ROBERT J. L. BURROWSRobert J. L. Burrows, who resides in Walnut Creek, California, is editor of publications for Spiritual Counterfeits Projects. He is a graduate of the University of Toronto and Regent College.

A registered nurse applies the techniques of therapeutic touch to her patient, moving her hands above his body, manipulating what she has been taught is a force that envelops all of us. An estimated 15,000 others practice the same technique, taught at more than 50 nursing schools.

To improve the entrepreneurial creativity and intuition of his students, a Stanford business professor coaches them through a guided meditation. He tells them to let go of judgments, obstructing thoughts, past perceptions, whatever keeps them “from tapping that reservoir of magnificence” within them. On the recommended reading list are books about Zen, Yoga, the Tao Te Ching, and I Am That, by Swami Muktananda.

A Christian denomination’s newsletter runs an article that puts these words into God’s mouth: “What I have woven in my eco-wisdom, let no one tear asunder. My energy-garment is threaded with the features of my face. If you keep the garment whole, you will see me; if you tear it, … I will disappear.”

The religious options open to humanity are limited: We can believe in no God and be atheists. We can believe in one God and be theists. Or we can believe that all is God and be pantheists. Of these three, pantheism has been humanity’s major preoccupation throughout history—not because it is “the final stage in a slow process of enlightenment,” but because, as C. S. Lewis observed, “it is the attitude into which the human mind automatically falls when left to itself.” In the absence of revealed religion, humanity gravitates to natural religion, assumes nature is all that is, and deifies it and humanity accordingly.

The nurse, the business professor, and the denominational newsletter represent various facets of a new pantheism that began in earnest during the countercultural 1960s when many American youth turned for inspiration to the varied traditions of Eastern mysticism and Western occultism, the so-called ancient wisdom.

From those traditions the diverse and diffuse phenomena now known as the New Age movement (NAM) emerged. The term New Age suggested itself because of the millenial spirit of many of the traditions—and because of the astrological prediction of the dawn of an Aquarian Age at the close of the century. The counterculture’s size and radical disaffection with the cultural mainstream reinforced the sense that something novel and revolutionary was under way. And that sense of the imminent culmination of humanity’s evolution remains a hallmark of New Age enthusiasm.

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After the sixties, the counterculture sheared its locks, picked up its briefcase, and moved into the cultural main stream. The ancient wisdom made a similar transition, largely shorn of its overt spiritual overtones and assimilated in secularized forms. Theories, therapies, and practices based on the premises of the ancient wisdom have proliferated, and their scope has widened to include every major facet of contemporary culture: science, business, health, education, psychology, religion, politics, the arts, and entertainment.

Cultural Shift

Because of the NAM’s diffuse nature, it is difficult to estimate the number of those aligned with it and even more difficult to assess its influence. Marilyn Ferguson, whose 1980 The Aquarian Conspiracy catapulted her into the New Age limelight, cites a 1978 Gallup poll that indicated 10 million Americans were engaged in some aspect of Eastern mysticism. The Christian film Gods of the New Age arrived at a figure of 60 million by using a similar poll that suggested 23 percent of Americans believe in reincarnation. Though a typical New Age belief, reincarnation is not universally accepted, and those who accept it are not universally New Age. But that figure gives some indication of the cultural shift. Three decades ago, reincarnation would have been as unpronounceable as it was unknown. Add guru, yoga, transcendental meditation, and a host of other words that are now common currency, and you will get some indication of the indirect influence of the consciousness revolution.

