(First published in Midwest Christian Outreach Journal)
Learning to see energy around plants and people, feeling that the universe is an extension of your body, being guided by whatever might first come to your mind at the moment — what if you were told these were spiritual teachings?. These and other similar ideas can be found in the best-selling book, The Celestine Prophecy, by James Redfield. On the surface, a fictional tale of an American man who travels to Peru in search of an ancient manuscript which contains nine insights, this book actually leads the reader into the maze of mystical New Age thinking.
In the first 15 pages, while the plot is still forming, at least eight basic New Age ideas are introduced: a spiritual awakening is occurring in the world (p.4); humanity is evolving into a higher spiritual consciousness (p.4); seek the experiential (p.5); coincidences have spiritual significance (synchronicity) (p.6); the knowledge contained in the manuscript’s insights has been hidden from most of the world (esoteric, secret knowledge) (p.8); anti-Christian attitudes (p.9); discover truth through experience (p.10); and when the student is ready, the teacher appears (p.15). These ideas are not always expressed in so many words, but their principles are. For example, the book does not use the term Esoteric yet the basis of the story is that the spiritual insights humanity needs are hidden in an ancient document, and must be uncovered if mankind is to advance spiritually. Not everyone, according to the story, is ready for or able to comprehend these teachings. The insights are for those spiritually ripe, the spiritual elite. The book implies that in time others will accept these ideas but for now the more advanced must lead until a critical mass of people have grasped the insights.
This New Age idea of spiritual evolvement has a built-in prejudice against those less evolved. Everyone is on a path and some are ahead of others. As one character in the books says, there are “people who can’t begin to grasp what we’re doing…” (p. 45). Those who are less evolved are portrayed as ignorant, afraid, spiritually shallow and/or selfish; people must discard “their traditional beliefs” before they can understand the insights (p.81). It is ironic that while the New Age and this book preach peace and togetherness, the very core of the spiritual evolvement doctrine places people into categories of more spiritual versus less spiritual, thereby promoting a sort of spiritual class consciousness.
The New Age is a mixture of Eastern (especially Hindu), occult, pagan and humanist principles. It is more a patchwork of ideas than a well-integrated consistent belief system. Yet there are basic beliefs foundational to most New Age thinking presented in The Celestine Prophecy: 1) we should be guided by our experiences and intuitions; 2) there is one energy, a life force, uniting all matter and humanity, and this energy is God; 3)nature has consciousness; and, 4) we are in a process of spiritual evolvement which will eventually lead to vibrating at a higher level until we transcend our bodies. There are other New Age ideas in the book as well, but this article will address these four as well as giving a response to them from this writer’s vantage point of having been a New Ager.
The narrator of the story, who is the main character, is seeking copies of the nine insights in ancient Peruvian manuscript. He comes across the insights in numerical order since that is how one must understand them. Overcoming an initial skepticism, the narrator’s understanding grows with each insight.
The first two insights are that coincidences have a deep significance and that one should be guided by these in decision-making. Later insights build on this, teaching the narrator that he should be guided by daydreams, intuitions and thoughts that may flash in his mind. So at the very beginning of the story, the subjective is valued over the objective. The truth is not outside ourselves but exists in us; we only have to learn to recognize and follow it. If indeed this is truth, then there are no absolutes. Your truth is your truth and my truth is my truth. No one can judge another’s inner experience of truth; therefore, there can be no right or wrong. Yet the book implies there are wrong ways of thinking when it is refers to the “traditional beliefs” that one must reject in order to understand the insights. Apparently, some truths are more true than others!
Not only should we base truth on our own experiences but one day everyone will be guided this way and “will know precisely what to do and when to do it, and this will fit harmoniously with the actions of others,” (p.223). The author does not raise the problem of conflicting intuitions or inner guidance among people. It is assumed we will be directed in similar ways. On the one hand, we base truth on our own experience as individuals, but yet the result will be that we will cooperate as one large body acting together. In this instance, the New Age fails to resolve an inherent contradiction. It appears to exalt the individual following his own truth and spiritual path, and yet the goal is the same for everyone. High value is placed on a conformity to the needs of the group so that one’s actions are perfectly blended in with everyone else’s. It rather brings to mind a well organized ant colony or a hive of anonymous worker bees.
