(Originally printed in the Winter/Spring 2013 MCOI Journal)
This is a succinct retelling of a conversation betwixt me and an adherent of a New-Age worldview.
When it comes to evangelization, apologetics, polemics or into whichever field your ministry takes you, you ought to be confident in standing on the truth of YHVH’s Word—the Bible—and His Holy Spirit. As it has been stated elsewhere: Know what you believe, and why you believe it.
It is of secondary importance to know something about that which others believe. There are some standard things to keep in mind in this regard such as asking them to define their views and terminology rather than telling them what they believe. For example, you can ask a Jew, a Muslim, a Mormon, a Buddhist, an Atheist, a New Ager, et al, “Do you believe in Jesus?” They will all answer, “Yes.”
But to the Jew: Jesus could be a prophet whose followers mistakenly deified or a false prophet.
To the Muslim: Jesus is one of many prophets who were all superseded by Muhammad.
To the Mormon: Jesus is one of many sons of one of the many Mormon gods.
To the Buddhist: Jesus was a bodhisattva* or another Buddha.
To the Atheist: Jesus was just a man who may have had some nice things to say (that is, if they believe Jesus existed at all).
To the New Ager: Jesus was an ascended master.
You get the picture: All terms must be defined by both sides of the conversation lest it be thought agreement is being reached, while what is being agreed upon is mere terminology but not substance.
In fact, this New Ager claims she is a Christian, because she believes in Jesus. However, how she defines “Christian” and “Jesus” is not what biblical Christianity is and likewise with Jesus. This is how the New Ager and I met:
A fellow parishioner brought her New-Ager friend to services one Sunday, and the New Ager wanted to speak to someone. As I am the styled resident apologist, she was directed to me. She very quickly stated that the pastor had stated some things in his sermon with which she completely disagreed. I assured her, “Well, I’m sure we all feel that way sometimes.” Empathy has a way of disarming. Well, her statement was great news, because it meant she had a standard of truth upon which she was basing her disagreement. So, I would be able to ask her: “What is truth?”
Let us very succinctly take a step back, and consider just what is meant by “New Age?” In a manner of speaking, New Age is a very, very wide, general and generic term for a belief in a very, very wide range of concepts.
For example, a New Ager generally believes our universe is an illusion. This may come in various forms from it being an actual illusion—such as the dream a deity is having (as in some forms of Hinduism)—to basing such a view on the assumption that, as this particular New Ager stated, matter is mostly empty space. Note: Many New Agers appeal to what perhaps may be best termed pseudo-physics for some of their views about energy, vibrations, etc. Yes, matter is thought to be mostly empty space (on the sub-atomic level), but matter is matter nevertheless (she did affirm the existence of an actual material realm). That for which one needs to be discerning is the New Age appeal to actual, verified, empirical science in order to come to metaphysical conclusions. (For example, noting that we all consist of molecules that vibrate, which is true; but concluding we can evolve spiritually by heightening our vibration.)
“God” may be a higher being, but the New Age “god” is likely to be a non-personal, cosmic spirit or energy which infuses all things.
“Spirit guides,” “ascended masters,” “higher beings,” and other terms are used for non-physical beings who allegedly are more spiritually evolved than us and, thus, can help us.
UFOs often are something to which New Agers often appeal as the work of actual aliens from another part of the universe who may be higher beings or “angels” mistakenly thought of by us as being aliens, etc.
Much, much more could be said, but the point is that one needs to be ready for virtually anything. For example, I knew a New Ager who had a conversation with a tree which could travel through time. He also claimed that when he was taken aboard an alien space craft, he asked the aliens if they knew where there was any gold, and they showed him some images of landscapes. Thus, he would occasionally drive around the mountains where he lived to see if anything looked familiar.
Back to our meeting: Upon arriving at our meeting, the New Ager stated she did not know why she was here, but she was supposed to be (“here” meaning meeting with a member of a Christian church). As it turned out, she mostly was interested to learn what Christians were being taught now-a-days. She came from a Christian background (whatever that means), had been away from the church for a very long time, and was curious to learn what was occurring therein today. Thus, she initially and specifically asked about my view of God.
Well, in my life before Christ, I had been somewhat involved in the New Age Movement, and so I knew how to approach her and that there were certain things that were sure to come up as well as certain things with which we must deal. Certainly, this seemed like an open door to preach the Gospel to her, but…
I thought she could find just about anyone in the church who would do that. However, she then would proceed in accordance with her modus operandi—the basic New Age manner whereby she was accustomed to doing things: She would hear it, decide what portions to keep, and which to discard. This would be based on how the Gospel matched or did not match her preconceived notions.
