The New Age Movement
The New Age has been much in the news in recent years, not in the last place in Christian circles. Christian magazines regularly devote articles and news reports to it. Christian think tanks in the United States and elsewhere are busy analysing the movement, and each year their researchers publish reports and books that scrutinize it from a Christian perspective. Officebearers, teachers, students, and others are choosing the topic for their conventions and conferences, and Christian secondary schools and colleges are beginning to include it in their religion and modern history curricula.
Nor is it only Christians who pay attention to the New Age. In December 1987 TIME magazine published a feature article on the movement, and every once in a while columnists in other secular magazines and in the daily newspapers take a swipe at it. On the whole, magazines and newspapers still tend to treat it as a fad. If we judge by the flourishing New Age publishing industry, we have to conclude that an increasingly large section of the population takes it more seriously.
A few years ago our magazine introduced the topic.1 BB By now it is probably time to return to the issue, and in this article and a subsequent one I plan to do so. It is my intention to look at the New Age as both a cultural and a cultic movement. This means that we will consider the social and intellectual background of the movement, discuss a number of New Age teachings, and look at the manner in which the movement threatens to infiltrate the institutions of our society, both secular and Christian ones.
Defining the New Age
We will have to begin by defining the New Age movement, and that is not an easy assignment. It has rightly been said that the New Age is not simply a cult, or even a combination of cults. It is first of all a way of looking at the world, at man, man's destiny, and God — that is, it provides new (or at least unorthodox) answers to mankind's ultimate questions. It is for that reason that we can't just call it a cultic movement. We have to see it also as a new world view, a new climate of opinion, or, as the New Agers themselves like to put it, a new consciousness.
The word "new" in matters connected with the New Age has to be taken with a grain of salt. Essentially New Age teachings are a hodgepodge of cults, lore, and traditions of both oriental and western origin and of both ancient and modern times. We can only call it new in the sense that this hodgepodge has been placed into a new context, and that it constitutes a novel development in our civilization. The New Age movement intends to supplant both the Christian and the secular-humanistic world views that have so far characterized the culture of the West.
The movement is expanding rapidly. Bookstores nowadays have large New Age sections, and there is an increasing number of stores devoted solely to the sale of New Age literature and New Age gadgets. Reputable publishers have taken to publishing New Age books, the market for which continues to flourish. New Age ideas are becoming influential in some branches of government, in education (all the way from kindergarten to university), in the army and navy, in corporate business, in politics (especially the Green parties), and even in religion and science.
Yet it remains difficult to get a handle on the movement. It is both a complex and a rather formless thing. There is no headquarter, there is no leader, and there are no universally accepted creeds. The New Age movement, as I already mentioned, incorporates into its system whatever it likes from a variety of eastern and western religions, cults, philosophies, and myths, and each member is free to adapt these various ingredients to suit his (or her) individual needs. He may even reject some of them. Heresy is allowed in the New Age movement. Or rather, it does not exist in this very loose, amorphous structure. As one of the New Age slogans puts it: everyone creates his own reality, also his own religious reality. Relativism is rife: what is true for you is not necessarily true for me, and vice versa.
New Age Characteristics
This being so, is it really possible to speak of a New Age movement? Some people deny it, but the majority of those who make it their business to analyse the New Age answer the question in the affirmative. They list various characteristics by which to identify a New Ager, although at the same time they warn us to be cautious. The fact that the pronouncements of certain individuals (or organizations) contain ideas associated with the New Age does not necessarily make them New Agers. For one thing, a lot of New Age terminology is infiltrating our every-day language, so that practically everybody is beginning to use it. There is also the fact — as I hope to show later — that some New Age ideas have rightly been adopted by other members of society and should be promoted. We would be ill-advised to ignore valid New Age criticism of our systems or lifestyle simply because the New Age voices them. We would, of course, be equally ill-advised to let go of certain terms or views or policies simply because the New Age has adopted them.
