Signs of the Times
The New Age Movement
By Rev..Tan Jin Huat, Seminari Teologi Malaysia lecturer in Seremban and Bethel Anglican Church pastor in Puchong.
THE New Age Movement (NAM) has slowly grown from the 1970s and has made its presence felt, particularly in the US since the mid-1980's when it caught media attention.
This is due in part to the highly publicised activity and seminars held by popular actress Shirley MacLaine. The novelty of its belief in the Western world gave it a constrasting colur to their traditional Christian beliefs. Its growing popularity may, in part, be due to the fact that it represented a spiritual andcultural revolt against the secularism and spiritualemptiness of Western society and culture. In Malaysia, its presence mayu not be as pervasive, but it is nonetheless felt.
The NAM is an informal, loosely knit network of many individuals and organisations. It has resulted in a movement of different networks of different concerns and causes, including the consciousness movement (advocating the development of altered states of consciousness as a way of developing the human potential), the holistic health movement and the 'green' movement.
Its highly visible front has been through the promotion of alternative medicine or holistic medicine. The holistic menu that has been served include acupuncture, aromatherapy, floatation therapy, herbalism, homeopathy, hypnotherapy, reflexology among others. A number of these has long been part and parcel of traditional Asian medical practice. In Malaysia, the concept of holistic health is fast gaining acceptance through the resurgence of traditional Asian herbal cures and more recently, of aryuvedic medicne. The rise of commercial equilibrium has caught the attention of our society.
Interestingly enough, its emphasis on holistic medicine is not unbiblical. Associated with health and healing, NAM has a dark side in which it indulges in psychic powers and spiritism. The practice of channelling is basically NewAge spiritism, allowing the spirit to take over a person completely and enable the person in effect to function as a medium.
New Agers like Shirlely MacLaine, have claimed that they have been able to channel their higher self to discover the god or goddess within. Such occultic practices are nothing new within Asian cultures, they have been there for centuries. In traditional cultures, the practice of sorcery and magic has never been strictly divorced from medicine; not so in the Bible. The practice of communicating with the spirits has been strictly forbidden in the Scriptures and are an abomination to God (Deut 18:10). Biblically, these channelled spirits are deceiving spirits or demonic beings. Their purpose have been to deceive people into believing heretical philosophies and practices and to hinder them from entering in a right relationship with the true God. The attractive promises of health, healing and having a better personality by the NAM have swayed many people into giving it a try.
Its influence on society, through the media and movies like Star Wars propounding pantheistic and New Age philosophy, has been more subtle. In bookshops today, there are now sections devoted to New Age books, where once these were occupied by books on Christianity and other religions.
In addition, NAM has been seeking to influence the educational process in public schools in the US to introduce teachings on Buddhism, Hinduism, Eastern meditation, yoga, magic and Indian spirituality. Their emphasis on holistic education is based on the rationale that education has cultivated left brain activities, as the focus of education has been on analytical and logical skills. Right brain learning which gives room for human creative and intuitive abilities have been neglected.The call for holistic learning or whole brain learning to give greater place to right brain activities such as meditation seems to have gained some hearing.
In Malaysia, it is unlikely that the practice of eastern meditation as part of the school curriculum will ever be condoned in a state controlled by Muslim leaders. But, in the world of management, the idea of holistic learning using more right brain activity has literally caught fire. The fact that people are more receptive to the idea of holistic learning does not necessarily mean that they are participant into the New Age movement. They may be merely interested to improve themselves and nothing more, without subscribing to any New Age ideas at all.
For the Christian, holistic living whether it is holistic learning or holistic health is good and proper as a biblical concern. But what we fill our minds with is the real concern. In New Age, where the emphasis is to empty one's mind and be filled by whatever comes at the spur of that movement, is to be avoided. Biblical meditation is not the emptying of one's mind, but the filling of it with the presence of Christ through the mediation of the Holy Spirit of God. The biblical emphasis is the renewal of our minds with its accompanying transformation by the Spirit of God.
