05 December 2008

Typical Beliefs and Practices of New Age Spirituality

The Inherent selfishness of New Age Spirituality
Part 3 of a series
by Phil Johnson




here's no way in one blogpost a to discuss the wide variety of beliefs and practices that are typically associated with New Age spirituality. New Age thinking is so diverse, so fluid, and so unique to each individual practitioner that it is probably not possible to make any general statement about the religion of the New Age that could not be challenged by someone pointing out significant exceptions to the rule. Nevertheless, a few common features dominate so much of New Age spirituality that they need to be highlighted as key characteristics of the mainstream of the movement.

Pantheism, for example, is the common belief of many, but not all, in the New Age movement. This, of course, is the view that God is everything and everything is God. (God is immanent in this view, but not transcendent.) Thus the universe itself—all of nature—constitutes the true God, so that there is no valid distinction between the Creator and creation.

Other New Agers would hold instead to panentheism, the belief that God is in everything and everything is in God. The difference here is that panentheists retain some notion of a kind of divine transcendence, so that God is thought to be Someone or (more likely) something—an impersonal force—bigger than the universe.

Either way, the New Age concept of deity is rooted in monism, not biblical monotheism. Scripture, of course, teaches that God is distinct from his creation, and the New Testament reveals Him as a Trinity—three distinct divine Persons yet one in substance. He is immanent—he pervades and sustains the universe. But He is also truly transcendent—separate from, not part of, and not subject to the limitations of, the material universe.

Monism, by contrast, claims that God and the universe are all of one essence (or one substance, or energy, or principle). In effect, monism eliminates not only the essential distinction between Creator and creation, but also every significant difference between one kind of being and another. The individual and the universe are ultimately the same. All beings, God included, are ultimately one with the universe itself.

This belief in monism is one of the key differences between New Age spirituality and classic gnosticism. Gnostics were predominantly dualists, believing that everything in the universe is reducible to two fundamental, opposite realities: mind and matter, good and evil, spirit and flesh, yin and yang, or whatever. New Age spirituality is a kind of neo-gnosticism, combining the esotericism of early gnosticism, together with handpicked beliefs and superstitions borrowed from ancient gnostic sources, but blending those with a fundamental commitment to monism.

That's why in New Age spirituality the stress is on harmony, global unity, and the oneness of all things. If everything that has ever been or ever will be all flows from a single energy source, everything is ultimately capable of being harmonized.

Accordingly, New Age thought has little room for the concepts of evil, sin, and redemption. Those have given way to the therapeutic language of addiction and recovery, positive energy, holistic health, and the notion of love as a tolerant and always-affirming state of mind (rather than the more biblical concept of love as the giving of oneself for another).

Holism is the New Age movement's preferred term for expressing the spiritual aspect of monism. Holism, in popular terminology, is the view that the whole of any complex system is greater than the sum of its parts. The person with a holistic perspective is convinced that the best way to understand anything is always by seeing it as a whole, never by breaking it down and examining the parts. New Agers apply that theory to the entire universe, which, by their monistic way of thinking, is God. The goal of New Age spirituality, then, is to become one (or rather to appreciate one's true oneness) with the universe and thereby be in harmony with God.

Such harmony, in turn, supposedly unleashes the divine energy in the New Ager's own experience. Empowerment such as this is the goal and the object of New Age spirituality. In the words of one practitioner: "New Age Spirituality is all about getting your power back. Not that you ever lost it. Sometimes you gave your power away, misplaced it, or forgot you had power in the first place."

The means of this empowerment are as diverse as the history of human superstition. Various New Age practitioners have borrowed freely from practically every occult and mystical source ranging from ancient religions such as Zoroastrianism to modern science fiction. [The Church of Scientology, started by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard and based on ideas he experimented with first in his novels, promises a classically New Age version of enlightenment and empowerment through pseudoscientific means.] Tools of the trade for New Age practitioners include synthesized music, health food, holistic medicine, incense, aromatherapy, candles, and crystals. (Crystals are supposed to help achieve harmony with the universe because of the way they vibrate at a constant frequency).

Other common features of New Age spirituality include even darker occult practices, such as tarot cards, divination, the use of magical potions and incantations, numerology, graphology, and, of course, astrology. New Age practitioners often function as mediums, channeling "spirit guides" who claim to be angels. (The ubiquitous angel-themed greeting-card and gift-shop paraphernalia are prompted mainly by the New Age movement's superstitious obsession with angels and other spirit beings, rather than by any widespread interest in biblical teaching about angelic activity.) Many believers in the New Age have delved into wicca (a modern form of witchcraft), spiritism, shamanism, Sufism, yoga, Druidism, and various other forms of neopaganism. New Agers have also borrowed, adapted, and popularized several familiar doctrines from Hindu and Buddhist sources, including belief in reincarnation, karma, the chakra, and Nirvana. These ideas are all often blended with quasi-Christian and gnostic terminology so that the language of New Age spirituality can even at times have a biblical ring to it. (Celtic Christianity is also a favorite source for some New Agers.)

