I recently viewed a 2010 film called Eat, Pray, Love based on the book with the same title. Julia Roberts plays Liz Gilbert, a modern young woman that has what many young woman dream of – a handsome husband, a nice home, a successful career – yet like so many others, she discovered a God-sized hole in her heart and began searching for more. Still young and newly divorced with no children, she was at a crossroads. Liz then risks her career and changes her life, embarking on a journey around the world that becomes a quest for self-discovery.
First she indulges in the sensual pleasure of eating good food and drinking good wine while living in Italy. Her attention then turns to prayer, but there is no mention or acknowledgement of all the magnificent Catholic churches in Italy. For some reason prayer is only found when she travels to India and begins practicing Hindu chanting, silence and meditation. Finally, fulfillment is achieved when she falls in love with a business man in Indonesia and begins formicating with him. This is why the title of this post ends with “Sin”. Seems to me a lot of secular movies and shows about self-discovery and finding the meaning of “true love” involve offending God via the sin of fornication. By the end of the film Liz also has a big revelation; she proclaims “God is in me, as me.” But what is that supposed to mean other than basically declaring “I am God”?
Overall, I thought the film was well done for what it is, but after viewing a film like that we might be left to wonder why so many who live secular lives in the West are allured by religions of the East. At the same time those individuals may show little or no interest in religions of the West, mainly any one of the many flavors of Christianity. Remember The Beetles with that Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi?
Perhaps it’s because Eastern Religions have a more relaxed and ambiguous moral code and set of beliefs when compared to Catholicism or even Christianity in general, so it might attract those who claim to be spiritual, but not religious; those who like things loosey-goosey.
Thinking more deeply, maybe it relates to the idea of “Absolute Oneness” In the West, absolute autonomy is a key “dogma”; this relates to the belief that no one can tell you what is right or wrong (for you). You need to figure that out for yourself and thus make your own meaning to life. In essence you become your own god, and since humans live in societies, you need to acknowledge the autonomous rights of others so we can all live harmoniously as co-equal gods. This is evident in our present day political discourse and could explain why the political left would like the government to control every key aspect of society, from education to industry to healthcare. How else can we achieve “Absolute Oneness” on Earth?
But how can one hold on to both absolute autonomy and absolute oneness? In this case it seems helpful to view God as something like “The Force” from Star Wars. The Force tends to be impersonal, without a strict moral code; it can also be manipulated to do our will. At the same time, The Force seems to be omnipresent and omnipotent and even has a will of its own according to Jedi Knight, Qui-Gon Jinn (@1min, 24s).
In Eastern Religions Nirvana (in Buddhism) and Moksha (in Hinduism) speak of breaking the cycle of birth, death and re-birth and reaching a transcendent state of bliss as an ultimate goal. The tendency in Eastern Religions destines man to become indistinguishable from the whole of being. Although many insist on absolute autonomy, being absorbed into an ultimate state of bliss after death mirrors the idea of living in utopia (or bliss) in this life as co-equal gods. In this sense, secular Western mentality is well-suited for Eastern Religion and the idea of “Absolute Oneness”.
The Judeo-Christian story doesn’t sync well with the view of God as a “force”. Would an impersonal life force ever concern itself with man and his little world, his cares or his sins? Would it make covenants with us or become a man like us and die for us; would it ever call us “children” and should we ever call it “Father”?
In Catholicism God is God and we are not. The creation can never be the creator and vise-versa. At the same time God is defined by knowing and loving. We can be known, loved and adopted into the family of the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit—and even have Mary as a Mother! By calling God “Father” and “Almighty”, the Catholic Creed joins together a loving family concept that relates to “oneness” and the cosmic power that relates to “otherness”. This expresses accurately a main point of the Christian image of God. It resolves the tension between absolute distance and absolute proximity, absolute otherness and direct kinship, the greatest and the least, and the first and the last. God is both-and, not either-or. 1
Consider an analogy from lay apologist Frank Sheed.2 Imagine God’s grace as an electric current and an individual person as an old fashioned filament light bulb. With no electrical current the bulb has no light. Increase the current and we can see some light as the filament glows. Keep increasing the current and the glow intensifies more and more. If the current is strong enough, and the bulb can handle it, the light can glow so bright that we no longer can see the filament and surrounding bulb… all we see is light! Thus the bulb and the light appear to be one, but we know the light is not the bulb and visa-versa. In the same way God’s grace can flow so strongly through a person it gives the impression of absolute oneness, but the reality of otherness remains.
Now back to the film with a more positive note. At the end of the movie the main character, Liz, had a second revelation about what she called “the physics of the quest”. Basically she describes the existence of spiritual laws just as real as physical laws, like the law of gravity, and these laws can (and will) lead us to truth, but only to the extent that we are receptive to them.
Now that’s a powerful idea our modern and secularized world needs hear.
- Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004) p. 148-149.
- Frank Sheed , Theology and Sanity, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993) p. 403.