Mysticism in America

                      Mysticism in America

     "The main fight, make no mistake," said theologian Nels 
Ferre in 1961, "is between the Christian faith in its inner, 
classical meaning and the new Orientalized versions whether they 
come via Neoplatonism or in modern forms...The supernatural, 
personalistic, classical Christian faith is now being undermined 
by an ultimately non-dualistic, impersonal or transpersonal 
faith. The winds are blowing gale-strong out of the Orient."

     Prof. Ferre's meteorological metaphor may have seemed an 
overstatement in 1961, but today we see its accuracy. Indeed, one 
of the startling things that has happened in recent history is 
the penetration of Western society by mysticism and occult 
philosophy, and the various forms of Eastern meditation which are 
frequently associated with them. In ten years, the counter-
cultural daydream of a society unified around the experience of 
the "divine within" has begun to take on an uncomfortably 
concrete reality. It is no longer possible to dismiss interest in 
the philosophy of eastern religions as a kind of fringe 
fanaticism which is beneath the concern of the Christian 

     Part of our underestimation of this trend stems from the 
fact that the American adherents of eastern cults are often so 
visible and distinctive that we tend to judge their significance 
in terms of their limited numbers; we fail to see that their 
existence is merely symptomatic of a much larger cultural shift. 
Thus we minimize the impact that this imported world-view has had 
upon our contemporaries' thinking. These mystical doctrines have 
influenced areas far removed from the sometimes bizarre world of 
the counter culture. In fact, an underlying theme runs through 
contemporary developments in science, business and finance, 
politics, economics, the arts, psychology and religion: the same 
basic ideas about man, meaning and God which are traditionally 
associated with the ancient oriental religions are showing up as 
root premises of most of the important trends in today's western 

     These ideas are rooted in a common set of presuppositions 
(i.e., faith premises) about the nature of ultimate reality and 
ultimate values. In the past these presuppositions have been 
systematically expounded in such "esoteric" disciplines as yoga, 
magic, alchemy, astrology, kabbalah, Taoism, tantra and Zen. 
Today, because of the widespread cross-fertilization of these and 
other schools of thought, meaningful labels are more difficult to 
apply. Whether we refer to these presuppositions as mysticism, 
Vedanta, occult philosophy, pantheism or monism is more a matter 
of emphasis than of semantic precision. Nevertheless, the proud 
delusion of modern philosophizing, whether scientific or 
spiritual, may be described as a kind of "cosmic humanism." It is 
fundamentally identical with the so-called "hidden wisdom" of 
classical occultism and is characteristically linked with such 
religious practices of the east as yoga and meditation. This 
underlying theme is being promoted in way that subtly conditions 
people at every level of culture to accept a definition of 
reality which ultimately denies the personal God of the Bible, 
asserts the autonomy, power and inherent divinity of man, and 
condemns as obsolete any absolute statement of moral values.

     C.S. Lewis also understood this issue as a conflict of 
fundamentally incompatible faiths. At the same time, he grasped 
the significance of this clash by seeing it in the perspective of 
history: "Pantheism is congenial to our minds not because it is 
the final stage in a slow process of enlightenment, but because 
it is almost as old as we are. It may even be the most primitive 
of all religions...It is immemorial in India. The Greeks rose 
above it only at their peak...their successors relapsed into the 
great Pantheistic system of the Stoics. Modern Europe escaped it 
only while she remained predominantly Christian; with Giordano 
Bruno and Spinoza it returned. With Hegel it became almost the 
agreed philosophy of highly educated people...So, far from being 
the final religious refinement, Pantheism is in fact the 
permanent natural bent of the human mind; the permanent ordinary 
level below which man sometimes sinks, but above which his own 
unaided efforts can never raise him for very long. It is the 
attitude into which the human mind automatically falls when left 
to itself. No wonder we find it congenial. If "religion" means 
simply what man says about God, and not what God does about man, 
then Pantheism almost is religion. And religion in that sense 
has, in the long run, only one really formidable opponent -- 
namely Christianity."

