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Mysticism in America
AUTHOR: Alexander, Brooks
PUBLISHED ON: April 29, 2003
DOC SOURCE: CCN
TAGS: mysticism

                        Mysticism in America         

    “The main fight, make no mistake,” said theologian Nels Ferre in 1961, “is
between the Christian faith in its inner, classical meaning and the new
Orientalized versions whether they come via Neo-platonism or in modern forms
… The supernatural, personalistic, classical Christian faith is now being
undermined by an ultimately non-dualistic, impersonal or transpersonal faith. 
The winds are blowing gale-strong out of the Orient.”

    Prof. Ferre’s meteorological metaphor may have seemed an overstatement in
1961, but today we see its accuracy.  Indeed, one of the startling things that
has happened in recent history is the penetration of Western society by
mysticism and occult philosophy, and the various forms of Eastern meditation
which are frequently associated with them.  In ten years, the counter-cultural
daydream of a society unified around the experience of the “divine within” has
begun to take on an uncomfortably concrete reality.  It is no longer possible
to dismiss interest in the philosophy of eastern religions as a kind of fringe
fanaticism which is beneath the concern of the Christian community.

    Part of our underestimation of this trend stems from the fact that the
American adherents of eastern cults are often so visible and distinctive that
we tend to judge their significance in terms of their limited numbers; we fail
to see that their existence is merely symptomatic of a much larger cultural
shift.  Thus we minimize the impact that this imported world-view has had upon
our contemporaries’ thinking.  These mystical doctrines have influenced areas
far removed from the sometimes bizarre world of the counter culture.  In fact,
an underlying theme runs through contemporary developments in science,
business and finance, politics, economics, the arts, psychology and religion:
the same basic ideas about man, meaning and God which are traditionally
associated with the ancient oriental religions are showing up as root premises
of most of the important trends in today’s western society.

    These ideas are rooted in a common set of presuppositions (i.e., faith
premises) about the nature of ultimate reality and ultimate values.  In the
past these presuppositions have been systematically expounded in such
“esoteric” disciplines as yoga, magic, alchemy, astrology, kabbalah, Taoism,
tantra and Zen.  Today, because of the widespread cross-fertilization of these
and other schools of thought, meaningful labels are more difficult to apply. 
Whether we refer to these presuppositions as mysticism, Vedanta, occult
philosophy, pantheism or monism is more a matter of emphasis than of semantic
precision.  Nevertheless, the proud delusion of modern philosophizing, whether
scientific or spiritual, may be described as a kind of “cosmic humanism.”  It
is fundamentally identical with the so-called “hidden wisdom” of classical
occultism and is characteristically linked with such religious practices of
the east as yoga and meditation.  This underlying theme is being promoted in
way that subtly conditions people at every level of culture to accept a
definition of reality which ultimately denies the personal God of the Bible,
asserts the autonomy, power and inherent divinity of man, and condemns as
obsolete any absolute statement of moral values.

    C.S. Lewis also understood this issue as a conflict of fundamentally
incompatible faiths.  At the same time, he grasped the significance of this
clash by seeing it in the perspective of history: “Pantheism is congenial to
our minds not because it is the final stage in a slow process of
enlightenment, but because it is almost as old as we are.  It may even be the
most primitive of all religions … It is immemorial in India.  The Greeks
rose above it only at their peak … their successors relapsed into the great
Pantheistic system of the Stoics.  Modern Europe escaped it only while she
remained predominantly Christian; with Giordano Bruno and Spinoza it returned.
With Hegel it became almost the agreed philosophy of highly educated people
… So, far from being the final religious refinement, Pantheism is in fact
the permanent natural bent of the human mind; the permanent ordinary level
below which man sometimes sinks, but above which his own unaided efforts can
never raise him for very long.  It is the attitude into which the human mind
automatically falls when left to itself.  No wonder we find it congenial.  If
“religion” means simply what man says about God, and not what God does about
man, then Pantheism almost is religion.  And religion in that sense has, in
the long run, only one really formidable opponent – namely Christianity.”

