Thursday, April 10, 2008

Thoughts on Truth

In A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle touches upon a notion that has always made sense to me--that one absolute Truth is the source behind all other fragments of truth as they reveal themselves through religions, art, music, dance, relationships and so forth. This is a Truth that transcends languages, cultures or ideologies. I've always felt, for example, that God can make himself known in more ways than we realize and that the more we seek to leverage doctrine to box God in, the more he pours out and evades us. Like Moses in the Old Testament, we only catch a glimpse of his back as he passes us by with terrible glory.

Many religious folks will cringe at Tolle's assertion that "the Truth is who you are." If you look for it elsewhere, the author writes, "you will be deceived every time." Jesus, Tolle further claims, attempted to convey this is in the famous statement from the Gospel of John, "I am the way, the truth, the life." Jesus, Tolle says here, speaks of "the innermost I Am, the essence identity of every man and woman, every life-form, in fact." He adds that "laws, commandments, rules and regulations are necessary for those who are cut off from who they are, the Truth within."

Start saying you are "I Am," and you'd better dodge the stones and have a thick skin for accusations of heresy. But I fail to see how what Tolle claims is that different, if you think in terms of metaphor rather than literal meaning, from us Christ followers when we speak of "Christ in you" or "the Christ within." Christian theology has long held that we must believe in a truth that will set us free. The Truth is an external thing, and only upon belief does it get inside of us. We are not God, we have to believe to get God "inside our hearts." It's all quite linear. Believe, then receive.

But what about this "radical" notion that we already are a part of the Truth, that the union with Christ that the Bible speaks of upon conversion and hence salvation is already at hand--and that the crucifixion, resurrection and subsequent ascension of Christ is metaphorical of every person, every life form that is inextricably connected to the same source as Christ, the same Truth?

Tolle would contend that the disconnect we perceive or feel is illusory, a construct of the mind, a lack of awareness or blatant unconsciousness. Consciousness he equates with Being, Being with Truth--basically, God. The Scriptures as commonly exegeted imply more of a physical and spiritual separation, that we must seek something outside of us in order to get something back inside of us that we literally lost as a human race long ago.

When you begin to look at these same verses metaphorically, as Tolle, Joseph Campbell and others have done, the meaning seems to not move against a vibrant faith in God but deepens it. There's a more palpable sense of awe and mystery; it's not all so formulated, like, "do this, pray this, believe this, go through this ritual, and you're in. Now, get back to work."

I wonder why Christian people feel so threatened when traditional notions of sin, heaven, hell and the like are called into question, when law and doctrine are seen as less essential or necessary than have been preached for millions upon millions of Sunday morning hours. Often it seems we love our dogma more than Christ himself. Certainly more than we love others at times, and not too seldom more than we love ourselves. I wonder why we are so afraid of the idea that we might not just be able to become united with Christ, but that we might already share the same Essence, the same Being, and that he is not just our Lord and Savior but our archetype.

I was chatting with a Christian woman at work the other day, and I mentioned A New Earth. She recalled another colleague recommending the book, and then unfortunately fell into the predictable cliched response of, "Hey, isn't that New Age or something?" After I teasingly asked her to tell me what she meant by "New Age" (she couldn't, and we often cannot define many of the divisive buzzwords we carelessly toss around like beach balls in the ocean breeze), I briefly started to summarize the book. I said something about the Truth being found in many different expressions, art forms, religions, etc., and she literally started plugging her ears. "No," she said, "I only believe in the Bible! I want to make sure I go to heaven!" I laughed, and she laughed--but she was dead serious. I could see the fear on her face.

The dogma certainly triumphs over the joy when push comes to shove, and my friend--like many believers--personifies Tolle's observation that we miss the peace of the present moment because we are working so hard to get somewhere else. Like heaven. Wherever, whenever, however that is. We can toil toward misery to make sure we don't mess up. Ain't that the truth?


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