I thought she could not find just anyone who would question her and have her dig deep into herself and her beliefs. My purpose was to have her face the fact, and a fact it is, that she had absolutely nothing upon which to rely for that which she held to be true. I purposed to question her presuppositions, and so we began by discussing truth.
I gracefully sidestepped her initial question and noted she had told me of her disagreement with the pastor. I also noted she was making truth claims—she had to be basing her disagreement upon something she believed to be true and something the pastor said with which she and the pastor were in disagreement; and it was that something about which I wanted to know.
Her reply was all but expected: The issue was that the pastor was expressing “his truth” and she was expressing “my (her) truth.”
This has been a very popular manner whereby to look at disagreements for a long time and is used by many people. (It even came up in a 2012 episode of Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice.) I explained that truth has no ownership—it cannot be mine, yours, or anyone’s—but rather, truth is absolute. That it is absolute is the very definition of truth; it is the very concept of truth. Now, absolute means something is that which it is regardless of whether we like it or not, whether we agree with it or not, whether we prefer it be different or not, whether we know about it or not. I used this as an example: If I sincerely believe with all of my heart and mind that 2+2=5, is this true? No, but is it “my truth?” No, it is not even “my truth” due to the very fact that it is not true since 2+2=4 is true, then 2+2=5 is not true. Yes, indeed, 2+2=5 can be said to be something that is “my view,” something that “I believe,” something that “I claim,” etc., but it is not true as it does not reflect the truth (as far as ultimate truth, Jesus personified it when He stated, “I am … the truth” in John 14:6).
Then came another anticipated request which was an appeal to the story of the blind men and the elephant. This story purportedly proves all is but perception, and each has their own truth. A group of blind men (or, should I say “vision-challenged, non-gender-specific personages?”) gathered around and felt an elephant. One feels the tail and claims it is a rope. Another feels the ear and claims it is a fan. Yet, another, feeling the leg, states it is a tree trunk. On it goes, you get the picture: Each has his own perception, conclusion, idea, and thus, their own “truth”—it is all relative. But is it all “truth?”
I reiterated her conclusion so as to ensure we understood each other. Indeed, that was her point. Then I inserted a Lt. Columbo moment, you know the one, a “There’s-something-about-this-that’s-bothering-me” moment. I noted that, yes, indeed, each had their own perception, but they are blind whilst we have 20/20 vision and can see the elephant. The story is actually the exact opposite of what so many people think it is. The point is: We know that it is an elephant! The blind men are all claiming to know what it is, but they are wrong, and we know that they are wrong, because the absolute truth is it is an elephant. They can believe what they will, but they are wrong—period.
Well, thereafter, whenever such an issue as conflicting views came up, she would catch herself and replace “my” or “your truth” with “my view” or “belief” and “your view” or “belief.” Of course, if you ever deal with anyone who denies absolute truth, you can ask them if that claim is absolutely true. If it is, which it is, then they have just admitted to absolute truth. If it is not, well then, just tell them that since their claim is not absolutely true, then you will feel free to disregard it.
Now, the conceptual acknowledgement that there is such a thing as truth, absolute truth at that, is one thing; yet, how we discern truth is another matter altogether.
Thus, I observed she kept referring to things, her views, as if they were so; but just how had she come to believe and/or rely on them? Well, she offered another expected statement to the effect that she runs concepts through her heart and sees how they feel. Indeed, from New Agers to Mormons, this is just about the only way many have: Just see how it feels. If it feels right, then it is so; and if it does not feel right, then it is not so.
That is very interesting, but I asked if she had ever had the experience of passing something by her heart filter—having it feel right and true—but then later on, changing her mind—discerning that it was not right and true after all? Her answer was, “Yes,” that happens “all the time.” Well then, I remarked she had admitted her manner of ascertaining truth is unreliable. And now we know why the Bible states: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Oddly enough, she agreed (How could she not?). But later on, whenever I would mention she was making a truth claim which she felt in her heart was right and true and remind her she had admitted her method was unreliable, she would actually deny it by stating I had said that and not she. However, when we discussed the particulars of that which she considers to be true, we did agree that her views were—almost—completely tentative. This may have meant she was coming to terms with and attempting to accommodate the realization of the tentative nature of her views on the spot, but I do not know.
