Western religions following the close of ancient history are perhaps best categorized as monotheistic in nature where the deity is a singular entity personally distinct from its creation and where the adherents of these respective faiths hope to obtain a blissful afterlife as distinct individual beings by gaining the favor of their respective deity following the conclusion of their corporeally linear existence. Though it would be intellectually dishonest to flippantly dismiss all Eastern religions as the same, but as with their counterparts in the Western division, those in this category also share a number of characteristics with one another. For the most part, Eastern religions tend to believe that individuals are continually reincarnated into this plane of physical reality as they attempt to achieve a sense of detachment so that they might achieve what amounts to an enlightened obliteration of the self through a merger with the cosmic unity (158). These concepts are such a stark contrast with the Christian worldview that the Christian will need to compare a number of the ideas fundamental to a Biblical understanding of reality with those advocated by the Eastern outlook.
One of the most profound differences between Christianity and Eastern religious is how each believes truth is arrived at. Christianity believes that God has revealed Himself through the word of His propositional revelation and the Incarnation of His Word in the from of His Son Jesus Christ. Of the Eastern religions, on the other hand, Harold Netland writes, “In attaining religious truth, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism give priority to mystical or introspective experiences based on rigorous meditative disciplines which are said to provide direct unmediated access to ultimate reality (163).”
In other words, Christians focus outward to gain understanding whereas the adherents of the great Oriental traditions look inside themselves. This is especially evidenced by the two foremost figures these respective faith groupings are roughly organized around: the Christ and the Buddha.
The purpose of Buddha was to get the individual to realize that the individual has within themselves the wherewithal to bring about their own enlightenment and to detach themselves from the states of being that bring about their own suffering. The purpose of Christ, on the other hand, was to get the individual to realize that they were so stained by sin that there was nothing that the individual could do to achieve his own salvation and that individuals had to look outward from themselves towards a savior, that being none other than Jesus Christ.
Since Christianity is focused outward in its offering of a solution to the travails in which each and every one of us finds ourselves, as a system it corresponds better to both the objective and existential aspects of reality. In his journey to Japan, theologian Paul Tillich learned that, should an historian ever persuasively make the case based on research findings that Gautama Siddhartha never actually existed, such a discovery for the most part would not adversely impact Buddhist teaching (165). However such would not be the case regarding Christianity, which is so linked to the existence, actions, and nature of its founder that if He did not do what the accounts of Him claim, we of all men would be the most miserable according to I Corinthians 15:19.
Despite standing in contrast to many of Christianity’s most basic assumptions, the objective student and observer of religion (even if standing within a Christian framework of belief) must admit that the most devoted adherents of the respective Eastern creeds practice a rigorous form of self-discipline as they attempt to master the urges that exert an undue influence over the individual throughout the earthly life. Though many are opposed to the idea of relying solely on a savior for their salvation and find an allure in the Eastern notion of looking for the answers to the mysteries of life and the cosmos within themselves, they do not necessarily find the idea of rigorous self denial all that appealing (at least for themselves anyway with pleas of sacrifice for the greater good something to rather motivate and govern the lower classes of the less-spiritually inclined by).
Thus in a process not all that dissimilar to the operation of the Hegelian dialectic where two competing or even diametric ideas are brought together and melded together to form a synthesis incorporating aspects of each, Eastern and Western outlooks have formed a coalition perspective in what since the 1960’s and 1970’s has come to be known as the New Age movement.
Like the Eastern worldview, the New Age outlook essentially sees the totality of reality as a singular unity with the individual in a sense being akin to a single cell in the comprehensive cosmic mind (175). As in the case of the Eastern faiths, L.Russ Bush writes, “…the New Age movement emphasizes the human problem as ignorance with salvation coming through enlightenment and self-effort (176).”
However, in the New Age movement, the approach and outcomes of this awareness are a bit more decidedly Western in their appearance. For example, in Eastern brands of yoga the purpose is more about detaching the soul from the body in preparation for spiritual states such as nirvana. To Westerners, however, yoga is packaged not only as about the quest for inward universal truths but also about improving one’s body and success in life.
Thus, for at least those in the movement’s elite, there is a considerable emphasis upon the self. L. Russ Bush categorizes the emphasis upon the here and now rather than a future heaven as “This worldliness”. Of this state, he writes, “…the New Age is focused on the here and now; it is not a pie-in-the-sky sort of faith; it is belief that the New Age is itself the here and now and for this world and its people; it looks forward to an earthly transformation, not a heavenly one (180).” What is not as often brought out to the gullible along this worldview’s outer fringes is the number that those in the higher echelons believe must be eliminated or perhaps “deliberately progressed” to more advanced levels of disembodied consciousness in order for this utopia to be brought about.
The New Age has become so ingrained throughout American society that it no longer seems as novel as at the time when its name was coined. Now, certain interpretations of this brand of spirituality quietly just about serve as the respectable backdrop of establishmentarian popular culture. For example, Star Wars is no doubt one of the most beloved movie epics of the last 50 years. However, to a percentage of its viewers, it is far more than an invigorating afternoon’s diversion. It has been reported that a number of “Jedi churches” have popped up among fans that have taken enthusiasm for the films to the next level of adoration and devotion.
Those grounded in the real world will think those taking entertainment this seriously have sniffed too many musty comic books. However, beneath the dramatic adventure and impressive special effects, Star Wars was not created solely for entertainment purposes. George Lucas, who considered himself something of a student of anthropologist Joseph Campbell, created Star Wars to serve as a mythology for the contemporary world.
This claim can be substantiated in regards to those scenes from the films where the nature of the Force is expounded upon. For example, of the Force, Yoda (the primary exponent of these teachings) ruminates, “For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us.”
And like New Age conceptions of the essence that runs through the universe, the Force is not a conscious person concerned about the distinctions between good and evil as evidenced by the Dark Side’s primary devotee Darth Vader who it turns out is actually the saga’s focal character as the tale centers around his embracing of the Dark Side and reentering into the Light when he saves his son Luke from Vader’s Sith Master Emperor Palpatine. This act was cast not in terms of the triumph of good over evil but rather as merely restoring balance in an almost Taoist manner.
The extent to which these various worldviews have permeated contemporary culture as to the extent Star Wars has has forced the Christian to walk a precarious tightrope. On the one hand, there isn’t a person in the United States today that hasn’t had some kind of negative encounter with those that could be classified as stereotypical legalistic Christians.
Enthusiastic believers are to be commended for the seriousness with which they take their Christian walk if it is ultimately in Christ’s redemptive and free offer of salvation that they are truly trusting rather than in a rigorous adherence to a body of systematized rules, some of which are interpretations of certain Biblical injunctions rather than explicit Scriptural commands. However, in doing so, are such believers really equipping themselves to reach out to others that have become mired in these deceptive worldviews? Furthermore, by cordoning themselves off to such an extent in relation to things such as Star Wars, Stargate, and Star Trek, these Christians are denying themselves what amounts to an innocent good time and are not doing as much as they initially think to protect their children by failing to teach them how to sift the wheat from the chaff in relation to cinematic and literary productions.
By Frederick Meekins