Robert M. Price – Top Secret: The Truth Behind Today’s Pop Mysticisms

May 30, 2008

Robert M. Price is professor of theology and scriptural studies at Coleman Theological Seminary and professor of Biblical Criticism at the Center for Inquiry Institute. He’s a fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion and the Jesus Seminar. Dr. Price is the author of a number of books such as The Reason Driven Life, Deconstructing Jesus, Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, and The Da Vinci Fraud. He has appeared widely in the media, and was featured prominently in the movie The God Who Wasn’t There. His latest book is Top Secret: The Truth Behind Today’s Pop Mysticisms.

In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Robert Price explores the origins, doctrines and dangers of various strands of contemporary “pop mysticism,” including Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret and other “New Thought” proponents, the movie What the Bleep Do We Know?, Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, Eckhart Tolle, Marianne Williamson, and The Course in Miracles. He contends that there is some truth to many of these mystical worldviews, especially the emphasis on introspection and self-improvement, and details how to take what is of value while rejecting the unsupportable claims. He also addresses the popularity and influence of Christian televangelist Joel Olsteen, whom he argues is in fact a promoter of New Thought in Christian trappings. He also explores what the secular humanist and skeptic movements might learn from both the Christian Mega-churches and the New Age movements, and how they can work together as freethinkers against fundamentalist dogmatic religious-political movements.

This is point of inquiry for Friday, May 30th, 2008. 

Welcome to Point of Inquiry. I’m D.J. Growthy Point of Inquiries, the radio show, the podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank that advances reason science and secular values and public affairs. Before we get to this week’s guest, Bob Price, about his new book, Top Secret The Truth Behind Today’s Pop Mysticism. Here’s a word from this week’s sponsor Free Inquiry magazine. 

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I’m happy to have Bob Price back on point of inquiry. He’s professor of theology and scriptural studies at Kallman Theological Seminary and also a professor of biblical criticism at the Center for Inquiry’s Institute. He’s a fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion and the Jesus Seminar. He’s the author of a number of books, such as The Reason Driven Life. His response to Rick Warren’s best selling Purpose Driven Life. Price also authored Deconstructing Jesus The Incredible Shrinking Sun of Man. The DaVinci Fraud. The Paperback Apocalypse. And today, he’s joining me to talk about his new book, Top Secret The Truth Behind Today’s Pop Mysticism. Welcome back to a point of inquiry, Bob Price. 

It’s always a delight. 

Bob, I feel like we’re going to have to change the name of the show at a point of inquiry with Bob Price, because we have you on so frequently. Why is that? Because you keep putting out these darn books that are right up our alley. This one top secret, the truth behind today’s pop mysticism is funny and witty is your other ones. This when you cast your critical eye on what some people call the New Age movement and also kind of coiled up within it. 

Then this is the distinction not often made. It’s very confusing when they don’t the new thought movement, which is actually, I guess, about as old, both of them have kind of competed for attention. They have a lot in common, but they like the secret with one to burn, which is, of course, the jumping off point for this. So it gets into to sort of wacky new age metaphysics. Pseudo science is the heart of it really is is not what you usually think of is New Age with all the Shirley MacLaine Jim Underdown. 

Yeah, it’s not crystals and pyramids, biology and stuff like that. 

That’s right. That stuff really doesn’t make an appearance in there. The real doctor in that is that they’re promoting it’s very old and the idea of new thought that started around the time of Mary Baker Eddy. And it’s a sort of an implicitly pantheistic idea that the universe really is God, that we are God. God need not necessarily be personal, but there is an invisible power. There are rules by which it works. And we can manipulate them to our own ends in a kind of a magical way to gain success and so forth. 

Yeah, in a sense, it’s like a scientific framing of like Norman Vance appeals, power, positive thinking or something like this. Best-Seller Rhonda Burns says that our thoughts actually create our reality and that if your life sucks, it’s your own fault because of your negative thoughts. 

You are exactly right. In fact, Peale was much influenced by the literature of a unity school of Christianity, which is one of the major standard bearers of new thought. So you’re exactly right. 

Many people read the stuff coming from these people in new thought and think it’s really scientific. You could read Norman Vincent Peale and say that it’s just kind of, you know, pull yourself up by your bootstraps in a sense, although there is a spiritualistic component. But the new thought stuff, the stuff found in the secret, they use new physics, quantum physics, in other words, real science to support their claims, like in the movie. What the Bleep do we know? 