This, too, is a lesson as attempting to, quite literally, come to grips with a New Ager’s views that is tantamount to grasping a handful of helium. In fact, you may find New Agers will both agree and also disagree with everything you say.
Note the qualifying term “almost—completely tentative” this is because she made reference to a set of core beliefs such as: There is one God; we are to be tolerant in accepting each other as we are, etc. However, I commented she cannot even claim she has a “core,” because a “core” implies a firm foundation, and this is precisely what she is lacking. “Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” (Psalm 127:1) and “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinithians 3:11).
Now, I will address the particulars of that which she considers to be true. She would qualify her truth statements by prefacing them with “in my readings … (such and such),” so that her “readings” revealed this or that as a truthful fact. I asked to what “readings” was she referring? It turns out she reads the writings of New-Age spirit channelers who are people who open themselves up to communication with who-knows-who … or what. These “spirits” are variously Ascended Masters, more spiritually evolved beings, messengers from another time or universe, aliens, or (and actually) in short: demons. “There shall not be found among you anyone who … practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD …” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12).
Once I got her to perceive that even her most cherished core beliefs were tentative, she took a fallback position and employed a New-Age term and concept which is that all there is, is “the eternal now.” In a way this makes sense, because, after all, we do not inhabit the past nor the future. Rather, there is a future which momentarily becomes the present, the now, and instantly becomes the past. This is simply the nature of the space-time continuum in which we live: Linear time (boy oh boy, with linear time, it’s one thing after another). However, it is noteworthy to consider she is employing this concept as a tool, a styled psychological band aid. You see, since she has no foundation upon which to base even her supposedly core beliefs, she must rely on what? She relies on what she believes right now. She must live in the now, because she must hold on to that which she believes right now as an anchor to whatever reality might be. She must hold on to that ever-fleeting “now” because she knows she has nothing else.
But upon what is the “now” based? Well, nothing, but she has to have something. I wanted to confirm to her what was clear to me, which is: She has no basis upon which to base any of her beliefs at all. Thus, over and over and over again, whenever I discerned she was making a truth claim—an assertion, I would say, “But that’s just for now, right?” and she would agree, at which time I would follow up with, “And it could change tomorrow, right?” and she would agree. I wanted her to face, again and again, the fact that everything she said, thought, and believed was utterly lacking any foundation whatsoever. I took this even farther by asking/stating that, in fact, she may even change her mind about how she determines truth. I said that tomorrow she may decide not to run things through her heart filter, but she may decide to run things through her brain and to treat them as data—ones and zeros. Yes, she agreed that even her manner of determining truth was tentative.
But now, back to her “readings” via which she held as a core belief that there is one God (whatever God may mean to her). How does she justify claiming there is only one God? She sought to buttress this by claiming we all believe in one God. Even when two people claim to believe in one “God,” the one god in whom each believes could be a different god. For example: The one God of Christianity has a Son, but the one god of Islam cannot have a son (but that is another issue). I asked her: How if, say, the majority of the world became Hindus and were therefore polytheists, could she then claim monotheism is true? Well, it would be her claim against theirs, and according to her belief, we must tolerate and accept each other.
Great, but we must continue to question these types of presuppositions. And so it must be asked: Why tolerance? Why acceptance? Why love? “What if,” I asked, “I determined that it was beneficial to me, to my clan, tribe, family, city, nation, etc. to violently conquer others?”
Well, this brought us to the assertion that “we all have a ‘path to God’.” Well, this is also a very popular claim and a very all-encompassing, tolerant view. However, this too must be questioned. You see, when people say such things, they are thinking about that elderly Jewish gentleman davening (praying) at the Western Wall, that smiling Buddhist monk meditating on a mountain top, a whirling Dervish, etc. However, something that people who say such things generally do not consider is that which I prompted her to consider. So, “we all have a ‘path to God’ ” all of us. “But what,” I asked, “if I decided my ‘path to God’ was that I would fly an airplane into a building?” She had to affirm that, yes, indeed, that would be my path to God. I took it up a notch and referenced Adolf Hitler’s Nazism, and she affirmed, yet again that, indeed, that was Hitler’s path to God—he showed us a way to God.
Once one asserts “we all have a ‘path to God’ ” they have included us all—excluded none, and thus, must logically accept that each and every—all paths—are to God, regardless.