It is necessary to distinguish carefully. New Age analysts suggest that we apply a reasonable number of criteria before applying the New Age label. Walter Martin in The New Age Cult lists four such criteria, and tells us that generally speaking we can assume a person or group to be an adherent of the New Age if he or it:
openly furthers the New Age movement and proclaims the imminent arrival of the Age of Aquarius;
openly espouses New Age beliefs such as monism (all is one), pantheism (all is God, and therefore you also are God, and so am I), gnosticism (salvation by means of esoteric knowledge or enlightenment), reincarnation, and so on;
openly advocates occult practices such as the use of spiritism and mediums (a practice New Agers call channeling), astrology, psychic healing, shamanism, magic, and various methods for inducing altered states of consciousness (such as meditation, chanting, hypnosis); and
uses New Age phrases and terminology such as, "everyone creates his own reality," higher self, self-realization, cosmic consciousness, universal energy, and so on.
An End-of-the-Century Phenomenon?
These criteria show the movement to be a rather bizarre phenomenon, full of superstition, occultism and neo-paganism — something that runs counter to practically all the ideas and values of our modern, sophisticated, scientific and rationalistic culture. How does one explain the rise and ever-increasing popularity of what seems such a regressive thing, such a throw-back to the primitive times that we thought we had left behind us centuries ago?
There is a tendency to explain the New Age as a typical fin de siècle or end-of-the-century phenomenon. As we will see later, this is not an adequate explanation; yet there is something in the view. The fact that we are approaching the end of a century, and even of a millennium, undoubtedly helps give the movement momentum: such major transitions tend to encourage strange and often apocalyptic visions. Historians tell us, for example, that when the year 1000 was drawing near, those in early-medieval Europe who could read and had access to a calendar were convinced that the end of the world was imminent, and monks of that period reported in their chronicles a vast array of natural disasters and miracles in support of such a view.
Better documented, and perhaps more widespread, were the expressions of gloom and doom around the turn of the 19th to the 20th century. At that time people were talking about the collapse of civilization, the decline and fall of the West, and either the end of the world or the arrival of an entirely new age — a new cycle of history. In terms similar to those employed by present-day New Agers they prophesied that the coming age would last for some 2000 years, that it would replace the Christian one, which also had spanned approximately two millennia, and that it would be its exact opposite. And again like the New Age they referred to modern science (among other things) to support their views.
New Age Optimism
But that is where the similarities between the earlier and the latter-day apocalyptic visions end. The spokesmen of the previous fin de siècle were prophets of doom. They rejected the idea of progress and benevolent evolutionism as wishful thinking, and they made it clear that their new age would not produce a kinder and a gentler world. Quite the contrary. According to such doomsday-seers as Nietzsche, Spengler, the younger H.G. Wells and, somewhat later, a poet like W.B. Yeats (with his chilling poem "The Second Coming"), mankind was to expect an age of iron. The new dispensation would be characterized by the rise and rule of the post-Christian superman, by ruthless totalitarianism and relentless warfare. 2
The New Age, on the other hand, promises us an age of bliss. Convinced that our destinies are ruled by the stars, they turn to astrology to find out about the future. There they learn that we are now in the closing stages of the astrological age of Pisces, and that a new age that of Aquarius, is in the process of arriving. According to the New Agers the age of Pisces honours the traditional norms and values of the Christian era and encourages the unrestrained growth of technology, the abuse of the environment, authoritarianism, suppression, fragmentation, and all other kinds of evil. They promise that once we reach the Aquarian age all these abuses and evils will disappear, and we will enter a world of peace and light, mass enlightenment, and cosmic harmony.
This switch, in the course of less than a century, from the depths of dooms-day pessimism to the heights of utopian optimism is striking. One would have expected the opposite development: one from optimism to pessimism. After all, 19th-century Europe had not been doing all that badly. It was prosperous, it still dominated the rest of the world, and it had enjoyed a long period of relative peace. Some crises there may have been, but they were nothing compared to what would happen later. The two world wars still lay in the future. So did the rise of totalitarianism, the nuclear bomb, the threat to the environment, and the various other crises that have darkened our times. All that belongs to the heritage of the 20th century. It is therefore the people of the 20th century, much more so than their late-19th-century forebears, who could be expected to be pessimistic about humanity's and civilization's chances of survival. Why then this apparent paradox that the fastest growing cultural movement of our days is the utopian New Age?
Understanding the New Age
It is not really a paradox. The New Age is not oblivious of the crises that constitute our 20th-century heritage. In many respects its strange teachings are, rather, a desperate way of responding to the almost insurmountable problems that our world is facing: the large-scale and terribly destructive wars, the possibility of a nuclear holocaust, the threatening ecological disaster, the dangers inherent in unrestrained scientific and technological expansion, the alarming spread of crime, the increasing incidence of social breakdown, and so on. They are also a way of responding to the emptiness left by the decline of spirituality and the absence of meaning in a materialistic and atheistic age. According to the New Age both Western Civilization and the religion that nourished it have failed and are bankrupt. It is for that reason that both must be discarded and replaced by a new culture, a new spirituality, and a new worldview.
