THE BEARER OF THE WATER OF LIFE
A Christian reflection
on the “New Age”
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. What sort of reflection
1.1. Why now?
1.4. The New
Age and Catholic faith
1.5. A positive challenge
2. New Age spirituality: an overview
2.1. What is new about New Age?
2.2. What does the New Age claim to
2.2.1. Enchantment: There Must be an Angel
2.2.2. Harmony and Understanding: Good
2.2.3. Health: Golden Living
2.2.4. Wholeness: A Magical Mystery
2.3. The fundamental principles of
New Age thinking
2.3.1. A global response in a time of crisis
2.3.2. The essential matrix of New Age thinking
2.3.3. Central themes of the New
2.3.4. What does New
Age say about
184.108.40.206. ...the human person?
2.4. “Inhabitants of myth rather than history”:
New Age and culture
2.5. Why has
New Age grown so rapidly and spread so effectively?
3. New Age and Christian faith
3.1. New Age as spirituality
3.3. The Cosmic Christ
3.4. Christian mysticism and New Age
3.5. The God within and theosis
4. New Age and Christian faith in contrast
5. Jesus Christ offers us the water of life
6. Points to note
6.1. Guidance and sound formation are
6.2. Practical steps
7.1. Some brief formulations of New Age ideas
7.2. A select
7.3. Key New
8.1. Documents of the Catholic Church's Magisterium
9. General bibliography
9.1. Some New
9.2. Historical, descriptive and analytical works
The present study is concerned
with the complex phenomenon of “New Age” which is influencing many aspects
of contemporary culture.
The study is a provisional
report. It is the fruit of the common reflection of the Working Group on
New Religious Movements, composed of staff members of different dicasteries of
the Holy See: the Pontifical Councils for Culture and for Interreligious
Dialogue (which are the principal redactors for this project), the
Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Pontifical Council for
Promoting Christian Unity.
These reflections are offered
primarily to those engaged in pastoral work so that they might be able to
explain how the New Age movement
differs from the Christian faith. This study invites readers to take account
of the way that New Age religiosity
addresses the spiritual hunger of contemporary men and women. It should be
recognized that the attraction that New
Age religiosity has for some Christians may be due in part to the lack of
serious attention in their own communities for themes which are actually part
of the Catholic synthesis such as the importance of man's spiritual dimension
and its integration with the whole of life, the search for life's meaning, the
link between human beings and the rest of creation, the desire for personal
and social transformation, and the rejection of a rationalistic and
materialistic view of humanity.
The present publication calls
attention to the need to know and understand
New Age as a cultural current, as well as the need for Catholics to have
an understanding of authentic Catholic doctrine and spirituality in order to
properly assess New Age themes. The
first two chapters present New Age
as a multifaceted cultural tendency, proposing an analysis of the basic
foundations of the thought conveyed in this context. From Chapter Three
onwards some indications are offered for an investigation of New Age in comparison with the Christian message. Some suggestions
of a pastoral nature are also made.
Those who wish to go deeper
into the study of New Age will find
useful references in the appendices. It is hoped that this work will in fact
provide a stimulus for further studies adapted to different cultural contexts.
Its purpose is also to encourage discernment by those who are looking for
sound reference points for a life of greater fullness. It is indeed our
conviction that through many of our contemporaries who are searching, we can
discover a true thirst for God. As Pope John Paul II said to a group of
bishops from the United States: “Pastors must honestly ask whether they have
paid sufficient attention to the thirst of the human heart for the true 'living
water' which only Christ our Redeemer can give (cf.
Jn 4:7-13)”. Like him, we want to rely “on the perennial freshness of
the Gospel message and its capacity to transform and renew those who accept it”
(AAS 86/4, 330).
1. WHAT SORT OF REFLECTION?
The following reflections are
meant as a guide for Catholics involved in preaching the Gospel and teaching
the faith at any level within the Church. This document does not aim at
providing a set of complete answers to the many questions raised by the New
Age or other contemporary signs of the perennial human search for
happiness, meaning and salvation. It is an invitation to understand the New
Age and to engage in a genuine dialogue with those who are influenced by New
Age thought. The document guides those involved in pastoral work in their
understanding and response to New Age spirituality,
both illustrating the points where this spirituality contrasts with the
Catholic faith and refuting the positions espoused by New
Age thinkers in opposition to Christian faith. What is indeed required of
Christians is, first and foremost, a solid grounding in their faith. On this
sound base, they can build a life which responds positively to the invitation
in the first letter of Saint Peter: “always have your answer ready for
people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have. But give it with
courtesy and respect and a clear conscience” (1 P 3, 15 f.).
1.1. Why now?
The beginning of the Third
Millennium comes not only two thousand years after the birth of Christ, but
also at a time when astrologers believe that the Age of Pisces – known to
them as the Christian age – is drawing to a close. These reflections are
about the New Age, which takes its
name from the imminent astrological Age of Aquarius. The New
Age is one of many explanations of the significance of this moment in
history which are bombarding contemporary (particularly western) culture, and
it is hard to see clearly what is and what is not consistent with the
Christian message. So this seems to be the right moment to offer a Christian
assessment of New Age thinking and
the New Age movement as a whole.
It has been said, quite
correctly, that many people hover between certainty and uncertainty these days,
particularly in questions relating to their identity.1 Some say
that the Christian religion is patriarchal and authoritarian, that political
institutions are unable to improve the world, and that formal (allopathic)
medicine simply fails to heal people effectively. The fact that what were once
central elements in society are now perceived as untrustworthy or lacking in
genuine authority has created a climate where people look inwards, into
themselves, for meaning and strength. There is also a search for alternative
institutions, which people hope will respond to their deepest needs. The
unstructured or chaotic life of alternative communities of the 1970s has given
way to a search for discipline and structures, which are clearly key elements
in the immensely popular “mystical” movements. New Age is attractive mainly because so much of what it offers meets
hungers often left unsatisfied by the established institutions.
While much of New
Age is a reaction to contemporary culture, there are many ways in which it
is that culture's child. The Renaissance and the Reformation have shaped the
modern western individual, who is not weighed down by external burdens like
merely extrinsic authority and tradition; people feel the need to “belong”
to institutions less and less (and yet loneliness is very much a scourge of
modern life), and are not inclined to rank “official” judgements above
their own. With this cult of humanity, religion is internalised in a way which
prepares the ground for a celebration of the sacredness of the self. This is
why New Age shares many of the
values espoused by enterprise culture and the “prosperity Gospel” (of
which more will be said later: section 2.4), and also by the consumer culture,
whose influence is clear from the rapidly-growing numbers of people who claim
that it is possible to blend Christianity and
New Age, by taking what strikes them as the best of both.2 It
is worth remembering that deviations within Christianity have also gone beyond
traditional theism in accepting a unilateral turn to self, and this would
encourage such a blending of approaches. The important thing to note is that
God is reduced in certain New Age practices so as furthering the advancement of the individual.
New Age appeals to people imbued with the values of modern culture.
Freedom, authenticity, self-reliance and the like are all held to be sacred.
It appeals to those who have problems with patriarchy. It “does not demand
any more faith or belief than going to the cinema”,3 and yet it
claims to satisfy people's spiritual appetites. But here is a central question:
just what is meant by spirituality in a
New Age context? The answer is the key to unlocking some of the
differences between the Christian tradition and much of what can be called
New Age. Some versions of New Age harness
the powers of nature and seek to communicate with another world to discover
the fate of individuals, to help individuals tune in to the right frequency to
make the most of themselves and their circumstances. In most cases, it is
completely fatalistic. Christianity, on the other hand, is an invitation to
look outwards and beyond, to the “new Advent” of the God who calls us to live the dialogue of love.4
The technological revolution
in communications over the last few years has brought about a completely new
situation. The ease and speed with which people can now communicate is one of
the reasons why New Age has come to
the attention of people of all ages and backgrounds, and many who follow
Christ are not sure what it is all about. The Internet, in particular, has
become enormously influential, especially with younger people, who find it a
congenial and fascinating way of acquiring information. But it is a volatile
vehicle of misinformation on so many aspects of religion: not all that is
labelled “Christian” or “Catholic” can be trusted to reflect the
teachings of the Catholic Church and, at the same time, there is a remarkable
expansion of New Age sources ranging
from the serious to the ridiculous. People need, and have a right to, reliable
information on the differences between Christianity and
1.3. Cultural background
When one examines many New
Age traditions, it soon becomes clear that there is, in fact, little in
the New Age that is new. The name
seems to have gained currency through Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry, at the
time of the French and American Revolutions, but the reality it denotes is a
contemporary variant of Western esotericism. This dates back to Gnostic groups
which grew up in the early days of Christianity, and gained momentum at the
time of the Reformation in Europe. It has grown in parallel with scientific
world-views, and acquired a rational justification through the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries. It has involved a progressive rejection of a personal
God and a focus on other entities which would often figure as intermediaries
between God and humanity in traditional Christianity, with more and more
original adaptations of these or additional ones. A powerful trend in modern
Western culture which has given space to New
Age ideas is the general acceptance of Darwinist evolutionary theory; this,
alongside a focus on hidden spiritual powers or forces in nature, has been the
backbone of much of what is now recognised as
New Age theory. Basically, New Age has
found a remarkable level of acceptance because the world-view on which it was
based was already widely accepted. The ground was well prepared by the growth
and spread of relativism, along with an antipathy or indifference towards the
Christian faith. Furthermore, there has been a lively discussion about whether
and in what sense New Age can be
described as a postmodern phenomenon. The existence and fervor of New Age thinking and practice bear witness to the unquenchable
longing of the human spirit for transcendence and religious meaning, which is
not only a contemporary cultural phenomenon, but was evident in the ancient
world, both Christian and pagan.
1.4. The New Age and Catholic
Even if it can be admitted
that New Age religiosity in some way
responds to the legitimate spiritual longing of human nature, it must be
acknowledged that its attempts to do so run counter to Christian revelation.
In Western culture in particular, the appeal of “alternative” approaches
to spirituality is very strong. On the one hand, new forms of psychological
affirmation of the individual have become very popular among
Catholics, even in retreat-houses, seminaries and institutes of formation for
religious. At the same time there is increasing nostalgia and curiosity for
the wisdom and ritual of long ago, which is one of the reasons for the
remarkable growth in the popularity of esotericism and gnosticism. Many people
are particularly attracted to what is known – correctly or otherwise – as
“Celtic” spirituality,5 or to the religions of ancient peoples.
Books and courses on spirituality and ancient or Eastern religions are a
booming business, and they are frequently labelled “New
Age” for commercial purposes. But the links with those religions are not
always clear. In fact, they are often denied.
An adequate Christian
discernment of New Age thought and
practice cannot fail to recognize that, like second and third century
gnosticism, it represents something of a compendium of positions that the
Church has identified as heterodox. John Paul II warns with regard to the
“return of ancient gnostic ideas under the guise of the so-called New Age: We cannot delude ourselves that this will lead toward a
renewal of religion. It is only a new way of practising gnosticism – that
attitude of the spirit that, in the name of a profound knowledge of God,
results in distorting His Word and replacing it with purely human words.
Gnosticism never completely abandoned the realm of Christianity. Instead, it
has always existed side by side with Christianity, sometimes taking the shape
of a philosophical movement, but more often assuming the characteristics of a
religion or a para-religion in distinct, if not declared, conflict with all
that is essentially Christian”.6 An example of this can be seen
in the enneagram, the nine-type tool for character analysis, which when used
as a means of spiritual growth introduces an ambiguity in the doctrine and the
life of the Christian faith.
1.5. A positive challenge
The appeal of New Age religiosity cannot be underestimated. When the
understanding of the content of Christian faith is weak, some mistakenly hold
that the Christian religion does not inspire a profound spirituality and so
they seek elsewhere. As a matter of fact, some say the New Age is already passing us by, and refer to the “next” age.7
They speak of a crisis that began to manifest itself in the United States of
America in the early 1990s, but admit that, especially beyond the
English-speaking world, such a “crisis” may come later. But bookshops and
radio stations, and the plethora of self-help groups in so many Western towns
and cities, all seem to tell a different story. It seems that, at least for
the moment, the New Age is still
very much alive and part of the current cultural scene.
The success of
New Age offers the Church a challenge. People feel the Christian religion
no longer offers them – or perhaps never gave them – something they really
need. The search which often leads people to the New
Age is a genuine yearning: for a deeper spirituality, for something which
will touch their hearts, and for a way of making sense of a confusing and
often alienating world. There is a positive tone in
New Age criticisms of “the materialism of daily life, of philosophy and
even of medicine and psychiatry; reductionism, which refuses to take into
consideration religious and supernatural experiences; the industrial culture
of unrestrained individualism, which teaches egoism and pays no attention to
other people, the future and the environment”.8 Any problems
there are with New Age are to be
found in what it proposes as alternative answers to life's questions. If the
Church is not to be accused of being deaf to people's longings, her members
need to do two things: to root themselves ever more firmly in the fundamentals
of their faith, and to understand the often-silent cry in people's hearts,
which leads them elsewhere if they are not satisfied by the Church. There is
also a call in all of this to come closer to Jesus Christ and to be ready to
follow Him, since He is the real way to happiness, the truth about God and the
fulness of life for every man and woman who is prepared to respond to his
AGE SPIRITUALITY: AN OVERVIEW
Christians in many Western
societies, and increasingly also in other parts of the world, frequently come
into contact with different aspects of the phenomenon known as
New Age. Many of them feel the need to understand how they can best
approach something which is at once so alluring, complex, elusive and, at
times, disturbing. These reflections are an attempt to help Christians do two
– to identify elements of
the developing New Age tradition;
– to indicate those elements
which are inconsistent with the Christian revelation.
This is a pastoral response to
a current challenge, which does not even attempt to provide an exhaustive list
of New Age phenomena, since that
would result in a very bulky tome, and such information is readily available
elsewhere. It is essential to try to understand New Age correctly, in order to evaluate it fairly, and avoid
creating a caricature. It would be unwise and untrue to say that everything
connected with the New Age movement
is good, or that everything about it is bad. Nevertheless, given the
underlying vision of New Age religiosity,
it is on the whole difficult to reconcile it with Christian doctrine and
New Age is not a movement in the sense normally intended in the term
“New Religious Movement”, and it is not what is normally meant by the
terms “cult” and “sect”. Because it is spread across cultures, in
phenomena as varied as music, films, seminars, workshops, retreats, therapies,
and many more activities and events, it is much more diffuse and informal,
though some religious or para- religious groups consciously incorporate New
Age elements, and it has been suggested that
New Age has been a source of ideas for various religious and
para-religious sects.9 New
Age is not a single, uniform movement, but rather a loose network of
practitioners whose approach is to think
globally but act locally. People who are part of the network do not
necessarily know each other and rarely, if ever, meet. In an attempt to avoid
the confusion which can arise from using the term “movement”, some refer
to New Age as a “milieu”,10
or an “audience cult”.11 However, it has also been pointed out
that “it is a very coherent current of thought”,12 a deliberate
challenge to modern culture. It is a syncretistic structure incorporating many
diverse elements, allowing people to share interests or connections to very
different degrees and on varying levels of commitment. Many trends, practices
and attitudes which are in some way part of
New Age are, indeed, part of a broad and readily identifiable reaction to
mainstream culture, so the word “movement” is not entirely out of place.
It can be applied to New Age in the same sense as it is to other broad social movements,
like the Civil Rights movement or the Peace Movement; like them, it includes a
bewildering array of people linked to the movement's main aims, but very
diverse in the way they are involved and in their understanding of particular
The expression “New
Age religion” is more controversial, so it seems best to avoid it,
although New Age is often a response
to people's religious questions and needs, and its appeal is to people who are
trying to discover or rediscover a spiritual dimension in their life.
Avoidance of the term “New Age religion” is not meant in any way to question the genuine
character of people's search for meaning and sense in life; it respects the
fact that many within the New Age Movement
themselves distinguish carefully between “religion” and “spirituality”.
Many have rejected organised religion, because in their judgement it has
failed to answer their needs, and for precisely this reason they have looked
elsewhere to find “spirituality”. Furthermore, at the heart of New Age is the belief that the time for particular religions is
over, so to refer to it as a religion would run counter to its own
self-understanding. However, it is quite accurate to place New Age in the broader context of esoteric religiousness, whose
appeal continues to grow.13
There is a problem built into
the current text. It is an attempt to understand and evaluate something which
is basically an exaltation of the richness of human experience. It is bound to
draw the criticism that it can never do justice to a cultural movement whose
essence is precisely to break out of what are seen as the constricting limits
of rational discourse. But it is meant as an invitation to Christians to take
the New Age seriously, and as such
asks its readers to enter into a critical dialogue with people approaching the
same world from very different perspectives.
The pastoral effectiveness of
the Church in the Third Millennium depends to a great extent on the
preparation of effective communicators of the Gospel message. What follows is
a response to the difficulties expressed by many in dealing with the very
complex and elusive phenomenon known as
New Age. It is an attempt to understand what New
Age is and to recognise the questions to which it claims to offer answers
and solutions. There are some excellent books and other resources which survey
the whole phenomenon or explain particular aspects in great detail, and
reference will be made to some of these in the appendix. However they do not
always undertake the necessary discernment in the light of Christian faith.
The purpose of this contribution is to help Catholics find a key to
understanding the basic principles behind
New Age thinking, so that they can then make a Christian evaluation of the
elements of New Age they encounter.
