the prevailing notions of the group that provide us this worth. The need for human connection and approval is primary and real, cultural values are secondary and imaginery.

    7) Our egos can be exploited, controlled and abused by those who use our needs, hopes and dreams to suit their own agendas or by those that insist to withdraw their respect unless we tow the cultural line. We all, quite naturally, give our loyalty and our lives to those who best can communicate to our emotions the symbols that promise security and strength but most importantly – a sense of belonging. The sucess of leadership is proportional to the level of alignment of culturally adopted values to the real demands of the environment. Blind following often leads to disaster. Following, a worldview, hero or personal expression is only useful to the extent that it actually haromonizes with the reality of others, other cultures and the physical environment.

    8) So, we only contribute more suffering in the world when we allow the ego unbridled comparison, identification and power-seeking or when we let our egos get competitive, huffy and violent over whose coping mechanisms, behaviors, opinions are best. Judgment and negativity is the primary diagnostic of absolutism – whether it is ubridled praise or criticism. Acceptance (tolerance), enjoyment and enthusism is the primary diagnostic for awareness of the extreme comparative activity of the ego.

    9) We could spend our time much more profitably by recognizing more when our ego’s comparative and defensive functions operate and instead look to our fundamental common needs – food, health, education, need for belonging and personal expression. We could look to our common problems and working together to make a difference, rather than defending our egoic coping belief systems or worse, belittling other coping belief systems – just for sense of status and superiority. We could try to determine when our own out-dated cultural systems and pet idealogies no longer serve us or the common good. There is a contextual truth behind each culture or belief system based in real physical and social survival factors. However, the world changes and so beliefs and cultures must change.

    10) Ultimately, all human activity is “religious” or “political” in that any activity that provides a sense of mastery of life over death tends to held on to. Thus, we all must believe in some “vital lie” that will provide confidence to move forward. We must be vigilant in the tendency for our human psyche to attach to absolutist concepts or worldviews. The unconscious denial of death is the primary motivation for humanity. This irrational motive lies behind science, art, technology, politics, philosophy and culture.

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