Beliefs and Practices of New Age Spirituality
There'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. 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).
new-age fatcatOther 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).