Mysticism in America

"The main fight, make no mistake," said theologian Nels Ferre in

1961, "is between the Christian faith in its inner, classical meaning

and the new Orientalized versions whether they come via Neo-platonism

or in modern forms ... The supernatural, personalistic, classical

Christian faith is now being undermined by an ultimately non-

dualistic, impersonal or transpersonal faith. The winds are blowing

gale-strong out of the Orient."

Prof. Ferre's meteorological metaphor may have seemed an

overstatement in 1961, but today we see its accuracy. Indeed, one of

the startling things that has happened in recent history is the

penetration of Western society by mysticism and occult philosophy, and

the various forms of Eastern meditation which are frequently

associated with them. In ten years, the counter-cultural daydream of

a society unified around the experience of the "divine within" has

begun to take on an uncomfortably concrete reality. It is no longer

possible to dismiss interest in the philosophy of eastern religions as

a kind of fringe fanaticism which is beneath the concern of the

Christian community.

Part of our underestimation of this trend stems from the fact

that the American adherents of eastern cults are often so visible and

distinctive that we tend to judge their significance in terms of their

limited numbers; we fail to see that their existence is merely

symptomatic of a much larger cultural shift. Thus we minimize the

impact that this imported world-view has had upon our contemporaries'

thinking. These mystical doctrines have influenced areas far removed

from the sometimes bizarre world of the counter culture. In fact, an

underlying theme runs through contemporary developments in science,

business and finance, politics, economics, the arts, psychology and

religion: the same basic ideas about man, meaning and God which are

traditionally associated with the ancient oriental religions are

showing up as root premises of most of the important trends in today's

western society.

These ideas are rooted in a common set of presuppositions (i.e.,

faith premises) about the nature of ultimate reality and ultimate

values. In the past these presuppositions have been systematically

expounded in such "esoteric" disciplines as yoga, magic, alchemy,

astrology, kabbalah, Taoism, tantra and Zen. Today, because of the

widespread cross-fertilization of these and other schools of thought,

meaningful labels are more difficult to apply. Whether we refer to

these presuppositions as mysticism, Vedanta, occult philosophy,

pantheism or monism is more a matter of emphasis than of semantic

precision. Nevertheless, the proud delusion of modern philosophizing,

whether scientific or spiritual, may be described as a kind of "cosmic

humanism." It is fundamentally identical with the so-called "hidden

wisdom" of classical occultism and is characteristically linked with

such religious practices of the east as yoga and meditation. This

underlying theme is being promoted in way that subtly conditions

people at every level of culture to accept a definition of reality

which ultimately denies the personal God of the Bible, asserts the

autonomy, power and inherent divinity of man, and condemns as obsolete

any absolute statement of moral values.

C.S. Lewis also understood this issue as a conflict of

fundamentally incompatible faiths. At the same time, he grasped the

significance of this clash by seeing it in the perspective of history:

"Pantheism is congenial to our minds not because it is the final stage

in a slow process of enlightenment, but because it is almost as old as

we are. It may even be the most primitive of all religions ... It is

immemorial in India. The Greeks rose above it only at their peak ...

their successors relapsed into the great Pantheistic system of the

Stoics. Modern Europe escaped it only while she remained

predominantly Christian; with Giordano Bruno and Spinoza it returned.

With Hegel it became almost the agreed philosophy of highly educated

people ... So, far from being the final religious refinement,

Pantheism is in fact the permanent natural bent of the human mind; the

permanent ordinary level below which man sometimes sinks, but above

which his own unaided efforts can never raise him for very long. It

is the attitude into which the human mind automatically falls when

left to itself. No wonder we find it congenial. If "religion" means

simply what man says about God, and not what God does about man, then

Pantheism almost is religion. And religion in that sense has, in the

long run, only one really formidable opponent - namely Christianity."

