Jesus from a Functionally Islamic Perspective: Comments on Deepak Chopra’s “The Third Jesus”

Dr. Robert D. Crane

Posted Dec 8, 2008      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Jesus from a Functionally Islamic Perspective: Comments on Deepak Chopra’s “The Third Jesus”

by Dr. Robert D. Crane

  The most influential religious teacher in America today arguably is Deepak Chopra.  His new book, The Third Jesus: The Christ We Cannot Ignore, like all his books over the past few decades, will influence the future of America and of religion in the world.  Although many Muslims have been skeptical about his star-power as a populizer of interfaith sufism, it is good nevertheless that someone preaches an interfaith, spiritual perspective “from the housetops”.

  This book comes equipped with praise from some of America’s influential religious leaders during an era of spiritual resurgence in all religions, perhaps as a response to the ideological totalitarianism that is spawning global terrrorism.  Both of these opposite movements, in turn, seem to accompany the disintegration of civilization as the existing power-concentrating paradigms of both economic and political life self-destruct. 

  Harvey Cox, Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard, who only thirty years ago forecast the end of religion in America, exclaims, “Jesus has now long since escaped the confines of church, Christianity, and even ‘religions.’  Chopra’s book thoughtfully presents a Jesus who is paradoxically both closer to the original and more available to post-modern people than the stained glass version.  The book is bound to provoke both admiration and condemnation which, come to think of it, the maverick Galilean rabbi also did.”

  Miceal Ledwith, who served as a Member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission for seventeen years under Pope John Paul II, comments:

“The message of Jesus was clear, simple and direct.  But within a generation of his passion it was compromised in order to accommodate the widely conflicting views among those who claimed to follow him.  In Deepak Chopra’s new book you will find much thought-provoking material related to this compromise which will elucidate many sensitive issues that have perplexed believers for centuries.  In contrast to a message originally intended to inspire people to the wonders of a world reborn in God, the emphasis nowadays makes it almost impossible to think of Jesus or even Christianity itself except in terms of the suffering savior who died to appease God’s anger against us. The terrible toll this emphasis has exacted on the message is sensitively treated in a most compelling way in this very valuable new work.”

  The Reverend Dr. Jack R. Van Ens, Creative Growth Ministries, writes: “‘God created man and woman in His image,’ a biblical poet reminds us.  Deepak Chopra has returned the compliment.  He joins other incisive minds who have reflected on Jesus as ‘the true light who enlightens every person’ (John 1:9). Jefferson, for example, revered Jesus as ‘the first of human Sages’.  ... Jesus enlightens us, creating a helpful ‘path to God-consciousness.’  Jesus can’t be contained within stultifying Christian creeds and arid Church traditions that deify him.  Yes, he is divine, for Chopra in the sense that he divines a way to Cosmic Consciousness.  Here’s energy within that settles us down, excites our passions and points us back to Jesus, the savant who makes us conscious of the good, the true and the beautiful.”

  Rustum Roy, Evan Pugh Professor Emeritus of Solid State physics, The Pennsylvania State University, writes, “Literate, mainstream Christians will welcome Chopra’s championing before the world, the meaning of their commitment to action, practice, ‘ortho-praxis,’ following the only absolutely unambiguous demands of Jesus on his followers recorded in the New Testament: serving the poor, loving neighbor and even enemies. It is the most effective response to the Dawkins’ crowd who never even mention the Bishop Robinsons, Martin Luther King, Dietrich Bonhoeffers, Mother Teresas who by their actions, have shown their faith in this Jesus Christ.”

  Sam Keen, Philosopher and Author, Sightings: Extraordinary Encounters with Ordinary Birds, observes:  “The hardest thing to see is what is hidden in plain sight. After 20 centuries of doctrine and dogma we have nearly lost sight of the Jesus who was a wandering teacher of mystical truths.  In his imaginative reconstruction of the inner meaning of the gospels, Deepak Chopra reminds us of The Third Jesus, the enlightened master of God-consciousness.  It will disturb the minds of the orthodox, and delight the spirits of mystics and progressive Christians.”