It is important that we are aware of this background and these convictions. Unless we are, we will be unable either to understand or to confront the New Age movement. And we will have to do both, for at least two reasons.
In the first place, because the New Age, a strongly anti-western and anti-Christian movement, can no longer be dismissed as a passing fad. All the signs suggest that it is here to stay and that it will continue to expand. With its hatred of Christianity it is a dangerous movement. In its teachings we recognize much of the apostasy and many of the delusions against which we are warned in the book of Revelation. We therefore have to know what it stands for, so that we can resist its influence, in the world at large and in our own Christian environment.
But in the second place, we have a task with respect to the New Agers themselves. The millions who are drawn into the movement are fellow human beings desperately looking for a way out of the emptiness, meaninglessness, and dread of modern-day existence. Believers, who are called the light of the world, have a message for these people.
The New Age movement, is both a response to the serious problems of our times (the mega-problems, as the New Agers like to call them), and a reaction to the emptiness of existence in a materialistic and atheistic world.
Many New Agers believe that the causes of our discontent are to be found in the West's most ancient beliefs and worldviews, and have therefore been an integral part of our civilization ever since its beginnings. On the whole they also seem to feel, however, that the seeds of evil did not really germinate until about three centuries ago, with the rise of modern science and modern rationalism. There is a sharp break here with the West's humanistic tradition. Whereas humanists tend to celebrate the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment as among the greatest periods in the history of our civilization, the New Age is convinced that their effects were negative and even destructive.
The Old Organic Universe
What went wrong in the 17th and 18th centuries, according to the New Age? Let us pay attention to their list of objections. We may be able to learn something from the diagnosis, even if we must unreservedly reject the proposed cure.
The period of the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment produced a worldview that was in many ways the opposite of that of the Middle Ages. Generally speaking the Christian Middle Ages had seen nature as organic, as something that was alive and formed a whole. Medieval painters, for example, liked to paint landscapes wherein rivers looked like veins, and medieval poets and storytellers populated the earth and the skies with myriads of beings, both visible and invisible. The forests had feelings, and rocks were not lifeless. Medieval man had no great difficulty with the biblical picture of floods that clap their hands, and of hills and trees, meadows and valleys and even stars that shout and sing for joy.
Not only man's immediate environment was alive and whole, so was the larger scheme of which his world formed a part. The entire cosmos was surrounded by heaven and kept in being and in motion by God's direct and ever-present care. Angels, moved by love for Him, in turn moved the spheres containing sun and moon, planets and stars, around an earth that was the universe's stationary centre. The cosmos formed one well-ordered hierarchy and consisted of one great chain of being, each part of which had its proper place and function in the grand scheme of things.
The New Mechanistic View
The Scientific Revolution and the new rationalism of the Enlightenment changed many aspects of this picture of nature and the universe. The French philosopher René Descartes introduced a dualistic view by making an absolute division between man as the thinking subject and the rest of creation, which now became an object. More and more nature was considered not as an organism, but as a thing, something that man could control, manipulate, and exploit. Man became lord and master of nature and used it in his search for unlimited expansion and progress. One of the slogans of the new times was that knowledge (especially scientific knowledge) is power. Scientists were no longer concerned primarily with the why, but rather with the how of nature and of life. The cosmos became a machine or a huge clock, which ran in accordance with unchangeable laws which man could understand.
For the time being it was still necessary to assume the existence of God. He was needed to explain the origin of the universe and functioned as the great engineer or clockmaker who had created the cosmos and set it in motion. Having done so, He withdrew from his creation, which henceforth ran on its own. Before long, with the rise of evolutionism, even this deist God could be discarded. The universe and all that it contained was now the result of time and chance. Deism was replaced by atheism.
