“When a child comes in, I believe that it’s a ‘multi-personhood,’ and it knows it, its consciousness knows it, and it has a nuclei in the center of its consciousness that is the repository of all experience and all knowledge. And when you look in the eyes of your baby and you feel this sense that they are an old soul, I believe indeed they are.”

– Shirley MacLaine, actress and popular New Ager

Don’t look inside, grasshopper. Inside can be a hot mess. Click To Tweet

I’ll be honest with you. When I first started writing these articles about world religion, I was not super thrilled about writing about the New Age Movement. Let me explain why. When you hear “New Age,” what do you think about? The images that came to my mind when I first started researching the New Age were hippies, incense burners, and the singer Enya (should we all just “Sail Away”?). How could I make the New Age Movement interesting and relevant for you, Mama Bears?

Surprisingly (or maybe not all that surprising to you), the New Age Movement is about much more than hippies, incense, and Enya, and it’s extremely relevant in today’s world. The New Age Movement’s history flows from Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, the human potential movement, and mysticism, and sometimes it’s difficult to nail down what a New Age thinker might…well…think.[1] Some might say it’s a choose-your-own-faith type of belief system (think of someone like Oprah). That said, most New Agers believe that human transformation is possible when people open themselves up to spiritual energies that are available to every human being. They hope to attain higher consciousness so that they can tap into their full potential, which we’ll talk about a little later. This leads them to embrace such things as astrology, crystals, and anything else that might open them up to the spirit realm. They take their beliefs seriously, and we do not enter into a discussion about the New Age Movement to mock or belittle anyone who might be a New Ager. But, we need to understand what they believe so that we can spot New Age ideology and so that we can answer our kiddos’ questions about it.

In the next few articles about world religion, we’re going to talk about the ins and outs of the New Age Movement, from its rise in popularity to how you might see it take shape today. Once we cover the New Age Movement, we’ll talk about Progressive Christianity, something you may have started to notice in popular books in the Christian section of the bookstore or even in your own church (or if you listen to the Mama Bear podcasts here and here, or in Mama Bear Alisa Childers’ outstanding podcast).

New Age: A Brief History

Have you ever heard the song, “Age of Aquarius,” which was made popular in the 1960s musical, Hair?[2] The music video is kinda trippy, but you can watch it here. The song does a good job of summarizing the history of the New Age Movement. Here’s a snippet of the lyrics:

When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars
This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius
Age of Aquarius

Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind’s true liberation

What could be so wrong with harmony, peace, and the mind’s true liberation? The song is combining astrological mysteries with the mind-altering power of meditating with crystals. If the harmony and peace we seek takes us away from the truth claims of Christianity such as the Triune God and the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, we need to question whether or not there is true freedom of the mind, or just numbing mind-control which endangers our ability to recognize truth. That’s not freedom. Freedom is found in Christ, not in our mind. Raise your hand if you feel like the crazy is IN your mind sometimes. (**tentatively raising my hand**) Yeah, me, too. Don’t look inside, grasshopper. Inside can be a hot mess.If the peace we seek takes us away from the truth of Christ, are we getting true freedom or just numbing mind-control which endangers our ability to recognize truth? Click To Tweet

We are sinners, and we need God’s grace and protection, which are not found in crystals or astrology, and the answers of the universe are definitely not already in my mind, unless I am referring to the mind of Christ, which became mine when I yielded myself to His saving grace.

 

What do New Agers believe?[3]

New Agers are typically pluralists, which means that they believe there is more than one way to ultimate reality, or more specifically, that there are multiple paths to God. New Age author Stephen Richards said, “Even though your thinking might not be right for others, just so long as it’s right for you then that’s all what matters.” New Agers usually won’t reject other people’s views. This kind of idea has been significantly influential on Western ideology, particularly with regard to pluralism and progressive thought.

Oprah and the New Age

That brings me to Oprah. I mentioned her earlier, and to be clear, I don’t bring her up in order to say definitively whether she is or isn’t a Christian, but if she makes the claim that she is a Christian, we need to evaluate her truth claims against the foundations of Christianity.

Oprah made a lot of waves back in the 1990s when she got into a debate about Jesus on her television show with a member of the audience (you can watch it here). In it, Oprah says, “There couldn’t possibly be just one way [to salvation].” This caught some of her fans off guard because she claims to be a Christian, but she was saying Jesus wasn’t the only way.

