Neale Donald Walsch’s “Conversations With God” — Some Historical BackgroundApril 21, 2013
All this “You are God” stuff has a long history and includes a fairly profound mystical tradition as well as a rather non-profound political history. The reasons for this strikingly checkered past should swiftly become obvious to anyone who stops and thinks about it.
The “God” refers to the ultimate in alpha males, and the “you” is the ultimate in biblical humbleness and worminess. The conjunction of the two might be the ultimate in democratic humility, or the ultimate in despotic hubris….. or a mix of the two with a lucrative business plan attached!
The idea was first written down in the Upanishads, a quite impressive old document which included the often quoted idea that one should “Be still and know that I am God”. But instead of “God”, of course, it’s “Brahma”. Sadly, this should remind us that it’s only speaking to members of the Brahman caste, and not to any Untouchable.
Striking isn’t it, how the most vicious and inhuman hierarchy ever devised, the Hindu caste system, nestles so easily in next to the apparently democratic idea that God is in everyone. Note too, please, the built-in Orwellian disclaimer — All people are God, but some people are more God than others.
The idea resurfaces in the Bible. Saul of Tarsus (who was influenced by the Greeks, who were themselves influenced by Hindu philosophy), tells the Galatians that he now has a “Jesus” where his “self” used to be. Again, while this all sounds very humble, it also forms the basis of divine papal authority, and onward to centuries of hideous torture and a shocking array of crimes and abuses.
Again, note the ease with which a humble idea of personal submission rests so easily with ideas of hierarchy and unquestionable authority.
A more curious and possibly more honorable appearance of the idea occurred in Baghdad in the 10th Century. The Sufi mystic Mansur Al-Hallaj waded into the philosophically dangerous waters of deciding that if God is in everything, then he can also be found by anyone who knows how to look, regardless of religion or social status.
This is a genuinely brave and (I find) appealing idea, which is an invitation to unhindered exploration of the natural world and inner contemplation. For a sincere seeker and a genuinely devout believer, this is a perfectly reasonable conclusion, or even an unavoidable imperative. The fact that religious fundamentalists have always opposed this idea suggests they are themselves not in fact believers, and are purely interested in political power — the very thing which this idea threatens.
Likewise, the fundies didn’t like Mansur’s insistence on sharing his mysticism with the masses, and they had him executed. According to accounts, Mansur went bravely to his death, repeating that his “self” (i.e. his ego) had already been destroyed long before the ax was to fall. If the accounts are true, it seems he genuinely believed that, as he put it, “There is nothing wrapped in this turban except God.”
This is the tradition that Neale Donald Walsch claims to be a part of. He claims both the divine authority of Yahweh as instilled in Saul, as well as the humbleness and courage in the face of oppression, of Mansur. Subsequent posts will consider how Walsch navigates this philosophical minefield, how he measures up to the standards he claims to represent, and how he deals with the built-in temptations of hierarchy, hubris and profit.
(I know, I’ve been blabbing about doing this for ages, but there is a surprising amount of preliminary stuff to clear out of the way before one can get a clear approach to this Walsch character!)
Posted by Yakaru