New Age Traps
by Anne Feaster
In the past thirty years, a false and alien spirituality has swept through this country, infecting millions of souls. It has contaminated television shows, high-grossing movies, best-selling books, popular personnel-training programs, and some non-traditional medical practices. It has destroyed the faith of many people. It has infiltrated Protestant Churches, and in Catholic circles it is making its way into retreat centers, seminars, and parish programs.
It is based on the old heresy of pantheism, and borrows many of its ideas from Hinduism. It is called New Age spirituality and it would have us look inside ourselves to find a Higher Self or True Self, to discover our divinity or "God"-power. It is the belief that "God" is deep within each one of us.
To connect with this "God within," New Agers use mantras (repetitious words or phrases) or yoga to empty the mind in order to reach altered states of consciousness or pure consciousness, whereby to discover their own divinity.
In order to warn Catholics of this false spirituality, the Vatican issued a document in 2003 called Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the New Age. This document describes New Age spirituality as pantheistic (the belief that everything and everyone is "God"). The Vatican document contradicts this by stating, "As Christians, we believe on the contrary that 'man is essentially a creature and remains so for all eternity, so that an absorption of the human I in the divine I will never be possible" (#2.3). New Agers and Hindus believe that they eventually become "God."
The document states that New Age spirituality is based on the belief that "God" is an "'impersonal energy' immanent in the world, with which it forms a 'cosmic unity': 'All is one.' . . . [This] 'divine energy' is often described as 'Christic energy" (#188.8.131.52). The document goes on to say that New Agers believe that "Jesus of Nazareth was not the Christ, but simply one among many historical figures in whom this 'Christic' nature is revealed, as is the case with Buddha and others" (#184.108.40.206). New Agers address "God" as the "Divine Love Energy" or the "Source."
According to New Age spirituality, the divine energy, which is also called "spirit," connects all of us "God," nature, people, animals, and the universe as a whole. New Agers believe we are all one. This pantheistic belief is the common thread or shared belief of Hinduism, Buddhism, witchcraft, New Age and Native American spirituality, and occultism. The Vatican document states, "In what might be termed a classical New Age account, people are born with a divine spark, in a sense which is reminiscent of ancient Gnosticism; this links them into the unity of the whole. So they are seen as essentially divine, although they participate in this cosmic divinity at different levels of consciousness. We are co-creators, and we create our own reality" (#220.127.116.11). The document adds that New Agers believe that "The journey is psychotherapy, and the recognition of universal consciousness is salvation. There is no sin; there is only imperfect knowledge" (#18.104.22.168). The document states that they believe that "The purpose and dynamic of all existence is to bring love, wisdom, and enlightenment . . . into full manifestation" (#7.1) and that "All religions are the expression of this same inner reality" (#7.1). They believe that we are moving toward a "global religion and a new world order" (#4). This would be the Age of Aquarius.
Where would a Catholic run into New Age ideas? In the business world, he would come across them in seminars that teach "what the mind can conceive, it can achieve." This would be accomplished by tapping into the "power within."
At school, a teenager might see a beautiful crystal hanging around a friend's neck. If the friend is into New Age spirituality, he would believe that this crystal has power from the universal energy force. He may be subjected to mind-emptying meditations in class that resemble Transcendental Meditation. When he goes to the movies, he is exposed to New Age concepts such as "the force" in the Star Wars series and other films. He may have some girls in his class practicing Wicca (New Age witchcraft) in imitation of Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
A housewife might run into New Age ideas in a yoga class (the type that includes meditation). Even though yoga is presented as exercise, it means "to yoke with god," and is part of the Hindu religion. Some of the exercises are designed to induce altered states of consciousness. She may also be invited to learn Transcendental Meditation, which is also derived from Hinduism. The Vatican document states, "Many people are convinced that there is no harm in 'borrowing' from the wisdom of the East, but the example of transcendental meditation should make Christians cautious about the prospect of committing themselves unknowingly to another religion (in this case Hinduism), despite what transcendental meditation's promoters claim about its religious neutrality. There is no problem with learning how to meditate, but the object or content of the exercise clearly determines whether it relates to God revealed by Jesus Christ, to some other revelation, or simply to the hidden depths of the self' (#6.2). It goes on to say that, according to New Agers, "Yoga, zen, meditation and tantric exercises lead to an experience of self-fulfillment or enlightenment," adding that they believe that "anything which can provoke an altered state of consciousness [is] believed to lead to unity and enlightenment" (#22.214.171.124). Buddhists, Hindus, and New Agers believe enlightenment to be a state of increased awareness of their own personal divinity.
