My spiritual pilgrimage began at a very young age when the questions, “Who am I? What is my purpose in life?” and “What am I doing here?” haunted me and burned in my mind night and day. While other children were content to play, I was driven to ask questions about the meaning of life. Raised in New York City, I came from a liberal, educated family. Both my parents were teachers, and neither believed in God.
As a young boy, I thought science could give me the answers to my questions about life. Reading every book I could get my hands on about science and the lives of the great scientists, I often devoured ten books a week. I read about men like Albert Einstein, Nicola Tesla, Thomas Edison, Enrico Fermi, Louis Pasteur, and John Oppenheimer. Building a huge laboratory in my bedroom, I undertook amateur experiments on cryogenics and nuclear physics. Soon, however, I realized that these brilliant men did not have the answers I was looking for. Thus, at an early age I discovered the bankruptcy of scientific materialism.
After exhausting science as a means of finding the meaning of life, I next investigated the occult and Eastern religions. Biblical Christianity was not even an option for me. I had never once met a Bible-believing Christian or seen an evangelist on television, and the churches in my neighborhood were steeped in liberal theology or dead orthodoxy.
The only religion we had at home was secular humanism – the belief that there is no God and man is the center of the universe. As a result, I was raised to believe that there was no absolute right or wrong. Around the dinner table, my parents taught me that human evil was due to ignorance and that the concept of a personal God was an archaic belief any educated person should transcend. In addition, they told me that Christians were intellectually pathetic people who were “anti-love,” “anti-joy,” and “anti-sex.” Instead of promoting anything good, Christians were responsible for the crusades and the Inquisition.
One Thanksgiving evening my grandmother asked my father to pray. Instead, he launched into a thunderous tirade about how there was no reason to thank God – everything we had came from man’s hard work.
In the atheistic environment of my home, the spiritual void within me grew deeper, and I plunged headlong into the New Age philosophy and radical politics. Soon after I reached puberty, my parents divorced, ripping my world apart. My spiritual pilgrimage merged with a growing hatred of all authority and society. I was ripe to be seduced by the counterculture and the psychedelic philosophy of the ’60s which has now become the New Age Movement.
Although my mother held a secular humanist worldview, she was always full of loving concern and discipline. She spent thousands of hours reading me books and taking me to museums and libraries. Genuinely concerned about her rebellious son, my mother sent me to a psychotherapist whom she hoped would solve my problems.
I told my therapist that I wanted to know why I was alive, who I was, and what purpose there was for my life. He could not help me and only provided a listening board. In the vain hope of finding answers, I began reading Sigmund Freud, Carl Rogers, and Carl Jung. But all the leading psychological theorists seemed to contradict each other, and I was left more confused than ever.
Then the “hippie” movement with its drugs and “free love” exploded across the nation. I remember the first time I saw Timothy Leary. Wearing a white outfit and grinning like the “Cheshire Cat” from Alice In Wonderland, he said on national television “Tune in, turn on, and drop out.” This psychedelic prophet of LSD was in distinct contrast to the people involved in organized religion. Then the Beatles recorded “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and the psychedelic invasion of drugs, Eastern religion, and promiscuous sex spread.
At the age of fifteen, I was wearing long hair and boots and demonstrating with Abbie Hoffman in New York City. I organized demonstrations and was even made an honorary member of the Black Panther Party for protesting outside a prison against the arrest of Panther leaders.
Simultaneously, I deepened my activities in Eastern mysticism and was introduced to drugs by an “honor student” in my high school. I read a book by Aldous Huxley titled Heaven and Hell and the Doors of Perception, which describes Huxley’s experimentation with hashish and mescaline as a means to enter a higher state of consciousness. This fellow student, whose father was a doctor, “turned me on” to hashish and mescaline as part of a serious scientific experiment. Together, we passed through the “doors of perception” and entered a higher realm of consciousness.
Fueled by drugs like LSD and mescaline, it was the psychedelic ’60s that ushered in the current New Age Movement. Powerful mind altering drugs like LSD blasted people into the spiritual realm and forced them to acknowledge the presence of a spiritual reality. This opened the door to the occult and the myriad practices of Eastern mysticism that gave birth to the New Age Movement.
In my own life, the use of powerful psychedelic drugs like LSD intensified my plunge into the New Age philosophy and Eastern Mysticism. Thus began an electric pilgrimage into Hinduism, Buddhism, the teachings of Don Juan, yoga, mental telepathy, altered states of consciousness, hypnotherapy, astral projection, reincarnation, the occult, devil’s weed, spirit guides, and a smorgasbord of mystical experiences. I was greatly influenced by men like Baba Ram Dass, Ken Kesey, Timothy Leary, and Stephen Gaskin.