    In the meantime, the spiritual anemia of the west has left this generation
ravenous for reality, and therefore vulnerable to any spiritual counterfeit
offered in the name of Truth.  As born-again disciples of the Lord Jesus
Christ, we will soon come face-to-face with seemingly irrefutable evidence of
our own irrelevance.  Obviously this development opens up new vistas of
Christian apologetics that have barely been touched heretofore.  Christians
need to be diligent in seeking an informed understanding of what is going on,
of where it comes from, what its direction is and what it means within the
context of the spiritual warfare to which we are called.

    The traditional systems of occult philosophy and their newer variants are
all patterned after the archetypal lie of Genesis 3. They are not primarily
intellectual constructions, but flow in the first instance from a common
experience – the experience of “cosmic totality.”  This powerful but partial
(and therefore ultimately false) experience, like the serpent’s primordial
deception, is single in its nature.  The mystical systems that seek to
interpret this experience can nevertheless be analyzed for purposes of
intellectual convenience into a number of mutually related categories of
thought.  The four most important of these may be stated as follows:

(1) “All is One.”

    This declaration is not a theoretical proposition, but a succinct
description of the experience encountered in a state of altered consciousness. 
Such altered states of consciousness may occur spontaneously, but they are
more usually produced through the systematic practice of some technique of
meditation.  The effect of this kind of experience is to dissolve all
distinctions (especially the distinction between the perceiver and the objects
of his perception) into a single, undifferentiated unity.  The interpretation
of this experience leads directly to the first presupposition of monistic
philosophy: that there is only one Reality in existence. From this it follows,
both logically and experientially, that all apparent separations and
oppositions (including the opposition of good and evil) are unreal or are
secondary manifestation of the single divine Reality.  Likewise, all “objects”
and “individuals” are merely partial glimpses of the all-inclusive One.  This
ultimate Reality is often identified with “pure consciousness,” in the sense
of unlimited and unconditioned awareness.  In Hindu terms, it is Sat-Chit-
Ananda, that is, “Being-Awareness-Bliss,” or “the ecstasy of consciousness
aware of itself.”

    This point of view can be illustrated in an instance of advanced
scientific speculation by the case of Erwin Schrodinger, Nobel Prize-winning
physicist.  His world-view, derived, he says, from Vedanta, is that there is
only a single consciousness, of which all things are but different aspects:
“The external world and consciousness are one and the same thing, in so far as
both are constituted by the same primitive elements.”

(2) “Man is a Divine being (the Divine within).”

    This assumption is inevitable on the basis of the experience described
above.  If there is only a single Reality in existence, then we are obviously
parts or emanations of it.  Our own “consciousness” provides the specific
connecting link.  In experiencing it we experience our oneness with the divine
and the essential divinity of our innermost nature.  All forms of occult
philosophy are united around the central belief that the inner or “real” Self
of man is God. This is the fundamental form of the fundamental falsehood, the
basic statement of The Lie: “Man is God!”

(3) “The purpose and fulfillment of life is to become aware of our divine
nature.”

    However the “divinity” of man may be defined by a particular cult, the
“way” is always the way of gnosis: the attainment of experiential “knowledge”
through a flash of metaphysical insight. “Salvation” is equated with the
discovery of this higher Reality and its laws.  The usual occult terminology
refers to “enlightenment,” illumination,” “at-one-ment,” “union” or “Self-
realization.”  All propagandists of mystical occultism regard their
philosophies as scientific as well as (or rather than) religious.  They seek
to be united with the divine principle or law through their understanding and
use of spiritual and psychic techniques.  Such attempts seem feasible because
God experienced as “the law of man’s own being” is completely immanent and
therefore readily accessible.  As a further result of this approach, such
movements look to the personal, subjective and experiential as the source and
certification of meaning within the context of their system – not only apart
from, but in opposition to any reliance on faith or the authority of
revelation.

(4) “Self-realization leads to the mastery of spiritual technology and the
attainment of psycho-spiritual power.”

    As an initiate advances upon the path of gnosis, he becomes increasingly
familiar with the divine “One” and its relationship to the secondary levels of
its manifestation (which we think of as the realm of “creation”).  Thus he, as
man-God, becomes master and creator of his own reality.  Through his knowledge
and utilization of spiritual laws, he becomes capable of creating and
manipulating the conditions of his own further development or that of others. 
(If he assumes this role in relation to other individuals, he becomes in
effect a “guru” or spiritual master.)  Inasmuch as reality is composed of
consciousness, man learns to control reality by controlling consciousness.

