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PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR CULTURE PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE — PRESENTATIONS OF HOLY SEE’S DOCUMENT ON “NEW AGE” — JESUS CHRIST THE BEARER OF THE WATER OF LIFE

PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR CULTURE PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE —  PRESENTATIONS OF HOLY SEE’S DOCUMENT ON “NEW AGE” — JESUS CHRIST THE BEARER OF THE WATER OF LIFE
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PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR CULTURE PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE — PRESENTATIONS OF HOLY SEE’S DOCUMENT ON “NEW AGE”

INTERVENTION BY H.EM. CARD. PAUL POUPARD
INTERVENTION BY H.E. MSGR. MICHAEL LOUIS FITZGERALD

 

INTERVENTION BY H.EM. CARD. PAUL POUPARD

 

1. Much has already been said about the New Age Move­ment, and much more will be said. I had asked the spe­cial­ist, Jean Ver­nette, to ded­i­cate a sub­head­ing to “Move­ments of the New Age” in the third edi­tion of my Ital­ian work, Grande Dizionario delle Reli­gioni (The Com­pre­hen­sive Dic­tio­nary of Reli­gions), which describes them in the fol­low­ing words: “The New Age Move­ments, like a huge run­ning riv­er with its numer­ous off shoots, rep­re­sent a typ­i­cal form of the mod­ern reli­gious aware­ness as a new reli­gios­i­ty that assumes many traits of the “Eter­nal Gno­sis’ ” (Piemme, 2000, p. 1497–1498). Recent­ly an Ital­ian jour­nal on reli­gious cul­ture enti­tled: Reli­gioni e sette nel mon­do (Reli­gions and Sects in the World, 1996, 1–2) pub­lished three times a year, devot­ed two spe­cial issues to the New Age Move­ment. In my edi­to­r­i­al col­umn, I pre­sent­ed this phe­nom­e­non in this way: “The phe­nom­e­non of the New Age Move­ment, togeth­er with oth­er new reli­gious move­ments, is one of the most press­ing chal­lenges to the Chris­t­ian Faith. It is a reli­gious chal­lenge, which is at the same time a cul­tur­al one; the New Age Move­ment sets forth the­o­ries and doc­trines about God, man and the world, which are incom­pat­i­ble with the Chris­t­ian Faith.

Fur­ther­more, the New Age Move­ment is both the symp­tom of a cul­ture in deep cri­sis and the wrong answer to this sit­u­a­tion of cul­tur­al cri­sis, its wor­ries, ques­tions, aspi­ra­tions and hopes” (Reli­gioni e sette nel mon­do; Reli­gions and Sects in the World, 6, 1996, p. 7).

Present doc­u­ment on New Age

Today, togeth­er with Arch­bish­op Fitzger­ald, I have the hon­our of pre­sent­ing a Doc­u­ment on the phe­nom­e­non, which was draft­ed by Rev. Peter Fleet­wood, at that time an offi­cial of the Pon­tif­i­cal Coun­cil for Cul­ture, and by Dr Tere­sa Osório Gonçalves of the Pon­tif­i­cal Coun­cil for Inter­re­li­gious Dia­logue. It is the fruit, there­fore, of a long and authen­tic col­lab­o­ra­tion between offices [of the Holy See] in order to help pro­vide an answer, with “gen­tle­ness and respect”, as the Apos­tle Peter once rec­om­mend­ed (1 Pt 3,15) to this reli­gious and cul­tur­al challenge.

2. Today, West­ern cul­ture, now fol­lowed by many oth­ers, has passed from an almost instinc­tive aware­ness of God’s pres­ence to what is often called a more “sci­en­tif­ic” view of real­i­ty. Every­thing must be explained in terms of our dai­ly expe­ri­ence. What­ev­er makes one think of mir­a­cles imme­di­ate­ly becomes grounds for sus­pi­cion. As a result, all sym­bol­ic actions and objects, known as sacra­men­tals, once part of the dai­ly reli­gious prac­tice of every Catholic, are today far less evi­dent in the reli­gious panora­ma than they once were.

3. The rea­sons for such a change are numer­ous and diverse, but they all come down to the notice­able cul­tur­al shift from tra­di­tion­al forms of reli­gion to more per­son­al and indi­vid­u­al­is­tic expres­sions of what is now being called “spir­i­tu­al­i­ty”. It seems that there are three spe­cif­ic rea­sons at the heart of such a change.

Loss of sense of per­son­al God

The first lies in the feel­ing that tra­di­tion­al reli­gions or insti­tu­tions no longer give what they once claimed they could pro­vide. Some peo­ple in their view of the world are real­ly unable to find any room for believ­ing in a tran­scen­dent, per­son­al God, and the expe­ri­ence for many has dri­ven them to ask whether this God has the pow­er to bring about change in this world, or if He real­ly even exists at all. The dread­ful expe­ri­ences that have con­vulsed the world have made some peo­ple very cyn­i­cal towards reli­gion. I have in mind ter­ri­ble events like the Holo­caust and the reper­cus­sions of the atom­ic bombs dropped on Hiroshi­ma and Nagasa­ki at the end of the Sec­ond World War. I came to real­ize it per­son­al­ly dur­ing the course of my recent vis­it to Nagasa­ki when I had the priv­i­lege of pray­ing (but utter­ly unable to find the words) before a mon­u­ment ded­i­cat­ed to the mem­o­ry of those whose lives were cut short or com­pro­mised for­ev­er on that August day of 1945. Today the threat of a war in the Mid­dle East reminds me of my father’s rem­i­nis­cences as a stretch­er bear­er, dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. The things he told me about the hor­rors of war makes it eas­i­er for me to under­stand the doubts that peo­ple have about God and reli­gion. The bewil­der­ment of so many peo­ple before the suf­fer­ing of the inno­cent, which is also exploit­ed by cer­tain move­ments, explains in part why some believ­ers go over to them.

