PRIMER ON NEW AGE
They would like to see the whole universe become transformed before their eyes and changed into something radically new. They would like to be freed once and for all from the world’s problems.
This dream lives on and is stronger than ever today, at the beginning of another millennium. Our world, with its advanced technology but spiritual hunger, experiences deep disappointment in the face of a material well-being that cannot eradicate poverty, a freedom of choice which is unable to remove its yoke of slavery, and a scientific knowledge which cannot resolve its deep uncertainty.
A cultural, philosophical, and religious trend has been emerging since the 1960s in reaction to the present state of humanity. Its goal is to push society towards a new awareness, towards a new type of spiritual existence: We call this trend New Age and, nowadays, many aspects of our lives have felt in some way the effects of this trend.
This primer will address some of the most frequent questions about New Age. This is a complex theme that has filled the pages of many books. Here the aim is to clear up doubts that first arise among Catholic Christians when the subject of New Age is brought up, and to extend an invitation to all the Catholic Christian faithful and their pastors to learn more about the New Age phenomenon, The authors and publishers of this primer strive to help God’s people understand how to address this phenomenon that arises from some valid and even urgent concerns of human beings, and yet, because of its erroneous teachings and the practices that flow from these, threatens the integrity of the faith and morals of our people.
(01) What are some of the basic features of New Age?
New Age is a form of millenarism (the anticipation of an imminent new era of rapid and radical change that will put an end to the present state of the world) that emerged in the 19th century but became prominent in the 20th century, and tends to combine apparently Christian terms and scientific vocabulary with a worldview derived from Hinduism, Buddhism, gnosticism, and other ancient non-Christian religions or philosophies.
Though New Age has some of its roots in beliefs and groups that emerged in the 19th century, it was toward the end of the 20th century-the end of the second millennium and the beginning of a new one – that it became widespread and gained many adherents.
New Age is a humanly attractive expression of millenarism. Contrary to what some Adventist groups envision for the end of the millennium or age – a catastrophe in which only the members of their group will survive or be saved-New Age predicts a golden era for all humankind. New Age believes in the imminent beginning of a qualitatively different and better world than this one, an era of peace, love, and prosperity following the present situation of social dysfunction, conflict, and chaos. Nevertheless, New Age, though attractive, also has ambiguous, questionable, and even objectionable aspects,
Persons who are into New Age (whom we shall also call “New Agers”) often believe in the prediction that an “Age of Aquarius” dominated by true science and worldwide humanism would succeed the “Age of Pisces,” the violent era considered to have been engendered by Christianity. This belief is based on several suppositions. One supposition is that the spring equinox (March 21) regresses by one sign of the zodiac once in about every 2,100 years, passing toward the end of the 20th century s that since Christianity is symbolized by a fish (icthys) (acronym for the Greek words for Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior), the sign of Pisces is identified with Christianity.
New Age groups tend to be gnostic. Gnostics emphasize knowledge or enlightenment that is esoteric (in the sense of being available only to the initiated), for attaining salvation, well-being, or integrity. The belief and practice of New Age groups incorporate in varying degrees and combinations archaic beliefs and occult practices coming from Asian, African, Native American, and other mythical, religious, philosophical and magical on-gins. These beliefs and practices include karmic retribution, reincarnation, psychic powers, nature lore, and at times, even witchcraft. In particular New Age groups, elements of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sufism, kabbalah, pantheism, spiritism, and numerology may be prominent.
Characteristic concerns of New Age include ecology, planetary healing, holistic health, self-improvement, and the rights of women, minorities, and animals. New Age groups tend to favor non-conventional or “alternative” health care modalities, such as acupuncture, biofeedback, herbal medicine, hypnosis, massage, pranic healing, organic gardening, vegetarianism, therapy with crystals, colors and aromas, and so forth. New Age groups are often fond of psychological typing of persons through such tools as astrology and the enneagram. This is not to say that anyone who has these concerns or favors these ideas or practices is a New Ager. It is nevertheless true that New Agers tend to be interested in or to promote various combinations of these concerns, these ideas or practices.
There is taking place an increasingly widespread commercialization of New Age teachings and practices, aided by the rapid advances in communication and marketing techniques. Very noticeable is the multiplication of bookstores, specialty shops, courses and workshops, films, television programs, and even “spiritual retreats” that promote the ideas, values, and practices of New Age.
(02) Why is it important for Filipino Catholic Christians to know about New Age?