    As we participate in the divine by virtue of our possession of
consciousness, we automatically take part in the process by which the world of
sense-objects is brought into (illusory) being.  As the “enlightened” or
“realized” individual learns to alter his consciousness at will, he thereby
learns to alter the structure of creation; “matter” itself can be created or
de-created by him with the facility of a divine conjurer.  It is here that
mysticism merges into magic (and vice-versa).  From Yahweh’s own attribution
of unlimited power to those who sought to ascend to heaven, we can see that
the Tower of Babel was essentially an occult enterprise: “This they have begun
to do, and now nothing that they have imagined will be impossible to them.”
(Gen. 11:6).

    These four elements of “doctrine” are the earmarks of occult philosophy. 
Though they may be articulated in varying ways, all four are basic to the
teaching of most of the eastern cults now active in the west – from the self-
professedly innocent and “non-religious” transcendental Meditation of
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, to the more obvious blasphemies of Sun Myung Moon’s
Unification Church.  If we understand that they are explanations of an
experience, and that the experience itself provides the underlying dynamic of
mysticism, we can see that these four elements are also present, though
masked, in diverse forms of yoga, meditation and martial arts disciplines. 
Taken together, and discerned in terms of the experience which they
rationalize, they provide us with a yardstick by which to evaluate groups and
teachings that may be otherwise unfamiliar to us.  If a cult or belief
manifests even one of them in obvious form, you may be certain that the thrust
of its teaching runs counter to authentic Christianity.

    However, while faith may be fulfilled in the identification and rejection
of the false, apologetics has a more extensive aim.  As active participants in
our Lord’s battle against “principalities and powers,” we should try to
understand the monistic experience both positively and negatively; that is, we
should know it for what it is, as well as for what it is not.

    The most prominent fact about this experience of “cosmic oneness” is its
universality.  The philosophies and belief-systems that spring from it seem to
be the dominant religious expression of humanity apart from Christ.  Monism is
an ancient, natural and seemingly inevitable response to the human condition,
as C.S. Lewis points out.  This is an important clue.  Natural man’s universal
bondage to the curse of death is revealed in the solidarity of the human
condition itself, which results from death.  As the writer of Ecclesiastes
perceived, human beings find their truest common bond in the grave to which
all descend.

    Just as death is – humanly speaking – a final and total separation, so the
awareness of that end shatters our attempt to find some sense or value in the
pattern of life here and now.  As that final entropy creeps backward into our
every experience, it brings with it a conviction of brokenness, anxiety and
alienation that penetrates to the heart of our being.  All “religion”
ultimately is an attempt to come to terms with the pervasive and insidious
fragmentation of our lives that is introduced by the prospective certainty of
death. Humanity cannot, therefore, escape a “religious” response to its
condition because individual humans can never escape the fact that they must
die.  This religious response is, specifically, a groping for some ground of
unity that will enable us to grasp an unknown harmony beyond the brittle
disintegration of meaning that fractures all our hopes and pleasures.

    But the available grounds of unity are strictly limited.  Those who seek
unification of a broken reality must find it either above the ordinary level
of our splintered existence, or below it – either in the living, personal God
who speaks the cosmos into existence, or in some impersonal substrate of
“being” which underlies even the primordial duality of matter and energy, a
substrate which is within the cosmos and constitutes its invisible foundation. 
That such a created substrate does exist seems a reasonable inference from the
account of Genesis 1:1-10, in which the Lord reveals that the initial stage of
cosmic formation was a state which possessed true created existence, but was
“formless and void,” that is, “without determinate structure.”  It was only
later that this unitary state of “bare” existence passed through the
primordial duality (the separation of light from darkness, v.4) and beyond,
into the increasingly elaborate dualizations (e.g., the separation of
firmaments, the separation of land from water, etc.; vv.6-27) by means of
which God built up the complex forms of material creation.

