During the last week of September I received a warning from a reliable source concerning books sold to school children. As a great advocate of reading and buying books, but also being aware of false information on the internet, I decided to check the details for myself.
First, I needed to check the author and books. I “googled” Neale D Walsch and discovered the following life facts from Wikpaedia:
“Neale Donald Walsch is an American author of the series Conversations with God. The books so far in the series are Conversations With God (books 1-3), Friendship with God, Communion with God, The New Revelations, Tomorrow’s God, and What God Wants”.
Walsch believes in a pantheistic God, who tries to communicate Himself as being unselfish. His vision expressed is of a New Spirituality: an expansion and unification of all present theologies; a refreshing of them, rendering all of our current sacred teachings even more relevant to our present day and time. He created Humanity’s Team as a spiritual movement whose purpose is to communicate and implement New Spirituality beliefs, particularly that we are all one with God and one with life, in a shared global state of being. Walsch has met with some criticism for what some see as appearing overly zealous in finding ways to make money for his spin-off organizations.
There are parallels with Walsch’s philosophy and that of the Bahá’í Faith, although the Bahá’í Faith does not believe in pantheism. A possibly stronger connection is with Zoroastrianism, whose divinity Ahura Mazda carries many similarities with Walsch’s God, including the pantheistic angle. Also, there are similarities with early Gnosticism.
The books are also usually broadly categorized within the New Age subculture, somewhat inaccurately since it proposes no religious constructs and is generally in harmony with the underlying themes of mainstream western spiritual culture).
I found on the website many articles of warning and criticism similar to the ones I was investigating, including a large number of fee-paying courses conducted by Mr Walsch. It seemed to me that the author was genuine, the books were genuine, and the specific criticisms were in line with the rest of the books’ content.
But I was suspicious that this warning about the Scholastic Book Club selling them to schools may only apply to America, in the light of the fact that Dr James Dobson’s name was mentioned. But Dr Dobson also broadcasts in Australia the same program as in America.
So I decided to check with Scholastic Australia. Their website read: “An unexpected error has occurred. We apologise for this inconvenience. The system adminstrators (sic) have been notified and the problem will be rectified as soon as possible.” I thought it unusual that a company dedicated to selling books and improving education should have a spelling error in its company notice! Consequently, I was unable to verify their author listing.
I knew Scholastic also had an Australian Book Club. I later found in some of their promotional material: “Welcome to Scholastic Book Clubs, where you’ll always find fabulous books, terrific value and wonderful resources! The most affordable books!” They were advocating the sale of “Harry Potter”, “Halloween” and “Monster Blood Tattoo” so I could expect to find the objectionable books with these if they had them.
One final try to check veracity. Beverley and I had two Victorians staying with us to wanted to see some of the Central Coast. I suggested on a day the Parliament was not sitting, I would taken them around the Central Coast and while there visit the headquarters of Scholastic Australia and ask one of their editors about these claims. Coming from Gosford, one sees two large warehouses. I pulled up by the wrong one first, eventually found the second, and had difficulty finding some off-street car parking. Apparently not many visitors are expected! Then a further search to find the way in.
A not-very-helpful receptionist told me she does not know anyone who could answer my questions. I told her I was a Member of Parliament wanting to check the truth of some claims and I showed her the material I had and asked for someone in charge of the School Book Club. She placed a call but no one was available. So I left the printed material with my business card and my phone numbers for my home, mobile, office, fax number and email address. I asked if an editor or distributor could ring me within two days.
No-one rang. However, I saw a notice that Scholastic has a book shop not far away in Niagara Park. There is an old shopping complex, and behind the Kung Fu training centre and at the back of the Niagara Tavern is the book shop. A very pleasant shop assistant could not direct me to the right person. Still I saw a book I had wanted for some time marked down to $3. We purchased two copies plus some books for the grandkids. A Sara Lee outlet was nearby, so we took the opportunity to stock the fridge for the next lot of visitors.