The next several insights are based on the belief that the universe is comprised of pure energy “that is malleable to human intention and expectation” (p.42). Later, the narrator states, “I perceived everything to be somehow part of me” and he realizes his real body is actually the universe (p.98). Connecting to this energy field is essential to spiritual development since this energy is life, love and God. The narrator is advised that love exists “when one is connected to the energy in the universe, which, of course, is the energy of God,” (p.153). The narrator learns how to see energy fields around plants and people.
These teachings about energy are called monism and pantheism. Monism means all is one and one is all; pantheism means all is God and God is all. The book teaches these concepts without using the terms. An essential ingredient of New Age thinking is that we are all part of one force that binds the universe and everything in it together. We are not really individuals, and matter is only a denser form of the energy or perhaps only a temporary reality we have created because we have mistakenly identified ourselves with the material world. The energy that is in the trees and rocks is the same energy that is in us and in the animals. We are basically all part of this energy, which is God, and therefore there are actually no distinctions between us and a rock or a dog or a fish. The idea of this energy or life force is part of many Eastern religions as well as being related to Gnostic teachings that we are really spirits trapped in matter.
If indeed the universe is really your body and you are not distinct from it, then what value do we have over a tree or an insect? Is the only difference that one form is more evolved than the other? Or is it that the differences don’t really exist? In that case, our individuality does not exist because we are really part of a cosmic glob of energy. This is very close to the Hindu teachings that our sense of self is an illusion and a barrier to the realization that we are really God in essence. Here again, we have a contradictory principle. Being part of this energy is a major spiritual discovery in this book, but who can be happy about believing their individuality is not real, especially after working so hard on discovering their own special spiritual path? Who will be first to voluntarily discard their identity and individuality?
The idea that nature has consciousness is a logical conclusion to the belief that everything is part of one energy. Food has energy and eating should be “a holy experience” leading to learning how to take in the same energy without eating (p.110). The narrator experiences giving love to a tree (p.113), and forests “build energy: if they remain untouched by man (p.222). It is only a short step from this to actual adulation of nature: “We’ll see trees and rivers and mountains as temples of great power to be held in reverence and awe,” (p.224). The environmental movement partly has roots in the New Age view of nature as pure and sacred (also a view of Neopaganism and contemporary witchcraft). This is not an issue of taking care of the earth or avoiding pollution; it goes deeper than that. Believing the earth is sacred is idolatry and is also pantheistic. It violates the scriptural teaching that God is separate from the earth and the earth is in a fallen state (Gen.1:1; 3:17-19; Rom. 8:19-22). Nature is not pure or holy and offers us as much danger as it does beauty.
The story builds as the narrator encounters each insight which leads him into a state where he is able to understand the next insight. The culmination is a realization that spiritual evolvement is moving one’s energy into a higher vibration. Matter is the densest form of energy and therefore less evolved. As one evolves and the energy vibrations accelerate, one becomes more free of the body and the material world.
This concept is introduced as the narrator describes a vision he has of the history of the universe in terms of scientific evolution. Energy somehow coalesced into matter which then “leaped” past simple forms into more complex forms (p.99) The narrator realizes that each emerging species represented matter “moving into its next higher vibration” until finally “at the pinnacle stood humankind,” (p.100). Humankind is at the pinnacle and yet it is nature that is holy. Man vibrates at a higher level but the universe is his body. If moving into a higher vibration is the goal, then should not we want the trees and rivers to progress to that point? Is nature capable of this, and if so, how would it be done? The book does not offer the reader any insight on this dilemma.
