|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©1999|
|It should be recognized that when the mind is manipulated into novel states of consciousness, there is always a potential for spiritual deception and danger. This is true regardless of a person’s motive or environment—internal or external.|
Questions and Concerns
It should be recognized that when the mind is manipulated into novel states of consciousness, there is always a potential for spiritual deception and danger (see our eBook, Knowing the Facts about Altered States of Consciousness). This is true regardless of a person’s motive or environment—internal or external. The number of well-meaning people who embarked upon a visualization program merely for physical health, psychological understanding, or spiritual advancement and who ended up involved in the occult is not small. Books on visualization carry numerous anecdotes of how even the innocent and benevolent use of visualization catapulted people into the New Age Movement, psychic development, or spirit contact. This includes academics and scholars. Because more and more professionals are also becoming interested in the psychic realm, in the exploration of human consciousness, in New Age techniques and therapies, and in allegedly neutral and scientific uses of visualization, the occult use of visualization in academic forms is now increasing.
Visualization may have a capacity to place the mind into a certain brainwave pattern conducive to the development of alleged psychic abilities. How then do we view the practice of visualization in Christian psychotherapy? What about visualization techniques practiced in education in general, or among children? Educator Jack Canfield states, “When students are participating in a guided imagery experience they are in an altered state of consciousness.” To what degree does a belief that is conditioned or manipulated by visualization affect our behavior and our worldview? What are the long-term effects of visualization itself, irrespective of the environment in which it occurs? How neutral is a systematic program of repeated visualization exercises?
Experts in both the theory and practice of visualization warn of its potential dangers. H. V. Guenther and leading Tibetan Buddhist guru Chogyam Trungpa assert in The Dawn of Tantra, “Certainly practicing visualization without the proper understanding is extremely destructive.... Tantric scriptures abound with warnings about using visualization.” Practicing occultist J. H. Brennan, whose Astral Doorways cites visualization as an “excellent doorway,” warns that to mix certain things (for example, yoga postures and visualization techniques) without knowing exactly what one is doing “is asking for psychosis.” As noted, many people have embarked upon a visualization program and converted to occultism as a result. This is another of our concerns about the danger of visualization, because occultism is hazardous to people physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Other questions and concerns surround variables that affect the specific outcome of visualization techniques. Unfortunately, neither good motives nor a neutral environment is a sufficient safeguard against spiritual deception or other dangers. The context of visualization—whether the therapist’s office, personal meditation, or magic ritual—and the content of visualization (the worldview into which the practices are structured) are important for determining the potential degree of alignment with the occult. Furthermore, any claim to benevolence is ruled out when visualization is used to develop psychic abilities, enter altered states of consciousness, magically control the environment, or channel or other forms of spirit contact.
While some of the seemingly innocuous visualization techniques in some forms of psychotherapy are certainly not the same as visualization programs in the world of the occult, there are still unanswered questions about the possible impact of long-term visualization practices. For example, in education and Christian or secular psychotherapy, do we know the consequences of sustained visualization practice among children or patients? Can we be sure that long-term visualization practice will never open the door to the experience of so-called “higher consciousness”?
Is there really such a thing as neutral visualization in the long-term? When a person consecrates himself to an intensive program of visualization, does he really understand where this may lead? Many things which seem innocent are not necessarily so, for example, Ouija boards. Practices that initially seem innocuous, such as transcendental meditation, can in the long run have considerable impact on a person physiologically, emotionally, and spiritually. For example, we might ask how a simple sound—that is, a mantra—repeated 15 minutes twice a day could produce such dramatic changes as those sometimes brought about by TM. But we could ask the same thing of a simple visualization technique. Perhaps there is more going on here than meets the eye. Perhaps spiritistic influence is a greater possibility than is usually supposed.
Consider someone using visualization to induce astral projection. What factors actualize the event? Intent? Occult environment? Psychophysical changes? The spirits? Indeed, it is the spirits themselves who often claim to induce and, to a degree, control out-of-body experiences. So what are the parameters of the psychophysiology of visualization, and where do these end and spiritual warfare begin? To what extent does expectation condition or affect changes that occur from visualization?