Yeah, that that really kills me. I must admit, I don’t know enough about the sciences. I certainly don’t know much of anything about quantum physics, but I really smell a rat in this. And when I watched what the bleep do we know? Not only was I struck by the preponderance of transcendental meditation quarks in it, but something leaped to mind at a B.F. Skinner in his introduction to Beyond Freedom and Dignity. Defending behaviorism which people find bloomy. And he says, don’t worry. A theory about a thing does not change the thing. The theory is about that’s stuck with me and I’ve applied it to many things. And I thought in this movie backwards. By contrast, that once you know how things work. Quantum physics, theories, etc.. Well, they don’t have to work that way anymore. You can use it as a magic formula, change everything. Wait a second opinion. As this movie suggests, it could be at several different places physically at the same time. You can relive the past like a time traveler, etc., etc. They all but say that. I mean, that’s what they actually show with bad special effects. And I thought that somebody is is basically misunderstanding science, which is simply explaining the way things are not given you a magic wand to make a difference. And this struck me as what what a stumbling block in the path of a genuine insight that these people have and don’t know what to live. It’s like they’ve got a hungry public out there. The sales of these books demonstrate they’re real hungry. And so what do they give them? Well, a lot of junk food and worse yet, spoiled food, because in the case of new thought, I really think that there is a believable sound, shrewd psychological point to it, that we do influence people. I think a lot of the obvious, we do influence circumstances by signals we send out and our interaction and the choices we make. 

Right. Some cognitive neuroscientist suggests that the more optimistic you are, for instance, the likelier you are to take chances that pay off for the more resilient you are in relationships, the better you fare in the world, etc.. So there is like a kernel of truth to some of this. 

Yeah, exactly. And the nothing spooky about it, there’s nothing mystical about it. And yet they think they need to prop it up with bad physics and at least highly dubious philosophy. And so one point I make throughout the book, whether it’s this or or neo boot is or one thing or another, there’s often something quite helpful in these books. But you just have to learn to discern what it is and not be hoodwinked. And too many people lie their figure. Yeah, I respond to what they’re saying. That’s good. I guess I’m stuck with this stuff too, so I’ll have to believe in A, B and C from now on. And I know you don’t. Oh, another thing close to my heart is that fellow humanists with a scientific outlook look at this stuff and say, well, this is nonsense. Scientifically, there’s nothing to it. And I think, wait a minute, you’re missing a chance for introspection and self improvement. Let’s take a look. So I try to point out, you know, what is worth occupying yourself? Leighann Lord. 

Yeah, that’s one of the interesting things I found about the book, that it’s not a knee-jerk, you know, rant against all the false things that new wage and the new thought. People think it is critical. And it’s really funny. But it also you point out the parts of it you can take away and really get something out of it. Like you mentioned, people like the existential psychiatrist Victor Frankl, who survived Nazi concentration camps. There’s Marcus Aurelius and the Stoics that say things that are true are almost along the lines of what Rhonda Byrne is selling in the secret and more important and more morally serious. 

You really have to turn away from something that blames the victim and says, you know, this poor Jews in the concentration camps, poor people and Darfor were too bad before their birth. They chose this way to go get out of here. This can not be right. Yeah, that’s vile. But they but somebody like Frankel’s shows that you can reverse the thing almost. Oh, there is a point to it. They just haven’t got it. There is a way to apply this insight to a world of suffering. But it’s not like having a genie come out of a bottle. It’s finding meaning despite the negative. 

I’d like to let our listeners know that you can purchase a copy of Top Secret. The Truth Behind Today’s Pop Mysticism. Through our website point of inquiry dot org. Bob, another New Age figure you focus on in the book is Depok Chopra. 

Oh, yes. You make him out to be like a Hindu intelligent designer, creationist almost, and say that he even uses the same kind of tactics as the Christian fundamentalists do. But coming from his kind of I like all religions and he gets a lot of stuff from Hinduism instead. 

Yeah. And of course, he can be ecumenical about it because Hinduism has a good rationale for being theologically ecumenical. You know, you’re like you’re like Jesus or Major Bob or somebody else. All right. For all of them. It’s they don’t have a problem with that. What he does, though, is just like TMD, which he used to be a representative for transcendental meditation. 

