McCoy: We were speculating. Is God really out there?
Kirk: Maybe he’s not out there, Bones. Maybe he’s right here. [points to his heart]
-from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
Every few years, a book comes out that captures the world’s attention using the same basic New Age stew (and a big marketing budget). The latest deceiver is Eckhart Tolle. He’s being touted by Oprah Winfrey, who herself has a long track record of pushing falsehood. The book names may change, the endorsers may change as the decades go by (John Denver, Shirley MacLaine, Marianne Williamson), but the beliefs are pretty much the same vapid samplings of pantheism, paganism, gnosticism, and self-help.
Paul and John in particular warn against those pushing false knowledge of hidden things (e.g. the book of Colossians). The early church father Irenaeus meticulously chronicled the “absurd ideas” of gnostics like Valentinus. Compared to the complexities of the old heretics, the pop-culture smorgasbord tends to serve heretical appetizers (a little bit o’ this and a little bit o’ that) and junk food.
Given that, why would anyone waste time reading Oprah Winfrey’s latest guru instead of mining the Scripture? Well, for one, these false teachers tell itching ears (2 Tim 4:3) what they want to hear. They impart supposedly “secret” knowledge that turns out to be the same old lies: You are a good person with great potential, so look within and become a god (compare with Jeremiah 17:9…”The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked”). And of course, they tell us not to worry about King Jesus. Jesus, to these false teachers, is a “demigod” or “spirit guide,” but not the only begotten Son of God who rules the nations (Psalm 2). He’s tame.
Also, these books prey on the ignorance of our Christian neighbors. This is the kind of stuff — along with all the other self-help, quasi-religious therapy of television talk shows — that forms people’s spiritual beliefs. Peter Brown, in his biography of Augustine, noted the time Augustine spent correcting and guarding his flock in letters marked by “an inspired fussiness, and by a heroic lack of measure when it came to the care of endangered souls… [They] catch the barely suppressed sigh of a tired old age, characterized by constant quiet acts of self-sacrifice as Augustine lent his pen, again and again, to the defence of his Church, at the expense of intellectual projects that engaged him more deeply.” (pgs 466 and 492, 2000 edition)