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Tracing the Sources of the New Age

By Paul McGuire
Published April 3, 2008

The first thing we must understand about the New Age Movement is that it is not new. It is a compilation of old myths, of ancient Bhuddism, all dusted off and translated into high-tech Western scientific terms. What has been coined the New Age Movement by the mass media is really the combining and blending of various spiritual movements that are centuries old.

The origin of Hinduism dates back as early as 2000 to 1000 B.C. Hinduism has no historical founder, but its tradition teaches that its spiritual laws and truths were revealed to spiritual men called rishis, who lived along the banks of the Ganges and Indus rivers in northern India. According to Hinduism, Brahman is the supreme, absolute, eternal, infinite, neuter Spirit Being. Brahman is also perfect and unchangeable. Hinduism teaches that only that which is permanent is real. Because all things change except Brahman, only Brahman is real. Hundreds of lesser gods can be worshiped by the Hindu because all gods are seen as different aspects of the one Brahman.

According to Hinduism, every living thing has a spirit or soul, called an atman, which comes from Brahman. The final destination of the human atman is union with Brahman, but this cannot be achieved in just one lifetime. Therefore, each individual atman, or soul, must pass from body to body, lifetime after lifetime, guided by the law of karma. This is called reincarnation, or the transmigration of the soul. The law of karma determines what type of life will be lived in each reincarnation. According to this law, your current life is the product of your deeds in past lives. Your next reincarnation will depend on your deeds during this life. It is this tenet which is the basis for many things taught by people like Shirley MacLaine, Ruth Montgomery, and various other gurus and spiritual teachers.

This belief in reincarnation has been given a fresh infusion of credibility by scientists like Raymond A. Moody Jr., M.D., author of Life after Life, which investigates NDEs (or Near Death Experiences) and OBEs (or Out of Body Experiences). Although not directly embracing reincarnation, his accounts of NDEs when one encounters a “Being of Light” paved the way for a New Age theology which openly accepts reincarnation.

Moody reports that after meeting several “beings of light,” the NDE-er usually meets a supreme Being of Light, whom people with a Christian background often call God or Jesus but whom those of other religious traditions call Buddha or Allah. Still others apparently say that this supreme being of light is none of these personages, but nevertheless is someone very awesome. One wonders who this other being is. The Bible speaks about a Lucifer (“the shining one”) who is a powerful spiritual being in rebellion against God. Could this “being of light” in reality be Lucifer?

According to Martha Knobloch, a Christian expert on the subject of reincarnation, powers of darkness can come as “beings of light” and create the hallucinations involved in NDEs and OBEs. In addition, Knobloch believes that demons can actually cause people to remember “past lives” that they never lived.

BUDDHISM

The religion of Bhuddism was founded in India by Siddhartha Gautama (later called “the Buddha” or “enlightened one”), who lived between 560 and 480 B.C., as a protest against certain Hindu doctrines. Siddhartha Gautama was raised in an affluent family and did not even know that poverty existed until he left the pleasant confines of his father’s palace. Siddhartha was so disturbed by the poverty and despair that existed that he decided to go on a spiritual journey to find answers. Shaving his head and donning a robe, Siddhartha Gautama traveled and consulted with gurus and spiritual teachers.

Finally, Siddhartha Gautama began to meditate, became “enlightened,” and developed what became known as the Noble Eight-fold path that would lead to nirvana or “perfect insight,” a quality of mind. These eight techniques consisted of: (1) right belief, (2) right aspiration, (3) right speech, (4) right action, (5) right occupation, (6) right effort, (7) right thought, (8) right meditation.

In a nutshell, the Bhudda’s Noble Eight-fold Path is a program of self-effort that is designed to earn you peace. Like every other New Age teaching and mystical practice, the road to Paradise is paved by your own personal spiritual performance. In other words, you earn your way to heaven through your works. This is the antithesis of God’s method of salvation described in the Bible as based on faith in Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.”

FROM THE PAST TO THE PRESENT

Coupled with these ancient belief systems (Hinduism and Bhuddism) are the more recent ideas of women like Madame Blavatsky who founded the Theosophical Society and wrote Isis Unveiled in the late nineteenth century. Blavatsky’s Theosophical Movement emphasized the Hindu and Bhuddist teachings of reincarnation and taught there are mahatmas (“great souls” or exalted beings) who have come to earth to teach us the way to enlightenment.

