Theology and Media

Thoughts on The Talos Principle

Posted in Theology and Media on June 11th, 2017 by msteffen – Comments Off
The Talos Principle (Logo)

Image courtesy of PlayStation Europe via Flickr.

Last summer, I was preparing a small group study in Christianity and Media, and I was looking for examples of recent games with Christian themes.  The first game to come up in my search was The Talos Principle by Croteam.  I downloaded the game in November and just recently finished it.  Here are my impressions (spoiler alert)

Premise

As the game begins, you suddenly wake up in a world dominated by Roman ruins.  A God-like voice identifies itself as “Elohim” (Hebrew for “God”), and then tells you that you must solve puzzles in order to prove your worth to Elohim.  After solving each puzzle, you earn a “sigil” (essentially a tetris piece) which you can combine with other sigils to open locked doors and access other parts of the game.

After playing through the first level, you gain access to the Temple of Elohim, which gives you access to other levels where you can solve more puzzles and earn more sigils.  Eventually, you find your way out of the temple, and that’s when things start to get interesting from a story perspective.  An elevator takes you upward into what appears to be an abandoned Antarctic research station–apparently the temple was underground.  Several other nearby buildings give you access to different worlds.

But in the middle of this snow-covered base stands an impossibly tall tower.  Suddenly, I hear the voice of Elohim warn me:

“Do not climb the tower, or you shall surely die.”

Like Adam in the Garden of Eden

From this point on, I was fascinated to discover that the game had made me feel like the Biblical Adam before the Fall.  I felt a general desire to obey Elohim’s command, whether out of respect for this game character, or perhaps out of fear of his power.  But at the same time, I really wanted to climb it.  Could there be something in the Tower that was better than what the rest of the game was offering me?

I found myself flirting with disobeying Elohim.  First I entered the door of the Tower, looked around the lobby, then left.  Later, I came back, climbed the first set of stairs, saw an elevator but decided not to ride it for the time being.  This experience made me wonder about Eve in the Garden: did she gradually give into her temptation to eat the forbidden fruit?  Maybe she touched the tree…walked away.  Touched the fruit.  Caressed its skin.  Picked it and set it down.  How long was she tempted before she gave in?

At one point, I told my wife that I would eventually climb the Tower.  She posed the question, “But, is intention to sin, itself sin?”  Perhaps.  My heart was already set on “sinning” against Elohim.

The tower from Talos Principle
The Forbidden Tower (image courtesy of PlayStation Europe via Flickr)

Encounters with the Serpent

Scattered throughout the game’s ancient ruins were computer terminals.  Mostly, these contained bits of the story in the form of random files, cached locally on each computer.  But after a while, an AI chat program named Milton starts talking to the player via the terminals.  Milton continually encourages the player to disobey Elohim and climb the tower.  I don’t think it’s an accident that this chatbot shares its name with the writer of Paradise Lost, which also retells the story of the Fall.

Deciding Whether to Disobey God

Curious as I was, I pointedly avoided climbing the tower for at least the first month of play.  The similarity with Eden and the forbidden fruit was too great, and we all know how that ended.  I didn’t want to make the same mistake and release sin and death into the world.

But on reflection, I started thinking that Elohim is not like my God.  Elohim gave me no reason to trust him, or to love him.  There was no perfect relationship that would be broken by my disobeying him.  Then, after reading various archives on the computer terminals, I determined that Elohim was himself an AI.  Apparently, I was inside a Matrix-like simulation, created by humans, and Elohim was the control program.  Feeling like a guilty child, I ran into the Tower and pushed the elevator button.

Feeling Like an Atheist

I have always believed in God, even if my assurance of Christian theology came more gradually.  So at this point in my play-through of Talos, I had the new experience of feeling like an atheist.  I had fallen out of belief in the god of the game.  He wasn’t deep enough, absolute enough, real enough.  Could this be what real-life atheists feel like?  It gave me a deeper understanding of them–clearly they never encountered a God who seemed real to them.

As I played through the rest of the game, I got the impression that the game’s creators might feel the same way.  In the archives, the player learns of a character named Alexandra: the scientist responsible for creating the simulation.  In her dying breath, she says she’d like to believe there is an afterlife, but she just doesn’t see the evidence.  Later, as I reached the summit of the forbidden Tower, Elohim pleads with me to stay:

“This world may be an illusion, but as long as we believe the illusion, it sustains us, it gives us hope.”

