The Real Culture Wars: The Power of Now and the Prophet

I came across a copy of Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now the other day and, wanting to know what all the fuss was about, made the life-altering leap of opening the book.

Naturally, I had already turned to Wikipedia for answers, but discovered only that Mr. Tolle is German, and one of his early spiritual influences was Joseph Anton Schneiderfranken, or "Bô Yin Râ" -- who incidentally, was also a favored mystic of Hitler's. So, wanting to find more than just a shared interest with the Fuhrer, I naturally went straight to the text, and what I learned from the first few pages of The Power of Now was just how ego-saturated, money-driven and false our world really is. And I learned all this from the ministerings of Mr. Tolle.

Everyone's favorite Teutonic tantrist declares on the very first page of print -- the Author's Preface to the Paperback Edition (of beloved stature) -- that he is your prophet. Writing that his book is accomplishing the urgent "task" of transforming the human consciousness, Mr. Tolle unblushingly admits it was he who "gave birth" to the consciousness-altering text. Just a humble vessel for the gospel of pure enlightenment.

It just so happens that Tolle is also the vessel of a self-help mini-empire. In his preface, Tolle recites the litany of various people who were "deeply affected" by the book -- Buddhist monks, Christian inmates, neurotic psychotherapists, what have you. Only two of Tolle's many beneficiaries, however, are distinguished by name -- the one, a bookstore owner in London, and the other: Oprah Winfrey.

Now we're getting to the heart of things. It was only after Ms. Winfrey "proceeded to tell the world" about the book, Tolle writes, that it could finally make its most important spiritual leap -- "it reached #1 on the New York Times bestseller list." Translation into more than 30 languages and popularity in India completed the ascension of The Power of Now.

Today, millions of readers are picking up the book to learn just how spiritually crippled they really are. "Do you ever think?," Tolle asks. If so, then you need help, big time. In the terms of his opening fable, you are a spiritual beggar, "enslaved" to your mind, and participating in the universal dysfunction of human consciousness. Given all the thinking you do (you think to yourself), you realize that you do need help. Maybe Oprah knows where you can buy some.

It was this little intellectual sleight of hand that really opened my eyes, as I realized Tolle's book is an almost flawlessly executed advertising campaign: it creates a need for itself and offers itself as a solution to that need. When your spiritual health is on the line, what's $26.95 (or $9.95 for the paperback)? Spiritual enlightenment, with an order-now-bonus of freedom from your tribalistic mental enslavement, is worth the price of a family-sized bucket of chicken, is it not?

Mr. Tolle, it appears, is more bible salesman than spiritual prophet. Reading his personal tale about once being so depressed that he was on the verge of suicide, I couldn't help but be reminded of Iago's advice to Roderigo in Shakespeare's Othello: "If thou wilt needs damn thyself, do it a more delicate way than drowning. Make all the money thou canst..."

Meanwhile, 10,000 miles away, in the cradle of Western civilization and spirituality, the sanctity of a real prophet -- Ezekiel -- is being desecrated, and the American taxpayer is footing the bill. The 2,500-year-old Tomb of Ezekiel in the town of Al-Kifl, where Jews, Christians, and Muslims have worshiped since at least the Babylonian era, is being destroyed by Iraq's Antiquities and Cultural Authority. One might think that the job of the "Antiquities" authority would be to prevent such a crime against culture, but, nonetheless, the fact remains.

While Eckhart Tolle still appears in the news on almost a daily basis, the destruction of one of the most sacred sites in the Judeo-Christian tradition, which is also an archeological edifice that's part of our shared cultural heritage, has been mentioned just once or twice, in news stories that went mostly unread. Oprah Winfrey, who giggled and jiggled over Tolle's teachings, hasn't mentioned it, while the mainstream media, which doesn't lack for correspondents in the Middle East, hasn't even bothered to report on it.

Rallying around the Power of Now, we've forgotten our past. We've buried our heads within ourselves, concentrating like moles on the dim corners of our souls. And, living in the Now, and ignoring the centrality of a common root-civilization, we've also managed to divide ourselves into the Now's most salient breakdown -- that of political expediency. It's no wonder that we're watching as American society disintegrates "into an institutionalized civil war of pressure groups, each fighting for legislative favors and special privileges at the expense of one another."

But the situation is far worse than just the parochialism of a Washington that's turned into a lobbyist's bazaar. As we allow Ezekiel's 2,500-year-old Tomb in Iraq to be destroyed so that a new mosque might be plopped on top of it, and as we do nothing, not even complain about it, it's evident that we've already lost the war of religious extremism being waged against us.

For, today, we're willing to accept anything that's not an outright physical attack. Even when terror does not succeed, as with the Christmas Day Bomber, it still wins -which is why Osama Bin Laden can claim that particular incident as a victory: because we are scared, which is natural, but we are also cowering. Blow up our shrines, destroy our heritage, incinerate our (once) most precious values, we're saying - just don't hurt us.

Thousands of Americans were killed on 9/11, so we launched two wars in two countries. A decade later, we're still fighting the war in Afghanistan, and, in Iraq, we're paying money we don't have for the local authorities to destroy a Judeo-Christian holy site -- just as the Taliban destroyed ancient Buddhist statues in Afghanistan before we started fighting there. Sadly, it seems we've come full circle.

What would Eckhart Tolle advise us to do? Don't think of the past, or the future. Just forget about it. Well, mission accomplished, Mr. Tolle. Ours is a culture that's made forgetting your swift business. But as the country is stumbling in this memory-less stupor, maybe it's time to start remembering - who we are, what defines us, where we come from. Taking a look at the cultural atrocity being perpetrated in Al-Kifl, Iraq, would be a good first step.

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