Meet the new God
Author offers 'spiritual challenge' in 'Tomorrow's God'
By Todd Leopold
(CNN) -- Neale Donald Walsch believes the end is at hand.
"Life, as we know it, is in the end times," the author of the "Conversations with God" books says in a phone interview from his home in Ashland, Oregon.
He's not too upset by this.
What he means, he explains, is that humanity has reached a turning point -- and humanity knows it's reached a turning point. It's a concept he presents in his new book, "Tomorrow's God: Our Greatest Spiritual Challenge" (Atria).
For Walsch, that means letting go of "yesterday's God" -- as in an omnipotent and separate entity from humanity. For Walsch, God represents Creation itself. "Tomorrow's God," as described in the book, is without the characteristics of an individual living being; separate from nothing; and "the extraordinary process called Life."
"Tomorrow's God says that every church is 'his church,' and every faith is 'her faith,' and every soul is God's soul, because it shares the same soul with God!" Walsch writes. "And no person or living thing in the universe stands outside the community of God."
What God is not -- or what Walsch thinks of as "yesterday's God" -- is a bearded, demanding father figure on a throne.
Walsch, an ingratiating -- if intense -- man who says he welcomes skepticism, knows that's a hard image to get past, but he says getting past it is necessary for humanity's survival.
"Humanity can evolve in one of two ways," says Walsch. "We can be spectators, tsk-tsking to annihilation. Or we can engage in a process in which we evolve ... aware of who we are and the role we are playing."
Walsch is well aware his ideas conflict with those of some religious believers and their religions -- particularly his belief that faith only goes so far.
"Ninety-five percent of what religions teach is valuable, good and true," he says, "but 5 percent is not that. It's a mistake and it disserves us."
What he takes issue with, he adds, is the failure of some religious leaders to ask questions and admit their religion doesn't have all the answers.
"The only way to make 'Yesterday's God' go away," he says, "is to have the will to say, 'We were wrong about some of that.' We're not talking about rejecting religion, but reforming the great religions," he adds. "The theology of inquiry has been castigated and abused. [Some say] you can't question the Koran and you're not allowed to question the Bible."
These sorts of opinions have put Walsch under fire in the past.
In a review of "Conversations with God" for the Southern Evangelical Seminary's Christian Apologetics Journal, Marcia Montenegro was pointed. "Many of this book's messages do line up consistently and completely with the messages of someone ... who questioned God's Word, called God a liar, told Adam and Eve that they could be like God, and that they would not die. This someone was ... Satan," she wrote.
Neale Donald Walsch
"From what Walsch says, apparently he has worked through his personal problems and come to some sort of peace with life. It is tragic that he has done so at the expense of the truth and his own soul," noted Roland Cap Elkhe in a Christian Research Institute review of the first two "Conversations with God" books.
But others defend Walsch and the tradition of inquiry he trumpets.
"Religion is closed-minded," says the Right Rev. John Shelby Spong, the retired Episcopal Bishop of Newark, New Jersey, via e-mail. (Spong, a liberal cleric known for his contrarian views, is no stranger to controversy himself.) "It is not a search for truth near so much as it is a quest for security. ... No new definition of God will be 'ruinous for religion,' but clinging to a dead definition will be."
"The students I see ... are searching," says Rabbi Carol Ochs, director of graduate studies at New York's Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and the author of the forthcoming "Reaching Godward" (URJ Press). "Just as you have to get rid of the notion of Washington cutting down the cherry tree [in favor of a more expansive idea of the first president], you have to get rid of a 6-year-old's concept of God."
Walsch's own curiosity in God was evident from an early age, he recalls. The Milwaukee, Wisconsin, native describes himself as a curious child, always full of questions and encouraged to ask them.
"When we'd go to church, my mother would say, 'Ask the priest your questions.' And the priest was quite indulgent," Walsch recalls. "Often he'd say, 'We haven't figured that out yet, my boy.' When I heard that, I was free, I was overjoyed -- I could create [my own] answers."
Walsch eventually went into broadcasting and founded his own public relations firm, but retained his interest in religion and spirituality. Then a car accident turned his life upside-down: he lost his business, lost his apartment, and ended up homeless. After working himself back into broadcasting, he was still left with an emptiness, which prompted him to write "Conversations with God."
His works have gained a following among those following a New Age spirituality. "Tomorrow's God" is written in the same style as the earlier book, a dialogue between a person and God.
Walsch knows that many religious people will be loath to try "Tomorrow's God." That concerns him, but he'd rather energize those who do. He's put his heart where his soul is, creating an organization called Humanity's Team to foster the message -- what he calls "a civil rights movement of the soul."
"My assumption is that people agree with [the ideas in the book], but haven't decided to do anything about it," he says. "For those who are already converted, I say, 'Wake up and sing your song.' If we wake up the choir, we're talking about millions of people. It's about rallying that force."