Conversations With God? An Interview with Neale Walsh
Ashland, Oregon is home to author Neale Walsh whose “Conversations with God” has been phenomenally successful, staying on the New York Times Bestseller list for 137 weeks. His book, and its sequels, along with the Conversations With God Foundation have found acolytes world wide, with a 10,000 member “Humanity Team” fostering Walsh’s concept of God, and view of how life should be lived.
I recently interviewed Walsh at his home in the hills East of Ashland. Interviewing him was an interesting process for me, as I knew him in the late 80′s early 90′s when he was known as Bob White (a stage name), and was a talk show host on KCMX radio where I also had a program. I had the occasion to be a guest a few times on his program, and he assisted me as a neophyte radio commentator with the bells and whistles of broadcasting.
The Neale Walsh I met recently is a different person in a variety of ways than the person I knew a decade ago. The somewhat brash and combative radio persona of the talk show host is gone, and in its place a calm, almost metered demeanor of even toned speech and an impression that every word is measured and fitted to the thought at hand. A personality which was often controversial, now seems to be making a career out of being non-confrontational and appears very much content and at ease with his present life.
Walsh, at the head of his organization spends several months a year on the road world wide, holding lectures, retreats, and book signings. He numbers among his acquaintances global presences in religion, psychology, psychiatry and philosophical thought such as Sir John Templeton and Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Walsh attributes the start of his transformation from his stressful past to a seminar he attended in Ashland by Ram Das (aka Richard Alpert son of a wealthy railroad baron from New England) cohort of Timothy Leary in the now famous LSD experiments at Harvard in the 1960s.
A glimpse into the philosophy and though processes of Walsh provided some interesting insights into his view of life, God and the world. Some statistics first. The Conversations With God books have sold nearly seven million copies. Demographic information suggests that twenty million people have read one of Walsh’s works. He has nine employees which help manage the Conversations With God Foundation, the sponsoring body of his lectures, tours and retreats. He has and active website at www.cwg.org (http://www.cwg.org/) and an online store with his publications, and paraphernalia available at that site.
Neale Walsh is enigmatic in the expression of his view of his success and his undertakings with his organization. While he enjoys the trappings of success, he claims not to have a deep investment in the spiritual sense in what he is about. He told me “I don’t have a deep investment in the outcome of Humanities Team. I am not heading them to a particular outcome. Same with selling books. I would like them to sell, but from a philosophical view, I really don’t care. I am not trying to convince, convert or change any minds, and have no deep investment in whether the world accepts my view or not. If you become invested in the outcome, you loose site of the concept. It is a constant battle to stay centered between being in the world and wanting the outcome, and staying in the concept of ‘rightness” one is striving for. Christ is an example, he was most concerned with demonstrating the traits he wanted people to adopt. He was not most concerned with attracting acolytes or he would have done a who different set of activities. He was concerned with being not doing.”
Walsh views himself as a messenger from God. Not a proponent r of religion, or someone seeking to start a sect of his own, but rather a mouth piece for a very easy going, non-confrontational God. Walsh’s God would bring to the world an attitude of compassion. He told me “Life is a process by which life informs life of the process of life itself. Go to the brook and listen to the water. I should be taken no more or no less seriously than the sound of the brook. I am no different than Moses, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Thomas Jefferson, I compare myself to all people. Moses was a guy who had a moment of inspiration, and came down from the mountain saying this is what happened to me.”
He wrote his first book at a time when life was not going very well for him, and on a late night he simply asked God for some answers. Borrowing from his biography as published in his website: “In 1992, following a period of deep despair, Neale awoke in the middle of a February night and wrote an anguished letter to God. “What does it take,” he angrily scratched across a yellow legal pad, “to make life work?” Now well chronicled and widely talked about, it was this questioning letter that received a divine answer.
Neale says that he heard a voice, soft and kind, warm and loving, that gave him an answer to this and other questions. Awestruck and inspired, he quickly scribbled these responses onto the tablet. More questions came, and, as fast as they occurred to him, answers were given in the same soft voice, which now seemed placed inside his head. Before he knew it, Neale found himself engaged in a two-way on-paper dialogue. He continued this first “conversation” for hours, and had many more in the weeks that followed, always awakening in the middle of the night and being drawn back to his legal pad. Neale’s handwritten notes would later become the best-selling Conversations with God books. He says the process was “exactly like taking dictation,” and that the dialogue created in this way was published without significant alteration or editing.”
Walsh tells us that his God has no absolutes. There is no cut and dried right and wrong. To my question “Are there absolutes?” he responded: “No, there is no absolute right or wrong. History has proven that to be the case. Is it right or wrong to kill? Under what circumstances? It may be right or wrong. Mr. Bush is proving that now. His foreign policy is proving that right now.
Pressing the issue I asked “is adultery OK?” His response: “It might be in an open marriage. What your question suggests is that there is a God somewhere in the universe who cares about the matter. That this God says that I want you to do this behavior or that behavior. That’s not the case. What rules? The Quran, Bagavad Gita, the Upanishads or The Book of Mormon. Now we are looking at this whole… did God reveal all of it, or some of it, what is right, or what is wrong? You must accept all, none or a few of those sources. The judgments are what create the wars you see in modern days. Who’s idea of what God said is what God said?”
Organized religion is not high on Walsh’s list. “To assume one religion has all the truth is a tremendous error.
Tomorrows God is what we need. Sir John Templeton – Templeton Prize in Religion. What is one thing religion needs today? Humility theology, a theology which does not have all the answers or presumes to do so. [A theology] which can look introspectively and say could this be wrong?
In Pakistan you can be killed for simply speculating on whether there might be something wrong or inaccurate in Islam. In American we are less drastic, here they just kill your career. For example a minister prayed at an interfaith service in New York City after Sept 11. He was a Lutheran. Two weeks later a Missouri Synod Lutheran board brought him up on charges of syncretism [a term meaning blending of religious beliefs but which they apparently interpreted as defined by praying in the presence of what they considered heretics]. He was defrocked and his career ruined. Exclusivist organized religion is the problem not the solution.
As long as religion teaches of a God which is intolerant, who requires us to come through a key hole to achieve this is not helpful. We need tomorrows God, as yesterdays God does not work. It is not that God has changed but that we must perceive him differently. It is a weakness on our part in not choosing to explore the possibility that there is something we don’t understand.”
Asked if he had any particular thought he would like to share with our readers Walsh stated: “We are all one, ours is not a better way, ours is a different way. Let’s have humility theology, humility politics, humility life. Truth comes in all ways shapes and forms. There are may ways to reach the mountaintop.”