Neo-pagan reli­gions

4. There is anoth­er rea­son to explain a cer­tain anx­i­ety and a cer­tain rejec­tion of the tra­di­tion­al Church. Let us not for­get that in ancient Europe, pre-Chris­t­ian, pagan reli­gions were very strong, and often, unseem­ly con­flicts took place linked to polit­i­cal change that have been inevitably labelled as Chris­t­ian oppres­sion of ancient reli­gions. One of the most sig­nif­i­cant devel­op­ments in what may rough­ly be called the “spir­i­tu­al” sphere in the last cen­tu­ry was a return to pre-Chris­t­ian forms of reli­gion. The pagan reli­gions have had a con­sid­er­able role in sup­port­ing some of Europe’s most vio­lent and racist ide­olo­gies, thus rein­forc­ing the con­vic­tion accord­ing to which cer­tain nations have an his­toric role of world-wide impor­tance in such a way as to have the right to sub­ject oth­er peo­ples, and that has almost inevitably brought with it a hatred for the Chris­t­ian reli­gion, which is seen as a new arrival on the reli­gious scene. The com­plex series of phe­nom­e­na, known by the term of “neo-pagan” reli­gions, reveal the need felt by some to invent new ways to “counter-attack” Chris­tian­i­ty and return to a more authen­tic form of reli­gion, a reli­gion more close­ly bound to nature and the earth. For this rea­son, one has to rec­og­nize that there is no place for Chris­tian­i­ty in the neo-pagan reli­gions. Like it or not, a strug­gle is tak­ing place to win the hearts and minds of peo­ple in the inter­re­la­tions between Chris­tian­i­ty, ancient, pre-Chris­t­ian reli­gions, and their more recent­ly devel­oped “cousins”.

Rise of East­ern spiritualities

5. The third rea­son, at the ori­gin of the rather wide-spread dis­il­lu­sion­ment with insti­tu­tion­al reli­gion, derives from a grow­ing obses­sion in West­ern cul­ture with Ori­en­tal reli­gions and the paths of wis­dom. When it became eas­i­er to trav­el out­side of their own con­ti­nent, adven­tur­ous Euro­peans began explor­ing places that they had pre­vi­ous­ly known only by con­sult­ing the pages of ancient texts. The lure of the exot­ic put them into a clos­er con­tact with the reli­gions and eso­teric prac­tices of var­i­ous Ori­en­tal cul­tures from Ancient Egypt to India and Tibet. The grow­ing con­vic­tion that there exists a deep-down truth, an essence of truth in the heart of every reli­gious expe­ri­ence has led to the idea that they can and must gath­er the var­i­ous ele­ments from dif­fer­ent reli­gions in order to reach a uni­ver­sal form of reli­gion. Once again, in such an enter­prise there is lit­tle room for insti­tu­tion­al­ized reli­gions, espe­cial­ly for Judaism and Chris­tian­i­ty. That is worth remem­ber­ing the next time you come across a pub­lic adver­tise­ment for Tibetan Bud­dhism or some sort of gath­er­ing with a guru; these are all things you will often have the oppor­tu­ni­ty of see­ing in any Euro­pean cap­i­tal. My con­cern is the fact that many peo­ple, involved in such types of East­ern or “indige­nous” spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, are real­ly not in a posi­tion of being ful­ly aware of the impli­ca­tions behind the first invi­ta­tion to observe these gath­er­ings. Fur­ther­more, it is also worth not­ing the fact that for a long time now one finds a vibrant inter­est for eso­teric reli­gion amongst cer­tain Mason­ic cir­cles that aspire to a uni­ver­sal reli­gion. The Enlight­en­ment used to push the idea that it was unac­cept­able that there be so many con­flicts and that war be waged in the name of reli­gion. On this point I can­not but be in agree­ment. How­ev­er, it would be dis­hon­est to fail to rec­og­nize that a wide-spread anti-reli­gious atti­tude devel­oped from the orig­i­nal con­cern for guar­an­tee­ing the well being of mankind. Even in such a sce­nario it is not uncom­mon that what gets clas­si­fied as a reli­gious con­flict, in real­i­ty is noth­ing more than a con­flict of a polit­i­cal, eco­nom­ic, or social nature.

Age of Aquarius

6. The spir­it of this new uni­ver­sal reli­gion was explained more clear­ly in a very pop­u­lar way in the 1960 musi­cal enti­tled Hair, when it was pro­claimed to the pub­lic of the whole world that “This is the dawn of the Age of Aquar­ius”, an age based upon har­mo­ny, under­stand­ing and love. In astro­log­i­cal terms, the Age of Pisces was iden­ti­fied with the time in which Chris­tian­i­ty ruled; but it appears that this age should come to an end soon in order to make room for the Age of Aquar­ius when Chris­tian­i­ty will lose its influ­ence and leave the way open for a uni­ver­sal, more humane reli­gion. A large part of tra­di­tion­al morals would no longer have any place in the New Age of Aquar­ius. Peo­ple’s way of think­ing should be com­plete­ly changed and there should no longer be the ancient sep­a­ra­tion of male and female. Human beings should be sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly called to take on an androg­y­nous form of life in which each of the two sides of the brain gets used in har­mo­ny at the right time, and they should not be dis­con­nect­ed as they are today.