In the meantime, the spiritual anemia of the west has left this

generation ravenous for reality, and therefore vulnerable to any

spiritual counterfeit offered in the name of Truth. As born-again

disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, we will soon come face-to-face

with seemingly irrefutable evidence of our own irrelevance. Obviously

this development opens up new vistas of Christian apologetics that

have barely been touched heretofore. Christians need to be diligent

in seeking an informed understanding of what is going on, of where it

comes from, what its direction is and what it means within the context

of the spiritual warfare to which we are called.

The traditional systems of occult philosophy and their newer

variants are all patterned after the archetypal lie of Genesis 3.

They are not primarily intellectual constructions, but flow in the

first instance from a common experience - the experience of "cosmic

totality." This powerful but partial (and therefore ultimately false)

experience, like the serpent's primordial deception, is single in its

nature. The mystical systems that seek to interpret this experience

can nevertheless be analyzed for purposes of intellectual convenience

into a number of mutually related categories of thought. The four

most important of these may be stated as follows:

(1) "All is One."

This declaration is not a theoretical proposition, but a succinct

description of the experience encountered in a state of altered

consciousness. Such altered states of consciousness may occur

spontaneously, but they are more usually produced through the

systematic practice of some technique of meditation. The effect of

this kind of experience is to dissolve all distinctions (especially

the distinction between the perceiver and the objects of his

perception) into a single, undifferentiated unity. The interpretation

of this experience leads directly to the first presupposition of

monistic philosophy: that there is only one Reality in existence.

From this it follows, both logically and experientially, that all

apparent separations and oppositions (including the opposition of good

and evil) are unreal or are secondary manifestation of the single

divine Reality. Likewise, all "objects" and "individuals" are merely

partial glimpses of the all-inclusive One. This ultimate Reality is

often identified with "pure consciousness," in the sense of unlimited

and unconditioned awareness. In Hindu terms, it is Sat-Chit-Ananda,

that is, "Being-Awareness-Bliss," or "the ecstasy of consciousness

aware of itself."

This point of view can be illustrated in an instance of advanced

scientific speculation by the case of Erwin Schrodinger, Nobel Prize-

winning physicist. His world-view, derived, he says, from Vedanta, is

that there is only a single consciousness, of which all things are but

different aspects: "The external world and consciousness are one and

the same thing, in so far as both are constituted by the same

primitive elements."

(2) "Man is a Divine being (the Divine within)."

This assumption is inevitable on the basis of the experience

described above. If there is only a single Reality in existence, then

we are obviously parts or emanations of it. Our own "consciousness"

provides the specific connecting link. In experiencing it we

experience our oneness with the divine and the essential divinity of

our innermost nature. All forms of occult philosophy are united

around the central belief that the inner or "real" Self of man is God.

This is the fundamental form of the fundamental falsehood, the basic

statement of The Lie: "Man is God!"

(3) "The purpose and fulfillment of life is to become aware of our

divine nature."

However the "divinity" of man may be defined by a particular

cult, the "way" is always the way of gnosis: the attainment of

experiential "knowledge" through a flash of metaphysical insight.

"Salvation" is equated with the discovery of this higher Reality and

its laws. The usual occult terminology refers to "enlightenment,"

illumination," "at-one-ment," "union" or "Self- realization." All

propagandists of mystical occultism regard their philosophies as

scientific as well as (or rather than) religious. They seek to be

united with the divine principle or law through their understanding

and use of spiritual and psychic techniques. Such attempts seem

feasible because God experienced as "the law of man's own being" is

completely immanent and therefore readily accessible. As a further

result of this approach, such movements look to the personal,

subjective and experiential as the source and certification of meaning

within the context of their system - not only apart from, but in

opposition to any reliance on faith or the authority of revelation.

(4) "Self-realization leads to the mastery of spiritual technology and

the attainment of psycho-spiritual power."

