Touchy-Feely Faith that Neglects the Mind
by Maeve McDonald
In one of her signature ah-ha moments, Oprah Winfrey announced to 50 million talk show viewers that, “God is a feeling-experience, not a believing-experience!”—a statement based on the New Age teaching of one of her spiritual gurus. Why should Christians take note of yet another one of Oprah’s epiphanies? Because in this concise statement, Oprah succeeded in encapsulating the essence of an ideological movement that has gained far-reaching influence and has even infiltrated the Christian faith in insidious ways.
It is in the “new spiritualism” of Eckhart Tolle that Oprah finds the inspiration for such a concept. After Oprah’s widespread promotion of Tolle’s books, such as A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, Tolle made several best seller lists and his teaching has had significant impact. In 2011, he was dubbed by the Watkins Review as the most spiritually influential person in the world. While this likely an inflated view of Tolle, it is true that ideas like his are hugely popular. Tolle articulates the common New Age notion that peace and truth can only be found by searching deep within oneself, a search which supposedly culminates in an overpowering feeling of oneness with the universe—which is God in us all, and by which we are all connected.
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Another Oprah-endorsed author, Rhonda Byrne, presents much the same premise. In her best-selling book, The Secret, she claims to have unlocked the secret through which we can create a better life through Quantum physics and the law of attraction—in other words, we can shape our own destinies through harnessing the universal powers that are at our disposal if we search within ourselves. As Byrne puts it, “There is a truth deep down inside of you that has been waiting for you to discover it, and that Truth is this: you deserve all good things life has to offer.”
Ideas like these can, and do, have mass-appeal because they tap into our innately self-centered nature. It’s all about self-help, self-fulfillment, self-truth, and—quite frankly—self-indulgence. As a result, millions of people have embraced the New Age beliefs promoted by Oprah. Ann Oldenburg, reporting to USA Today wrote: “After two decades of searching for her authentic self — exploring New Age theories, giving away cars, trotting out fat, recommending good books and tackling countless issues from serious to frivolous — Oprah Winfrey has risen to a new level of guru.” It is unsettling that the concept of self-truth has had such extensive impact even within Christian circles. I have encountered with some frequency Christians reading both Tolle’s and Byrne’s books and also Christians who admire Oprah…