Reductionism and Fragmentation
The new view of nature and the universe, then, was both dualistic and materialistic. The Scientific Revolution had other consequences. It also led to reductionism: the idea that some aspects of reality are less 'real' than others and can be legitimately reduced to others. Intellect, for example, could be reduced to chemistry, and human behaviour to reflexes. Another type of reductionism accompanying the rise of modern rationalism and modern science was the belief that whatever contradicts logic, and whatever I can't see or touch, is not real. That attitude was well exemplified by the Soviet astronaut who exclaimed that he had not seen God in space, and that therefore He did not exist. It is not limited to what used to be the Marxist world, however. The western worldview has become equally reductionistic.
The old view regarding the wholeness and interconnectedness of creation was also affected. The rise of the new scientific mood and method (and the disappearance of the organic view of nature) encouraged fragmentation. Descartes showed that in order to solve a mathematical or philosophical problem you had to cut it up into its component parts. The scientists taught and did the same. They took one aspect of nature and separated it from its context in order to analyse it.
The centuries since the Scientific Revolution have shown that it is an excellent way of advancing knowledge, but also that it leads to a dangerously one-sided view of reality. It tends to be forgotten that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, and also that in the act of fragmenting life and nature we threaten to destroy both. It is easy enough to break Humpty-Dumpty, but it is impossible for man to put him together again. As the Romantic poet William Wordsworth already complained in the late 18th century, "Our meddling intellect / Misshapes the beauteous form of things: / We murder to dissect." By concentrating on the part, the detail, the individual, western man lost sight of and began to ignore the whole. This was true not just in science. It had repercussions everywhere: in medicine, in religion, in education, in art and literature, in politics and social life. In the end man began to act as if there was no whole and wholeness, no community, no overarching frame.
The Romantics were among the first to lament the negative implications of a world view that made not the whole but the parts man's proper object of concern. In that respect they were ahead of their times. During much of the 19th and even of the 20th century the majority of westerners were enthusiastic supporters of modern science, especially because of the technology that science made possible and that provided mankind with opportunities and a standard of living unsurpassed in human history. Science became the new religion, and the miracle-producing technology functioned as the god that would lead mankind to the man-made paradise of which it had been dreaming ever since the Enlightenment.
New Age Protest
It did not last. In the course of the 20th century the new religion and the new idol began to manifest their less benevolent characteristics. Science and technology, it appeared, were capable of destroying life and nature. This was evident in the production of the 20th century's unbelievably destructive weaponry, including poison gas and the nuclear bomb, in the dangerous potential of the new biological and medical technologies, in the unlimited industrial expansion and the consumerism to which it gave rise, and in the consequent danger of a world-wide ecological breakdown.
All these developments combined to bring about a widespread disillusionment with science, technology, and the industrialized, materialistic civilization they had made possible. It became apparent that the gods of scientism and unlimited progress had feet of clay, and that materialism provided no nourishment for the soul. Man was no longer satisfied with an answer to the 'how' of life; he wanted to know about the 'why' as well. The emptiness and disillusionment led to the protest movements and counter-culture of the 1960s. When that particular movement declined, the New Age, which has roots in the counter-culture, took up the torch.
The New age movement is not anti-science. It distinguishes between the old science, much of which it rejects, and certain aspects of the new science of which it approves. In fact, it uses evolution theories (both old and new ones) to bolster its faith in man's spiritual progress, and it uses some of the insights of the new physics (especially the quantum theory) to 'prove' the unity and spirituality of all that exists. I hope to come back to this relationship between the New Age and the new science.
The movement's rebellion, then, is not against science itself but against the scientism and rationalism which the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment bequeathed to us, against much of the technology which they spawned, and against the fragmentation, reductionism and materialism to which they gave rise. As believers we can sympathize with many of their objections to these aspects of our culture. We may even have reason for self-criticism, for have we not often allowed our view of the world and our manner of living to be influenced by the materialistic and dualistic spirit of our times? The New Age protest may serve as an eye-opener. As I hope to show later, we can even adopt some of the ways it suggests for dealing with the fragmentation, disintegration and alienation that characterize our society and culture.
At the same time there should be no doubt in our minds that the grand solution offered by the New Age remains utterly unacceptable. Let us have a look at that solution by listing the main tenets of its faith.
The New Age Religion
The New Age religion emphasizes wholeness or holism (from holos, meaning whole), monism (the view that all is one), and pantheism (the belief that everything is God). Most of the inspiration for these views comes from eastern religions. From this same source the New Age has also borrowed the idea of reincarnation: the passing of a person's soul from one body to another until it reaches perfection. Another important tenet, to which I referred earlier, is the belief in the coming of a new age of peace, unity, and harmony: the astrological age of Aquarius. In that age mankind's world-view and consciousness will be holistic and monistic. By that time man will also realize his divinity.
