Flying back to Greenville, I sat next to someone I would describe as both fascinating and terribly confused.
We chatted briefly; most of the time was taken up with her offering her take on all things “spiritual.” She explained that she had a master’s degree in comparative religions, was an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church, was a practicing Buddhist, and although retired she still was performing weddings for any and all who were interested (some four hundred, by her count). She did “ceremonies” for Christians, Native Americans, Buddhists, and “whatever their spirituality.”
In hopes of a possibly fruitful conversations, I asked her what she found most helpful in her personal approach to “spirituality.” Although she insisted she didn’t like to talk about such things because she wanted to be tolerant and accepting of all varieties of spirituality, she elaborated.
All religions that insist on looking outside of oneself to find a god are nothing more than idolatry. She only has to look inside herself to find “the deity”— for her the deity is not personal but “everything that is.” It is the “divine spark” within. All people are part of this “one.” To speak of any kind of distinction, or to think that one religion is fundamentally different (or better) than another is, to her way of thinking, divisive and wicked. Such views are to be rejected.
When I asked her if she saw some end point of human history, she said “love and harmony will ultimately win.” When I asked why, she explained: “That is what the deity is.” But then she bemoaned the state of the world and of humankind in general, saying she never could have imagined the world in as bad a state as it currently was and all she could do was hope that “karmic lessons” would be learned.
Our conversation ended too soon. But I did pray for her as she left. She seemed to me to embody much of the spirit of this age: Truth is what I find within myself. Any appeal to an authority (spiritual or otherwise) outside myself is idolatrous, unhealthy, and divisive.
For someone who insisted that the essence of spirituality is a kind of universal tolerance (understood as the full equivalence of all views rather than merely a gracious benevolence toward differences of opinions) she was quite intolerant of those who didn’t agree with her view that “god is what I find within myself” and insisted that those who looked to a “being” outside oneself were idolatrous and evil. For someone who argued that the “divine spark” was within everyone and was drawing all people into a kind of feel-good, everyone just get along, love-in, she was expressed great discouragement at the state of life on planet earth.
I had hoped the conversation would turn in a way that I could speak to her of the “unknown God” that she was overlooking (like Paul did in Acts 17 when on Mars Hill).
I left our conversation feeling sad for the woman. When spirituality without discernment and morality without a standard for truth outside of oneself becomes the norm, it becomes easy to get trapped in a self-made delusion. This is the age-old lie—that we can be God for ourselves without any need to turn to meet (and worship) the only true God.