It is worth saying that many people dislike the term
New Age, and some suggest that “alternative spirituality” may be more
correct and less limiting. It is also true that many of the phenomena
mentioned in this document will probably not bear any particular label, but it
is presumed, for the sake of brevity, that readers will recognise a phenomenon
or set of phenomena that can justifiably at least be linked with the general
cultural movement that is often known as
2.1. What is new about New Age?
For many people, the term
New Age clearly refers to a momentous turning-point in history. According
to astrologers, we live in the Age of Pisces, which has been dominated by
Christianity. But the current age of Pisces is due to be replaced by the
New Age of Aquarius early in the third Millennium.14 The Age of
Aquarius has such a high profile in the New
Age movement largely because of the influence of theosophy, spiritualism
and anthroposophy, and their esoteric antecedents. People who stress the
imminent change in the world are often expressing a
wish for such a change, not so much in the world itself as in our culture,
in the way we relate to the world; this is particularly clear in those who
stress the idea of a New Paradigm for living. It is an attractive approach
since, in some of its expressions, people do not watch passively, but have an
active role in changing culture and bringing about a new spiritual awareness.
In other expressions, more power is ascribed to the inevitable progression of
natural cycles. In any case, the Age of Aquarius is a vision, not a theory.
But New Age is a broad tradition,
which incorporates many ideas which have no explicit link with the change from
the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius. There are moderate, but quite
generalised, visions of a future where there will be a planetary spirituality
alongside separate religions, similar planetary political institutions to
complement more local ones, global economic entities which are more
participatory and democratic, greater emphasis on communication and education,
a mixed approach to health combining professional medicine and self-healing, a
more androgynous self-understanding and ways of integrating science, mysticism,
technology and ecology. Again, this is evidence of a deep desire for a
fulfilling and healthy existence for the human race and for the planet. Some
of the traditions which flow into New
Age are: ancient Egyptian occult practices, Cabbalism, early Christian
gnosticism, Sufism, the lore of the Druids, Celtic Christianity, mediaeval
alchemy, Renaissance hermeticism, Zen Buddhism, Yoga and so on.15
Here is what is “new”
about New Age. It is a “syncretism
of esoteric and secular elements”.16 They link into a widely-held
perception that the time is ripe for a fundamental change in individuals, in
society and in the world. There are various expressions of the need for a
– from Newtonian mechanistic
physics to quantum physics;
– from modernity's
exaltation of reason to an appreciation of feeling, emotion and experience (often
described as a switch from 'left brain' rational
thinking to 'right brain' intuitive
– from a dominance of
masculinity and patriarchy to a celebration of femininity, in individuals and
In these contexts the term
“paradigm shift” is often used. In some cases it is clearly supposed that
this shift is not simply desirable, but inevitable. The rejection of modernity
underlying this desire for change is not new, but can be described as “a
modern revival of pagan religions with a mixture of influences from both
eastern religions and also from modern psychology, philosophy, science, and
the counterculture that developed in the 1950s and 1960s”.17 New
Age is a witness to nothing less than a cultural revolution, a complex
reaction to the dominant ideas and values in western culture, and yet its
idealistic criticism is itself ironically typical of the culture it criticizes.
A word needs to be said on the
notion of paradigm shift. It was
made popular by Thomas Kuhn, an American historian of science, who saw a
paradigm as “the entire constellation of beliefs, values, techniques and so
on shared by the members of a given community”.18 When there is a
shift from one paradigm to another, it is a question of wholesale
transformation of perspective rather than one of gradual development. It
really is a revolution, and Kuhn emphasised that competing paradigms are
incommensurable and cannot co-exist. So the idea that a paradigm shift in the
area of religion and spirituality is simply a new way of stating traditional
beliefs misses the point. What is actually going on is a radical change in
world- view, which puts into question not only the content but also the
fundamental interpretation of the former vision. Perhaps the clearest example
of this, in terms of the relationship between
New Age and Christianity, is the total recasting of the life and
significance of Jesus Christ. It is impossible to reconcile these two visions.19
Science and technology have
clearly failed to deliver all they once seemed to promise, so in their search
for meaning and liberation people have turned to the spiritual realm. New
Age as we now know it came from a search for something more humane and
beautiful than the oppressive, alienating experience of life in Western
society. Its early exponents were prepared to look far afield in their search,
so it has become a very eclectic approach. It may well be one of the signs of
a “return to religion”, but it is most certainly not a return to orthodox
Christian doctrines and creeds. The first symbols of this “movement” to
penetrate Western culture were the remarkable festival at Woodstock in New
York State in 1969 and the musical Hair,
which set forth the main themes of New
Age in the emblematic song “Aquarius”.20 But these were
merely the tip of an iceberg whose dimensions have become clearer only
relatively recently. The idealism of the 1960s and 1970s still survives in
some quarters; but now, it is no longer predominantly adolescents who are
involved. Links with left-wing political ideology have faded, and psychedelic
drugs are by no means as prominent as they once were. So much has happened
since then that all this no longer seems revolutionary; “spiritual” and
“mystical” tendencies formerly restricted to the counterculture are now an
established part of mainstream culture, affecting such diverse facets of life
as medicine, science, art and religion. Western culture is now imbued with a
more general political and ecological awareness, and this whole cultural shift
has had an enormous impact on people's life-styles. It is suggested by some
that the New Age “movement” is
precisely this major change to what is reckoned to be “a significantly
better way of life”.21
2.2. What does the New Age claim
2.2.1. Enchantment: There Must be an Angel
One of the most common
elements in New Age “spirituality”
is a fascination with extraordinary manifestations, and in particular with
paranormal entities. People recognised as “mediums” claim that their
personality is taken over by another entity during trances in a
New Age phenomenon known as “channeling”, during which the medium may
lose control over his or her body and faculties. Some people who have
witnessed these events would willingly acknowledge that the manifestations are
indeed spiritual, but are not from God, despite the language of love and light
which is almost always used.... It is probably more correct to refer to this
as a contemporary form of spiritualism, rather than spirituality in a strict
sense. Other friends and counsellors from the spirit world are angels (which
have become the centre of a new industry of books and paintings). Those who
refer to angels in the New Age do so
in an unsystematic way; in fact, distinctions in this area are sometimes
described as unhelpful if they are too precise, since “there are many levels
of guides, entities, energies, and beings in every octave of the universe...
They are all there to pick and choose from in relation to your own attraction/repulsion
mechanisms”.22 These spiritual entities are often invoked 'non-religiously'
to help in relaxation aimed at better decision-making and control of one's
life and career. Fusion with some spirits who teach through particular people
is another New Age experience claimed by people who refer to themselves as 'mystics'.
Some nature spirits are described as powerful energies existing in the natural
world and also on the “inner planes”: i.e. those which are accessible by
the use of rituals, drugs and other techniques for reaching altered states of
consciousness. It is clear that, in theory at least, the New
Age often recognizes no spiritual authority higher than personal inner
2.2.2. Harmony and Understanding: Good Vibrations
Phenomena as diverse as the
Findhorn garden and Feng Shui 23
represent a variety of ways which illustrate the importance of being in tune
with nature or the cosmos. In New Age there
is no distinction between good and evil. Human actions are the fruit of either
illumination or ignorance. Hence we cannot condemn anyone, and nobody needs
forgiveness. Believing in the existence of evil can create only negativity and
fear. The answer to negativity is love. But
it is not the sort which has to be translated into deeds; it is more a
question of attitudes of mind. Love is energy, a high-frequency vibration, and
the secret to happiness and health and success is being able to tune in, to
find one's place in the great chain of being.
New Age teachers and therapies claim to offer the key to finding the
correspondences between all the elements of the universe, so that people may
modulate the tone of their lives and be in absolute harmony with each other
and with everything around them, although there are different theoretical
2.2.3. Health: Golden living
Formal (allopathic) medicine
today tends to limit itself to curing particular, isolated ailments, and fails
to look at the broader picture of a person's health: this has given rise to a
fair amount of understandable dissatisfaction. Alternative therapies have
gained enormously in popularity because they claim to look at the whole person
and are about healing rather than
curing. Holistic health, as it is known, concentrates on the important
role that the mind plays in physical healing. The connection between the
spiritual and the physical aspects of the person is said to be in the immune
system or the Indian chakra system. In a New
Age perspective, illness and suffering come from working against nature;
when one is in tune with nature, one can expect a much healthier life, and
even material prosperity; for some New
Age healers, there should actually be no need for us to die. Developing
our human potential will put us in touch with our inner divinity, and with
those parts of our selves which have been alienated and suppressed. This is
revealed above all in Altered States of Consciousness (ASCs), which are
induced either by drugs or by various mind-expanding techniques, particularly
in the context of “transpersonal psychology”. The shaman is often seen as
the specialist of altered states of consciousness, one who is able to mediate
between the transpersonal realms of spirits and gods and the world of humans.
There is a remarkable variety
of approaches for promoting holistic health, some derived from ancient
cultural traditions, whether religious or esoteric, others connected with the
psychological theories developed in Esalen during the years 1960-1970.
Advertising connected with New Age
covers a wide range of practices as acupuncture, biofeedback, chiropractic,
kinesiology, homeopathy, iridology, massage and various kinds of
“bodywork” (such as orgonomy, Feldenkrais, reflexology, Rolfing, polarity
massage, therapeutic touch etc.), meditation and visualisation, nutritional
therapies, psychic healing, various kinds of herbal medicine, healing by
crystals, metals, music or colours, reincarnation therapies and, finally,
twelve-step programmes and self-help groups.25 The source of
healing is said to be within ourselves, something we reach when we are in
touch with our inner energy or cosmic energy.
Inasmuch as health includes a
prolongation of life, New Age offers
an Eastern formula in Western terms. Originally, reincarnation was a part of
Hindu cyclical thought, based on the atman
or divine kernel of personality (later the concept of jiva), which moved from body to body in a cycle of suffering (samsara),
determined by the law of karma,
linked to behaviour in past lives. Hope lies in the possibility of being born
into a better state, or ultimately in liberation from the need to be reborn.
What is different in most Buddhist traditions is that what wanders from body
to body is not a soul, but a continuum of consciousness. Present life is
embedded in a potentially endless cosmic process which includes even the gods.
In the West, since the time of Lessing, reincarnation has been understood far
more optimistically as a process of learning and progressive individual
fulfilment. Spiritualism, theosophy, anthroposophy and
New Age all see reincarnation as participation in cosmic evolution. This
post-Christian approach to eschatology is said to answer the unresolved
questions of theodicy and dispenses with the notion of hell. When the soul is
separated from the body individuals can look back on their whole life up to
that point, and when the soul is united to its new body there is a preview of
its coming phase of life. People have access to their former lives through
dreams and meditation techniques.26
2.2.4. Wholeness: A Magical Mystery Tour
One of the central concerns of
the New Age movement is the search
for “wholeness”. There is encouragement to overcome all forms of “dualism”,
as such divisions are an unhealthy product of a less enlightened past.
Divisions which New Age proponents
claim need to be overcome include the real difference between Creator and
creation, the real distinction between man and nature, or spirit and matter,
which are all considered wrongly as forms of dualism. These dualistic
tendencies are often assumed to be ultimately based on the Judaeo-Christian
roots of western civilisation, while it would be more accurate to link them to
gnosticism, in particular to Manichaeism. The scientific revolution and the
spirit of modern rationalism are blamed particularly for the tendency to
fragmentation, which treats organic wholes as mechanisms that can be reduced
to their smallest components and then explained in terms of the latter, and
the tendency to reduce spirit to matter, so that spiritual reality –
including the soul – becomes merely a contingent “epiphenomenon” of
essentially material processes. In all of these areas, the
New Age alternatives are called “holistic”. Holism pervades the New Age movement, from its concern with holistic health to its
quest for unitive consciousness, and from ecological awareness to the idea of
2.3. The fundamental principles of New
2.3.1. A global response in a time of crisis
“Both the Christian
tradition and the secular faith in an unlimited process of science had to face
a severe break first manifested in the student revolutions around the year
1968”.27 The wisdom of older generations was suddenly robbed of
significance and respect, while the omnipotence of science evaporated, so that
the Church now “has to face a serious breakdown in the transmission of her
faith to the younger generation”.28 A general loss of faith in
these former pillars of consciousness and social cohesion has been accompanied
by the unexpected return of cosmic religiosity, rituals and beliefs which many
believed to have been supplanted by Christianity; but this perennial esoteric
undercurrent never really went away. The surge in popularity of Asian religion
at this point was something new in the Western context, established late in
the nineteenth century in the theosophical movement, and it “reflects the
growing awareness of a global spirituality, incorporating all existing
The perennial philosophical
question of the one and the many has its modern and contemporary form in the
temptation to overcome not only undue division, but even real difference and
distinction, and the most common expression of this is holism, an essential
ingredient in New Age and one of the
principal signs of the times in the last quarter of the twentieth century. An
extraordinary amount of energy has gone into the effort to overcome the
division into compartments characteristic of mechanistic ideology, but this
has led to the sense of obligation to submit to a global network which assumes
quasi-transcendental authority. Its clearest implications are a process of
conscious transformation and the development of ecology.30 The new
vision which is the goal of conscious transformation has taken time to
formulate, and its enactment is resisted by older forms of thought judged to
be entrenched in the status quo. What has been successful is the
generalisation of ecology as a fascination with nature and resacralisation of
the earth, Mother Earth or Gaia,
with the missionary zeal characteristic of Green politics. The Earth's
executive agent is the human race as a whole, and the harmony
and understanding required for responsible governance is increasingly
understood to be a global government, with a global ethical framework. The
warmth of Mother Earth, whose divinity pervades the whole of creation, is held
to bridge the gap between creation and the transcendent Father-God of Judaism
and Christianity, and removes the prospect of being judged by such a Being.
In such a vision of a closed
universe that contains “God” and other spiritual beings along with
ourselves, we recognize here an implicit pantheism. This is a fundamental
point which pervades all New Age thought
and practice, and conditions in advance any otherwise positive assessment
where we might be in favor of one or another aspect of its spirituality. As
Christians, we believe on the contrary that “man is essentially a creature
and remains so for all eternity, so that an absorption of the human I in the
divine I will never be possible”.31
2.3.2. The essential matrix of
New Age thinking
The essential matrix of New
Age thinking is to be found in the esoteric-theosophical tradition which
was fairly widely accepted in European intellectual circles in the 18th
and 19th centuries. It was particularly strong in freemasonry,
spiritualism, occultism and theosophy, which shared a kind of esoteric
culture. In this world-view, the visible and invisible universes are linked by
a series of correspondences, analogies and influences between microcosm and
macrocosm, between metals and planets, between planets and the various parts
of the human body, between the visible cosmos and the invisible realms of
reality. Nature is a living being, shot through with networks of sympathy and
antipathy, animated by a light and a secret fire which human beings seek to
control. People can contact the upper or lower worlds by means of their
imagination (an organ of the soul or spirit), or by using mediators (angels,
spirits, devils) or rituals.
People can be initiated into
the mysteries of the cosmos, God and the self by means of a spiritual
itinerary of transformation. The eventual goal is
gnosis, the highest form of knowledge, the equivalent of salvation. It
involves a search for the oldest and highest tradition in philosophy (what is
inappropriately called philosophia
perennis) and religion (primordial theology), a secret (esoteric) doctrine
which is the key to all the “exoteric” traditions which are accessible to
everyone. Esoteric teachings are handed down from master to disciple in a
gradual programe of initiation.
esotericism is seen by some as completely secularised. Alchemy, magic,
astrology and other elements of traditional esotericism had been thoroughly
integrated with aspects of modern culture, including the search for causal
laws, evolutionism, psychology and the study of religions. It reached its
clearest form in the ideas of Helena Blavatsky, a Russian medium who founded
the Theosophical Society with Henry
Olcott in New York in 1875. The Society aimed to fuse elements of Eastern and
Western traditions in an evolutionary type of spiritualism. It had three main
1. “To form a nucleus of the
Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, caste
2. “To encourage the study
of comparative religion, philosophy and science.
3. “To investigate
unexplained laws of Nature and the powers latent in man.
“The significance of these
objectives... should be clear. The first objective implicitly rejects the 'irrational
bigotry' and 'sectarianism' of traditional Christianity as perceived by
spiritualists and theosophists... It is not immediately obvious from the
objectives themselves that, for theosophists, 'science' meant the occult
sciences and philosophy the occulta
philosophia, that the laws of nature were of an occult or psychic nature,
and that comparative religion was expected to unveil a 'primordial tradition'
ultimately modelled on a Hermeticist philosophia perennis”.32
A prominent component of Mrs.
Blavatsky's writings was the emancipation of women, which involved an attack
on the “male” God of Judaism, of Christianity and of Islam. She urged
people to return to the mother-goddess of Hinduism and to the practice of
feminine virtues. This continued under the guidance of Annie Besant, who was
in the vanguard of the feminist movement. Wicca and “women's spirituality”
carry on this struggle against “patriarchal” Christianity today.
Marilyn Ferguson devoted a
chapter of The Aquarian Conspiracy
to the precursors of the Age of Aquarius, those who had woven the threads of a
transforming vision based on the expansion of consciousness and the experience
of self-transcendence. Two of those she mentioned were the American
psychologist William James and the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung. James
defined religion as experience, not dogma, and he taught that human beings can
change their mental attitudes in such a way that they are able to become
architects of their own destiny. Jung emphasized the transcendent character of
consciousness and introduced the idea of the collective unconscious, a kind of
store for symbols and memories shared with people from various different ages
and cultures. According to Wouter Hanegraaff, both of these men contributed to
a “sacralisation of psychology”, something that has become an important
element of New Age thought and
practice. Jung, indeed, “not only psychologized esotericism but he also
sacralized psychology, by filling it with the contents of esoteric speculation.