As an initiate advances upon the path of gnosis, he becomes

increasingly familiar with the divine "One" and its relationship to

the secondary levels of its manifestation (which we think of as the

realm of "creation"). Thus he, as man-God, becomes master and creator

of his own reality. Through his knowledge and utilization of

spiritual laws, he becomes capable of creating and manipulating the

conditions of his own further development or that of others. (If he

assumes this role in relation to other individuals, he becomes in

effect a "guru" or spiritual master.) Inasmuch as reality is composed

of consciousness, man learns to control reality by controlling


As we participate in the divine by virtue of our possession of

consciousness, we automatically take part in the process by which the

world of sense-objects is brought into (illusory) being. As the

"enlightened" or "realized" individual learns to alter his

consciousness at will, he thereby learns to alter the structure of

creation; "matter" itself can be created or de-created by him with the

facility of a divine conjurer. It is here that mysticism merges into

magic (and vice-versa). From Yahweh's own attribution of unlimited

power to those who sought to ascend to heaven, we can see that the

Tower of Babel was essentially an occult enterprise: "This they have

begun to do, and now nothing that they have imagined will be

impossible to them." (Gen. 11:6).

These four elements of "doctrine" are the earmarks of occult

philosophy. Though they may be articulated in varying ways, all four

are basic to the teaching of most of the eastern cults now active in

the west - from the self-professedly innocent and "non-religious"

transcendental Meditation of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, to the more

obvious blasphemies of Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. If we

understand that they are explanations of an experience, and that the

experience itself provides the underlying dynamic of mysticism, we can

see that these four elements are also present, though masked, in

diverse forms of yoga, meditation and martial arts disciplines. Taken

together, and discerned in terms of the experience which they

rationalize, they provide us with a yardstick by which to evaluate

groups and teachings that may be otherwise unfamiliar to us. If a

cult or belief manifests even one of them in obvious form, you may be

certain that the thrust of its teaching runs counter to authentic


However, while faith may be fulfilled in the identification and

rejection of the false, apologetics has a more extensive aim. As

active participants in our Lord's battle against "principalities and

powers," we should try to understand the monistic experience both

positively and negatively; that is, we should know it for what it is,

as well as for what it is not.

The most prominent fact about this experience of "cosmic oneness"

is its universality. The philosophies and belief-systems that spring

from it seem to be the dominant religious expression of humanity apart

from Christ. Monism is an ancient, natural and seemingly inevitable

response to the human condition, as C.S. Lewis points out. This is an

important clue. Natural man's universal bondage to the curse of death

is revealed in the solidarity of the human condition itself, which

results from death. As the writer of Ecclesiastes perceived, human

beings find their truest common bond in the grave to which all


Just as death is - humanly speaking - a final and total

separation, so the awareness of that end shatters our attempt to find

some sense or value in the pattern of life here and now. As that

final entropy creeps backward into our every experience, it brings

with it a conviction of brokenness, anxiety and alienation that

penetrates to the heart of our being. All "religion" ultimately is an

attempt to come to terms with the pervasive and insidious

fragmentation of our lives that is introduced by the prospective

certainty of death. Humanity cannot, therefore, escape a "religious"

response to its condition because individual humans can never escape

the fact that they must die. This religious response is,

specifically, a groping for some ground of unity that will enable us

to grasp an unknown harmony beyond the brittle disintegration of

meaning that fractures all our hopes and pleasures.

But the available grounds of unity are strictly limited. Those

who seek unification of a broken reality must find it either above the

ordinary level of our splintered existence, or below it - either in

the living, personal God who speaks the cosmos into existence, or in

some impersonal substrate of "being" which underlies even the

primordial duality of matter and energy, a substrate which is within

the cosmos and constitutes its invisible foundation. That such a

created substrate does exist seems a reasonable inference from the

account of Genesis 1:1-10, in which the Lord reveals that the initial

stage of cosmic formation was a state which possessed true created

existence, but was "formless and void," that is, "without determinate

structure." It was only later that this unitary state of "bare"

existence passed through the primordial duality (the separation of

light from darkness, v.4) and beyond, into the increasingly elaborate

dualizations (e.g., the separation of firmaments, the separation of

land from water, etc.; vv.6-27) by means of which God built up the

complex forms of material creation.