Its effect on the business world seems to be in the realm of developing the human potential. This movement blossomed in the 1970's with a growing number of companies using the New Age "Self-Improvement Seminars". Peter Drucker, the management guru wrote an article in the February 9th, 1989 Wall Street Journal that "business is putting its managers into 'New Age Seminars' all promising 'consciousness-raising' and non-religious conversion resulting in a 'changed person.' Many major corporations like Ford Motor Co Proctor and Gamble, and Polaroid Corporation among others have participated or encouraged such seminars. Whether these companies subscribe to New Age idealogy is uncertain; but they certainly open themselves to it and their interest is mainly pragmatic in regard to their workers. The attractiveness of these seminars is the promise of greater creativity among the workers, increased productivity, better working relationship, and of course, better sales and profitability for the company.
In Malaysia, certain companies that are holding self-improvement seminars, seem to be promoting New Age philosophy and practices. The idea of encouraging human self-improvement by NAM will always find an universal appeal, especially when they teach that 'you can create your own reality' and 'you are your own god..' Those who attend and find help through them will no doubt be more predisposed to follow their philosophy and practice. Perhaps, its through this channel that they will find the most adherents to its cause. Certainly, they are growing slowly, steadily and subtly.
The NAM has also a political agenda. They have a wide range of concerns from nuclear disarmament, banning landmines, relieving over-population and starvation, ecological conservation, proper management of our depleting earth's resources, and proper wealth redistribution globally to relieve economic hardship and distress. Naturally, they have found kinship and a close association with the 'Green Movement.'
Since they recognise the oneness of humanity in this planet, they advocate the idea of a One-World Government arguing that the nation-states are no longer effective units of government nor are they able to act locally and think globally. The NAM propounds a transformational politics that involves the transformation of the whole planet. A pre-requisite is the need for a paradigm shift in our present way of thinking. The old paradigm should be holistic, stressing the oneness and inter-dependence of all things. To the NAM, the One-World Government will be able to deal with both global and national issues more effectively than the fragmented individual nation-states. There is an undoubted networking among New Agers to seek to influence the political process with a greater conscious effort in the US.
The NAM also believes in a coming Utopia where there will be a One-World Government, New Age Religion, and global socialism, that is the new political, religious and economic order. Ken Carey, a New Ager sees AD2000 as an important psychic water shed. Beyond AD2000, there lies a 'realisable utopian society' of New Age harmony and wholeness.
Given the pervasiveness of the NAM into almost every field, that is from science, education, business, health-care to politics, particularly the US which happens to be the world's most powerful country, will the NAM be the soil from which the Anti-Christ will arise especially when the NAM specifically advocates as One-World Government. It is necessary first, to understand NAM itself and assess it from a biblical perspective.
The Nature of the New Age Movement
The NAM is basically not a monolithic structure like the Vatican; rather, it is a loosely structured network of individuals and organisations who share a common vision that the new age of mass enlightenment, peace and harmony, which they call the Age of Aquarius, is dawning. As to how this new age is dawning, there may be a difference in opinion among themselves; whether there will be a world-wide catacalysm and whether the new age will come with a Messianic figure and of the type of government that will subsequently rule. But this difference of opinion may be likened to the differences of opinion which Christians themselves have with regard to the Second Coming of Christ.
As a movement, it is very broad and diffuse. There is no one single organisation to which they must join nor is there any set creed that they must adhere. As such, they do not have a single changing one, drawing on the teachings of one teacher, modifying another and dropping yet another altogether. This chameleon-like nature of the NAM may give it a vitality in terms of it ability to adapt to the times. But, the disadvantage is its changeability, and if quite frequent in its teachings and beliefs, will provide a constant discontinuity within its own movement that does not augur well for its own stability and existence.It this is so, the NAM can have more diversity than unity within itself.
