Bruce Charlton, in another good post, addresses the error of the ‘New Age’ movement in being too spiritually optimistic.
The basic stance of this movement was that modern people had spiritually progressed beyond those of the past; that there had been and was ongoing a transformation and advance in human consciousness – with all kinds of new information, experiences, possibilities.
Having been, as I’ve disclosed before, involved in that New Age movement in my younger and more foolish years, I believe Dr. Charlton is right. There were many books written by people who were active in that movement which were based on that spiritual optimism, and on some theory that mankind was ”evolving” spiritually, growing closer and closer to pure spirituality, destined to be ‘gods’ one day. Just a look at the headlines and a glance at the ever-darker world around us gives the lie to that belief, but the smug new-age believers refuse to take reality into account. Their belief system is based on naive wishful thinking.
That idea of ‘spiritual evolution’, with humankind growing ever more wise and spiritual with each generation does seem to lead towards the belief, held by many Western people, that we are all ‘better’ than our ancestors, because after all, our ancestors were ape-like creatures, or, if you want to go back to the supposed beginning, they were amoebae or something, having hatched out of a ‘primordial soup.’ Even most ‘Christians’ believe in evolution, or as one non-believer said, ‘Darwin’s conjecture.’
The idea that each generation of humans is more advanced and more wise than their forebears is very common among those of the younger generations who are so vocal in their contempt for their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. In my lifetime I’ve never seen so much vitriol directed at one’s elders. It seems to be growing. Where does this idea of the superiority of the younger generations come from?
Does this belief come from the New Age system? Some might be skeptical, thinking that the New Age beliefs aren’t so widespread as to be very influential. However, many people who don’t identify as ‘New Age’ followers do in fact hold many of the cardinal beliefs of New Agers, such as reincarnation, ”karma”, and a belief that we can ‘create our own reality’ by our thoughts, or bring misfortune on ourselves by wrong thinking. The idea that we can will ourselves to be whatever we choose is popular.
A Pew Research study from 2018 showed that New Age beliefs are very common in American society; in fact, people who do not hold those beliefs are exceptions to the rule.
“New Age beliefs are held by members of all groups. Even 32 percent of Sunday Stalwarts believe psychics are genuine. Approximately 42 percent of Americans hold the belief that physical objects possess spiritual energy. It is an opinion of a few scholars that society is not becoming more secular, but the traditional religions have conceded their ground to new varieties of spirituality which supplant but does not replace visiting the church.”
In other words, in those church pews on Sunday morning, there are people who identify as Christians but who hold to New Age beliefs, and those ideas have their origin in a combination of Eastern religions of all sorts, ”Native American” practices, and a sort of cobbled-together neo-paganism. And let’s not forget good old pop psychology, which is in itself a kind of religion in America, and one with a pernicious influence, removing morality from the picture altogether, if taken to its logical conclusion.
So it can hardly be said that American Christians, especially the younger ones, are free of any New Age influence. Sadly as observers have written about the Pew Study results, the Christian church leadership have fallen in with the New Age beliefs, attempting to ‘baptize’ them by incorporating and re-labeling them. For Christians this compromising is not allowable — but for many Americans, returning to the ‘Old Paths’ is not even worth considering, seeing as how most Americans seem to have rejected anything to do with the past. Tradition is not to be honored — unless it’s somebody else’s exotic traditions. The younger generations don’t quote the wisdom of our elders (dead old White guys, after all) but they love to quote Gandhi or Rumi or Thich Nhat Hanh.
We in the Western world have our traditional faith, the one which was at the heart of European society, and the faith which our colonist forefathers practiced; we were at our peak when we held to the faith of our fathers. And yet that faith has been discarded, in spirit if not in fact, by many of us.
As to the errors of the New Age movement, along with the absurd belief that mankind is progressing, there is the glaring error of believing that evil does not actually exist; the belief that mankind is essentially good, not flawed, not ‘fallen’ as Biblical Christianity tells us. Evil is only an ‘illusion’, it’s only apparent. Good and evil are relative, or they are two sides of one coin. There are many contradictory ideas among New Agers (including Christian New Agers); they will say that evil is just ‘maya’ or illusion, but on the other hand we all have a ‘shadow side’, which causes us to do bad things, and we have to embrace our ‘shadow’ side and not reject it.
And yes, much of the New Age movement, like the rest of Western society, tends toward hedonism, libertinism, and materialism — or let’s just say, more bluntly, lust and especially greed. Many New Age ‘celebrities’ charge exorbitant fees for their public appearances or ‘seminars’; many of the best-known have lavish lifestyles while they extol someone like Mohandas Gandhi who supposedly owned nothing except a pair of sandals, a bowl, and a loincloth.
The New Age movement panders to the worst side of modern Western society; it’s become popular in part because in our age of ”diversity” worship, people want to feel good by embracing exotic practices and rituals. It would be an easy path from where the Christian church is now to a ‘One-World’ faith, some syncretistic blend of various exotic religions. Remember ‘Chrislam’, that supposed blend of Islam and Christianity? It appears Rick Warren, he who started the ‘Purpose-Driven’ craze, is involved in that Chrislam hybrid.
We are in an age which is desperately in need of a spiritual awakening and a return to the Old Paths — but it seems our society as a whole, and our folk, are going in the opposite direction. Increasingly it seems that the answer is not more of the same. Christians know what the answer is — or do we?