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Chopra's Christ: The Mythical Creation of a New Age Panthevangelist | Carl E. Olson | A review of The Third Jesus: The Christ We Cannot Ignore, by Deepak Chopra | May 5, 2008 Ignatius Insight | Part 2 | Part 1

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More importantly, Chopra has little interest in what Christians have always understood to be the heart of the Gospels: the Passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He makes the strange remark that "with the resurrection a flesh-and-blood man was transformed into completely divine substance—the Holy Spirit" (136), and implies that the early Christians, desperate to have Jesus back with them, created the belief in the Resurrection (179). Otherwise, nothing. There is much talk of Jesus pointing man toward "the divine" and "God-consciousness," but it is invariably ephemeral and vague. Reading Chopra trying to explain the nature of his Jesus' life and work is like watching a madman shooting fog with a shotgun. He claims to have hit the target every time, but the fog remains and nothing has really happened, even while the shooter's cockiness grows with every blast.

Chopra's Christ disregards the material world. He has nothing to do with Christianity or the Church, or with the God of the Jews and the Christians. He has no interest in faith, concerned only with enlightenment and a higher state of consciousness: "Once we see Jesus as a teacher of enlightenment, faith changes its focus. You don't need to have faith in the Messiah or his mission. Instead, you have faith in the vision of higher consciousness" (62). This Jesus does not ask us to believe in him, but to seek out "his essence, which is the light of pure consciousness" (63). Divine intelligence, the mad shooter opines, "manifests whatever we can imagine" (65). Perhaps all of this nonsense is best summarized in a statement found on the back of Chopra's "Magical Mind, Magical Body" audio tape: "Inside every person is a god in embryo. It has only one desire. It wants to be born."

Chopra says he is not a Gnostic, but there is much about his Christ that is in keeping with ancient Gnosticism, and he approvingly cites Gnostic texts in several places. But more than Gnostic, Chopra's beliefs—however inconsistent and self-contradicting—are pantheistic. This is the monism for the masses, where pantheism and televangelism meet and become one: panthevangelism. And what is taught is not just different from the teachings of the real Jesus and His Church, but is deliberately opposed to them. To focus on Jesus and our response to him, says Chopra, is to miss the point. When one achieves God-consciousness "wholeness prevails. There is no more going in and going out of God, coming to God and moving away. The experience of God turns into a constant for one reason alone: 'I' and 'God" become one and the same" (212; emphasis added). Jesus may be a good example, but he is not the goal: "But Jesus is the very thing you and won't be like once we arrive at God-consciousness" (213).

The New Age (Anti)christ

In the end (and in the beginning and middle as well) Chopra's Christ has nothing to do with the Jesus described in the Gospels, declared in Church teaching, and witnessed to by the mystics and saints. Despite teaching out of both sides of his mouth, Chopra clearly presents his Jesus as the real Jesus: unique, fresh, and newly recovered after centuries of dark oppression on the part of the Church. Yet this Jesus is hardly unique or fresh; he is actually identical or nearly identical with a host of New Age Christ's who have been created, recreated, reincarnated, and otherwise regurgitated over the past century by authors such as Levi Dowling, Jose Silva, Edgar Cayce, Richard Bach, Matthew Fox, and many others.

In his 1996 book, Searching for the Real Jesus in an Age of Controversy (Eugene, OR: Harvest House), Evangelical apologist and philosopher Dr. Douglas Groothuis outlined several common traits of the New Age Jesus [5]. All of them are found in Chopra's book, including:
• Jesus is a spiritually advanced being who provides an example for us to achieve our own "spiritual evolution." He is often compared to, or paired with, Buddha. Thus, Chopra insists, "the Christian seeker who wants to reach God is no different from the Buddhist. Both are directed into their own consciousness" (87). [6]

• As we've seen, the historical Jesus "is separated from the universal, impersonal, eternal Christ or Christ Consciousness, which Jesus embodied but did not monopolize." And the orthodox Christian understanding of Jesus as the Incarnate Word and unique Son of God is "dismissed as illegitimate" since this "is viewed as too limiting and provincial." Or, in Chopra's words: "Clearly Jesus did not have a provincial view of himself. Although a Jew and a rabbi (or teacher), he saw himself in universal terms" (20).