As a movement, it draws people from all ages and has a certain appeal. It is usually not distinguishable from the rest of society, but working subtly and covertly within it, without being overtly rebellious like the youth movements of the 1960's in the US. Its acceptability is because it does not promote anarchy or rebellion as a political philosophy. Their meditation techniques are generally drug free, giving it a good, clean public image.
It is a movement much like the Gnostic movement during the times of the Early Apostolic Church. It is basically characterised by its religious syncretism, combining and synthesizing the various types of religious and philosophical teacings. It is electic, drawing whatever 'truths' from a whole range of sources. The Bible is among one of their many sources. They relativise Christian truth claims and read the Bible through New Age spectacles. Christ is put on par with Buddha, Krishna and others as one of the ways that God revealed himself. It certainly does not square with the Christian affirmation that Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life (Jn 14:6).
At its philosophical base, NAM is monistic (that is, "all is one" everything that exists consists of one and the same reality or essence), pantheistic (that is, "all that there is is God" man is divine by virtue of being part of "all that is") and mystical. Its concept of salvation focusses on spiritual technique. If man is divine but unaware of it, certain spiritual techniques like meditation, chanting, ecstatic dancing among others, are meant to enable a person to consciously and mystically experience his oneness with God.
For this, a certain kind of knowledge (gnosis) is needed to reach the realisation that one's true self is God. It is through this experience that there is a personal transformation which is a life-long process of growth into increasing personal wholeness and spiritual power. Certainly, there is a stark contrast to the Christian belief in the monotheistic but triune God and to the Christian distinction between the Creator God and his creation. Christian doctrine only asserts that God is in everything (immanent), but not everything is God, unlike pantheism; hence, creation, particularly main, is not divine.
In addition, it holds to the Hindu doctrines of reincarnation and karma. By the law of karma, whatever good or bad a person does will be returned to him in exact proportion. As it is unlikely to do enough good to balance the bad in one lifetime, a person is reincarnated till his good karma balances off his bad. This clearly spells out a salvation by works which stands in marked contrast to the Christian concept of salvation by grace through faith alone in Jesus Christ. It also adopts a form of evolutionary thinking which advocates personal transformation that should lead to planetary transformation. But, it departs from Hinduistic pantheism by adding a world affirming dimension to make it more attractive to comtemporary society, particularly American society. Their syncretistic tendency may lead them to hold in tension contradictory religious and philosophical teachings.
Since the NAM includes a whole range of people, loosely linked together, it is not uncommon for the different individuals and organisations to have wide ranging interests and commitment to different causes. In the light of this diversity, Jeremy Tarcher, A New Ager, pointed out that 'no one speaks for the entire New Age Movement.'
Within the Malaysian scene, where there has been much public exposure and interaction with traditional Hinduism, NAM does not present itself as distinctive in any way. But in the US, there rationalism and secularism had exacted a spiritual toll on its society that NAM being new and novel, had attracted the curiosity of its people.
An Assessment of the New Age Movement
The NAM is really a Western form of classic monistic Hinduism with its spiritual techniques imported from India through the Hindu gurus and swamis that came to the US in the 1960s. Its adherents form a substantial group within the NAM.it has modified traditional Hinduism with the following features: a world affirming outlook instead of a world denying one, an effort to graft the fruits of modern learning into their traditional mystical practices and a concerted social effort to influence life globally on issues of peace, unification and ecological balance. A social conscience has generally been lacking in the traditional Hindu world-view. NAM has contextualised Hinduism into Western soild without its Hindu cultural trappings that gives it a definite advantage to promote its ideas. Freeing it from its specifically Hindu cultural dress has made it more universally acceptable.
There is a need to avoid the tendency of assessing the NAM as having nothing good but evil in its practical agenda. To do so will quickly lead us to form misconceptions about it. A more rational and objective assessment is required. Some of its aims are noble, and there is the need to commend it, when it promotes holistic health, learning and self-improvement, though we may disagree with its philosophy, method and goal.
