First published in Midwest Christian Outreach Journal, Vol. 9, No. 1, Winter/Spring 2003
[Quotes and page references are from Neale Donald Walsch, Conversations with God for Teens (NY: Scholastic, Inc., March, 2002)]
God is a pool of energy; there is no certain age or time for sexual initiation; there is no right or wrong, our main purpose is to remember that we are actually God; and after death, we will lose our individual distinctions in The Oneness, but then become individualized and be born again, a cycle to repeat for eternity. If one were to believe Neale Donald Walsch’s assertion that these proclamations are from God, then one would likely accept them as true. These statements are in Conversations with God For Teens, a book providing what Walsch claims are answers from God to questions sent to Walsch by teens on the Internet Neale (9). Singer Alanis Morissette wrote the Foreword.
Walsch is a veteran of these conversations with someone he says is God, having published preceding conversations in three Conversations with God books, Friendship with God, Communion with God, and other similar books that sold quite well. The ideas in this book are not that new or different from the previous works; what is new is that this book is aimed at teens, and that real teens asked many of the questions. A variety of questions and topics are covered, from drugs to sex to love to school to death and suffering; but due to space and time limitations, only a few major and recurring themes can be discussed here.
Approaching this Book with Teens
Even before evaluating or criticizing this book, adults should pause and realize that the questions asked by the teens are normal questions. The idealism, frustrations, anxieties, and searching so common to teens shine clearly through the questions. The questions are not the problem, and the questions deserve answers. Keeping in mind that this book was not written for adults, the approach should be to show teens how the answers to these questions are problematic, the evidence that Walsch?s God may not be God at all, and then to try to answer these questions for the teens. Dismissing the book could be seen as dismissing the teens? questions, and that would be a serious mistake, opening a door for teens to turn away from advice from those who most care about them. Rather than a sweeping assault on this book, it might be more effective to address the issues in the book, and to point teens to sound responses while exposing the unstable, contradictory, and flawed advice found in CWGT.
The second point to keep in mind is that there is some good advice and information in the book. For example, Walsch’s God strongly advises against taking drugs, he states that most suffering is caused by man himself, and he advocates honesty and responsibility (Chapter 13, “Drugs,” 252-253; 178, 210). He even urges teens to try to understand their parents, and he makes some good points on love versus need (227-230; 190-192). Acknowledging the few good ideas will not detract from any criticism of the book, but rather will make any criticism more credible and palatable.
Walsch has a cheerful website based on this book at http://thechangers.org where teens are warmly invited to join chat groups, to become involved in ongoing study groups based on the original Conversations with God books, to give their feedback, to attend a retreat for teens, and to participate in other activities related to Walsch’s books and projects. There is no effort to hide the fact that this is a spiritual enterprise, and that the goals involve finding new spiritual attitudes and beliefs.
Is this God Speaking?
The most important question for any reader of this book to ask is: Is the God giving answers to Walsch really God? Walsch states that it is God (3). Should we take Walsch’s word for it? Walsch, in a classic case of circular reasoning, admits that he asked God whether what was being communicated were Walsch’s own thoughts or not. Naturally, this God responded that the answers Walsch was receiving were from God, since how else would God communicate but by putting thoughts in his (Walsch’s) head (16)? This is still not any evidence that these thoughts are from God since one can argue that this answer itself came from Walsch’s thoughts or imagination.
Nevertheless, let’s apply another test to this God since one might maintain that Walsch’s explanation does not disprove he’s hearing from God. Since we cannot assume this is any God we might be familiar with, this God will be referred to throughout this article as G. If G is a God that we can trust, then G would have to show wisdom, love, and perfection. Clearly, an imperfect, unloving, or unintelligent God will not do, since such a God would have failings and therefore could not be counted on. It would then be pointless to consider the advice offered in the book since G might be lying, stupid, crazy, or a total fraud. So what does the book indicate G is like?
