Bad Religion

Dr. James Emery White | Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary | Monday, June 18, 2012

Bad Religion

Editors at Preaching Today recently highlighted Ross Douthat’s 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.

It was good to highlight.

According to Douthat, their “creed” shares the following 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, experience rather than dogma, a direct encounter rather than a hand-me-down revelation. As Neal 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 that 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 that all our beings rest within. Elizabeth Gilbert assures her readers, "There is no such thing in this universe as hell, except maybe in our own terrified minds."

4) Perfect happiness is available right now. Heaven is on earth. Eternity can be entered at any moment, by any person who understands how to let go, let God, and let themselves be washed away in love. James Redfield writes, "At some point everyone will vibrate highly enough so that we can walk into heaven, in our same form." And Coelho adds, "I do believe in life after death, but I also don't think that it's that important. What's important is to understand that we are also living this life after death now."

Why is this such an important summary?

It is not simply because it marks the conventional spiritual wisdom of our culture, but because it marks the conventional wisdom of our Christians.

And it is heresy.

So good for Preaching Today to highlight more than the usual fare of sappy illustrations and opening jokes for those who teach and preach.

Now if it will only get “preached.”

James Emery White



Ross Douthat, Bad Religion.

“The Core Beliefs of America’s ‘Spiritual but Not Religious’ Teachers, Preaching Today; read online.

For more on false but popular religion, see the message series by James Emery White titled “Celebrity Religion” at

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, N.C., and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is A Traveler's Guide to the Kingdom: Journeying through the Christian Life (InterVarsity Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log on to, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Bad Religion