As a Christian sister, I am very interested in Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth. What is your opinion about this book? I was just wondering.
Tolle's popular A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose has topped the paperback bestseller list for many weeks. This book is an easy read, with short sentence structure and light, airy analysis of the psyche, relationships, and the world in which we live. Tolle is a pundit who has figured out reality, and he gladly shares his wisdom. Although he advances his opinions with humility, and is for the most part easy to relate to, his worldview squarely rejects God and the Word of God. It is intrinsically secular.
The Evolution of Consciousness
A New Earth is a classic New Age genre work. You'll find the usual talk of enlightenment, auras, breathing techniques, inner space, mystic awareness, all faiths being fundamentally the same, etc. There's no guilt, or sin, or final judgment; we need enlightenment, not repentance. We're all God -- we just don't realize it yet. Nothing new here, if you're familiar with the genre.
Tolle believes that the next stage in human evolution, during which the "new earth" will be created, involves "a profound shift in planetary consciousness" (5). The universe is "gradually becoming conscious... Consciousness has been preparing forms for millions of years so that it can express itself through them in the manifested" (291). "On our planet, the human ego represents that final stage of universal sleep... It was a necessary stage in the evolultion of consciousness" (292). "We are in the midst of a momentous event in the evolution of human consciousness, but they won't be talking about it in the news tonight. On our planet, and perhaps simultaneously in many parts of our galaxy and beyond, consciousness is awakening from the dream of form" (293).
"This is the spiritual awakening we are beginning to witness now" (5). He even claims that the Bible prophesies this new state of affairs when it speaks of a new earth in Isaiah 65 and 66 and Revelation 21. And yet heaven should not be mistaken for a place, says Tolle. It is no more than an "inner realm of consciousness." Moreover, as Consciousness continues to evolve, there are bound to be concomitant "climatic natural upheavals in many parts of the planet, some of which we are witnessing now" (23).
Founders of the various religions had insight into truth: Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, etc. And yet it is the mystics and their beliefs that were and are on the right track: Gnosticism in Christianity, Sufism in Islam, Kabbala in Judaism, Advaita Vedanta in Hinduism, Zen in Buddhism, etc.
To illustrate, Eckhart Tolle writes, "In Zen they say: 'Don't seek the truth. Just cease to cherish opinions.' What does that mean? Let go of identification with your mind. Who you are beyond the mind then emerges by itself" (121). Yet I would be wary of anyone who tells you not to think. We should love the Lord with all our minds (Deuteronomy 6). This means that irrational is not good!
You may remember that the Gnostics, who denied the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, were a major heretical group in the second century. In its current incarnation, Gnosticism appears as the New Age Movement. This elitist philosophy-religion is flattering. It helps you explore "the infinite depth of who you are" (28). (Am I really that profound?)
Although there are some good observations in the book -- for example, those on the ego in chapters 2-4 -- Tolle goes too far. He speaks of the "illusory self" (27), with an analysis of the soul that is sometimes Hindu, sometimes Buddhist. In Hinduism the soul is caught in the cycle of reincarnation until released through enlightenment, while in classical Buddhism there is no soul in the first place! Your false belief in your own existence is your own worst enemies. (If this is true, one might ask, Whose?)
Fundamental to Buddhism is the rejection of distinctions: good/bad, truth/error, etc. "Words and concepts split life into separate segments that have no reality in themselves. We could even say that the notion 'my life' is the original delusion of separateness, the source of ego. If I and life are two, if I am separate from life, then I am separate from all things, all people. But how could I be separate from life? What 'I' could there be apart from life, apart from Being? It is utterly impossible. So there is no such thing as 'my life,' and I don't have a life. I am life. I and life are one. It cannot be otherwise. So how could I lose my life? How can I lose something that I don't have in the first place? How can I lose something that I Am? It is impossible" (128).
While he is right that at times defining ourselves as right and others at wrong reinforces our false sense of self (15), it does not follow that there is not right or wrong. The fact that reason is misused hardly undermines reason, since this critique is meaningless as soon as Tolle's distinction is made. If everything is One and all is truth, then Tolle's analysis is both wrong and extraneous.
Tolle believes Jesus was on to this insight in his "I am" statements. He realized that we are all divine, pure Being; we are God. Yet in the Bible, apart from Jesus, there are only two people who set themselves up as God: the "man of lawlessness" (2 Thessalonians 2) and Satan!
