On February 3, 2003, the Vatican issued a remarkable document to denounce the damaging effects of the New Age. This 90-page document of the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, called “Jesus Christ, the bearer of the water of life — A Christian reflection on the “New Age”, explains in detail how the New Age is opposed to the Catholic Faith, and why it cannot be accepted by anyone who wants to remain faithful to Christ and His Church. Here are large excerpts from this enlightening document; the subtitles are from the “Michael” Journal:
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 spread first 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...
It is characterized by a progressive rejection of a personal God for other entities (so-called “mediums”, or evil spirits) which would often figure as intermediaries between God and humanity...
If New Age has found a remarkable level of acceptance, it is because... the ground was well prepared by the growth and spread of relativism, along with an antipathy or indifference towards the Christian faith.
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 (opposed to the Christian doctrine).
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.
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. 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.
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, medieval alchemy, Renaissance hermeticism, Zen Buddhism, Yoga, and so on.
Here is what is “new” about New Age. It is a “syncretism of esoteric and secular elements”. They link into a widely-held perception that the time is ripe for a fundamental change in individuals, in society and in the world.
The rejection of modernity underlying this desire for change (paradigm shift) 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.”
In these contexts, the term “paradigm shift” is often used. This notion 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.” 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.
What is actually taking place is a new vision of the world, 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... New Age 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”. But these were merely the tip of an iceberg whose dimensions have become clearer only relatively recently.
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 (evil spirit, or demon) 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...
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.
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 ourselves 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.
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. 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, which moved from body to body in a cycle of suffering, 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... This post-Christian approach to eschatology is said to dispense with the notion of hell... People have access to their former lives through dreams and meditation techniques.
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 difference between Creator and creation, the distinction between man and nature, or spirit and matter. (In other words, for the New Age, there is no distinction between God and man, man is his own god, his own Creator.)
There is the temptation to overcome not only undue division, but even any real difference and distinction... at the risk of submitting to a global network which assumes quasi-transcendental authority. For New Agers, 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 (the Greek goddess Gaia), 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.
The essential matrix (origin) 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 vision of the world, 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... 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 programme of initiation.
This form of esotericism... 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:
“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. For theosophists, 'science' meant the occult sciences...
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. 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.
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 the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung, offers a contemplative journey where science meets mysticism...
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.
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.
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. 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. (For New Agers, human beings have no more value than animals, which in practice have more rights than humans!)
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...
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 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 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”. 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.
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...” There is much evidence that gnostic elitism and global governance coincide on many issues in international politics.
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.
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.
Here is a key point of contrast between New Age and Christianity: 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.
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 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.
Christ or Aquarius? 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).