The result was a body of theories which enabled people to talk about God while
really meaning their own psyche, and about their own psyche while really
meaning the divine. If the psyche is 'mind', and God is 'mind' as well, then
to discuss one must mean to discuss the other”.33 His response to
the accusation that he had “psychologised” Christianity was that
“psychology is the modern myth and only in terms of the current myth can we
understand the faith”.34 It is certainly true that Jung's
psychology sheds light on many aspects of the Christian faith, particularly on
the need to face the reality of evil, but his religious convictions are so
different at different stages of his life that one is left with a confused
image of God. A central element in his thought is the cult of the sun, where
God is the vital energy (libido) within a person.35 As he himself
said, “this comparison is no mere play of words”.36 This is
“the god within” to which Jung refers, the essential divinity he believed
to be in every human being. The path to the inner universe is through the
unconscious. The inner world's correspondence to the outer one is in the collective
The tendency to interchange
psychology and spirituality was firmly embedded in the Human Potential
Movement as it developed towards the end of the 1960s at the Esalen Institute
in California. Transpersonal psychology, strongly influenced by Eastern
religions and by Jung, offers a contemplative journey where science meets
mysticism. The stress laid on bodiliness, the search for ways of expanding
consciousness and the cultivation of the myths of the collective unconscious
were all encouragements to search for “the God within” oneself. To realise
one's potential, one had to go beyond one's ego
in order to become the god that one is, deep down. This could be done by
choosing the appropriate therapy – meditation, parapsychological experiences,
the use of hallucinogenic drugs. These were all ways of achieving “peak
experiences”, “mystical” experiences of fusion with God and with the
The symbol of Aquarius was
borrowed from astrological mythology, but later came to signify the desire for
a radically new world. The two centres which were the initial power-houses of
the New Age, and to a certain extent
still are, were the Garden community at Findhorn in North-East Scotland, and
the Centre for the development of human potential at Esalen in Big Sur,
California, in the United States of America. What feeds New Age consistently is a growing global consciousness and
increasing awareness of a looming ecological crisis.
2.3.3. Central themes of the New
New Age is not, properly speaking, a religion, but it is interested
in what is called “divine”. The essence of
New Age is the loose association of the various activities, ideas and
people who might validly attract the term. So there is no single articulation
of anything like the doctrines of mainstream religions. Despite this, and
despite the immense variety within New
Age, there are some common points:
– the cosmos is seen as an
– it is animated by an
Energy, which is also identified as the divine Soul or Spirit
– much credence is given to
the mediation of various spiritual entities – humans are capable of
ascending to invisible higher spheres, and of controlling their own lives
– there is held to be a
“perennial knowledge” which pre-dates and is superior to all religions and
– people follow enlightened
2.3.4. What does New Age say
220.127.116.11. ...the human person?
New Age involves a fundamental belief in the perfectibility of the
human person by means of a wide variety of techniques and therapies (as
opposed to the Christian view of co-operation with divine grace). There is a
general accord with Nietzsche's idea that Christianity has prevented the full
manifestation of genuine humanity. Perfection, in this context, means
achieving self-fulfilment, according to an order of values which we ourselves
create and which we achieve by our own strength: hence one can speak of a
self- creating self. On this view, there is more difference between humans as
they now are and as they will be when they have fully realised their potential,
than there is between humans and anthropoids.
It is useful to distinguish
between esotericism, a search for
knowledge, and magic, or the occult:
the latter is a means of obtaining power. Some groups are both esoteric and
occult. At the centre of occultism is a will to power based on the dream of
Mind-expanding techniques are
meant to reveal to people their divine power; by using this power, people
prepare the way for the Age of Enlightenment. This exaltation of humanity
overturns the correct relationship between Creator and creature, and one of
its extreme forms is Satanism. Satan becomes the symbol of a rebellion against
conventions and rules, a symbol that often takes aggressive, selfish and
violent forms. Some evangelical groups have expressed concern at the
subliminal presence of what they claim is Satanic symbolism in some varieties
of rock music, which have a powerful influence on young people. This is all
far removed from the message of peace and harmony which is to be found in the
New Testament; it is often one of the consequences of the exaltation of
humanity when that involves the negation of a transcendent God.
But it is not only something
which affects young people; the basic themes of esoteric culture are also
present in the realms of politics, education and legislation.37 It
is especially the case with ecology. Deep ecology's emphasis on
bio-centrism denies the anthropological vision of the Bible, in which human
beings are at the centre of the world, since they are considered to be
qualitatively superior to other natural forms. It is very prominent in
legislation and education today, despite the fact that it underrates humanity
in this way.. The same esoteric cultural matrix can be found in the
ideological theory underlying population control policies and experiments in
genetic engineering, which seem to express a dream human beings have of
creating themselves afresh. How do people hope to do this? By deciphering the
genetic code, altering the natural rules of sexuality, defying the limits of
In what might be termed a
classical New Age account, people
are born with a divine spark, in a sense which is reminiscent of ancient
gnosticism; this links them into the unity of the Whole. So they are seen as
essentially divine, although they participate in this cosmic divinity at
different levels of consciousness. We are co- creators, and we create our own
reality. Many New Age authors
maintain that we choose the circumstances of our lives (even our own illness
and health), in a vision where every individual is considered the creative
source of the universe. But we need to make a journey in order fully to
understand where we fit into the unity of the cosmos. The journey is
psychotherapy, and the recognition of universal consciousness is salvation.
There is no sin; there is only imperfect knowledge. The identity of every
human being is diluted in the universal being and in the process of successive
incarnations. People are subject to the determining influences of the stars,
but can be opened to the divinity which lives within them, in their continual
search (by means of appropriate techniques) for an ever greater harmony
between the self and divine cosmic energy. There is no need for Revelation or
Salvation which would come to people from outside themselves, but simply a
need to experience the salvation hidden within themselves (self-salvation), by
mastering psycho- physical techniques which lead to definitive enlightenment.
Some stages on the way to
self-redemption are preparatory (meditation,
body harmony, releasing self-healing energies). They are the starting-point
for processes of spiritualisation, perfection and enlightenment which help
people to acquire further self-control and psychic concentration on
“transformation” of the individual self into “cosmic consciousness”.
The destiny of the human person is a series of successive reincarnations of
the soul in different bodies. This is understood not as the cycle of
samsara, in the sense of purification as punishment, but as a gradual
ascent towards the perfect development of one's potential.
Psychology is used to explain
mind expansion as “mystical” experiences. Yoga, zen, transcendental
meditation and tantric exercises lead to an experience of self-fulfilment or
enlightenment. Peak-experiences (reliving one's birth, travelling to the gates
of death, biofeedback, dance and even drugs – anything which can provoke an
altered state of consciousness) are believed to lead to unity and
enlightenment. Since there is only one Mind, some people can be
channels for higher beings. Every part of this single universal being has
contact with every other part. The classic approach in
New Age is transpersonal psychology, whose main concepts are the Universal
Mind, the Higher Self, the collective and personal unconscious and the
individual ego. The Higher Self is our real identity, a bridge between God as
divine Mind and humanity. Spiritual development is contact with the Higher
Self, which overcomes all forms of dualism between subject and object, life
and death, psyche and soma, the self and the fragmentary aspects of the self.
Our limited personality is like a shadow or a dream created by the real self.
The Higher Self contains the memories of earlier (re-)incarnations.
New Age has a marked preference for Eastern or pre-Christian
religions, which are reckoned to be uncontaminated by Judaeo- Christian
distorsions. Hence great respect is given to ancient agricultural rites and to
fertility cults. “Gaia”, Mother Earth, is offered as an alternative to God
the Father, whose image is seen to be linked to a patriarchal conception of
male domination of women. There is talk of God, but it is not a personal God;
the God of which New Age speaks is
neither personal nor transcendent. Nor is it the Creator and sustainer of the
universe, but an “impersonal energy” immanent in the world, with which it
forms a “cosmic unity”: “All is one”. This unity is monistic,
pantheistic or, more precisely, panentheistic. God is the “life-principle”,
the “spirit or soul of the world”, the sum total of consciousness existing
in the world. In a sense, everything is God. God's presence is clearest in the
spiritual aspects of reality, so every mind/spirit is, in some sense, God.
When it is consciously
received by men and women, “divine energy” is often described as
“Christic energy”. There is also talk of Christ, but this does not mean
Jesus of Nazareth. “Christ” is a title applied to someone who has arrived
at a state of consciousness where he or she perceives him- or herself to be
divine and can thus claim to be a “universal Master”. Jesus of Nazareth
was not the Christ, but simply one
among many historical figures in whom this “Christic” nature is revealed,
as is the case with Buddha and others. Every historical realisation of the Christ
shows clearly that all human beings are heavenly and divine, and leads them
towards this realisation.
The innermost and most
personal (“psychic”) level on which this “divine cosmic energy” is
“heard” by human beings is also called “Holy Spirit”.
18.104.22.168. ...the world?
The move from a mechanistic
model of classical physics to the “holistic” one of modern atomic and
sub-atomic physics, based on the concept of matter as waves or energy rather
than particles, is central to much New
Age thinking. The universe is an ocean of energy, which is a single whole
or a network of links. The energy animating the single organism which is the
universe is “spirit”. There is no alterity between God and the world. The
world itself is divine and it undergoes an evolutionary process which leads
from inert matter to “higher and perfect consciousness”. The world is
uncreated, eternal and self-sufficient The future of the world is based on an
inner dynamism which is necessarily positive and leads to the reconciled
(divine) unity of all that exists. God and the world, soul and body,
intelligence and feeling, heaven and earth are one immense vibration of energy.
James Lovelock's book on the
Gaia Hypothesis claims that “the entire range of living matter on earth,
from whales to viruses, and from oaks to algae, could be regarded as
constituting a single living entity, capable of manipulating the Earth's
atmosphere to suit its overall needs and endowed with faculties and powers far
beyond those of its constituent parts”.38 To some, the Gaia
hypothesis is “a strange synthesis of individualism and collectivism. It all
happens as if New Age, having
plucked people out of fragmentary politics, cannot wait to throw them into the
great cauldron of the global mind”. The global brain needs institutions with
which to rule, in other words, a world government. “To deal with today's
problems New Age dreams of a spiritual aristocracy in the style of Plato's
Republic, run by secret societies...”.39 This may be an
exaggerated way of stating the case, but there is much evidence that gnostic
élitism and global governance coincide on many issues in international
Everything in the universe is
interelated; in fact every part is in itself an image of the totality; the
whole is in every thing and every thing is in the whole. In the “great chain
of being”, all beings are intimately linked and form one family with
different grades of evolution. Every human person is a
hologram, an image of the whole of creation, in which every thing vibrates
on its own frequency. Every human being is a neurone in earth's central
nervous system, and all individual entities are in a relationship of
complementarity with others. In fact, there is an inner complementarity or
androgyny in the whole of creation.40
One of the recurring themes in
New Age writings and thought is the “new paradigm” which contemporary
science has opened up. “Science has given us insights into wholes and
systems, stress and transformation. We are learning to read tendencies, to
recognise the early signs of another, more promising, paradigm. We create
alternative scenarios of the future. We communicate about the failures of old
systems, forcing new frameworks for problem-solving in every area”.41
Thus far, the “paradigm shift” is a radical change of perspective, but
nothing more. The question is whether thought and real change are
commensurate, and how effective in the external world an inner transformation
can be proved to be. One is forced to ask, even without expressing a negative
judgement, how scientific a thought-process can be when it involves
affirmations like this: “War is unthinkable in a society of autonomous
people who have discovered the connectedness of all humanity, who are unafraid
of alien ideas and alien cultures, who know that all revolutions begin within
and that you cannot impose your brand of enlightenment on anyone else”.42
It is illogical to conclude from the fact that something is unthinkable that
it cannot happen. Such reasoning is really gnostic, in the sense of giving too
much power to knowledge and consciousness. This is not to deny the fundamental
and crucial role of developing consciousness in scientific discovery and
creative development, but simply to caution against imposing upon external
reality what is as yet still only in the mind.
2.4. “Inhabitants of myth rather than history”43?: New
Age and culture
“Basically, the appeal of
the New Age has to do with the
culturally stimulated interest in the self, its value, capacities and problems.
Whereas traditionalised religiosity, with its hierarchical organization, is
well-suited for the community, detraditionalized spirituality is well-suited
for the individual. The New Age is
'of' the self in that it facilitates celebration of what it is to be and to
become; and 'for' the self in that by differing from much of the mainstream,
it is positioned to handle identity problems generated by conventional forms
The rejection of tradition in
the form of patriarchal, hierarchical social or ecclesial organisation implies
the search for an alternative form of society, one that is clearly inspired by
the modern notion of the self. Many New
Age writings argue that one can do nothing (directly) to change the world,
but everything to change oneself; changing individual consciousness is
understood to be the (indirect) way to change the world. The most important
instrument for social change is personal example. Worldwide recognition of
these personal examples will steadily lead to the transformation of the
collective mind and such a transformation will be the major achievement of our
time. This is clearly part of the holistic paradigm, and a re-statement of the
classical philosophical question of the one and the many. It is also linked to
Jung's espousal of the theory of correspondence and his rejection of causality.
Individuals are fragmentary representations of the planetary hologram; by
looking within one not only knows the
universe, but also changes it. But
the more one looks within, the smaller the political arena becomes. Does this
really fit in with the rhetoric of democratic participation in a new planetary
order, or is it an unconscious and subtle disempowerment of people, which
could leave them open to manipulation? Does the current preoccupation with
planetary problems (ecological issues, depletion of resources, over-population,
the economic gap between north and south, the huge nuclear arsenal and
political instability) enable or disable engagement in other, equally real,
political and social questions? The old adage that “charity begins at
home” can give a healthy balance to one's approach to these issues. Some
observers of New Age detect a
sinister authoritarianism behind apparent indifference to politics. David
Spangler himself points out that one of the shadows of the New Age is “a subtle surrender to powerlessness and
irresponsibility in the name of waiting for the New Age to come rather than being an active creator of wholeness in
one's own life”.45
Even though it would hardly be
correct to suggest that quietism is universal in New Age attitudes, one of the chief criticisms of the
New Age Movement is that its privatistic quest for self-fulfilment may
actually work against the possibility of a sound religious culture. Three
points bring this into focus:
– it is questionable whether
New Age demonstrates the intellectual
cogency to provide a complete picture of the cosmos in a world view which
claims to integrate nature and spiritual reality. The Western universe is seen
as a divided one based on monotheism, transcendence, alterity and separateness.
A fundamental dualism is detected in such divisions as those between real and
ideal, relative and absolute, finite and infinite, human and divine, sacred
and profane, past and present, all redolent of Hegel's “unhappy
consciousness”. This is portrayed as something tragic. The response from
New Age is unity through fusion: it claims to reconcile soul and body,
female and male, spirit and matter, human and divine, earth and cosmos,
transcendent and immanent, religion and science, differences between religions,
Yin and Yang. There is, thus, no more alterity; what is left in human terms is
transpersonality. The New Age world
is unproblematic: there is nothing left to achieve. But the metaphysical
question of the one and the many remains unanswered, perhaps even unasked, in
that there is a great deal of regret at the effects of disunity and division,
but the response is a description of how things would appear in another
– New Age imports Eastern religious practices piecemeal and re-
interprets them to suit Westerners; this involves a rejection of the
language of sin and salvation, replacing it with the morally neutral language
of addiction and recovery. References to extra-European influences are
sometimes merely a “pseudo-Orientalisation” of Western culture.
Furthermore, it is hardly a genuine dialogue; in a context where Graeco-Roman
and Judaeo-Christian influences are suspect, oriental influences are used
precisely because they are alternatives to Western culture. Traditional
science and medicine are felt to be inferior to holistic approaches, as are
patriarchal and particular structures in politics and religion. All of these
will be obstacles to the coming of the Age of Aquarius; once again, it is
clear that what is implied when people opt for
New Age alternatives is a complete break with the tradition that formed
them. Is this as mature and liberated as it is often thought or presumed to be?
– Authentic religious
traditions encourage discipline with the eventual goal of acquiring wisdom, equanimity and compassion. New Age echoes society's deep,
ineradicable yearning for an integral religious culture, and for something
more generic and enlightened than what politicians generally offer, but it is
not clear whether the benefits of a vision based on the ever-expanding self
are for individuals or for societies. New
Age training courses (what used to be known as “Erhard seminar trainings”
[EST] etc.) marry counter-cultural values with the mainstream need to succeed,
inner satisfaction with outer success; Findhorn's “Spirit of Business”
retreat transforms the experience of work while increasing productivity; some
New Age devotees are involved not only to become more authentic and
spontaneous, but also in order to become more prosperous (through magic etc.).
“What makes things even more appealing to the enterprise-minded
businessperson is that New Age trainings also resonate with somewhat more
humanistic ideas abroad in the world of business. The ideas have to do with
the workplace as a 'learning environment', 'bringing life back to work', 'humanizing
work', 'fulfilling the manager', 'people come first' or 'unlocking potential'.
Presented by New Age trainers, they are likely to appeal to those
businesspeople who have already been involved with more (secular) humanistic
trainings and who want to take things further: at one and the same time for
the sake of personal growth, happiness and enthusiasm, as well as for
commercial productivity”.46 So it is clear that people involved
do seek wisdom and equanimity for their own benefit, but how much do the
activities in which they are involved enable them to work for the common good?
Apart from the question of motivation, all of these phenomena need to be
judged by their fruits, and the question to ask is whether they promote self
or solidarity, not only with whales, trees or like-minded people, but
with the whole of creation – including the whole of humanity. The most
pernicious consequences of any philosophy of egoism which is embraced by
institutions or by large numbers of people are identified by Cardinal Joseph
Ratzinger as a set of “strategies to reduce the number of those who will eat
at humanity's table”.47 This is a key standard by which to
evaluate the impact of any philosophy or theory. Christianity always seeks to
measure human endeavours by their openness to the Creator and to all other
creatures, a respect based firmly on love.