The world view of the New Age movement has emerged as a viable contender to secular humanism on the one hand, and the Judeo-Christian tradition on the other. And its influence is far greater than its numbers. What had been restricted before the 1960s to small pockets on the social fringe became a mass and popular movement. What emerged was a multifaceted, multifocused movement that is sociologically analogous in many ways to the evangelical community. The NAM is not tied to any particular organization, has no overarching hierarchical structure, is diverse in both practice and belief, and although it has prominent spokesmen, has no official leadership. What unites it and links it to the traditions that preceded it is a set of common world view assumptions about God or ultimate reality, humanity, and the nature of the human predicament. They can be summarized as follows:

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Ultimate reality. In spite of the teeming diversity of the cosmos, reality is single. Ultimate reality or god is pure undifferentiated energy, consciousness, or life force. It manifests itself in creation as the dynamic interaction of polarities, light/dark, male/female, aggressiveness/passivity, good/evil. Those polarities, however, are not absolute. They are different facets of that single reality that unites all creation. In spite of appearances, all is one.

Humanity. Like the rest of creation, humanity is an extension of god or ultimate reality and shares its nature and essential being. That divine essence is humanity’s true, higher, or real self.

Humanity’s predicament. Because there is no discontinuity between humanity and god, alienation caused by sinful rebellion is not humanity’s fundamental problem.

Metaphysical ignorance is humanity’s snare. That ignorance, the root of all humanity’s woes, is dispelled by experiential knowledge of the One and of humanity’s essential deity. That knowledge is brought about by psycho-spiritual techniques that involve balancing polarities, manipulating energy, and ridding consciousness of the fragmenting effects of reason and the predefining limitations of belief. That is the path to godhood, self-realization, cosmic consciousness, enlightenment, and in our day, New Age transformation.

Star in the New Age

No one is doing more to promote New Age concepts on a popular level than Shirley MacLaine. Through the publication of two recent books, she has propelled herself to the forefront of national attention.

Out on a Limb, published in 1983, relates the beginning of her transformation from an agnostic to a believer in the spirit realm. The book, with almost two million copies in print, details some of her travels and studies in search of knowledge about herself and the unseen world. In the process, a simple meandering becomes a “guided” tour into what she describes as “dimensions of time and space that heretofore, for me, belonged in science fiction or what I would describe as the occult.”

Reincarnation and other spiritual teachings come from two dominant spirit beings by way of a trance medium. That the instruction given is clearly not from the God of the Bible can be seen in the doctrines regarding God and Jesus Christ. God is a Force or Divine Energy, not the personal Creator and Lord.

Jesus, meanwhile, is looked upon as merely a highly evolved human being.

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Dancing in the Light, her second book in this spiritual odyssey, has been on the New York Times Bestseller List since its publication in October 1985. Unfortunately, it is more like “rushing into the darkness.” The journey carries her along into a daily exercise of yoga, the use of crystals for spiritual power, the chanting of Hindu mantras, the use of supernatural powers, and various past-life recall experiences initiated through acupuncture. In Out on a Limb she is told by the spirits that we are all co-creators with God, but in Dancing she has “progressed” in her understanding to see that each individual is God. Her spirit guides inform her, “If everyone was taught one basic spiritual law, your world would be a happier, healthier place. And that law is this: Everyone is God. Everyone.”

MacLaine presents Hindu philosophy and various occult practices in a seductive manner. Drawing readers along with questions that many people ask about life and the hereafter, she feeds them with demonic teaching through her own very palpable experiences.

Those experiences will be further felt by the general public in the autumn of 1986. Tentatively scheduled for November, a two-part, five-hour mini-series based on Out on a Limb will be aired by ABC. This made-for-TV movie is sure to have an impact on millions with more of the same occult, New Age precepts already promoted in MacLaine’s books.

By Michael D. True, assistant to the president, Evangelical School of Theology, Myers-town, Pennsylvania.

The Heart Of The New Age

At the heart of the New Age vision is the conviction that humanity is poised between two ages. The perils of our time are interpreted not as the prelude to apocalyptic disaster, but to evolutionary transformation.