When no one rang from Scholastic, on Thursday October 4th I published the following warning: “If you have children or grandchildren, work with children at church, or you have neighbourhood children whose parents you know, please take note of the information below and pass it along to others. Schools are distributing this book to children through the Scholastic Book Club. The name of the book is ‘Conversations with God’. James Dobson talked about this book twice this week. It is devastating. Parents, churches and Christian schools need to be aware of it. Please pass this information on to churches, e-mail addressees, Parents, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, friends. Please pay special attention not only to what your kids watch on TV, in movie theatres, on the internet, and the music they listen to, but also be alert regarding the books they read. Two particular books are, Conversations with God, and Conversations with God for Teens, written by Neale D. Walsch. They sound harmless enough by their titles alone. The books have been on the New York Times best sellers list for a number of weeks, and they make truth of the statement, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover or title’. The author purports to answer various questions asked by kids using the ‘voice of God’. However, the ‘answers’ that he gives are not Bible-based and go against the very infallible word of God. For instance (and I paraphrase), when a girl asks the question ‘Why am I a lesbian?’ His answer is that she was ‘born that way’ because of genetics, just as you were born right-handed, or with brown eyes, etc. Then he tells her to go out and ‘celebrate’ her differences. Another girls poses the question ‘I am living with my boyfriend. My parents say that I should marry him because I am living in sin. Should I marry him?’ His reply is, ‘Who are you sinning against? Not me, because you have done nothing wrong’. Another question asks about God’s forgiveness of sin. His reply ‘I do not forgive anyone because there is nothing to forgive. There is no such thing as right or wrong and that is what I have been trying to tell everyone, do not judge people. People have chosen to judge one another and this is wrong, because the rule is ‘judge not lest ye be judged’”.
One month later, Father Chris Albany, Parish Priest St Mark’s South Hurstville wrote to castigate me about not naming my sources and to inform me that a website indicates that this information is not correct. http://www.breakthechain.org/exclusives/dobsonwalsch.html This website indicates that Dr Dobson’s website states: “Dr. Dobson has expressed strong feelings regarding the book Conversations with God for Teens, which Scholastic, Inc. marketed to unsuspecting students at Christian schools and their parents in 2002. To ensure that his audience knew what to expect from this marketing ploy, Dr. Dobson taped a broadcast which included information about Scholastic, Inc. and Conversations with God for Teens. The e-mail message you may have seen did not originate from Focus on the Family, but represents someone else’s synopsis of Dr. Dobson’s comments”. (I have not checked to see if this information is actually correct!).
Father Albany rightly castigates me for not checking the detail before running out of patience and printing it and for not naming my source who sent it to me in the first place.
Then, this week, a month after my visit to the Scholastic head office I received the following from Scholastic’s Chairman, Mr Ken A Jolly, A.M.,
“These statements are incorrect (Mr Jolly starts by repeating them.) Scholastic Australia has never published, distributed or offered Conversations with God or the other related title on any Book Clubs or via any other channels. We respectfully request a correction on your website. Thank you for your interest in Scholastic Book Clubs – we look forward to receiving a copy of your correction”.
This is good news. I unreservedly apologize for offending Father Albany and Mr Jolly, also other readers who have acted on this.
What remains without dispute:
1. The two books “Conversations with God”, and “Conversations with God for Teens”, written by Neale D. Walsch are unsuitable for Christian young people.
2. Dr James Dobson has warned Christian families about them.
3. Scholastic Australia has not sold them but Scholastic Book Clubs USA did.
4. These books are available on the Australian market but not through Scholastic Australia.
5. No mention is made of the printed information and my contacts numbers and details on my business card left with the Scholastic receptionist.
6. If I have been given what seems to be reliable information, I will not reveal sources, but I will go to some length to verify for myself the reliability of the information. On this occasion my investigations were not satisfactory and I apologise for that.
REV THE HON. DR GORDON MOYES, A.C., M.L.C.