New Age Spirituality: Part 1 of 2
a.k.a. Self-spirituality, New spirituality, Mind-body-spirit
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."
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:
|8% believe in astrology as a method of foretelling the future.|
||7% believe that crystals are a source of healing or energizing power|
||9% believe that Tarot Cards are a reliable base for life decisions|
||about 1 in 4 believe in a non-traditional concept of the nature of God
which are often associated with New Age thinking: |
11% believe that God is "a state of higher consciousness that a
person may reach"
8% define God as "the total realization of personal, human
||3% believe that each person is God.
The group of surveys cited above classify religious beliefs into 7 faith
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.
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
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.
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:
Many of the above groups have dismissed Tasawwuf (Sufiism) as a
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.
||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.
Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, some conservative Christians do not differentiate among the
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
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
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:
Monism: All that exists is derived from a single source of divine
Pantheism: 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
Panentheism: God is all that exists. God is at once the entire
universe, and transcends the universe as well.
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.
Karma: 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
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.
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.
Ecological 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.
Universal 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.
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.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
J. Naisbitt & P. Aburdene, Megatrends 2000", William Morrow &
Company, New York, NY (1990)
George Barnia, "The Index of Leading Spiritual Indicators", Word
Publishing, Dallas TX, (1996)
Richard Kyle, "The Religious Fringe", InterVarsity Press, Downers
Grove, IL (1993), Page 285-298
J.Gordon Melton, "Whither the New Age?", Chapter 35 of T. Miller, "America's Alternative Religions", SUNY Press, Albany, NY (1995)
R.T. Carroll, "A Course in Miracles," The Skeptic's Dictionary, at: http://skepdic.com/cim.html
Nancy Ann Tappe, "Understanding Your Life Through Color," 2004 book
review at Sentient Times. See: http://www.sentienttimes.com/
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