When I wrote a book on happiness in 1995, I was required to read a number of the popular self-help books on the subject. It was only dogged persistence and several strong cigars that got me through them.
But lo and behold, at the suggestion of a friend, I took a look at the best-selling Conversations with God and found out I had not yet tasted the dregs of pop spirituality.
All you need to know about the book can be gleaned from its acknowledgments, where he thanks John Denver, “whose songs touch my soul”; Richard Bach, author of that influential epic, Jonathan Livingston Seagull; Barbra Streisand, whose singing causes him “to feel what is true”; and Robert Heinlein, “whose visionary literature has raised questions and posed answers in ways no one else has dared even approach.”
The first line of the introduction declares that we “are about to have an extraordinary experience.” Walsch claims the book just “happened.” He does not mean this metaphorically — these are supposedly God’s words as dictated through his hand! “Abruptly, the pen began moving on its own.”
Private revelation is nothing new, but these claims should always be met with a healthy skepticism. Hardly anything that serious kicked in when I read what God says on page 3:
My most common form of communication is through feeling. Feeling is the language of the soul. If you want to know what’s true for you about something, look to how you’re feeling about it. . . . hidden in your deepest feelings is your highest truth.
Walsch’s God definitely aims to please. Is anything potentially more popular than to convince people that their feelings are all the product of divine infusion? That simplifies a lot of dilemmas. In Walsch’s defense, however, there is nothing in John Denver’s songs, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, or elsewhere in pop culture to suggest otherwise.
What makes this book worth talking about is the fact that it is still selling quite briskly. Its success tells us once again how dumbed-down we have become on religious issues, and how easily we are seduced by a spirituality completely stripped of moral requirements.
For example, we are told never “supplicate” before God, but “appreciate.” Evidently asking God for help creates a “Sponsoring Thought” of the negative (watch out!) variety. Saddled with negative thoughts about our relationship to God, we are forever placing conditions on our lovability. Walsch’s God makes no demands except that you consider your feelings as ultimately justifying anything they are connected with.
Walsch gives people what they want, specifically, what they want in their weakest moments. He caters to the worst in people while assuring them it is their best. At times, his God sounds like a West Coast Nietzschean — “You are not discovering yourself, but creating yourself”; at other times a mad medievalist — “My purpose in creating you, My spiritual offspring was for Me to know Myself as God.”
This book is so incoherent that it’s a struggle to get through its two hundred-plus pages. So it’s not without some irony that his God remarks, “Words are really the least effective communicator.” But many more of God’s words are still to be revealed. Book 2 covers “more global topics of geopolitical and metaphysical life on the planet.” And Book 3 deals with “universal truths of the highest order and opportunities of the soul.”
Such a book is easily parodied, but sadly, over the years, many people have taken it seriously. Walsch will mislead them about important matters: the nature of God, the self, and morality. His alternately bossy and mystifying tone will give them the impression of profundity while communicating something rather heretical.
After putting it down, annoyed and exhausted from the effort of reading so much nonsense, I thought of the serpent in the garden. What else attracted Adam and Eve than the temptation to feel themselves elevated above the demands of their Creator: “you shall be as God.” Walsch makes the same slimy pitch: “If I say to you, you are God — where does that leave religion?”
There’s another conversation with God called the Bible — we should be reading it daily. But maybe that’s just how I feel!
This column originally appeared in the March 1997 issue of Crisis Magazine.