Dis­tort­ed vision of Christ

7. When we see and hear the expres­sion New Age Move­ment, it is impor­tant to remem­ber that orig­i­nal­ly this referred to the New Age of Aquar­ius. The doc­u­ment that is being pre­sent­ed to you is a response to the need felt by the Bish­ops and faith­ful in var­i­ous parts of the world. These peo­ple have repeat­ed­ly asked for help in under­stand­ing the New Age Move­ment from the moment they became aware of the num­ber of peo­ple involved in such a move­ment in dif­fer­ent ways and at dif­fer­ent lev­els. They have also asked for a guide to bet­ter respond to this already omnipresent phe­nom­e­non. The title itself of the doc­u­ment, from the out­set, makes it clear that the age of Aquar­ius will nev­er be able to offer what Christ can offer. The encounter between Jesus and the Samar­i­tan woman at the well of Sychar (Jn 4,1–42), told in the Gospel of John, is the key text that has guid­ed the reflec­tion dur­ing the draft­ing of the pre­lim­i­nary report on the New Age Move­ment pre­sent­ed to you today. As one can see, the Doc­u­ment is not intend­ed to be a defin­i­tive dec­la­ra­tion on the issue. It is a pas­toral reflec­tion aimed at help­ing Bish­ops, cat­e­chists, and as many as are devot­ed to the dif­fer­ent pro­grammes of for­ma­tion of the Church in order to point out the ori­gins of the New Age Move­ment, so that one may see in what way it influ­ences the lives of Chris­tians and to work out means and active meth­ods to respond to the numer­ous and var­i­ous chal­lenges that the New Age Move­ment pos­es to the Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ty in those parts of the world where it is present. This can also be a chal­lenge for those Chris­tians who are tempt­ed by what the New Age Move­ment is say­ing about Jesus Christ, in order to rec­og­nize that there are many dif­fer­ences between the Cos­mic Christ and the His­tor­i­cal Christ. In the last analy­sis, this Doc­u­ment is anoth­er sign of the Church’s atten­tion towards the world. This is born from the Church’s oblig­a­tion to remain faith­ful to the Good News of the life, death and Res­ur­rec­tion of Jesus, who tru­ly offers liv­ing water to all those who draw near to Him with an open mind and heart.

Col­lab­o­ra­tive prod­uct of dif­fer­ent offices of the Holy See

8. The nature and the impor­tance of the Doc­u­ment will be bet­ter under­stood if I explain to you the way in which it was writ­ten. There is an inter-depart­men­tal study Com­mis­sion that deals with sects and new reli­gious move­ments. The Sec­re­taries of the Pon­tif­i­cal Coun­cils for Cul­ture for Inter­re­li­gious Dia­logue and for Pro­mot­ing Chris­t­ian Uni­ty as well as the Con­gre­ga­tion for the Evan­ge­liza­tion of Peo­ples make up such a Com­mis­sion. In order to pre­pare this Doc­u­ment, the offi­cials of the four afore­men­tioned Vat­i­can offices that were work­ing on the text, were helped by an offi­cial of the Con­gre­ga­tion for the Doc­trine of the Faith. Thus, it is clear that the Holy See saw the project as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to pro­duce a sound, accu­rate Doc­u­ment. A long peri­od of time was nec­es­sary for such a Doc­u­ment to appear. I hope, above all, that this Doc­u­ment inspires reflec­tion among Bish­ops in the Catholic com­mu­ni­ties of every sort. If it is to be replaced by a bet­ter text, and one that has a more defin­i­tive char­ac­ter, it will mean that it has achieved its goal by stim­u­lat­ing all those engaged in pas­toral min­istry and those who work with them in order to reflect upon it in a the­o­log­i­cal manner.

Dif­fer­ence between ide­ol­o­gy and by prod­ucts, clients, devo­tees, disciples

9. The Doc­u­ment encour­ages the read­ers to do their best to under­stand cor­rect­ly the phe­nom­e­non of the New Age Move­ment. That requires an open atti­tude which Arch­bish­op Fitzger­ald will dis­cuss with you lat­er in due detail. But I would like to say that there might be some crit­i­cism on the part of Chris­tians who, going through this Doc­u­ment, notice that some cur­rent forms of spir­i­tu­al­i­ty in which they are engaged come under crit­i­cism. The use of the term New Age to define the phe­nom­e­non is already prob­lem­at­ic. For this rea­son, some peo­ple pre­fer revert­ing to the term the “Next Age”, but with all due respect, I see it only as shift­ing the prob­lem and cov­er­ing it over with hazy ter­mi­nol­o­gy. The fact that the term New Age includes many things indi­cates that not every­one who acquires New Age prod­ucts or main­tains that they are gain­ing a ben­e­fit from a New Age ther­a­py, has embraced the ide­ol­o­gy of the New Age Move­ment. A cer­tain dis­cern­ment, then, is nec­es­sary both for what per­tains to prod­ucts labelled New Age and for what per­tains to those who, to a greater or less­er degree can be con­sid­ered “clients” of the New Age Move­ment. Clients, devo­tees and dis­ci­ples are not the same thing. Hon­esty and integri­ty require that we be very pru­dent and not turn every blade of grass into a bun­dle, by using labels with the great­est of ease.

Basic prob­lem: new age is a false utopia

10. In con­clu­sion, I would sim­ply want to point out that the New Age Move­ment presents itself as a false utopia in order to respond to the human heart’s deep thirst for hap­pi­ness, which is prey to the tragedy of exis­tence and the dis­con­tent­ment of the deep unhap­pi­ness of mod­ern hap­pi­ness. The New Age Move­ment presents itself as a decep­tive response to the most ancient hope of man: the hope of a New Era of peace, har­mo­ny, rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with him­self, oth­ers and nature. This hope, which is as ancient as human­i­ty itself, is an appeal that bursts from the heart of peo­ple espe­cial­ly in times of cri­sis. The small doc­u­ment pre­sent­ed will help one to get a bet­ter under­stand­ing, to dis­cern between things pro­posed and to raise in the Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ty a renewed com­mit­ment to pro­claim Jesus Christ, the Bear­er of Liv­ing Water. I look for­ward to the debate which our doc­u­ment will cer­tain­ly spark; in the mean­time, how­ev­er, I sin­cere­ly thank the whole team of experts, espe­cial­ly Rev. Peter Fleet­wood and Dr Tere­sa Osório Gonçalves, who have worked with ener­gy and dili­gence in order to pro­duce it.