You see, one of the problems here is that if you believe “we all have a ‘path to God’,” then how can you condemn anything as being immoral?
Although if someone insists, perhaps you could agree and state: “Indeed, we are all on a path to God—some to meet Him as Judge and some as to meet Him as Savior.”
Almost in passing, she asserted that the Bible was dismissive of women. Well, how can she condemn this as the Biblical writers and the Jews and Christians “all have a ‘path to God’?”
But I thought I would squelch this common misconception, which only takes about one minute. I noted that if she wanted to say something to the effect that the medieval Roman Catholic Church had a problem with women, that is one thing; but the Bible itself? I told her, off the top of my head (although I will include citations here), that in the Bible we find:
Males and females were both created in the image of God.
Women had the right to own land.
Were prophetesses (in both testaments).
Worked and owned businesses.
Women were present at the day of Pentecost.
Books of the Bible are named after women (Ruth and Esther).
Women were the first at the empty tomb while the male Apostles were hiding in fear.
For these facts, see: Genesis 1:27; Exodus 15:20; Numbers ch. 27; 2nd Kings 22:14; 2nd Chronicles 34:22; Job 42:15; Proverbs 31:16; Isaiah 8:3; Judges 4:4; Luke 2:36; Romans 16:1-2; Acts 1:12-14, 2:1, 16:14, 21:7-9, 9:36, 18:26; Titus 2:3-4.
Now, for 90% of the conversation, it was the case that “we all have a ‘path to God’.” However, she then changed her mind when referring to 1987ad.
What, pray tell, occurred in 1987ad? Some may recognize that year as the year of the great “harmonic convergence” championed by such notable New Agers as Jose Arguelles. This was supposedly a time of spiritual, vibrational enlightenment. At this time, she claimed “they” determined that 51% of humanity did not want to be destroyed by an Earth-bound asteroid but wanted to continue in this plane of existence. She defined the “they” as beings whom I would refer to as angels. I did not sidetrack us at the time, but it is noteworthy that what I define as angels and what she was referring to are completely different things—different beings.
In any case, at that time those who truly were on a “path to God” were kept on Earth, whilst those who were not began being removed, along with their influence, into another realm of existence. So now, I had her affirm that we do not all “have a ‘path to God’,” but rather some do and some do not. She agreed. But (and, yes, indeed, I am a Socratic gadfly), I then asked her if even those who had been removed would eventually reach God. She agreed. Of course, she could not have anyone forever condemned, but even those so far removed from being on a “path to God” that they had to be removed from Earth would eventually and somehow find their way to God.
As an aside: In regard to being a Socratic gadfly, let us take a moment to generally consider the Socratic Method or, being a Jew, I rather prefer the term Rabbinic Method. Have you ever spoken to someone and it is obvious they are not listening, but they are just waiting for you to take a breath so as to cut you off and get their say? When that or something like that happens, it is not even a case of “in-one-ear-and-out-the-other;” it never even makes it in!
This is why it is preferable to ask probing questions rather than simply making statements. When you ask questions, you cause the person to actually think about issues, and thus, cause them to actually construct connections in their brains whereby they handle the information. By allowing them to consider issues via answering questions, you are ensuring that, as it were, the seeds of thought have been planted, and they cannot as easily go un-watered thereafter.
Now, when she referenced the 51%, I wiped my forehead with a whoosh of relief and noted 51% is awfully close to half—what a relief! I mentioned that to refer to 51% is a very specific data point, and I asked how she knows it was 51% and not, for instance, 52%, etc. She stated she did not know. For that matter, how did she know this even took place, this global survey? Well, her “readings” and how does she know her “readings” are accurate? Well, you know the answer.
In fact, she also referenced our “four bodies” which is another popular New-Age belief, which are generally listed as the physical body, the mental body, the emotional body and the ethereal body. I asked how she knew that; perhaps we have twelve bodies? She replied she did not know.
Understand that we are all exclusivists if for no other reason that inclusivists exclude the exclusivists and, thus, show themselves to not be inclusivists, but exclusivists. Here is a simple proof: Claim that we are all exclusivists and if someone disagrees with you, simply note that they just proved your point. By doing so, they have just excluded you from those who hold true views.