The ideas of the Theosophical Society blended with Mary Baker Eddy’s Christian Science teachings and with dozens of other hybrid religious movements in the early twentieth century. However, the most immediate spiritual predecessor of the contemporary New Age Movement was the Hippie movement of the 1960s and the earlier Beatnik movement of the 1950s. Both of these cultural and social phenomena came about as reactions to the materialism of the post-World War II years.

Poets, writers, philosophers, and intellectuals (such as Alan Watts, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and Gregory Corso) called for a new brand of American consciousness and popularized the use of marijuana and Eastern meditation in our culture. By the 1960s, the ideas of men like Timothy Leary were increasingly acceptable to larger segments of society, and the appeal of pop music groups, such as the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Starship, the Doors, and the Beatles, ushered the psychedelic-mystical revolution into the living rooms of millions of ordinary middle-class teenagers. When John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison began to follow the guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation ™, millions of Americans joined them.

Many of the spiritual movements now popular in the New Age movement had their twentieth-century revivals in the 1960s and early 1970s. In fact, many social analysts believe that the New Age movement is nothing more than an attempt to rediscover the interests of the 1960s and the idealism of the Hippie movement.

But the current New Age Movement has made some interesting departures from its earlier predecessors that reflect the maturity of its followers. There has been a deemphasis in the use of drugs in favor of health foods, meditation, channeling, crystals, and astral projection. Channeling and astral projection have replaced the powerful psychedelic experience of the 1960s, although there are signs of a possible resurgence of LSD through the work of modern shamanists like Terrence McKenna and the popularity of the Albert Hoffman Institute in Los Angeles, which seeks to protect the use of LSD experimentation. (Albert Hoffman was the Swiss chemist who accidentally discovered the chemical LSD.)

NEW AGE PRACTICES AND TERMS

To understand more clearly what the New Age Movement is we must understand some of the terms associated with it and the practices employed by it. We will see that some of them are distortions of Christian truth and of what should be part of a legitimate Christian lifestyle.

Channeling. The practice of channeling is not new. It is what the Old Testament termed mediumship, consulting with spirits, and spiritism. Channeling or mediumship is when an individual willfully yields to a spirit by going into a trancelike state. Channeling has been around for centuries and is mentioned in the Old Testament. King Saul consulted mediums and channelers when he was looking for supernatural answers. Instead of looking to God, he turned to the occult.

First Samuel 28:7 says: “Then Saul said to his servants, ‘Seek for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.’ And his servants said to him, ‘Behold, there is a woman who is a medium at Endor.’” We knew that Saul knew that it was wrong to consult mediums, for he had to visit the medium in disguise, having previously cut off all mediums and spiritists from the land. Because Saul was not in a right relationship with God at this time, he sought counsel from the channelers of his day.

Today there are several famous channelers: J.Z. Knight channels an entity or spirit called Ramtha, Jach Pusel mediums Lazaris, and there are thousands of lesser known channelers or mediums who give private consultations. Some even have their own television shows. In some cases, these channelers are fakes and charlatans, and in other cases they are actually letting spirits talk through them. The Bible is very specific about forbidding the practice of channeling, consulting spirits, or using mediums. Leviticus 19:31 states: “Do not turn to mediums or spiritists; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God.”

Shirley MacLaine, Kevin Ryerson, Jane Roberts, J.Z. Knight, Jach Pursel, and the thousands of others who are practicing and encouraging channeling may appear to be very compassionate and intelligent people. But the practices of channeling, consulting spirits, and mediumship are strongly condemned by God in the Bible.

Astrology. This New Age practice goes way back in ancient history. Although many of our country’s newspapers regularity carry a horoscope column, it too is a practice specifically condemned by the Bible. Many people consider the consulting of horoscopes as harmless fun. But this is not the position that the Bible takes concerning astrology.

The prophet Isaiah warns against the practice of astrology in Isaiah 47:13-14: “You are wearied with your many counsel; let now the astrologers, those who prophesy by the stars, those who predict by the new moons, stand up and save you from what will come upon you. Behold, they have become like stubble, fire burns them; they cannot deliver themselves from the power of the flame….” The prophet Isaiah warns the nation that they should seek God and not the stars or else destruction will come upon them.

