[I decided to publish my articles for the summer edition of our monastery newsletter here, since I think more people will read them that way. So the next few posts are not recycled articles but are hot off the press!]
It is not difficult to confront your enemies when you know who they are. The Bible tells us that “we are not contending against flesh and blood,” that is, against other human beings, but rather “against the spiritual hosts of wickedness,” that is, all the demonic powers who hold sway during the time of “this present darkness” (Eph. 6:12). But since Jesus has warned us that the devil is “a liar and the father of lies” (Jn. 8:44), we have to be aware that our enemy is one who does not fight fairly. Many people who lack sufficient discernment have become deceived to the point that they do not recognize their enemy for who he is, and they even think he is their friend and benevolent guide.
The vast, amorphous, and fundamentally incoherent ensemble of beliefs and practices known as “new age” spirituality is a fertile field from which the enemy of the Kingdom expects an abundant harvest. There’s not much new, however, about the new age package. Much of it is actually old hat. It is little more than a syncretistic mishmash of old, tried-and-failed “isms” like gnosticism, paganism, and spiritualism. A dose of theosophy and a touch of witchcraft are available for those so inclined. Add a bit of science, technology, and a smattering of eastern religions to the mix, and you’re among the enlightened. Practices range from more or less innocuous flower-child stuff or positive-thinking/visualization techniques to actually going off the deep end into wiccan nature worship and creepy occult arts.
All of it, however, expresses a basically self-centered approach to encountering spiritual powers for the sake of manipulating them to one’s own advantage (“attracting abundance” is one way they put it). There is no place here for the true God, but instead you discover a veritable pantheon of mostly anonymous “spirit guides” and masters at your service—though they may adopt the names of famous spiritual figures of the past or even of your dead relatives. All the above elements are generally selected a la carte and served up in best-selling gobbledygook (or gobbledy-books) by the rising stars in the contemporary zodiac.
New age spirituality is a trendy, fad spirituality (“spirituality lite,” if you will), which already is considered passé by most intelligent and serious seekers of truth who may have dabbled in it out of curiosity or a misguided spirit of adventure or rebellion against tradition. But such a flaky form of spiritual life will not stand the test of time, nor will it be of any use in the face of the hardships that try men’s souls, for which the power of the Cross of Jesus is our only source of strength and fruitfulness. In the meantime, however, it is claiming numerous victims for the powers of darkness, and it is not the will of the Lord that any of those He created should perish. No matter how much you enhance your aura, and no matter how well-aligned your chakras are, it’s just not enough to make you fit for the Kingdom of Heaven.
Therefore I believe I ought to try to expose some of these deceits, not only because it is my business to help save souls, but also because some of my own dear loved ones have been deceived and are turning away from the living and true God and all the means of salvation with which He has enriched his Church. The new age hydra has far too many tentacles for a thorough investigation here, so what I will do is simply examine a few basic points on which people become deceived and gradually withdraw from the truth. Most of what follows is based on my experience with people who actually profess or practice these things.
It is not easy to find common ground for any sort of fruitful dialogue with new age adherents, because they don’t speak the same language Christians do. Or rather, the danger is that they often do use the same terms, but they conveniently attach their own meanings to them. So if we advise them to believe in God, they will say they do believe in God (but they mean something else by “God”). Similarly, if we exhort them to believe in Christ, they may say they already do (but they mean something else by “Christ”—or even if some do mean Jesus Christ, it happens that they also believe in Shiva, Krishna, Oprah, and Deepak Chopra). They may occasionally quote from the Bible if they find a passage that seems to support their viewpoint, but they’ll leave the rest of it untouched. If we cite the Scripture “God is light” (1Jn. 1:5), they will heartily agree (but what they mean by “light” is not what the Bible means). So they sometimes agree in terminology, but not in the meaning of the terms. This is how the devil makes himself a slippery opponent; the ground is always shifting.
In the light-filled, non-judgmental, optimistically sin-free spiritual environment of new age spirituality, one of the oft-repeated bromides is “we are loved.” This is fine at first glance, for we are loved, but the trouble is, they don’t usually get around to saying by whom we are loved. It’s just a feel-good sentiment that relieves them from accountability to God for their actions. We are loved. By whom? The “Universe”? I know, it sounds dopey, but that’s one of their favorite ways of not having to say “God.” But the universe can’t love; only persons can love. And only the tri-personal God can love all of us all the time. The universe is a breathtaking collection of stars, planets, and space, harmoniously ordered for our delight and for reminding us how wonderful our Creator is. But matter and energy can’t love us. God, however, can and does love us, and He would be very pleased if we would love Him in return—or at least not insult Him by substituting impersonal creation for Himself. He also teaches us what love means: the reciprocity, the responsibility, the sacrifice that genuine love requires. New agers like to be loved by the universe. Go ahead, universe, make my day; just don’t impose any responsibilities on me.
