A Crash Course on the New Age Movement: Describing and Evaluating a Growing Social Force by Elliott Miller. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989, 260 pp., $14.95.
Unmasking the New Age: Is There a New Religious Movement Trying to Transform Society? by Douglas R. Groothuis. Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1986, 192 pp., $10.95.
New Age, once on the fringe, is now virtually mainstream. Its animus has seeped into everyday language, gaining widespread and unremarked victories. New Age appears in respected management seminars that seek the “transformation” of employees, and crops up in the holistic health proclamations of the natural foods industry. It is in the environmental movement, in green politics, and it appears repeatedly in countless self-help books and courses on “human potential.” New Age thinking is everywhere, even in the churches.
Either of these excellent books provides sufficient grounding to become alerted to New Age dangers. Take, for instance, its fundamental assertion that “all is one,” that distinctions are illusions: distinctions such as those between good and evil, between creature and creator, or between man and creation. In New Age everything is everything else; everything is interrelated; all is one.
That might not sound too dangerous except that to experience this interrelated oneness we must train ourselves to think of ourselves an an indistinguishable part of this amorphous whole. That is, we must dissolve our uniqueness, our person-hood if you like. And with that goes our capacity for critical and conceptual thinking. New Age is antithetical to Western rationality. It is the abandonment of rationality. That is its penultimate danger.
The ultimate danger is New Age’s antithesis to Christian truths. For example, its understanding of God is more Hindu than Christian. To the New Ager, Ultimate Reality is an impersonal god, mere consciousness and force. Man may feel a separateness from this god because he has not raised his consciousness sufficiently to appreciate that man and ultimate reality (god) are one. Salvation consists of achieving this new consciousness, a consciousness of oneness with god, a “self-realization…that one’s true self is God.” Divine nature and human nature are the same.
New Age, although not a conspiracy in the usual sense, is nevertheless energetic and successful in its self-promotion, and therefore just as dangerous. New Agers see themselves, and man generally, as standing on the edge of a great transformation in world consciousness. Accordingly, this “Age of Aquarius” may well usher in the new man, a superhuman species under the umbrella of a single world consciousness or awareness of the divine within. At that point, New Agers believe, men and women (at least those with the requisite consciousness) will be able to accomplish just about anything they set their mind to. For man will be God. This is the New Age hope.
This optimism of a self-made superman in a self-made future helps to account for New Age’s wide appeal. Man can be transformed into god; and the world can be transformed too. The transformation, happily, is something we can do ourselves by applying the proper “consciousness-raising” techniques. This “spiritual technology,” as Groothuis calls it, provides us with entirely new eyes with which to see the old categories of right and wrong, good and bad, and rise beyond them. It was these “new eyes” that provided mass murderer Charles Manson with his visions of “social transformation.”
Significantly, the transformation being sought is not an ethical one. In fact, ethics is abandoned in favour of “self-actualization.” Sin to a New Ager is an unactualized person, a person whose potentiality remains merely potential, whose consciousness has not been raised such that he believes himself to be god and beyond the dictates of right and wrong. In such an ethical vacuum, as every Christian knows, the “old Adam” is bound to assert himself. As Groothuis quotes another author, “Unless there are clear guidelines or criteria for distinguishing the ‘call’ or ‘appeal’ of the true self from that of impostors, self-deception would be an ever present danger, leading frequently to harmful and undesirable actions justified in the name of conscience and authenticity.”
The spiritual, social, and intellectual dangers of New Age are great. Christians should prepare themselves against its Garden of Eden enticements. Both of these books help us challenge the New Agers we meet to see that man is finite, a creature under God’s providence. New Agers need to hear that God is personal, supernatural, and holy; that creation is objective and subject to God’s law; and that there is no way of life and salvation except through the person of Jesus Christ.