Throughout the book, G. declares that since there is no right or wrong, there is only what works and what doesn’t work, and G does not judge, condemn, or forgive, since there is nothing to forgive. These are major themes in the book (115, 117ff., 120, 122, 124, 219, 226). If we are to take G at his word, one must assume that Hitler is an okay guy with G. After all, G cannot condemn Hitler since G repeats over and over that he does not judge or condemn. This would have to hold true for rape, child molesting, racism, and others acts generally shunned by society. The reader may wonder why no one specifically asks how G sees such behavior.
It is crucial to understand that Walsch tells us that in a “few cases,” he sent G’s answer back to the questioning teen to see if the teen had follow-up questions, but that in most cases, Walsch himself asked the follow-up questions he thought the teens might ask (19). This is an essential point to keep in mind when reading the book, since we do not really know what the teens thought of the answers G gave them. We only have, in most cases, follow-up questions from Walsch. In only one instance is there something close to a really hard follow-up question. This is when G has stated that there is no right or wrong, and the follow-up asks if killing and cruelty are wrong. G replies with a question, saying that if these are wrong, what about wars and hitting someone who has broken into your home? The follow-up question points out that those actions would be self-defense, to which G replies, “Oh, so you mean that there are situations in which killing and cruelty are not wrong,” (122-123). The follow-up question points out that those actions are called self-defense, not killing or cruelty. G’s response is remarkable: “Changing your terminology does not change your actions. It merely justifies them,” (123). If we are to believe G, then even self-defense is the same as killing or an act of cruelty! G is telling teens that defending themselves against an attacker is the same as murder.
If there really is no right or wrong, then we must conclude that things like stealing, racism, and raping cannot be wrong to G, so what should we think of G? Furthermore, if G says there is no right or wrong, how can we judge whether that sentence itself is right or wrong? We can’t. G tells us that all of us will return to him. There is no heaven or hell, so Hitler, along with rapists and child abusers who have died, have presumably returned to “meld” with G (140, 142, 143, 261, 264, 278, 281, 296). G says that we then go out again to be born once more, in a cyclical fashion for eternity (261, 296, 314-315), and that means for awhile, Hitler, rapists, murderers, and others, who may not even care about what they did, have become part of God. According to G, we lose our individual identity in melding with G, so at any point in time, G is composed of the essence of those who have committed violent or cruel acts on others.
Interestingly, G tells teens that religion has kept us “stuck in a system of Absolute Right and Wrong” which is part of a theory of separation that is “killing the lot of you,” (127). G is talking about morality. According to G, we are all one, and the idea that we are separate is destructive. But what is more likely to kill? A system that recognizes right and wrong based on a consistent standard of good and evil, or a system that believes there is no right or wrong? Separation is a part of believing there is a right and a wrong, since there must be a line between the two. But according to G, there are no lines, and there can be no absolutes, and no right or wrong. What are the implications of this?
If we are all one, and there are no absolutes, then all actions and behaviors are equal. A man robbing a bank is not doing anything differently, worse, or better, than a woman feeding hungry children. Lying to your friends or doing them a favor must have the same value. In fact, G says that he did not make us to obey, but to create, since we are like him (147, 153, 177, 287, 300, 302). We are all “Divine Beings,” and “Gods in formation,” (260). We must conclude that, like G, we then should not judge or believe in right or wrong. Therefore, it cannot even be wrong to disagree with G! It cannot be wrong to have a “religion.” But wait a minute! G clearly expresses an unfavorable view of “religion” since he said it is killing us. G contradicts himself. He also expresses disapproval of things such as: the belief that there is only one way to God, damage to the environment, lying, and hypocrisy (131, 245-246, 249, 253); and, he prefers that we remember we are God, and advises that our present views of God should change (28-29, 42, 196, 321).