It is is true that human "consciousness" is itself an instrument

of perception which is capable of making contact with the subtle and

unstructured basis of its own created existence (and there seems no

Biblical reason for denying it), we can see that this latent and

inherently accessible possibility offers a form of unification that is

naturally appealing to fallen man. Occult mystical experience

encounters this lowest-common-denominator of creation, calls it "God,"

and merges with it to the dissolution of identity and individuality.

In Romans 1:25, the apostle Paul tells us that the essence of

false religion is "the worship of the creature..." In its wider

meaning, the word translated "creature" extends to the whole realm of

"creation" and hints at the profound implications of Paul's thought.

Such "worship" of the creation, however, is false not only to God, but

to its ostensible object as well. Mystical enlightenment represents a

radical implosion of consciousness which in effect reverses the flow

of God's creative process by disassembling the complexities of the

created order and seeking an unstructured root of impersonal


Thus the religious desire for unity is faced with two options for

its fulfillment:

(1) "transcendence" through Christ to contact with the uncreated God,


(2) "subscendence" through mystical self-awareness to contact with the

created void.

The Bible warns us, however, that we can realistically expect the

bulk of humanity to reject the first option in favor of one that

panders to the pride and perversity of its fallen nature. We know

that man in his natural state not only is apart from God, but actively

repudiates Him. Those who follow this tendency are thereby shut up to

the only remaining possibility.

To speak of God and His creation is to exhaust the scope of the

real. There is nothing else. Everything that exists is either God

Himself or is created by Him. In this we can see the inevitability of

the present proliferation of mystical religions and occult

philosophies. Those who refuse to find the unification of their

fragmented lives in God must seek it within the realm of creation.

Since the creation itself is fallen (Romans 8:19-23), the conclusion

of the matter is that mysticism declares the way by which one embraces

the fulfillment of the curse here and now.

This is why Jesus can speak of only two roads: the narrow way

which leads to life, and the broad way which leads to death. Just as

there is only one Truth, there is really only one Lie, though it may

take many forms. Although the broad road has many "lanes," they all

lead to the same place in the end.

Brooks Alexander

Spiritual Counterfeits Project


ESOTERIC: Derived from a Greek root signifying inner or within;

anything that is withheld or veiled from the public at large and

revealed only to an inner circleof initiates; commonly applied to the

techniques and experiences of mystical enlightenment as well as the

ideas of mystical philosophy.

KABBALAH: A distinctively Jewish form of occultism, developed by

certain rabbis especially during the Middle Ages; it is based in part

on a mystical and esoteric interpretation of the Old Testament.

MONISM: The philosophical doctrine that there is only one ultimate

reality in existence, and that all things are parts of or are composed

of this reality.

OCCULT, OCCULTISM: While most westerners are accustomed to think of

the occult as equivalent to Satanism, black magic, astrology and

fortune-telling, the word in its true sense simply means "hidden" or

"concealed." Thus it is closely related to esoteric (above).

Occultism in all its forms consists of secret techniques of

consciousness-alteration, coupled with secret doctrines which explain

the inner meaning of the experiences thereby attained. An occultist

has declared that "occultism may be defined as the use of the hidden

powers in man to discover the hidden life in the world."

TANTRA: A series of Hindu and Buddhist scriptures which are concerned

with special yogic practices for swiftly attaining enlightenment;

also, the practices and techniques taught by those books; also, the

philosophical tradition based on those teachings.

TAOISM: A Chinese religion and philosophy based on the "Book of Tao",

ascribed to Lao-Tzu (600 B.C.); basically monistic in character, it

emphasizes that the "One" is ineffable and undefinable. The "I

Ching," a Chinese book of divination, is associated with Taoism.

VENDANTA: A monistic philosophy based in part on the "Vedas", which

are ancient Hindu scriptures; the literal meaning of Vedanta is "the

end of the Vedas," that is, their ultimate import of meaning.

YOGA: Literally, "yoking" or "union"; any systemized technique or

form of spiritual practice by which the practitioner (or yogi) seeks

to condition himself at all levels - physical, psychic and spiritual

- in ways that will facilitate the experience of conscious union with

the divine principle.

Computers for Christ - Chicago

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