2.5. Why has New Age grown so
rapidly and spread so effectively?
Whatever questions and
criticisms it may attract, New Age
is an attempt by people who experience the world as harsh and heartless to
bring warmth to that world. As a reaction to modernity, it operates more often
than not on the level of feelings, instincts and emotions. Anxiety about an
apocalyptic future of economic instability, political uncertainty and climatic
change plays a large part in causing people to look for an alternative,
resolutely optimistic relationship to the cosmos. There is a search for
wholeness and happiness, often on an explicitly spiritual level. But it is
significant that New Age has enjoyed
enormous success in an era which can be characterised by the almost universal
exaltation of diversity. Western
culture has taken a step beyond tolerance – in the sense of grudging
acceptance or putting up with the idiosyncrasies of a person or a minority
group – to a conscious erosion of respect for normality. Normality is
presented as a morally loaded concept, linked necessarily with absolute norms.
For a growing number of people, absolute beliefs or norms indicate nothing but
an inability to tolerate other people's views and convictions. In this
atmosphere alternative life-styles and theories have really taken off: it is
not only acceptable but positively good to be diverse.48
It is essential to bear in
mind that people are involved with New
Age in very different ways and on many levels. In most cases it is not
really a question of “belonging” to a group or movement; nor is there much
conscious awareness of the principles on which
New Age is built. It seems that, for the most part, people are attracted
to particular therapies or practices, without going into their background, and
others are simply occasional consumers of products which are labelled “New
Age”. People who use aromatherapy or listen to “New
Age” music, for example, are usually interested in the effect they have
on their health or well-being; it is only a minority who go further into the
subject, and try to understand its theoretical (or “mystical”)
significance. This fits perfectly into the patterns of consumption in
societies where amusement and leisure play such an important part. The
“movement” has adapted well to the laws of the market, and it is partly
because it is such an attractive economic proposition that
New Age has become so widespread.
New Age has been seen, in some cultures at least, as the label for a
product created by the application of marketing principles to a religious
phenomenon.49 There is always going to be a way of profiting from
people's perceived spiritual needs. Like many other things in contemporary
economics, New Age is a global phenomenon held together and fed with
information by the mass media. It is arguable that this global community was
created by means of the mass media, and it is quite clear that popular
literature and mass communications ensure that the common notions held by
“believers” and sympathisers spread almost everywhere very rapidly.
However, there is no way of proving that such a rapid spread of ideas is
either by chance or by design, since this is a very loose form of
“community”. Like the cybercommunities created by the Internet, it is a
domain where relationships between people can be either very impersonal or
interpersonal in only a very selective sense.
New Age has become immensely popular as a loose set of beliefs,
therapies and practices, which are often selected and combined at will,
irrespective of the incompatibilities and inconsistencies this may imply. But
this is obviously to be expected in a world- view self-consciously based on
“right-brain” intuitive thinking. And that is precisely why it is
important to discover and recognise the fundamental characteristics of New Age ideas. What is offered is often described as simply
“spiritual”, rather than belonging to any religion, but there are much
closer links to particular Eastern religions than many “consumers” realise.
This is obviously important in “prayer”-groups to which people choose to
belong, but it is also a real question for management in a growing number of
companies, whose employees are required to practise meditation and adopt
mind-expanding techniques as part of their life at work.50
It is worth saying a brief
word about concerted promotion of New
Age as an ideology, but this is a very complex issue. Some groups have
reacted to New Age with sweeping
accusations about conspiracies, but the answer would generally be that we are
witnessing a spontaneous cultural change whose course is fairly determined by
influences beyond human control. However, it is enough to point out that
New Age shares with a number of internationally influential groups the
goal of superseding or transcending particular religions in order to create
space for a universal religion which could unite humanity. Closely related to
this is a very concerted effort on the part of many institutions to invent a Global
Ethic, an ethical framework which would reflect the global nature of
contemporary culture, economics and politics. Further, the politicisation of
ecological questions certainly colours the whole question of the Gaia
hypothesis or worship of mother earth.
AGE AND CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY
3.1. New Age as spirituality
New Age is often referred to by those who promote it as a “new
spirituality”. It seems ironic to call it “new” when so many of its
ideas have been taken from ancient religions and cultures. But what really is
new is that New Age is a conscious
search for an alternative to Western culture and its Judaeo-Christian
religious roots. “Spirituality” in this way refers to the inner experience
of harmony and unity with the whole of reality, which heals each human
person's feelings of imperfection and finiteness. People discover their
profound connectedness with the sacred universal force or energy which is the
nucleus of all life. When they have made this discovery, men and women can set
out on a path to perfection, which will enable them to sort out their personal
lives and their relationship to the world, and to take their place in the
universal process of becoming and in the New Genesis of a world in constant
evolution. The result is a cosmic
mysticism 51 based on people's awareness of a universe
burgeoning with dynamic energies. Thus cosmic energy, vibration, light, God,
love – even the supreme Self – all refer to one and the same reality, the
primal source present in every being.
This spirituality consists of
two distinct elements, one metaphysical, the other psychological. The
metaphysical component comes from
New Age's esoteric and theosophical roots, and is basically a new form of
gnosis. Access to the divine is by knowledge of hidden mysteries, in each
individual's search for “the real behind what is only apparent, the origin
beyond time, the transcendent beyond what is merely fleeting, the primordial
tradition behind merely ephemeral tradition, the other behind the self, the
cosmic divinity beyond the incarnate individual”. Esoteric spirituality
“is an investigation of Being beyond the separateness of beings, a sort of
nostalgia for lost unity”.52
“Here one can see the
gnostic matrix of esoteric spirituality. It is evident when the children of
Aquarius search for the Transcendent Unity of religions. They tend to pick out
of the historical religions only the esoteric nucleus, whose guardians they
claim to be. They somehow deny history and will not accept that spirituality
can be rooted in time or in any institution. Jesus of Nazareth is not God, but
one of the many historical manifestations of the cosmic and universal Christ”.53
The psychological component of this kind of spirituality comes from the
encounter between esoteric culture and psychology (cf. 2.32).
New Age thus becomes an experience of personal psycho- spiritual
transformation, seen as analogous to religious experience. For some people
this transformation takes the form of a deep mystical experience, after a
personal crisis or a lengthy spiritual search. For others it comes from the
use of meditation or some sort of therapy, or from paranormal experiences
which alter states of consciousness and provide insight into the unity of
3.2. Spiritual narcissism?
Several authors see New
Age spirituality as a kind of spiritual narcissism or pseudo-mysticism. It
is interesting to note that this criticism was put forward even by an
important exponent of New Age, David Spangler, who, in his later works, distanced himself
from the more esoteric aspects of this current of thought.
He wrote that, in the more
popular forms of New Age,
“individuals and groups are living out their own fantasies of adventure and
power, usually of an occult or millenarian form.... The principal
characteristic of this level is attachment to a private world of ego-
fulfilment and a consequent (though not always apparent) withdrawal from the
world. On this level, the New Age
has become populated with strange and exotic beings, masters, adepts,
extraterrestrials; it is a place of psychic powers and occult mysteries, of
conspiracies and hidden teachings”.55
In a later work, David
Spangler lists what he sees as the negative elements or “shadows” of the
New Age: “alienation from the past in the name of the future; attachment
to novelty for its own sake...; indiscriminateness and lack of discernment in
the name of wholeness and communion, hence the failure to understand or
respect the role of boundaries...; confusion of psychic phenomena with wisdom,
of channeling with spirituality, of the New
Age perspective with ultimate truth”.56 But, in the end,
Spangler is convinced that selfish, irrational narcissism is limited to just a
few new- agers. The positive aspects he stresses are the function of New Age as an image of change and as an incarnation of the sacred,
a movement in which most people are “very serious seekers after truth”,
working in the interest of life and inner growth.
The commercial aspect of many
products and therapies which bear the
New Age label is brought out by David Toolan, an American Jesuit who spent
several years in the New Age milieu.
He observes that new-agers have discovered the inner life and are fascinated
by the prospect of being responsible for the world, but that they are also
easily overcome by a tendency to individualism and to viewing everything as an
object of consumption. In this sense, while it is not Christian, New Age spirituality is not Buddhist either, inasmuch as it does
not involve self-denial. The dream of mystical union seems to lead, in
practice, to a merely virtual union, which, in the end, leaves people more
alone and unsatisfied.
3.3. The Cosmic Christ
In the early days of
Christianity, believers in Jesus Christ were forced to face up to the gnostic
religions. They did not ignore them, but took the challenge positively and
applied the terms used of cosmic deities to Christ himself. The clearest
example of this is in the famous hymn to Christ in Saint Paul's letter to the
Christians at Colossae:
“He is the image of the
unseen God and the first-born of all creation,
for in him were created all
things in heaven and on earth:
everything visible and
all things were created
through him and for him.
Before anything was created,
he existed, and he holds all things in unity.
Now the Church is his body, he
is its head.
As he is the Beginning, he was
first to be born from the dead,
so that he should be first in
because God wanted all
perfection to be found in him
and all things to be
reconciled through him and for him,
everything in heaven and
everything on earth,
when he made peace by his
death on the cross” (Col 1:
For these early Christians,
there was no new cosmic age to come; what they were celebrating with this hymn
was the Fulfilment of all things which had begun in Christ. “Time is indeed
fulfilled by the very fact that God, in the Incarnation, came down into human
history. Eternity entered into time: what 'fulfilment' could be greater than
this? What other 'fulfilment' would be possible?” 57 Gnostic
belief in cosmic powers and some obscure kind of destiny withdraws the
possibility of a relationship to a personal God revealed in Christ. For
Christians, the real cosmic Christ is the one who is present actively in the
various members of his body, which is the Church. They do not look to
impersonal cosmic powers, but to the loving care of a personal
God; for them cosmic bio-centrism has to be transposed into a set of social
relationships (in the Church); and they are not locked into a cyclical pattern
of cosmic events, but focus on the historical
Jesus, in particular on his crucifixion and resurrection. We find in the
Letter to the Colossians and in the New Testament a doctrine of God different
from that implicit in New Age
thought: the Christian conception of God is one of a Trinity of Persons who
has created the human race out of a desire to share the communion of
Trinitarian life with creaturely persons. Properly understood, this means that
authentic spirituality is not so much our
search for God but God's search for
Another, completely different,
view of the cosmic significance of Christ has become current in
New Age circles. “The Cosmic Christ is the
divine pattern that connects in the person of Jesus Christ (but by no
means is limited to that person). The divine pattern of connectivity
was made flesh and set up its tent among us (John 1:14).... The Cosmic
Christ... leads a new exodus from the bondage and pessimistic views of a
Newtonian, mechanistic universe so ripe with competition, winners and losers,
dualisms, anthropocentrism, and the boredom that comes when our exciting
universe is pictured as a machine bereft of mystery and mysticism. The Cosmic
Christ is local and historical, indeed intimate to human history. The Cosmic
Christ might be living next door or even inside one's deepest and truest
self”.58 Although this statement may not satisfy everyone
involved in New Age, it does catch
the tone very well, and it shows with absolute clarity where the differences
between these two views of Christ lie. For
New Age the Cosmic Christ is seen as a pattern which can be repeated in
many people, places and times; it is the bearer of an enormous paradigm shift;
it is ultimately a potential within us.
According to Christian belief,
Jesus Christ is not a pattern, but a divine person whose human-divine figure
reveals the mystery of the Father's love for every person throughout history (Jn
3:16); he lives in us because he shares his life with us, but it is
neither imposed nor automatic. All men and women are invited to share his
life, to live “in Christ”.
3.4. Christian mysticism and New
For Christians, the spiritual
life is a relationship with God which gradually through his grace becomes
deeper, and in the process also sheds light on our relationship with our
fellow men and women, and with the universe. Spirituality in New Age terms means experiencing states of consciousness dominated
by a sense of harmony and fusion with the Whole. So “mysticism” refers not
to meeting the transcendent God in the fulness of love, but to the experience
engendered by turning in on oneself, an exhilarating sense of being at one
with the universe, a sense of letting one's individuality sink into the great
ocean of Being.59
This fundamental distinction
is evident at all levels of comparison between Christian mysticism and
New Age mysticism. The New Age way
of purification is based on awareness of unease or alienation, which is to be
overcome by immersion into the Whole. In order to be converted, a person needs
to make use of techniques which lead to the experience of illumination. This
transforms a person's consciousness and opens him or her to contact with the
divinity, which is understood as the deepest essence of reality.
The techniques and methods
offered in this immanentist religious system, which has no concept of God as
person, proceed 'from below'. Although they involve a descent into the depths
of one's own heart or soul, they constitute an essentially human enterprise on
the part of a person who seeks to rise towards divinity by his or her own
efforts. It is often an “ascent” on the level of consciousness to what is
understood to be a liberating awareness of “the god within”. Not everyone
has access to these techniques, whose benefits are restricted to a privileged
The essential element in
Christian faith, however, is God's descent towards his creatures, particularly
towards the humblest, those who are weakest and least gifted according to the
values of the “world”. There are spiritual techniques which it is useful
to learn, but God is able to by-pass them or do without them. A Christian's
“method of getting closer to God is not based on any technique in the strict sense of the word. That would contradict the
spirit of childhood called for by the Gospel. The heart of genuine Christian
mysticism is not technique: it is always a gift of God; and the one who
benefits from it knows himself to be unworthy”.60
For Christians, conversion is
turning back to the Father, through the Son, in docility to the power of the
Holy Spirit. The more people progress in their relationship with God – which
is always and in every way a free gift – the more acute is the need to be
converted from sin, spiritual myopia and self-infatuation, all of which
obstruct a trusting self-abandonment to God and openness to other men and
All meditation techniques need
to be purged of presumption and pretentiousness. Christian prayer is not an
exercise in self-contemplation, stillness and self-emptying, but a dialogue of
love, one which “implies an attitude of conversion, a flight from 'self' to
the 'You' of God”.61 It leads to an increasingly complete
surrender to God's will, whereby we are invited to a deep, genuine solidarity
with our brothers and sisters.62
3.5. The “god within“ and “theosis”
Here is a key point of
contrast between New Age and
Christianity. So much New Age
literature is shot through with the conviction that there is no divine being
“out there”, or in any real way distinct from the rest of reality. From
Jung's time onwards there has been a stream of people professing belief in
“the god within”. Our problem, in a New
Age perspective, is our inability to recognise our own divinity, an
inability which can be overcome with the help of guidance and the use of a
whole variety of techniques for unlocking our hidden (divine) potential. The
fundamental idea is that 'God' is deep within ourselves. We are gods, and we
discover the unlimited power within us by peeling off layers of
inauthenticity.63 The more this potential is recognised, the more
it is realised, and in this sense the New
Age has its own idea of theosis, becoming
divine or, more precisely, recognising and accepting that we are divine. We
are said by some to be living in “an age in which our understanding of God
has to be interiorised: from the Almighty God out there to God the dynamic,
creative power within the very centre of all being: God as Spirit”.64
In the Preface to Book V of Adversus
Haereses, Saint Irenaeus refers to “Jesus Christ, who did, through His
transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what
He is Himself”. Here theosis, the Christian understanding of divinisation, comes about
not through our own efforts alone, but with the assistance of God's grace
working in and through us. It inevitably involves an initial awareness of
incompleteness and even sinfulness, in no way an exaltation of the self.
Furthermore, it unfolds as an introduction into the life of the Trinity, a
perfect case of distinction at the heart of unity; it is synergy rather than
fusion. This all comes about as the result of a personal encounter, an offer
of a new kind of life. Life in Christ is not something so personal and private
that it is restricted to the realm of consciousness. Nor is it merely a new
level of awareness. It involves being transformed in our soul and in our body
by participation in the sacramental life of the Church.
AGE AND CHRISTIAN FAITH IN CONTRAST
It is difficult to separate
the individual elements of New Age
religiosity – innocent though they may appear – from the overarching
framework which permeates the whole thought-world on the New Age movement. The gnostic nature of this movement calls us to
judge it in its entirety. From the point of view of Christian faith, it is not
possible to isolate some elements of New
Age religiosity as acceptable to Christians, while rejecting others. Since
the New Age movement makes much of a
communication with nature, of cosmic knowledge of a universal good – thereby
negating the revealed contents of Christian faith – it cannot be viewed as
positive or innocuous. In a cultural environment, marked by religious
relativism, it is necessary to signal a warning against the attempt to place New
Age religiosity on the same level as Christian faith, making the
difference between faith and belief seem relative, thus creating greater
confusion for the unwary. In this regard, it is useful to remember the
exhortation of St. Paul “to instruct certain people not to teach false
doctrine or to concern themselves with myths and endless genealogies, which
promote speculations rather than the plan of God that is to be received by
faith” (1 Tim 1:3-4). Some
practices are incorrectly labeled as New
Age simply as a marketing strategy to make them sell better, but are not
truly associated with its worldview. This only adds to the confusion. It is
therefore necessary to accurately identify those elements which belong to the
New Age movement, and which cannot be accepted by those who are faithful
to Christ and his Church.
The following questions may be
the easiest key to evaluating some of the central elements of
New Age thought and practice from a Christian standpoint. “New
Age” refers to the ideas which circulate about God, the human being and
the world, the people with whom Christians may have conversations on religious
matters, the publicity material for meditation groups, therapies and the like,
explicit statements on religion and so on. Some of these questions applied to
people and ideas not explicitly labelled
New Age would reveal further unnamed or unacknowledged links with the
whole New Age atmosphere.
