Where I work at, a co-worker of mine and I got into a conversation about Sylvia Browne. If you've never seen her, she's the psychic that's a frequent guest on the Montel Williams Show. In fact, as I sit here typing, she is on his show right now for Halloween. She's also the founder of her Gnostic church, "The Society of Novus Spiritus." Our main joke we were making of her though was that she never tells anyone bad news. No one will hear anything bad from her.
For those interested, there have been times where Sylvia's "insights" have been shown false and even on the show itself! This is one such case: here and another case is available at this locale and no doubt, many others could be found on the web. This should be enough to remind us of the biblical standards of a prophet.
However, such is not enough to critique her view, especially from those who are her supporters. For that, we need to look at the material that she writes. We'll find that it comes from the common new age perspective with the emphasis on tolerance and a dislike for "religious dogma."
I will say that we should be cautious of one thing as Christians. We should hesitate to try to find a naturalistic explanation for all that Sylvia does. I do believe that there are some incidents that she talks about and that are on Montel's show that I'd be hard-pressed to find a naturalistic explanation for. I have no hesitation to say that I believe demonic activity is involved here. [JPH note -- as a preterist, I of course have my doubts. ;-)]
Having all of this in mind, I had decided to go through with two high-lighters. I had a yellow for the statements that I agreed with and an orange for the ones that I didn't. Before too long though, I found I was only using the orange. While Sylvia does say some good things, unfortunately, they're only good self-help material that is merely Dr. Phil with some spirituality thrown in. Any self-help writer could write much of it except leave out the spiritual ideas.
I had also made it a point to look in the back to check the endnotes to see what research Sylvia had done that I might be able to check on later. Lo and behold, there are no endnotes. So what is her source? She will say that it was her spirit guide Francine and so many times where you'd like to see a reference, the book merely says "Francine says."
Exploring the Levels of Creation is the first book on the list at Amazon.com when one types in her name. It is her account of the creation event and especially how it relates to "The Other Side" which is the name she uses for where the dead go after each of their lives. (Yes. She is a believer in reincarnation and I do not say "each of their lives here" because she believes you can incarnate on other planets and in other dimensions. I would like to see such a planet sometime though.)
Sylvia lists her description of creation first as an apologetic that God exists. While I agree of course and I think this part is valid, I have seen enough skeptics to know this doesn't convince them and in some cases, seems to make them think otherwise as they see a vast universe and doubt God could care about a single speck of a planet. Interestingly, she says Earth was colonized from another inhabited planet, but unfortunately adds that that's neither here nor there so nothing more on that one. (Hello, directed panspermia!)
In normal new age fashion, Sylvia sees each of us coming from God in that each of us has a part of God. However, don't think she's a monotheist as on the next page, she reveals that she believes in Father God and Mother God who she calls "Azna" and that as we evolve, we will become more spiritually and mentally aware.
Sylvia also refers to herself as a strong believer in reincarnation. Later on, she does say that there is a difference between reincarnation and transmigration. (When reincarnation was being taught over here first, it was discovered people didn't like the idea of transmigration, where you could come back as an animal since most people didn't want to be a rat or something like that, so it was made that you could only come back as a human and called reincarnation.) The new age view of reincarnation is different in that the endless cycle is seen as something to escape in Eastern thought whereas in new age thought, it's a learning process. It's also the way we're supposed to experience reality for God.
And how will it all end? It ends with everything being re-absorbed into God. This leaves me with enough questions as it includes the negative aspects of the world as well including what she calls "dark entities." This is a far cry from the biblical worldview where evil is forever banished from the presence of God.
She then goes into the aspects of her belief in a deeper way. She starts with imagination which is the view of thought in new age circles. It is her belief that there is no such thing as imagination. Whatever you can imagine, it truly exists. (I wonder what would happen if I were to imagine a being that was incapable of being re-absorbed into God. Would her whole theology fall apart?) This is also how she views prayer and positive thinking in that your thoughts will alter reality.
She describes after this the spirits that exist. This is where she gets into fairies and elves and dragons and other such creatures. She soon gets to unicorns and flying horses and tells us that there must be some truth to this because Francine says that she's seen it. As I've said before, this is sadly common and hardly what I'd call a valid appeal to authority.
In fact, the very next chapter is called "Additional Information From Francine." It is an account of her going into a trance where she contacts Francine and asks her questions about the Other Side. Interestingly in describing certain spirits and such that exist, we're told that some such as little green men don't exist. Now I agree that I little green men most likely don't exist, but weren't we just told that if you can imagine something….?