It’s a New Age movie and it’s not as new thought. It’s New Age, right? 

That’s right. That’s a lot of similarities. But this this is really kind of watered down Hinduism in the same way new ageism is. And they had a major failure to propagate transcendental meditation initially in the West because it was one more type of Hinduism. Americans weren’t interested, not many of them. And so they said, now, how can we market this if we approached it as something that would improve your golf game or enable you to lose weight? I bet the Americans would buy it. 

I’m not caricaturing, but I know. Yeah. He actually wrote a book on that kind of the mysticism of golf or something. 

Oh, no. Come to think of it, you’re right. I guess I had repressed. 

So horrible. So let me say, on the other hand, that this golf movie, The Legend of Bagger Vance, I mean, it really would to move heaven and earth to go get me to see a golf movie wound up being stuck. See this? And I thought, wow, it’s good. And it’s based on the by the data. And it does have very interesting things to say about why you do what you do. What results are you looking for? You’re doing what you do in life simply for the sake of doing it. And that may be wiser. Actually, it’s quite a good movie and has a lot to say. So, you know, I shouldn’t bad mouth culprit too quick. Maybe he says something about the about that too. But you really do have to start like I’m not against Hinduism. I teach Hinduism and world religion courses. I have the greatest respect. I don’t like is the way he does this propaganda thing. Oh, we’re not talking Hinduism. We’re only talking quantum physics. And then it’s all bent toward you. No, it’s not dualism after all. That’s what I don’t like. This kind of snake oil salesmen. 

This bait and switch stuff. Yeah. Bob, Oprah is arguably the biggest pusher of the new age in American pop culture world. Popular culture. And in addition to introducing the world to Rhonda Byrne and people like Wayne Dyer, she’s made a mega bestseller out of Eckert’s totally. He seems a little less destructive to me than the secret, though. 

Yeah, this is sort of tangential to that stuff. I don’t think he would necessarily disagree with it, but he doesn’t really get into that. He doesn’t go into the succeeding business. He has sort of recapitulated the insights of Buddhism. He does say it’s Buddhism. And I really think he just thought it out himself, but wound up with something very much like Buddhism. And he’s just has prescriptions for a kind of peace of mind and not just any kind of Buddhism, but a Zen Buddhism. 

Right. That’s right. Disciplines of mind, type of Buddhism. 

Yeah, it’s very fascinating. It’s just a kind of phenomenology of consciousness that in no way depends on metaphysics and the like. Unlike Wayne Dyer, who just got Moatize, isn’t pontificates about the source and all this stuff as if he knows this somehow. This man is much more modest. He’s just as as the Buddha supposedly did. I’ve just looked at your awareness. Isn’t it this way? Don’t you have this problem now? Try this. And I bet you’d find thinking differently transform you. I think that’s that kind of thing is what we ought to be saying as humanists. There’s no revelation here. You don’t need one to look at your brain and look at your body. 

And so you see something valuable in meditative practice. Like other human ister atheists like Sam Harris, for instance. Does you think that it’s valuable and something that rationalists should not be rejecting out of hand? 

Yeah. Look at what can’t be attained by introspection. When you read the critique of pure reason, it’s. The way he maps out the way the mind works. He didn’t have access to any of his neuroscience. He just figured it out. And I think he’s basically right as to how we process perceptions and put all the data together. He had he was just looking at the way his own mind works. That that’s introspection. There’s nothing spooky or religious about Jim Underdown. 

Right. But Carns introspection wasn’t a meditative practice where you achieve altered states of consciousness, or if you don’t want to use a phrase like that, you know, extreme states of awareness. You don’t have to talk about the supernatural, but meditative practice, even in a naturalistic way. You concentrate on the workings of your own mind to a great extent. It’s it can change your awareness. So goes the argument of people like Sam Harris. 

Yeah. You don’t even necessarily have to go looking for a non dual states, which are apparently produced naturally by the temporal lobe of the brain or whatever, though I don’t think that’s bad. That’s probably an enriching experience. But if you could just attain a kind of clarity about yourself, that’s gotta help. That’s to me, that’s a if you want to call that spirituality, you could go there. Perhaps this is Tom Flynn reminds us that may be dangerous. Door open and a lot of associations we don’t want, but it certainly is getting at that thing. People think when they say they want spirituality. Mm hmm. 

