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New Age Spirituality: Part 1 of 2

a.k.a. Self-spirituality, New spirituality, Mind-body-spirit

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Introduction:

The New Age Movement is in a class by itself. Unlike most formal religions, it has no holy text, central organization, formal membership, ordained clergy, geographic center, dogma, creed, etc. They often use mutually exclusive definitions for some of their terms. The New Age is in fact a free-flowing, decentralized, spiritual movement -- a network of believers and practitioners who share somewhat similar beliefs and practices, which many add on to whichever formal religion that they follow. Their book publishers take the place of a central organization. Seminars, conventions, books and informal groups replace of sermons and religious services.

Quoting John Naisbitt:

"In turbulent times, in times of great change, people head for the two extremes: fundamentalism and personal, spiritual experience...With no membership lists or even a coherent philosophy or dogma, it is difficult to define or measure the unorganized New Age movement. But in every major U.S. and European city, thousands who seek insight and personal growth cluster around a metaphysical bookstore, a spiritual teacher, or an education center." 1

The New Age is definitely a heterogeneous movement of individuals; most graft some new age beliefs onto their regular religious affiliation. Recent surveys of US adults indicate that many Americans hold at least some new age beliefs:

bullet 8% believe in astrology as a method of foretelling the future.

bullet7% believe that crystals are a source of healing or energizing power

bullet9% believe that Tarot Cards are a reliable base for life decisions

bulletabout 1 in 4 believe in a non-traditional concept of the nature of God which are often associated with New Age thinking:

bullet11% believe that God is "a state of higher consciousness that a person may reach"

bullet8% define God as "the total realization of personal, human potential"

bullet3% believe that each person is God.

The group of surveys cited above classify religious beliefs into 7 faith groups. 2 Starting with the largest, they are: Cultural (Christmas & Easter) Christianity, Conventional Christianity, New Age Practitioner, Biblical (Fundamentalist, Evangelical) Christianity, Atheist/Agnostic, Other, and Jewish, A longitudinal study from 1991 to 1995 shows that New Agers represent a steady 20% of the population, and are consistently the third largest religious group. 2

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Sponsored link.

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History of the New Age movement:

New Age teachings became popular during the 1970's as a reaction against what some perceived as the failure of Christianity and the failure of Secular Humanism to provide spiritual and ethical guidance for the future. Its roots are traceable to many sources: Astrology, Channeling, Hinduism, Gnostic traditions, Spiritualism, Taoism, Theosophy, Wicca and other Neo-pagan traditions, etc. The movement started in England in the 1960's where many of these elements were well established. Small groups, such as the Findhorn Community in Inverness and the Wrekin Trust formed. The movement quickly became international. Early New Age mileposts in North America were a "New Age Seminar" run by the Association for Research and Enlightenment, and the establishment of the East-West Journal in 1971. Actress Shirley MacLaine is perhaps their most famous current figure.

During the 1980's and 90's, the movement came under criticism from a variety of groups. Channeling was ridiculed; seminar and group leaders were criticized for the fortunes that they made from New Agers. Their uncritical belief in the "scientific" properties of crystals was exposed as groundless. But the movement has become established and become a stable, major force in North American religion during the past generation. The new age appears to be in good shape in the first decade of the 21st century with a very wide following.

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The one version of the "New Age" that does not exist:

Major confusion about the New Age has been generated by academics, counter-cult groups, fundamentalist and other evangelical Christians and traditional Muslim groups, etc. Some examples are:

bullet Many of the above groups have dismissed Tasawwuf (Sufiism) as a New Age cult. In reality, Sufiism has historically been an established mystical movement within Islam, which has always existing in a state of tension with the more legalistic divisions within Islam. It has no actual connection with the New Age.

bullet Some conservative Christians have believed that a massive, underground, highly coordinated New Age organization exists that is infiltrating government, media, schools and churches. No such entity exists.

bullet

Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, some conservative Christians do not differentiate among the Occult, Satanism, Wicca, other Neopagan religions. Many seemed to regard all as forms of Satanism who perform horrendous criminal acts on children. Others viewed The New Age, Neopagan religions, Tarot card reading, rune readings, channeling, work with crystal energy, etc. as merely recruiting programs for Satanism. In fact, the Occult, Satanism, Neo-pagan religions are very different phenomena, and essentially unrelated.