The next few chapters have Sylvia describing the levels of life. This is where she really goes Dr. Phil on us telling us right ways to live. This is good advice, but like I've stated, it's advice that can be found anywhere and it has merely been baptized into new age waters.
Her first section is on birth. In birth supposedly, a baby leaves The Other Side and comes over out of the womb and is left crying on Earth because they've left The Other Side and are in a totally unfamiliar environment. (Interestingly, Sylvia says Earth is the worst place to incarnate and would be the only Hell that there is.)
The second level is the formative years. Unfortunately, Syvlia doesn't really say much in here that simply isn't Dr. Phil. The most revealing aspect of this chapter is where Sylvia records some of her own struggles with not receiving love from her mother. I point this out simply because Sylvia's family is talked about often in the book and it's quite curious as one wonders what was going on in her family history that got her into psychic practices.
She goes into the third part then where she talks about learning and the beginning of school. She makes her first relativist statement also in that she says every time and era has its own morals and ethics. While I do agree with her that social mores change over time, morality does not. An excellent refutation of moral relativism can be found in Greg Koukl and Francis Beckwith's "Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air."
In her spirituality aspect of this chapter, for the first time, she mentions Jesus. She tells us that the more advanced we become, the more we search for truth, knowledge, and answers, just as Jesus told us to. While I have no problem with searching for these three, I do not recall a place where Jesus said to do such. She also adds that we eventually begin to have a sense of knowing that everything is accepted by our loving and all-forgiving God. (Keep this in mind as we see later how many things are unacceptable.)
The fourth stage is preadolescence and puberty. This is where she starts talking about dealing with acceptance on a deeper level that can lead to depression and of course, talking about sex. On depression, she says that religion has always said that if you commit suicide, you go to Hell. I have no definitive answer on this, but that is not my point. I would say that I would like to see the statements from all religions in this regard.
When she talks about sex, she spends a paragraph on homosexuality to say that Christ never condemned it but only condemned hypocrites. She asks us to see if Christ's words support any kind of prejudice in distinction to "religious dogma." Could it be that Christ never spoke on homosexuality because it wasn't a problem in Israel and yet Paul spoke on it because it was a problem in the Gentile world? I wonder if Christ approved of pedophilia and bestiality as well since he never condemned them. The entire point of homosexuals is that the rest of us should learn to not be prejudiced. Who's our authority on this? Why it's Francine of course!
The fifth level is young adulthood. Points of interest in this chapter is her insistence that we will be so much better in life if we do not have "dogma." She says this in spite of the fact that she also says in the same chapter "Who are we to judge others' charts or the way they live?"" (Charts refer to a map you make before you reincarnate to decide what you want to learn.) Apparently, we are to judge dogmatists….
The sixth level is adulthood. In this chapter, she talks about her congregations getting together where they pray to God, angels, and loved ones, but when something is really needed, they go to Mother God. (Interesting, why do they not just go to her every time?) She also says that she prefers the word of knowing to the word faith. This is when she speaks of those with a great sense of knowing that handle life's adversities better due to a working relationship with God. Sylvia should instead read JPH's article on faith found here. The last chapter in this part is old age and there is really nothing substantial to comment on in this one.
At this, we get to the third section of the book which covers the seven levels of the Other Side. This being her view of Heaven, it should not surprise us that we can actually see things we could agree with. I do not doubt that we could find aspects of what a paradise would be like in many faiths that we agree with as I believe such are simply implanted on our hearts. (See Kreeft's "Heaven: The Heart's Deepest Longing."
The first level is the transitional state which is the in-between ground for outgoing and incoming souls. She takes this time to describe the Other Side as a place where there's no negativity of any kind. However, she also says that negative emotions include jealousy, hate, greed, laziness, prejudice, envy, anger, and the like. With some of these I could agree.
However, can hate really be avoided? Should we not love what is good and hate what is evil? If Sylvia does not love dogma for instance, then what is her response to it? What about anger? Is this always wrong? Can we condemn jealousy in all cases? Now each of these three can be wrong at times no doubt, but I would certainly not say always.
The second level is Orientation where she describes how we view our recent life on a "scanning machine" and then get to discuss it with spiritual counselors. This is the part where she mentions the Akashic Records, which is an account of all knowledge in the history of humanity. (Other psychics have claimed to be able to read these records which seem to give insights that Jesus was a new ager.) She also tells us that there is no time on the other side. I cannot help but wonder how there can be activity if there is no time. I believe that there is time in Heaven, but I do not believe we suffer ill effects from it.