Tell me about the so-called course in miracles. It’s really one of the major texts of the New Age movement and people like Marianne Williamson. Well, she was also pushed by Oprah back in the day. She’s the big evangelist for the course in miracles, right? 

Yeah. In fact, she should be say this, but if one wanted to look into this, it it would be better to read. Marianne Williamson than the book itself, which is just an impenetrable iceberg of paranoia. 

And what it was supposedly channeled by a secular Jew psychiatrist to do what automatic writing or so I don’t know, like it just came to her. 

That’s right. She said she heard a voice in her head saying this is a course in miracles. Please take notes. And Jesus was supposedly telling her all this. But I tell you, his literary style has really suffered in the last two decades. It’s just maddening to try to get through this. That could be a good thing, I suppose, to try to give her the benefit of the doubt. They say that when Gurdjieff wrote to be LDS about tales to his grandson, he gave one of his followers a copy and said, What do you make of this? And he said, Oh, it’s lucid. I think it’s great. Oh, that’s too bad. And he went back and rewrote it to make it much more confusing. 

Yeah. Gnosticism cannot be obvious from this. 

So I think it’s just hat trick with a rabbit. In this case, I could be underselling her. But I think I understand what she’s saying. Enough to see what’s wrong with it. And. Like Christian Science, she’s trying to say the world is utterly different than what you think it is and you can snap out of it and attain bliss. But in fact, I think no one experiences that. It’s always going to be disappointed, frustrated seekers. You couldn’t experience what she says without just turning on, tuning in and dropping out. 

Yeah. If you blis out and that’s all you’re doing, someone’s going to come and take your car away or you’ll lose your job or whatever. Yeah. It’s not just about flipping the switch in attaining the state of consciousness and then kind of removing yourself from normal everyday life. 

Yes. A great book about meditation. And in the Hindu context is. And Buddhists do, I guess is Igen under Brodies, his book The Light at the Center. And he he approaches that both as a meditating monk. And that’s a comparative cultural anthropologist. And he explains what is happening and how it’s in the intermittent state and this and that. Very, very informative. Well, what he says in the course in miracles does not ring true to me for a number of reasons. And one of them is that she’s. She doesn’t seem to be talking about an intermittent state of of a mountaintop experience that then energizes your daily life if you heed her rhetoric. You would really just drop out of life and be in a padded cell. I don’t see how what she says is even applicable to a day to day world, the existence of which she denies. Now, Marianne Williamson takes it down a notch and does try to show how these insights are applicable. But in my opinion, her experiment grossly failed. Like with Shukman, who wrote Course of Miracles, it’s one of these things that is so self-referential that could never be experimented on. But Williams changes it so that it is in. One can see that this experiment has failed. She outlines how you want to treat criminals, not seize everybody else. You should tell yourself that if there’s anything wrong here, it’s because of me, not them. They are perfect just as they are. And the problem lies with me. 

This is the same school of thought of a guy camping his name, but who wrote Love is letting go of fear and that any negativity is it’s it’s coming from inside of you. So if that guy’s a criminal. Well, no, it’s your view of that person. That’s criminal. 

Oh, boy. Yeah. That is so dangerous because there’s a little bit of truth in that. When my daughters were in kind of I guess they were in kindergarten or something. There was this one kid that was a real bully and a brat. And my wife suggested to my daughter, you know, it may be that he’s just on the receiving end of all this. And if you showed him some of the friendship and respect he’s not show and others, he would it would crack the facade and it did. So I see there’s something to that. 

So, again, there’s a morsel of truth. But it’s not the whole story. 

You’re making the exception into the rule or at least making it a sweeping kind of a judgment. And that experiment has failed. I always say this idea that it’s mind over matter is that it’s just your doubt that that stops you from succeeding and you can really do anything. I say, well, we we have that experimented on every time somebody has jumped off the roof of an insane asylum thinking they could fly. They couldn’t. I mean, they didn’t have any doubt. And that was the problem. 

I keep mentioning Oprah. And yes, she has pushed Rhonda Byrne and Deepak Chopra, Eckert, totally. Wayne Dyer, all these people, given her stature, she’s really made bestsellers out of all these authors. But it should be said that another big pusher of the New Age end of new thought in America is the public broadcasting system. 

