The books referred to in parentheses in the following essay were all written by Neale Donald Walsch, and full bibliographic information about them is given at the end of this essay.]
The key to understanding Neale Donald Walsch is to realize that he is part of the New Thought movement. His ideas are very similar to other writers in this movement such as Rhonda Byrne, Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer and Terry Cole-Whittaker. Nothing is paradoxical or unusual in his writings once one understands this larger movement and its idea of our relationship with the Divine. [This site contains an essay on the origins of New Thought, an essay on its basic teachings and an essay on its problems. All of these essays are in the History of Ideas section.]
What is unusual and interesting about Walsch is that he is very worried our civilization is in a deep crisis (CW2, p.138-140), and he expands basic New Thought ideas to offer a solution to the crisis. This crisis is so severe in his opinion that we are years, not decades, from collapse. (NR, p. ix) The purpose of his books is to raise collective consciousness to avert this crisis. (CW2, p. 256) He is to be commended for being one of the few New Thought teachers who focus on our civilization’s troubles, especially as he says his audience hates it when he talks about politics and are often infuriated with him. (F, p. 379-380)
While Walsch thinks there is an impending crisis, he is very hopeful. He says “the world could change overnight” if we could change our consciousness. (CW2, p. 260) We do not have to wait for the whole society or government to change. Individuals can change first and then help other individuals change. Eventually, there will be enough individuals with the new, more connected consciousness that finally a critical mass of people will emerge and society as a whole will change. [The critical mass is around 3% of all people. (T, p. 17)] Walsch is such an optimist that this change will not take centuries, but only decades or even just years. (T, p. 215)
According to Walsch, the core problem causing our crisis is the mistaken ideas organized religions teach us about God. (NR, p. 29-30) We are actually one with God and with all life, but organized religions do not want us to know this as priests want control. They would not have this control if we knew about the power within us through our connection to God. (H, p. 168)
Walsch says that people do not experience separateness from God on their own. Instead people believe they are separate from God because religion tells them so. (NR, p. 186) People forget their connection to God as they are taught they do not have any inner connection to the divine separate from the religious authorities. (T, p. 142)
Walsch says that our science, math, medicine, technology, philosophy and psychology have all changed to keep up with the times, but our religious ideas have not. (T, p. 213 & NR, p. 176) So the root of our civilization’s crisis is that we suffer from outmoded religious ideas that lead people to hurt each other and the planet. Walsch says that people “plunder the Earth, rape her of her resources, exploit her people, and systematically disenfranchise those who disagree with you.” (CW2, p. 172)
Walsch says that either we keep religious fundamentalism or we have new spiritual revelations. (NR, p. 64) As religious fundamentalism is the root cause of our civilization’s crisis, he thinks we need a new spiritual revelation: his books, which he claims are channeled from God. He says that this new revelation in his books will expand the insights of religions; it will not reject their insights, but rejuvenate them. “The world must create a New Spirituality. Not something to completely replace the old, but something to refresh it. Not something to reduce the old, but something to expand it. Not something to subvert the old, but something to support the best of it.” (NR, p. 177) His revelation will be a higher synthesis of the old religions and new insights we need to keep up with the times. This new revelation will not say that people were wrong in their earlier understanding of previous revelations. It will say, “You simply didn’t have a complete understanding. You needed more information. Transcending current beliefs is not an outright rejection of them; it is an ‘adding to’ them. Now that you have more information that you can add to what you presently believe, you can enlarge your beliefs – not completely reject them, enlarge them – and move on with your lives in a new way.”(NR, p. 9) This new synthesis will work by keeping people focused on the core principles in their religious traditions and stop them from quarreling over the minor points or fine print. (T, p. 233)
The core point of Walsch’s new spiritual revelation is that God is life, and we are God. (QA, p. 195) This realization of oneness has tremendous practical ramifications as it means that what you do for another, you do for self and vice versa. (CW1, p. 131) In this higher state of awareness, he says you will lose your selfishness as someone else’s interests are now seen as your own interests. (CW2, 141) Furthermore once you see others as you, you will not do harmful things to them as you are them, and you don’t do harmful things to yourself. (T, p. 72-3)
In this new society there will be a shift in consciousness so that everyone will share everything equally, and thus there will not be any private property. (CW3, p. 287 & 294-5) In a really advanced society, there will not even be personal pronouns as there will not even be the concept “yours” or “mine.” (CW3, p. 306-7) Sometimes he says there will be private property, but there will not be a need for taxes. Why not? He says people will contribute freely to the common good as we are all one. He says that “not contributing to the Fund for the Common Good would be like cheating on yourself. What good would that do?” (T, p. 270)
In this new society, people would never let other people starve as we would never do that to ourselves. (QA, p. 156-7) Moreover, there will not be competition, as when one person loses, we all lose as we are one. (CW3, p. 302)
Skeptics might think that some people will take advantage of the situation as in communism. Walsch responds that his system is much different than communism because in that system people were forced to share. In his system, the sharing in society comes about not from force, but from a change in consciousness. His theory is grounded in the belief that when a critical mass of people realize we are all one, it brings change in everyone.