Linda Goodman is one of the most famous astrologers of our era, selling over 60 million copies of her first two books on astrology, Sun Signs and Love Signs. Both of these books have been translated into over fifteen languages, and she has received bids of millions of dollars from publishing companies seeking the rights to her new books. Goodman is not a fatalistic astrologer who believes “it’s all in the stars.” Two themes emerge in her writing: (1) time does not really exist; and (2) when you learn to become a mover instead of a pawn, you rise above your horoscope.

However, in an interview with Whole Life Times magazine Goodman responds to the question: “What do you think is going to happen in this New Age? You speak in one of your books about this being a time of preparation for the appearance of a Messiah.” Goodman answers: “I also point out in the ‘Lexigram’ chapter of Star Signs that the Second Coming is not going to be a barefooted man floating down in a white robe. The Second Coming is in each heart, when each man and each woman realizes that ‘I too am a Messiah.’ And then I did a Lexigram on the word Messiah. I am he. She is me. He is her. I am she. He is me.”

Crystals. If anything hallmarks the New Age Movement it is the use of crystals. I recently visited the Bhodi Tree Bookstore on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. This is the most famous New Age bookstore in the world, recently popularized by Shirley MacLaine in her television movie and book Out on a Limb. Inside the bookstore there was a large assortment of crystals for sale, as well as numerous books and magazines on the subject. Crystals are supposed to generate cosmic energy and facilitate higher consciousness and divine healing. Crystals have been used for everything from relieving depression to warding off evil spirits. They are in a sense a New Age cure-all.

Recently, a “Crystal Congress” was held in Los Angeles and noted speakers from around the world – like scientist and author Marc Vogel, Uma Silbey (jewelry designer and author), and Katrina Raphael (healing professional and author) – came to lecture on the healing arts and metaphysical applications of crystals, mineralogy, and geology.

The Bible does not specifically mention crystals. However, it is interesting to note that in Ezekiel 28:12-15 a reference to Satan appears. It reads: “Every precious stone was your covering.” Could Satan use these objects of beauty to hide behind? There is nothing wrong with owning them to enjoy their beauty. However, if a crystal has been used in conjunction with or as an instrument of mystical or occult practices, I strongly suggest that you get rid of it.

New Age Medicine and Holistic Health. New Age thinking has infiltrated the medical establishment and has begun to permeate the thinking of medical doctors. In this area it is difficult to discern between what are legitimate new forms of medicine based on Eastern medical techniques and new scientific discoveries, and what is clearly New Age or occult. Terms like homeopathy, herbs, chakras, acupuncture, deep tissue bodywork massage, rolfing, polarity energy balance, clinical ecology, environmental stress, Reichan Therapy, Tibetan Reiki Therapy, Kirlian photography, electro-acupuncture, mineral balancing, chelation therapy, colon hydrotherapy, amino therapy, aromatherapy, integrated metabolic programs, bio-energetics, flower essences, and reflexology are just a few of the current trends in the medical arts.

Many things about holistic health and New Age medicine are not only very beneficial and good for you but are also biblical. For instance, the Bible has many things to say about the relationship between attitude and health. “A tranquil heart is life to the body, but passion is rottenness to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24). “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24). “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22). It is clear that the relationship between attitude and health is a biblical concept.

There are aspects of holistic health and New Age medicine that are not compatible with Scripture, however, we should affirm an emphasis on nutrition. It is not New Age to eat foods free of chemical pollutants and dangerous pesticides. We should reduce our cholesterol intake by cutting down on red meats and fats, and eat more brans, fruits, and vegetables. This is not a subversive call to vegetarianism; it is scientific nutrition. Avoiding what is unhealthy does not mean that we are adopting the Hindu belief in vegetarianism and are afraid of eating our reincarnated ancestor.

Scripture says: “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Meditation. This ancient Hindu and Bhuddist practice involves emptying the conscious mind in order to become passive and to awaken the God-consciousness within you through the use of a mantra. By concentrating and chanting a mantra word, your mind supposedly becomes attuned to what mystics call your higher self or cosmic consciousness.