It is typical of New Age beliefs to ignore the hard questions because of their experiential, mystical basis.. The reader, along with the narrator, is told over and over to rely on feelings, hunches and experiences. Thinking, in fact, is considered a barrier to enlightenment because the mind gets in the way of spiritual progress. In Eastern religions such as Hinduism and forms of Buddhism, the mind is viewed as part of matter and the ego or self-identity and therefore part of the problem. Transcending the mind is essential to spiritual enlightenment in order for the seeker to free himself from the bondage of illusion or false identification with material reality. This is the purpose of Eastern meditation techniques; meditation has nothing to do with reducing stress or relaxation and everything to do with liberation from the barriers of rational thinking and individuality. As meditation expert Daniel Goleman says of Transcendental Meditation in his book The Meditative Mind, “In God consciousness the meditator surrenders his individuality,” (p.71) and of yoga practices, he states that the yoga student’s “mistaken belief in himself as a separate, unique individual apart from God will be overcome,” (p.72).
Since we are evolving into a higher vibrational state, according to the book, we will eventually one day reach a vibration so high that we will transcend matter. The Ninth Insight offers this teaching as a crowning revelation. The narrator is told that Christ walked on water because he was vibrating at a high frequency (p.241), and one day we will all be vibrating “highly enough so that we can walk into heaven, in our same form,” (p.242). Fear lowers the vibration, so the narrator is told man must conquer fear in order to maintain a high vibration level. While the narrator is taught this insight, one of the characters achieves this high vibratory level and disappears. Heaven actually already exists here on earth, but until we are spiritually advanced and are vibrating at the higher level, we cannot see it (p.243).
Early Gnostic thinking was that we are spirits trapped in matter. Matter was considered evil and the goal was to escape matter and return to the world of light and spirit. Similarly, Hinduism teaches that matter is illusion and our bondage to this world comes from identifying with it. Buddhism teaches that suffering is caused by desire; the cure is to cultivate detachment from desire, which in some forms of Buddhism, especially Zen, means detachment from the ego, the bodily senses, the emotions and the world.
These belief systems are dualistic, contrasting matter (bad) with spirit (good).
New Age thinking has adopted this dualistic philosophy, teaching that matter is a denser form of energy, or energy vibrating at a lower level, as explained in Redfield’s book. Therefore, almost anything not material and not rooted in the rational mind is good: intuition, dreams, meditation, transcending the body. Not only are these things good, but they are spiritual since they are viewed as an opposition to the material world of the five senses (eyes, ears, taste, smell and touch are part of the body). A good diet is important since the wrong food is denser and lowers the spiritual vibration or upsets the flow of life force in the body. Far from advocating health for health’s sake, the New Age promotes good health because it is connected to the New Age concept of good spirituality. Although the New Age is credited with a holistic view of health because of its emphasis on the connection of body with mind and spirit, it is actually anti-holistic since it tends to value the spiritual over the material and views the body only as a temporary form for the spirit and life force.
In contrast to dualism, passages in the Bible speak of our bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6: 19). Furthermore, those who are in Christ are told that our bodies will be resurrected one day as a spiritual body (I Corinthians 15: 42-49). This spiritual body does not mean a non-material or ghostly body, because our example is the resurrected body of Jesus. After He rose from the dead, Christ was touched by both Mary and Thomas, and He cooked fish on the beach and ate it with His disciples (John 21: 1-15).
Unlike the Gnostic, Eastern and New Age beliefs, Christianity does not dismiss the body as an illusion, a temporary shelter for a spirit or a dense vibrational form. The body, created by God, is precious and is part of who we are. Ironically, it is New Age thinking that devalues the body, not Christianity.
If you know someone who liked this book, ask that person these questions. What hope is offered in The Celestine Prophecy for humanity? To evolve into a higher vibrational invisible form? To have our individuality swallowed up in an impersonal cosmic identity? To be left behind if we do not catch on to esoteric doctrines? And what are we evolving towards?
Spiritual advancement implies a standard by which we are measured; otherwise, the idea of progress is meaningless. What is this standard and where does it come from? Who set the standard up; who is running the show? How do we know that what this book describes as spiritual evolvement is good? And how is good defined anyway? The silence of The Celestine Prophecy on these issues lingers on long after the book’s nine esoteric insights have been revealed.