Still Walsch thinks that sometimes people will do less than ideal actions. He says that if someone is a welfare cheat, you do not stop helping them as God’s goodness, patience and love (and hence ours as we are God) is never ending. (CW2, p. 170-1) If people do other harmful things, there will not be any punishment. He says that “the idea of punishment is simply not something that occurs to them [people living in advanced societies], because the concept of punishment itself is incomprehensible to them. Why would the One Being want to hurt Itself? Even if It has done something that is damaging, why would It want to hurt Itself again? How does hurting Itself once more correct the damage of the first hurt? It’s like stubbing one’s toe, then kicking twice as hard to retaliate.“ (CO, p. 151)
The essence of Walsch’s vision is that we are all one with God and one another; once we realize this, we will change and treat each other well. He is to be respected for bringing into New Thought a new dimension of social concern and trying to develop a vision of how people who take New Thought seriously will bring about social change.
The first problem with his social vision is that he says we will never do bad things to others as you don’t do bad things to yourself. Unfortunately, this is just untrue: we do bad things to ourselves all the time. Vast numbers of people consume harmful or dangerous food because it tastes yummy or smoke cancer causing cigarettes because they enjoy it. Or we just have to look at the problems people have with drugs to know that this idea that people don’t harm themselves is simply not true.
His whole oneness approach will not solve the problem he thinks it will because most people don’t treat themselves that well, so there is no reason to think they will treat others well even if they think the others are themselves.
The second problem is his belief in how these ideas will come about in society. He says that when enough individual people share his ideas, a critical mass will be reached which will create a force field of some type so that everyone in society will share this belief. He says that “as more and more people are awakening… that number will reach critical mass, and the so-called Hundredth Monkey theory will play out its effect. That is, everyone at once will know and understand.” (QA, p. 240)
The idea of this kind of force field is very popular in the New Age movement. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi says that when enough people meditate, peaceful and calm vibrations are sent out so there is less crime and terrorism in the area. And Rupert Sheldrake refers to this idea as morphogenetic fields. But the most popular way of phrasing this concept is the hundredth monkey. While Walsch finds this a hopeful concept, unfortunately for him, the hundredth monkey and related phenomena have been thoroughly debunked by researchers and scientists. [The present site has a larger essay on the problems with the hundredth monkey idea.]
So the theoretical foundations of his solution do not work. Things will not suddenly change radically for the better when we think of others as ourselves. If we want to change our civilization, we have to look for a different approach than Walsch’s.
While Walsch’s basic vision is flawed, his discussions about religion contain some basic misconceptions that many modern spiritual people share and so it is useful to discuss them.
The first misconception is that he overestimates religion’s effect on our lives. He says that our whole culture emerged from religion. (T, p. 115) But there are lots of other influences on our culture such as philosophy, science and our theory of human nature. The philosophy behind capitalism did not emerge from religion. Adam Smith was very much influenced by Stoic philosophy and his theory of human nature, but he was not much influenced by religion. His theory of capitalism came from a theory of human nature that says we are selfish creatures but the Deist God arranged things in such a way that our selfishness works for the good of all in the long run.
Walsch has a theory of human nature where we are good and part of God. So he says that it is hard for us to kill one another as it goes against every instinct we have. So why do we kill each other? Not because we are greedy or lustful or want more land or because we are selfish by nature. No, according to Walsch, it is due to organized religion brainwashing us that it is okay to kill. Organized religion has reorganized our thoughts so that we think killing is okay. (NR, p. 206-7) Killing did not start because I wanted your pretty wife or your clean cave, it started because of organized religion.
Walsch seems naïve to think religion is the only important negative force in our lives. He is neglecting selfishness, lust and our other lower base desires. But his position follows from the basic tenets of New Thought: it says we are one with God and does not really believe we suffer from bad past karma, sinful nature or lower personality desires that significantly push us away from God.
New Thought does not believe in evil, but for Walsch, organized religion becomes the functional equivalent of evil. He teaches that we are one with God and would continue to have this oneness, except for organized religion. This scapegoating of organized religion makes it basically equivalent to the Christian devil. (Except the Christians are more sophisticated and do not give all the power to the devil as our lower base urges also play a major part in our troubles.)