You will notice I could take her in any direction I wanted and get her to agree with me; and then I could reverse our direction and get her to agree with me yet again. I was doing this in order to show her, again and again and again and again, that since she had no base, no foundation, she was being tossed to and fro with any wind of … well, wherever I wanted to go. “We should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” (Ephesians 4:14). If I asked her about point “A,” I was already at point “Z” in my mind and would simply walk her from “B” to “Y” and let her stumble into “Z.” It is the method employed by the lawyer who does not ask a question to which he does not already know the answer. It is like playing chess and getting your opponent to be forced into positions that will draw him into your trap. Yet, she is not my opponent, and she is certainly not the enemy; she is a pawn of the enemy. I should note that all of this is to be done out of compassion, sympathy, empathy, love, respect, clamminess and not pride or boastfulness. “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account of the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;” (1 Peter 3:15, NASB). In fact, I would take time to consider what she said, indicate that I was attempting to understand her, would reiterate her position to ensure that I was getting it right, and then would ask her simple, probing questions which left her to have to face her folly all by herself without me pushing her in terms of shoving it in her face or any such thing.
Another issue arose about her “readings.” She had made the ubiquitous claim that the Bible could not be relied upon because it had been translated and interpreted so very many times. Well, I very quickly noted that, for example, the oldest Old Testament manuscript(s) we had prior to the 1940s were the Masoretic Text(s) which dated to circa 800ad—let us round it to 1,000 years ago. Then in the 1940s the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, which took us back to circa 2,000 years ago. Now we could see, by the leaps and bounds of millennia, 2,000 years ago compared to 1,000 years ago compared to today, and we could see, in essence, that which the Bible says is the very same.
Well, she posited this was because there are certain elements of fundamental truth. You see what I meant about New Agers both agreeing and also disagreeing with everything you say? For example: The Bible is corrupt, except when it is not. It is corrupt; but when it is proven to not be corrupt, then it is not corrupt, because it contains certain elements of fundamental truth. How do you know? What are they? How do you determine them? Yes, all these are the very same relevant questions which we discussed all along.
As an example of the incorrupt Bible’s corruption (or, something), she alleged that reincarnation had been … pay attention to the qualifying term here … “taken out” of the Bible. This was great to hear, because if she said the Bible simply neglected to reference reincarnation that is one thing; but she claimed it had been “taken out”—removed—from the Bible. I suggested if that was the situation, it is a simple enough case. For the Old Testament, we have major manuscripts that are 2,000-years and 1,000-years old plus many, many other fragments. For the New Testament, we have some 24,000 manuscripts (5.5 thousand in Greek and the rest in other languages). Thus, if it was “taken out,” all we have to do is look at an early manuscript which refers to reincarnation, then look at a more recent manuscript in which the reference is missing and viola: Proof that it was “taken out.”
Well, she had an answer to this, and it was that the manuscripts which still reference reincarnation are hidden away in the Vatican. Lack of evidence is not evidence. Clearly, someone once claimed it was “taken out” of the Bible and had no evidence when asked for it, and so they concocted a tall tale about a Vatican conspiracy. I submitted that arguing thusly, one could claim anything was in the Bible, it was “taken out,” and hidden away in the Vatican. She assured me she would provide me with the evidence; I am still waiting.
While we are at it, she also claimed Jesus acquired his mystical wisdom and abilities whilst traveling in Egypt, Tibet, India, etc. and learned from the great masters of those regions. This too is a very, very common claim. It is common enough that it was researched in detail and discredited. No, it was not researched via an internet search engine, but via actual boots on the ground. People traveled to the various localities where Jesus supposedly traveled, to the very places said to still contain record of Jesus’ stays, and what was turned up was just a lot of very confused monks and otherwise holy men who had no idea about what the researchers where talking.1 Of course, Jesus did some of His growing up in Egypt, but that He learned the mystical ways of their gods and clergy is simply unknown, it is not mystical but mythical.
In this regard, she made yet another expected and popular claim which is that the human man Jesus “became ‘the Christ’ ” when He advanced spiritually enough to tap into the “Christ consciousness,” which is something we can all do. Of course, the Bible preempts this claim by stating:
For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11, NKJV, underline for emphasis).
Thus, Jesus was “the Christ” meaning “the Messiah,” “the Anointed One,” and was so from birth. Oh, right, this must have been inserted into the text later, and the earlier manuscripts which do not include this statement are well, you know where.