In fact, my major at the University of Missouri was called “Altered States of Consciousness,” a brand-new accredited field within the Department of Psychology. We studied different means of entering higher states of consciousness and engaged in exercises based on Eastern mystical teaching and experiences by men like Carlos Castaneda. It was during this time of intense New Age activity that I developed spiritual powers and “cosmic consciousness.”
My professor at the University of Missouri was a practicing mystic and taught a number of courses on mental illness. He believed, as did popular psychologists like R.D. Laing, that mental illness or madness could be a means of entering higher consciousness. In this theory, insane people are considered spiritual pilgrims caught between two realities.
My professor invited gurus to teach and perform supernatural feats of levitation. Once while my professor was lecturing, I heard a distinct voice within me shout, “Surrender to the dark forces within!” At this point in my life I noticed a growing intensity in the manifestation of strong paranormal experiences. Yet at the same time, I had a growing feeling that things were getting out of control. The more bizarre things became, however, the more I believed I was moving toward “enlightenment.” I became convinced that everything happening was due to my excess “karma” burning off.
As is often the case with people involved in drugs and the occult, I experienced mixed feelings of great elation and depression. I became a kind of mystical “wildman,” hiking into the woods while on psychedelic drugs and communing with what I thought was God. But I was like a comet crashing into the atmosphere, burning more brightly as I moved through the heavens and consuming myself in flames. One evening I broke into my psychology professor’s office and wrote him an anonymous note warning him of the dangers of “the journey.”
Invasion Of The Jesus Movement
In the early ’70s, a strange thing happen at the University of Missouri: The Jesus Movement spread from the West Coast and entered the campus town of Columbia, Missouri. I remember seeing an article on the Jesus Movement in a national magazine. Reading about these Christians, who I thought were going to regress mankind into a new Dark Age with their “primitive blood-stained religion,” made me furious. I hated them because I thought they would stop the “revolution” and the establishment of the new world order based on higher consciousness.
People involved in the New Age Movement hold the very same beliefs, for their goal is to create a one-world government and unify the planet under a spiritual system of higher consciousness. Like many New Agers, I viewed Christians with all their talk of Jesus Christ being the “only way” as an anachronism and a threat to the spiritual/political revolution coming to the planet.
About this time, however, I finally came face to face with genuine Christians who moved in the supernatural flow of the Holy Spirit and had the glory of God shining on their countenances. I encountered Spirit-filled Christians everywhere and thought it was my duty to defend the faith of Eastern mysticism and the religion of “higher consciousness.” Attacking and debating believers in philosophy classes whenever they spoke out about their faith, I delighted in trying to humiliate them and prove them wrong through intellectual arguments.
In addition, I increased my “outrageous” behavior in front of Christians in an attempt to mock and ridicule them. Since I studied film, I made X-rated animation movies with Barbie dolls in an attempt to sneer at Judeo-Christian morality.
Despite my bitter hatred, a couple of true Christians began to zero in on me and share the love of Jesus Christ. Beneath all my bravado was a hurting, frightened individual reaching out for answers. At first, my mind completely rejected everything they were saying. But they continued to love me with a pure, deep, spiritual agape love. Even though I thought what they were saying was complete idiocy, I felt myself being wooed and convicted by the Holy Spirit as they talked.
For the first time in my life, I sensed God’s love for me. All my intellectual arguments were reduced to nothing as I encountered something far more real than anything I had experienced before. This was not some “trip” or mystical high. The purity and love that I felt had to be God.
Empowered by the Holy Spirit, these supernatural Christians opened up their lives to me. They cared about me as a person and loved me. They invited me to their prayer meetings and had me over for dinner. Through their personal ministry to me, I felt the arms of the living God embrace me and hug me like my father never had. As the Lord touched me deep within my heart, the hurt and bruised child locked inside me emerged and responded to His love.
Although I wasn’t yet ready to surrender, the Holy Spirit continued to work in my life. I had all kinds of intellectual questions, so my Christian friends gave me a book by Dr. Francis Schaeffer called Escape From Reason. It changed my life. I was shocked to discover that a person could be both intelligent and a Christian. Talking about God, film, art, and philosophy in brilliant and articulate terms, Dr. Schaeffer explained contemporary culture in a way I had never understood.
Still I fought with the Holy Spirit, and the forces of darkness did not want to let me go. As these Christians prayed for me, the Holy Spirit continued to convict me. Sometimes I found myself walking alone by the highway, and, even though I was “stoned,” I would begin sobbing and weeping as Almighty God touched me.