Mapping out the differences between the ages and explaining the dynamic of change between them is a major preoccupation of New Age authors—Fritj of Capra, for example. His The Tao of Physics anticipated a run of titles on the subject of the relationship between Eastern mysticism and the curious world of quantum physics. And in the more recent Green Politics, Capra and coauthor Charlene Spretnak profile West Germany’s Green party, giving its political agenda a New Age interpretation.

In The Turning Point, Capra provides a sometimes-sound critique of Western culture and a description of changes in various fields of knowledge. But the book is at base an argument for the ancient wisdom’s assessment of the human predicament: All human ills stem from an inability to perceive the unity of reality. The vision Capra believes will deliver us seems to thrive in cultures where misery is perpetually rampant and corruption rife.

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That is the key to understanding human history. For Capra, history is not the story of humanity’s fall into sin and its restoration by God’s saving acts. History is the story of humanity’s fall into ignorance and gradual ascent into enlightenment.

Capra links the Old Order and the crises of our time to a paradigm informed by Newtonian physics, rationalism, and the Judeo-Christian tradition. Each, he argues, has contributed to our present crises by failing to see reality as an interrelated whole. Newtonian physics gave us a mechanistic view of the world whose fundamental building blocks were billiard-ball atoms, separate and distinct. Rationalism exalted linear reason, which is by nature unable to grasp reality’s unity. And the Judeo-Christian tradition severs God from creation, desacralizing it and opening it to exploitation.

That is not the only complaint. The fragmenting tendency of Newtonian physics and linear reason is a “masculine” trait that finds expression in the patriarchical character of Judeo-Christian religion. While its male God prevailed, authoritarianism—centralized power and hierarchical social organization—was the result.

What is the remedy? A culture based on a paradigm that sees holistically. Such a paradigm, Capra maintains, has its roots in quantum physics, which views fundamental reality as a seamless web of vibrant, pulsating energy; intuitive means of knowing that grasp the whole directly; and a “feminine” spirituality “based on awareness of the oneness of all living forms and of their cyclical rhythms of birth and death.” This paradigm, Capra argues, will restore creation and heal humanity’s alienation. And with a nurturing goddess as the cultural image of deity, decentralized power and egalitarian social organization will emerge.

Capra’s premise that the mystics’ holistic vision will save us flies in the face of an incontrovertible fact. The vision Capra believes will deliver us seems to thrive in cultures where misery is perpetually rampant and corruption rife. India is a case in point. Christians know that the problem is human perversity, not human perception—holiness, not holism.

Restructuring The Mind

The New Age assessment of the human predicament is the basis for a host of programs targeted for what psychologically ails us.

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Werner Erhard’s est, established in 1971, was one of the first and most successful “self-motivational” packages to appear. Over 300,000 have had the est experience, including such celebrities as Yoko Ono and John Denver.

Erhard had a checkered background that involved serious dabbling in Scientology, Mind Dynamics, and Zen. When he got “it,” he guessed others would want it too. He forcefully delivered a radical version of the mystical vision: Reality is literally make-believe, because belief is what makes it. Whatever an individual experiences is that person’s own creation. As psychologist and business consultant Adelaide Bry says, “Every human being bears the responsibility for ‘sourcing’ his own life. In this way, as source, each one of us is ‘God’.”

Erhard’s carefully crafted seminar is one among a multitude of means to shift consciousness into transformative gear. Drugs, music, chanting, ritual, and guided imagery may all be used. But the most commonly known methods are those inherited from the Eastern mystical traditions: various forms of meditation accompanied by physical, breathing, and relaxation exercises. In their original setting, the religious intent of these practices is clear. They are used to bring about states of consciousness that are identified with ultimate reality in its pure, featureless, unmanifest form. In such states, individual consciousness is ultimate reality, embodying all the wisdom and power of deity.

That premise, however, is not always explicitly stated. That is sometimes intentional, as it was with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who passed Transcendental Meditation off as scientific, emphasizing its ability to reduce stress. The Yogi had good marketing sense, but he could not relinquish his Hindu roots. The TM initiation ceremony, with its invocation of Hindu deities, gave his religious intent away.