But of course New Age spirituality is not biblical. At its core, it is anti-Christian. It moves freely in and out among various occult, Gnostic, and pagan themes. It seems to favor fringe religious ideas and "alternative" beliefs, which are lavishly borrowed, modified, and adapted from these sources. It replaces the doctrine of Christ's deity with belief in the divinity of nature itself—and finally teaches the divinity of every individual. It eliminates the significance of good and evil and thereby obviates the entire concept of redemption. And it is wholly reliant on a blend of practices and beliefs borrowed from an almost boundless array of extrabiblical, occult, and pagan sources.

New Age spirituality is therefore at odds with every classic division of Christian doctrine. With regard to hamartiology, New Age selfism all but does away with the biblical concept of sin. New Age anthropology starts with a denial that humanity is in any way uniquely above the rest of nature. As far as Christology is concerned, New Age beliefs utterly eliminate the uniqueness of Christ.

And when it comes to soteriology, New Age beliefs overthrow the gospel itself with a completely different message. Of course, the heart and soul of biblical soteriology is the doctrine of the atonement. The forgiveness of sins, the imputation of righteousness to the repentant sinner, and a host of truths regarding justification by faith all flow from that.

By contrast, the centerpiece of New Age spirituality is individual self-fulfillment and empowerment. It is actually a kind of anti-soteriology. As a matter of fact, it is the very quintessence of every kind of works-religion, because if New Age spirituality is correct, I'm the one I have to please. I'm the only one who can chart my own spiritual journey. I'm the one whose standards I have to live up to. And I'm the one I ultimately have to turn to for help.

The inevitable result is the systematic deification of self. And the quest for individual self-deification is the very essence of the single most destructive religious lie of all time. As numerous Christian critics of New Age spirituality have already pointed out, the whole New Age belief system flows from the same falsehood the serpent enticed Eve with in the garden: "You will be like God" (Genesis 3:5).

Phil's signature

51 comments:

Kim said...

Oh dear... your graphic... are you trying to tell us something?

DJP said...

After the recent pair of posts on apocryphal (?) yarns, Phil's starting his own rumor, Kim. Monday, it will be, "Did you hear about the Shays?"

Right on, Phil. The cult from which I was saved was a panentheistic New Age cult, though the movement then called itself "New Thought." It was the ideal California cult in that it was, at bottom, very plastic, very malleable. It could accommodate almost anything — except robustly Biblical Christianity.

bugblaster said...

Once again Mr. Johnson, you twist the facts. In real life, that photoshopped shirt bears the logo of Solomon's Porch.

donsands said...

Thanks for the great series on a difficult false religion. It helps.

My sister Judith has a goddess, and celebrates the soltice. She lives in Tucson, where they tell me New Agers are in abundance.

When I first shared the gospel with her, she told me to get lost. ut over the years the Lord has made a way for me to become close with her again.
I hope the Lord will break the stronghold that Satan has on her, and by His grace I will be able to continue to speak the truth in faith with compassion and gratitude.

slc said...

i know you guys over here aren't particularly fond of Dave Hunt, but he put out a fantastic comprehensive book on the occult and how it has invaded the Evangelical church.


It's called "Occult Invasion". He also wrote another good book called "The Seduction of Christianity". Another good read.

DJP said...

Hunt is a cautionary tale, isn't he?

Suppose that, instead of crying "Wolf," the boy had written a series of books on the wolf, given lectures on the wolf, and still insisted that they were all true — even after accomplished wolf biologists had thoroughly shredded them.

If that boy were then to write a book on another subject, and that book were as good as gold — all the while insisting his other books are equally true — he'd find find his gold not in much demand among jewellers.

Dave said...

I've still got the sleep in my eyes and when I first saw the graphic at the top of the post I thought, "What does Tim Challies have to do with New Age Spirituality and who is that woman?"

Sorry Tim! I need more coffee.

Great post Phil.

DJP said...

Not your fault. Canadians do pretty much all look alike.

Kim said...

I think I'm getting more concerned about this as the day progresses.

Kim said...

I've become "that woman"

Hmmm....

bugblaster said...

At least you're not Challies.