Yes. PBS uses many of these folks during their pledge drives. I’ve seen Wayne Dyer and Deepak Chopra and Marianne Williamson, I think back in the day. Others on PBS during pledge season. And you could get all these New Age books if you pledge enough money to PBS. 

I knew you were going to say this. Yeah, this is this astounded me once when I saw one of these things exactly as you’re describing it, with Dire up there, doing one of his song and dance things and dispensing misinformation. And then they break from that. It is there with the other fundraises. And he said, you know, my pal Deepak Chopra and I were in Hawaii the other day and so on. And I thought if I heard this kind of thing. Oh, yeah. The PTL Club. That’s exactly the kind of thing you had these these pontificating gurus up there raising money. 

Only this government funded public TV that secularists and freethinkers in Rationals pro science types often hold up PBS as the example of what media should be like. 

Man. Mm hmm. 

Amazing irony. I don’t know how they get away with it. Well, I guess I do. They they claim that this is science and somebody is stupid enough to believe them. 

Bob, you cover so much more in the book, Neale Donald Walsh and is a bestseller, Conversations with God, that was also hawked on Oprah. I believe the self-esteem prophecy, the Kabbalah even get into the mysticism of people like Kerl. You touch on Joseph Campbell just a little bit and you give this really sensitive I think, but also funny rationals take on all these pop mysticism. But what I really liked about this book that covered all these different kind of New Age New Thought hucksters was your treatment of one of my favorite Sunday morning preachers, Joel Olstein. He’s heir to a kind of a fundamentalist ministry of his fathers. But you claim that he’s veered off and turned his Christian ministry into a new age type thing? That’s actually similar to the secret, in a way. 

Yeah. Now he’s on the right wing of a larger movement inspired by I think his name was F.W. Kanyon in November. Last name. Right. And WYO and who criticized New Thought decades ago and yet was heavily influenced by it and in turn influenced a lot of charismatic and Pentecostal preachers among them. 

These guys, like Kenneth Copeland, Yadier, disciple of his, and they have gone into a kind of I don’t know if they realize it, but they’ve gone in for a kind of pantheistic metaphysics and they say that we’re not asking God to do things by faith. We are tapping him on faith, which is the power that God uses to work miracles, etc.. Well, Osteen doesn’t touch that stuff. I think he knows people well. I don’t think he believes it. And for the same reason his fans would turn that right off. But he can say all the same stuff by appealing to the Bible when a ventriloquist act sort of way. But misapplying passages and just assuming, well, God wants you to succeed and be wealthy should have worked out that way with his son, Cogar. Oh, no. What does it say there? And he’ll come up with things drastically out of context, but nobody really cares. It’s just a cosmetic appeal to the Bible. But he does have a kind of wholesome, optimistic viewpoint. And my big problem with him is that whoever says this, it cannot be sustained. Ultimately, somebody is going to crash and burn. And to explain why it happened, you’re going to have a principle that vitiates your initial one. Some qualifier that is that if you took it seriously, right up front would prevent you from having the complete faith they say will work. If you don’t want you to say, oh, God, if it is your will. For this to happen. Make it so. No, no, no. It’s gonna be God’s will for this to happen. Otherwise, I can’t approach it in confidence. But if it fails, they’ll say, oh, who was I to think I could divine the will of God? But next time. Well, what are they going to say? Oh, yes. Sweet. Oh, God. Get that raise. So there’s my problem with him. And I don’t think he’s a faker. He’s he seems to me to be a good guy trying to do good things. 

He’s sincere. He’s a founder. I find him to be rather sweet, if also a little milquetoast. His sermons don’t seem really to be about salvation or saving your soul, but I don’t even see a whole lot of new thought every Sunday. Sometimes it’s just loads of practical advice, like how to get along with your boss and wife and kids, how to be upbeat and positive when the going gets tough. 

Now, that is religious modernism. That is secular theology, not the kind of stuff all ties are in Hamilton did 40 years ago with the death of God. This is real secular theology where it’s all just how to live in this world. It’s the equivalent of these churches. They try to exercise them of any vestige of traditional church architecture or decoration or even language, so that if you had a bad church experience growing up, it will privatize you to walk into this place, which no coincidence was the basketball stadium the same way the message is not going to scary. 