All this is, according to the new Age, written in the stars and will therefore come to pass, regardless of man's efforts. It is also guaranteed by the laws of evolution. Although it is predetermined, believers must nevertheless do all they can to hasten its coming, and that is indeed something the New Agers are very busy with. They publicize their ideas by means of the printing press and other media, they organize seminars and séances wherever they can, and they attempt to infiltrate schools and universities, business, government, and various other institutions of our society.
One of their main concerns is the proclamation of pantheism. That idea is basic to the New Age's grand solution. It guarantees the achievement of wholeness and unity and, above all, it makes man the master of his own destiny. If all is God, then man also is God, capable of bringing about his own salvation and that of his sorely threatened planet. That until now he has not used this power is because he did not know he had it. A change of consciousness is therefore necessary: man must be made aware of his divinity. Such a change of consciousness can be brought about by various means, including hypnotism, shamanism, the mantra (the repetitive chanting of a word or phrase in order to empty the mind and so attain oneness with God, or cosmic consciousness), meditation, yoga, guided imagery, and in some (rare) cases mind-altering drugs. The new wisdom can also be attained by means of spiritism (or channeling, as the New Age calls it).
The New Age Challenge
In a science-dominated civilization like ours, those advocating a new religion or world-view tend to look for scientific proofs in support of their views. To be sure, by doing so they often horrify scientists proper. These are prone to protest (although with some notable exceptions, as we will see later) that their only concern is to formulate theories explaining natural processes, and that, as scientists, they have nothing to say about ultimate questions. Those are the proper concern of religion and metaphysics. To assign religious significance to scientific theories is, according to these scientists, a most blatant kind of reductionism.
Such protests are generally ignored, and the search for scientific support for all types of non-scientific issues continues. It has been the case throughout the modern period. To give a few examples out of several: 19th-century man, with his two-pronged gospel of atheism and unlimited progress, believed that all the necessary proofs could be found in the scientific theories formulated by Darwin and his kin. Social Darwinists believed the same. Even Christians are often tempted to assign more philosophical and religious weight to scientific models than these can carry.
The New Age and Evolution
Members of the New Age movement, too, are anxious to find scientific support for their religious ideas. They claim that these ideas are in tune with some of the findings of the biological, the physical, and the earth sciences. I will not deal with the last one but refer the reader instead to Dr. Margaret Helder's feature article on the topic (the Gaia hypothesis). I will limit myself to biology and physics.
As for the biological sciences, theories of evolution are adapted and then widely quoted by the New Age in support of the movement's creed of human perfectibility. The most popular model used is that of 'conscious evolutionism.' It states that toward the end of the evolutionary process, and in a period of extreme stress (such as the species and the planet are now experiencing), the subject becomes aware of the fact that he is involved in a process of evolution and begins consciously to participate in it.
It is not surprising that this myth is popular among New Agers. First of all, such a process of conscious evolution would be much more rapid than the old gradual one of Darwin's theory. And secondly, if you assume (as the New Age does) that evolutionary changes are all for the good and will lead to the physical, mental, and spiritual perfection of mankind — to the awakening of 'the god within us' — then you know that all will be well, and that soon.
The New Physics...
Equally important for the New Age are the implications it draws from recent developments in the physical sciences — specifically the relativity and quantum theories, with which the names of men like Einstein, Planck, and various others are associated. These theories, which were developed mainly in the early decades of the 20th century, resulted in what has been called 'the second scientific revolution.' As was the case with the first scientific revolution (the one presided over by Galileo and Newton in the 17th century), it has had a tremendous impact on society.
That impact is only partly a result of the new technology which the new physics made possible, such as the atom and hydrogen bombs, nuclear power, electronics, the computer, the transistor, the laser, and so on. Another reason are the theories themselves. Here again we see a parallel with the 17th-century revolution. Generally speaking, however, the influence of the new theories has been the opposite of that of the earlier ones. In the wake of the 17th-century revolution, humanity was convinced that science had penetrated the mysteries of the universe and thereby replaced darkness by light. But with the early 20th-century developments scientists realized that no matter how much they learned about nature, they would never really know it. As one contemporary scientist expressed it:
Nature and Nature's Law lay hid in night;
God said, Let Newton be! and all was light.