New Age adherents generally have no such attachment to Maharishi’s or any other religious tradition. Consequently, the premises of the ancient wisdom have been extracted from their original spiritual context, and the religious trappings have all but disappeared.

The example of the Stanford business professor, cited above, is a case in point. Without the recommended reading list, the world view informing the exercise might go completely unnoticed by the participants. Intuition is operative when the mind is swept clean. That much is stated. What is not stated is that information available in such states, like ultimate truth itself, is not available to ordinary consciousness. The mystical world view supplies the reason: Only when the mind is stilled of all that fragments and divides can reality be apprehended without confusing interference. Only when individual consciousness dissolves into the consciousness of the cosmos is it possible to respond spontaneously and appropriately to the demands of the moment with undistracted precision.

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Heightening personal “wisdom” is one application of “holistic” mental states. Heightening personal power is another. Because ultimate reality is present in undiminished potency, such mental states are believed to have an implicit and extraordinary power. The effects promised span the spectrum from the mundane to the miraculous, from modest improvements in athletics to healing terminal disease.

Frequently in New Age writings, the locus of the mind’s power shifts from states of consciousness to the contents of consciousness. Then mysticism moves down the occult continuum into magic. Will, thought, words, or images—particularly those involved in visualization exercises—are all candidates for magical interpretation. Each can be, and often is believed to have, a latent capacity to produce in reality what it expresses. Kenneth Pelletier, a clinical instructor and research psychologist at the University of California, describes a dramatic application of visualization exercises to health:

“For the treatment, the patient was instructed to relax deeply three times a day while mentally picturing his disease and the treatment. Visualization was central to the process and involved picturing the destruction of cancerous material by the body’s immunological system and disposal of it through the circulatory system. After three months of treatment the patient recovered completely.”

The influence of mental health on physical health cannot be denied. New Age advocates, however, tend to make the mind’s influence absolute.

New Age conceptions about mental states and the mind’s power can be found in every field, from health to sports, from business to education. Beverly Galyean’s Confluent Education is an example. With federal funds, Galyean developed and tested her novel pedagogy in Los Angeles public schools. She openly stated the spiritual bias of her curriculum: “I think the whole purpose of life is to reown the Godlikeness within us; the perfect love, the perfect wisdom, the perfect understanding … The system of confluent education as I work with it is totally dependent on that view.”

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Tuning The Body

Like the mind, the body is considered a receptor and transmitter of cosmic forces and a repository of the good and ill effects of life’s experiences. Because reality is one, consciousness may be used to influence the body, but the body may also have a powerful influence on the mind. Consequently, this key instrument in the quest for self-deification must be carefully tuned. This is the traditional intent of yoga—as well as many diet, exercise, massage, and movement therapies that have co-opted the label holistic from long-standing reform groups within Western medicine. These alternative therapies are often based on a particular perspective on how body, mind, spirit, and the cosmos are related. And that perspective has little to do with science, though it is often passed off as such. It has everything to do with the basic premises of the New Age world view.

A myriad of diagnostic and curative techniques are founded on the premise that reality is one and manifests itself as spiritual energy in the body. Iridology, for example, emphasizing reality’s unity, rests on the false assumption that every aspect of bodily health is expressed in distinctive ways in the iris of the eyes. A similar erroneous conception informs Reflexology. In this case, the foot serves as the window to the body.

Extravagant claims for all kind of illnesses frequently accompany “holistic” health therapies. Sometimes objects are employed whose patterns of energy and vibration supposedly resonate with those of mind and body. An ad for quartz crystals calls the product “a powerful tool for self-awareness, expanded consciousness, growth and healing.” Quartz crystals “assist in amplifying, balancing, harmonizing … physical, mental, and spiritual energies.” Pyramids, colors, and precious gems are used in the same way. The possibilities are endless.