The Hand Of Providence
One afternoon a guy named Tim invited me to a retreat in a wooded area about an hour away from the campus. I had mysteriously met Tim in the hallway of a dormitory, where he sat reading the Bible that he carried with him everywhere. He was in the hallway to meet someone else, but providentially he met me and invited me to this Christian retreat. Tim’s eyes shone with sincerity and the love of God, so I accepted his invitation.
Dressed in boots, blue jeans, and long hair, I arrived at the retreat center. A brief look at the place quickly convinced me that these people didn’t have what I was looking for. They were the kind of Christians I had seen before – religious but lacking the depth and dimension of people who have had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.
While at the retreat center, I noted vague references to the Bible, but primarily we played games like “spin the bottle.” I was totally disgusted, for these people reinforced my worst preconceptions about Christianity. After spending the night I told Tim during breakfast that I was going to hitchhike back to the university. Tim walked me to the highway and said, “Paul, God will take care of your ride home.” Wondering if he was some kind of religious nut but hoping to humor him, I said, “Yeah, yeah sure.” Then I stuck out my thumb and tried to hitch a ride.
The first person to pick me up was a Pentecostal preacher. He and his wife talked to me about Jesus the entire ride. Stunned, I chalked it up as coincidence; after all, this was the Bible Belt. After they let me out, I stuck out my thumb and was picked up by a Bible salesman with a station wagon filled with Bibles! As we whizzed down the highway, he opened a giant Bible and began reading. With no hands on the wheel, he asked me if I wanted to receive Jesus into my life. I managed to gulp a “yes,” and he pulled off the road.
As we rolled to a stop, the thought raced through my mind, “What have I got myself into? Is this guy some kind of religious psychopath or axe murderer?” Growing up in New York City had taught me to suspect everybody’s motives and not to trust strangers.
The next thing I knew this Bible salesman was leading me in a prayer. With head bowed and hands clasped, I heard myself saying, “Jesus Christ, I ask you to forgive me of my sins. I invite you to come into my life and make me born again. In Jesus’ name. Amen.” I couldn’t believe I had said this prayer. I wasn’t even sure what sin was, although it seemed to me like an archaic concept. But I prayed in faith and meant it.
Hours later, I forgot the incident had even occurred and “partied” the night away with friends. The next day I woke up hung over and decided to visit a Christian girl named Laura. She and her boyfriend, Burgess, had spent a lot of time ministering and witnessing to me about Jesus.
As Laura and I talked, we were walking next to some giant Roman columns in the university quadrangle. I told her about my highway experience, and another girl sitting on the lawn overheard our conversation. It turned out that she was a minister’s daughter wrestling with the question of whether or not Christianity was really true. Looking at me pointblank, she said, “Do you believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God?”
All of a sudden the words, “Yes, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God!” leapt from deep within me. I was shocked. I had never said anything like that before. As I spoke, I had the most powerful spiritual experience of my life. It seemed that the sky had cracked open, and the presence of God overwhelmed me. A giant veil was lifted from my eyes as I realized God truly did exist.
I understand that I risk losing credibility by relating this experience exactly as it happened. True miracles can be cheapened by relating them in either a glib or a sensational manner. Many Christians carelessly utter the word “miracle” with such arrogance that it loses all its value. In addition, I understand that many people have had quiet but profound experiences with Jesus Christ that have just as much validity as mine.
But for me to minimize or reduce what happened to more logical terms just to make it more plausible would be inaccurate. I felt as if every dream I had ever had within the depths of my soul came true in an instant. Literally caught up in the Holy Spirit, I felt I was floating for weeks. Although I was higher than I had ever been in my entire life, I knew that the experience was genuine and pure.
Everything I had searched for in Eastern mysticism, human relationships, and the New Age Movement, I now found in Jesus Christ. This was not just another higher state of consciousness, an “upper story leap” without rational content, or a mystical trip. Nothing about this was artificial or mystical.
One could easily misconstrue my involvement in the New Age Movement and my encounter with Jesus Christ as the path of someone hopping from experience to experience lacking rational and verifiable content. Let me assure you that when I began my spiritual journey I did so as a scientist and a skeptic.
The contrast between mystical experiences and my encounter with Jesus Christ was as different as night and day. All of the New Age and Eastern mystical experiences I was involved in had an illusory quality no matter how real they seemed at the time. Jesus Christ was not just another “experience.” My newfound relationship with Him conveyed a reality so strong that I knew I had found God.
Excerpted from Supernatural Faith in the New Age by Paul McGuire (Springdale, PA: Whitaker House Books, 1987), pp. 43-56.