It is important for Filipino Catholic Christians to know about New Age because in the Philippines, New Age groups are emerging as a serious challenge to Christianity, especially but not only among the middle class and the wealthy. Some New Age groups are especially dangerous because they are deceiving, undermining Christianity from within by using apparently Christian symbols and vocabulary (such as “God” and “Christ”), but with non-Christian and even anti-Christian content and meaning. This is in contrast to belief systems such as Hinduism and Buddhism that from their vocabulary are immediately clearly seen as contrary to and distinct from Christianity.
The problem posed to Catholic Christian faith by New Age is not trivial. In some traditionally Catholic Christian countries very large proportions of the population hold some New Age beliefs incompatible with Christian faith. For example, with regard to belief in reincarnation “among the population, statistics show 24% in Spain as of 1995, and 19% in Italy as of 1998. In the Philippines, anecdotal evidence shows an increased prevalence of belief in reincarnation at least among the wealthy and the middle class.
Just as serious a problem in a country like the Philippines, which needs radical societal transformation according to the standards of social justice, is the fact that New Age groups tend to offer their adepts and neophytes a “soft transcendence.” By the latter is meant a state of psychological calmness or sense of fulfillment or exaltation, without the need for profound moral conversion and serious effort to transform interpersonal, social, and environmental reality for the better. In this way some New Age groups are becoming the new “opium of the people.” (In contrast, in its most authentic and best developed forms, Christianity proposes a “hard transcendence,” a challenging way of life, requiring radical moral conversion to God and sustained effort to transform intrapersonal, interpersonal, social and environmental reality according to God’s life-giving and liberating purposes.)
(03) What sociological and historical factors have led to the emergence and spread of New Age?
From the viewpoint of sociology and history, the emergence and rapid spread of New Age is largely due to four factors: the rapid process of globalization in all fields of human activity, the aggressive commercialization of all aspects of human life, the banishment of faith from the horizon of human knowledge, and the human person’s thirst for a transcendence that would give meaning to life.
The rapid process of globalization in all fields of human activity. Thanks to remarkable computer and communications systems, more and more human beings have immediate contact with ideas and lifestyles previously unknown to them, including the ideas of New Age and the lifestyles of New Agers. The contacts and choices of more and more human beings are almost infinitely multiplied. The certitudes and values of one’s own culture run the risk of being unduly relativized unless this new openness is accompanied by a discernment solidly based on faith and rigorous logic.
The aggressive commercialization of all aspects of human life. The mass media’s power to create fashions and impose lifestyles makes the Filipino home and society, both traditionally based on human and spiritual principles rooted in Christianity, very vulnerable to the loss of Christian belief and practice. Everything is quantified. There is a strong tendency to value things or ideas according to their immediate material usefulness: the more immediate the result, the more profitable the system, the more valuable they are considered to be. This attitude has penetrated many human beings’ view of spiritual life, producing a supermarket of religions and spiritual alternatives, with little concern for their veracity or their inner consistency.
The banishment of faith from the horizon of human knowledge. The influence of almost three centuries dominated by different strains of philosophical rationalism, the exaltation of the empirical sciences, and the spread of a positivist mentality that demands proof through sense experience, have managed to relegate religious faith and theology, in the minds and lives of many, to the level of feeling, or at best, to that of personal opinion. What is considered by many to be real, objective, and scientific is only what is verified or produced in the laboratory, or what can be measured by statistics. Many end up considering religion as being a matter of subjective preferences with no essential link to the truth. This being the case, people tend to see all religions and all spiritual paths as equal, and often, as equally irrational and irrelevant.
The human person’s thirst for a transcendence that would give meaning to life. As a reaction to what has been described above, the last thirty years have witnessed an unprecedented worldwide search for some kind of spiritual experience. Both the nations that endured long years of materialistic and militantly atheist Marxist socialism, and the democratic nations who were prisoners of a selfish pursuit of individual well-being, have witnessed yet another renewal of the human person’s thirst for transcendence. But because of the doctrinal and moral confusion of our time, as well as the increasing disenchantment with traditional forms of religion, an immediate result of this religious awakening has been the proliferation of sects, the defection to nature worship and magic, the popularity of Eastern spirituality’ and the tendency to take refuge in personalistic, individual religion.
(04) Is New Age a specific religious organization, such as a church or a sect, or is it more of a movements?
New Age is not a specific religious organization, such as a church or a sect. It is a way of seeing, thinking, and acting that many people and organizations have adopted to change the world according to certain beliefs they hold in common within their group. But it has no single head, no single set of established doctrines, no single set of practices, and no single code of common rules of discipline. Nevertheless there is a great deal of commonality and overlapping in terms of doctrines, practices, and rules of discipline among the individuals and the various groups considered to be New Age, so that it is correct to consider New Age to be a movement.