* Is God a being with whom we have a relationship
or something to be used or a force to be harnessed?
The New Age concept of God is rather diffuse, whereas the Christian
concept is a very clear one. The New Age
god is an impersonal energy, really a particular extension or component of the
cosmos; god in this sense is the life-force or soul of the world. Divinity is
to be found in every being, in a gradation “from the lowest crystal of the
mineral world up to and beyond the Galactic God himself, about Whom we can say
nothing at all. This is not a man but a Great Consciousness”.65
In some “classic” New Age
writings, it is clear that human beings are meant to think of themselves as
gods: this is more fully developed in some people than in others. God is no
longer to be sought beyond the world, but deep within myself.66
Even when “God” is something outside myself, it is there to be manipulated.
is very different from the Christian understanding of God as the maker of
heaven and earth and the source of all personal life. God is in himself
personal, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who created the universe in order
to share the communion of his life with creaturely persons. “God, who 'dwells
in unapproachable light', wants to communicate his own divine life to the men
he freely created, in order to adopt them as his sons in his only-begotten Son.
By revealing himself God wishes to make them capable of responding to him, and
of knowing him, and of loving him far beyond their own natural capacity”.67God is
not identified with the Life-principle understood as the “Spirit” or
“basic energy” of the cosmos, but is that love which is absolutely
different from the world, and yet creatively present in everything, and
leading human beings to salvation.
there just one Jesus Christ, or are there thousands of Christs?
Jesus Christ is often presented in New Age literature as one among many wise men, or initiates, or
avatars, whereas in Christian tradition He is the Son of God. Here are some
common points in New Age approaches:
– the personal and individual historical Jesus is distinct
from the eternal, impersonal universal Christ;
– Jesus is not considered to be the only Christ;
– the death of Jesus on the cross is either denied or
re-interpreted to exclude the idea that He, as Christ, could have suffered;
– extra-biblical documents (like the neo-gnostic gospels)
are considered authentic sources for the knowledge of aspects of the life of
Jesus which are not to be found in the canon of Scripture. Other revelations
about Jesus, made available by entities, spirit guides and ascended masters,
or even through the Akasha Chronicles,
are basic for New Age christology;
– a kind of esoteric exegesis is applied to biblical texts
to purify Christianity of the formal religion which inhibits access to its
the Christian Tradition Jesus Christ is the Jesus of Nazareth about which the
gospels speak, the son of Mary and the only Son of God, true man and true God,
the full revelation of divine truth, unique Saviour of the world: “for our
sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered, died and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures; he ascended
into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father”.69
* The human
being: is there one universal being or are there many individuals?
“The point of New
Age techniques is to reproduce mystical states at will, as if it were a
matter of laboratory material. Rebirth, biofeedback, sensory isolation,
holotropic breathing, hypnosis, mantras, fasting, sleep deprivation and
transcendental meditation are attempts to control these states and to
experience them continuously”.70 These practices all create an
atmosphere of psychic weakness (and vulnerability). When the object of the
exercise is that we should re-invent our selves, there is a real question of
who “I” am. “God within us” and holistic union with the whole cosmos
underline this question. Isolated individual personalities would be
pathological in terms of New Age (in particular transpersonal psychology). But “the real
danger is the holistic paradigm. New Age
is thinking based on totalitarian unity and that is why it is a danger...”.71
More moderately: “We are authentic when we 'take charge of' ourselves, when
our choice and reactions flow spontaneously from our deepest needs, when our
behaviour and expressed feelings reflect our personal wholeness”.72
The Human Potential Movement is the clearest example of the conviction that
humans are divine, or contain a divine spark within themselves.
Christian approach grows out of the Scriptural teachings about human nature;
men and women are created in God's image and likeness (Gen
1.27) and God takes great consideration of them, much to the relieved
surprise of the Psalmist (cf. Ps 8). The human person is a mystery fully
revealed only in Jesus Christ (cf. GS 22),and in fact becomes authentically
human properly in his relationship with Christ through the gift of the Spirit.73This is far from the caricature of anthropocentrism ascribed to
Christianity and rejected by many New Age authors and practitioners.
* Do we
save ourselves or is salvation a free gift from God?
The key is to discover by what or by whom we believe we are
saved. Do we save ourselves by our own actions, as is often the case in
New Age explanations, or are we saved by God's love? Key words are self-fulfilment
and self-realisation, self-redemption. New Age is essentially Pelagian in its understanding of about human
Christians, salvation depends on a participation in the passion, death and
resurrection of Christ, and on a direct personal relationship with God rather
than on any technique. The human situation, affected as it is by original sin
and by personal sin, can only be rectified by God's action: sin is an offense
against God, and only God can reconcile us to himself. In the divine plan of
salvation, human beings have been saved by Jesus Christ who, as God and man,
is the one mediator of redemption. In Christianity salvation is not an
experience of self, a meditative and intuitive dwelling within oneself, but
much more the forgiveness of sin, being lifted out of profound ambivalences in
oneself and the calming of nature by the gift of communion with a loving God.
The way to salvation is not found simply in a self-induced transformation of
consciousness, but in a liberation from sin and its consequences which then
leads us to struggle against sin in ourselves and in the society around us. It
necessarily moves us toward loving solidarity with our neighbour in need.
* Do we
invent truth or do we embrace it?
about good vibrations, cosmic correspondences, harmony and ecstasy, in general
pleasant experiences. It is a matter of finding one's own truth in accordance
with the feel- good factor. Evaluating religion and ethical questions is
obviously relative to one's own feelings and experiences.
Christ is presented in Christian teaching as “The Way, the Truth and the
Life” (Jn 14.6).
His followers are asked to open their whole lives to him and to his values, in
other words to an objective set of
and meditation: are we talking to ourselves or to God?
The tendency to confuse psychology and spirituality makes it
hard not to insist that many of the meditation techniques now used are not
prayer. They are often a good
preparation for prayer, but no more, even if they lead to a more pleasant
state of mind or bodily comfort. The experiences involved are genuinely
intense, but to remain at this level is to remain alone, not yet in the
presence of the other. The achievement of silence can confront us with
emptiness, rather than the silence of contemplating the beloved. It is also
true that techniques for going deeper into one's own soul are ultimately an
appeal to one's own ability to reach the divine, or even to become divine: if
they forget God's search for the human heart they are still not Christian
prayer. Even when it is seen as a link with the Universal Energy, “such an
easy 'relationship' with God, where God's function is seen as supplying all
our needs, shows the selfishness at the heart of this New
Age practices are not really prayer, in that they are generally a question of
introspection or fusion with cosmic energy, as opposed to the double
orientation of Christian prayer, which involves introspection but is
essentially also a meeting with God. Far from being a merely human effort,
Christian mysticism is essentially a dialogue which “implies an attitude of
conversion, a flight from 'self' to the 'you' of God”.76“The Christian,
even when he is alone and prays in secret, he is conscious that he always
prays for the good of the Church in union with Christ, in the Holy Spirit and
together with all the saints”.77
* Are we
tempted to deny sin or do we accept that there is such a thing?
In New Age there
is no real concept of sin, but rather one of imperfect knowledge; what is
needed is enlightenment, which can be reached through particular
psycho-physical techniques. Those who take part in New Age activities will not be told what to believe, what to do or
what not to do, but: “There are a thousand ways of exploring inner reality.
Go where your intelligence and intuition lead you. Trust yourself”.78
Authority has shifted from a theistic location to within the self. The most
serious problem perceived in New Age
thinking is alienation from the whole cosmos, rather than personal failure or
sin. The remedy is to become more and more immersed in the whole of being. In
some New Age writings and practices,
it is clear that one life is not enough, so there have to be reincarnations to
allow people to realise their full potential.
the Christian perspective “only the light of divine Revelation clarifies the
reality of sin and particularly of the sin committed at mankind's origins.
Without the knowledge Revelation gives of God we cannot recognize sin clearly
and are tempted to explain it as merely a development flaw, a psychological
weakness, a mistake, or the necessary consequence of an inadequate social
structure, etc. Only in the knowledge of God's plan for man can we grasp that
sin is an abuse of freedom that God gives to created persons so that they are
capable of loving him and loving one another”.79Sin is an offense
against reason, truth and right conscience; it is a failure in genuine love
for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It
wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity...80Sin is an offense
against God... sin sets itself against God's love for us and turns our hearts
away from it... Sin is thus 'love of oneself even to contempt of God'”.81
* Are we
encouraged to reject or accept suffering and death?
Some New Age
writers view suffering as self-imposed, or as bad karma,or at least as a
failure to harness one's own resources. Others concentrate on methods of
achieving success and wealth (e.g. Deepak Chopra, José Silva et al.). In New
Age, reincarnation is often seen as a necessary element in spiritual
growth, a stage in progressive spiritual evolution which began before we were
born and will continue after we die. In our present lives the experience of
the death of other people provokes a healthy crisis.
cosmic unity and reincarnation are irreconcilable with the Christian belief
that a human person is a distinct being, who lives one life, for which he or
she is fully responsible: this understanding of the person puts into question
both responsibility and freedom. Christians know that “in the cross of
Christ not only is the redemption accomplished through suffering, but also
human suffering itself has been redeemed. Christ – without any fault of his
own – took on himself 'the total evil of sin'. The experience of this evil
determined the incomparable extent of Christ's suffering, which became the
price of the redemption... The Redeemer suffered in place of man and for man.
Every man has his own share in the redemption, Each one is also called to
share in that suffering through which the redemption was accomplished. He is
called to share in that suffering through which all human suffering has also
been redeemed. In bringing about the redemption through suffering, Christ has
also raised human suffering to the level of the redemption. Thus each man in
his suffering can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ”.82
* Is social
commitment something shirked or positively sought after?
Much in New Age is
unashamedly self-promotion, but some leading figures in the movement claim
that it is unfair to judge the whole movement by a minority of selfish,
irrational and narcissistic people, or to allow oneself to be dazzled by some
of their more bizarre practices, which are a block to seeing in New Age a genuine spiritual search and spirituality.83
The fusion of individuals into the cosmic self, the relativisation or
abolition of difference and opposition in a cosmic harmony, is unacceptable to
there is true love, there has to be a different other (person). A genuine
Christian searches for unity in the capacity and freedom of the other to say
“yes” or “no” to the gift of love. Union is seen in Christianity as
communion, unity as community.
* Is our
future in the stars or do we help to construct it?
The New Age which
is dawning will be peopled by perfect, androgynous beings who are totally in
command of the cosmic laws of nature. In this scenario, Christianity has to be
eliminated and give way to a global religion and a new world order.
are in a constant state of vigilance, ready for the last days when Christ will
come again; their New Age began 2000 years ago, with Christ, who is none other
than “Jesus of Nazareth; he is the Word of God made man for the salvation of
all”. His Holy Spirit is present and active in the hearts of individuals, in
“society and history, peoples, cultures and religions”. In fact, “the
Spirit of the Father, bestowed abundantly by the Son, is the animator of all”.84We live in the last times.
On the one hand, it is clear that many New Age practices seem to those involved in them not to raise
doctrinal questions; but, at the same time, it is undeniable that these
practices themselves communicate, even if only indirectly, a mentality which
can influence thinking and inspire a very particular vision of reality.
Certainly New Age creates its own
atmosphere, and it can be hard to distinguish between things which are
innocuous and those which really need to be questioned. However, it is well to
be aware that the doctrine of the Christ spread in New Age circles is inspired by the theosophical teachings of Helena
Blavatsky, Rudolf Steiner's anthroposophy and Alice Bailey's “Arcane School”.
Their contemporary followers are not only promoting their ideas now, but also
working with New Agers to develop a
completely new understanding of reality, a doctrine known by some observers as
“New Age truth”.85
5 JESUS CHRIST OFFERS US THE WATER OF LIFE
The Church's one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord. He is
at the heart of every Christian action, and every Christian message. So the
Church constantly returns to meet her Lord. The Gospels tell of many meetings
with Jesus, from the shepherds in Bethlehem to the two thieves crucified with
him, from the wise elders who listened to him in the Temple to the disciples walking miserably towards Emmaus. But
one episode that speaks really clearly about what he offers us is the story of
his encounter with the Samaritan woman by Jacob's well in the fourth chapter
of John's Gospel; it has even been described as “a paradigm for our
engagement with truth”.86 The experience of meeting the stranger
who offers us the water of life is a key to the way Christians can and should
engage in dialogue with anyone who does not know Jesus.
One of the attractive elements of John's account of this
meeting is that it takes the woman a while even to glimpse what Jesus means by
the water 'of life', or 'living' water (verse 11). Even so, she is fascinated
– not only by the stranger himself, but also by his message – and this
makes her listen. After her initial shock at realising what Jesus knew about
her (“You are right in saying 'I have no husband': for you have had five
husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly”,
verses 17- 18), she was quite open to his word: “I see you are a prophet,
Sir” (verse 19). The dialogue about the adoration of God begins: “You
worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from
the Jews” (verse 22). Jesus touched her heart and so prepared her to listen
to what He had to say about Himself as the Messiah: “I who am speaking to
you – I am he” (verse 26), prepared her to open her heart to the true
adoration in Spirit and the self-revelation of Jesus as God's Anointed.
Bergin o.p., “Living One's Truth”, in The
Furrow, January 2000,
The woman “put down her water jar and hurried back to the
town to tell the people” all about the man (verse 28). The remarkable effect
on the woman of her encounter with the stranger made them so curious that they,
too, “started walking towards him” (verse 30). They soon accepted the
truth of his identity: “Now we no longer believe because of what you told us;
we have heard him ourselves and we know that he really is the saviour of the
world” (verse 42). They move from hearing about Jesus to knowing him
personally, then understanding the universal significance of his identity.
This all happens because their minds, their hearts and more are engaged.
The fact that the story takes place by a well is significant.
Jesus offers the woman “a spring... welling up to eternal life” (verse
14). The gracious way in which Jesus deals with the woman is a model for
pastoral effectiveness, helping others to be truthful without suffering in the
challenging process of self-recognition (“he told me every thing I have done“,
verse 39). This approach could yield a rich harvest in terms of people who may
have been attracted to the water-carrier (Aquarius) but who are genuinely
still seeking the truth. They should be invited to listen to Jesus, who offers
us not simply something that will quench our thirst today, but the hidden
spiritual depths of “living water”. It is important to acknowledge the
sincerity of people searching for the truth; there is no question of deceit or
of self-deception. It is also important to be patient, as any good educator
knows. A person embraced by the truth is suddenly energised by a completely
new sense of freedom, especially from past failures and fears, and “the one
who strives for self-knowledge, like the woman at the well, will affect others
with a desire to know the truth that can free them too”.87
An invitation to meet Jesus Christ, the bearer of the water
of life, will carry more weight if it is made by someone who has clearly been
profoundly affected by his or her own encounter with Jesus, because it is made
not by someone who has simply heard about him, but by someone who can be sure
“that he really is the saviour of the world” (verse 42). It is a matter of
letting people react in their own way, at their own pace, and letting God do
6 POINTS TO NOTE
Guidance and sound formation are needed
Christ or Aquarius? New Age is almost always linked with “alternatives”,
either an alternative vision of reality or an alternative way of improving
one's current situation (magic).88 Alternatives offer people not
two possibilities, but only the possibility of choosing one thing in
preference to another: in terms of religion, New
Age offers an alternative to the Judaeo-Christian heritage. The Age of
Aquarius is conceived as one which will replace the predominantly Christian
Age of Pisces. New Age thinkers are
acutely aware of this; some of them are convinced that the coming change is
inevitable, while others are actively committed to assisting its arrival.
People who wonder if it is possible to believe in both Christ and Aquarius can
only benefit from knowing that this is very much an “either-or” situation.
“No servant can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first
and love the second, or treat the first with respect and the second with scorn”
(Lk 16.13). Christians have only to think of the difference between
the wise men from the East and King Herod to recognise the powerful effects of
choice for or against Christ. It must never be forgotten that many of the
movements which have fed the New Age are
explicitly anti-Christian. Their stance towards Christianity is not neutral,
but neutralising: despite what is often said about openness to all religious
standpoints, traditional Christianity is not sincerely regarded as an
acceptable alternative. In fact, it is occasionally made abundantly clear that
“there is no tolerable place for true Christianity”, and there are even
arguments justifying anti-Christian behaviour.89 This opposition
initially was confined to the rarefied realms of those who go beyond a
superficial attachment to New Age, but
has begun more recently to permeate all levels of the “alternative”
culture which has an extraordinarily powerful appeal, above all in
sophisticated Western societies.
or confusion? New Age traditions
consciously and deliberately blur real differences: between creator and
creation, between humanity and nature, between religion and psychology,
between subjective and objective reality. The idealistic intention is always
to overcome the scandal of division, but in New
Age theory it is a question of the systematic
fusion of elements which have generally been clearly distinguished in
Western culture. Is it, perhaps, fair to call it “confusion”?
It is not playing with words to say that New
Age thrives on confusion. The Christian tradition has always valued the
role of reason in justifying faith and in understanding God, the world and the
human person.90 New Age
has caught the mood of many in rejecting cold, calculating, inhuman reason.
