Recently I was at a dinner party and speaking with a person who expressed an interest in all things philosophy and religion. I found myself in conversation with this bloke for a while, so I began to ask him about his religious / philosophical views.
I asked if he had done any study and he confidently told me he had. I was thinking a philosophy degree or similar, but when I asked he explained that he had been on a weekend retreat back in 2011 with a group called Landmark Forum and it had revolutionised his life and been the basis for his thinking.
‘So… 3 days? Was that it?…’ I asked.
‘Yes, but I could do part 2 – another weekend – if I wanted to’ he added.
I admit I was skeptical of someone who would call a 3 day weekend a substantial amount of study…
As we chatted I heard that the group who held the weekend gathering in question base their work on the EST movement, a school of thought popular back in the 70’s and 80’s but now rebranded as ‘Landmark Forums’.
I had heard of EST, but didn’t know much – they just fitted in my ‘alternative spiritualities’ category. I came home and did some googling and they get both rave reviews and scam warnings, depending on who is writing and what their experience was.
After reading up on them in various places, the common thread I observed was that the weekend was an intense focused time where people were broken down and then ‘re-built’. It seems the goal of the conferences are to break people emotionally – to help them see and encounter their own brokenness and screwed-upness and to have them experience their own darkness and failure. In that deeply emotional state people are encouraged to scan their past for broken relationships and damage done that needs fixing.
From there they are encouraged to get on the phone, or set up a meeting to reconcile with those they have wronged. And then once the ‘past has been dealt with’ they can move forwards. Many accounts describe this as a time of powerful healing and breakthru.
The philosophy has connections to the human potential movement, believing that in yourself you have all the capacity to achieve fulness and completeness – to be fully human.
I found it interesting to follow the train of thought and to see the similarity with my own faith – the belief in our brokenness and the need for healing – the importance of reconciliation, but then to see the divergence when it comes to how wholeness is achieved. In Landmark Forums you are seen as capable of moving yourself into a new headspace and of being your own saviour. All around us today in contemporary spirituality are variations on that theme – you are enough – you are your own authority and source of hope.
Its the dominant narrative of our time and in some places it leeches into our Christian story, eroding and ultimately eliminating the need for Jesus. The guy I was speaking with told me that he felt he had evolved past such a primitive mode of thought as Christianity, a theme I hear in the more recent teachings of Rob Bell, as he talks less about Jesus and more about an evolving consciousness. (And yes – I still listen to Bell – because I like him, find him intriguing and I think he has some amazing stuff to say alongside that which I would despatch)
My need for a saviour actually sounds quite ‘weak’ alongside those who would argue they don’t need anyone, which is probably what Paul was getting at when he spoke of the foolishness of the cross and our only boast being in the Lord. (1 Cor 8)
I guess the ultimate question is whose reality is true, but then that’s not the kinda question you ask in these times either…