The second misconception is that he does not understand how religious change happens and how much religions have changed throughout history. Religions change tremendously, but Walsch does not notice the change because the religions keep the same holy books. They change by interpreting their book differently or putting more emphasis on another part of the book. So in America in the mid-1800s, slavery was a major problem. There are many passages in the Bible that, if interpreted literally, support keeping slaves. The Southerners interpreted these passages literally and held up the Bible as supporting slavery. In order to abolish slavery, the Northerners did not need a new revelation, they needed a new way of reading the Bible. And they got one. Instead of focusing on the literal interpretation of biblical passages, they emphasized the larger principles and general arc of the Bible. These were for liberation, freedom, equality and care for everyone. The abolitionist movement in America was led by religious people using the Bible as support for the abolition of slavery. A related process is happening now in our country concerning homosexuality where many people interpret Bible passages literally to disparage homosexuality, and other people emphasize Jesus’ love and toleration for everyone.
There are many other times in history when Christianity significantly changed to accommodate social changes. So when the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and started the process of Christianity becoming the religion of the Roman Empire, Christians stopped being pacifists. When Western Europe, started getting more capitalistic, the Catholic Church changed its traditional condemnation against charging interest on loans.
The third misconception is his claim that his new revelation does not reject earlier religious revelations, but enlarges and enlivens them as it is a synthesis of the best of the old and the new. Modern spiritual writers like to claim their spiritual systems encapsulate earlier traditions in a higher synthesis. James Redfield claims this in his book Celestine Prophecy,and Ken Wilber says his ideas are a synthesis of previous ways of thinking. These writers say their synthesis keeps the basic, core insights of the previous tradition.
The trouble is that it is not easy to decide what are the core principles from the older tradition that have to be kept in the synthesis, and what are the lesser principles that can be left behind. Buddha told his disciples before he died that they could discard the minor monastic rules and follow only the major important ones. However, his disciples could not decide how to do this, and they ended up retaining all the monastic rules, including interesting ones like all medicine has to have urine in it and monks cannot eat after noon.
When Walsch talks about changing unimportant principles of the Christian tradition, he specifically points to changing the masculine pronouns used in the Bible to make them gender neutral. Walsch says that changing the pronouns is not changing anything important and people should realize this. He knows that “critics such as James Dobson, founder of the conservative Focus on the Family ministry, say muting ‘the masculinity intended by the authors of Scripture’ violates the Gospel by ‘ obscuring the fatherhood of God’… ‘and the true identity of Jesus Christ.’” He, however, says this resistance is “petulant bickering.” (NR 75 & 76)
Walsch claims to be making a higher synthesis, but a true synthesis will have to convince conservatives like Dobson, not just liberals. Otherwise, it is not a convincing or good synthesis that takes our culture to the next stage of its spiritual evolution. Redfield and Wilber’s work suffer from the same kind of easy “synthesizing.” So the vast majority of Christians still have not realized how the Celestine Prophecyrevitalizes their faith, and the vast majority of academics pay absolutely no attention to Wilber’s work. Of course these spiritual writers and New Agers in general just dismiss these people as having resistances and blockages, but the mark of a true synthesis is that it will be convincing to non-believers, not just to believers.
Killing Mosquitoes and Killing Jews
While his theory of social change will not succeed and it is based on misconceptions about religion, the last problem with Walsch’s social theory is how his ideas about oneness apply to killing other creatures. This point is especially contentious because Walsch says, or seems to say, the Jews co-created their deaths in the Holocaust, and Hitler actually did them a favor by killing them.
This point starts by discussing the killing of mosquitoes. Walsch asks God, “If I am One with everything, what about swatting the mosquito?” (FR, p. 371) The Buddhists share a very similar philosophy of oneness with Walsch and their answer to this question is pretty simple: do not kill any living creature, even an insect, as non-violence is the spiritual way of living. Considering Walsch thinks God is life and life is sacred, one might think he would respond like the Buddhists do. Nevertheless Walsch does not give this simple and seemingly obvious answer.
He has God reply, “What kind of change do you choose to create in that part of your Self that you call the mosquito? That is the question you are asking, and that is the implication of the We Are All One wisdom. You are ‘changing’ the part of The All that you call the mosquito. You cannot ‘kill’ the mosquito, do you see? Life is eternal, you cannot end it. You do have the power to change your form. As in your popular science fiction entertainments, you might call yourself a shape shifter. Yet know this: all of consciousness acts together. In the highest sense, it is impossible for one of you to have dominion or control over another. Every aspect of divinity has co-creative control over its destiny. Therefore, you cannot kill a mosquito against its will. At some level, the mosquito has chosen that. All of the change in the universe occurs with the consent of the universe itself, in its various forms. The universe cannot disagree with itself. That is impossible.” (FR, p. 371)
I have highlighted the last part of the quote because it says that any creature killed by a person has participated in the killing by choosing to be killed. You could not have killed it otherwise as we are all one.