I think some people see religion this way: an illusion that yet has power, to the extent that we believe in it.

Design Notes: Similarities to Myst

Cyan’s Myst series of computer games is one of my biggest influences as a game designer.  As I began playing, I couldn’t help but notice some similarities to Myst.  First, Talos Principle is structured on a hub-and-spokes model.  Myst had a central island (called “Myst”) from which the player could access the five different worlds of the game.  Similarly in Talos, the Antarctic station serves as the game’s main hub, while Elohim’s three temples serve as mini-hubs to the individual levels/worlds.

I found it interesting that, unlike Myst, the player must complete the first level before gaining access to the hub world.  I like hub-and-spoke design because it gives the player a choice of what order they’d like to undertake the tasks of the game, but from a story perspective it made sense to initially restrict the player’s path.

Also like Myst, Talos Principle communicates much of the story through journal entries.  However, it presents these journals in two novel ways:

  • As files on a damaged computer system
  • As audio time capsules.

The audio time capsules were particularly compelling–in a lot of ways, it’s nicer to have a journal read to you than to have to read it yourself.  Cyan’s new game, Obduction, used video journals, but these were somehow less compelling than just the audio…but then maybe it was the acting.

Lastly, Riven (the sequel to Myst) also played with the idea of being a god over the world you created…though there was never a doubt that Riven‘s god was a false one.

Closing Thoughts

I was fascinated with how this game made me confront issues of faith–I am not sure how many other games have done so.  Though its creators are probably not believers, I think The Talos Principle presents an intriguing model for Christian game design.

I Cannot Come (to the Banquet)!

Posted in Theology and Media on June 6th, 2016 by msteffen – Comments Off

“A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests…but they all alike began to make excuses.”  Luke 14:16, 18

I’ve read this parable many times in the past.  There was even a song we sang in elementary school:

“I cannot come to the banquet, don’t trouble me now.
I have married a wife, I have bought me a cow,
I have fields and commitments that cost a pretty sum.
Pray hold me excused, I cannot come.”

For the most part, my reaction to this parable has been shock that people would reject such a great gift: the “certain man” being God, and the banquet being his kingdom (or perhaps the wedding feast of the lamb, mentioned in Revelation).

But reading it the other day, I found myself for the first time identifying with the guests who say they “cannot come.”  “I cannot come, for I am busy developing a video game.”  “I cannot come, for I’m busy with family and household stuff.”  “I cannot come, for I am more concerned about myself and my life right now.”

Later in that same chapter of Luke, Jesus talks about the cost of being a disciple:

“Those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”  Luke 14:33

In recent years, I’ve had a strong interest in drawing closer to God: becoming more and more of a disciple and experiencing the fruits of the Spirit in my life.  But this verse is challenging.  I love God.  But I also love my career aspirations, my comfortable American life, and so on.  As I wrote in a previous entry (and as my wife reminded me this morning), Jesus won’t necessarily ask us to give up all these things.  But at the same time, we must be willing to give them up.  God and his kingdom must be sweeter to us, more valuable than anything else in this life.  At moments, I feel hints of this.  But when I’m caught up in excitement for a game project or in dreaming of the house we’ll have someday…well, “You’re really asking me to be willing to give up those things for you, God?”

The key seems to be seeing the value in God’s kingdom.  This morning, while pondering how I could possible become willing to give up everything for Jesus, I thought of the parable of the hidden treasure (Matthew 13:44): a man finds a treasure so great, he went “in his joy” and sold everything he had so that he could have that treasure.  Essentially, if we’re really connected to how great a treasure God’s kingdom is, we’ll want to give up everything else in order to have that treasure.  So if the trappings of my life right now are seeming more enticing than Christ, this means I need to work on connecting to who Christ really is, and to what the gospel really means for me.

I can also rest in the fact that God loves me.  He truly wants what’s best for me, and so I don’t need to hold so tightly to the things I think I need.  As for the game project, I think he may even be supportive of it…but it can’t be the ultimate thing.