    It is is true that human “consciousness” is itself an instrument of
perception which is capable of making contact with the subtle and unstructured
basis of its own created existence (and there seems no Biblical reason for
denying it), we can see that this latent and inherently accessible possibility
offers a form of unification that is naturally appealing to fallen man. 
Occult mystical experience encounters this lowest-common-denominator of
creation, calls it “God,” and merges with it to the dissolution of identity
and individuality.

    In Romans 1:25, the apostle Paul tells us that the essence of false
religion is “the worship of the creature…”  In its wider meaning, the word
translated “creature” extends to the whole realm of “creation” and hints at
the profound implications of Paul’s thought. Such “worship” of the creation,
however, is false not only to God, but to its ostensible object as well. 
Mystical enlightenment represents a radical implosion of consciousness which
in effect reverses the flow of God’s creative process by disassembling the
complexities of the created order and seeking an unstructured root of
impersonal existence.

    Thus the religious desire for unity is faced with two options for its
fulfillment:

(1) “transcendence” through Christ to contact with the uncreated God, or..

(2) “subscendence” through mystical self-awareness to contact with the created
void.

    The Bible warns us, however, that we can realistically expect the bulk of
humanity to reject the first option in favor of one that panders to the pride
and perversity of its fallen nature.  We know that man in his natural state
not only is apart from God, but actively repudiates Him.  Those who follow
this tendency are thereby shut up to the only remaining possibility.

    To speak of God and His creation is to exhaust the scope of the real. 
There is nothing else.  Everything that exists is either God Himself or is
created by Him.  In this we can see the inevitability of the present
proliferation of mystical religions and occult philosophies.  Those who refuse
to find the unification of their fragmented lives in God must seek it within
the realm of creation. Since the creation itself is fallen (Romans 8:19-23),
the conclusion of the matter is that mysticism declares the way by which one
embraces the fulfillment of the curse here and now.

    This is why Jesus can speak of only two roads: the narrow way which leads
to life, and the broad way which leads to death.  Just as there is only one
Truth, there is really only one Lie, though it may take many forms. Although
the broad road has many “lanes,” they all lead to the same place in the end.

Brooks Alexander
Spiritual Counterfeits Project

GLOSSARY …..

ESOTERIC:  Derived from a Greek root signifying inner or within; anything that
is withheld or veiled from the public at large and revealed only to an inner
circleof initiates; commonly applied to the techniques and experiences of
mystical enlightenment as well as the ideas of mystical philosophy.

KABBALAH:  A distinctively Jewish form of occultism, developed by certain
rabbis especially during the Middle Ages; it is based in part on a mystical
and esoteric interpretation of the Old Testament.

MONISM:  The philosophical doctrine that there is only one ultimate reality in
existence, and that all things are parts of or are composed of this reality.

OCCULT, OCCULTISM:  While most westerners are accustomed to think of the
occult as equivalent to Satanism, black magic, astrology and fortune-telling,
the word in its true sense simply means “hidden” or “concealed.”  Thus it is
closely related to esoteric (above). Occultism in all its forms consists of
secret techniques of consciousness-alteration, coupled with secret doctrines
which explain the inner meaning of the experiences thereby attained.  An
occultist has declared that “occultism may be defined as the use of the hidden
powers in man to discover the hidden life in the world.”

TANTRA:  A series of Hindu and Buddhist scriptures which are concerned with
special yogic practices for swiftly attaining enlightenment; also, the
practices and techniques taught by those books; also, the philosophical
tradition based on those teachings.

TAOISM:  A Chinese religion and philosophy based on the “Book of Tao”,
ascribed to Lao-Tzu (600 B.C.); basically monistic in character, it emphasizes
that the “One” is ineffable and undefinable.  The “I Ching,” a Chinese book of
divination, is associated with Taoism.

VENDANTA:  A monistic philosophy based in part on the “Vedas”, which are
ancient Hindu scriptures; the literal meaning of Vedanta is “the end of the
Vedas,” that is, their ultimate import of meaning.

YOGA:  Literally, “yoking” or “union”; any systemized technique or form of
spiritual practice by which the practitioner (or yogi) seeks to condition
himself at all levels – physical, psychic and spiritual – in ways that will
facilitate the experience of conscious union with the divine principle.

Computers for Christ – Chicago

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