It did not last. The devil howling, "Ho! Let Einstein be!"
restored the status quo.Sir Arthur Eddington, 1949
The rationality, clarity, predictability, and order of the old Newtonian universe were gone, especially at the sub-atomic level, where it appeared that the old concepts of cause and effect did not apply, where certain entities manifested themselves as both matter and energy (the wave-particle duality), and — to say no more about this very complicated subject — where in the very act of observation the scientist affected the object of his observation.
...and the New Age
Many of the scientists involved were shocked by these findings. So were many of those laymen who had an inkling of what was going on in the field of physics. Some, in fact, were so concerned about the implications which these theories (with their connotations of randomness, uncertainty, unpredictability, and unintelligibility) could have for society, or for religion, or even for science itself, that they rejected them outright. Others, however, have welcomed the findings of the new physics. Various mystics, including a large number of New Agers, are among them.
These New Agers are pleased with the new physics because they feel it serves as proof of the validity of some of their most cherished beliefs — especially those derived from eastern religions. The facts that the observer affects that which he observes, and that matter and energy appear to be interchangeable, are considered proof of the beliefs that man creates his own reality, and that all that exists is one. And if all is one, it follows not only that the universe is a living organism, but also that it is conscious, that it partakes of the divine consciousness (for God is part of nature), and is therefore itself divine. By means of these and other quantum leaps New Agers show, to their own satisfaction, that quantum physics supports the belief in holism, monism, pantheism, and various other articles of the faith.
Religion and Science
I should add that these New Agers are not alone in seeing a connection between the new physics and eastern mysticism. They are in good company: some reputable scientists share their views. Best-known among these is the contemporary theoretical physicist Fritjof Capra, author of such 'bibles' of the New Age movement as The Tao of Physics and The Turning Point. Moreover, several of the original quantum physicists themselves were mystics. It must be emphasized, however, that these men never taught that quantum physics supports mysticism. To the contrary: they made it very clear that their mystical beliefs were not derived from their scientific findings, adding that any attempt to buttress mysticism with relativity or quantum theory was both reductionistic and (to borrow a word used by Einstein in this connection) reprehensible.
It was also counter-productive. As one particle physicist said, "To hitch a religious philosophy to a contemporary science is a sure route to its obsolescence." (See on this entire issue Ken Wilber, ed., Quantum Questions: Mystical Writings by the World's Greatest Physicists, New Science Library, 1985.) Christians who feel that their faith is threatened by scientific theories — whether they be those of Newton, Darwin, or modern physicists like Planck and Einstein — should remember this warning. Scientific models and theories are not eternal: they have only a limited lifespan. (Nor, it should be added, do they claim to portray 'reality' or 'the world out there.')
The foregoing shows that the evidence produced by the New Age in support of its ideas is of doubtful value. We should be very clear about that: there is absolutely no reason to be bowled over by the New Age's appeal to 'scientific facts.' It is especially important to remember this in view of the fact that there is an increasing number of scientists who do support New Age teachings. I already drew attention to the physicist Fritjof Capra c.s. Mention could also be made of the ideas of such men as the late Jesuit priest and scientist Teilhard de Chardin, with his myth of cosmic evolution, and Dr. James Lovelock, who recently introduced the Gaia hypothesis.
These and other pseudo-scientific ideas find adherence in some scientific circles and give a tremendous boost to the New Age movement. As the book of Revelation tells us, false prophecy will receive the support of the dominant cultural forces, and frequently of the political forces as well. We will be wise to heed the warning.
The New Age movement, then, prospers. It is beginning to infiltrate churches; it has connections or affinities with the ecological movement world-wide, with animal rights groups, modern feminism, holistic medicine, and with a number of older and newer educational philosophies. The field of education is an especially important mission area. In many public schools teachers inculcate New Age ideas and teach New Age skills, including globalism (the need for political and religious oneness), values-clarification, and such consciousness-expanding techniques as yoga, meditation, guided imagining, and chanting. Similar concepts and skills are taught at teachers' training centres and universities.
