Eckhart Tolle on Religion
Perhaps you’ve seen this book in your local bookstore, a #1 New York Times bestseller that was recently added to the Oprah Book Club. Oprah has taken quite a liking to Tolle’s A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. She comments: “I keep this book at my bedside. I think it’s essential spiritual teaching. It’s one of the most valuable books I’ve ever read.” Given the popularity of the book, I decided to crack its cover.
Tolle states his purpose in writing up front: “This book’s main purpose is not to add new information or belief to your mind or to try to convince of anything, but to bring about a shift in consciousness, that is to say, to awaken” (6). I find this statement ironic. If Tolle does not want to convince us of anything, then why did he write the book? Statements like this reoccur throughout the book in an effort to distance his teaching from religion. Regarding religion he writes: “Religions, to a large extent, become divisive…They became ideologies, belief systems people could identify with and so use them to enhance their false sense of self.” (15). Though many of Tolle’s assertions are both inaccurate and misguided, his comments regarding religion are often spot on. Religion identifies an in group and an out group based on common adherence to a doctrine, to a belief system. But not only that, adherence to the doctrine becomes the highest expression of that faith. The purest form of the “religion” becomes its doctrine, not its practice. The most spiritual believer then becomes, not the loving, compassionate, kind follower, but the rigid doctrinalist. In the case of Christianity, this is where the judgmental, fundamentalist Christian comes in. His identity is so wrapped up with doctrine that they fail in following and imitating Christ. Alternatively, religious people may gather, not doctrine, but good deeds around themselves for a sense of identity. By performing countless good works (kindness, generosity, prayers, churchgoing, adopting foster children, serving the poor), they begin to think more highly of themselves because they are doing good deeds. They content themselves with doing good to correct their inherent bad. Do gooders become so wrapped up in doing good that they no longer need a Savior. Why? Because their savior is their goodness. This too is religion. Religion by doctrine or by deeds. Tolle comments: “You do not become good by trying to be good…” However, his solution to “becoming good” is also shaky–a new consciousness, an awakening to realize the dysfunctionality of our ego in order to become one with the Being/Consciousness of the universe.
Over the next three weeks I will be addressing some of the themes in Tolle’s A New Earth, which are being podcasted, if you are interested.