• Jesus death on the cross and his Resurrection are of little or no importance. Thus, a significant part of the Gospels (roughly a quarter of those texts) are simply ignored or dismissed as unimportant.

• Jesus' second coming is not a literal, visible event at the end of the age, but "a stage in the evolutionary advancement of the race..." As Chopra states, "the Second Coming will be a shift in consciousness that renews human nature by raising it to the level of the divine" (40).

• Extrabiblical documents, especially Gnostic texts, are used and regarded as authentic sources for the life of Jesus. Meanwhile, the Gospels are quoted selectively and often "corrected" by other sources. "Other documents may be as old as the four gospels," Chopra writes, "and therefore make their own claim to authenticity" (133).

• Bible passages are given esoteric interpretations that contradict orthodox understandings, as well as historical facts. Chopra especially enjoys reinterpreting texts about "light," ignoring (as in the Gospel of John) the context of the Feast of Lights, and the connection being made in John's Gospel to the Shekinah glory of God.
The Vatican document, "Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the 'New Age'", released in 2003 by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, compares the New Age Christ to the Jesus of Christianity, and summarizes the differences well:
For Christians, the real cosmic Christ is the one who is present actively in the various members of his body, which is the Church. They do not look to impersonal cosmic powers, but to the loving care of a personal God; for them cosmic bio-centrism has to be transposed into a set of social relationships (in the Church); and they are not locked into a cyclical pattern of cosmic events, but focus on the historical Jesus, in particular on his crucifixion and resurrection. We find in the Letter to the Colossians and in the New Testament a doctrine of God different from that implicit in New Age thought: the Christian conception of God is one of a Trinity of Persons who has created the human race out of a desire to share the communion of Trinitarian life with creaturely persons. Properly understood, this means that authentic spirituality is not so much our search for God but God's search for us. (par 3.3)
Like so many before him, Chopra does not appeal to history, facts, or logic in presenting his version of Jesus. He is completely derivative and unoriginal, despite his attempts to appear otherwise. Which doesn't prove he's wrong, of course, but it should raise a red flag for anyone, especially Christians, who might be tempted to think Chopra's Christ is better than the real Jesus.

Some Old-Fashioned New Age Christian Bashing

Any fair-minded reader—including non-Christians—should see, I hope, that Chopra likes to have it both ways. For example, in discussing how Jesus' words should be interpreted, Chopra muses: "The trick, in fact, is to take Jesus literally. After centuries of theology, our minds find it difficult to consider him without the trappings of a messiah" (25). But later he complains, "Everyone is aware that a sense of literalism has taken over Christianity. ... We need to take special care, therefore, in showing why literalism rests on shaky ground" (131).

As discussed earlier, Chopra dismisses Christian theology and metaphysics, saying that Christians "argue endlessly over" such matters (9). A few chapters on, however, he claims that "the Church spent most of the last thousand years without needing to argue any facts at all" (131). Does he not appreciate that all of the theology he mindlessly tosses out the window contains a plethora of arguments over the facts? In a related manner, he denounces the "abstract theological creation" (9) of the second Jesus—that is, the Jesus of Christian doctrine and theology—but, two hundred page later, denounces Christians for doing otherwise: "Christianity has done everything possible to humanize Jesus, for we cannot conceive of someone so completely transcendent that even our most cherished qualities, such as love and compassion, fall short of his reality" (220).

It would seem that orthodox Christians, in the eyes of Chopra, are damned either way. This suspicion is verified in the final chapter of the book, "What Would Jesus Do?", which is nothing less than an angry screed against traditional Christianity, the sort of bombastic rant that would make Christopher Hitchens or Sam Harris proud. Christians ("fundamentalists"), Chopra snarls, claim to be about love, but are increasingly filled with hatred: "What is preached is self-righteous tolerance" (220). He points to how "Christian law schools" are (gasp!) training Christian lawyers (the horror!), many of whom go into government work (say it ain't so!). "Has anyone told them that God's word (that is, the Bible), is explicitly out of bounds in a secular state," he frantically asks, "or that God has faces other than Christian?"(221) These Christians are accused of being involved in "gay bashing" and "violent attacks on abortion clinics." These narrow-minded "reactionary forces" filled with "fundamentalist zeal" are doing so because they have "fallen back on the medieval tradition of Imitatio Christi, worshipping Christ by imitating him" (222). That's right: the evil forces of Christian fundamentalism are rooted in people seeking to both worship and imitate Jesus!