 

INTERVENTION BY H.E. MSGR. MICHAEL LOUIS FITZGERALD

 

One might ask why the Pon­tif­i­cal Coun­cil for Inter­re­li­gious Dia­logue is fol­low­ing the phe­nom­e­non of the “New Age”. We can answer that one rea­son is his­tor­i­cal and anoth­er rea­son is area of respon­si­bil­i­ty. The study of alter­na­tive forms of reli­gios­i­ty has been a respon­si­bil­i­ty shared by sev­er­al offices [of the Holy See] includ­ing our Coun­cil. The col­lab­o­ra­tion that in 1986 led to the doc­u­ment on the Sects or New Reli­gious Move­ments, has con­tin­ued. We are pleased to be able to present anoth­er result of this col­lab­o­ra­tion. With regard to the com­pe­tence of our Coun­cil, the Con­sti­tu­tion Pas­tor Bonus indi­cates that this dicas­t­ery “fos­ters and super­vis­es rela­tions with mem­bers and groups of non-Chris­t­ian reli­gions as well as with those who are in any way endowed with reli­gious feel­ing” (art. 159).

Two forms of dialogue

The doc­u­ment pre­sent­ed today rec­og­nizes that peo­ple who are influ­enced by “New Age” have a true “reli­gious sense”. How­ev­er, it is right to make a dis­tinc­tion when one speaks of dia­logue. One form of dia­logue is what takes place with the mem­bers of the estab­lished reli­gions and includes meet­ing and rec­i­p­ro­cal under­stand­ing, col­lab­o­ra­tion for peace and devel­op­ment, and a dis­cus­sion of com­mon spir­i­tu­al val­ues. Anoth­er form is that of accom­pa­ny­ing the indi­vid­ual in his search. It is a dia­logue between the Gospel and Cul­ture, that includes an appeal for dis­cern­ment. The Chris­t­ian rec­og­nizes the pos­i­tive aspects of his search, but, at the same time, in the light of Christ’s mys­tery, rec­og­nizes the weak­er points. One could speak, with the present study, of a “crit­i­cal dia­logue” (n. 2, p. 15). In the first place the doc­u­ment is addressed to pas­tors, spir­i­tu­al direc­tors, com­mit­ted lay peo­ple and all who accom­pa­ny the per­sons who are search­ing. Among them are Chris­tians who are fas­ci­nat­ed, some­times with­out ful­ly real­iz­ing the fact, by ideas that risk dis­tanc­ing them from the faith and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty of the Gospel.

Spir­i­tu­al­i­ty and doctrine

Two approach­es are sug­gest­ed for a com­par­i­son of the fun­da­men­tal ideas of the “New Age” and the Chris­t­ian faith. The first, con­sid­ered in chap­ter 3, is that of spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. While rec­og­niz­ing the aspects of authen­tic spir­i­tu­al search­ing which are found in the best expres­sions of “New Age” — as a search for har­mo­ny, uni­ty, and an expe­ri­ence of the divine — the text points out the dia­log­i­cal char­ac­ter of the Chris­t­ian life that is found­ed on the eter­nal dia­logue at the heart of the Trin­i­ty and shapes from with­in the con­ver­sa­tion between God and the human crea­ture, giv­ing a new shape to inter­per­son­al relations.

The sec­ond approach, devel­oped in chap­ter 4, is a dia­logue of the doc­tri­nal kind. It is not expressed in the form of an organ­ic doc­tri­nal expla­na­tion — this would require an exam­i­na­tion of the entire Cat­e­chism — but as an enun­ci­a­tion of fun­da­men­tal ques­tions to which the fol­low­ers of the “New Age” and Chris­tians respond dif­fer­ent­ly. In fact, before the many prac­tices linked to the “New Age” the­o­ries, we are invit­ed to use for dis­cern­ment, the lamp of the faith, to redis­cov­er, in com­par­i­son with oth­er pro­pos­als, what is the true alter­na­tive that Christ has brought to humanity.

In a spir­it of dia­logue, the Church looks beyond the cir­cle of her own faith­ful: she looks at all the men and women who desire, in a hum­ble atti­tude of dia­logue, to bear the trea­sure that God has entrust­ed to them. In oth­er words, the liv­ing water that Christ promised the Samar­i­tan woman. This Gospel episode, com­ment­ed on in chap­ter 5 of the doc­u­ment, gives valu­able guid­ance for the atti­tude Chris­tians should adopt toward those who fol­low oth­er ways or who are incon­sis­tent in their choices.

Some peo­ple might won­der if the inter­re­li­gious dia­logue would pre­fer not to rec­og­nize the pos­i­tive val­ue, the “seeds of the Word”, the action of the Spir­it in per­sons of oth­er reli­gious tra­di­tions, and also, in the more gen­uine “New Age” expres­sions. We can say that there is in the Church a pro­found faith in the dia­logue that God car­ries on with every human being and in the final design of sal­va­tion. This con­vic­tion must guide each one of our meet­ings. But one can dia­logue fruit­ful­ly only if our iden­ti­ty is clear. We can­not at the same time believe and not believe in a God who trascends his­to­ry, believe and not believe in Christ, Sav­iour of human­i­ty, believe and not believe in his unique medi­a­tion, etc. It is from our clear Catholic iden­ti­ty, from a liv­ing spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, that we can hold a true encounter. Those who adhere to such dif­fer­ent reli­gions as Hin­duism or Bud­dhism also ask us what is our faith and what is our spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ence. We can­not deny them the light that God has kin­dled in our hearts.