You’re talking about his megachurch is in Houston. That what that stadium. He took over and what tens of thousands of people show up every Sunday to hear him give his practical philosophy and occasionally this new thought stuff where he sounds a heck of a lot like Norman Vincent Peale, who refashioned Christianity to have this kind of you know, you tap into faith and God is obligated to do X, Y and Z for you. 

Yeah. And the fact that that that is really window dressing. And as you say, a lot of it is simple, practical wisdom tells me an important and almost scary thing about where humanism could go. If we decided we wanted to have popular appeal, we wouldn’t simply debunk stuff. I love Bill ENaC. It’s got to be done. We would get into practical advice on how to get along in life without religion. 

And that’s a difference I see among kind of some atheist organizations in, say, the work Paul Kurtz has done with the Council for Secular Humanism. He is a public moralist. He’s not just an atheist out there decrying other people’s nonsense beliefs, but he’s saying, well, how art we live in this world without God. He offers kind of practical wisdom. 

That’s why I call him the apostle Paul. He’s he’s great at that. And I think that the more of that, that could be done, and especially, I think in a personal motivational kind of stuff, I once I heard a humanist speaker scheduled to give a talk on humanism and happiness. I thought this would be interesting. What disease? But special advice from beginning his standpoint does he have to offer? And all he said was that. Well, now that you’re not worried about God anymore, you can take the pressure off of them. 

Yeah, there has to be something more substantial to living the good life without God than a kind of moral nihilism. 

Yeah, and you don’t have to have religion to do that. Just speaking to Aristotle and Epicurus and people like this, that sound moral counsel and insights. Most people never think of something that could be forgive the word preached at least propagated or something. And our quote unquote people are humanists and like seculars would, I think, greatly benefit from it. We just need somehow to to replace what is good in religious communities. That’s good. Not because it’s religious. It’s just human. But I think it’s a mystery. I mean, I think this is all known information sources and practical philosophers and so on. 

Alaska leading question, would you actually before building communities around these secular ideals? Kind of it almost sounds like you’re saying, you know, start the secular humanist version of churches everywhere. 

Yeah. Well, Paul’s notion, Paul Curtsies idea of local centers of inquiry is that once I suggested to him that we use an old term for that column, Lyceum. But nobody knows what that means anymore. But that was a great kind of a things like a local center for the arts and lectures and all that and enrichment. 

Yeah, yeah. I mean, I just think that it’s perfect. It’s not antireligious. It’s not religious. It’s just human nature. Mm hmm. 

And there’s plenty of things that would ennoble the person that could be done. And so, again, I don’t really know of anybody but Paul. He’s saying that. 

Do you think that that can actually give the new wage or fundamentalist religions a run for their money? Because both the new age and religious extremism, like, you know, fundamentalist monotheisms, they both are offering so much more than just the good life here and now. 

I think so, because look at the influx of people into megachurches, where the the emphasis is taken off of the ticket to heaven stuff. I mean, they certainly believe in it. But as you point out, there is so much emphasis and not only in Stephen’s church is like a mark of all these megachurches, so much influence on practical marital accord, financial wisdom. 

Right. Joyce Meyer, another megachurch preacher, she spends her sermons on Kayna How to Live in the World. She’s no better or no worse than a lot of the TV shows. I think the you know, the judge shows. Judge Haggada, would you, where no one appeals to God. Now, Joyce Meyer appeals to the Bible a lot. She says she thinks she’s getting her practical wisdom from the Bible, but they’re not talking. Get forgiveness. Be saved. They’re not talking the doctrines of Orthodox Christianity. They’re talking, you know, figure out your problems now. Do your personal work on your issues. 

And if they step with stuff like the Book of Proverbs, which is all about that, not about salvation, which the writers nothing about, that they think identity, kind of salvation, religion, you can certainly find biblical ground for that. Not the Geneve, the Bible. There’s all sorts of great stuff. And I’d love to see more of that. To me, it’s it’s really trying to fly a plane with one wing when people agree that. All right, we’ve got to get past the gate. All right. Now, what are we going to do instead? Well, politics. I personally just find that arid and uninspiring. I have political opinions, so on. But to me, that is really the kind of meaningful thing. But others more noble than I am sure it is. But I think just to make a humanist group, a political action group still is is missing the boat. And I think there should be some kind of attempt at personal edification, personal upbuilding. 