There is currently no overall New Age Master Plan to lead the individual or its organisations into some concerted effort in a certain direction. There is no doubt that there is some networking among New Agers to reach their objectives but we need to be aware that they have distinct individual beliefs, interests, agendas and strategies. This diversity may make a conspiracy on a human level quite difficult, but by no means impossible.
In every age, there is always the tendency to label each pervasive movement as an End-time movement out of which the Anti-Christ will arise. The NAM is no different in the estimate of some Christians. The pervasiveness of the Gnostic movement of the @nd to 4th century would have made people at that time to think in similar terms. It can well be argued that any major ideological movement can be a legitimate contender to be an End-time movement.
Its pervasive influence in society may pave the way for people to think more seriously and to be more pre-disposed than before to the necessity of a One World Order combining the political, economic and religious realms. It may provide the context from which the Anti-Christ may arise. But, one is uncertain whether NAM will provide the religious centre from which the Anti-Christ will work, as it is too diffuse a movement to act together as a whole movement, acting in concert with each other. Yet, it is not inconceivable that the Anti-Christ when he arises will give structure and concrete shape and unity to this movement. A parallel movement has been the Gnostic movement in the days of the Early Church; and a comparison may provide us with some instructive insights. Like the NAM of today, the Gnostic movement, which was pervasive throughout the second to fourth centuries, later became marginalised.
The same may happen to the NAM. Is NAM only a passing phase like that of the Gnostic movement, even though it may exist for a couple of centuries? And will it then become later marginalised like the Gnostic movement? One cannot be sure; but still, we need to be watchful of the trends of the time.
A Breakthrough 2000 Conference and Renewal Rally, a regular event in Argentina that has attracted hundred of pastors and Christians in ministry these past years, will for the first time be held in this region.
The four ministers of God who have been conducting the event Claudio Freidzon, Carlos Annacondia, Sergio Scataglini and Betty Freidzon will be coming to our shores to impart the anointing popularly associated with Breakthrough events in Argentina.
Designed for pastors, church leaders, full-time workers and lay Christians involved in Christian ministry, the event is aimed at stoking the fires of revival and renewal, and comes in the wake of the recent Emmanuel Celebration in December last year at Bukit Jalil, led by evangelist Annacondia.
Organised by the NECF with the partnership of the churches of Malaysia from a host of denominations, the event consists of a three-day conference beginning May25 from 9am to 4pm at Dewan Wawasan, Menara PGRM, Cheras, Kuala Lumpur followed by nightly rallies, which are open to the public, from May 26-28th between 7.30pm and 11pm at Merdeka Stadium, Kuala Lumpur.
As with Emmanuel Celebration, we need volunteers to serve in various ministries such as ushering, worship and deliverance during the rallies, and thus require churches to mobilise teams for this purpose. Please forward the volunteers' names to us as soon as possible in the presribed forms that we have sent out.
The conference is open to foreigners as well, particularly in Asia, and a sizeable number of foreign participation is expected.
Registration before April 25th 2000 is RM100 (US$28 for foreigners) and late registration fees are RM130 (US$36 for foreigners). Fees include seminar materials, tea and lunch. Please make cheque payable to NECF Malaysia and send it together with the completed form to our address at 32, Jalan SS2/103, 473000 Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.
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FOCUS on the Family Malaysia has short articles suitable for church bulletins. These articles are related to the importance of building strong family relationships, including parenting, marriage enrichment and interpersonal relationships.
Anyone who would like to obtain these articles on a regular basis can contact Lee Wee Min at Focus on the Family Malaysia 39, Jalan Bandar Enambelas, Pusat Bandar Puchong 47100 Puchong, Selangor. Tel: 03-4323343; Fax: 03-4323533; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org between 9am to 5.30pm Mondays to Fridays and between 9am to 12 noon on Saturdays.