While this is a positive insight, recalling the need for a balance involving
all our faculties, it does not justify sidelining a faculty which is essential
for a fully human life. Rationality has the advantage of universality: it is
freely available to everyone, quite unlike the mysterious and fascinating
character of esoteric or gnostic “mystical” religion. Anything which
promotes conceptual confusion or secrecy needs to be very carefully
scrutinised. It hides rather than reveals the ultimate nature of reality. It
corresponds to the post-modern loss of confidence in the bold certainties of
former times, which often involves taking refuge in irrationality. The
challenge is to show how a healthy partnership between faith and reason
enhances human life and encourages respect for creation.
your own reality. The widespread New Age conviction
that one creates one's own reality is appealing, but illusory. It is
crystallised in Jung's theory that the human being is a gateway from the outer
world into an inner world of infinite dimensions, where each person is Abraxas,
who gives birth to his own world or devours it. The star that shines in this
infinite inner world is man's God and goal. The most poignant and problematic
consequence of the acceptance of the idea that people create their own reality
is the question of suffering and death: people with severe handicaps or
incurable diseases feel cheated and demeaned when confronted by the suggestion
that they have brought their misfortune upon themselves, or that their
inability to change things points to a weakness in their approach to life.
This is far from being a purely academic issue: it has profound implications
in the Church's pastoral approach to the difficult existential questions
everyone faces. Our limitations are a fact of life, and part of being a
creature. Death and bereavement present a challenge and an opportunity,
because the temptation to take refuge in a westernised reworking of the notion
of reincarnation is clear proof of people's fear of death and their desire to
live forever. Do we make the most of our opportunities to recall what is
promised by God in the resurrection of Jesus Christ? How real is the faith in
the resurrection of the body, which Christians proclaim every Sunday in the
creed? The New Age idea that we are
in some sense also gods is one which is very much in question here. The whole
question depends, of course, on one's definition of reality. A sound approach
to epistemology and psychology needs to be reinforced – in the appropriate
way – at every level of Catholic education, formation and preaching. It is
important constantly to focus on effective ways of speaking of transcendence.
The fundamental difficulty of all New Age thought is that this transcendence is strictly a
self-transcendeence to be achieved within a closed universe.
Chapter 8 an indication is given regarding the principal documents of the
Catholic Church in which can be found an evaluation of the ideas of
New Age. In the first place comes the address of Pope John Paul II which
was quoted in the Foreword. The Pope recognizes in this cultural trend some
positive aspects, such as “the search for new meaning in life, a new
ecological sensitivity and the desire to go beyond a cold, rationalistic
religiosity”. But he also calls the attention of the faithful to certain
ambiguous elements which are incompatible with the Christian faith: these
movements “pay little heed to Revelation”, “they tend to relativize
religious doctrine in favor of a vague worldview”, “they often propose a
pantheistic concept of God”, “they replace personal responsibility to God
for our actions with a sense of duty to the cosmos, thus overturning the true
concept of sin and the need for redemption through Christ”.91
First of all, it is worth saying once again that not
everyone or everything in the broad sweep of New Age is linked to the theories of the movement in the same ways.
Likewise, the label itself is often misapplied or extended to phenomena which
can be categorised in other ways. The term New
Age has even been abused to demonise people and practices. It is essential
to see whether phenomena linked to this movement, however loosely, reflect or
conflict with a Christian vision of God, the human person and the world. The
mere use of the term New Age in
itself means little, if anything. The relationship of the person, group,
practice or commodity to the central tenets of Christianity is what counts.
Catholic Church has its own very effective networks,
which could be better used. For example, there is a large number of pastoral
centres, cultural centres and centres of spirituality. Ideally, these could
also be used to address the confusion about
New Age religiosity in a variety of creative ways, such as providing a
forum for discussion and study. It must unfortunately be admitted that there
are too many cases where Catholic centres of spirituality are actively
involved in diffusing New Age
religiosity in the Church. This would of course have to be corrected, not only
to stop the spread of confusion and error, but also so that they might be
effective in promoting true Christian spirituality. Catholic cultural centres,
in particular, are not only teaching institutions but spaces for honest
dialogue.92 Some excellent specialist institutions deal with all
these questions. These are precious resources, which ought to be shared
generously in areas that are less well provided for.
a few New Age groups welcome every
opportunity to explain their philosophy and activities to others. Encounters
with these groups should be approached with care, and should always involve
persons who are capable of both explaining Catholic faith and spirituality,
and of reflecting critically on New Age thought
and practice. It is extremely important to check
the credentials of people, groups and institutions claiming to offer
guidance and information on New Age.
In some cases what has started out as impartial investigation has later become
active promotion of, or advocacy on behalf of, “alternative religions”.
Some international institutions are actively pursuing campaigns which promote
respect for “religious diversity”, and claim religious status for some
questionable organisations. This fits in with the New Age vision of moving into an age where the limited character of
particular religions gives way to the universality of a new religion or
spirituality. Genuine dialogue, on the other hand, will always respect
diversity from the outset, and will never seek to blur distinctions in a
fusion of all religious traditions.
local New Age groups refer to their
meetings as “prayer groups”. Those people who are invited to such groups
need to look for the marks of genuine
Christian spirituality, and to be wary if there is any sort of initiation
ceremony. Such groups take advantage of a person's lack of theological or
spiritual formation to lure them gradually into what may in fact be a form of
false worship. Christians must be taught about the true object and content of
prayer – in the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ, to the Father – in
order to judge rightly the intention of a “prayer group”. Christian prayer
and the God of Jesus Christ will easily be recognised.93 Many
people are convinced that there is no harm in 'borrowing' from the wisdom of
the East, but the example of Transcendental Meditation (TM) should make
Christians cautious about the prospect of committing themselves unknowingly to
another religion (in this case, Hinduism), despite what TM's promoters claim
about its religious neutrality. There is no problem with learning how to
meditate, but the object or content of the exercise clearly determines whether
it relates to the God revealed by Jesus Christ, to some other revelation, or
simply to the hidden depths of the self.
groups which promote care for the earth
as God's creation also need to be given due recognition. The question of
respect for creation is one which could also be approached creatively in
Catholic schools. A great deal of what is proposed by the more radical
elements of the ecological movement is difficult to reconcile with Catholic
faith. Care for the environment in general terms is a timely sign of a fresh
concern for what God has given us, perhaps a necessary mark of Christian
stewardship of creation, but “deep ecology” is often based on pantheistic
and occasionally gnostic principles.94
beginning of the Third Millennium offers a real kairos for evangelisation. People's minds and hearts are already
unusually open to reliable information on the Christian understanding of time
and salvation history. Emphasising what is lacking in other approaches should
not be the main priority. It is more a question of constantly revisiting the
sources of our own faith, so that we can
offer a good, sound presentation of the Christian message. We can be proud
of what we have been given on trust, so we need to resist the pressures of the
dominant culture to bury these gifts (cf.
Mt 25.24-30). One of the most useful tools available is the
Catechism of the Catholic Church. There is also an immense heritage of
ways to holiness in the lives of Christian men and women past and present.
Where Christianity's rich symbolism, and its artistic, aesthetical and musical
traditions are unknown or have been forgotten, there is much work to be done
for Christians themselves, and ultimately also for anyone searching for an
experience or a greater awareness of God's presence. Dialogue between
Christians and people attracted to the New
Age will be more successful if it takes into account the appeal of what
touches the emotions and symbolic language. If our task is to know, love and
serve Jesus Christ, it is of paramount importance to start with a good
knowledge of the Scriptures. But, most of all, coming to meet the Lord Jesus
in prayer and in the sacraments, which are precisely the moments when our
ordinary life is hallowed, is the surest way of making sense of the whole
the simplest, the most obvious and the most urgent measure to be taken, which
might also be the most effective, would be to
make the most of the riches of the Christian spiritual heritage. The great
religious orders have strong traditions of meditation and spirituality, which
could be made more available through courses or periods in which their houses
might welcome genuine seekers. This is already being done, but more is needed.
Helping people in their spiritual search by offering them proven techniques
and experiences of real prayer could open a dialogue with them which would
reveal the riches of Christian tradition, and perhaps clarify a great deal
about New Age in the process.
In a vivid and useful image, one of the
New Age movement's own exponents has compared traditional religions to
cathedrals, and New Age to a worldwide fair. The New Age Movement is seen as an invitation to Christians to bring
the message of the cathedrals to the fair which now covers the whole world.
This image offers Christians a positive challenge, since it is always time to
take the message of the cathedrals to the people in the fair. Christians need
not, indeed, must not wait for an invitation to bring the message of the Good
News of Jesus Christ to those who are looking for the answers to their
questions, for spiritual food that satisfies, for living water. Following the
image proposed, Christians must issue forth from the cathedral, nourished by
word and sacrament, to bring the Gospel into every aspect of everyday life –
“Go! The Mass is ended!” In Apostolic Letter
Novo Millennio Ineunte the Holy Father remarks on the great interest in
spirituality found in the secular world of today, and how other religions are
responding to this demand in appealing ways. He goes on to issue a challenge
to Christians in this regard: “But we who have received the grace of
believing in Christ, the revealer of the Father and the Savior of the world,
have a duty to show to what depths the relationship with Christ can lead”
(n. 33). To those shopping around in the world's fair of religious proposals,
the appeal of Christianity will be felt first of all in the witness of the
members of the Church, in their trust, calm, patience and cheerfulness, and in
their concrete love of neighbour, all the fruit of their faith nourished in
authentic personal prayer.
7.1. Some brief formulations of New
William Bloom's 1992
formulation of New Age quoted in Heelas, p. 225f.:
life – all existence – is the manifestation of Spirit, of the Unknowable,
of that supreme consciousness known by many different names in many different
purpose and dynamic of all existence is to bring Love, Wisdom, Enlightenment...
into full manifestation.
religions are the expression of this same inner reality.
life, as we perceive it with the five human senses or with scientific
instruments, is only the outer veil of an invisible, inner and causal reality.
human beings are twofold creatures – with: (i) an outer temporary
personality; and (ii) a multi-dimensional inner being (soul or higher self).
outer personality is limited and tends towards love.
purpose of the incarnation of the inner being is to bring the vibrations of
the outer personality into a resonance of love.
souls in incarnation are free to choose their own spiritual path.
spiritual teachers are those whose souls are liberated from the need to
incarnate and who express unconditional love, wisdom and enlightenment. Some
of these great beings are well- known and have inspired the world religions.
Some are unknown and work invisibly.
life, in its different forms and states, is interconnected energy – and this
includes our deeds, feelings and thoughts. We, therefore, work with Spirit and
these energies in co-creating our reality.
held in the dynamic of cosmic love, we are jointly responsible for the state
of our selves, of our environment and of all life.
this period of time, the evolution of the planet and of humanity has reached a
point when we are undergoing a fundamental spiritual change in our individual
and mass consciousness. This is why we talk of a New Age. This new consciousness is the result of the increasingly
successful incarnation of what some people call the energies of cosmic love.
This new consciousness demonstrates itself in an instinctive understanding of
the sacredness and, in particular, the interconnectedness of all existence.
new consciousness and this new understanding of the dynamic interdependence of
all life mean that we are currently in the process of volving a completely new
Heelas (p. 226) Jeremy Tarcher's “complementary
1. The world, including the human race, constitutes
an expression of a higher, more comprehensive divine nature.
2. Hidden within each human being is a higher divine
self, which is a manifestation of the higher, more comprehensive divine
3. This higher nature can be awakened and can become
the center of the individual's everyday life.
4. This awakening is the reason for the existence of
each individual life.
David Spangler is
quoted in Actualité des religions nº
8, septembre 1999, p. 43, on the principal characteristics of the New Age
vision, which is:
(globalising, because there is one single reality-energy);
(earth-Gaia is our mother; each of us is a neurone of earth's central nervous
(rainbow and Yin/Yang are both NA symbols, to do with the complementarity of
contraries, esp. masculine and feminine);
(finding the sacred in every thing, the most ordinary things);
(people must be at one and the same time anchored in their own culture and
open to a universal dimension, capable of promoting love, compassion, peace
and even the establishment of world government).
7.2. A Select Glossary
Age of Aquarius: each astrological age of about 2146 years is named
according to one of the signs of the zodiac, but the “great days” go in
reverse order, so the current Age of Pisces is about to end, and the Age of
Aquarius will be ushered in. Each Age has its own cosmic energies; the energy
in Pisces has made it an era of wars and conflicts. But Aquarius is set to be
an era of harmony, justice, peace, unity etc. In this aspect, New Age accepts historical inevitability. Some reckon the age of
Aries was the time of the Jewish religion, the age of Pisces that of
Christianity, Aquarius the age of a universal religion.
Androgyny: is not hermaphroditism, i.e. existence with the physical
characteristics of both sexes, but an awareness of the presence in every
person of male and female elements; it is said to be a state of balanced inner
harmony of the animus and anima. In New Age, it is
a state resulting from a new awareness of this double mode of being and
existing that is characteristic of every man and every woman. The more it
spreads, the more it will assist in the transformation of interpersonal
Anthroposophy: a theosophical doctrine originally popularised by
the Croat Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), who left the Theosophical Society after
being leader of its German branch from 1902 to 1913. It is an esoteric
doctrine meant to initiate people into “objective knowledge” in the
spiritual-divine sphere. Steiner believed it had helped him explore the laws
of evolution of the cosmos and of humanity. Every physical being has a
corresponding spiritual being, and earthly life is influenced by astral
energies and spiritual essences. The Akasha
Chronicle is said to be a “cosmic memory” available to initiates.95
Channeling: psychic mediums claim to act as channels for information
from other selves, usually disembodied entities living on a higher plane. It
links beings as diverse as ascended masters, angels, gods, group entities,
nature spirits and the Higher Self.
Christ: in New Age the
historical figure of Jesus is but one incarnation of an idea or an energy or
set of vibrations. For Alice Bailey, a great day of supplication is needed,
when all believers will create such a concentration of spiritual energy that
there will be a further incarnation, which will reveal how people can save
themselves.... For many people, Jesus is nothing more than a spiritual master
who, like Buddha, Moses and Mohammed, amongst others, has been penetrated by
the cosmic Christ. The cosmic Christ is also known as christic energy at the
basis of each being and the whole of being. Individuals need to be initiated
gradually into awareness
of this christic characteristic they are all said to have. Christ – in
New Age terms – represents the highest state of perfection of the self.96
Crystals: are reckoned to vibrate at significant frequencies. Hence
they are useful in self-transformation. They are used in various therapies and
in meditation, visualisation, 'astral travel' or as lucky charms. From the
outside looking in, they have no intrinsic power, but are simply beautiful.
Depth Psychology: the school of psychology founded by C.G. Jung, a
former disciple of Freud. Jung recognised that religion and spiritual matters
were important for wholeness and health. The interpretation of dreams and the
analysis of archetypes were key elements in his method. Archetypes are forms
which belong to the inherited structure of the human psyche; they appear in
the recurrent motifs or images in dreams, fantasies, myths and fairy tales.
Enneagram: (from the Greek ennéa
= nine + gramma = sign) the name
refers to a diagram composed of a circle with nine points on its circumference,
connected within the circle by a triangle and a hexangle. It was originally
used for divination, but has become known as the symbol for a system of
personality typology consisting of nine standard character types. It became
popular after the publication of Helen Palmer's book The Enneagram,97 but she recognises her indebtedness to
the Russian esoteric thinker and practitioner G.I. Gurdjieff, the Chilean
psychologist Claudio Naranjo and author Oscar Ichazo, founder of Arica.
The origin of the enneagram remains shrouded in mystery, but some maintain
that it comes from Sufi mysticism.
Esotericism: (from the Greek esotéros
= that which is within) it generally refers to an ancient and hidden body of
knowledge available only to initiated groups, who portray themselves as
guardians of the truths hidden from the majority of humankind. The initiation
process takes people from a merely external, superficial, knowledge of reality
to the inner truth and, in the process, awakens their consciousness at a
deeper level. People are invited to undertake this “inner journey” to
discover the “divine spark” within them. Salvation, in this context,
coincides with a discovery of the Self.
Evolution: in New Age it is
much more than a question of living beings evolving towards superior life
forms; the physical model is projected on to the spiritual realm, so that an
immanent power within human beings would propel them towards superior
spiritual life forms. Human beings are said not to have full control over this
power, but their good or bad actions can accelerate or retard their progress.
The whole of creation, including humanity, is seen to be moving inexorably
towards a fusion with the divine. Reincarnation clearly has an important place
in this view of a progressive spiritual evolution which is said to begin
before birth and continue after death.98
Expansion of consciousness: if the cosmos is seen as one
continuous chain of being, all levels of existence – mineral, vegetable,
animal, human, cosmic and divine beings – are interdependent. Human beings
are said to become aware of their place in this
holistic vision of global reality
by expanding their consciousness well beyond its normal limits. The New Age
offers a huge variety of techniques to help people reach a higher level of
perceiving reality, a way of overcoming the separation between subjects and
between subjects and objects in the knowing process, concluding in total
fusion of what normal, inferior, awareness sees as separate or distinct
Feng-shui: a form of geomancy, in this case an occult Chinese method of
deciphering the hidden presence of positive and negative currents in buildings
and other places, on the basis of a knowledge of earthly and atmospheric
forces. “Just like the human body or the cosmos, sites are places
criss-crossed by influxes whose correct balance is the source of health and
Gnosis: in a generic sense, it is a form of knowledge that is not
intellectual, but visionary or mystical, thought to be revealed and capable of
joining the human being to the divine mystery. In the first centuries of
Christianity, the Fathers of the Church struggled against gnosticism, inasmuch
as it was at odds with faith. Some see a reborth of gnostic ideas in much New
Age thinking, and some authors connected with New Age actually quote early
gnosticism. However, the greater emphasis in New Age on monism and even
pantheism or panentheism encourages some to use the term neo-gnosticism to distinguish New Age gnosis from ancient
Great White Brotherhood: Mrs. Blavatsky claimed to have
contact with the mahatmas, or masters,
exalted beings who together constitute the Great White Brotherhood. She saw
them as guiding the evolution of the human race and directing the work of the
Hermeticism: philosophical and religious practices and
speculations linked to the writings in the
Corpus Hermeticum, and the Alexandrian texts attributed to the mythical Hermes
Trismegistos. When they first became known during the Renaissance, they
were thought to reveal pre-Christian doctrines, but later studies showed they
dated from the first century of the christian era.100 Alexandrian
hermeticism is a major resource for modern esotericism, and the two have much
in common: eclecticism, a refutation of ontological dualism, an affirmation of
the positive and symbolic character of the universe, the idea of the fall and
later restoration of mankind. Hermetic speculation has strengthened belief in
an ancient fundamental tradition or a so-called philosophia
perennis falsely considered as common to all religious traditions. The
high and ceremonial forms of magic developed from Renaissance Hermeticism.