Church avoids any con­cept that is close to those of the New Age

I add one point, which is briefly treat­ed in chap­ter 6.2. In the rela­tion­ship with oth­er reli­gions, the Church avoids all that could give cred­i­bil­i­ty to some con­cepts that are also present in the thought of “New Age”: the the­sis of the uni­ty of reli­gions, the con­vic­tion that all ways are equal, the eval­u­a­tion of the pre-Chris­t­ian reli­gions as more gen­uine. Even the idea that man can cre­ate a reli­gion, like a skilled work­man or a chemist. Dia­logue is not fog, it can­not get rid of the dif­fer­ences. Dia­logue should take place in con­for­mi­ty with the Chris­t­ian faith and our con­ver­sa­tion-part­ners must know what it is that we believe.

Pas­toral Issues

The whole of Chap­ter 6 is ded­i­cat­ed to pas­toral issues. This study is intend­ed as a means of exchange with the local Church­es and with the cen­tres for for­ma­tion and cul­ture in order to know bet­ter the reli­gious scene and seek new ways of dia­logue and wit­ness. It is at the local lev­el that one can study and give use­ful respons­es to those who are search­ing. This is not only a duty of pas­tors but of all who are active­ly involved in the mis­sion of the Church.

The appen­dix con­tains use­ful mate­r­i­al for any­one study­ing the “New Age” phe­nom­e­non: a list of pas­toral doc­u­ments on the theme, fur­ther stud­ies of dia­logue with Chris­tian­i­ty, and works of a gen­er­al char­ac­ter. I also call atten­tion to the glos­sary: cer­tain con­cepts have been picked, which are not only used in recent “New Age” works, but also as the title of more ancient cur­rents of thought that are at the root of the fun­da­men­tal ideas of this cur­rent. Although they are briefly sum­ma­rized, they offer ideas for research and help us under­stand the cul­tur­al den­si­ty of the phenomenon.

In his Let­ter Novo Mil­len­nio ine­unte, Pope John Paul II address­es a press­ing invi­ta­tion to us to base our life and our action on con­tem­pla­tion of the face of Christ. Echo­ing this invi­ta­tion, this study says: “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 full­ness of life for every man and woman who is pre­pared to respond to His love” (p. 12).

PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR CULTURE PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE — DOCUMENT: “JESUS CHRIST THE BEARER OF THE WATER OF LIFE” — A Christian reflection on the “New Age”

 

 

The Holy See — PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR CULTURE / PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE

 

JESUS CHRIST THE BEARER OF THE WATER OF LIFE

 

A Christian reflection on the “New Age”

 
 
 
TABLE OF CONTENTS
 
Fore­word
 
1. What sort of reflection
 
1.1. Why now?
1.2. Com­mu­ni­ca­tions
1.3. Cul­tur­al background
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 offer?
2.2.1. Enchant­ment: There Must be an Angel
2.2.2. Har­mo­ny and Under­stand­ing: Good Vibrations
2.2.3. Health: Gold­en Living
2.2.4. Whole­ness: A Mag­i­cal Mys­tery Tour
 
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 Age 
2.3.4. What does New Age say about…
2.3.4.1. …the human person?
2.3.4.2. …God?
2.3.4.3. …the world?
 
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
3.2. Spir­i­tu­al narcissism?
3.3. The Cos­mic Christ
3.4. Chris­t­ian mys­ti­cism and New Age mysticism
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 needed
6.2. Prac­ti­cal steps
 
7. Appen­dix 
 
7.1. Some brief for­mu­la­tions of New Age ideas
7.2. A select glossary 
7.3. Key New Age places
 
8. Resources 
 
8.1. Doc­u­ments of the Catholic Church’s Magisterium
8.2. Chris­t­ian studies
 
9. Gen­er­al bibliography 
 
9.1. Some New Age books
9.2. His­tor­i­cal, descrip­tive and ana­lyt­i­cal works 
 
NOTES
 
 
 

FOREWORD

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’ 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 ful­ness. 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)

1.2. Com­mu­ni­ca­tions

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 New Age.

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 Faith

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 be

come 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 love.

2. NEW 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 things:

– 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 spirituality.

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 issues.

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 New Age.

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 shift:

– 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 think­ing);
– from a dom­i­nance of mas­culin­i­ty and patri­archy to a cel­e­bra­tion of fem­i­nin­i­ty, in indi­vid­u­als and in society.

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 to offer?

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 experience.

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 backgrounds.(24)

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 glob­al “net­work­ing”.

2.3. The fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples of New Age thinking

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 reli­gious traditions”.(29)

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 pro­gram of initiation.

19th cen­tu­ry 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 aims:

1. “To form a nucle­us of the Uni­ver­sal Broth­er­hood of Human­i­ty, with­out dis­tinc­tion of race, creed, caste or colour.
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 unconscious.

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 cosmos.

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 Age

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 organ­ic whole
– 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 beyond death
– there is held to be a “peren­ni­al knowl­edge” which pre-dates and is supe­ri­or to all reli­gions and cul­tures
– peo­ple fol­low enlight­ened masters…

2.3.4. What does New Age say about…

2.3.4.1. …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 becom­ing divine.

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 death.

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.

2.3.4.2. …God?

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”.

2.3.4.3. …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 politics.

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 of life”.(44)

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 vision.

– 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.