Free Will vs. God’s Will

Posted in Theology and Media on April 22nd, 2016 by msteffen – Comments Off

I have often struggled with an apparent paradox involving the free will of a believer:

  1. God has given us free will.
  2. God asks us to submit our wills to His will.

Essentially, my question was “Why would God give us free will, only to require that deny ourselves and give it away to him?”  This question often comes up when I am resisting the idea of giving control over to God.  This morning, for instance, I was praying in my car just before walking into the coffeehouse where I am now typing this.  My plan for this morning was to work on some game design for a new project I’m developing.  As often happens while I am praying in the morning, I had the thought that I should really submit my plan for the day to God, and be willing for him to lead me in another direction.  But I didn’t want to.  Most of this week was dominated by teaching my college courses.  Finally, on Friday morning, I have a chance to work on the game project…but if I give that to God, he might tell me to do something else!

I decided to share this struggle with God (always a good idea).  I essentially said something like:

God, I struggle with this concept of free will.  Why would you give us free will, only to ask that we surrender it to you?

Almost immediately, an answer formed in my mind.  It wasn’t in the form of words being spoken (which I have experienced).  Rather, it was the sudden coming together of several different things I’d read at various times.  In essence though, the answer was:

God asks us to submit our wills to His.  But this doesn’t always mean that He’ll ask us to surrender them.

Basically, we should always bring our will (what we’re planning) to God.  Oftentimes, he will allow us to continue to run our own lives as we see fit, provided it’s in-line with the Bible.  But we have to always be willing to let him say “No” and redirect us.

As I thought about it, I realized that this is consistent with how leaders or masters work in general.  A good leader does not micromanage those underneath him.  In this situation, the employee has a good amount of say over his or her particular area of work.  But when the leader does give a firm command, those under him must submit to that command.  I suppose failure to submit to a leader’s commands damages the relationship between leader and subordinate.

The idea of “always submitting, surrendering when asked” also goes with something Dallas Willard said (I believe it was in his book, Hearing God).  Willard said that sometimes the will of God is a point, and sometimes it is a circle.  In other words, sometimes God has a very specific thing in mind that he wants us to do.  Other times, there is a range of possible things that God approves of.  Willard gave the example of his children.  He noted that at that moment he was writing, his three children were at home with him.  One was playing outside.  Another was upstairs reading.  The third was in the living room watching TV.  All three of the children were within Willard’s will for them, however each had chosen a different activity.

I found this answer freeing.  I often worry about whether I am doing exactly what God wants me to do, but at the same time I resist turning my will over to him.  So God offers the best of both worlds: “Always be willing to let me redirect your will.  But if I don’t, then you are free to choose.”  God didn’t create us a robots, but rather as co-workers with him in creation.  He treasures our ability to think and work independently, however we must always be open to being overruled by our Leader.

Overtly Christian Filmmaking

Posted in Theology and Media on May 29th, 2013 by msteffen – Comments Off

Last week, I met with a potential cinematographer and we had an interesting conversation about overt Christianity in films. His leaning is to create secular films with Christian themes.  His reasoning is that the message will reach a wider audience if kept subtle.  If we’re too open with our Christianity in films, people might reject them.

This appears to be a very common viewpoint among Christians in Hollywood.  There is some wisdom in it: yes, there is a risk that your film won’t reach as many people if it is too “religious”.  But staying subtle essentially means watering down the message. Star Wars is often celebrated for its spiritual themes.  But this assumes that spirituality is enough.

Sadly, a lot of people seem to think that it is–even Christians.  “Religion is about living morally and being a good person,” so people say.  Given this understanding, it’s no wonder that Christians are perfectly content to leave out any mention of God in the “inspirational” secular films they create.  But I say that spirituality or moral values are not enough.  We need God.  We need His personal presence in our lives.  Anything else falls short.  The world needs to know this.

But isn’t it better to reach a wider audience, even if the message is more subtle?  I used to think so, but now I am not so sure.  Is it really worth reaching all those people if you’re not proclaiming the Gospel?  Perhaps it would be better to reach even just a few people with the full message of God’s redeeming grace. That said, who’s to say we wouldn’t reach a large audience by speaking overtly?  In the book of Acts, Peter addresses a crowd after being filled by the Holy Spirit and “about 3,000 were added to their number that day”. (Acts 2:41)

I do believe God can use subtle spiritual themes in films to open the doors of people’s hearts.  I just think that too many Christians in the film industry are content to leave it at that, perhaps out of fear of being “outed” as Christians.