Holism: a key concept in the “new paradigm”, claiming to provide
a theoretical frame integrating the entire worldview of modern man. In
contrast with an experience of increasing fragmentation in science and
everyday life, “wholeness” is put forward as a central methodological and
ontological concept. Humanity fits into the universe as part of a single
living organism, a harmonious network of dynamic relationships. The classic
distinction between subject and object, for which Descartes and Newton are
typically blamed, is challenged by various scientists who offer a bridge
between science and religion. Humanity is part of a universal network
(eco-system, family) of nature and world, and must seek harmony with every
element of this quasi-transcendent authority. When one understands one's place
in nature, in the cosmos which is also divine, one also understands that
“wholeness” and “holiness” are one and the same thing. The clearest
articulation of the concept of holism is in the “Gaia” hypothesis.101
Human Potential Movement: since its beginnings (Esalen,
California, in the 1960s), this has grown into a network of groups promoting
the release of the innate human capacity for creativity through
self-realisation. Various techniques of personal transformation are used more
and more by companies in management training programmes, ultimately for very
normal economic reasons. Transpersonal Technologies, the Movement for Inner
Spiritual Awareness, Organisational Development and Organisational
Transformation are all put forward as non-religious, but in reality company
employees can find themselves being submitted to an alien 'spirituality' in a
situation which raises questions about personal freedom. There are clear links
between Eastern spirituality and psychotherapy, while Jungian psychology and
the Human Potential Movement have been very influential on Shamanism and
“reconstructed” forms of Paganism like Druidry and Wicca. In a general
sense, “personal growth” can be understood as the shape “religious
salvation” takes in the New Age movement:
it is affirmed that deliverance from human suffering and weakness will be
reached by developing our human potential, which results in our increasingly
getting in touch with our inner divinity.102
Initiation: in religious ethnology it is the cognitive and/or
experiential journey whereby a person is admitted, either alone or as part of
a group, by means of particular rituals to membership of a religious
community, a secret society (e.g. Freemasonry) or a mystery association (magical,
esoteric-occult, gnostic, theosophical etc.).
Karma: (from the Sanskrit root
Kri = action, deed) a key notion in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, but
one whose meaning has not always been the same. In the ancient Vedic period it
referred to the ritual action, especially sacrifice, by means of which a
person gained access to the happiness or blessedness of the afterlife. When
Jainism and Buddhism appeared (about 6 centuries before Christ), Karma lost its salvific meaning: the way to liberation was
knowledge of the Atman or
“self”. In the doctrine of samsara,
it was understood as the incessant cycle of human birth and death (Huinduism)
or of rebirth (Buddhism).103 In New
Age contexts, the “law of karma” is often seen as the moral equivalent
of cosmic evolution. It is no longer to do with evil or suffering –
illusions to be experienced as part of a “cosmic game” – but is the
universal law of cause and effect, part of the tendency of the interconnected
universe towards moral balance.104
Monism: the metaphysical belief that differences between beings are
illusory. There is only one universal being, of which every thing and every
person is a part. Inasmuch as New Age monism
includes the idea that reality is fundamentally spiritual, it is a
contemporary form of pantheism (sometimes explicitly a rejection of
materialism, particularly Marxism). Its claim to resolve all dualism leaves no
room for a transcendent God, so everything
is God. A further problem arises for Christianity when the question of the
origin of evil is raised. C.G. Jung saw evil as the “shadow side” of the
God who, in classical theism, is all goodness.
Age mysticism is turning inwards on oneself rather than communion with God who is
“totally other”. It is fusion with the universe, an ultimate annihilation
of the individual in the unity of the whole. Experience of Self is taken to be
experience of divinity, so one looks within to discover authentic wisdom,
creativity and power.
Neopaganism: a title often rejected by many to whom it is applied,
it refers to a current that runs parallel to New Age and often interacts with it. In the great wave of reaction
against traditional religions, specifically the Judaeo-Christian heritage of
the West, many have revisited ancient indigenous, traditional, pagan
religions. Whatever preceded Christianity is reckoned to be more genuine
to the spirit of the land or the nation, an uncontaminated form of natural
religion, in touch with the powers of nature, often matriarchal, magical or
Shamanic. Humanity will, it is said, be healthier if it returns to the natural
cycle of (agricultural) festivals and to a general affirmation of life. Some
“neo-pagan” religions are recent reconstructions whose authentic
relationship to original forms can be questioned, particularly in cases where
they are dominated by modern ideological components like ecology, feminism or,
in a few cases, myths of racial purity.105
Age Music: this
is a booming industry. The music concerned is very often packaged as a means
of achieving harmony with oneself or the world, and some of it is “Celtic”
or druidic. Some New Age composers
claim their music is meant to build bridges between the conscious and the
unconscious, but this is probably more so when, besides melodies, there is
meditative and rhythmic repetition of key phrases. As with many elements of
the New Age phenomenon, some music
is meant to bring people further into the New
Age Movement, but most is simply commercial or artistic.
New Thought: a 19th century religious movement founded
in the United States of America. Its origins were in idealism, of which it was
a popularised form. God was said to be totally good, and evil merely an
illusion; the basic reality was the mind. Since one's mind is what
causes the events in one's life, one has to take ultimate responsibility
for every aspect of one's situation.
Occultism: occult (hidden) knowledge, and the hidden forces of the mind
and of nature, are at the basis of beliefs and practices linked to a presumed
secret “perennial philosophy” derived from ancient Greek magic and alchemy,
on the one hand, and Jewish mysticism, on the other. They are kept hidden by a
code of secrecy imposed on those initiated into the groups and societies that
guard the knowledge and techniques involved. In the 19th century, spiritualism
and the Theosophical Society introduced new forms of occultism which have, in
turn, influenced various currents in the
Pantheism: (Greek pan =
everything and theos = God) the
belief that everything is God or, sometimes, that everything is
in God and God is in everything (panentheism). Every element of the
universe is divine, and the divinity is equally present in everything. There
is no space in this view for God as a distinct being in the sense of classical
Parapsychology: treats of such things as extrasensory perception,
mental telepathy, telekinesis, psychic healing and communication with spirits
via mediums or channeling. Despite fierce criticism from scientists,
parapsychology has gone from strength to strength, and fits neatly into the
view popular in some areas of the New
Age that human beings have extraordinary psychic abilities, but often only
in an undeveloped state.
Planetary Consciousness: this world-view developed in the
1980s to foster loyalty to the community of humanity rather than to nations,
tribes or other established social groups. It can be seen as the heir to
movements in the early 20th century that promoted a world government. The
consciousness of the unity of humanity sits well with the Gaia
Positive Thinking: the conviction that people can change physical
reality or external circumstances by altering their mental attitude, by
thinking positively and constructively. Sometimes it is a matter of becoming
consciously aware of unconsciously held beliefs that determine our
life-situation. Positive thinkers are promised health and wholeness, often
prosperity and even immortality.
Rebirthing: In the early 1970s Leonard Orr described rebirthing
as a process by which a person can identify and isolate areas in his or her
consciousness that are unresolved and at the source of present problems.
Reincarnation: in a New Age context,
reincarnation is linked to the concept of ascendant evolution towards becoming
divine. As opposed to Indian religions or those derived from them,
New Age views reincarnation as progression of the individual soul towards
a more perfect state. What is reincarnated is essentially something immaterial
or spiritual; more precisely, it is consciousness, that spark of energy in the
person that shares in cosmic or “christic” energy. Death is nothing but
the passage of the soul from one body to another.
Rosicrucians: these are Western occult groups involved in alchemy,
astrology, Theosophy and kabbalistic interpretationsof scripture. The
Rosicrucian Fellowship contributed to the revival of astrology in the 20th
century, and the Ancient and Mystical
Order of the Rosae Crucis (AMORC) linked success with a presumed ability
to materialise mental images of health, riches and happiness.
Shamanism: practices and beliefs linked to communication with the
spirits of nature and the spirits of dead people through ritualised possession
(by the spirits) of a shaman, who serves as a medium. It has been attractive
in New Age circles because it
stresses harmony with the forces of nature and healing. There is also a
romanticised image of indigenous religions and their closeness to the earth
and to nature.
Spiritualism: While there have always been attempts to contact the
spirits of the dead, 19th century spiritualism is reckoned to be
one of the currents that flow into the New
Age. It developed against the background of the ideas of Swedenborg and
Mesmer, and became a new kind of religion. Madame Blavatsky was a medium, and
so spiritualism had a great influence on the Theosophical Society, although
there the emphasis was on contact with entities from the distant past rather
than people who had died only recently. Allan Kardec was influential in the
spread of spiritualism in Afro- Brasilian religions. There are also
spiritualist elements in some New Religious Movements in Japan.
Theosophy: an ancient term, which originally referred to a kind of
mysticism. It has been linked to Greek Gnostics and Neoplatonists, to Meister
Eckhart, Nicholas of Cusa and Jakob Boehme. The name was given new emphasis by
the Theosophical Society, founded by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and others in
1875. Theosophical mysticism tends to be monistic, stressing the essential
unity of the spiritual and material components of the universe. It also looks
for the hidden forces that cause matter and spirit to interact, in such a way
that human and divine minds eventually meet. Here is where theosophy offers
mystical redemption or enlightenment.
Transcendentalism: This was a 19th century movement of
writers and thinkers in New England, who shared an idealistic set of beliefs
in the essential unity of creation, the innate goodness of the human person,
and the superiority of insight over logic and experience for the revelation of
the deepest truths. The chief figure is Ralph Waldo Emerson, who moved away
from orthodox Christianity, through Unitarianism to a new natural mysticism
which integrated concepts from Hinduism with popular American ones like
individualism, personal responsibility and the need to succeed.
Wicca: an old English term for witches that has been given to a
neo-pagan revival of some elements of ritual magic. It was invented in England
in 1939 by Gerald Gardner, who based it on some scholarly texts, according to
which medieval European witchcraft was an ancient nature religion persecuted
by Christians. Called “the Craft”, it grew rapidly in the 1960s in the
United States, where it encountered “women's spirituality”.
7.3. Key New Age places
Esalen:a community founded in Big Sur, California, in 1962 by
Michael Murphy and Richard Price, whose main aim was to arrive at a
self-realisation of being through nudism and visions, as well as “bland
medicines”. It has become one of the most important centresof the Human
Potential Movement, and has spread ideas about holistic medicine in the worlds
of education, politics and economics. This has been done through courses in
comparative religion, mythology, mysticism, meditation, psychotherapy,
expansion of consciousness and so on. Along with Findhorn, it is seen as a key
place in the growth of Aquarian consciousness. The Esalen Soviet-American
Institute co-operated with Soviet officials on the Health Promotion Project.
Findhorn:this holistic farming community started by Peter and Eileen
Caddy achieved the growth of enormous plants by unorthodox methods. The
founding of the Findhorn community in Scotland in 1965 was an important
milestone in the movement which bears the label of the 'New Age'. In fact, Findhorn 'was seen as embodying its principal
ideals of transformation'. The quest for a universal consciousness, the goal
of harmony with nature, the vision of a transformed world, and the practice of
channeling, all of which have become hallmarks of the New Age Movement, were present at Findhorn from its foundation. The
success of this community led to its becoming a model for, and/or an
inspiration to, other groups, such as Alternatives in London, Esalen in Big
Sur, California, and the Open Center and Omega Institute in New York”.106
Monte Verità:a utopian community near Ascona in Switzerland. Since
the end of the 19th century it was a meeting point for European and American
exponents of the counter-culture in the fields of politics, psychology, art
and ecology. The Eranos conferences
have been held there every year since 1933, gathering some of the great
luminaries of the New Age. The
yearbooks make clear the intention to create an integrated world religion.107
It is fascinating to see the list of those who have gathered over the years at
Documents of the Catholic Church's magisterium
John Paul II, Address
to the United States Bishops of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska on their
“Ad Limina” visit, 28 May 1993.
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter
to Bishops on Certain Aspects of Christian Meditation (Orationis Formas),
Vatican City (Vatican Polyglot Press) 1989.
International Theological Commission,
Some Current Questions Concerning Eschatology, 1992, Nos. 9-10 (on
International Theological Commission, Some
Questions on the Theology of Redemption, 1995, I/29 and II/35-36.
Argentine Bishops' Conference Committee for Culture,
Frente a una Nueva Era. Desafio a la pastoral en el horizonte de la Nueva
Irish Theological Commission, A New Age of the Spirit? A Catholic Response to the New Age Phenomenon,
Godfried Danneels, Au-delà de la mort: réincarnation et resurrection, Pastoral
Letter, Easter 1991.
Godfried Danneels, Christ or Aquarius? Pastoral Letter, Christmas 1990 (Veritas, Dublin).
Carlo Maccari, “La 'mistica cosmica' del
New Age”, in Religioni e Sette nel Mondo 1996/2.
Carlo Maccari, La
New Age di fronte alla fede cristiana, Turin (LDC) 1994.
Edward Anthony McCarthy, The New Age Movement, Pastoral Instruction, 1992.
Paul Poupard, Felicità
e fede cristiana, Casale Monferrato
(Ed. Piemme) 1992.
Joseph Ratzinger, La fede e la teologia ai nostri giorni, Guadalajara, May 1996, in
L'Osservatore Romano 27 October 1996.
Norberto Rivera Carrera, Instrucción Pastoral sobre el New Age, 7 January 1996.
Christoph von Schönborn, Risurrezione e reincarnazione, (Italian translation) Casale
Monferrato (Piemme) 1990.
J. Francis Stafford, Il movimento “New Age”, in L'Osservatore
Romano, 30 October 1992.
Working Group on New Religious Movements (ed.),
Vatican City, Sects and New Religious
Movements. An Anthology of Texts From the Catholic Church, Washington (USCC)
Raúl Berzosa Martinez, Nueva Era y Cristianismo. Entre el diálogo y la ruptura, Madrid (BAC)
Les Galeries du Nouvel Age: un chrétien s'y promène, Ottawa (Novalis)
Claude Labrecque, Une religion américaine. Pistes de discernement chrétien sur les
courants populaires du “Nouvel Age”, Montréal (Médiaspaul) 1994.
The Methodist Faith and Order Committee, The
New Age Movement Report to Conference 1994.
Aidan Nichols, “The New Age Movement”, in The
Month, March 1992, pp. 84-89.
Alessandro Olivieri Pennesi, Il Cristo del New Age. Indagine critica, Vatican City (Libreria
Editrice Vaticana) 1999.
Ökumenische Arbeitsgruppe “Neue Religiöse
Bewegungen in der Schweiz”, New Age
– aus christlicher Sicht, Freiburg (Paulusverlag) 1987.
Mitch Pacwa s.j., Catholics and the New Age. How Good People are being drawn into Jungian
Psychology, the Enneagram and the New Age of Aquarius, Ann Arbor MI (Servant)
John Saliba, Christian
Responses to the New Age Movement. A Critical Assessment, London (Chapman)
Josef Südbrack, SJ, Neue Religiosität - Herausforderung für die Christen, Mainz (Matthias-Grünewald-Verlag)
1987 = La nuova religiosità: una sfida
per i cristiani, Brescia (Queriniana) 1988.
“Theologie für Laien” secretariat,
Faszination Esoterik, Zürich (Theologie für Laien) 1996.
Facing West from California's Shores. A Jesuit's Journey into New Age
Consciousness, New York (Crossroad) 1987.
Juan Carlos Urrea Viera, “New Age”. Visión Histórico-Doctrinal y Principales Desafíos, Santafé
de Bogotá (CELAM) 1996.
Jean Vernette, “L'avventura spirituale dei figli
dell'Acquario”, in Religioni e Sette
nel Mondo 1996/2.
Jean Vernette, Jésus
dans la nouvelle religiosité, Paris (Desclée) 1987.
Jean Vernette, Le
New Age, Paris (P.U.F.) 1992.
9 GENERAL BIBLIOGRAPHY
9.1. Some New Age books
William Bloom, The
New Age. An Anthology of Essential Writings, London (Rider) 1991.
The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels between Modern Physics and
Eastern Mysticism, Berkeley (Shambhala) 1975.
Fritjof Capra, The
Turning Point: Science, Society and the Rising Culture,
Toronto (Bantam) 1983.
The Reappearance of Christ and the Masters of Wisdom,
London (Tara Press) 1979.
The Aquarian Conspiracy. Personal and Social Transformation in Our Time,
Los Angeles (Tarcher) 1980.
Ecstasy is a New Frequency: Teachings of the Light Institute, New York
(Simon & Schuster) 1987.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago (University of Chicago
The New Age Vision, Forres (Findhorn Publications) 1980.
David Spangler, Revelation:
The Birth of a New Age, San Francisco (Rainbow Bridge) 1976.
Towards a Planetary Vision, Forres (Findhorn Publications) 1977.
The New Age, Issaquah (The Morningtown Press) 1988.
The Rebirth of the Sacred, London (Gateway Books) 1988.