Meditation is an integral part of most New Age practices, but there is a radical difference between prayer and New Age meditation. Prayer is communication with God through Jesus Christ. It may involve verbal prayer or “praying in the Spirit,” but this communication is always directed toward the person of God. New Age meditation, on the other hand, is an emptying process where one focuses on a mantra which is usually a chant designed to contact a Hindu deity or demon. Eastern meditation involves the “dropping of your guard” and the relinquishing of the control of your rational mind, thus opening you to the realm of the demonic. For you are not focusing on God, and therefore other spirits can communicate with you.

There is a long tradition of sound Christian meditation, not to be confused with Eastern forms of meditation. It is certainly proper to meditate on the Word of God or to think in a concentrated manner about what God is doing in your life. “I have more insight than all my teachers, for thy testimonies are my meditation,” says the writer of Psalm 119:99. Meditation on the Bible involves focused thinking about what God has said. It is completely different from opening your mind to the “cosmic consciousness.”

Visualization. First of all, visualization to some degree is a normal function and creative tool of the mind. Every person before beginning any project or goal employs some kind of visualization in order to achieve it. Many athletes use a technique of visualization when they mentally picture themselves winning or performing a specific task successfully. Studies show that good automobile drivers who have low accident records often visualize or fantasize how they would get out of a particular accident situation while they drive. When they are faced with a potential accident, they have already rehearsed in their minds what action they are going to take to avoid it.

A certain degree of visualization is necessary to perform activities in life successfully. This kind of visualization is, however, different from the shamanistic Hinduism of someone like Shakti Gawain, guru and author of Creative Visualization, who employs the technique of visualization in the mystical or occult sense. In this type of visualization, your mind or mind power becomes the god or source of all power. You begin to believe that you can control everything in your life through visualizing it. The result is that you begin to play God and attempt to control everything through visualization. God gets crowded out of the picture entirely. Visualization then violates the commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3).

The Bible as on good spiritual guide among many. New Age members all make the mistake of viewing the Bible as just another “spiritual guidebook” among many other equally valid ones. However, the Bible is the only Word of God. The Apostle Paul says, “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

*************************

My spiritual pilgrimage began at a very young age when the questions, “Who am I? What is my purpose in life?” and “What am I doing here?” haunted me and burned in my mind night and day. While other children were content to play, I was driven to ask questions about the meaning of life. Raised in New York City, I came from a liberal, educated family. Both my parents were teachers, and neither believed in God.

As a young boy, I thought science could give me the answers to my questions about life. Reading every book I could get my hands on about science and the lives of the great scientists, I often devoured ten books a week. I read about men like Albert Einstein, Nicola Tesla, Thomas Edison, Enrico Fermi, Louis Pasteur, and John Oppenheimer. Building a huge laboratory in my bedroom, I undertook amateur experiments on cryogenics and nuclear physics. Soon, however, I realized that these brilliant men did not have the answers I was looking for. Thus, at an early age I discovered the bankruptcy of scientific materialism.

After exhausting science as a means of finding the meaning of life, I next investigated the occult and Eastern religions. Biblical Christianity was not even an option for me. I had never once met a Bible-believing Christian and the churches in my neighborhood were steeped in liberal theology or dead orthodoxy.

People involved in the New Age Movement hold the very same beliefs, for their goal is to create a one-world government and unify the planet under a spiritual system of higher consciousness. Like many New Agers, I viewed Christians with all their talk of Jesus Christ being the “only way” as an anachronism and a threat to the spiritual/political revolution coming to the planet.

But everything I had searched for in Eastern mysticism, human relationships, and the New Age Movement, I now find in Jesus Christ. This was not just another higher state of consciousness, an “upper story leap” without rational content, or a mystical trip. Nothing about this was artificial or mystical. One could easily misconstrue my involvement in the New Age Movement and my faith Jesus Christ as the path of someone hopping from experience to experience lacking rational and verifiable content. Let me assure you that when I began my spiritual journey I did so as a scientist and a skeptic.

The contrast between mystical experiences and my encounter with Jesus Christ was as different as night and day. All of the New Age and Eastern mystical experiences I was involved in had an illusory quality no matter how real they seemed at the time. Jesus Christ was not just another “experience.” My newfound relationship with Him conveyed a reality so strong that I knew I had found God.

Excerpted from Supernatural Faith in the New Age by Paul McGuire (Springdale, PA: Whitaker House Books, 1987), pp. 43-56 and Evangelizing the New Age (Ann Arbor, MI, Servant Publications, 1989) pp. 38-54.


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