Adding to the confusion, Oprah hosted a series of Life Classes on her television station, OWN, where she had conversations with people she considered spiritual leaders, like Deepak Chopra, Rob Bell, and Eckhart Tolle. In a 2008, 10-week-series, she discussed Tolle’s book, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. During one show, she answered a viewer’s question about the conflict between Christianity and the spirituality Oprah was describing.

In her response to the viewer, Oprah said, “I believe that God is in all things. …What I believe is that Jesus came to show us Christ consciousness. Even as a Christian, I don’t believe that Jesus came to start Christianity.” Later she said, “I am a Christian who believes that there are certainly many more paths to God other than Christianity. I’m a free-thinking Christian who believes that, who believes in my way, but I don’t believe that it’s the only way, with six billion people here on the planet.” (You can read the full transcript here.)

In this Life Class clip from 2011, Oprah said, “I am a Christian, that is my faith. I’m not asking you to be a Christian. If you want to be one, I can show you how, but it is not required. I have respect for all faiths…all faiths. But what I’m talking about is not faith or religion but spirituality…living your life with an open heart through love.” She then encouraged her audience to align themselves “with the values of tolerance, acceptance, and harmony, of cooperation and reverence for life.”

A Wrinkle in Doctrine

Maybe you saw that Oprah played Mrs. Which in the 2018 film, A Wrinkle in Time. The film (which was based on the popular Madeleine L’Engle book of the same title), had many New Age themes in it, including a trip to the “Happy Medium” to help find the children’s father, yoga to enter into a deep meditative state, and references to finding your “oneness with the universe.” I won’t tell you not to let your kids watch the film (my husband and I watched it with our daughters), but I will encourage you to avoid it if you are not prepared to have an in-depth conversation with your children afterward where you highlight the differences between the movie and Christian truth (this article should help you out there.).

Can you see how people might be a little confused about not only Oprah’s faith, but what it might mean to truly be a Christian? With Oprah, we have someone professing to be a Christian, but then talking about harmony, divine consciousness, and a thread that connects all of us to something greater than ourselves. She’s never specific about the God that she believes in. Oprah believes that many paths lead to God. She’s not the only person who claims to be a Christian who believes that, either. Let’s dive more deeply into what New Agers believe so it becomes easier for you to spot New Age beliefs that may be buried in Christian-ese.

A Crash Course in New Age Beliefs

Not all New Agers are alike, so avoid lumping them all into the same box. I’ve said this before when we’ve covered other religions, but it’s important to engage in conversations with people, to find out what they believe and why. Ask them questions about what they believe. We need to approach them with respect and seek to understand why they believe what they believe. All of that to say, here are some of the most common New Age beliefs so that you’re prepared next time you engage with someone who is a member of the New Age Movement.

All is One. This is called monism, which stands in stark contrast to monotheism, so don’t get the two confused because they are not talking about the Christian God or three Persons in one. Essentially, monism holds that everything is one substance, so humanity is no different from God, who is no different from the grass that grows in your front yard. We are all related to each other, and we all depend on each other. Our differences are in our energy, vibrations, and abilities, but not in our value. We are all part of the whole or One. As you can see, there is some truth thrown in with these lies. Yes, all humans were created with equal worth and dignity, but we are by no means all the same.

New Agers also typically believe in planetary and personal transformation by elevating consciousness with all that is, which is the goal of their meditation practices. If they can reach the highest levels of their consciousness, they can transform not only themselves, but the entire planet. By finding their higher consciousness, they discover their own divinity (i.e. their own god within).

All is God. This goes along with the first belief that all is one, and you’ll see that it goes along with their third belief, too. This is, in short, pantheism, which is when someone believes that nature and everything that goes along with it is God. Philosopher and apologist Douglas Groothuis explains that for the New Ager, “Ultimate reality is god, who is in all and through all; in fact, god is all.”[4] This means that the god of the New Age is impersonal, not the personal God of Christianity. Paul admonished the wicked for worshiping created beings, not the Creator, saying, “They exchanged truth about God for a lie” (Romans 1:25). In other words, the Creator is distinguished from His creation. Therefore, all cannot possibly be God.

Humanity is God. There you have it. If all is one, and all is God, then humanity must also be God! Fairy-tale author Kate Bernheimer said, “When humans become gods, when our wings grow so great as to beat about the very edges of the earth, no one can answer but us.” Thus, the goal is to attain complete knowledge and be transcendent, to be god.