We now have someone claiming to be God who wants us to make no judgments, which would mean no judgment about the actions of a Hitler or a rapist, who tells us there is no difference between right and wrong since right and wrong don’t exist, and who contradicts himself. Is this a picture of a perfect and wise God? If we can catch him in these contradictions, what does that say about G’s intelligence? What does it say about his character?
Although G talks a lot about love, he also says that he only observes us, that he does not care what we do, and has “no preference in the matter”(163). If G truly does not care what we do, then how can he love us? Loving and caring go together. On the other hand, G has stated some preferences, so he is contradicting himself. So here is a God who does not really love, or who lies to us, or who contradicts himself. Could this be God? Do we want a God like this?
Are We Real?
Most of the human race is living in an “illusion,” according to G (256, 264). The illusion is that we are separate from each other and separate from God. If someone says something is an illusion, then there should be a way to decide if this is true. But if we are in an illusion, how can that be done? Furthermore, if we are in an illusion, then maybe G himself is part of that illusion. Maybe the answers Walsch has recorded are illusions. Maybe the illusion is really that we are being told we are in an illusion!
This idea of being in an illusion and being deceived into thinking we are separate from God is part of a teaching that derives from Hinduism. This belief has also been foundational to New Age thinking for the past few decades. If we accept this teaching, then we must doubt our senses. We cannot accept the normal awareness of being separate individuals, or the belief that we are not God. This teaching causes us to mistrust our own eyes, mind, and feelings. In fact, G tells us that we are not our body and we are not our mind, and he advises us to get out of our mind and to “drop our thoughts,” (272). Of course, one must use one’s mind to read this sentence and to understand this advice. If we are to stop thinking, it seems strange that we need to think in order to understand that we should not think.
If we are not separate from each other, then our individual identity must be an illusion, or a temporary vehicle that will be blotted out. A unique identity is essentially meaningless. In fact, G states that when we meld back with him after death, we can hold on to our individual identity for as long as it “serves” us, implying that it will be a temporary crutch, before finally letting go and being absorbed (314). If we are really not separate from God, but are actually God, as G insists, then how did we forget this? How can we, as gods, be in an illusion? We only have G’s word for this, against all evidence of our individual senses, thoughts, and feelings.
G explains that after being absorbed after death, we will be in tune with a “primal vibration” that will stimulate us to “differentiate,” and we will somehow leave and be born again and again (315). Why is God differentiating? G partly explains this by saying that in order to know God, we must be away from God (262, 295-296). We can’t know hot without cold, we can’t know night without day, etc. But since G has insisted that all is one, and there is no separation, then these opposites, hot and cold, night and day, must be illusions as well. Essentially, G, who should be perfect and all knowing, must create illusion so that he can know himself, and must create opposites that do not really exist so that we can realize there really are no opposites but that all is one.
It is as though someone has taken us as a baby to a house that is really a stage set, but has given us senses that inform us it is a real place, has allowed us to grow up there as though it is real, and then tells us our senses are really faulty, and that it is all an illusion created just so that we would know that this fake house is not real. Some may argue that it is us who created the illusion, but G has said that we are God, too, so whatever we do, God is doing. After all, if we take G’s words to heart, we are not separate. This illusion seems to be a rather roundabout, unnecessary, and even cruel process for what should be easy for God. In other words, G is saying that an illusion of what is false must be created and experienced in order to know truth, so that what we think is true is false, and what is true is hidden in an illusion.
It is a serious matter for someone to teach to mistrust our thinking, our senses, and our awareness. In fact, this kind of teaching is often found in leaders who want to deceive and then control others, because if the followers believe they cannot trust their thinking and senses but must rely on the leader alone, then they have no way to assess or disagree with anything the leader says. This is exactly what G is doing in this book. Any rational objections raised to G’s teachings can be dismissed as coming from illusory thinking. G sets this up quite cleverly, but it should be recognized for the trap that it is.