     In the meantime, the spiritual anemia of the west has left 
this generation ravenous for reality, and therefore vulnerable to 
any spiritual counterfeit offered in the name of Truth. As born-
again disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, we will soon come face-
to-face with seemingly irrefutable evidence of our own 
irrelevance. Obviously this development opens up new vistas of 
Christian apologetics that have barely been touched heretofore. 
Christians need to be diligent in seeking an informed 
understanding of what is going on, of where it comes from, what 
its direction is and what it means within the context of the 
spiritual warfare to which we are called.

     The traditional systems of occult philosophy and their newer 
variants are all patterned after the archetypal lie of Genesis 3. 
They are not primarily intellectual constructions, but flow in 
the first instance from a common experience -- the experience of 
"cosmic totality." This powerful but partial (and therefore 
ultimately false) experience, like the serpent's primordial 
deception, is single in its nature. The mystical systems that 
seek to interpret this experience can nevertheless be analyzed 
for purposes of intellectual convenience into a number of 
mutually related categories of thought. The four most important 
of these may be stated as follows:

(1) "All is One."
     This declaration is not a theoretical proposition, but a 
succinct description of the experience encountered in a state of 
altered consciousness. Such altered states of consciousness may 
occur spontaneously, but they are more usually produced through 
the systematic practice of some technique of meditation. The 
effect of this kind of experience is to dissolve all distinctions 
(especially the distinction between the perceiver and the objects 
of his perception) into a single, undifferentiated unity. The 
interpretation of this experience leads directly to the first 
presupposition of monistic philosophy: that there is only one 
Reality in existence. From this it follows, both logically and 
experientially, that all apparent separations and oppositions 
(including the opposition of good and evil) are unreal or are 
secondary manifestation of the single divine Reality. Likewise, 
all "objects" and "individuals" are merely partial glimpses of 
the all-inclusive One. This ultimate Reality is often identified 
with "pure consciousness," in the sense of unlimited and 
unconditioned awareness. In Hindu terms, it is Sat-Chit-Ananda, 
that is, "Being-Awareness-Bliss," or "the ecstasy of 
consciousness aware of itself."
     This point of view can be illustrated in an instance of 
advanced scientific speculation by the case of Erwin Schrodinger, 
Nobel Prize-winning physicist. His world-view, derived, he says, 
from Vedanta, is that there is only a single consciousness, of 
which all things are but different aspects: "The external world 
and consciousness are one and the same thing, in so far as both 
are constituted by the same primitive elements."

(2) "Man is a Divine being (the Divine within)."
     This assumption is inevitable on the basis of the experience 
described above. If there is only a single Reality in existence, 
then we are obviously parts or emanations of it. Our own 
"consciousness" provides the specific connecting link. In 
experiencing it we experience our oneness with the divine and the 
essential divinity of our innermost nature. All forms of occult 
philosophy are united around the central belief that the inner or 
"real" Self of man is God. This is the fundamental form of the 
fundamental falsehood, the basic statement of The Lie: "Man is 

(3) "The purpose and fulfillment of life is to become aware of 
our divine nature."
     However the "divinity" of man may be defined by a particular 
cult, the "way" is always the way of gnosis: the attainment of 
experiential "knowledge" through a flash of metaphysical insight. 
"Salvation" is equated with the discovery of this higher Reality 
and its laws. The usual occult terminology refers to 
"enlightenment," illumination," "at-one-ment," "union" or "Self-
realization." All propagandists of mystical occultism regard 
their philosophies as scientific as well as (or rather than) 
religious. They seek to be united with the divine principle or 
law through their understanding and use of spiritual and psychic 
techniques. Such attempts seem feasible because God experienced 
as "the law of man's own being" is completely immanent and 
therefore readily accessible. As a further result of this 
approach, such movements look to the personal, subjective and 
experiential as the source and certification of meaning within 
the context of their system -- not only apart from, but in 
opposition to any reliance on faith or the authority of 

