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The Shortcomings of the Spirituality of James Redfield

 

 

[The books commented on in this essay are James Redfield, The Celestine Prophecy, (New York: Warner Books, 1993). This is labeled as CP.   James Redfield, The Celestine Vision: Living the New Spiritual Awareness (New York, Grand Central Publishing, 1997). This is labeled as CV.   James Redfield and Carol Adrienne, The Celestine Prophecy: An Experiential Guide (New York: Warner Books, 1995) This is labeled as EG.]

 

James Redfield is to be praised for helping millions of people understand basic spiritual concepts such as synchronicities.  I have been blessed with many synchronicities, and it is a wonderful way for the universe to help you get to the next level in your life.  Redfield has also helped millions of people realize the importance of gaining energy through meditation, becoming aware of childhood patterns of trying to control their relationships, and the power of old growth forests.  I practice many of the kinds of things he talks about in his books, and they have made my life immeasurably better.

 

Where I disagree with Redfield is his intellectual claims about the nature of reality that are not a necessary part of his experiences.  In this essay I will analyze some of these claims to see if they are true or reasonable.  The goal is not to belittle actual, spiritual experiences, but to help people be careful not to add extraneous ideas to their experiences.  In that way people can more closely follow their spiritual path and convince skeptics of the truth of their ideas.

 

Redfield has nine insights in his first book.  They emphasize positive things like paying attention to the universe trying to help you, meditating, watching for power struggles with other people, and trying to stay true to your spiritual insights.  In his later books he adds three more for a total of twelve insights.  It seems Redfield is synthesizing practices and ideas from many areas of the New Age movement.  Nevertheless, he makes a much larger claim than that.  He says these his insights are archetypes that are hardwired into us.  He says that his insights “are firings of pathways in the brain that are already there. We’re hard wired for spiritual evolution on the planet and what we’re doing is just having series of archetypal breakthroughs …I really think that there’s twelve out there and I think it’s the last of these major archetypal openings or firings.”[i]

 

How he knows humans are hardwired in this way, he does not say.  Non-believers hear claims like this about the basic facts of human nature and they rightfully might wonder about how he proves his ideas are true. 

 

Similarly, he has only four control dramas.  Redfield is doing good helping people to realize they are affected by things from their childhood, and that they need to bring these patterns of behavior into consciousness so they can stop them.  But why just these four control dramas?  He says his concept of a control drama is partially based on Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis.  Berne divided his fundamental categories into parent, adult and child.  This division anchored Berne’s categories in fundamental human relationships.  As far as I can figure out, there is no such fundamental basis for Redfield’s four control dramas and thus they seem arbitrary. 

 

Redfield has some good insights into how to become more spiritual that many other people share, but then he makes much larger claims that seem arbitrary and maybe invite doubt and skepticism about them.  Unfortunately I have not even mentioned his most doubtful claims.  First he says that Mayans (who lived in Central America) were in Peru before the Incas. (CP, p. 214)  Then he claims that a manuscript written in the Middle Eastern language of Aramaic got to Peru around 600 BCE. (CP, p. 8-9) He also makes a more extravagant claim when he says that people are close to evolving into light and becoming invisible. (CP, p. 241)  Finally he claims that the Mayans did not die out but “crossed over together” into the realm of pure light or the spiritual realm we came from before we were born. (CP, p. 242)

 

Redfield doesn’t even seem to try to give support for many of the claims he makes.  Nor does he have to from his point of view, as he has a different way of establishing the truth of his ideas: they just ring true to people.  He says that “we can see that the ideas in the Manuscript make sense, that they ring true.” (CP, p. 10)

 

Before women were commonly accepted in the workplace and even today in some areas of business, many women would say they had to be twice as good as a man to get a job or be promoted.  While that wasn’t fair, that was reality.  Nowadays, spiritual people are in a similar situation if they want mainstream acceptance.  Spiritual people and spiritual ideas are judged more critically by the mainstream than more culturally conventional ideas.  Those questioning spiritual ideas will scour our teachings and ideas looking for inconsistencies and reasons to belittle our claims.  So our teachings and statements have to be pure if we want our ideas to be taken seriously by non-believers. And in a way, mainstream people are right to do that based on Redfield’s own criterion of truth: what rings true.  Spiritual people are making claims that do not ring true to doubters, and so based on his own criterion, why should skeptics suspend their doubts and accept them?  And when talking about spiritual ideas in general, why should mainstream people give us the benefit of the doubt until we prove ourselves worthy of that benefit?  Why should people listen to us if we make statements that seem ridiculous and shallow to them?