What Jesus-Who-“became-‘the-Christ’ ” learned in His travels and studies were certain, what is generally known as, “power words” or “phrases” which are known in common parlance as “positive affirmations.” This means that He learned key words and phrases which amounted to the power to change reality. Within Christianity, you may be aware of the Word Faith Movement, the Prosperity Gospel, “Name-it-and-Claim-it” (or, “Blab-it-and-Grab-it”). The context is different, but the concepts are exactly the same.
For example, she stated you have to be very careful of what you say after having said “I am.” For example, Jesus learned a very powerful phrase, “I am the resurrection and the life” and likewise claimed to be the “I am.” So, she informed me that every morning she says things to herself or, rather, to the universe (or, what have you) “I am perfect health,” “I am perfect vision” and explained that people use these affirmations which also include references to wealth.
That is fascinating, indeed, so I asked whom of all of those she knows who do this (including herself) is perfectly healthy, has 20/20 vision (she is a septuagenarian), is wealthy, etc.? The anticipated answer was, of course, that since such results require such a high level of spiritual development, no, she did not know of any.
This is reminiscent of a conversation which I ear-witnessed between a Buddhist and a young lady who was suffering pretty badly. The Buddhist’s essentially un-empathetic and dismissive statement to her was that the Buddha taught if she were to cease from desire, she would cease from suffering. Upon being asked how she could go about doing that (note now she desired to rid herself of desire) the Buddhist even more un-empathetically and dismissively stated he did not know, as such results require … well, you know the rest of it. Great concepts on the surface, but results are elusive to say the least.
Now, a few of Jesus’ “I am” statements came up as she affirmed Jesus came to show us “the way.” This is very significant: observe that she qualified it accurately. She did not claim that Jesus came to show us “a” way (one of many ways) but rather, “the” way (one way). But, she followed up by (falsely) claiming, “Jesus did not say, ‘No one comes to the Father except through me.’ ”
I pointed out that, indeed, Jesus had not come to show us “a way” but came to show us “the way.” And what was this “way?” It was Jesus Himself. You see, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6a, NKJV) and since “the way” is He, Himself, He could, therefore, go on to say, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6b, NKJV).
Let us back up a moment to recall her claim that the Bible was unreliable and corrupt due to the many translations and interpretations. I asked if her “readings” included reading the writings of channelers who were from other countries. Yes, they were although she claimed the USA has become a center of such activity. In that case, I asked how she knew what she read was reliable and not corrupt? After all, the channeler interprets the spirit’s message, writes it down, it is translated into English, she reads it, and further interprets it, etc. She had to affirm that even in her “readings,” she did not know if what she was reading was reliable and not corrupt, but rather had to judge via her heart filter. So it must be the case that even when it came to her truth claims based upon her “readings,” she could not be assured beyond the fleeting “eternal now” that these things are so. (Yes, this is an oxymoron, but one to which she must temporarily be beholden.) She agreed … just for right now and tentative.
Now, let us get personal. As it turns out, sadly and not surprisingly, she came from a background of very severe and strict parents she said were Christian—Sunday-school teachers, etc. Thus, she peppered some comments with disparaging remarks about “religion.” I assured her when it came to “religion,” we agreed completely. When what is meant by “religion” is a manmade, hierarchical, authoritative system then, indeed, “religion” is the greatest corruption ever conceived by humanity and one of the greatest obstacles between humans and YHVH.**
I summarized how the Bible is the most anti-religion book (set of books) ever published, and that the New Testament concludes:
Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, [and] to keep oneself unspotted from the world. (James 1:27, NKJV)
I revealed that in the Old Testament, YVHV ends up condemning “religion.” Mind you, this was the very “religion” with the priesthood, laws and sacrifices which YVHV Himself had established. She interrupted here in order to state she did not believe it, “Well, how do you know?” Actually, that question had to wait, because the point was to get her to see, well, the point.
I spoke of the phenomenon of being institutionalized whereby, for example, when a person gets out of prison after decades, they find they cannot function. This is because they have become institutionalized as for decades they have been told what to do, and when to do it, 24/7.
