In our world of today, we can find many "alternative" means of healing and spirituality. We can be tempted to use these methods because of our natural inclination to flee pain and suffering. If only we understood that suffering with Christ also unites us in a profound way with His suffering on the Cross, we would realize that what the "New Age" religions offer us is only a false freedom from suffering. The New Age belief system hits us where we are the most vulnerable, through our personal pride, because we believe that we are able to heal ourselves without the help of God's grace.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that: "All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one's service and have a supernatural power over others — even if this were for the sake of restoring their health — are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion." (2117)
Here are some excerpts taken from a Vatican document on the subject of New Age issued by the Pontifical Council for Culture and Religious Dialogue entitled: "Jesus Christ, Bearer of the Water of Life."
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.
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. 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, or 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.
According to New Age beliefs, 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.
New Age has a marked preference for Eastern or pre-Christian religions, which are reckoned to be uncontaminated by Judaeo-Christian distortions. 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 himself 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 realization of the Christ shows clearly that all human beings are heavenly and divine, and leads them towards this realization.
Basically, the appeal of the New Age has to do with the culturally stimulated interest in the self, its value, capacities and problems. Whereas traditionalized 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.
New Age 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". 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".
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; 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.
Our problem, in a New Age perspective, is our inability to recognize 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.
The more this potential is recognized, the more it is realized, and in this sense the New Age has its own idea of theosis, becoming divine or, more precisely, recognizing 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".
The Church's one foundation is Jesus Christ. 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." 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.