I love that you said that you’re you’re giving my sermon now. It seems like that The New Age is actually in some ways more popular than traditional religions in America. Fundamentalism in America, even if fundamentalism is much more politically powerful. Do you think it pays off to engage the New Age community like secularists have engaged the religious right, like rationalists have taken on religious political extremists. New agers aren’t really seems me they’re not trying to take over school boards. They’re not trying to legislate their morality. In that sense, I feel a lot less threatened by them. You know Rhonda Byrne type people than I am by religious extremists. I guess what I’m asking is, what’s the real harm, the real kind of societal harm in all these people believing their stuff that you say is nonsense. I can get what the harm is in religious fundamentalism. 

To meet the potential harm socially is not an immediate threat, but the ease with which this notion can lead to people blaming the victim and thinking it’s a good idea no longer to have compassion. After all, to some degree, the Nazis were inspired by the blood we would have to call New Age ideas, some of which sounded noble until you got to what they really meant by it. I mean, if you think that we can purify the human race. Well, that sounds good. But then what about the people you think are not pure? And so some of that stuff, what they really wanted to be poor and all that. That’s very frightening to me. 

Yeah, that is an undercurrent in the secret. And it new thought that the homeless person on the street deserves his or her law because that homelessness is unfolding out of that person’s consciousness. 

It just isn’t that simple. And and it’s morally nihilistic to the degree that it’s just about get what you want. And and very often it is put that way. 

They draw a direct line from thinking positive thoughts to getting the big screen TV or the Ferrari and the Vasey. 

Good. You’re not exaggerating. These are examples they give. So this is sort of a screwed up, childish narcissism about it. But again, who does that threaten? I think the way I don’t quite know how to do this, but I believe that the way to deal with New Age and New Thought people is to recognize that, like us, they see themselves as skeptics and free thinkers, and they are. But they’ve settled a little too quickly on certain alternatives to dogmatic religion. We reject that, too. But they don’t yet know how to make certain distinctions, and so they fall for silly stuff. So I would like to try to approach these people as as friends with whom we share a lot in terms of agenda and to urge them to take a second look and to see the difference between the baby and the bathwater only. They’re not trying to throw out the baby. They’re drinking the bath. And so I think they’re they really naturally on our side. They’ve rejected what we’ve rejected. But unfortunately, they’ve been sold a bill of goods. But it’s not all that bad. 

Well, it’s not completely bad. 

Yeah, they’re they do have something. And there is a real basis on which to to have a positive dialog, unlike dogmatic Christians or Muslims. No, I’m afraid you’re going to hell. There’s your view and there’s God’s view. These people are not like that. And in fact, you often find a strange mingling of New Age and skeptical people in local groups because they all correctly see themselves as free thinkers. 

Right. There is this is just like in the 19th century free thought movement in the spiritualist movement. They considered themselves allies against traditional religion. So Lilydale in upstate New York, the spirituals community, Great Freethinkers of the Day, spoke there and were welcomed into the community because they shared skepticism of traditional religion. 

Yes. So strange but true strange bedfellows. But I’d say cold belligerence and and when we look at one another, we still shouldn’t be belligerent. We should say. Let’s take a closer look at this stuff rather than people are just wrong. And here’s why. The approach I find I have to take against biblical apologists. 

Mm hmm. Well, Bob, thanks a lot for joining me for this conversation. I’d like to let our listeners know that you can get a copy of this book through our website. Thanks a lot. Thank you. 

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Point of inquiry is produced by Thomas Donnelly and recorded from St. Louis, Missouri. Executive producer is Paul Kurtz. Point of Inquiry’s music is composed for us by Emmy Award winning Michael. Contributors to today’s show included Sarah Jordan and Debbie Goddard. I’m your host DJ Grothe. 

DJ Grothe

D.J. Grothe is on the Board of Directors for the Institute for Science and Human Values, and is a speaker on various topics that touch on the intersection of education, science and belief. He was once the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation and was former Director of Outreach Programs for the Center for Inquiry and associate editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He previously hosted the weekly radio show and podcast Point of Inquiry, exploring the implications of the scientific outlook with leading thinkers.