Think about the Hebrews as slaves in Egypt for four centuries. Imagine you are a slave, your parents were slaves, their parents were slaves, etc. Now imagine sudden freedom. The Hebrews were institutionalized and actually longed for that which was familiar: idols, familiar foods, etc. YHVH had to shape a people from the ground up by providing commandments, laws, authorities, rituals, etc. which were meant to teach something individually and nationally. By observing holidays, sacrifices, kosher laws, etc., they were supposed to become a people who were worshippers of YHVH. Yet, there came a time when the priests were corrupt and made the people loath temple services. Of the corrupt priests Hophni and Phinehas is it is stated: “Therefore the sin of the young men was very great before the LORD, for men abhorred the offering of the LORD” (1 Samuel 2:17). There came a time when people offered sacrifices to YHVH which they would not have seen fit to offer to their governors (see Malachi 1:8). There came a time when these life lessons—which were meant to provide true spiritual growth—became nothing but empty practices of religion, and people were just robotically jumping through ritualistic hoops.
This is when YHVH in effect said, “No more” and condemned the manmade manner whereby they were going about doing “religion” (cf. Isaiah 29:13).
Point being, do not feel as if you have to defend the indefensible. Once I understood what she meant by “religion,” I was more than glad to agree and actually take its condemnation further and get to the point that what Jesus offers is not “religion” but “relation” (cf. Romans 8:15-16, Galatians 4:6).
While I believe all things eventually break down into spiritual warfare, there was a manifestation of that war in terms of psychological factors. You see, when she heard certain terms, she would disregard the context in which those terms were being used, redefined them with her own concept, and then react negatively toward (what turns out) was not actually stated, but rather toward her misunderstanding or misinterpretation.
For example, what the pastor had stated, with which she completely disagreed, is that the Bible’s main message is relationship. No, she insisted, it is not about relationship, but it is about love. Well, indeed, but I offered that relationship is based upon love. She denied this and made reference to abusive relationships for example. Well certainly, but within the context of his sermon, a very specific sort of relationship was being considered, which was a relationship based upon love. It was the context of the sermon which defined the term relationship. This is a proper, interpretative principle and also common sense.
However, since she expanded the definition of relationship beyond the confines of the context, she proceeded to read her definition of the term into the sermon, which resulted in an utter miscomprehension of that which the sermon was meant to convey.
She likewise referred to a very lovely lady’s luncheon she attended which included a very nice message. However, the message made reference to Jesus having been a “sacrifice,” which, in her view, He most certainly was not. (Jesus) “offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12). She explained that as she was growing up, she was expected to sacrifice for family, for work, for country, etc., and this resulted in her being unfulfilled as the self was sacrificed for everyone and everything else. Do you see the pattern? Again, she inserts her, loaded, definition of a term into a message. This results in the message being misunderstood, and she is left to reject not the actual message, but rather her misunderstanding of it. In her view, Jesus gave Himself, but He was not sacrificed or a sacrifice. Well, yes, He gave Himself (cf. Ephesians 5:2) and was given as a sacrifice (cf. 1Corinthians 5:7).
I explained this to her and, later on, took it further still by pointing out that when she referred to “Jesus” and when I referred to “Jesus,” we were not referring to the same person. Thus I pointed out, it seemed to me she was not viewing Jesus as He really is, as those who actually knew Him—those who walked with Him, talked with Him, traveled with Him, ate with Him—portray Him. Rather, she was coming to Jesus with preconceived notions in mind, and these preconceived notions were actually blurring the true Jesus and leaving her with a Jesus made in her own image. This is how and why she could read the New Testament and parse it: Jesus said and did this, but did not say or do that. She was not doing this based upon literal reading/understanding of the text, grammatical context, historical context, cultural context, manuscript-based “higher criticism” or anything of the sort, but she was doing it merely by “feeling” her way through the text.
You may note that previously I purposefully employed the term judge as in she “judged it via her heart.” This is because the issues of judgment, passing judgment, being judgmental, are issues which one must breach with New Agers, et al.
She shared that one thing upon which she is spiritually working is to cease judging. I replied we all pass judgments all day long i.e.: when deciding what is true or false, when considering ours and other people’s behaviors, when deciding what to eat, and what to wear, etc. Indeed, but she more meant judgment with regard to other people, because “we must accept people as they are.” I pointed out that Jesus taught: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2, NKJV). Thus, you will be judged in the same manner in which you, yourself, judge others. This brings us to another of statement by Jesus regarding the matter of judgment: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24). The problem is not judgment, but rather, how we judge.
In fact, if someone condemns judgmentalism, they are judging judgment to be condemnable and also condemning judgmentalism—and two judgments do not make for a condemnation of judgment.