3 NEW 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 reality.(54)

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 every­thing invis­i­ble,
Thrones, Dom­i­na­tions, Sov­er­eign­ties, Pow­ers–
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 every way;
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: 15–20).

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 us.

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 Age mysticism

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 full­ness 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 spir­i­tu­al ‘aris­toc­ra­cy’.

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 women.

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.

4 NEW 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.

This 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 unap­prochable 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”.(67)God 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.

* Is 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 eso­teric essence.(68)

In 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. 

The 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.(73)This 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 nature.(74)

For 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? 

New Age truth is 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. 

Jesus 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 require­ments which are part of an objec­tive real­i­ty ulti­mate­ly know­able by all. 

* Prayer 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”.(75)

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. 

In 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”.(79)Sin 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…(80)Sin 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. 

Both 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 Christianity. 

Where 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. 

Chris­tians 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”.(84)We 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. 

1Helen Bergin o.p., “Liv­ing One’s Truth”, in The Fur­row, Jan­u­ary 2000, p. 12. 

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 the rest. 

6 POINTS TO NOTE

6.1. 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. 

Fusion 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. 

Cre­ate 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. 

Pas­toral resources. In 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 sen­siv­i­ty 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)

6.2. Prac­ti­cal steps 

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. 

*The 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. 

*Quite 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. 

*Some 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 ™ 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. 

*Chris­t­ian 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)

*The 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 Chris­t­ian message. 

*Per­haps 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 APPENDIX

7.1. Some brief for­mu­la­tions of New Age ideas 

William Bloom’s 1992 for­mu­la­tion of New Age quot­ed in Hee­las, p. 225f.: 

*All life – all exis­tence – is the man­i­fes­ta­tion of Spir­it, of the Unknow­able, of that supreme con­scious­ness known by many dif­fer­ent names in many dif­fer­ent cultures. 

*The pur­pose and dynam­ic of all exis­tence is to bring Love, Wis­dom, Enlight­en­ment… into full manifestation. 

*All reli­gions are the expres­sion of this same inner reality. 

*All 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. 

*Sim­i­lar­ly, human beings are twofold crea­tures – with: (i) an out­er tem­po­rary per­son­al­i­ty; and (ii) a mul­ti-dimen­sion­al inner being (soul or high­er self). 

*The out­er per­son­al­i­ty is lim­it­ed and tends towards love. 

*The pur­pose of the incar­na­tion of the inner being is to bring the vibra­tions of the out­er per­son­al­i­ty into a res­o­nance of love. 

*All souls in incar­na­tion are free to choose their own spir­i­tu­al path. 

*Our 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. 

*All 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. 

*Although held in the dynam­ic of cos­mic love, we are joint­ly respon­si­ble for the state of our selves, of our envi­ron­ment and of all life. 

*Dur­ing 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. 

*This 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 plan­e­tary culture. 

Hee­las (p. 226) Jere­my Tarcher’s “com­ple­men­tary formulation”. 

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 nature. 

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: 

*holis­tic (glob­al­is­ing, because there is one sin­gle reality-energy); 

*eco­log­i­cal (earth-Gaia is our moth­er; each of us is a neu­rone of earth­’s cen­tral ner­vous system); 

*androg­y­nous (rain­bow and Yin/Yang are both NA sym­bols, to do with the com­ple­men­tar­i­ty of con­traries, esp. mas­cu­line and feminine); 

*mys­ti­cal (find­ing the sacred in every thing, the most ordi­nary things); 

*plan­e­tary (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 conduct. 

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 realities. 

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 life”.(99)

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 gnosticism. 

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 Theo­soph­i­cal Society. 

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. 

Mys­ti­cism: New 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)

New 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 New Age. 

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 theism. 

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 hypothesis. 

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 aore­as 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 inter­pre­ta­tions of 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 cen­tres of 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 Monte Verità. 

8 RESOURCES

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 reincarnation). 

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 Evan­ge­lización, 1993. 

Irish The­o­log­i­cal Com­mis­sion, A New Age of the Spir­it? A Catholic Response to the New Age Phe­nom­e­non, Dublin 1994. 

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) 1995. 

Chris­t­ian studies 

Raúl Berzosa Mar­tinez, Nue­va Era y Cris­tian­is­mo. Entre el diál­o­go y la rup­tura, Madrid (BAC) 1995. 

André Fortin, Les Galeries du Nou­v­el Age: un chré­tien s’y promène, Ottawa (Novalis) 1993. 

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) 1992. 

John Sal­i­ba, Chris­t­ian Respons­es to the New Age Move­ment. A Crit­i­cal Assess­ment, Lon­don (Chap­man) 1999. 

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. 

David Toolan, 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. 

Fritjof Capra, 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. 

Ben­jamin Creme, The Reap­pear­ance of Christ and the Mas­ters of Wis­dom,
Lon­don (Tara Press) 1979. 

Mar­i­lyn Fer­gu­son, The Aquar­i­an Con­spir­a­cy. Per­son­al and Social Trans­for­ma­tion in Our Time, Los Ange­les (Tarcher) 1980. 

Chris Griscom, Ecsta­sy is a New Fre­quen­cy: Teach­ings of the Light Insti­tute, New York (Simon & Schus­ter) 1987. 

Thomas Kuhn, The Struc­ture of Sci­en­tif­ic Rev­o­lu­tions, Chica­go (Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go Press) 1970. 

David Span­gler, The New Age Vision, For­res (Find­horn Pub­li­ca­tions) 1980. 

David Span­gler, Rev­e­la­tion: The Birth of a New Age, San Fran­cis­co (Rain­bow Bridge) 1976. 

David Span­gler, Towards a Plan­e­tary Vision, For­res (Find­horn Pub­li­ca­tions) 1977. 