They also like to attribute other activities to the universe, like arranging fortuitous events in our lives, creating “synchronicities” in our experience. But the universe doesn’t do this. It can’t. It’s only a universe. God can, though. What do they have against naming God, attributing personality to Him? Is there perhaps a sneaking suspicion that a personal God might have some uncomfortable questions for them about their faith or morals that the “universe” would never think to ask? Can’t have that. We are loved.
It seems at first a good thing when someone who may never have had much interest in God or religion begins to become “spiritual” and to adopt a set of apparently higher values. It is normal that an inner spiritual longing would at last begin to surface. We are created by God in his own image, and we are therefore meant to know and love Him, to seek that which is beyond ourselves, for the human soul was designed with the capacity to embrace eternal life. Before the advent of Jesus Christ, who is the definitive revelation of God, man could not be faulted for reaching out to “the divine” (another term used to avoid the word “God”) in various ways of his own devising, for God’s Word had not yet become flesh. His existence was known through the things He made and his obscure activities in creation, so man was left to his own creativity to fashion a response.
But the time is long gone for having a legitimate excuse for making things up as we go along. God has revealed Himself fully and for all time in his only-begotten Son, who has a name, Jesus Christ (we are not “collectively the Son of God,” as a tired old new-age mantra goes). Now that God has spoken his definitive Word, who in turn revealed the Father in human words, we reject Truth itself if we still want to devise a contrary spiritual world-view based on our subjective preference or some kooky ideas we got from a book on the “metaphysical” shelf at the bookstore. “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin” (Jn. 15:22).
Truth. There’s another equivocal term in the new age lexicon. But that equivocation is precisely the problem, because it adds relativism to the already numerous confused ingredients in the new-age gumbo. A sure-fire dialogue stopper is the “my truth, your truth” response. You can have the clearest, most cogent and rationally or theologically irrefutable position on any point of Christian doctrine, but it will go nowhere when faced with: “Fine. That is your truth. My truth is different.” But if truth is one, which it must be by definition, then “my” and “your” are illegitimate qualifiers. If mine and yours are different, then we’re not talking about truth, so use another word. New agers often confuse truth either with one’s subjective perception of reality or with mere opinion or conviction.
No one questions the fact that people perceive things differently, due to a variety of factors in the senses, the mind, or even chemicals in the brain. But again, to say what you perceive is true for you, and what I perceive is true for me, is to empty the term “truth” of its meaning. If new-age relativists can’t find better words to describe what they are talking about, their position will be incoherent to people who actually know what words like “truth” and “reality” mean.
“Reality” is another equivocal term—it doesn’t really mean reality. The tech-term “virtual reality” seems to have become a kind of updated expression of the “all is illusion” tenet of some oriental religions. This position would be merely corny if it had no spiritual consequences. This “reality is not real” approach is a kind of self-insulating one, a self-generated refuge from the stress and pain of life. It is understandable (though still not acceptable) that people who have endured many stressful trials and painful experiences would hope to discover that all of that is illusory and that one can create one’s own comfortable “reality” with the proper attitude, visualization techniques, and the avoidance of all “negative energy.”
There certainly is no harm, and there’s even some benefit, in trying to see the bright side of things and trying to overcome tendencies to despondency or other bad fruits of stress. But it is counter-productive to try to create a whole new world-view just so you can feel good about yourself and try to protect yourself from pain. One should have the courage to face actual reality and not anesthetize oneself by buying into the lie that it is all illusion. Let’s face it, life is hard, people can be malicious, we will sometimes get sick or experience setbacks and even tragedies: in short, we will suffer.
The answer to all this, however, is not to call it an illusion and then float up to a higher consciousness. The answers are in the Holy Scriptures and in the grace of God, who is able to transform the harshness of life’s sufferings into something eternally meaningful, fruitful and even redemptive (but we don’t need redemption, see below). The one who believes in Jesus faces reality squarely and accepts its challenges, knows that there is such a thing as objective truth, knows that the word of God is normative for all times and places, and lives accordingly in the peace and joy that come from hope in the complete fulfillment of all of God’s “precious and very great promises” (2Peter 1:4). God has prepared such beauty and joy and inexhaustible wonders for those who love Him and are willing to accept the truth of his word and put it into practice. Why throw it all away for a hodgepodge of dubious beliefs which constitute little more than a spiritual tranquilizer?
Another dish, an oriental one, in the spiritual smorgasbord of new-age lunacy is reincarnation. I feel embarrassed for people who talk about their “past lives” and even throw away good money on charlatans who profess to be able to unlock the secrets of their previous incarnations. Don’t they know how ridiculous they sound? Sacred Scripture dismisses the whole charade in a single sentence: “It is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27). If God has already spoken clearly and settled the matter, why do they go off on these flights of fancy and even incorporate them into their spiritual world-view? In many of the beliefs they embrace, there seems to be a deliberate rejection of Christianity, and this rejection somehow seems to be the passkey for entrance into their bizarre club.
To be continued…