  Arvind Sharma, Birks Professor of Comparative Religion, Faculty of Religious Studies, McGill University compares Chopra with Copernicus: “In this book,  Deepak Chopra proposes a Copernican revolution in our understanding of Christianity by replacing the theological version of the holy trinity with the triptych of Jesus as possessing a human, an institutional and a mystical dimension.  By emphasizing the mystical dimension and identifying Jesus as a spiritual revolutionary, he invites Christianity to perform yet another miracle in his name - that of transforming the world once again.”

  Ben Christensen, Prof. Emeritus Dean of the San Diego School of Christian Studies, First United Methodist Church of San Diego, CA, encourages readers to join in the search for God-consciousness through Chopra’s spiritual path of exercises:  “Dr. Deepak Chopra’s analyses and interpretations of the sayings of Jesus, in the form of “Comment,” breathe renewed life into those sayings.  Chopra’s work brings the teachings of Jesus into sharp focus with a marvelous, modern touch of insight from the vantage of both Eastern and Western thought.  With the thought of Jesus’s model in hand, Chopra provides the reader with a spiritual path of exercises—a remarkably renewed practice in search of a higher reality, helping to cause a connection between reader and God.  The views Chopra imparts are definitely worth the effort to undertake this enlightening journey of reading and practice.”

  Not mentioned in the professional reviews of Deepak Chopra’s new book are the popular misuses of Chopra’s teachings, most notably their contributions to populist panentheism.  He does not teach that God is the universe, which is pantheism, but his teachings emphasize that the infinite divine pervades existence even to the extent that awareness of the cosmos equates to awareness of God. 

  Such a limitation of the divine to existence is an oxymoron or contradiction in terms, because the universe is finite and “ends” at the limits of time and space, whereas the divine as Being is beyond this, and the Being of God is beyond being.  We talk of God as the Creator of the universe, but God the Creator is merely a divine attribute.

  This Islamic teaching of the unknowable God, Who is closer to us than our own juggler veins, is the most fundamental teaching of Islam, and is acknowledged explicitly by some of Christianity’s greatest theologians, including Meister Eckhard and Hans Kung, and implicitly by all the Eastern religions, especially Tantrayana Buddhism.

  Popularizing this knowledge can impede and even distort understanding.  We must admire Deepak Chopra for raising our sights, but not beyond traditionalist religion.  His books should be read with the understanding that each person must search for truth and justice within one’s own religion, because without tried and true paths we are all lost.  Generic religion is a figment of utopian imagination, at least for humans.  Angels know exclusively by infused knowledge and therefore have no need for religion. 

  Humans know by rational thought, including what Jeremy Henzell-Thomas calls our our faculties of discernment, namely, ‘aql, albab, basirah, and tafakkur, as well as by divine revelation, wahy, including personal ilham or divine inspiration.  These must coherently reinforce each other, or else our understanding of at least one of them must be wrong.  The value of the intellectual traditions in each religion is to maintain this balance, because populizers will always arise to promote extremism by ignoring tradition.

  Either reason or revelation without the other is inadequate.  Ethicists in a superficially humanist paradigm of thought claim that reason alone is sufficient, but human action comes less from reason than from our sentiments, mainly from either love or fear, from either the search for compassionate justice or from the arrogant search for personal power and prestige against threats to one’s false identity.  The theory of generic ethics leads to totalitarian thought, as is found in every materialistic ideology, but so does blind reliance on spiritual leaders’ interpretation of divine revelation, which is a temptation found in the spiritual paths of every religion, perhaps especially among Muslim Sufis. 

  Deepak Chopra certainly points the right way, but his followers may mistake his wisdom for a new religion of his own.  Everything that is good already exists and has always existed in the past, including the traditionalist wisdom that our purpose in existence is to revive the best of the past to build a better future