David Span­gler, The New Age, Issaquah (The Morn­ing­town Press) 1988. 

David Span­gler, 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. 

Bernard Franck, 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 bibliography. 

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. 

Michel Lacroix, 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. 

Georges Minois, His­toire de l’athéisme, Paris (Fayard) 1998. 

Arild Romarheim, 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 Hill) 1977. 

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. 

Charles Tay­lor, Sources of the Self. The Mak­ing of the Mod­ern Iden­ti­ty, Cam­bridge (Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press) 1989. 

Charles Tay­lor, 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 Devel­op­ment, Paris
(UNESCO) 1995.

M. York, “The New Age Move­ment in Great Britain”, in Syzy­gy. Jour­nal of Alter­na­tive Reli­gion and Cul­ture, 1:2–3 (1992) Stan­ford CA. 

NOTES

(1)Paul Hee­las, The New Age Move­ment. The Cel­e­bra­tion of the Self and the Sacral­iza­tion of Moder­ni­ty, Oxford (Black­well) 1996, p. 137. 

(2)Cf. P. Hee­las, op. cit., p. 164f. 

(3)Cf. P. Hee­las, op. cit., p. 173. 

(4)Cf. John Paul II, Encycli­cal Let­ter Dominum et viv­i­f­i­can­tem (18 May 1986), 53. 

(5)Cf. 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.

(6)John Paul II, Cross­ing the Thresh­old of Hope, (Knopf) 1994, 90. 

(7)Cf. par­tic­u­lar­ly Mas­si­mo Intro­vi­gne, New Age & Next Age, Casale Mon­fer­ra­to (Piemme) 2000. 

(8)M. Intro­vi­gne, op. cit., p. 267. 

(9)Cf. 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. 

(10)Cf. 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. 

(11)Cf. Rod­ney Stark and William Sims Bain­bridge, The Future of Reli­gion. Sec­u­lar­i­sa­tion, Revival and Cult For­ma­tion, Berke­ley (Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia Press) 1985. 

(12)Cf. M. Lacroix, op. cit., p. 8. 

(13)The Swiss “The­olo­gie für Laien” course enti­tled Fasz­i­na­tion Eso­terik puts this clear­ly. Cf. “Kursmappe 1 – New Age und Eso­terik”, text to accom­pa­ny slides, p. 9. 

(14)The 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. 

(15)In 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. 

(16)W.J. Hane­graaff, op. cit., p. 520. 

(17)Irish The­o­log­i­cal Com­mis­sion, A New Age of the Spir­it? A Catholic Response to the New Age Phe­nom­e­non, Dublin 1994, chap­ter 3. 

(18)Cf. The Struc­ture of Sci­en­tif­ic Rev­o­lu­tions, Chica­go (Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go Press), 1970, p. 175. 

(19)Cf. 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. 

(20)It 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 lib­er­a­tion. Aquarius…”. 

(21)P. 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. 370f. 

(22)Cf. Chris Griscom, Ecsta­sy is a New Fre­quen­cy: Teach­ings of the Light Insti­tute, New York (Simon & Schus­ter) 1987, p. 82. 

(23)See the Glos­sary of New Age terms, §7.2 above.

(24)Cf. 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. 

(25)W.J. Hane­graaff, op. cit., pp. 54–55.

(26)Cf. 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.

(27)Michael Fuss, “New Age and Europe – A Chal­lenge for The­ol­o­gy”, in Mis­sion Stud­ies Vol. VIII‑2, 16, 1991, p. 192. 

(28)Ibid., loc. cit. 

(29)Ibid.,p. 193.

(30)Ibid.,p. 199.

(31)Congregation 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. 

(32)W.J. 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., p. 455). 

(33)W.J. Hane­graaff, op. cit., p. 513. 

(34)Thomas 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. 

(35)Cf. W.J. Hane­graaff, op. cit., p. 501f. 

(36)Carl Gus­tav Jung, Wand­lun­gen und Sym­bole der Libido, quot­ed in Hane­graaff, op. cit., p. 503. 

(37)On this point cf. Michel Schooy­ans, L’É­vangile face au désor­dre mon­di­al, with a pref­ace by Car­di­nal Joseph Ratzinger, Paris (Fayard) 1997. 

(38)Quoted 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. 

(39)Michel Lacroix, L’Ide­olo­gia del­la New Age, Milano (il Sag­gia­tore) 1998, p. 84f. 

(40)Cf. the sec­tion on David Span­gler’s ideas in Actu­al­ité des reli­gions nº 8, sep­tem­bre 1999, p. 43. 

(41)M. Fer­gu­son, op. cit., p. 407. 

(42)Ibid.,p. 411.

(43)“To 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. 

(44)Cf. P. Hee­las, op. cit., p. 173f. 

(45)David Span­gler, The New Age, Issaquah (Morn­ing­ton Press) 1988, p. 14. 

(46)P. Hee­las, op. cit., p. 168. 

(47)See 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. 6. 

(48)Cf. 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. 

(49)Cf. Christoph Bochinger, “New Age” und mod­erne Reli­gion: Reli­gion­swis­senschaftliche Unter­suchun­gen, Güter­sloh (Kaiser) 1994, espe­cial­ly chap­ter 3. 

(50)The short­com­ings of tech­niques which are not yet prayer are dis­cussed below in § 3.4, “Chris­t­ian mys­ti­cism and New Age mysticism”. 

(51)Cf. Car­lo Mac­cari, “La ‘mist­i­ca cos­mi­ca’ del New Age”, in Reli­gioni e Sette nel Mon­do 1996/2.

(52)Jean Ver­nette, “L’avven­tu­ra spir­i­tuale dei figli del­l’Ac­quario”, in Reli­gioni e Sette nel Mon­do 1996/2, p. 42f. 