(5) Then why may New Age be considered to be one of the “new religious movements”?
New Age may be considered to be one of the “new religious movements” because. it is a relatively new movement that addresses themes and concerns common to Christianity and other religions. These themes and concerns include: God, creation, life, spiritual experience, the meaning of our existence, and so forth New Age takes different aspects from many religions, and also from the sciences and literature, and mixes them with a certain originality to propose often-fantastic answers to the most important questions of human life, questions that are basically religious ones. Sometimes it even uses Christian language to express ideas which are very contrary to Christianity.
(06) What kinds of people have been attracted to New Age?
Practically all types of people have been attracted to New Age. Their leaders and thinkers tend to be people from the “counterculture revolution” of the 60s and 70s who rejected traditional religious values and customs for the sake of libertinism, the drug culture, “free love,” and experiments with utopian communes. Today these ideas are so widespread that a great many people share them without formally and visibly rejecting their own culture, lifestyle, and their formal religious affiliation. For example, these people could still think of themselves as being Catholic Christians, while holding New Age doctrines and carrying out New Age practices actually incompatible with Christianity.
(07) What are some of the principal beliefs held by most New Age groups?
The spirit of individualism and relativism is typical of New Age. This enables each New Ager to formulate their own religious, philosophical, land moral truth. But there are certain common beliefs shared by a majority of New Agers.
a. The earth is about to enter a period of world peace and harmony, designated by astrology as the “Age of Aquarius.“
b. The “Age of Aquarius” will be the result of a new consciousness in all men and women. New Age therapies and techniques try to create this awareness and accelerate the coming of the “Age of Aquarius.”
c. Through this new consciousness men and women will become aware of their supernatural powers and realize that there is no God outside their own selves.
d. Each person, then, is to create his or her own truth. There is no good or evil as such. Every experience is another step towards a fuller awareness of one’s own divinity.
e. The universe is one living being evolving towards complete self-awareness. Humankind is a manifestation of its self-awareness.
f. Nature also forms part of the one cosmic being, therefore it shares in its divinity. Everything is “god,” or at least, “god” is in everything.
g. All religions are equal and basically say the same thing.
There are invisible “teachers,” sometimes called “ascended masters,” that communicate with people who have already achieved the new consciousness and teach them the secrets of the cosmos.
Every human has many lives and continues to reincarnate again and again until he or she achieves the new consciousness and dissolves into the cosmic divine force.
(08) What kind of arguments do New Agers put forward in the effort to prove that their beliefs are correct?
To prove that their more controversial beliefs are correct, New Agers usually rely on the anecdotal testimonies of personal subjective experiences, which are as difficult to verify as they are to disprove. Sometimes they base their opinions on myths or legends from ancient people’s traditions, such as the legends of Atlantis and Lemuria.
New Agers sometimes take information from science and apply it, often erroneously, to humankind’s spiritual life. One such error is the scientifically unacceptable misuse of analogies from physics to support New Age philosophical claims. For example, some New Agers attach much importance to the fact that the mathematical “wave function” that governs the behavior of particles of matter collapses when physicists use their devices to measure this behavior. These New Agers claim that the latter proves the nondistinction between the observer and the phenomenon being observed, as well as between subject and object, between matter and energy, between the divine and the nondivine (in line with the doctrine of advaita or nonduality, borrowed by many New Agers from Hinduism). This supposed condition of nonduality allows them to say that “all is one, all is energy, all is God,” and even “I am God.”
(09) What place is there in New Age for the God who is revealed to us in Jesus Christ?
There is no place in most New Age groups for the God who is revealed to us in Jesus Christ.
The God of the Catholic Christian faith is a Divine Trinity of One God in three Persons-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–while the “god” of most New Age groups is a nameless, impersonal force.
The God of the Catholic Christian faith is the Creator of all things, but God is distinct from any created thing. The “god” of most New Age groups is the universe that, through human beings and possibly other intelligent creatures, is gradually becoming aware of the oneness of all things.
The God of the Catholic Christian faith is infinitely superior to human beings, but lovingly communicates with them to enter into friendship with them. The God of the Catholic Christian faith fulfills each man or woman according to their response to that love. The “god” of most New Age groups is man or woman himself or herself who is beyond good and evil, since they sets standards of good and evil for themselves without reference to a superior being. In most New Age groups, the highest love, in effect, is love of self.
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PRIMER ON NEW AGE