Phil Johnson said...

Don't ask me why I used that graphic. I think it's because this series already included a reference to the musical "Hair," and the picture of Neil Shay got me humming one of the tunes.

It was either the Shays or a photoshopped kumquat on a Pyro logo. I made the obvious choice for aesthetic reasons. No subliminal messages are intended.

Mouse over the pic to get the correct tune in your head.

Kim said...

I'm greatly relieved, Phil. I thought you knew something about my hubby that I did not...he has been rather busy at the office these days. I am thankful that he's not secretly burning incense or chanting in his office... although he does keep the lights now...

Rose~ said...

What a nice, reasonable looking couple.

James David Beebe, Jr. said...

This touches on something I've been meaning to explore.

It seems a lot of people are attracted by the warm-fuzzy feel of New Age "all one" doctrine. On the surface (in the outer circles) it says, "we're all one, and that's a nice thing!" The sinister side of that, though, is if mankind is all one then the loss of individual life is no more lamentable than a fingernail clipping, or a haircut. If the body is overweight, then fat cells (not brain cells or muscle tissue) need to go. If the population is too much, then some "useless eaters" need to go and reproduction stifled. Cult leaders often consider the lower level less enlightened to be fair game for use or amusement, like animals.

This contrasts with what it means to be one in Christ, doesn't it? We are to be humble: he who would be great must serve, no greater love than to lay down his life, martyrs who did not value their own life are exemplars, etc., but ... doesn't God cherish us as individuals? What of individuality in the after-life, saved and unsaved?

I've seen a bumper sticker that says, "ALL ONE." I want one that says, "ALL ONE... or the other."

Benjamin Nitu said...

Spot on! Beautifully put, Phil!
Here are some relevant quotes from Chesterton's Orthodoxy:
"A short time ago Mrs. Besant, in an interesting essay, announced that there was only one religion in the world, that all faiths were only versions or perversions of it, and that she was quite prepared to say what it was. According to Mrs. Besant this universal Church is simply the universal self. It is the doctrine that we are really all one person; that there are no real walls of individuality between man and man. If I may put it so, she does not tell us to love our neighbors; she tells us to be our neighbors. That is Mrs. Besant’s thoughtful and suggestive description of the religion in which all men must find themselves in agreement. And I never heard of any suggestion in my life with which I more violently disagree. I want to love my neighbor not because he is I, but precisely because he is not I. I want to adore the world, not as one likes a looking-glass, because it is one’s self, but as one loves a woman, because she is entirely different. If souls are separate love is possible. If souls are united love is obviously impossible. A man may be said loosely to love himself, but he can hardly fall in love with himself, or, if he does, it must be a monotonous courtship. If the world is full of real selves, they can be really unselfish selves. But upon Mrs. Besant’s principle the whole cosmos is only one enormously selfish person. "

and the conclusion of it all:
"Insisting that God is inside man, man is always inside himself. By insisting that God transcends man, man has transcended himself. "


In the end, it all comes to the Lordship of God.

Everyday Mommy said...

"the notion of love as a tolerant and always-affirming state of mind (rather than the more biblical concept of love as the giving of oneself for another)."

May I send in a blog post request? I'd love to see a post expanding the quote above. This is something I deal with on a daily basis. Help Team Pyro! Somebody help the girl!

DJP said...

That will have to be Phil.

He is, after all, The Dalai Lama of Love.

Everyday Mommy said...

Dan! I spewed my coffee when I read that!

Is that true, Phil?

Staci at Writing and Living said...

You know, I've always thought Kim and Neil look a little like that couple that does all the Sonic commercials.

Greg said...

Phil,

Thanks so much for re-posting these. This might be a rather obvious question but I'll ask anyway. Would you consider the Emergent, postmodern way of "doing church" similar to the New Age movement.

I certainly see many similarities and can connect the dots easily but was curious to hear your thoughts.

Greg said...

Sorry for leaving out the question mark. My bad.

bethelgrace said...

I haven't read your whole series, so I may have missed you hitting on this already... A number of people have been coming to our church as a result of their churches promoting some pagan, new age-ish practices (yoga, prayer labyrinths, etc) with some practices that they consider ancient "Christian" practices... Stuff like contemplative prayer and lectio divina - all pretty mystical and without biblical basis. A popular ministry promoting some of this ancient "Christian" stuff is called Renovare: http://www.renovare.org/. If you guys have not already discussed contemplative prayer, etc, I'd appreciate your thoughts. I'd have a lot of people to pass them on to, too.

Thanks!

jeff said...