(53)J. Ver­nette, loc. cit. 

(54)Cf. J. Gor­don Melton, New Age Ency­clo­pe­dia, Detroit (Gale Research) 1990, pp. xiii-xiv. 

(55)David Span­gler, The Rebirth of the Sacred, Lon­don (Gate­way Books) 1984, p. 78f. 

(56)David Span­gler, The New Age, op. cit., p. 13f. 

(57)John Paul II, Apos­tolic Let­ter Ter­tio Mil­len­nio Adve­niente (10 Novem­ber 1994), 9. 

(58)Matthew 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. 

(59)Cf. 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. 

(60)Congregation for the Doc­trine of the Faith, Ora­tio­nis For­mas, 23. 

(61)Ibid.,3. See the sec­tions on med­i­ta­tion and con­tem­pla­tive prayer in the Cat­e­chism of the Catholic Church, §§. 2705–2719.

(62)Cf. Con­gre­ga­tion for the Doc­trine of the Faith, Ora­tio­nis For­mas, 13. 

(63)Cf. 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). 

(64)Adrian Smith, God and the Aquar­i­an Age. The new era of the King­dom, Great Wak­er­ing (McCrim­mons) 1990, p. 49. 

(65)Cf. Ben­jamin Creme, The Reap­pear­ance of Christ and the Mas­ters of Wis­dom, Lon­don (Tara Press) 1979, p. 116. 

(66)Cf. Jean Ver­nette, Le New Age, Paris (P.U.F.) 1992 (Col­lec­tion Ency­clopédique Que sais-je?), p. 14. 

(67)Catechism of the Catholic Church, 52. 

(68)Cf. 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. 

(69)The Nicene Creed. 

(70)Michel Lacroix, L’Ide­olo­gia del­la New Age, Milano (Il Sag­gia­tore) 1998, p. 74. 

(71)Ibid., p. 68. 

(72)Edwin Schur, The Aware­ness Trap. Self-Absorp­tion instead of Social Change, New York (McGraw Hill) 1977, p. 68. 

(73)Cf. Cat­e­chism of the Catholic Church, §§ 355–383.

(74)Cf. Paul Hee­las, The New Age Move­ment. The Cel­e­bra­tion of the Self and the Sacral­iza­tion of Moder­ni­ty, Oxford (Black­well) 1996, p. 161. 

(75)A Catholic Response to the New Age Phe­nom­e­non, Irish The­o­log­i­cal Com­mis­sion 1994, chap­ter 3. 

(76)Congregation for the Doc­trine of the Faith, Ora­tio­nis For­mas, 3. 

(77)Ibid.,7.

(78)William Bloom, The New Age. An Anthol­o­gy of Essen­tial Writ­ings, Lon­don (Rid­er) 1991, p. xvi. 

(79)Catechism of the Catholic Church, § 387. 

(80)Ibid., § 1849. 

(81)Ibid., § 1850. 

(82)John Paul II, Apos­tolic Let­ter on human suf­fer­ing “Salv­i­fi­ci doloris” (11 Feb­ru­ary 1984), 19. 

(83)Cf. David Span­gler, The New Age, op. cit., p. 28. 

(84)Cf. 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. 

(85)Cf. R. Rhodes, The Coun­ter­feit Christ of the New Age Move­ment, Grand Rapids (Bak­er) 1990, p. 129. 

(86)Helen Bergin o.p., “Liv­ing One’s Truth”, in The Fur­row, Jan­u­ary 2000, p. 12. 

(87)Ibid.,p. 15.

(88)Cf. P. Hee­las, op. cit., p. 138. 

(89)Elliot 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. 

(90)Cf. John Paul II, Encycli­cal let­ter Fides et Ratio (14 Sep­tem­ber 1998), 36–48.

(91)Cf. John Paul II, Address to the Unit­ed States Bish­ops of Iowa, Kansas, Mis­souri and Nebras­ka on their “Ad Lim­i­na” vis­it, 28 May 1993. 

(92)Cf. John Paul II, Post-Syn­odal Apos­tolic Exhor­ta­tion Eccle­sia in Africa (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). 

(93)Cf. Con­gre­ga­tion for the Doc­trine of the Faith, Ora­tio­nis For­mas, and § 3 above. 

(94)This 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. 

(95)Cf. J. Badewien, Antro­posofia, in H. Walden­fels (ed.) Nuo­vo Dizionario delle Reli­gioni, Cinisel­lo Bal­samo (San Pao­lo) 1993, 41. 

(96)Cf. Raúl Berzosa Mar­tinez, Nue­va Era y Cris­tian­is­mo, Madrid (BAC) 1995, 214. 

(97)Helen Palmer, The Ennea­gram, New York (Harp­er-Row) 1989. 

(98)Cf. doc­u­ment of the Argen­tine Epis­co­pal Com­mit­tee for Cul­ture, op. cit. 

(99)J. Ger­net, in J.-P. Ver­nant et al., Div­ina­tion et Ratio­nal­ité, Paris (Seuil) 1974, p. 55. 

(100)Cf. 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. 

(101)Cf. M. Fuss, op. cit., 198–199.

(102)For 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.

(103)Cf. C. Mac­cari, La “New Age” di fronte alla fede cris­tiana, Leu­mann-Tori­no (LDC) 1994, 168. 

(104)Cf. W.J. Hane­graaff, op. cit., 283–290.

(105)On 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. 

(106)Cf. John Sal­i­ba, Chris­t­ian Respons­es to the New Age Move­ment. A Crit­i­cal Assess­ment, Lon­don, (Geof­frey Chap­man) 1999, p.1.

(107)Cf. M. Fuss, op. cit., 195–196.

  

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