Many Christians have used forms of visualization. They argue that in rejecting visualization, the church is ignoring aspects of the creative imagination that are really legitimate. The comments of Stanley Dokupil, the author of a Spiritual Counterfeits Project critique of visualization, are perhaps relevant:
One of the reasons the New Agers are making such inroads is that the evangelical church has proven itself to be unimaginative, and overly linear in its thinking. The unconscious is real and there are powers there I believe that are not necessarily evil. Certain individuals by their nature are more inclined toward the full use of their imaginations than others, artists, therapists, certain other creative types, etc. If the church doesn’t provide a discerning guidance for these people, other than outright dismissal of all borderline phenomena as satanic, then the church is not only poorer for having lost these people but will have to pay for it by having God’s gifts used against His own church. The works of Jonathan Edwards, such as Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God, The Distinguishing Marks of a Word of the Spirit of God, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, as well as Elizabeth Winslow’s biography of Edwards are very informative here.
Obviously, we cannot recommend the kinds of visualization we have been discussing in this chapter. The spiritual risks are too clear. So if the church is going to accept some aspects of the practice of visualization, it will need to sort out the godly uses of the imagination from the counterfeit varieties. Otherwise, how does a Christian therapist using an “inner Jesus” as a guide, friend, and adviser ensure a client against spiritism? What safeguards can be provided to ensure that imagination will not lead to the appearance of a spiritistic Jesus? Spiritistic Jesuses appear all over the place in the occult, from dictating occult texts such as A Course in Miracles, to direct appearances in the temples of the Mormon Church, to various occultists.
Is a “Jesus” who truly manifests inwardly to guide and comfort or to erase bad memories, a “Jesus” who must appear at the beck and call of the emotionally needy in general? Is this not similar to the familiar spirit of the occultist?
Apart from the occult, how much power does visualization per se really have? If man were a god-in-embryo, with divine energy at his disposal, and if his thoughts actually did create reality, then visualization should produce literal miracles. But this is not the case. Given biblical teaching, visualization is mostly impotent and, even in its allegedly “neutral” or “Christian” therapeutic aspects, would only seem marginally useful at best. In other words, isn’t it true that a) God’s ordering of the world and how attentively we live in harmony with it, and b) obeying His moral standards, are vastly more important to any kind of physical and spiritual health than our mental pictures or manipulation of them through visualization, even in a Christian context?
Another issue is, where is the Christian to derive a personal identity from? Is our self-image to be determined from our creative imagination or from the Word of God? Do the popular visualization techniques applied in a Christian context really conform to reality? Belief can certainly affect our behavior, but to be biblical it must be based on either reality or at least something possible. New Age and even much Christian positive confession imaging does not count as true what is true; it only imagines and visualizes as true what one wants to be true.
If visualization truly puts us in contact with our inner being, our subconscious, what can we expect to gain but perhaps the upwelling of that reality that Jesus spoke of: the sinful self? Perhaps this is the reason why some authorities have warned about the psychological dangers of using visualization to explore the unconscious. After all, as Jesus said:
“What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean: For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean’” (Mark 7:20-23).
New Age theorists and many visualizing church members regard the biblical doctrine of depravity as anathema, as indeed they must. To find the “divine” within, with its suggestion of universalism, the words of Christ must be ignored or reinterpreted.
Is the visualization program that seeks to remold man’s depravity into divinity really based on reality? Whose reality? If a Christian has been forgiven, regenerated, justified, joined to Christ, adopted, and positionally sanctified, how important is a spiritual program of Christian visualization? These biblical doctrines mentioned are spiritual realities. They are facts one need only understand and accept to integrate for major spiritual benefits. While the imagination might help a Christian to see such doctrinal realities as personally true, it is only by personal study of biblical doctrine and theology that the tremendous truths of Scripture are actually realized and applied. This is something visualization can’t do.
God has promised Christians many things: He will finish the work He began in us (Philippians 1:6); our inner man is being renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16; 3:18); and we will stand before Him, blameless, perfect in body, soul, and spirit, for “faithful is he who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass” (1 Thess. 5:23-24 NASB).
Christians are to be renewed daily by the Holy Spirit, prayer, and the Word of God. They are not to be renewed by a transpersonal psychology using Eastern metaphysics or inner work through visualization. The power of the Word of God to build a truly integrated person makes modern visualization pale by contrast. Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Where then is the spiritual power of visualization? Will an hour a day of our busy lives be better spent in visualization or in prayer? Will an hour a day be better spent on the therapist’s couch talking to an imaginary “inner Jesus” or in the Bible with the real Jesus? And what of our children? Will secular or New Age visualization methods in the classroom finally be in their best interests?
In our culture, visualization practices are here to stay. This underscores the necessity for Christians to bring a thoroughgoing and biblical critique to this subject.