Thanks Phil,

I see a lot of this type of thinking and believing in the city where I live. Biblical Christianity has all but disappeared. I myself did not hear a clear presentation of the gospel untill I was 38 years old. Christianity is looked upon as narrow and exclusive by a generation that holds tolerance as the highest virtue. It seems to me that if you don't believe in their ideas of tolerance and brotherhood of man then you are in danger of chastisement. Scary times. Thanks a lot Oprah!

Solameanie said...

Dan,

Better the Dalai Lama of Love rather than the Pompatus of Love.

I guess I'm just a joker.

NothingNewUnderTheSun said...

Great post phil,

I think these 3 variations of pantheism are starting to become more prominent, especially among those researchers and computer scientists who are trying to develop artificial forms of life:

Emergentism -In philosophy, emergentism is the belief in emergence, particularly as it involves consciousness and the philosophy of mind, and as it contrasts with reductionism. A property of a system is said to be emergent if it is more than the sum of the properties of the system's parts.

Panpsychism - In philosophy, is either the view that all parts of matter involve mind, or the more holistic view that the whole universe is an organism that possesses a mind. It is thus a stronger and more ambitious view than hylozoism, which holds only that all things are alive. This is not to say that panpsychism believes that all matter is alive or even conscious but rather that the constituent parts of matter are composed of some form of mind and are sentient.

Hylozoism - Is the philosophical doctrine that all or some material things possess life. Some of the ancient Greek philosophers taught a version of hylozoism. Thales, Anaximenes, and Heraklitus all taught that there is a form of life in all material objects, and the Stoics believed that a world soul informed all things in the world. It is important to note that these philosophies did not necessarily hold that material objects had separate life or identity, necessarily, but only that they had life, either as part of an overriding entity or as living but insensible entities

Janet said...

Hi Kim! I like the graphic. :)

I'm also enjoying this series.

Bob said...

Aaaarrrrgghhh! Now I can't get the song out of my head... Blast!

SolaMommy said...

Excellent series, Phil. Thank you!

bugblaster said...

Gliddy glub gloopy nibby nabby noopy.

Stefan said...

Before I was redeemed in Christ, I dabbled in New Ageish concepts on and off over a number of years (though never really got into the thick of it), and even my "understanding" of Christianity was misinformed by Jungian-influenced, non-biblical, and liberal ideas.

From everything I know and have read or observed, your analysis of the movement is spot on, and ditto for many of the comments put up here so far.

Stefan said...

"We're all one," they say,
To which I say "ixnay."
God alone is One—and Three;
And He is definitely not me!

Stefan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DJP said...

You mean as in, A gift nobody really has, but they try to fake it anyway?

Sure!

:^P

Stefan said...

Ah, sorry, I deleted my last comment because it was too self-absorbed.

For the record;

"Can poetry count as a spiritual gift? Perhaps under the category of tongues?"

Stefan said...

My verification word on the last comment was "bilygoo." Yuck!

NothingNewUnderTheSun said...

Do any of you think the concept of 'gradualism' plays a role in Emergent/New Age thought?

gradualism - "a theory maintaining that two seemingly conflicting notions are not radically opposed, but are part of a gradually altering continuity."

Carol Jean said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carol Jean said...

I've encountered quite a few self-professed pagans/new-agers in homeschooling circles. I moderate a largish "inclusive" list that has some very militant liberals who can, at times, be vocal about their religion. Here's one woman's account:

"He [her husband] comes from a Church of the Brethren background and the fact that he is a pantheist now amuses me. Of course, I jumped from Catholicism to something akin to paganism, so who am I to talk."

It seems to me that a bunch of them I've encountered are (in their minds) "reformed" or "enlightened" former Christians of one sort or another or Catholics. Maybe they took Rick Warren's 60-day test drive and it didn't take? OK, that was maybe too snarky. But, I think a lot of it is a desire to follow their liberal values and throw off the constraints of Christianity. Paganism=freedom in their minds, when in reality, in merely offers a different kind of bondage.

Marie said...

bethelgrace,

Quaker mystic Richard Foster (Celebration of Discipline; Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home)was the founder of Renovare. The mystical/contemplative practices he promotes have become extremely popular among Protestants, Catholics, and Evangelicals. Lighthouse Trails Ministry has a lot of good information on the whole Contemplative Movement.

Dan, I hope this isn't a dumb question, but what is the problem with Dave Hunt (pls. just link if it's been covered before)? I also mentioned his book "The Seduction of Christianity" in Phil's 1st post on New Age as one that had been helpful. Is the problem that he's not a 5-pointer? (Not arguin'; just askin'.)