Chopra also decries how "the Catholic Church has been adding to scripture since the beginning, and the literal meaning of the New Testament forms only the core of belief. A host of saints, church councils, learned theologians, and popes have altered Jesus's teachings while adopting his authority" (223). Then comes what surely is one of the most bizarre, irrational passages of The Third Jesus (no small feat):
To claim that Jesus would condemn abortion means that one has chosen a very specific Jesus, the orthodox rabbi who cautions his followers that they must obey the laws of Moses. Such a Jesus certainly exists, and since the Old Testament condemns abortion, this allows pro-lifers to skirt one significant problem: Jesus himself does not mention abortion. (223)
Get that? Since Jesus didn't talk about abortion and other issues, such as contraceptives and homosexuality, Chopra thinks it's wrong for Christians to oppose them. But if Jesus says nothing about them, how can Chopra imply that Jesus would support them? This is nothing but an "argument" from sheer arrogance, as Chopra isn't just upset that some Christians think Jesus is opposed to those things, but that those Christians are opposed to Chopra's beliefs about those things.

It gets even worse, as Chopra pits the "strict Jesus" against "mystical Jesus," using completely subjective, historically-questionably qualifiers merely reflect Chopra's beliefs, which in turn are based solely on his authority. In what way is this more convincing than two thousand years of Church teaching? He equates homosexuals with the man saved by the Good Samaritan, claiming they are a "despised class" of people, as though rejecting the supposed goodness of homosexual acts is the same as robbing and beating an innocent man. Christian conservatives are denounced for treating women like "second-class members of the church, if not worse." (225). Paul is portrayed as a misogynist jerk. And Chopra suggests that the Church's devotion to Mary is not only baseless, but hypocritical, since women cannot be ordained as priests.

Returning to the Christian law students he had insulted earlier, Chopra has the morally-stunted audacity to compare them to jihadists and suicide bombers! The common ground between Christian lawyers who obey the law and radical Islamicists who kill innocent people? Belief in truth: "Absolute truth is blind truth." (229) Dare I ask: Is that statement absolutely true? Because if it is, it's blind truth. And if it isn't, then it isn't true. And so it goes. Put simply, Chopra's arrogance is matched only by his stunningly gross illogic. And hypocrisy: "The point isn't to judge the religious right. Not only would such behavior not be enlightened, it would be totally counterproductive as a strategy." (232)

The Road to Spiritual Narcissism

An essential message of The Third Jesus is the tired but popular mantra: spirituality is good, religion is bad (as in, "I'm spiritual, not religious!"). We need, Chopra exhorts readers, to discard "the model of religion. To gather together on the path isn't the same as forming a sect. There is no need for dogma, prayer, ritual, priests, or official scripture. No one is to be elevated above the rest" (171). But if The Third Jesus (and many of Chopra's other books) is anything, it is a dogmatic work, a type of scripture that provides rituals and meditation. Chopra is a sort of priest, the spiritual leader who provides teaching, guidance, affirmation. His website prominently displays the description given him by TIME magazine: "the poet-prophet of alternative medicine." He's become a millionaire by selling his books and tapes, giving lectures around the world, and operating The Chopra Center for Wellbeing in Carlsbad, California, as well as other facilities.