(4) "Self-realization leads to the mastery of spiritual 
technology and the attainment of psycho-spiritual power."
     As an initiate advances upon the path of gnosis, he becomes 
increasingly familiar with the divine "One" and its relationship 
to the secondary levels of its manifestation (which we think of 
as the realm of "creation"). Thus he, as man-God, becomes master 
and creator of his own reality. Through his knowledge and 
utilization of spiritual laws, he becomes capable of creating and 
manipulating the conditions of his own further development or 
that of others. (If he assumes this role in relation to other 
individuals, he becomes in effect a "guru" or spiritual master.) 
Inasmuch as reality is composed of consciousness, man learns to 
control reality by controlling consciousness.
     As we participate in the divine by virtue of our possession 
of consciousness, we automatically take part in the process by 
which the world of sense-objects is brought into (illusory) 
being. As the "enlightened" or "realized" individual learns to 
alter his consciousness at will, he thereby learns to alter the 
structure of creation; "matter" itself can be created or 
decreated by him with the facility of a divine conjurer. It is 
here that mysticism merges into magic (and vice-versa). From 
Yahweh's own attribution of unlimited power to those who sought 
to ascend to heaven, we can see that the Tower of Babel was 
essentially an occult enterprise: "This they have begun to do, 
and now nothing that they have imagined will be impossible to 
them." (Gen. 11:6).

     These four elements of "doctrine" are the earmarks of occult 
philosophy. Though they may be articulated in varying ways, all 
four are basic to the teaching of most of the eastern cults now 
active in the west -- from the self-professedly innocent and 
"non-religious" transcendental Meditation of Maharishi Mahesh 
Yogi, to the more obvious blasphemies of Sun Myung Moon's 
Unification Church. If we understand that they are explanations 
of an experience, and that the experience itself provides the 
underlying dynamic of mysticism, we can see that these four 
elements are also present, though masked, in diverse forms of 
yoga, meditation and martial arts disciplines. Taken together, 
and discerned in terms of the experience which they rationalize, 
they provide us with a yardstick by which to evaluate groups and 
teachings that may be otherwise unfamiliar to us. If a cult or 
belief manifests even one of them in obvious form, you may be 
certain that the thrust of its teaching runs counter to authentic 

     However, while faith may be fulfilled in the identification 
and rejection of the false, apologetics has a more extensive aim. 
As active participants in our Lord's battle against 
"principalities and powers," we should try to understand the 
monistic experience both positively and negatively; that is, we 
should know it for what it is, as well as for what it is not.

     The most prominent fact about this experience of "cosmic 
oneness" is its universality. The philosophies and belief-systems 
that spring from it seem to be the dominant religious expression 
of humanity apart from Christ. Monism is an ancient, natural and 
seemingly inevitable response to the human condition, as C.S. 
Lewis points out. This is an important clue. Natural man's 
universal bondage to the curse of death is revealed in the 
solidarity of the human condition itself, which results from 
death. As the writer of Ecclesiastes perceived, human beings find 
their truest common bond in the grave to which all descend.

     Just as death is -- humanly speaking -- a final and total 
separation, so the awareness of that end shatters our attempt to 
find some sense or value in the pattern of life here and now. As 
that final entropy creeps backward into our every experience, it 
brings with it a conviction of brokenness, anxiety and alienation 
that penetrates to the heart of our being. All "religion" 
ultimately is an attempt to come to terms with the pervasive and 
insidious fragmentation of our lives that is introduced by the 
prospective certainty of death. Humanity cannot, therefore, 
escape a "religious" response to its condition because individual 
humans can never escape the fact that they must die. This 
religious response is, specifically, a groping for some ground of 
unity that will enable us to grasp an unknown harmony beyond the 
brittle disintegration of meaning that fractures all our hopes 
and pleasures.

     But the available grounds of unity are strictly limited. 
Those who seek unification of a broken reality must find it 
either above the ordinary level of our splintered existence, or 
below it -- either in the living, personal God who speaks the 
cosmos into existence, or in some impersonal substrate of "being" 
which underlies even the primordial duality of matter and energy, 
a substrate which is within the cosmos and constitutes its 
invisible foundation. That such a created substrate does exist 
seems a reasonable inference from the account of Genesis 1:1-10, 
in which the Lord reveals that the initial stage of cosmic 
formation was a state which possessed true created existence, but 
was "formless and void," that is, "without determinate 
structure." It was only later that this unitary state of "bare" 
existence passed through the primordial duality (the separation 
of light from darkness, v.4) and beyond, into the increasingly 
elaborate dualizations (e.g., the separation of firmaments, the 
separation of land from water, etc.; vv.6-27) by means of which 
God built up the complex forms of material creation. It is is 
true that human "consciousness" is itself an instrument of 
perception which is capable of making contact with the subtle and 
unstructured basis of its own created existence (and there seems 
no Biblical reason for denying it), we can see that this latent 
and inherently accessible possibility offers a form of 
unification that is naturally appealing to fallen man. Occult 
mystical experience encounters this lowest-common-denominator of 
creation, calls it "God," and merges with it to the dissolution 
of identity and individuality.

