This post offers a critique of Doreen Virtue’s book, The Joy of Jesus, which recounts her recent conversion. DV had been a successful teacher of spirituality, for some decades, whose work on angels had widespread appeal. I will state in main outline my critique, first. After that, I will list what I find positive and admirable about her message. Then, I will make a few more points in critique. My critique is based on Christian convictions from a liberal and pluralistic standpoint.
Doreen Virtue had a vision of Jesus Christ while attending an Episcopal church in 2017. Thereupon, she dropped her business as a spiritual teacher. Through the vision, she was converted to Jesus Christ. She saw, she says, that Jesus Christ is genuinely the Son of God. The Bible is true. Jesus is the exclusive mediator of God rather than being (as she once taught) merely an ascended master or holy figure. DV renounced her previous new age beliefs and teachings soon after this vision.
As I’ve followed DV’s spiritual unfolding, I observe with sadness that she seems to have plummeted from the pinnacle of truth into a pit of dogma. All kinds of putative “nonbelievers” exist on the outside; they are to be corrected and (sometimes) feared. This sectarian kind of Christian teaching (with an evangelical veneer) supposes a sort of biblical literalism that ignores the multi-leveled meanings of scripture.
As I see it, the mission of Jesus Christ was to establish unity, among different religious and cultural groups, on the common ground of love. Ephesians declares that divisions between Gentiles and Jews are reconciled in Christ. By contrast, sectarian Christianity shrinks the teachings of Jesus by emphasizing sources of difference rather than unity. Rigorous creeds supplant the reality of love and truth, which is revealed through Christ.
Since DV was converted on the basis of a vision, it is also odd that her teachings now deny the authenticity of visions, unless these visions pass muster according to certain creeds. To be converted by Christ — as one’s only personal savior — passes doctrinal muster, according to this view. This kind of faith affirmation excludes many other Christians, including Catholics, mainline Christians, Mormons, new thought believers, and Christian Scientists, among others.
Yet, by way of critique, if Christ should appear to a Hindu or Buddhist or a Tarot card reader, who thereby embraces Christ without giving up his/her cultural or other spiritual beliefs, why should not this kind of vision of Jesus Christ also be deemed authentic and authorized as orthodox? If the vision is in line with love — and the gospel teachings of love — surely such visions are Christian.
Now that I’ve stated my critique in its main contours, here are some points that I admire about Doreen Virtue’s personal witness, her message, and her book. After that, I will enumerate some additional points of critique.
- The Courage to Take a Stand: DV has fearlessly and courageously sought the truth and spoken out as she understands this truth. Upon deciding that Jesus is the savior — through a vision, prayer, and study — she has been willing to act upon her faith, even at risk to herself. She gave up her lucrative business, and her status, as a new age spiritual teacher in favor of a Christian evangelism for which she receives comparatively few rewards. This example speaks in favor of the life-changing reality of God that she describes.
- The Gospel is for Everybody (Finding/Seeking): DV graphically recounts the emptiness (indeed, the torment) of a life that is dedicated to spiritual seeking for its own sake. In her own career as a successful spiritual teacher (so, she confesses), she tirelessly tried to track down special or esoteric knowledge. Yet, if the prize was forthcoming, the pleasures were temporary and elusive. She likens the promise of esoteric knowledge to Eve’s temptation: the shiny apple is the secret wisdom that will finally make one like God. Esoteric knowledge — or special wisdom — in new age circles can become a commodity and a badge of superiority. By contrast, the gospel is at once fully satisfying and freely accessible– (the wisdom revealed to babes). If Christ exhibits the nature of God, then it is God’s nature to be generous, truthful, and forgiving. We may touch God, in the here and now, and rather than searching, relentlessly and restlessly, for something to make us whole, we may find–and be found by–a limitless and loving God. Healed, we are whole.
- Joy: DV reveals, through her conversion, an encounter with Jesus Christ that fills the heart with causeless and boundless joy — no matter one’s trials and tribulations. We are all seeking such joy, aren’t we? DV attests that through Christ, that joy is real.
Here are some points of critique.
- Guilt and Judgment: DV seems to believe that she was duped and deceived by the devil up until her conversion and her meeting with Jesus Christ. Yet, against this self-castigating narrative, it may be urged that the Christian gospel is about forgiveness, which releases one from guilt. In the light of forgiveness, one may see the beauty — and truth — that have been present, even while one has been hindered by various vices and sins. Surely, DV had lots of good things to say, in her earlier books, even if she made some “mistakes” when measured against her current standards of belief. While writing her books about angels and portraying Jesus as an ascended master (rather than as the unique Son of God), DV showed an enthusiasm for spiritual things, and curiosity about various ideas, which inspired many. These gifts ought not to be so sternly condemned. Guilt toward self, furthermore, gets transmuted into judgment toward others. For instance, DV believes that hell is real and that theological universalism is misguided. So, anyone holding these beliefs, so she judges, must be deceived and duped, just as she used to be. However, Jesus embraced theological pluralism, on a number of points, even if he also preached certain universals (such as the Great Commandment of Love). Heterodox opinions do not amount to grave sins.
- Biblical Literalism: I honor DV’s respect for the Bible. Yet, to lapse into rote biblical literalism is to take the easy way out when faced by controversial or difficult passages. For instance, DV claims that God (through the Bible) condemns mediumship and witchcraft. Yet, Jesus himself was accused of magic and of being in league with demons. These accusations against Jesus were argued on biblical grounds –which draw upon similar passages (from Deuteronomy) as those on the basis of which DV derives her biblical prohibitions against mediumship. If Jesus (the Son of God) “broke” such biblical rules himself — or if he was suspected of doing so– then perhaps the biblical rules, here, are liable to be misinterpreted. Could it be that the surface meaning of the Bible needs to be probed, more carefully, so that a deeper truth will emerge? Biblical doctrines about hell are equally complex and open to interpretation.
- Who’s Jesus? And Visionary Experience: I am surprised that having been converted on the basis of a vision of Jesus Christ, DV has now lapsed into a dogmatic Christian framework that makes no room for direct experiences of God unless “biblically” authorized (according to the untenable principles of biblical fundamentalism). Was her vision of Christ “biblically” authorized? Perhaps the biblical and dogmatic framework for testing the vision in fact betrays its very freedom. Visions cannot be squelched or controlled. When Paul had a vision of Christ on the road to Damascus, the authorities in the Jerusalem church doubted his credentials as an apostle. Orthodoxies often mistrust visionary experience. Now, DV speaks out against the freedom of revelation and visionary experiences; she has decided that nobody’s vision of Jesus is authentic unless it complies with the constraints of her particular Christian sect. By way of critique, however, I urge that the Holy Spirit is free. So is Jesus Christ: free. Christ may appear to people in all kinds of walks of life and within various cultures. To legislate against visionary experiences on “biblical grounds” — as if such visitations are of the devil –contradicts the very basis of her own conversion, which came through a vision.
DV’s book, The Joy of Jesus, is available as a free PDF download on her website.