Dr. Carl Raschke, professor of Religious Studies at the University of Denver described New Age practices as:

"... the spiritual version of AIDS; it destroys the ability of people to cope and function. ... [it is] essentially, the marketing end of the political packaging of occultism...a breeding ground for a new American form of fascism."

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Some New Age beliefs:

A number of fundamental beliefs are held by many -- but certainly not all -- New Age followers. Individuals are encouraged to "shop" for the beliefs and practices that they feel most comfortable with:

bulletMonism: All that exists is derived from a single source of divine energy.

bulletPantheism: All that exists is God; God is all that exists. This leads naturally to the concept of the divinity of the individual, that we are all Gods. They do not seek God as revealed in a sacred text or as exists in a remote heaven; they seek God within the self and throughout the entire universe.

bulletPanentheism: God is all that exists. God is at once the entire universe, and transcends the universe as well.

bullet Reincarnation: After death, we are literally reborn and live another life as a human. This cycle repeats itself many times. This belief is similar to the concept of transmigration of the soul in Hinduism.

bulletKarma: The good and bad deeds that we do adds and subtracts from our accumulated record, our karma. At the end of our life, we are rewarded or punished according to our karma by being reincarnated into either a painful or good new life. This belief is linked to that of reincarnation and is also derived from Hinduism

bullet An Aura is believed to be an energy field radiated by the body. Invisible to most people, it can be detected by some as a shimmering, multi-colored field surrounding the body. Those skilled in detecting and interpreting auras believe that they can diagnose an individual's state of mind, and their spiritual and physical health.

bullet Personal Transformation A profoundly intense mystical experience will lead to the acceptance and use of New Age beliefs and practices. Guided imagery, hypnosis, meditation, and (sometimes) the use of hallucinogenic drugs are useful to bring about and enhance this transformation. Believers hope to develop new potentials within themselves: the ability to heal oneself and others, psychic powers, a new understanding of the workings of the universe, etc. Later, when sufficient numbers of people have achieved these powers, they expect that a major spiritual, physical, psychological and cultural planet-wide transformation will happen.

bulletEcological Responsibility: A belief in the importance of uniting to preserve the health of the earth, which is often looked upon as Gaia, (Mother Earth) a living entity.

bulletUniversal Religion: Since all is God, then only one reality exists, and all religions are simply different paths to that ultimate reality. The universal religion can be visualized as a mountain, with many sadhanas (spiritual paths) to the summit. Some are hard; others easy. There is no one correct path. All paths eventually reach the top. They anticipate that a new universal religion which contains elements of all current faiths will evolve and become generally accepted worldwide.

bullet New World Order As the Age of Aquarius unfolds, a New Age will increase in membership and influence. This will be a utopia in which there is world government, and end to wars, disease, hunger, pollution, and poverty. Gender, racial, religious and other forms of discrimination will cease. People's allegiance to their tribe or nation will be replaced by a concern for the entire world and its people.

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This discussion of the New Age continues in the next essay, Part 2

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. J. Naisbitt & P. Aburdene, Megatrends 2000", William Morrow & Company, New York, NY (1990)
  2. George Barnia, "The Index of Leading Spiritual Indicators", Word Publishing, Dallas TX, (1996)
  3. Richard Kyle, "The Religious Fringe", InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL (1993), Page 285-298
  4. J.Gordon Melton, "Whither the New Age?", Chapter 35 of T. Miller, "America's Alternative Religions", SUNY Press, Albany, NY (1995)
  5. R.T. Carroll, "A Course in Miracles," The Skeptic's Dictionary, at: http://skepdic.com/cim.html
  6. Nancy Ann Tappe, "Understanding Your Life Through Color," 2004 book review at Sentient Times. See: http://www.sentienttimes.com/

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How you probably got here: Home page > Spiritual paths, etc > here

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Copyright � 1995 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. The dates are not a typo; this web site first went online in 1995-APR
Latest update: 2015-APR-13
Author: B.A. Robinson
Links checked: 2006-FEB-21
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