James A. Herrick, in his excellent study, The Making of the New Spirituality (InterVarsity Press, 2003), writes about how the New Religious Synthesis (his term for New Age movements and related belief systems) does away with history in order to open the way "to universal religious insights." Religious belief is detached from historical events and the focus becomes inward. In this context, the gate is opened
to the self-styled mystic, the spiritual charlatan, the religious expert or just the self-deceived neighbor, each operating in a realm of private interpretation of elusive evidences largely inaccessible to their followers or any would-be critic... Shamans, gurus, scholars of religion and even laboratory scientists now intervene between the public and the divine as a new class of priests. Clearly, the movement away from history has not served to democratize spirituality. Rather the opposite has occurred. Under the New Religious Synthesis an asymmetrical relationship develops between the gifted few with unaccountable access to spiritual truth and the dependent many incapable of evaluating that truth. [7]
Chopra is one such guru, and he has certainly achieved an elevated status, not based on reason, but on a private interpretation he describes as "secular spirituality," which is, in reality, a religion: the worship and divinization of self. Herrick, further pondering the tension between those who believe in a personal God and Jesus Christ, and those who espouse an impersonal Oneness and the need to achieve a higher form of "consciousness", writes of this spirituality of self-obsession:
The New Religious Synthesis calls us to self-adoration as spirituality, to the exaltation of our own rational self-awareness—"the divinity operating within us"...—as an act of worship. The Other Spirituality's journey away from submission to a personal and sovereign deity, away from moral responsibility before a Creator God, away from community built on worship of the Wholly Other, arrives at no more interesting destination than spiritual narcissism. [8]
"Spiritual narcissism" is a perfect description of The Third Jesus. Chopra's book is only superficially about Jesus; in fact, he hardly makes any effort to find the real Jesus, having dismissed—without providing compelling reasons—the "historical" Jesus and the Jesus of doctrine and theology. On the contrary, this book is a self-absorbed exercise in pseudo-mystical navel-gazing, the sort of book whose beautiful cover disguises a hollow, empty work that is confused, vapid, and spiritually toxic.


[1] A full treatment of New Age beliefs and Eastern pantheistic monism is not, of course, possible here. An excellent popular introduction can be found in The Universe Next Door (InterVarsity Press, 1988; 2nd edition, especially pages 136-208), by James W. Sire. Sire points out that while traditional Hindu monism emphasizes the oneness of an impersonal God ("Atman is Brahman"), New Age beliefs usually place a great emphasis on the individual person, even while believing in an impersonal, pantheistic oneness.

[2] An excellent Catholic examination of the New Age movement is the Vatican document, "Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the 'New Age'", released in 2003 by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
[3] "The core experience of the New Age is cosmic consciousness, in which ordinary categories of space, time and morality tend to disappear." (Sire, 176).

[4] "Moreover, like the East, New Age thought rejects reason (what Andrew Weil calls 'straight thinking') as a guide to reality. The world is really irrational or super-rational, and demands new modes of apprehension..." (Sire, 166).

[5] This section is based on pages 64-76 of Groothuis' book.

[6] One hundred years ago, G. K. Chesterton wrote the following about Buddhism in Orthodoxy, "Buddhism is centripetal, but Christianity is centrifugal: it breaks out" and "The Buddhist is looking with peculiar intentness inwards. The Christian is staring with a frantic intentness outward." Also see, "Catholicism and Buddhism", by Anthony E. Clark and Carl E. Olson (Ignatius Insight, 2005), and Buddhist Dreams and Spiritualist Schemes", an interview with Dr. John B. Buescher (Ignatius Insight, April 1, 2008).

[7] Herrick, 256.

[8] Herrick, 259.

Related IgnatiusInsight.com Pages, Articles, and Book Excerpts:

"The Self-Revelation of God's Reality in History": On the Final Chapter of Jesus of Nazareth | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
"God Is The Issue" | The Temptation in the Desert and the Kingdoms of This World | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
God Made Visible: On the Foreword to Benedict XVI's Jesus of Nazareth | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Further reflections on Benedict's "Jesus of Nazareth" | Various Authors
A Shepherd Like No Other | Excerpt from Behold, God's Son! | Christoph Cardinal Schönborn
Encountering Christ in the Gospel | Excerpt from My Jesus | Christoph Cardinal Schönborn
Seeing Jesus in the Gospel of John | Excerpts from On The Way to Jesus Christ | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
A Jesus Worth Dying For | A Review of On The Way to Jesus Christ | Justin Nickelsen
The Divinity of Christ | Peter Kreeft
Jesus Is Catholic | Hans Urs von Balthasar
The Religion of Jesus | Blessed Columba Marmion | From Christ, The Ideal of the Priest

Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.

He is the co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code and author of Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"? He has written for numerous Cathlic periodicals and is a regular contributor to National Catholic Register and Our Sunday Visitor newspapers. He has a Masters in Theological Studies from the University of Dallas.

He resides in a top secret location in the Northwest somewhere between Portland, Oregon and Sacramento, California with his wife, Heather, their three children, their two cats, and far too many books and CDs. Visit his personal web site (now undergoing a major overhaul) at www.carl-olson.com.

Visit the Insight Scoop Blog and read the latest posts and comments by IgnatiusInsight.com staff and readers about current events, controversies, and news in the Church!


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