In fact, Jesus, the "guru" Tolle quotes most in his book, is constantly quoted out of context. "The Kingdom of God is within you" is divorced from holiness and obedience; the point is to realize that the true self is not separate from truth. No one is bad. We are not ultimately responsible for our actions. The law does not hold an unconscious person accountable for wrongdoing. "How can you be responsible when you are unconscious, when you don't know what you are doing?" (A New Earth Online Class, 31 March 2008, 49).
On the final page of A New Earth, Tolle comments on Jesus' beatitude, "Blessed are the meek" (Matthew 5:5). He writes, "The meek are the egoless. They are those who have awakened to their essential true nature as consciousness and recognize that essence in all 'others,' all life-forms... A new species is arising on the planet. It is arising now, and you are it" (309)!
Jesus is not the only one taken out of context. Paul is another victim. " 'The wisdom of this world is folly with God,' says the Bible. What is the wisdom of this world? The movement of thought, and meaning that is defined exclusively by thought. Thinking isolates a situation or event and calls it good or bad, as if it had a separate existence... And yet the universe is an indivisible whole" (196).
Is this Christianity? The New-Agers want a mystical connection with "god" (defined as consciousness, or their inner nature), with the sense of well-being and direction that brings -- but without having to obey. There is no accountability! Scripture isn't the word of God, but the (mistaken) word of man.
Richard Abanes (A New Earth: An Old Deception, 71) makes an good point: "Actually it is the height of ego for Tolle to assert that no one can feel 'true compassion' or truly 'help others' at a deep level unless they [sic] share: (1) his notion of what it means to be present; and (2) what he claims is the true nature of Self ('God'). The question must be asked: If awakening to your divine 'self' and realizing your oneness with reality is so illuminating that it alone can create a better world, then where are all of the New Age hospitals, orphanages, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, safe houses for battered women, and clothing distribution centers for the poor?" Worship of self rarely leads to concrete expressions of love for one's neighbors.
Yet it's not as though one can make meaningful statements that transcend logic. Nothing can be communicated without words, since ideas expressed in words are the primary currency of communication.
He has not only failed to say anything meaningful; he has uttered nonsense. While Tolle forbids us to use thought (words) to make distinctions, he himself uses words to criticize thinking and logic. His philosophy is logically incoherent. He even admits as much: "... nothing we say about the nature of the universe should be taken as absolute truth" (280).
Our author boldly claims, "Every belief is an obstacle" (189). Including this belief of Tolle? "All religions are equally false and equally true, depending on how you use them... If you believe only your religion is the Truth, you are using it in the service of the ego" (70-71). Then are we supposed to accept Tolle's worldview as true, while rejecting all others?
Another feature of the book is its pseudoscience. For example, Tolle claims that space (as in outer space) is nothing. This is false; space is something, even if empty. Cosmologists understand that space itself is increasing in volume; beyond the edge of our universe is nothing, but not "space." Tolle also claims that space is infinite, again betraying his shallow knowledge of science, or at least of cosmology and astrophysics, since the universe has a definite (if expanding) diameter.
A New Earth is only the recycling of popular New Age ideas that have gripped the imagination of the west for the past 40 or 50 years. And yet, simply put, Tolle's position doesn't make sense. But then maybe it doesn't need to for those who like its conclusions or prefer not to examine them too closely.
A New Earth is wholly incompatible with the Word of God. (We are God -- which means Consciousness? There's no sin? All truth is relative? Jesus was an enlightened guru (like Tolle) -- and we can become the same?) You must make your choice: New Age philosophy, or the way of Christ.
For further reflection: Hebrews 13:8-9; Colossians 2:4,8. For a critique of another immensely popular new age work, see that I have written about The Secret.
I was so happy to see your review of A New Earth. I found out about this book through watching Oprah Winfrey, and even though I was hesitant due to her acceptance of anything that sounds good in the moment, I purchased the book. After reading a few chapters I began feeling troubled. I felt everything I believed in was being questioned; and not just my Christianity, but even communicating through thoughts. What is one to do then? Now I know why more clearly why I was so troubled.
I have just read your review of Tolle's book, which I have been reading, and whilst there are things that I do not agree with, there are a lot of useful things that can be gained. Your statement that you cannot communicate without words I very much disagree with as there are many ways to communicate without words... Not everything is just about the intellect... Many people would always feel that they have to have answers, which I don't think you can always have, or that help people.
Thank you for clearing up the "mud" which is written in this book... Your review helped me understand what is really written in it. I believe this movement is truly a scary one.