Trading on Christianity

Marianne Williamson was a typical 1960s burn-out. In her youth she had been a radical when such things were chic. But afterwards, she never seemed to grow up. She switched jobs several times, had several affairs, abused drugs. In her own words, she was a total mess. That's when Marianne Williamson discovered an obscure New Age self-help program called A Course in Miracles. She began to follow the program, and eventually to teach it. Finally she wrote a book about it, called A Return to Love. Immediately it became a bestseller. So Marianne Williamson has finally found her niche in life-- as the prophetess of a New Age religion. She's been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, profiled in Newsweek and her book has been number one on the New York Times self-help Best Seller list for weeks. What's the book's message? Simply put, that sin is an illusion. Hatred, anger, jealousy--they aren't real. "Only love is real," Williamson tells her readers. "Everything else is an illusion." So don't bother asking God for forgiveness. All the bad stuff you think you did is merely an illusion. Obviously, this is a far cry from Christian teachings about God and sin. At least, it should be obvious. But Ms. Williamson uses a lot of Christian lingo that could be misleading. In the words of Newsweek magazine, A Return to Love "reads at times ... like a Christian religious tract." The trick is to realize that all the Christian terms Williamson uses are redefined. Listen to these mushy New Age definitions. Williamson describes Christ as a kind of pantheistic deity: "the common thread of divine love that is the core and essence of every human mind." The idea of crucifixion she redefines as "the energy pattern of fear." And resurrection is "the energy pattern of love." When Williamson talks about serving God and doing His will, what she really means is getting in touch with a divine energy source inside yourself. No, Williamson is no Christian. But she understands the power of the Christian message. And she has hijacked Christian terminology to communicate her New Age religion. When a book like this hits the top of the best seller list, it's a poignant reminder that we live in a spiritually hungry age. People are eating whatever they can find in the religious supermarket--but without checking the label first. The truth is, many Americans have swallowed New Age beliefs and don't even realize it. A Gallup poll found that only a quarter of Americans have heard of the New Age movement, and only a tiny fraction say they believe in it. Yet vast numbers of Americans accept certain New Age beliefs and practices. About half believe in extra sensory perception. More than a third believe in mental telepathy. A quarter of all Americans believe in astrology. A quarter believe in reincarnation. And a fifth say they've been in touch with the dead. What a testimony to the sorry state of America's spiritual condition. People are starving spiritually, yet what they're picking up to eat is the spiritual equivalent of a Twinkies bar. Americans are sadly uneducated when it comes to religion, and knowing what makes Christianity unique. So they're filling upon spiritual junk food--when what they really need is the plain but nourishing bread of the gospel.


Chuck Colson


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