Mediumship is a New Age vogue, although contacting spirits of the dead is not a significant concern. In Western occult and Eastern mystical traditions, the cosmos is frequently seen as a multidimensional reality inhabited by spirits who are considered a source of power, instruction, and guidance.

Some of the New Age movement’s notables have fallen under the sway of mediums professing to be channels of enlightened entities. Ram Dass was wooed by female medium Joya Santanya, who served as a conduit for his former guru. In the late seventies, Esalen, New Age experimental center for the intellectuals on the leading edge, submitted itself to the higher wisdom of the “Nine” who dispensed truths and advice through medium-in-residence Jenny O’Connor. Even hospice pioneer Elisabeth Kubler-Ross could not resist the lure of spiritism.

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It is ironic that those who so loudly trumpeted the message of the divine within ended up seeking counsel from spirits on the outside. (They must have gone inside and found themselves wanting.)

Ram Dass and Esalen have since severed ties with their other-worldly messengers. It seems they were not taken to new heights, but were simply taken in. Such naïveté among people of great intelligence is understandable when the only criterion for discernment is a fuzzy subjectivity.

The connection with the spirit world has yielded a number of writings whose influence extends beyond New Age circles. There is Richard Bach’s spirit-inspired Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Jane Roberts’s Seth Speaks series. The three-volume A Course in Miracles, dictated to Helen Schucman, is more significant because it is more insidious. This hefty work, allegedly communicated by Jesus Christ, sounds deceptively Christian. But it is a rehash of nineteenth-century New Thought. It presents a gnostic world view, where forgiveness comes easily with the knowledge that there is never anything to forgive, where guilt is quickly dismissed with the recognition that the real self is impossible to taint. The course is unfortunately gaining a toehold in some prominent churches.

New Age spiritism, like the spiritualism of the nineteenth century, is fueled in no small degree by a desire for “hard” evidence for immortality. Data on near-death experiences, like those published by Raymond Moody in Life After Life, and widespread belief in reincarnation are also consistent with that tradition. They remove death’s sting, not by pointing to Christ’s substitutionary death and resurrection, but by denying death’s reality and ruling out the possibility of divine judgment. As one New Age author says: “Death is the Great Teacher … teaching us that there can be no death.” What used to summon our guilt before God and remind us of our mortal frame now, according to another observer, begins to “sound better than a trip to Disneyland.”

That’S Entertainment

The assimilation of New Age assumptions and beliefs is happening at all levels in our culture. Mass entertainment is both a fair measure and effective means of that assimilation. For example, George Lucas’s Star Wars saga is a grade-school primer of the ancient religion. Luke Skywalker’s initiation into the league of Jedi knights involves mastering the Force that animates the cosmos, dwells within, and is tapped intuitively through feelings.

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The New Age movement is real and pervasive. As its beliefs and practices continue to be assimilated into the general culture and tug at the natural inclinations of the fallen human heart, it cannot help but grow. In the end, the religion that deifies the natural order, as the NAM does, deifies what comes naturally—both humanity’s loftiest ideals and basest impulses. Any act, no matter how laudable or how perverse, is potentially a sacrament, a gate that opens onto the numinous.

Something of what may be ahead is already here. The Utne Reader recently ran an article entitled “Re-Vamping the World: On the Return of the Holy Prostitute.” Some reservations were voiced about printing the piece. But print it they did. The article, by Deena Metzger, is a serious and reasoned argument for a reinstatement of the holy prostitute as the conduit of the sacred. Metzger, however, does not simply have temple attendants in mind. She is advocating the role for all women as a means for resacralizing the body and regaining spiritual power lost with the advent of patriarchical religion. Entertaining her ideas is shocking enough. But the responses the article received were even more disturbing. Although some objected strenuously, others unabashedly applauded. The NAM can provide no defense against this kind of blatant decadence. Dostoevski said that anything is permissible if there is no God. Anything is also permissible if everything is God.