In her autobiography, Out on a Limb, actress Shirley MacLaine described an event that happened in her hot tub that gives us a good idea of what type of mysticism permeates the New Age Movement. She says, “My whole body seemed to float. Slowly, slowly I became the water…I felt the inner connection of my breathing with the pulse of the energy around me. In fact, I was the air, the water, the darkness, the walls, the bubbles, the candle, the wet rocks under the water, and even the sound of the rushing river outside.”[5]

MacLaine was saying that she was no longer in the hot tub, but that she was the hot tub and everything in and around it. Perhaps MacLaine’s most famous statement is from the 1987 television miniseries based on her autobiography where she exclaimed, “I am god! I am god! I am god!”[6] MacLaine and other New Agers truly believe that they are one with the universe and one with god. They believe they are god. This doesn’t mean they think they are the Christian God; instead, MacLaine and other New Agers believe that God is merely a “universal life force,” and when we finally attain the “higher levels of consciousness,” we are united with our true identities.

All Religions are One (Syncretism). You may have guessed that this belief was going to be on the list, especially after I told you that New Agers aren’t picky about beliefs. There is no fundamental truth in the New Age Movement like there is in Christianity, except for maybe the “truth” that all truths are equally true. (We discuss this cultural lie in chapter 8 of our upcoming book, Mama Bear Apologetics: Empowering Your Kids to Challenge Cultural Lies.) New Agers believe all paths lead to the same place and that your truth is just as good as my truth. The issue is that if my truth (that there is one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ, 1 Timothy 2:5) is true, and you believe the opposite, how can we both be right? This violates the law of non-contradiction (e.g., A cannot also be Non-A.). Oprah is popular, to be sure, and she may even claim to be a Christian, but that doesn’t mean she’s right about there being many paths to God. In fact, the Bible says differently (Acts 4:12 and John 14:6).

Stephen Richards and other New Agers want us to believe that anything goes and we can all just believe what we think is best for us. The problem with that is that there are buildings full of people who did what was right for them, and those buildings are called prisons. I bet if you ask your kids about cheating on a test, they would say it’s wrong, but if you ask them about what they want to be when they grow up, they’d say everyone has a different plan. That’s because some things are true for all people at all times and in all places, and other decisions can vary depending on the person. As another example, most, if not all, people will agree that murder is wrong. On the other hand, some people love chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream while others prefer rocky road. Some people don’t even like ice cream, and that’s okay (although I personally love a good hot fudge sundae with chocolate chips and whipped cream on top).

When it comes to worldviews—what is true about the world we live in—it can be tough for a Christian to understand pluralism. Acceptance of all worldviews sounds so benevolent, kind, and heartwarming, but there are certain beliefs that define Christianity (read my article on Christianity here), and disagreement with those beliefs precludes someone from properly calling themselves Christian. For example, if someone doesn’t believe that Jesus died and was resurrected on the third day, that’s a problem because belief in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection are paramount to orthodox Christianity. Without those three details, a person cannot properly refer to their beliefs as “Christian” no matter how many other “love thy neighbor” creeds they spout. That is because the life, death, and resurrection of Christ is fundamental to Christian belief.

Another Christian fundamental is that Jesus is the only way to salvation (Acts 4:12 and John 14:6). New Agers don’t believe that because they won’t typically reject other people’s views. Rejection isn’t always motivated by hate. I reject every man but Jay, not because I hate other men, but because I have chosen to marry Jay. Similarly, we are called the bride of Christ, not because we hate other people and their religions, but because we have chosen Christ. We cannot have both Christ and the world.

Reincarnation. I want you to take a second to re-read that quote from Shirley MacLaine that is at the beginning of this article. What does it mean? She’s saying that you might look into your baby’s eyes and see an old soul because he or she is, in fact, an old soul. New Agers believe that the soul can be born in a human body multiple times, improving with each life cycle. Death is simply a step toward a higher being, a new life. (This is VERY different from the concept of resurrection of the dead as taught in Matthew 22:29-32 and Revelation 20:12-13) New Agers embrace the idea of karma, which is the belief that the universe returns to you whatever good or evil you put into it.

Are you good to others? Well, then, the universe will be good to you. Reincarnation supposedly allows you to learn what you failed to learn in your previous lives. The ultimate goal is to progress to the highest level of consciousness. (We’ll get into this more when we address Hinduism.)