The key phrase in the argument against overt Christianity in film is “reaching a larger audience”.  For many Christians in Hollywood, this is likely a bigger concern than proclaiming the Gospel.  I must admit I still fall into this trap–it’s the creative side of me that wants my work to be seen.  But I don’t know that we can serve both goals.  If our primary goal is a large audience, then we may have to let go of ministering.  But if our primary goal is ministering, then we may have to let go of appealing to a large audience.  The Holy Spirit might still allow our films to reach lots of people, but we need to stop worrying about this.

Cinetheologian is unabashedly overt, and yet reaching a wider audience has frequently been a concern for me.  Part of the logic is that cinema takes such a large amount of time, money, and resources to produce that it is most worth it when it reaches lots of people.  But I am starting to wonder whether it might be better to focus on really ministering well to just one or two congregations.  Chances are, we would actually fare better than trying so hard to be a grand far-reaching ministry movement.  The Holy Spirit can magnify our efforts if we just focus on saying what we feel moved to say, through the medium of cinema.

We Are Afraid of Each Other

Posted in Theology and Media on October 8th, 2012 by msteffen – Comments Off

Many churches have something called the “passing of the peace”, a time where everyone stands up, shakes hands with one another, and says “The peace of the Lord be with you” (or some shortened version thereof).  This past Sunday, as we shared the passing of the peace, I noticed something: many people seemed to be avoiding making eye contact with me, or at least not holding it for very long.  Several people even turned their head away from me before they were done shaking my hand.  Now, I suppose it could just be something undesirable they see in me, but I don’t think so.

I happened to be helping with Communion that same day, holding a cup of wine for dipping their bread.  This time, even less people made eye contact with me, even while I was speaking the words “The blood of Christ, shed for you.”  Most people seemed to focus on the wine cup before quickly turning away.

I can understand the aversion of these congregants toward making eye contact.  I feel some of that aversion myself.  It can be scary to look another human being in the eye, even more so to hold their gaze.  Perhaps we are afraid to let them see inside of us–there is a saying that “the eyes are the windows to the soul,” and I think there is some truth to that.  But it is also unfortunate.  Church is supposed to be a place of community, as well as a place of worship.  We already live in a disconnected culture, where people are more likely to text or Facebook someone than call or talk with them in person.

I think this disconnection leads to us being afraid of one another.  It begins to feel safer to only let people in so far.  When asked “How are you?”, we automatically respond with “Good,” which basically only means that “I’m not in mortal danger and don’t require your immediate assistance.”  But we need community.  This means that we need to fight that fear and reach out to one another, and this needs to begin in the church.

All that said, I have to admit that I haven’t been the best about reaching out to people either.  So often, it seems easier to dart for the car after church, rather than trying to strike up conversations with people I don’t know.  And beyond church, I should actually pick up the phone and call some of my old friends, rather than contenting myself with commenting on their Facebook walls.  I suppose this is something we all need to pray about.

A “Wheel of Time” Fantasy Novel Helps Me Understand Jesus

Posted in Theology and Media on June 19th, 2012 by msteffen – 1 Comment

I couldn’t sleep last night, so I got up and read a chapter of The Gathering Storm (Wheel of Time, Book 12).  Warning: Spoilers Ahead.  For those who haven’t read the series, bear with me.

This particular chapter focused on Egwene, one of the rebel Aes Sedai (female wizards) who is captured by the Aes Sedai in the White Tower.  Though a prisoner, Egwene has been working to undermine Elaida’s leadership, which Egwene blames for the splitting the Aes Sedai in the first place.  In this chapter, the tension between Egwene and Elaida finally comes to a head.  Elaida has ordered Egwene to serve her at a dinner attended by the Sitters (leaders) of the various Ajahs (factions) in the White Tower.  Though Elaida attempts to humiliate Egwene, the reverse ends up happening.  Egwene challenges Elaida’s misuse of power, speaking the truth regardless of the consequences.  Elaida ends up losing it and physically assaults Egwene in front of the Sitters.  In a very Christ-like way, Egwene takes the blows without crying out, but rather calmly continues to question Elaida’s actions.  I have yet to see what happens next, but it seems very likely that this incident is the beginning of the end for Elaida’s grasp on power.