     In Romans 1:25, the apostle Paul tells us that the essence 
of false religion is "the worship of the creature..." In its 
wider meaning, the word translated "creature" extends to the 
whole realm of "creation" and hints at the profound implications 
of Paul's thought. Such "worship" of the creation, however, is 
false not only to God, but to its ostensible object as well. 
Mystical enlightenment represents a radical implosion of 
consciousness which in effect reverses the flow of God's creative 
process by disassembling the complexities of the created order 
and seeking an unstructured root of impersonal existence.

     Thus the religious desire for unity is faced with two 
options for its fulfillment:

 (1) "transcendence" through Christ to contact with the uncreated 
God, or..
 (2) "subscendence" through mystical self-awareness to contact 
with the created void.

     The Bible warns us, however, that we can realistically 
expect the bulk of humanity to reject the first option in favor 
of one that panders to the pride and perversity of its fallen 
nature. We know that man in his natural state not only is apart 
from God, but actively repudiates Him. Those who follow this 
tendency are thereby shutup to the only remaining possibility.

     To speak of God and His creation is to exhaust the scope of 
the real. There is nothing else. Everything that exists is either 
God Himself or is created by Him. In this we can see the 
inevitability of the present proliferation of mystical religions 
and occult philosophies. Those who refuse to find the unification 
of their fragmented lives in God must seek it within the realm of 
creation. Since the creation itself is fallen (Romans 8:19-23), 
the conclusion of the matter is that mysticism declares the way 
by which one embraces the fulfillment of the curse here and now.

     This is why Jesus can speak of only two roads: the narrow 
way which leads to life, and the broad way which leads to death. 
Just as there is only one Truth, there is really only one Lie, 
though it may take many forms. Although the broad road has many 
"lanes," they all lead to the same place in the end.

                    Brooks Alexander
                    Spiritual Counterfeits Project


ESOTERIC:  Derived from a Greek root signifying inner or within; 
anything that is withheld or veiled from the public at large and 
revealed only to an inner circle of initiates; commonly applied 
to the techniques and experiences of mystical enlightenment as 
well as the ideas of mystical philosophy.

KABBALAH:  A distinctively Jewish form of occultism, developed by 
certain rabbis especially during the Middle Ages; it is based in 
part on a mystical and esoteric interpretation of the Old 

MONISM:  The philosophical doctrine that there is only one 
ultimate reality in existence, and that all things are parts of 
or are composed of this reality.

OCCULT, OCCULTISM:  While most westerners are accustomed to think 
of the occult as equivalent to Satanism, black magic, astrology 
and fortune-telling, the word in its true sense simply means 
"hidden" or "concealed." Thus it is closely related to esoteric 
(above). Occultism in all its forms consists of secret techniques 
of consciousness-alteration, coupled with secret doctrines which 
explain the inner meaning of the experiences thereby attained. An 
occultist has declared that "occultism may be defined as the use 
of the hidden powers in man to discover the hidden life in the 

TANTRA:  A series of Hindu and Buddhist scriptures which are 
concerned with special yogic practices for swiftly attaining 
enlightenment; also, the practices and techniques taught by those 
books; also, the philosophical tradition based on those 

TAOISM:  A Chinese religion and philosophy based on the "Book of 
Tao", ascribed to Lao-Tzu (600 B.C.); basically monistic in 
character, it emphasizes that the "One" is ineffable and 
undefinable. The "I Ching," a Chinese book of divination, is 
associated with Taoism.

VENDANTA:  A monistic philosophy based in part on the "Vedas", 
which are ancient Hindu scriptures; the literal meaning of 
Vedanta is "the end of the Vedas," that is, their ultimate import 
of meaning.

YOGA:  Literally, "yoking" or "union"; any systemized technique 
or form of spiritual practice by which the practitioner (or yogi) 
seeks to condition himself at all levels -- physical, psychic and 
spiritual -- in ways that will facilitate the experience of 
conscious union with the divine principle.