Metzger’s radical measures, of course, represent the NAM at the fringe. However, the broader and wider stream of the NAM that is less easily seen is influencing the culture to think in typically New Age ways—ways that glorify the self, deny the reality of human depravity, and hold out pure, contentless experience as ultimate truth and the final arbiter of meaning and value.

The Reincarnation of est

Business management is moving away from emphasizing stress and assertiveness training. Companies are now concerned with employee motivation. They want 150 percent from their employees.

In the early 1970s, Werner Erhard vied for the business motivation market with est (Erhard Seminars Training)—a blend of pop psychology and Eastern metaphysics. Not long ago, Erhard announced the burial of est and the birth of The Forum.

The Forum is billed as “a powerful, practical inquiry into the issues that determine our personal effectiveness.… The Forum promises to produce an extraordinary advantage in your personal effectiveness and a decisive edge in your ability to achieve.”

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This $525 seminar, which consumes two consecutive weekends (9:00 A.M. to 11:30 P.M.) and one three-hour evening, involves dialogue on virtually any subject that is directed by the group leader. Through this process, one is said to get in touch with “being.” This “access to being” provides “the power to change the face of things” for the “already successful, healthy, committed, accomplished, and knowledgeable.”

The Forum has convinced businesses that their people will be more effective and productive once they get in touch with “being.” While The Forum cannot explain “being,” it assures us that we will experience it. A Forum graduate and Dallas businessman claims that when we are being effective, when we are being alive, “you as an identity disappear in being.” This kind of oneness with an inexplicable, inexpressible being is right out of the pages of Far Eastern writings. And those who perceived the Easternism of est are wary of its newest reincarnation.

Erhard has been very adept at labeling est and The Forum as “nonreligious.” On one page of The Forum brochure, Erhard claims that est is not a philosophy or religion. On another page, however, The Forum is said to transform “what has sometimes seemed a restricted philosophical pursuit … into a powerful, practical tool.”

After an introductory Forum session, a spokesman stated that The Forum was very similar to religion and religious experience. When it was pointed out that the speaker that night had just claimed The Forum was not a religion, this spokesman responded, “Well, you gotta understand …, he was trying to reach people that would be turned off by the word religion. “The Forum does not want religion’s label, though it still makes religion’s claims: “The Forum could transform your life totally.”

Erhard confessed that Zen Buddhism and Scientology were the most influential forces in est. He has also given grants to the Naropa (Tibetan Buddhist) Institute of Colorado, the Nyingma Center in Berkeley, the San Francisco Zen Center, and sponsored presentations by the Dalai Lama. One noted estian, Jerry Rubin, has even unashamedly announced that “est is an important part in the easternization of America.”

Est has changed cosmetically, but not philosophically.

By J. Yutaka Amano, a research associate of Probe Ministries, Richardson, Texas.

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Christian Critiques

In the two decades since the inception of the New Age movement, surprisingly few book-length treatments of the movement have been written for a popular audience. To date, the two most influential books that have brought the NAM to the attention of Christians have been Dave Hunt’s Peace, Prosperity and the Coming Holocaust and Constance Cumbey’s best-selling The Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow. Both books attempt to place the NAM in the context of biblical prophecy of the end times. Hunt surveys various currents at work in the world and speculates how these will work together to bring about the final days. Cumbey’s focus is limited to the NAM, particularly its theosophical strain.

Both books provide much accurate information about the NAM and point out its unbiblical foundations. But both also contain numerous inaccuracies. Hunt and Cumbey suggest that the NAM is bent on establishing a totalitarian world government. That is simply not the case. New Age authors generally propose some kind of global forum for dealing with global issues. But world government in the sense that Hunt and Cumbey give to that term is anathema to the New Age mainstream. Self-government, a natural corollary of self-deification, is the New Age ideal. That ideal is approximated by maximizing political decentralization, not by putting political power under one roof.