I suppose the reason I recounted this is because I find Egwene’s resolve inspiring.  She is willing to be beaten, threatened, and humiliated in the name of her greater cause of healing the rift among the Aes Sedai.  I see a parallel to Christ in this story.  The cause of healing the rift between humanity and God was more important than Jesus’ own personal well-being.  Being beaten, humiliated, and ultimately killed was worth it to him, because these actions began the healing of all creation.  Interesting that, in some ways, I feel that I understand Christ’s sacrifice just a little bit better, because of this story I read.  I think one of the biggest changes in my understanding is related to the nature of pain and suffering because of a cause.  I’ve always been afraid of the pain and suffering part, and more likely to question how that could ever be worth it.

But I feel that Egwene’s story helped illustrate it for me—I was Egwene as I read her story and was able to see how she was able to use her suffering to accomplish a greater good.  But a big part of the story’s effectiveness was being inside Egwene’s head.  She was not without doubt, or struggle, or anguish.  She was human and the pain really did hurt.  She almost gave up.

I think this is something we don’t always get from the story of Jesus.  We never get inside his head, to understand his struggles, his own doubts.  “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth”, so one hymn goes.  We get this picture of a placid, unflappable, and ultimately inhuman Jesus.  Perhaps we need more stories that get inside Jesus’ head, showing us his humanity.  I think this could be done, even while preserving the doctrine of him being perfect.

I am still not sure what I would do if presented with a deny-Christ-or-be-martyred scenario.  I hope it never happens, as I wholeheartedly desire to raise a family, and see my children and grandchildren.  But it is interesting how storytelling has helped me better understand the martyr.  And it encourages me in my mission to use cinematic stories to draw people to God.

York Minster Cathedral

Posted in Theology and Media on November 1st, 2011 by msteffen – Comments Off

Sunday morning, October 16th, 2011.

After enjoying a full English breakfast, we set out on foot from the Bootham Guest House. The crisp autumn air was permeated by the distant melody of many low-pitched bells. I wondered whether they might be the bells of York Minster, the great Gothic cathedral to which we were heading for Sunday worship.

The sound grew louder as we approached Bootham Bar, one of several gates to the medieval walled city of York, England. Passing through the Bar, we rounded a curve in the winding medieval street and the towers of York Minster came into view.  A chorus of 39 bells called out from the ornately decorated towers, discordant and yet pleasingly melodic in a sort of otherworldly way.  It struck me that these same bells had called people to worship for hundreds of years, in a time when this cathedral really was the center of the city, when worship of God was the central focus of the community on Sundays.

My Fascination with Old Buildings

I have been fascinated by cathedrals since at least my senior year of college in 2002.  In particular, I had always wanted to visit a Romanesque or Gothic cathedral (roughly 1000 – 1500AD).  Why?  It’s funny because when I was younger, old buildings used to scare me.  I think maybe they felt “haunted” in some way.  Not so much in a ghostly way, but rather haunted by a past that was much much older than a first grader could comprehend.  “Saturated with history in an almost tangible way” might be how I’d describe it today.  That same feeling that scared me as a child now fills me with wonder.  Constructed between 1250 and 1472, York Minster is one of the oldest buildings I’ve ever been in.

Creative and Spiritual Inspiration

When writing Telmahre, my graduate thesis project, I had envisioned a cathedral-like building as the central setting of the story.  The more we explored York Minster, the more I felt like I was in that place I had imagined.  In fact, being there was sparking new ideas and possibilities in a story which had lain dormant for 5 years.

Besides the creative aspects, what I loved about York Minster was that God felt more present there than in any of the other old churches we toured.  Westminster Abbey was delightfully Medieval, and yet it felt more like a mausoleum to English royalty than it did a church.  Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London was a beautiful piece of neoclassical architecture, and yet in some ways it felt too opulent, too museum-like.  But York Minster felt like a holy place, and an ancient one.  A place saturated by history and God’s presence.

So it was quite a memorable experience to attend Sunday worship at the Minster.  Despite the towering surroundings, the service was typically Protestant in a way that made us feel comfortable.  After the service, we joined the congregation in what must be a universal after-church tradition: coffee and fellowship.  Here we were, a third of the way around the world from our home in California, and yet surrounding us were fellow believers: people who professed the same faith.  As a result, I felt a greater connection to the global Christian community, as if in the end, we are all one congregation.  It was spiritually renewing.

