The Vapidity of Pop Spirituality

My Audible.com subscription offers free audio for “finding bliss” every day. Out of curiosity—and not in hope of edification—I began to listen as I exercised at the recreation center. This bliss-promising offering ill fit with my audio books by Os Guinness, C. S. Lewis, Timothy Keller, Francis Schaeffer, and their edifying kin. My interest didn’t last more than about two minutes (my crap detector was ringing too loudly in my ears to go on), but during that time a sense of spiritual disgust came over me. Oh, the vapidity and vacuity of the pop spirituality of bliss, yoga, self-esteem, mindfulness, and the rest!

To truly live in, and through. and by the Spirit, to be spiritual, comes only through faith in, submission to, and friendship with the triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who has mercifully come to us in the flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus warned of false Christs and counterfeit gospels, as did his Apostles (Matthew 7:15; Colossians 2:8; 2 Peter 3:16; 1 John 4:1-6). Christ confronted the twisted, but pious, religiosity of both the Scribes and Pharisees with the gospel of repentance from dead works and faith in himself as the source of eternal life (Matthew 4:17; John 3:16-17). But what is pop spirituality?

I have studied New Age spirituality for many years. When I began research just after my conversion in 1976, the worldviews and spirituality of Hinduism, Buddhism, and occultism were beginning to flower like a poisonous plant. Yoga was viewed as a bit exoteric and exotic. Buddhist mindfulness were not mainstream. But even then, when these Eastern philosophies hit American soil, they tended to be diluted by American values and ideals—especially our optimism and boosterism. Today, we are sold a pop spirituality that fails to rise or fall to the level of any one religion, but which combines religious ideas with American sensibilities to form something nearly insufferable. Let me explain.

Second, pop spirituality is simplistic and deceptive. Real peace, it claims, can be found merely by practicing yoga, visualizing what you want, or cultivating a new, positive self-image. The program I heard told the listener to say, “I am grounded. I am grounded.” But you may not be grounded in the good, the true, or the beautiful. You may be about to run aground into one of the many unpleasant realities out there. You might intone “I am grounded” over and over and not realize that your children are strangers to you, your wife is having an affair, and the IRS is about to ambush you. Worse yet, you can feel at peace but not be at peace with your neighbor or with your Creator. That is no small matter.

You might intone “I am grounded” over and over and not realize that your children are strangers to you, your wife is having an affair, and the IRS is about to ambush you.

Third, pop spirituality can be dangerous when it plays with spiritual practices not grounded and sanctioned by the one, true God. Any so-called meditative practice that shifts your mind into intellectual neutral provides an opening to deception and even spiritual bondage. It is one thing to de-stress a bit through getting relaxed and not worrying about life. Jesus told us to ponder the birds and the flowers, remembering that if God cares for them, he will care all the more for us (Matthew 6:25-34). It is something else entirely to “let go of your thoughts” and enter a state without judgment or evaluation.

The mind is as much a battleground as it is anything else. Since “the heart” includes the mind, consider this wisdom: Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it (Proverbs 4:23; see also Philippians 4:8). We guard our hearts through treasuring the truth and resting in the God of all truth, not by emptying our minds or letting it run free. The enemy of our souls is all too eager to find a mind idling in neutral and to shift it into reverse and over a cliff (John 8:44). Surely, we can do better. It is the truth of Jesus that sets us free (John 8:31-32). We do not find freedom by floating on the dangerous sea of consciousness without Jesus as the anchor of our souls (Hebrews 6:19).

Pop spirituality must give way to cross spirituality, the way of Jesus himself.

Pop spirituality must give way to cross spirituality, the way of Jesus himself. He is too wise to assume that we are fine the way we are and that he merely provides a means to our own autonomous ends. No, he calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and to follow him (Luke 9:23-26). And while the gospel is simple, it is not simplistic or one-dimension, unlike pop spirituality. You can never get to the bottom of God, Creator, Designer, Redeemer, Judge. The Christian life is a deep voyage into meaning, truth, and life. In self-denial, there is self-liberation. In truth, there is love. Even in suffering, there is meaning. Abandon vapidity, all you who enter here!

 

 

 

 

 

Buddhism, Nondualism, and Christianity: Preliminary Thoughts on Love and Ontology

There are many worldviews on offer, but all cannot be true, given logic and experience. One test for any worldview is whether or not it makes room for and supports the reality of persons and of love. Theravada Buddhism and nondualistic Hinduism seem to fail this test, while Christianity passes it.

Theravada Buddhist ontology (that of original Buddhism) teaches that there are no substances, only attributes that arise and pass away ceaselessly. This makes personhood (with its enduring self: a continuant) impossible. If personhood is impossible on this ontology, so then is love, since love requires a lover a loving and a loved (a triadic arrangement by necessity).

On the other hand, nondualistic ontology (that of Advaita Vedanta Hinduism and Zen Buddhism) affirms that there is a substance (Brahman), but that this substance has no qualities or attributes: Nirguna Brahman. So, there is purportedly a Universal Self, but lacking any determinable nature, since there are no qualities. (Keith Yandell rightly argues that the idea is incoherent; if something exists it must have at least some qualities or features of its existence.) But a substance with no qualities cannot allow for persons either, since there is but one substance (no pluralisty; all is one) and that substance cannot be considered personal. If it were personal, it would have the qualities of personality. If nondualism disallows persons, it excludes love as well.

Thus, both Buddhism and nondualism evacuate reality of persons and love, each in its own way: attributes without substance (Buddhism: all is many) or substance without attributes (nondualism: all is one).

Christianity asserts that God is one substance in three persons (one and many). God possesses both essence and attributes. God is personal, even tri-personal (without being tri-theistic). Love, therefore, has an ontological rootage and explanation. “God so loved the world…” (John 3:16).

Therefore:

  1. If love is real and valuable, a worldview should be able to explain or account for it and not eliminate it. This is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for the truth of a worldview.
  1. Neither original Buddhism nor nondualism can fulfill (1)
  1. Therefore, both original Buddhism and nondualism are false.
  1. Christianity, however, can account for the reality of love, based on the very character of God as love.
  1. Therefore, Christianity fulfills (1) and passes a necessary test for the truth of a worldview.