On March 17, 2008, Oprah hosted her third webnar class with author Eckhart Tolle. Since her endorsement of Tolle’s book, A New Earth, about 3.5 million copies of his spiritual self-help guide have been sent out and more than 2 million people in 139 countries have now signed up for the World Wide Web seminar using a new technology called Skype. (Skype is a free software that allows you to make Internet and videophone calls from all over the world.)
After reading the first two (2) chapters of A New Earth, it is apparent that Tolle does not embrace any one religion over another but instead creates his own, new religion by blending many tenants of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Sufism, Christianity, and other faiths into one. According to a review in the Vancouver Sun by Douglas Todd, Tolle’s “spiritual outlook has become more complex since (his earlier book), The Power of Now, when he dismissed external reality as an illusion and made it sound as if “living in the now” was a panacea for all the world’s problems. In addition, Tolle believes outer realities – including politics, war, poverty, and even the climate – will magically be transformed when individuals change their inner consciousness. This may be true, but only to an extent.”
In essence, Tolle’s approach to his spiritual quest is basically to dumb down all faiths including, and in particular, Christianity. By reducing Christianity to a watered down version, Tolle supplies a Christianity that is more appealing to the masses. According to Chuck Norris in his article, Oprah’s New Easter, “Tolle only quotes relatively benign sayings of Jesus, avoiding the more difficult ones. For example, Tolle notes that Jesus taught that the kingdom of heaven is already present on earth and can be experienced right now, but Tolle overlooks Jesus’ teaching that one must be born again (by believing in Him as the Son of God and Savior) to see that kingdom in the future” (Norris 1). Additionally, Tolle makes no mention that Jesus was making reference to the kingdom of heaven that will take place on earth after Jesus’ pending return in which He will set up his new kingdom here on earth.
Needless to say, Tolle incorrectly interprets this passage on page 43 of his book when he writes, “‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,’ Jesus said, ‘for theirs will be the kingdom of heaven’. What does ‘poor in spirit’ mean? No inner baggage, no identifications. Not with things, not with any mental concepts that have a sense of self in them. And what is the ‘kingdom of heaven’? The simple profound joy of Being that is there when you let go of identifications and so become ‘poor in spirit'” (New).
As Norris noted, Tolle does indeed dumb down Matthew 5:3 by declaring the poor in spirit is here and now and all one needs to do is live in the present as well as do away with all your earthly possessions. While controlling our insatiable need for material possessions – as Americans – would most definitely be a worthy goal for each and every one of us, Tolle misinterpreted this scripture by taking it out of context. Whether intentional or not, he misconstrued what this passage is really about.
What Tolle leaves out of his dumbed-down version of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is that in this particular passage, the word poor is linked to in spirit. If Jesus had used the word poor by itself, than Eckhart’s interpretation would be valid. However, Jesus links poor to spirit to clarify His intention. “To be poor in spirit is to acknowledge honestly and with understanding our spiritual poverty – indeed our spiritual bankruptcy – before God” (bible 3).
Norris also states that we “need to rebel against low expectations of culture and choose to do hard things” (Norris, 1). In other words, instead of falling at the feet of the current guru and hearkening his dumbed-down version of ‘Christianity,” we need to take a stand and follow the road that is less traveled. Although a much harder road to travel, it is one that will ultimately lead us to the eternal One who has all the answers, not just for our own personal lives, but for the society we live in.
Ultimately it is our own personal decision to make. We can choose to accept the dumbed-down version of Christianity that is being espoused by the Tolle-Oprah church, or we can take the harder route and the less traveled road and follow Jesus Christ. In order to do so, however, we must accept all of Him, not the dumb-down version offered up in A New Earth.