Business also is interested in these techniques, which promise, among other things, to reduce tension, increase motivation and creativity, promote team work, develop better interpersonal relationships — in short, to enhance human potential. In his informative book A Crash Course on the New Age Movement (Baker, 1989), Elliot Miller provides a list of large business corporations that have "subjected their employees to the mind-bending influences of Transformational Technologies." The American army and navy also appear to have jumped on the bandwagon, and generally speaking the public takes it lying down. Or rather, it seems to approve. Opinion polls show that the number of people in the western world who say that they believe in reincarnation, have had mystical experiences, and/or like to dabble in the occult, is increasing.
Why this Popularity?
One reason for the success of the New Age is, undoubtedly, that it addresses our society's discontents, and that many of its concerns are legitimate. One can sympathize with the New Age's refusal to live in an impersonal and materialistic world, its organic view of nature, its ecological concerns, and its desire for community and wholeness. That search for wholeness also affects such areas as holistic medicine and holistic education, where the subject is considered as a unity of body, spirit, and mind, and where attention is given to social contexts and relationships. We have to admit that in these and other fields the movement attempts to fill a vacuum that was too long ignored.
Another reason why the New Age expands is the missionary zeal displayed by many of its adherents — a zeal worthy of a better cause. Their propaganda is buttressed by the fact that the consciousness-altering techniques it advocates appear to work. This is admitted even by non-adherents. Businessmen, soldiers, marines, and others who learn New Age techniques perform and/or cope better than before. At a more sinister level, even an individual's opening-up to the spirit world (through yoga, meditation, drugs, or spiritism) yields results. People who have been converted from the occult to Christianity report that the demon-possession to which they subjected themselves gave them, at least initially, real power and a strong sense of exhilaration.
A Road to Happiness
New Age teachings also catch on because they blunt the sharp edges of life, and allow man to create his own heaven on earth. Sin does not exist for the New Age, and neither does evil. Or rather, good and evil are one, just as matter and energy are one, and the earth and the heavens, and humanity and nature, and man and God. Death disappears, thanks to the faith in reincarnation, the reports of people who experienced near-death-experiences, and the divinity of man. Or else, death is portrayed as a natural and therefore benevolent experience, which allows man to return to the All.
And finally, the New Age is popular because it appeals to a person's love of power and desire for self-fulfillment. Being divine, man is the master of his destiny, creating and manipulating his own reality. This means that he can save himself; the logical consequence of pantheism is anthropotheism: the deification of man. It is no wonder that the New Age is anxious to provide scientific proof for this central article of the faith.
Self-fulfillment is promised also at a less exalted level. To quote Globe and Mail columnist Bronwyn Drainie:
The irony of New Age thought is that, in spite of its professed desire for wholeness and oneness with the universe, it is relentlessly egotistical. 'We can all do anything we want if we just feel we deserve it,' says [New Age spokeswoman Shirley] MacLaine. Since fulfilling your personal human potential is the highest good, there is really no need any more for social programs to help the disadvantaged.
Drainie is right. For many the attraction of the New Age is that it promises a quick fix, an easy and painless road to happiness, success, and self-fulfilment. The lofty ideals of restored community and of cosmic love and harmony translate into a sordid practice of egotism, greed, and (once again) materialism. Nor is that a surprise to anyone who believes in the reality of sin.
The New Age Challenge
Yet this indictment cannot be our last word on the New Age. It is not merely a fad, a movement created to soothe frustrated yuppies or ageing baby-boomers, as some have described it, and it would be both unwise and dangerous to dismiss it as such. Unwise, because the New Age offers a legitimate critique of much that has gone wrong in our society and civilization — a critique that we ignore only at our peril. And dangerous, because the New Age is a religion, a demonic one, which threatens our society, our Christian norms, and the souls of millions.
Christian commentators have said that the New Age challenges us to both a defence of the faith and a critique of our lifestyle. It would be good if we took this proposal to heart. If so, the effort should be joined by experts in many different fields. They should include theologians, but also scientists of various stripes, medical doctors, educationalists, and environmentalists. Nor should the layman, who faces the New Age challenge on all sides, exclude himself.
There is a pressing need for biblical alternatives to New Age solutions, for biblical evaluations of New Age remedies, and for biblical answers to New Age creeds. If this need is indeed addressed, we may one day be grateful for the challenge of the New Age: for the fact that it has thrown us, as a faith community, back upon God's Word. That Word, we are promised, will be a light upon our path, not only when we are confronted with the New Age's anti-christian ideologies, but also when we deal (as we must) with the type of problems that the movement daily brings to our attention.