This term is heard everywhere today. What does it mean? Is it anti-Christian? Is it good? Is it demonic? Is it something Christians should selectively embrace or is it something Christians should speak out against?
There are no simple answers to these questions. New Age is a complex phenomenon, sometimes good, sometimes bad. No simple blanket assessment is possible. It merits a critical look.
What is it? New Age admits of various definitions and covers so many things that it is almost impossible to define, classify, or even assess. There is, however, one element that is common to it. New Age uses the images and concepts of religion, but it does not always refer them to a transcendent God, that is, to something beyond human consciousness. Hence, for New Age, the existence of God, as Christians understand that phrase, is not necessarily essential, nor is it ruled out. There are New Age theists and New Age atheists. Such is the width of the term.
What’s to be said about it from a Christian point of view? Before discussing its particular merits and dangers, a few general comments need to be made: New Age is not, in itself, bad, demonic, anti-Christian, or an enemy to true religion. It can be religiously dangerous, but so can lots of things.
Moreover, when assessing anything regarding its positives and its negatives, one must always keep in mind certain principles that come from Jesus and from what is best in Christian tradition. Thus, for example, Jesus said: “All good things come from the one God, one Father.” “Whoever is not against me is for me.” “It is not necessarily those who say `Lord’ `Lord’ who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven but those who do the will of the Father.” Moreover, Christian tradition has some wisdom axioms that are also key when it comes to discernment: Grace builds upon nature – and nothing that is good within nature goes against grace. The Body of Christ on earth has both a visible and an invisible aspect.
With these principles in mind, how does one assess New Age? To begin with, at least in its best expressions, New Age espouses many Christian ideals: peace, respect for others, non-violence, concern for the ecology, meditation, a sense for the other world, and a concern for the dignity of the individual. Beyond that, it has certain elements within it that are a healthy challenge to contemporary Western culture which is, itself, sometimes more antithetical to Christianity than are many of the aspects of New Age that so unnerve Christians.
New Age challenges both the excessive materialism and pragmatism within the culture. It also challenges centuries of narrow rationalism (which we inherited from the enlightenment) that has left us mystically and ritually tone-deaf and which, all too often, identifies faith with a pre-enlightened mind. Finally, and this is one of its features that I particularly like, New Age has a healthy sense of aesthetics. Its sense of beauty shows up some of the dram colourlessness that passes for religion and social justice in the churches.
But it is not without its dangers: Robert Burrows, commenting on it in TIME MAGAZINE, puts it well: “Dostoevsky said anything is permissible if there is no God. But everything is also permissible if everything is God. There is no way of making any distinction between good and evil.” (Time, December 7, 1987)
This, sadly, is often true of New Age. Its very tolerance, of most everything, is also its fault. It is hard to have an ethics worthy of the name if one does not believe in boundaries. Moreover, certain aspects of New Age indulge in an unhealthy astrology, fixate on reincarnation, and attempt through spiritual mediums to make contact with the souls of the dead. Not infrequently, too, it sets the spiritual against the ecclesial. Christians need to view this very critically. Finally, and most serious of all, New Age is the enemy of true religion when, though only when, it presents pseudo-religion and pseudo-transcendence as real religion and the real God.
I think if Gamaliel were with us he would remind us of two things: First, as Christians we should remember that the term New Age was, long before any of this, our term. And, if it isn’t of God it will pass away, and if it is of God, don’t fight it – don’t have truth fighting truth, God fighting God!