Awesome post, btw.

DJP said...

No, the problem isn't his position, its the way he handles other positions. If you went to James White's site and searched his name, perhaps you'd get a lot more background. People who read Hunt and try to interact come away stunned at his shoddy way of dealing with the evidence.

I'll flex co-host's option to say that other regulars can provide a few specific links if they like.

Marie said...

Thanks - interesting. Good to know as I often cite him in writing.

I don't know who James White is, but I'll look him up after I return from my bi-weekly trek to the Stuff-Mart.

Solameanie said...

Bugblaster: "Gliddy glub gloopy nibby nabby noopy."

Oh, dear. I didn't think anyone could outdo me on the irritating music selection of the week. Thanks so much, Bugsy. Now I'll have Oliver Swofford in my mind all weekend.

Just for that, go rent "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" and watch it six times.

Daniel said...

Dan: I do love you guys and love Pyromaniacs, but...I have NO love for your lashings-out at Dave Hunt (and, by proxy, other non-5-Pointers). Fact is, many like me (& apparently Marie) don't think that "What Love Is This" is tantamount to the "Boy Who Cried Wolf," so we can enjoy his other material. As for the way Hunt treats others' positions - from what I've read and heard, he treats opposing viewpoints firmly and factually, yet respectfully and prayerfully. Contrast that with the rude and contemptous attitude toward Hunt by James White and yes, Phil Johnson (having listened to Phil's Dave Hunt Critique). So, again, love Pyromaniacs, but not that particular aspect of Pyromania.

Frank Turk said...

Carol Jean --

I'm going to have to change that tutorial in a big way. I didn't think twice about using Phil as a guinea pig for that lesson, but your link here proves to me why I should have.

Sorry to Phil; sorry to Darlene.

Sorry to our readers. :-(

DJP said...

Marie (and, evidently, Daniel) — sorry, I shouldn't have assumed you knew James White. My bad.

You could start here.

And, once again, my problem is not with folks who are four-pointers per se. My objection is against dishonest, willful stupidity.

Marie said...

Actually, I haven't read What Love is This, but I am a staunch Calvinist so on that point I would have to agree both with White and TeamPyro. I don't know to what extent Hunt is "anti-Reformed"; that's why I asked what was up.

The only thing I've ever read by him was The Seduction of Christianity, which was excellent. I was on my way out of charismania at the time and found much of it helpful.

DJP said...

I'm glad if you found some good help. Hope you don't hear any of my responses as meant critically towards you, Marie. They weren't.

Carol Jean said...

Frank,

FWIW, my techie son and his techie friend consider gimp university part of their homeschooling curriculum :) Don't get all serious on them now! As long as we all know that that's not really Phil's body, nobody gets hurt, right?

Even so, I've deleted the post to protect the innocent.

Daniel said...

Fair enough, Dan. I'll read through some more of White.

Just for the record: I'm not a four-pointer, I'm a zero-pointer (HT to The Berean Call). But like I said, I still love reading you Pyros, and have enjoyed many years reading my MacArthur Study Bible (while ignoring some of the "Reformation Theology" gobbledygook in the footnotes).

Sillie Lizzie said...

I've been following your posts on the New Age movement with great interest. While I was never sucked into any single cult or group per se, I travelled the new age spiritual landscape quite widely for over a decade. Even so, I couldn't have articulated the "theological" distinctions as adequately as you have.

If it might be of interest, I have recorded my journey in and out of the New Age on my blog, here:
My Experience in the New Age Movement

One of the reasons I am a strong believer in the doctrines of grace is because after I was saved, I could look back and see that the Lord had walked beside me every step of the way, albeit veiled. He knew me before I knew Him, and by His grace He led me out of that darkness.

My deliverance was not instantaneous, but a process whereby the Lord taught me some necessary pre-requisites for Christianity. Creation. His Holiness. Sin. Selfishness. Law. Grace. Sanctity of Life. Authority of His Word in Scripture. Perhaps this was necessary because there was so little real Christian witness against the modern errors that needed to dispelled, before a real conversion could take hold? Back in the 70's-80's "worldview" was not yet vogue in Christian circles, much less employed as outreach to the lost, Francis Schaeffer notwithstanding.

Anyway, I don't know why it was a lengthy process as opposed to instant regeneration, and that is a question I still have.

Neverthless, my depravity and the repentance it demanded, was immediate and cataclysmic. Once my eyes were opened to the truth of my idolaltry, my world was turned upside down and inside out and I have never been the same again.

I think that many times we apprehend the greatness of God's merciful grace towards us by the depth of the pit from which we were dug.