The third and fourth levels do not really have anything mentioned worth commenting on. Respectively, they are about animal husbandry and horticulture, and then about artistic and aesthetic pleasures. I have no problem believing such could be a part of our own Heaven. (Again, similarities do not surprise me as I believe in a similar human nature.)
The fifth chapter is that of scientists, mission-life entities, and mystical travelers. What a shock that in describing a true mystical traveler, she decides to bring up Jesus. Her claim is that it doesn't diminish him to say that there are others on here today. I would have to disagree. It does diminish Jesus to say that he is merely "another traveler" which is implied when she says that each religion has its own spokesperson such as Buddha and Mohammed. (Along with relativism there is a strong belief in pluralism, especially since all will be re-absorbed into God in the end.)
The sixth level is that of teachers and lecturers. Of main interest in this chapter is again her pointing to her source. When she wants to know something about creation or other religions, she asks Francine who tells her and then even points to references on Earth if they exist to verify what was said. Oh Sylvia. Why didn't you do the same so I could check on everything you say?
The final level is the one with re-absorption back into the Godhead. The main point worth mentioning is that she says that even with all of his magnificent evolvement, Jesus is still in his glorified body. (I point this out simply because I always find it fascinating that for one skeptics vilify so much, Jesus is such a hurdle for everyone who claims to speak on religion apart from the Christian worldview.)
The final three chapters get us into meatier aspects. The first is chapter seventeen where she speaks about the 12 levels of the soul. I won't go into detail on each of these, but I will point out that she actually lists parts of what she says as "God's viewpoint." Tis a dangerous thing to put words into the mouth of God. This also gets into some parts of biblical exegesis which I can imagine JPH going through with great laughter. (I make no qualms in saying JPH is more of an exegete than I as a I prefer to touch on the philosophical issues the most.)
Her first text from Genesis is Genesis 1:26-27 about being made in the image of God. In the second section, she uses this text when she says that we've always heard that we're made in the image of God, but people are shocked when we say that we are God. Unfortunately, no reader reading this would have thought such a thing. I'd also point out that while we share some of the attributes of God to a far lesser degree (The communicable attributes), there are some that we do not and cannot share. (The incommunicable such as aseity.)
She also continues her tirade against "dogma" when she has God's viewpoint include asking why we would think God is so shortsighted to be angry or hateful or vengeful. Mother and Father God complain about having undeveloped human traits given to them in various religious dogmas and holy books. The strong claim is made that it is not factual and it is not truth.
Unfortunately, Syvlia's view is quite wrong. If God treats sin as light, then he treats himself as light and he will not do that. God simply must punish sin since he is absolute holiness and sin is an affront to that holiness. This is simply a new age view of God where God is all love and everything is okay. (Except for religious dogma, especially Christianity. Funny how that always works isn't it?)
Prepare for a laugh in the third section. It's bad enough that the Garden of Eden is an allegory of leaving the other side, but then she says that she's amazed that so many people can believe the Bible when it's taken literally every time. She states that it contradicts itself so many times that it's illogical. Her great example? God is portrayed as all-knowing but doesn't know where Adam is. Why, God answers questions! He doesn't ask them!
It surprises me that a former schoolteacher like Sylvia doesn't see the nonsense in this statement. Because you do not know something is not the only reason that you ask a question. You can also ask a question to make the person you are asking the question to answer. For one who's supposedly read so much on theology, it's shocking she's never picked up a commentary on Genesis to see what is going on here. (Then again, maybe it isn't that amazing.)
In the fifth section, she tells us to not judge to be spiritual those who through wealth or trappings have made themselves look spiritual. Also, do not judge as spiritual teaching that condemn others to the point of inspiring hate and evil. (I'm sure she says this will all love of dogma as well.) The section ends with the usual "God doesn't punish anyone. You punish yourselves" idea.
When we get to the ninth section, she brings up Scripture again where she speaks of the flood as illogical. Sylvia finds it hard to believe that the Earth could be so filled in such a time. It would be nice to have seen some references to back this, but there aren't any. Even more hilarious, she brings up the question that supposedly as Greg Koukl has said, defeats 2,000 years of Christianity. "Where did the sons of Adam get wives?"
In the tenth section, she speaks of a Catholic prayer that says "My soul doth magnify the Lord." Her exegesis of this is that this means that the soul gets larger and the only way that it can do that is through experience. Sadly, the passage is about the soul magnifying the Lord, not itself. It also doesn't mean to increase the Lord in size, but to exalt him for who he is. Again, we end with another condemnation of the holy book in describing God destroying Sodom and Gomorrah.