 

Redfield however does not take any responsibility that his wild claims turn people off or contribute to the idea that the New Age movement is full of silly people.  Instead he says these people are just resisting higher awareness because they cannot stand to be wrong: “People resist higher awareness because they have made a great investment in continuing to live the way they have always lived, because that's their way of surviving and remaining anxiety-free…. their investment in life as they know it cannot afford to be collapsed. They will not hear anyone telling them they are wrong.”[ii]

 

       Redfield’s lack of trying to really understand his doubters is sad.  It is particularly sad for Redfield because he himself condemns blaming others instead of  understanding them: “fingerpointing is a sign that we are trying to use blame instead of understanding.” (EG, p. 157)  While Redfield is talking about an individual in this quote, the same principle applies to doubters in general.  Instead of saying they are just resisting and blaming them, why not try to understand them and see things from their point of view?  Why not try to see what they need so that they can open up to these ideas? 

 

         Unfortunately, Redfield believes he does not have to understand the skeptics because things will soon change in our culture once a critical mass of people believe in these ideas.  He says, “the Manuscript predicts that once we reach this critical mass, the entire culture will begin to take these coincidental experiences seriously.” (CP, p. 8)  Unfortunately it will not be that easy.  These ideas will not become the mainstream paradigm until people who believe in the current dominant paradigm see the goodness of our ideas and the holes in their own ideas.  That means these people will have to become convinced that our ideas and worldview is superior to theirs or complements theirs.  Doing this will take the hard work of supporting our ideas by their standards so our spiritual ideas are respectable and convincing to them.

 

         Unfortunately the belief that everything is easy underlies many of his ideas. So at the beginning of theCelestine Prophecy he says that there is going to be “a quantum leap into a whole new way of life.”  How do we bring this about?  He says “All that any of us have to do is suspend our doubts and distractions just long enough…and miraculously, this reality can be our own.” (CP, p. 0.  Ellipsis in original.)  

 

He says that most people are unconsciously in the grip of control dramas.  But once they bring this to consciousness, these dramas will lose their grip on us. (CP, p. 127 &  p. 131)  Throughout history, most spiritual people thought it was difficult to get in harmony with God or the Tao because we had lower desires and urges that stopped us from purely connecting with God.  It was difficult to wrestle with these passions and desires.  People did not give them up easily, so living spiritually was not easy.  But for Redfield it is easy to conquer our problems as they are not caused by our greed or selfishness or other lower desires, but are instead all caused by fighting for our parent’s energy in childhood.  (EG, p. 150-5)  Once we understand our dramas and learn to get energy from meditating and from old growth forests, we will not have any blocks to being fully attuned to God/the Universe. 

 

I wish it were as simple as Redfield says it is, but I do not experience my spiritual path that way.  Moreover, I did not see other spiritual people having it so easy either.  We have lower desires for fame, status, money, power, control and acceptance that pull us off our spiritual path.   So we have to continually fight against these urges if we want to stay on our spiritual path.

 

The fundamental difference from my way of looking at things is that Redfield believes it is easy to connect up with the universe as we are One with it and it is totally responsive to our desires. (EG, p. 32 & 64 and CV 64-70.)  There is nothing real that is blocking us from connecting to this universal energy besides our control dramas and our fears and doubts.  (CP, p. 0 & 243)  (Hence his worldview is a form of New Thought ideas that I discuss on this site in my review of  The Secret.)  I do not think the Universe or God is so closely connected to us; we are connected to God but we are not One with God.  Thus spiritual living is not as easy as he thinks it is. 

 

The nature of our connection to the Godhead is not something that is demonstrable to other people.  Redfield (and other New Thought advocates) and I differ in this matter.  If Redfield’s way works for you now, I am glad for you.  If it stops working for you next year or ten years from now, you might want to consider an alternative approach that has a more complete view of the human situation and our relationship with the Universe.

 

 

[i] James Redfield, as quoted in Kala Ambrose, “Celestine Visions with James and Salle Redfield - Part Two,”  interview dated Aug. 31,  2009.  The interview is online at: 

http://www.examiner.com/x-18975-Metaphysical-Spirituality-Examiner~y2009m8d31-Celestine-Visions-with-James-and-Salle-Redfield--Part-Two.

 

 

[ii] James Redfield, as quoted by Kathryn M. Peters,  “A Conversation With James Redfield,” In Light Times, Jan. 2000.  This was found online at: http://www.inlightimes.com/archives/2000/01/redfield.htm

 

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