Walsch is aware these ideas sound dangerous. He says “this is dangerous talk. This is a dangerous teaching. People could use this to say, ‘Well, then I can do anything to anyone I want, since they’ve given me their permission. After all, they’re ‘co-creating’ it with me….we can do “incredible damage to each other, all under the guise of simply believing that everything in the Universe agrees with what we are doing. I am just deeply troubled by that.” (FR, p. 371-2)
Walsch does not give an easily understandable reply here. God quickly says a person will not torture someone else as that is torturing yourself. But on the other hand, God responds by repeating the point: “it is impossible to do anything against the will of another…WE ARE ALL ONE. Therefore, of course, you cannot do anything to another that has not at some level been co-created with you. That would be possible only if we are not All One.Yet, WE ARE ALL ONE. There is only one of Us. We are creating this reality together.” (FR373-4)
Walsch comes back to this point ten pages later and asks again if it is okay to swat a mosquito, pick weeds or kill lambs for “those delicious, tender chops?” (FR, p. 385-6)
God responds by saying that he has no preferences other than what people want to do. (FR, p. 386-7) He says people are free to decide for themselves what to do and they define themselves by these choices. (FR, p. 388) Furthermore, because we are God, we also decide who God is. Walsch says “In your daily actions and choices, you are not only announcing whoYou Are, you are also deciding WhoI Am, because you and I are One.” (FR, p. 389)
As far as I know, Walsch does not say we should be totally non-violent and never kill another creature. When he talks about Hitler, he even says, or seems to say, that killing another creature is not bad in any way.
God starts by saying that Hitler did nothing “wrong” and so is in heaven. (CW2, p. 55) Walsch then asks, “I still don’t understand how Hitler could have gone to heaven; how he could have been rewardedfor what he did?” God responds: “First, understand that death is not an end, but a beginning; not a horror, but a joy. It is not a closing down, but an opening up. The happiest moment of your life will be the moment it ends. That’s because it doesn’tend but only goes on in ways so magnificent, so full of peace and wisdom and joy, as to make it difficult to describe and impossible for you to comprehend. So the first thing you have to understand – as I’ve already explained to you – is that Hitler didn’t hurtanyone. In a sense, he didn’t inflictsuffering, he endedit.” (CW2, p. 56)
God makes it even clearer that Hitler did not harm the Jews. In fact, he says, or seems to be saying, that Hitler actually liberated the Jews. “The mistakes Hitler made did no harm or damage to those whose deaths he caused. Those souls were released from their earthly bondage like butterflies emerging from a cocoon. The people who were left behind mourn those deaths only because they do not know of the joy into which those souls entered. No one who has ever experienced death ever mourns the death of anyone.” (CW, p. 242)
After Walsch wrote the Conversations with Godseries of books, many people asked him questions about his worldview. One question was about the Hitler passages. He says this Hitler passage is the most challenging in all his books, and he himself struggles with it. (QA, p. 331) He wants to make it clear, though, he is not trivializing the Holocaust. (QA, p. 332) He says that some people say that my books “portray Jews as simply having been ‘liberated from their Earthly troubles’ by the Holocaust, and since return to the Creator is a joyful experience, there is nothing to complain about.” (QA, p. 333) He responds that no “reasonable interpretation of the material” could fairly portray him as thinking God condones killing human beings, or he brushes the Holocaust off as no consequence or of no importance. (QA, p. 334)
But I think Walsch does, or seems to do, something far worse: by saying that death is to be welcomed as we are going to a better place by being liberated from suffering on earth, and by saying that you cannot kill a mosquito (or any creature) unless it has chosen to be killed by you, Walsch is saying that the Jews killed in the Holocaust chose Hitler to kill them. Furthermore, the Jews killed in the Holocaust should be thankful to Hitler for liberating them from suffering on earth. It even seems, that according to his philosophy, Hitler was the greatest helper of the Jews in history as so many Jews chose him to liberate themselves from their horrible suffering on Earth.
All the books referred to in the essay were written by Neale Donald Walsch.
CO = Communion with God (New York: The Berkley Publishing Group, 2000)
CW1 = Conversations with God: an uncommon dialogue, Book 1, (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1996).
CW2 = Conversations with God: an uncommon dialogue, Book 2 (Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc., 1997)
CW3 = Conversations with God: an uncommon dialogue, Book 3 (Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc., 1998)
F = Friendship with God: An Uncommon Dialogue (New York: The Berkley Publishing Group, 1999)
H = Happier than God: Turn Ordinary Life into an Extraordinary Experience (Ashland, OR: EmninBooks, 2008)
NR = Th New Revelations: A Conversation with God (New York: Atria Books, 2002)
QA = Questions and Answers on Conversations with God (Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc., 1999)
T = Tomorrow’s God: Our Greatest Spiritual Challenge (New York: Atria Books, 2004)