In the eleventh section, she speaks about the Old Testament and the Other Side. Sylvia tells us the Jews didn't write about the Other Side because they were more concerned about continuing their lineage of dynasties until the day of judgment. JPH has dealt with this idea on why the OT is silent on such beliefs here. Again, Sylvia's researcher of Francine needs to do a better job. (Maybe Francine refuses to read Tektonics or maybe Tektonics is buried in the back corner in the Akashic Records.) [JPH note -- nah. It's just that the Akashic Records aren't in Google.]
The final section is where she uses the argument ad annis which JPH has renamed APAS. (Ancient People Are Stupid.) The Bible or any other holy book was written to an uneducated populace supposedly and done to control the people so the leaders could have riches.
Sylvia asks why religion doesn't update its teachings like science does. She uses the example of the flat Earth. At one time, science believed it was flat and then they changed it. Why doesn't religion do that? Problem! The ancients knew the world was spherical. They'd known it since the time of Aristotle.
I'd also add that the nature of science and the nature of religion are different. Science is based on making a hypothesis and doing repeated experiments to test that hypothesis and modify it as need be in response to the results of the experiments. However, the facts that science tests never change. It is only our interpretations that change as some are found to be faulty and some are found to be accurate. Sylvia's position ultimately gets to having religious truth be relative. (Will this apply to her own teachings? Will we ever need to update Sylvia's teachings to find that God does judge some people?)
The eighteenth chapter is dealing with dark entities. Of interest to us is her speaking of Satan. She claims that the devil was created to keep people in line and controlled by religion. She speaks about the name Lucifer meaning "Light-Bringer." (Oh yes. I was just absolutely shocked to read that. *rolls eyes with sarcasm.*) She ends with saying that there is no devil period! (Odd. I thought she said earlier that if we can imagine something, it must exist.)
The final chapter (Hallelujah) is on dogma and religion vs. spirituality. Prepare for some laughs faithful Tekton readers as she speaks about her and her Gnostics knowing for centuries things that had only recently been revealed in books such as "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" and "The Da Vinci Code." Look. Do we really need to say more at this point?
Naturally, she tells the religions that they should realize their own failings and correct them as well as be more tolerant towards other faiths. Don't you just love it when other religions speak from Sinai about how other religions should be tolerant of other religions, all the while they make it clear that they have no acceptance of other religions and can freely discredit their holy books?
Again, she also gives an argument ad annis (APAS) when she tells us that a religion is only foolish if it thinks it can get away with teaching dogma originally put in place for uneducated masses. The person of today is searching for answers, unlike the unenlightened peasant of the past. All Sylvia needs to do is read writings of men like Augustine and Aquinas to see that they were hardly uneducated and did work to answer the hard questions.
This doesn't change that this "great theologian" can speak of other religions how she sees fit. She talks about the Islamic and Jewish and Christian faith which all worship the same God. Really? Have her go to a Muslim and say that sometime and see how long she lasts. For a Muslim, I am committing great blasphemy in saying that God has a Son. Oh no. My God is not the same as I believe strongly in the Trinity, which is unique to Christianity beyond concepts rooted in Judaism.
She makes the interesting statement that science has discovered that what was true long ago is not true today. However, religion has not acknowledged that so it's trapped into beliefs better suited for another time. The problem is that the truth never did change even with science. Science just found out it believed something that was wrong and changed it. (Or sometimes ended up believing something wrong instead of what is right.) The truth of what is being studied does not change. For instance, the truth of whether or not evolution is true does not change regardless of what science says.
However, what does this say for Sylvia's own position? Why can I not believe that Sylvia's belief is simply a belief that is suited for our time. Maybe in the future we'll find we "need" a belief in a vengeful God who will punish. Will Sylvia want her belief to step aside then and say that it has changed, or will she realize that if something is true, it is true for all time? What she has done is condemned religion for believing something is true for all time all the while believing that what she believes is true for all time.
Sylvia concludes by saying that God loves the reader, and so does she. Well Sylvia, I conclude by saying that God does love you, but not what you do. I would encourage you to really look at the arguments for Jesus's death and resurrection. I would also encourage reading the Scriptures from a more ANE Jewish perspective instead of your 21st century American one. I'd also recommend reading websites like tektonics to understand those passages that seem to be so illogical and contradictory.
Thus, after "Exploring the Levels of Creation", I am of the opinion that Sylvia ha got lost along the way. I can only pray that some light will shine on this one and on all the ones that are listening to her.