Both Hunt and Cumbey also argue that a single world religion is the New Age goal. That is true, but not in the sense implied. Those of the New Age believe that in spite of differences, all religions share the same basic premises. They look forward to when that unity is universally recognized.

Christianity is universally rejected by those aligned with the New Age. But it is a fallacy to suggest that because the NAM rejects Christianity that it is intent on exterminating it, which is what Hunt and Cumbey seem to imply.

Cumbey’s argument is largely based on the unsupportable premise that the theosophical writings of Alice Bailey are normative for the entire movement and represent its “real” aim. The diversity of the movement and the bulk of its writings, however, argue against that conclusion.

Cumbey’s approach has other problems. She persistently links the NAM with nazism and anti-Semitism, a gross distortion of the truth. It is unfortunate, because that hideous portrait foments the same kind of revulsion against the NAM that she accuses the NAM of exciting against Christians and Jews. That she throws prominent Christian organizations and leaders into this devilish brew is extremely lamentable. She does this on the basis of another recurring fallacy: mistaking superficial similarity in terminology or social concern for identity in religious world view.

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The NAM is not innocuous. Its basic premises make it vulnerable to manipulation and deception and could be used to justify any human excess or evil. But where the NAM may lead and where it now is are two different matters.

Is It a Conspiracy?

Douglas Groothuis’s Unmasking the New Age is one of the most recent—and perhaps most balanced—book-length surveys of New Age influence. Here is a sample of his thought:

Much Christian interest in the New Age has centered on various conspiracy theories. But levels of conspiracy are natural to like-minded people and groups. The New Age makes much of networking—linking ideas and people together for greater influence and creativity. This is nothing new. Christians work together to further the kingdom of God. Communists work together to expand their regime.

Conspiratorial speculations should be tempered by several cautions:

First, every New Age group is not consciously working with all the others to take over the world. New Age individuals and groups share common goals, but they do not always have common strategies.

Second, what conspiracy theories have in sophistication they usually lack in concrete evidence. Showing connections between people and groups is one thing; showing conspiracy is another.

New Age influence in our culture is undeniable; its power as a comprehensive conspiracy is less certain. God himself warned the prophet Isaiah to “not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it” (Isa. 8:12).

Third, even if there exists a vast comprehensive conspiracy (which is doubtful), endless conspiratorial speculation misses the point. An understanding of the New Age’s influence on our culture should lead Christians to expose the error and erect Christian alternatives rather than fill in the conspiratorial map with more and more connections. That is simply a waste of time. A doctor who spends all his time diagnosing an illness without ever treating it is pathetic. After the x-ray should come the treatment, not more x-rays.

Fourth, an exaggerated emphasis on conspiracy tends to isolate one group of people as responsible for all the world’s evil. Blame is shifted from all to the few—from oneself to the evil conspirators. New Agers may be used as scapegoats for all societal ills. Thus, we are freed from our responsibility for the world’s plight and immobilized at the same time—since we are not a part of the world-controlling elite, we can do nothing.

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But while the Bible speaks of a general conspiracy of evil against God and his rule and of Satan’s influence on nonbelievers, it never consigns the universe or history totally to demonic power. Christ, not Satan, has been given all authority in heaven and on earth.

By Douglas R. Groothuis, an instructor at the McKenzie Study Center in Eugene, Oregon, and a graduate student in philosophy.

Detecting New Age Influence

When those aligned with the NAM moved into mysticism in the sixties, they took with them the values and issues of the day. Political concerns and mystical spirituality blended from the beginning. Since then, various authors and organizations have tried to articulate and execute a New Age political vision.

