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
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
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
(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
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
(1) "transcendence" through Christ to contact with the uncreated God,
(2) "subscendence" through mystical self-awareness to contact with the
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.
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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