Here’s an important apologetic point about reincarnation. In Out on a Limb, MacLaine claims that “Christ’s teachings about reincarnation were struck from the Bible during the Fifth Ecumenical Council meeting in Constantinople in the year A.D. 553.”[7] If you watched the entire clip where she claimed to be god, you may have noticed that point in her conversation with John Heard. The problem is that it isn’t a true claim. We’ll discuss this in more detail in our questions and answers blog about the New Age.

Bottom line, reincarnation was never in the Bible, despite what some New Agers claim. It simply is not a biblical concept. Scripture says that it is appointed for man to die once and then face judgment (Hebrews 9:27)

Jesus Christ. New Agers typically believe that Jesus was simply a spiritual teacher (or a highly evolved soul), not God. They relate him to other “cosmic Christs” such as Buddha and Mohammed. They do not believe that salvation can be found through Jesus.[8] Salvation is found within themselves.

Enlightenment. The New Age Movement relies on mysticism in order to reach enlightenment or “mind’s true liberation” (a la Hair’s “Age of Aquarius”). They seek consciousness. MacLaine described this pretty clearly when she said, “We already know everything. The knowingness of our divinity is the highest intelligence. And to be what we already know is the free will. Free will is simply the enactment of the realization you are God, a realization that you are divine: free will is making everything accessible to you.”[9]

For New Agers, the highest state of being for humanity is being fully conscious, awakened to those things we already know but have yet to realize. (If that were true, it sure would have saved me time when studying for the Bar exam!)

What can we learn from the New Age Movement?

In true Mama Bear fashion, we are not here to condemn anything and everything that begins with a faulty premise. As we’ve seen in our previous articles, being wrong about one thing doesn’t mean you’re wrong about everything. There are still things we can learn from the New Age movement, truths that are not connected to their theology.

Environmentalism. Because of the New Age view that all is God and God is one with all things, New Agers tend to value taking care of the earth. Christians should at least agree with them that we should care for God’s creation, which includes the earth. It’s good stewardship of the resources He’s given to us, and stewardship of the earth was one of the first commandments humanity received in the garden (Genesis 1:28, 2:15).

Human rights. Because of their view of the human potential to be gods, New Agers fight for the rights of humanity. We should, too, of course. We are all created in the imago dei, or image of God. Humanity is God’s most significant creation, and we should work to take care of each other in all ways possible.

In our next article, we’ll answer some questions about the New Age Movement, like “What is channeling?,” “What is the relationship between holistic health and the New Age?,” and “Is the New Age invading the Christian church?” We’ll also tackle issues like yoga, crystals, and syncretism (do all paths lead to the same place?).

If you have any questions about the New Age Movement that you’d like answered, please leave them in the comments. If you’ve come out of the New Age Movement, we’d love to hear your story, too.

Special thanks to Sharon Beekmann for taking the time to read through this article for accuracy. Your valuable insight and contributions are appreciated.

[1] You can learn more about the human potential movement in this video from the Audiopedia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXeembmp72g.

[2] You might also be interested to know that NBC will be featuring a live performance of the musical, Hair, on May 19, 2019. Some of the other songs in this musical include “Sodomy” and “Hare Krishna.” Do your research about Hair before you sit down on the couch to watch it with your kiddos next May. A simple Internet search will yield the lyrics for the entire show.

[3] Much of what I have written in this section was derived from Dr. Douglas Groothuis’ excellent book Unmasking the New Age (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986). Another helpful book for this article was John Ankerberg and John Weldon’s book The Facts on the New Age Movement: Answers to the 30 most frequently asked questions about the New Age Movement (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1988).

[4] Douglas Groothuis, Unmasking the New Age (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 20.

[5] Shirley MacLaine, Out on a Limb (New York: Bantam, 1983), 268.

[6] See minute 3:50 of this clip from Out on a Limb (miniseries, 1987), https://youtu.be/ccb2GsnOoBM.

[7] Shirley MacLaine, Out on a Limb (New York: Bantam, 1983), 268.

[8] Fritz Ridenour, So What’s the Difference? A look at 20 Worldviews, Faiths, and Religions and How They Compare to Christianity (Ventura, CA: Gospel Light, 2001), 151.

[9] William Goldstein, “Life on the Astral Plane,” Publishers Weekly, 18 March 1983, 46.

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