There is little consensus on specific details, but a broad agreement on general principles and major areas of concern. New Age advocates are typically for ecology, against nuclear weapons, and for grassroots democracy. Being typically New Age, however, does not imply all those who take similar positions are aligned with the NAM. Those positions can be arrived at through ideologies diametrically opposed. Marx and Jesus were both concerned with the poor. That does not make Marx a Christian, nor Jesus a Communist. A concern for ecology, similarly, does not of itself indicate either a commitment to a deified creation or the Deity of creation. Nor are issues rendered illegitimate simply because New Age enthusiasts typically address them. There is good biblical warrant for being ecologically minded, as there is for many other concerns that draw New Age attention.

Issues New Agers address do not necessarily come with New Age ideology attached. Nor does the terminology they use. Holistic, holographic, synergistic, unity, oneness, transformation, personal growth, human potential, awakening, networking, energy, consciousness—such words occur with predictable regularity in New Age writings. It would, however, be erroneous to conclude that these words always indicate New Age commitment.

New Age political concerns and common New Age terminology raise questions of discernment. But New Age therapies, programs, and practices are more vexatious, if only because they are the more numerous. When overtly religious they may seem compatible with Christian faith. When inconspicuously secular, they may seem spiritually neutral. In attempting to come to some conclusion about a program or therapy, Christians need to assess two elements: practice and interpretation.

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Some New Age practices are out-rightly condemned by Scripture and should be avoided—for example, spiritism and various forms of divination (see Deut. 18:9–12). Everything supernatural is not necessarily of God.

Some practices, such as abusive and manipulative psychological techniques, are morally objectionable and should be rejected on that account.

Other practices, including meditation and relaxation techniques, may seem neutral, and because of beneficial effects, even desirable. But the interpretive framework in which those practices are embedded makes them problematic.

Because of the variety of New Age programs, it is impossible to list criteria that would serve as a basis for recognizing the unbiblical world view that undergirds them all. World view is, however, the key ingredient. Knowing your own is essential for detecting another’s. As James Sire, author of The Universe Next Door, says, exercising discernment is to become a world-view watcher, which means asking questions about meaning: what is explicitly stated or implied about the nature of God, the nature of humanity, and the relationship between them.

Be particularly world-view attentive if a therapy, seminar, or workshop is (1) explained in terms of harmonizing, manipulating, integrating, or balancing energies or polarities; (2) denigrates the value of the mind or belief; and (3) makes extravagant claims—if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Problematic Practices

What practices that New Agers typically employ can be engaged in by Christians?

Clearly, not everything the New Agers use to tune into cosmic forces comes with mystical premises attached. This mindset, in fact, can be brought to bear on any human activity. The spate of Zen books gives some indication of what can be pressed into the service of illumination: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, The Zen of Running, and The Zen of Flower Arrangement. Obviously, those activities can be engaged in without reference to Zen Buddhism.

Problems arise, however, when jogging moves from the street into the sanctuary to be used as a vehicle for worship. Such is the case with guided imagery and relaxation exercises that are increasingly being used in Christian circles. A good case could be made for tracing the popularity of these methods to the NAM or its spiritual cousins, which use them constantly for spiritual ends. The influence, however, is often indirect. And those who employ these methods do not necessarily hold New Age beliefs.

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Guided imagery and relaxation exercises no doubt have a legitimate function. But when used for devotional purposes, these practices raise theological questions that need to be addressed. Is it possible to use guided imagery and relaxation exercises as aids to worship? Is it possible to use them to communicate with God or receive revelations from him? Or do those who use these techniques inevitably fall into magical manipulation and spiritual idolatry? Dave Hunt and T. A. McMahon in The Seduction of Christianity have begun to ask those questions. The book paints its picture with a very broad brush. But it should not be hastily dismissed or ignored.

Whatever the answers to the questions raised, the presence of guided imagery and other new arrivals in the Christian community is itself unsettling. They seem to point to a church that has lost touch with its rich spiritual heritage, and in its hunger for a deeper spiritual life, absorbs indiscriminately whatever is in the cultural wind.

The times demand more than that. Christ requires more. The vitality of the church and the hope of the world may very well depend upon it.

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