Bad Religion

In Ross Douthat's book Bad Religion, the New York Times columnist offers a synopsis of the core beliefs of America's wave of "spiritual but not religious" teachers such as Deepak Chopra, James Redfield, Eckhart Tolle, Paulo Coelho, Neale Donald Walsch, Oprah Winfrey and Elizabeth Gilbert. According to Douthat, their "creed" shares four beliefs:

1. All organized religions offer only partial glimpses of God (or Light or Being). Thus, we must seek to experience God through feeling rather than reason, through experience rather than dogma, through a direct encounter rather than a hand-me-down revelation. As Neale Donald Walsch writes in his book Conversations with God: "Listen to your feelings. Listen to your Highest Thought…. Whenever any of these differ from what you've been told by your teachers, or read in your books, forget the words."

2. God is everywhere and within everything—especially within you. You can encounter God by getting in touch with the divinity who resides inside your very self and soul. At the climax of his book The Alchemist, Paul Coelho writes: "The boy reached through the Soul of the World and saw that it was a part of the Soul of God. And he saw that the Soul of God was his own soul."

3. Sin and evil are largely illusions that will ultimately be reconciled rather than defeated. There is no hell save the one we make for ourselves on earth—no final separation from the Being within whom all our beings rest. Elizabeth Gilbert assures her readers, "There is no such thing in this universe as hell, except maybe in our own terrified minds."

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