9.2. Historical, descriptive and analytical works
Christoph Bochinger, “New Age” und moderne Religion: Religionswissenschaftliche
Untersuchungen, Gütersloh (Kaiser) 1994.
Lexique du Nouvel-Age, Limoges (Droguet-Ardant) 1993.
Hans Gasper, Joachim Müller and Friederike Valentin,
Lexikon der Sekten, Sondergruppen und
Weltanschauungen. Fakten, Hintergründe, Klärungen, updated edition,
Freiburg-Basel-Vienna (Herder) 2000. See,
inter alia, the article “New Age” by Christoph Schorsch, Karl R.
Essmann and Medard Kehl, and “Reinkarnation” by Reinhard Hümmel.
Manabu Haga and Robert J. Kisala (eds.), “The New
Age in Japan”, in Japanese Journal of
Religious Studies, Fall 1995, vol. 22, numbers 3 & 4.
Wouter Hanegraaff, New Age Religion and Western Culture. Esotericism in the Mirror of
Nature, Leiden-New York-Köln (Brill) 1996. This book has an extensive
Paul Heelas, The
New Age Movement. The Celebration of the Self and the Sacralization of
Modernity, Oxford (Blackwell) 1996.
Massimo Introvigne, New Age & Next Age, Casale Monferrato (Piemme) 2000.
L'Ideologia della New Age, Milano (Il Saggiatore) 1998.
J. Gordon Melton, New Age Encyclopedia, Detroit (Gale Research Inc) 1990.
Elliot Miller, A
Crash Course in the New Age, Eastbourne (Monarch) 1989.
Histoire de l'athéisme, Paris (Fayard) 1998.
The Aquarian Christ. Jesus Christ as Portrayed by New Religious Movements,
Hong Kong (Good Tiding) 1992.
Hans-Jürgen Ruppert, Durchbruch zur Innenwelt. Spirituelle Impulse aus New Age und Esoterik
in kritischer Beleuchtung, Stuttgart (Quell Verlag) 1988.
Edwin Schur, The
Awareness Trap. Self-Absorption instead of Social Change, New York (McGraw
Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge,
The Future of Religion. Secularisation, Revival and Cult Formation, Berkeley
(University of California Press) 1985.
Steven Sutcliffe and Marion Bowman (eds.),
Beyond the New Age. Exploring Alternative Spirituality, Edinburgh (Edinburgh
University Press), 2000.
Sources of the Self. The Making of the Modern Identity, Cambridge
(Cambridge University Press) 1989.
The Ethics of Authenticity, London (Harvard University Press) 1991
Edênio Valle s.v.d., “Psicologia e energias da
mente: teorias alternativas”, in A
Igreja Católica diante do pluralismo religioso do Brasil (III). Estudos
da CNBB n. 71, São Paulo (paulus) 1994.
World Commission on Culture and Development,
Our Creative Diversity. Report of the World Commission on Culture and
M. York, “The New
Age Movement in Great Britain”, in Syzygy.
Journal of Alternative Religion and Culture, 1:2-3 (1992) Stanford CA.
Heelas, The New Age Movement. The
Celebration of the Self and the Sacralization of Modernity, Oxford (Blackwell)
1996, p. 137.
P. Heelas, op. cit., p. 164f.
P. Heelas, op. cit., p. 173.
John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Dominum
et vivificantem (18 May
Gilbert Markus o.p., “Celtic Schmeltic”, (1) in Spirituality, vol. 4,
November-December 1998, No 21, pp. 379-383 and (2) in Spirituality, vol. 5, January-February 1999, No. 22, pp. 57-61.
Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope,
(Knopf) 1994, 90.
particularly Massimo Introvigne, New Age
& Next Age, Casale Monferrato (Piemme) 2000.
Introvigne, op. cit., p. 267.
Michel Lacroix, L'Ideologia della New
Age, Milano (il Saggiatore) 1998, p. 86. The word “sect” is used here
not in any pejorative sense, but rather to denote a sociological phenomenon.
Wouter J. Hanegraaff, New Age Religion
and Western Culture. Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought, Leiden-New
York-Köln (Brill) 1996, p. 377 and elsewhere.
Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge, The
Future of Religion. Secularisation, Revival and Cult Formation, Berkeley
(University of California Press) 1985.
M. Lacroix, op. cit., p. 8.
Swiss “Theologie für Laien” course entitled
Faszination Esoterik puts this clearly. Cf. “Kursmappe 1 – New
Age und Esoterik”, text to accompany slides, p. 9.
term was already in use in the title of The
New Age Magazine, which was being published by the Ancient Accepted
Scottish Masonic Rite in the southern jurisdiction of the United States of
America as early as 1900 Cf. M. York, “The
New Age Movement in Great Britain”, in
Syzygy. Journal of Alternative Religion and Culture, 1: 2-3 (1992),
Stanford CA, p. 156, note 6. The exact timing and nature of the change to the
New Age are interpreted variously by different authors; estimates of timing
range from 1967 to 2376.
late 1977, Marilyn Ferguson sent a questionnaire to 210 “persons engaged in
social transformation”, whom she also calls “Aquarian Conspirators”. The
following is interesting: “When respondents were asked to name individuals
whose ideas had influenced them, either through personal contact or through
their writings, those most often named, in order of frequency, were Pierre
Teilhard de Chardin, C.G. Jung, Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Aldous Huxley,
Robert Assagioli, and J. Krishnamurti. “Others frequently mentioned: Paul
Tillich, Hermann Hesse, Alfred North Whitehead, Martin Buber, Ruth Benedict,
Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, Tarthang Tulku, Alan Watts, Sri Aurobindo,
Swami Muktananda, D.T. Suzuki, Thomas Merton, Willis Harman, Kenneth Boulding,
Elise Boulding, Erich Fromm, Marshall McLuhan, Buckminster Fuller, Frederic
Spiegelberg, Alfred Korzybski, Heinz von Foerster, John Lilly, Werner Erhard,
Oscar Ichazo, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Joseph Chilton Pearce, Karl Pribram,
Gardner Murphy, and Albert Einstein”: The
Aquarian Conspiracy. Personal and Social Transformation in Our Time, Los
Angeles (Tarcher) 1980, p. 50 (note 1) and p. 434.
Hanegraaff, op. cit., p. 520.
Theological Commission, A New Age of the
Spirit? A Catholic Response to the New Age Phenomenon, Dublin 1994,
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,
Chicago (University of Chicago Press), 1970, p. 175.
Alessandro Olivieri Pennesi, Il Cristo
del New Age. Indagine critica, Vatican City (Libreria Editrice Vaticana)
1999, passim, but especially pp.
11-34. See Also section 4 below.
is worth recalling the lyrics of this song, which quickly imprinted themselves
on to the minds of a whole generation in North America and Western Europe:
“When the Moon is in the Seventh House, and Jupiter aligns with Mars, then
Peace will guide the Planets, and Love will steer the Stars. This is the
dawning of the Age of Aquarius... Harmony and understanding, ympathy and trust abounding; no more falsehoods or derision - golden
living, dreams of visions, mystic crystal revelation, and the mind's true
Heelas, op. cit., p. 1f. The August
1978 journal of the Berkeley Christian Coalition puts it this way: “Just ten
years ago the funky drug-based spirituality of the hippies and the mysticism
of the Western yogi were restricted to the counterculture. Today, both have
found their way into the mainstream of our cultural mentality. Science, the
health professions, and the arts, not to mention psychology and religion, are
all engaged in a fundamental reconstruction of their basic premises”. Quoted
in Marilyn Ferguson, op. cit., p.
Chris Griscom, Ecstasy is a New
Frequency: Teachings of the Light Institute, New York (Simon &
Schuster) 1987, p. 82.
the Glossary of New Age terms, §7.2
W.J. Hanegraaff, op. cit., chapter
15 (“The Mirror of Secular Thought”). The system of correspondences is
clearly inherited from traditional esotericism, but it has a new meaning for
those who (consciously or not) follow Swedenborg. While every natural element
in traditional esoteric doctrine had the divine life within it, for Swedenborg
nature is a dead reflection of the living spiritual world. This idea is very
much at the heart of the post-modern vision of a disenchanted world and
various attempts to “re-enchant” it. Blavatsky rejected correspondences,
and Jung emphatically relativised causality in favour of the esoteric
world-view of correspondences.
Hanegraaff, op. cit., pp. 54-55.
Reinhard Hümmel, “Reinkarnation”, in Hans Gasper, Joachim Müller,
Friederike Valentin (eds.), Lexikon der
Sekten, Sondergruppen und Weltanschauungen. Fakten, Hintergründe, Klärungen,
Freiburg-Basel-Wien (Herder) 2000, 886-893.
Fuss, “New Age and Europe – A Challenge for Theology”, in Mission Studies Vol. VIII-2, 16, 1991, p. 192.
28Ibid., loc. cit.
for the Doctrine of Faith, Letter to the
Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation (Orationis
Formas), 1989, 14.
Cf. Gaudium et Spes, 19;
Fides et Ratio, 22.
Hanegraaff, op. cit., p. 448f. The
objectives are quoted from the final (1896) version, earlier versions of which
stressed the irrationality of “bigotry” and the urgency of promoting
non-sectarian education. Hanegraaff quotes J. Gordon Melton's description of New
Age religion as rooted in the “occult-metaphysical” tradition (ibid.,
Hanegraaff, op. cit., p. 513.
M. King s.j., “Jung and Catholic Spirituality”, in America, 3 April 1999, p. 14. The author points out that New Age
devotees “quote passages dealing with the I Ching, astrology and Zen, while
Catholics quote passages dealing with Christian mystics, the liturgy and the
psychological value of the sacrament of reconciliation” (p. 12). He also
lists Catholic personalities and spiritual institutions clearly inspired and
guided by Jung's psychology.
W.J. Hanegraaff, op. cit., p. 501f.
Gustav Jung, Wandlungen und Symbole der
Libido, quoted in Hanegraaff, op.
cit., p. 503.
this point cf. Michel Schooyans, L'Évangile
face au désordre mondial, with a preface by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger,
Paris (Fayard) 1997.
in the Maranatha Community's The True
and the False New Age. Introductory Ecumenical Notes, Manchester (Maranatha)
1993, 8.10 – the original page numbering is not specified.
Lacroix, L'Ideologia della New Age,
Milano (il Saggiatore) 1998,
the section on David Spangler's ideas in
Actualité des religions nº 8, septembre 1999, p. 43.
Ferguson, op. cit., p. 407.
be an American... is precisely to
imagine a destiny rather than inherit one. We have always been inhabitants
of myth rather than history”: Leslie Fiedler, quoted in M. Ferguson, op. cit., p. 142.
P. Heelas, op. cit., p. 173f.
Spangler, The New Age, Issaquah (Mornington
Press) 1988, p. 14.
Heelas, op. cit., p. 168.
the Preface to Michel Schooyans, L'Évangile
face au désordre mondial,
op. cit. This quotation is translated from the Italian, Il nuovo disordine mondiale, Cinisello Balsamo (San Paolo) 2000, p.
Our Creative Diversity. Report of the World Commission on Culture and
Development, Paris (UNESCO) 1995, which illustrates the importance given
to celebrating and promoting diversity.
Christoph Bochinger, “New Age” und
moderne Religion: Religionswissenschaftliche Untersuchungen, Gütersloh
(Kaiser) 1994, especially chapter 3.
shortcomings of techniques which are not yet prayer are discussed below in §
3.4, “Christian mysticism and New Age
Carlo Maccari, “La 'mistica cosmica' del
New Age”, in Religioni e Sette nel
Vernette, “L'avventura spirituale dei figli dell'Acquario”, in
Religioni e Sette nel Mondo 1996/2, p. 42f.
Vernette, loc. cit.
J. Gordon Melton, New Age Encyclopedia,
Detroit (Gale Research) 1990, pp. xiii-xiv.
Spangler, The Rebirth of the Sacred,
London (Gateway Books) 1984, p. 78f.
Spangler, The New Age, op. cit., p.
Paul II, Apostolic Letter Tertio
Millennio Adveniente (10 November 1994), 9.
Fox, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ.
The Healing of Mother Earth and the Birth of a Global Renaissance, San
Francisco (Harper & Row) 1988, p. 135.
the document issued by the Argentine Bishops' Conference Committee for
Culture: Frente a una Nueva Era. Desafío
a la pastoral en el horizonte de la Nueva Evangelización, 1993.
for the Doctrine of the Faith, Orationis
61Ibid.,3. See the sections on meditation
and contemplative prayer in the
Catechism of the Catholic Church, §§. 2705-2719.
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
Orationis Formas, 13.
Brendan Pelphrey, “I said, You are Gods. Orthodox Christian Theosis and Deification in the New Religious Movements” in Spirituality
East and West, Easter 2000 (No. 13).
Smith, God and the Aquarian Age. The new
era of the Kingdom, Great Wakering (McCrimmons) 1990, p. 49.
Benjamin Creme, The Reappearance of
Christ and the Masters of Wisdom, London (Tara Press) 1979, p. 116.
Jean Vernette, Le New Age, Paris (P.U.F.)
1992 (Collection Encyclopédique Que
sais-je?), p. 14.
67Catechism of the Catholic Church,
Alessandro Olivieri Pennesi, Il Cristo
del New Age. Indagine Critica, Vatican City (Libreria Editrice Vaticana)
1999, especially pages 13-34. The list of common points is on p. 33.
Lacroix, L'Ideologia della New Age, Milano
(Il Saggiatore) 1998,
Schur, The Awareness Trap.
Self-Absorption instead of Social Change, New York (McGraw Hill) 1977, p.
Catechism of the Catholic Church,
Paul Heelas, The New Age Movement. The
Celebration of the Self and the Sacralization of Modernity, Oxford (Blackwell)
1996, p. 161.
75A Catholic Response to the New Age Phenomenon,Irish Theological Commission 1994, chapter 3.
for the Doctrine of the Faith, Orationis
Bloom, The New Age. An Anthology of
Essential Writings, London (Rider) 1991, p. xvi.
79Catechism of the Catholic Church,
80Ibid., § 1849.
81Ibid., § 1850.
Paul II, Apostolic Letter on human
suffering “Salvifici doloris” (11 February 1984), 19.
David Spangler, The New Age, op. cit.,
John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptoris
Missio (7 December 1990), 6, 28, and the Declaration Dominus Jesus (6 August 2000) by the Congregation for the Doctrine
of the Faith, 12.
R. Rhodes, The Counterfeit Christ of the
New Age Movement,Grand Rapids (Baker) 1990, p. 129.
Bergin o.p., “Living One's Truth”, in The
Furrow, January 2000,
P. Heelas, op. cit., p. 138.
Miller, A Crash Course in the New Age,
Eastbourne (Monarch) 1989, p. 122. For documentation on the vehemently
anti-Christian stance of spiritualism, cf. R. Laurence Moore, “Spiritualism”,
in Edwin S. Gaustad (ed.), The Rise of
Adventism: Religion and Society in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America, New
York 1974, pp. 79-103, and also R. Laurence Moore,
In Search of White Crows: Spiritualism, Parapsychology, and American Culture,
New York (Oxford University Press) 1977.
John Paul II, Encyclical letter Fides et
Ratio (14 September 1998),
John Paul II, Address to the United
States Bishops of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska on their “Ad Limina”
visit, 28 May 1993.
John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia
(14 September 1995), 103. The Pontifical Council for Culture has published a
handbook listing these centres throughout the world: Catholic Cultural Centres (3rd edition, Vatican City, 2001).
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
Orationis Formas, and § 3 above.
is one area where lack of information can allow those responsible for
education to be misled by groups whose real agenda is inimical to the Gospel
message. It is particularly the case in schools, where a captive curious young
audience is an ideal target for ideological merchandising. Cf. the caveat in Massimo Introvigne, New
Age & Next Age, Casale Monferrato (Piemme) 2000, p. 277f.
J. Badewien, Antroposofia, in H.
Waldenfels (ed.) Nuovo Dizionario delle
Religioni, Cinisello Balsamo (San Paolo) 1993, 41.
Raúl Berzosa Martinez, Nueva Era y
Cristianismo, Madrid (BAC) 1995, 214.
Palmer, The Enneagram, New York (Harper-Row)
document of the Argentine Episcopal Committee for Culture, op. cit.
Gernet, in J.-P. Vernant et al.,
Divination et Rationalité, Paris (Seuil) 1974, p. 55.
Susan Greenwood, “Gender and Power in Magical Practices”, in Steven
Sutcliffe and Marion Bowman (eds.), Beyond
New Age. Exploring Alternative Spirituality, Edinburgh (Edinburgh
University Press) 2000, p. 139.
M. Fuss, op. cit., 198-199.
a brief but clear treatment of the Human Potential Movement, see Elizabeth
Puttick, “Personal Development: the Spiritualisation and Secularisation of
the Human Potential Movement”, in: Steven Sutcliffe and Marion Bowman (eds.),
Beyond New Age. Exploring Alternative Spirituality, Edinburgh (Edinburgh
University Press) 2000, pp. 201-219.
C. Maccari, La “New Age” di fronte
alla fede cristiana, Leumann-Torino (LDC) 1994, 168.
W.J. Hanegraaff, op. cit., 283-290.
this last, very delicate, point, see Eckhard Türk's article “Neonazismus”
in Hans Gasper, Joachim Müller, Friederike Valentin (eds.), Lexikon der Sekten, Sondergruppen und Weltanschauungen. Fakten, Hintergründe,
Klärungen, Freiburg- Basel-Wien (Herder) 2000, p. 726.
John Saliba, Christian Responses to the
New Age Movement. A Critical Assessment, London, (Geoffrey Chapman) 1999,
M. Fuss, op. cit., 195-196.