How do we advance when we are laboring under such bad teachings and illusions? We are to recognize the illusion of separateness, we are to shed outdated thinking and remember that we are God, and we are to decide what we want and create it, since we have the “Original Power” of God (37, 38, 154). When we understand what G is saying, we are “Christed,” and are like the Buddha (293). As he often does in this book, G misquotes the Bible or uses quotes out of context (37, 118, 208, 243, 313). One of the most blatant examples is where he states that we can create like God, because we are made in His image (37). But being made in the image of God means (without going into complex theological discussions) that we are made unique from nature and animals in that we have a moral conscience and the ability to conceive of, communicate with, and worship God. It does not mean that we are God.
G tells teens that they can create a new reality with thoughts, words, and actions (45, 68, 71-72). Undoubtedly, people can change things in the environment and in society through action, but G implies that we can do this in a godlike fashion. Of course, all of us would have to agree on what to create; otherwise, we will have realities competing with and crashing into each other! We must also assume that before creating a new reality, we have realized that the present reality is an illusion. What prevents us from creating further illusion, however? How can we be sure we are totally out of all illusion, since there is no way given by G to measure illusion and reality? In fact, if all is one, how can there even be a distinction between reality and illusion?
There is the further problem of what should motivate us to create a new reality. Since G has stated he does not care what we do, since our individual identities are not real, since there is no wrong or right, then what difference does anything make? What are we striving for? If we are striving for peace, an end to suffering, and a healthy environment, as G implies in parts of the book, then G has once again contradicted his teachings that he has no preferences and that nothing can be wrong. If nothing is right or wrong, why should we try to improve what exists now? One may even ask, what is the point of the book?
A Dismantled G
G dismantles himself through his irrational and contradictory statements. He seems to offer hope to teens who are hurting, angry, worried about the future, having problems with parents, and who are seeking direction. But this hope is an illusion itself, since G reveals that he is not perfect, loving, caring, or wise. He butters teens up by catering to their gripes, and by sympathizing with their idealism and their recognition of hypocrisy, but then tells them that their individual identity is unreal and ultimately will come to an end. He urges teens to recognize that they are God and have godlike power, but then admits he has no preference about what they do with this power. G expresses outrage at “religion” and beliefs that he says are holding the world back, but teaches that there is no right or wrong, which means that any action must be accepted. Therefore, we have no cause to oppose cruel or violent actions. On what basis should an abused teen complain, if they are to believe they cannot judge an action as right or wrong? G massages egos by telling the teens they are God, but then turns around to say that they have all been living in an illusion and cannot trust their own thinking and senses.
Is G, who contradicts himself, who openly states he does not care what we do, and who says there is no right or wrong, really God? The book reveals G to actually be more of a clever con artist, a master of mirages, one who appears to be a friend but who is actually undermining the identity, thinking, and confidence of teens.
A Real God
It is unsettling to have a God who does not recognize right or wrong, but only what works. It is fearful to have a God who is a pastiche of the various spirits of dead people, including those who have no remorse for what they have done. And to what end are we traveling in life, if there is no actual goal, but only a temporary “bliss” during the constant swing in and out of a cosmic “pool of energy” in which we lose our identity (315, 317)? Interestingly, G says that the one thing he would change is our beliefs about who we are and who God is (321). Of course he would, as that would be the only way to accept G as God.
We can present a real God to teens, not a religion, but a God who is light and in whom there is no darkness at all, one who does not lie, and does not change (1 John 1:5; Numbers 23:19; Hebrews 6:18; Malachi 3:6). He created us as unique individuals, but he is holy and must judge sin. God loved us enough to send his son, Jesus, to atone for those sins (John 3:16; John 5:24; Hebrews 9: 11-28). In trusting Christ, we are delivered from the penalty of sin and able to be with him in a place free of sorrow after death (Revelation 21). This is the real God who has revealed himself in the order of nature, in his word, and in Christ, a God whose faithfulness and power overshadow any pretenders to the throne.