She mentioned that in her youth, she was judged and judged severely. One simply must be sympathetic with this, as she was obviously still affected by it over half a century later. However, I just had to ask, or rather point out, that according to her very own standards, she had to first affirm that those people who had severely judged her were on a “path to God,” and second, she had to “accept them as they are.” Indeed, she had to agree.
Yet, I wanted to dig a little deeper into this as she had mentioned her concern for that which children were being taught both by Christians and society. She implied Christians were likely still teaching children they are sinners; whilst society did not offer them any self-esteem, but encouraged them to feel bad about themselves if (as an example she gave) their bellies stuck out a little bit.
As an aside: Christianity’s theology contains a tension, as it where, between affirming we are all created in God’s image and condemning all as sinners, but that Jesus came to save us from our sins. As far as society goes, she seems to have gotten it all but backwards. Yes, there are some very troubling issues pertaining to body image for example. However, even children who are morbidly obese at a time when their metabolisms are supposed to be able to melt steel are being told they are beautiful, should not feel badly about themselves, and maybe there is a health concern or something. Our society is swimming … nay, drowning in humanistic self-esteem i.e.: feel good about yourself and tell yourself you are a good person regardless of evidence to the contrary.
In fact, our problem is not lack of self-esteem, but lack of God-esteem:
He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, [our] faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. (Isaiah 53:3, NKJV).
In any regard, all this was to say I also wanted her to see this whole thing about “accept(ing) others as they are” is faulty. At this point, it may be useful to point out that someone once stated: “God loves us just the way we are, but He loves us way too much to let us stay that way.” Thus, I proposed that with regard to her concern for children in relation to “accept(ing) others as they are” (on their own “path to God,” etc.) it goes beyond simple acceptance.
Again, this concept is generally considered in purely positive terms such as all nice people can be accepted as they are. It is, of course, more difficult to “accept” the non-nice “as they are”—to love the unlovable.
I compelled her think about this: It is not just a case of you do your thing, I will do mine; and we just “accept each other as we are;” because some of us are teaching children things with which others of us disagree.
As the night closed, and we exchanged parting pleasantries, she told me I had solidified some things for her: God is in control, and we all have a path to God.
So in the end, did I simply succeed in driving her even deeper into the New Age? Well, perhaps. One thing with which a Christian must be comfortable is the fact that it is not our job to convert anyone. Jesus told us to “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19) and not converts. A disciple is a person who wants to learn. Our job is to plant or water a seed, and it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convert (cf. John 16:8).
But what did she mean by concluding God is in control, and we all have a path to God? I most certainly do not know, however, this is the sense I got. Have you ever heard the phrase “Let go, and let God?” It is a way of metaphorically throwing one’s hands up and saying, “Well, there’s nothing more I can do, I am done, tapped out, finished; God will take care of it,” etc. Perhaps it is a righteous resignation and admission of having reached the end of our ability’s rope.
I believe she had to come to terms, again and again and again, with the fact she had nothing. All of her beliefs had been shown to be nothing but tentative feelings. She even had to confront the manner whereby she comes to her beliefs is nothing but a tentative feeling. She was done, finished, emptied, weighed and found wanting.
Thus, she affirmed God is in control because she most certainly had none.
She affirmed we all have a path to God, because she had simply lost her ability to discern anything at all. Thus, she had to admit I had a certain something, and she wanted to hold on to her certain something; and since these “certain somethings” conflict, we both must somehow be able to have our certain somethings and eat them too.Ω
*bodhisattva=a being that compassionately refrains from entering nirvana in order to save others and is worshipped as a deity in Mahayana Buddhism (Webster’s)
**YHVH=the tetragrammaton the four Hebrew letters usually transliterated YHWH or JHVH that form a biblical proper name of God—compare Yahweh (Webster’s). NOTE: YHVH is used in this article as there is no “w” or “j” sound in Hebrew.
Ken Ammi is a Jewish-Christian who attended private Jewish school, had his Bar Mitzvah in Israel, and accepted Jesus’ messiahship at the age of 27 years. He has written thousands of articles pertaining to issues relating to Christian apologetics. He has presented apologetics lectures for many years and in many venues covering topics such as Rabbinic Judaism, the Baha’i Faith, multiverse theory, and debated an Atheist at Wilfrid Laurier University.
- Ken Ammi, “Jurassic Ark – Christ’s ‘Lost Years,’” True Freethinker, http://www.truefreethinker.com/articles/jurassic-ark-christs-lost-years ↩