Nirvana vs. Heaven

Posted in Theology and Media on June 13th, 2010 by msteffen – 2 Comments

The Hindu concept of Nirvana, shared by Buddhism, seems to believe that the ultimate state one can reach is one of complete disassociation from the self. Christianity shares the call to deny oneself, though it does not express a view that the individual self will be annihilated. In fact, it speaks of multitudes, great and small, in its apocalyptic imagery.

Personally, I find the concept of losing all consciousness of my individual identity at best distasteful and at worst horrifying. Why is this thought to be desirable in Eastern philosophy? Am I missing something?

I don’t think that God would have created us as individuals if He did not intend us to remain individuals. Though I suppose, if you come out of the Hindu tradition that sees souls as bubbling up randomly from the divine essence or Buddhism which denies (or at least makes irrelevant) the notion of a personal God, then one would not read any conscious intent into the way humans are now, and would thus find it easier to dismiss the importance of our current state as individuals.

Faith Grows Out Of Experience; Theology Comes Later

Posted in Theology and Media on June 5th, 2010 by msteffen – Comments Off

The title of this post is a paraphrase of a concept in the book The World’s Religions, by Huston Smith.  He talks of the first Christians, how they saw how lives had been transformed, and then noticed this in their own lives.  It was only later, as they tried to describe and understand what they had experienced that they developed a theology (pp.  331 & 340).

I was listening to Jars of Clay (a Christian band who briefly found their way into mainstream music with a song called “Flood”)–the specific song I was listening to was “Collide”, and I was feeling what I think is God’s pull on my heart.  It wasn’t that the song was full of theological concepts, but that it spoke to a need deep within me:

Tearful confessions have watered down, broken down
the chance for unrequited love to finally reach its walls;
You’re waiting for the axe to fall,
But can’t you see it lying on the ground?

The second part of that verse gets me every time.  I have been noticing recently that I am pretty much daily worried about my life unraveling.  Sure, things are fine, but something could go wrong.  I have recently become aware of how much I am bracing myself as I walk around each day–like I am “waiting for the axe to fall”.

There is another song by Jars of Clay called “Fade to Grey

Then I see you there with your arms open wide
and you try to embrace me.
These lonely tears I cry, they keep me in chains
and I wish they’d release me.

Both of these songs seem to speak of being imprisoned, and of God’s desire to free us from this.  Often in a church setting, this imprisonment in sin and God’s salvation seems very theological and academic.  But when you start to recognize that part of yourself deep down that feels unfulfilled, restless, and never quite good enough, and then you realize that God is saying he can save you from that…then the message of salvation starts to seem more relevant, more personal.

I have been reading a lot about different theologies and faiths lately, in an effort to clarify my own beliefs.  However, I was struck tonight by how much more powerful the experience of God’s love is (tonight through a song inspired by him), compared to the 40 or so pages of writings about religion I’ve read in the past week.  It makes me think that answers about God cannot ultimately be found in a book, but through direct experience.

What Makes Christianity Unique?

Posted in Theology and Media on March 15th, 2010 by msteffen – 3 Comments

So if the difference between Christian faith and all other forms of spirituality is that Christianity offers a relational dynamic with God…” - Searching for God Knows What (Miller), p. 13

This quote was not the main point of the chapter; rather it was stated matter-of-factly in making a different point.  And yet it stood out to me in that it offers a possible answer as to why Christianity is unique to all other faiths.  But relational how?  All religions are about the relationship between humanity and God (or some higher being).  The common Christian mantra is that Christianity offers a personal relationship with God (Jesus).  As Christians, we assume this is unique to Christianity.  It certainly seems to be.  But are there any other faiths that claim this?  I would like to be more certain.

See, for example, this website for the Self Realization Fellowship Temple in Encinitas, CA (http://www.encinitastemple.org/).  In the first sentence of their homepage, they claim to “teach scientific techniques of meditation that will lead to a direct, personal relationship with God”.  So they claim that their faith will lead to a personal relationship with God too.  And yet, unlike Christianity, they emphasize “scientific techniques”.  But when is a relationship ever a science?  God is available to everyone through a direct one-on-one personal approach.

No, this is not a personal relationship with the living God who created all things and rules over all things.  It is quite contrary, as shown by this statement from the same website:

When you experience the true meaning of religion, which is to know God, you will realize that He is your Self

No, He is not your self.  Thank God, because myself is not enough and no amount of scientific techniques will get me closer to him.  The best I can do is ask for his help and then trust that his Spirit will give me what I need.