(Bear with me, I’ve taken the long way around to saying, “Yeah, that guy has a point.” I had to keep going back to your comment, because I kept thinking that he was saying that the Pray section of her book was about Christianity, and that he was referring to Christian beliefs. I had to keep reminding myself that’s not at all what your comment said. I don’t know why I had such a hard time letting go of those ideas. So anyway, a lot of this is just me working through that, but I left it in here anyway.)
I haven’t read either of those books, nor have I seen the movie. This afternoon, I researched Eat, Love, Pray, and from what I read, her journey was not at all about Christianity. She talked about God, but she prayed to “the universe”, at least in the beginning. In the Pray section of her book, she said she wanted to know God, but what she seemed to be working on was herself – her feelings regarding the divorce, her continuing obsession with the ex-boyfriend, her emotional state (“I only know that I have been driven to find inner peace…”) . Of course, this is just what I got from the excerpts I read. But I also read quite a few reviews that talked about the fact that her journey was about finding and accepting self.
(She did say she believes in God, but she also believes that you can reach Him through any available religious channels. Which is, of course, the exact opposite of what Christianity teaches.)
What first came to mind (again, not having read his book) was that he is referring to what seems to be an increasing confusion between spirituality and Christianity. I have witnessed many examples of this, where people believe that if you’re a “basically good” person, then you’ll be saved (go to Heaven), no matter what your religious beliefs may be or even if you don’t have any particular religious beliefs. I think that’s basically what she was expressing in that section of her book.(1)
For Christians, this confusion between spirituality and Christianity manifests itself as a reliance on a kind of blanket idea of what it means to be Christian. Many Christians are saved, and then take no further steps to nurture that relationship. (Which is what I did for years and years and years.) And so those people have general ideas of what Christianity means and what the Bible says and ideas about the teachings of their religion that are based on nothing concrete. Their notions about Christianity are based on what they “feel” must be true, on “what makes sense”. They are spiritual (2), in that they are basically good, and they feel a connection with the universe through God.
But that’s kind of dangerous. It’s like proclaiming you’re a physician, but then taking all of your understanding of that discipline from tv shows. You are a danger to yourself and to any others you try to help. Because you really don’t know what you’re talking about.
I’m not familiar with The God Within theology, but I imagine it is exactly what Elizabeth Gilbert was about. I read (somewhere today) that the beliefs behind what she was studying are based on God/Human equality, that they are as important as each other. So, in that sense – and based on all that I read today – her book was a great example for his book.
According to Gilbert, the Yogis “say that human discontentment is a simple case of mistaken identity. We’re miserable because we think that we are mere individuals alone with our fears and flaws and resentments and mortality.” As far as Christianity is concerned, this is right on target – we think we’re alone, but we’re not; there is a greater power and He loves us. The case of mistaken identity would refer to the fact that we don’t realize that we are children of God.
But she continues, “We wrongly believe that our limited little egos constitute our whole entire nature. We have failed to recognize our deeper divine character. We don’t realize that, somewhere within us all, there does exist a supreme Self who is eternally at peace.” And so there is a disconnect with Christianity there, in that the nature of Self is what we have mistaken. Whereas Christianity says that the Holy Spirit comes to live in us as soon as we are saved – it comes to us – the implication here is that the power is to be found within us, not without. It’s not God coming to dwell within us, it’s that we are the divine character – we just have to be taught how to reach that part of ourselves.
So, I had to work myself through it, but yes, I can see how he has a point about that kind of thought process seeping into our collective consciousness. As you said, we are an “all about us” society. And self-awareness, finding self, accepting self, loving self, etc., etc. is BIG right now, as evidenced by the overwhelming popularity of Eat, Pray, Love and so many other books of that “Journey to Find Myself” nature. I can see how that all could tie together into a belief that we deserve to be happy, that it’s our right.
I haven’t brought religious theory into this discussion so far because I don’t know what I’m talking about. On the one hand, there is great joy that “should” come from your relationship with Jesus and God. On the other hand, we’re human so we’re gonna mess that up just like we mess up lots of things in our life. On the one hand, your journey toward God is a journey toward ultimate and eternal joy. On the other hand, Earth is Satan’s domain and that’s where we live(3) .
When I searched for a Christian reference on happiness, I found this:
“I don’t believe we’re supposed to lie down in the face of the challenges life throws at us. Like Nehemiah and his crew, we need a sword in one hand and the tools of our labor in the other. We need to work hard, play hard, and fight to fix the places in our lives that cause the scourge of unhappiness. Life will never be perfect, but I have to believe that happiness is always within our reach if we’re willing to do what needs to be done to go out and get it. I’ve yet to see it handed to anyone on a silver platter.” (4)
I don’t know that the Bible says that life is “supposed to be happy”. I know that God wants that for us, but I also know that we have free will – which carries us right back to what people said in the Query: it’s there for us, but we choose whether or not to reach for it. (5)
(1) Her basic counsel, advice which she lives by, is to find that metaphor, that transporting method which works best for you by bringing you closest to God. She shares some of the differences in approach between Eastern and Western philosophy—but she believes that as long as you are sincere in your pursuit of God, any path will work. Therefore, she encourages people to cherry pick the religions of the world and find the best pieces of each in order to keep moving toward the light. Eat, Pray, Love: Book Summary
(2) Secular spirituality emphasizes humanistic ideas on qualities such as love, compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, responsibility, harmony, and a concern for others. Wikipedia
(3) After Jesus is crucified and returns, He basically says, “Don’t worry ya’ll, I’m beyond Satan now.” – that’s an extreme paraphrase, by the way
(5) This was in my in-box this morning: Unicorns and Rainbows