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Tolle's 'New 'Earth' pains the body

  • March 7, 2008

{mosimage}A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle (Plume, 315 pages, $15.50).

A New Earth has attracted notoriety thanks to the patronage of TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey. It is a profoundly non-Christian book that exploits the Holy Name of Jesus to bamboozle Oprah’s mostly Christian audience.

This is a book for people who buy books because a talk show host tells them to. It is written at a basic, conversational level with a lot of jargon thrown in. It invokes names and concepts of which most Americans and Canadians will have heard at a pop culture level. It also appeals to the prejudices of the unchurched and those who did not have, or were dissatisfied with, a university education. It serves up New Age, syncretic spiritual pap that equates Jesus with Buddha and the human person with God. It demonizes the intellect, dismisses “religious people” and repeats the blood libel that the Inquisition burned between three million and five million women as witches. The most common thought I had while reading this egregious volume was, “When will this chapter be over?”

{sa 0452289963} To sum up the philosophy of Eckhart Tolle, most human beings confuse their minds with themselves. The mind, that part of us that thinks (or, in Tollish, creates “thought-forms”) is the villainous ego. The ego is a structure, and in Tolle’s world all structures are unstable. Form (which Tolle identifies with matter) is secondary to formlessness. Our true selves are the formless Consciousness, which is Being, which is God. We are all One, and we are thus all God. Our purpose in life is to make consciousness aware of itself and this will usher in the New Age — that is, the New Earth — and that will be simply groovy. Thus we are to be aware of, and disavow, our too-busy thinking minds and just Be. If we do that, we also run a good chance of diminishing our heavy “pain-bodies.”

What is a “pain-body”? It is “an accumulation of old emotional pain” that “almost everyone carries in his or her energy field.” It is “a semi-autonomous energy-form that lives within most human beings, an entity made up of emotion. It has its own primitive intelligence, not unlike a cunning animal, and its intelligence is directed primarily at survival. Like all life-forms, it needs to feed — to take in new energy — and the food it requires to replenish itself consists of energy that is compatible with its own, which is to say, energy that vibrates at a similar frequency.”

Did you get all that? As I read the chapter on “The Pain-Body” I was reminded of nothing so much as the soul-sucking Dementors in the Harry Potter books. Tolle counsels parents not to tell their toddlers that their inexplicable tantrums are caused by hungry pain-bodies, which is a blessing, for the wee kiddies might be terrified.

The worst part of A New Earth was coming across yet another misinterpretation of the teachings of Christ. Possibly the one that most offends is Tolle’s complete misunderstanding of Jesus’ declaration of the I Am. When Jesus said “I am,” He was revealing His total identification with God, who had told Moses, “I am I Am” (John 8:58, Exodus 3:13-15). However, Tolle twists Jesus’ words to mean something completely different:

“The Truth is inseparable from who you are. Yes, you are the Truth. If you look for it elsewhere you will be deceived every time. The very Being that you are is Truth. Jesus tried to convey that when He said, ‛I am the way and the truth and the life.’ These words uttered by Jesus are one of the most powerful and direct pointers to the Truth, if understood correctly. If misinterpreted, however, they become a great obstacle. Jesus speaks of the innermost I AM, the essence identity of every man and woman, every life form in fact. He speaks of the life that you are.”

Nonsense. And the book’s frequent repetitions of I Am to mean “our true selves” made me grind my teeth.

The most entertaining parts of A New Earth are the passages which might have been written to flatter Oprah herself. To save time, flip right to pages 107, 231 and 305 and have a good laugh. Meanwhile, the book has some interesting, if not entirely original, insights on television, living in the moment and detachment. Sadly, such common sense is besmirched by Tolle’s uncommon nonsense.

A thorough perusal of my now much pencilled copy of A New Earth has convinced me that the book was written for badly catechized women and Oprah herself. I recommend it solely to priests and counsellors who have been recently confused by parishioners and clients wittering on about “pain bodies” and “vibrational frequencies.” Those who are interested in intentional consciousness and detachment from the distractions of the world would be better off reading the simpler essays of Bernard Lonergan, S.J., and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

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