Tonight, we’re going to look at what Eckhart Tolle has to say about Christianity in history and in the present. This won’t include his use of Scripture as that has already been covered. Unfortunately, as we will see, Tolle does give a lot of misinformation but this misinformation is the kind that has been spread around so far that people think it’s common knowledge.
To begin with, on page 6, he talks about teachers like Buddha, Jesus, and others. (Honestly, as a Christian, it is completely hideous to me to see Jesus included among others as teachers when he is above them all.) He speaks that for these “teachers” that their message was largely misunderstood and greatly distorted. That will be dealt with later in response to whether Christ’s teachings were misunderstood and distorted. However, he does say “It certainly did not transform human behavior except in a small number of people.”
Unfortunately for Tolle, this is simply false. Christianity turned the world upside-down. (Actually it started turning it right-side up.)
This hit in a world where the Jews were a more obscure people to most and their teachings were in the minority as the culture as a whole was highly polytheistic and resurrection was a concept not accepted by the Greeks. (Yes, people who endorse the copycat thesis. You’re simply wrong.) As for morality, often a father would say a child, most likely a daughter, was not fit to live and the child would be left amongst wild animals. The coliseum had much bloodshed with prisoners being mercilessly killed for entertainment. A city like Corinth had so much sexual promiscuity it was a miracle to some that there was a church there. Not to mention, slavery was a basic institution of society.
Christianity changed all of that. They were known for the unusual lives they lived in that they did not live as the pagans did. They did good not for what they could get out of it, but simply because of what Christ did. Throughout history then, we saw a rise in the sciences, we saw the rise of capitalism, and we saw growth in education. Slavery ended eventually because of Christianity. I urge the reader to check Rodney Stark’s “The Victory of Reason.”
What Tolle says then is simply false. The Christian ethic has always brought about change when it’s been applied. This includes even later times in history such as the Wesleyan revival that hit England.
On page 16, he speaks about an intensification of the light of the original teaching of major religions. He then says “This is how Gnosticism and mysticism came into existence in early and medieval Christianity.”
I can imagine a number of medieval mystics easily taking offense at such a statement.
As for the idea of gnostic Christianity, it’s simply false. The gnostic gospels were never accepted for good reason. I simply suggest someone reads them if they want to know why. Does anyone think that Mary needs to make herself male to inherit the kingdom of Heaven as is said in the Gospel of Thomas? What of the Gospel of Peter having the high priest spending a night in a graveyard? (Something a high priest would never do.)
Gnosticism in fact goes against the teachings of Jesus in denying the goodness of the material world and relying on dualistic concepts. (How would that dualism fit in with Tolle’s Monism?) What happened is that the Gnostics wrote their own gospels that they then attached someone’s name to as was common in the ancient world. The early church though never accepted them and had no reason to believe that they came from the apostles. This is not the case with the canonical gospels.
A most unbelievable claim though is on pages 155-156 where Tolle speaks about the Inquisition as a period of about 300 years (Actually, it was longer) and that 3-5 million women were killed. Interestingly, at the same time, he claims that we do not know the exact number because no records were kept. (Then where exactly did he get his numbers from?)
I don’t know of any scholar of the Inquisition who would accept this. 3-5 million women?! Not at all!
So let’s be real.
The Inquisition did have a lot of injustice. That can’t be denied. However, it has largely been blown into an event it was not. It was not a reign of terror. By and large, the common person was pleased with the Inquisition for they helped to maintain order in the society. In fact, secular courts at the time were often worse than the Inquisition court.
Did they burn some heretics at the stake? Yes. They did. I don’t condone that at all. Did they use torture? Yes. They did. Note though that as soon as we say torture, we have an emotionally laden term. Many stories have been invented about types of torture that were used and these types just weren’t. It is very difficult now to separate fact from fiction, but there are many scholars who are thankfully doing the work.
In the Spanish Inquisition, for instance, the most famous one, it has been said that 3,000 were probably killed. That Inquisition lasted for longer than 300 years as well. That is nowhere near Tolle’s number of 3-5 million women. I have great concern for a writer when he doesn’t bother to list any sources for study on the Inquisition and doesn’t even get the basic facts straight. I recommend the reader to Henry Kamen’s “The Spanish Inquisition” and to Dinesh D’Souza’s “What’s So Great About Christianity?”
For the treatment of women later on pointed at, Christianity has done a great service for women. Women were seen as being image bearers of the image of God alongside males. Men were told that they should be ready to die for their wives if need be. Because of Christianity, marriage was exalted beyond anything it has been before and women have been more valued.
It seems Tolle is just wrong with his statements and this should be of concern. If he cannot be trusted on physical things, then why on spiritual things?
Also, let it be understood I don’t mean that Tolle is knowingly spreading misinformation. I just don’t think he’s looked into the questions enough and has simply spoken what is seen as common knowledge in the mainstream.
A hurdle must be crossed though that touches the question of religion and that is the question of exclusivism. That will be dealt with tomorrow.