Any member of the family might be introduced to New Age spirituality by watching the Oprah Winfrey Show. She often hosts New Age speakers, such as Shirley MacLaine. For many weeks, she had a three- to five-minute segment called "Remembering Your Spirit." One segment featured the popular New Ager Dr. Wayne Dyer. A prolific writer and author of 27 books, including Your Erroneous Zones, Dr. Dyer teaches people how to tap into the universal energy force, or their Higher Self. Another segment highlighted the Labyrinth Movement (walking a maze to find the "goddess within"). Linda Gray also appeared on this segment, sitting in a cross-legged position trying to connect to the earth. In addition, Oprah highly recommends a book written by New Ager Miguel Ruiz based on ancient Toltec wisdom titled The Four Agreements. Said Oprah, "This book by Don Miguel Ruiz, simple yet so powerful, has made a tremendous difference in how I think and act in every encounter."
A mother might take her child to a doctor involved in holistic health and be subjected to self-healing techniques or imagery for minor ailments. He might suggest using an inner guide for the child's sub-consciousness to address the emotional aspect of the illness. He might use "therapeutic touch" where he (the doctor or healer), in a trancelike state, moves his hands over or just above the patient's body, hovering where the healer senses "accumulated energy." This is known as Reiki healing, and it originates from tantric magic. This is a form of occult or psychic healing, and is out of bounds for Christians. The doctor may offer courses in "meditation." He may also suggest biofeedback, reflexology, or polarity massage. The Vatican document identifies these practices as connected to New Age (see #2.2.3).
A devout Catholic might join the ecology movement to protect the environment; unaware of the radical side of deep ecology. The document says, "deep ecology is often based on pantheistic and occasionally Gnostic principles" (#6.2). The Vatican document ex-plains, "What has been successful is the generalization of ecology as a fascination with nature and resacralization of the earth, Mother Earth or Gaia, with the missionary zeal characteristic of Green politics" (#2.3). It goes on to say that such a trend leads to the belief that "The warmth of Mother Earth, whose divinity pervades the whole of creation, is held to bridge the gap between creation and the transcendent Father-God of Judaism and Christianity, and removes the prospect of being judged by such a being" (#2.3).
The worship of Mother Earth and nature is called "Wicca," a neo-pagan renewal of witchcraft. Wicca, the document states, is also known as "the Craft," and "grew rapidly in the 1960s in the United States, where it encountered 'women's spirituality" (#7.2). It is still popular among some feminists, and it has made its way into some Catholic retreat centers.
A Catholic visiting any major bookstore would see a large section on Occult/New Age right next to the Religion section. In the 1990s there were 2,500 New Age bookstores in the U.S. One popular New Age author is Deepak Chopra, who teaches holistic healing. The aforementioned Wayne Dyer is the most well-known New Age author.
A parishioner may encounter the New Age in several ways. His parish might be teaching centering-prayer techniques that would help him to reach the center of his being, to find the True Self, or "God within" by using the sacred word (or mantra) to empty the mind of all thoughts. These techniques may resemble transcendental meditation, where the person tries to reach the hidden depths of self. The major beliefs of the Centering Prayer Movement have been identified by the Vatican document as linked to New Age. The parishioner might be directed toward a Labyrinth to pray at the center of his being to reach the "goddess within." He might be taught at a retreat center about the Cosmic Christ, the "God"-power in each of us. The document states that many New Agers believe that "Jesus of Nazareth is not God, but one of the historical manifestations of the cosmic and universal Christ" (#3.1). It also explains that they believe that "The cosmic Christ might be living next door or even inside one's deepest and truest self' (#3.3). A parishioner might be invited to an enneagram workshop. The enneagram is very popular in Catholic circles. The Vatican document identifies it as stemming from Gnosticism, which is in conflict with Christian beliefs. The document states (speaking of Gnosticism) that "An example of this can be seen in the enneagram, the nine-type tool for character analysis which when used as a means of spiritual growth introduces an ambiguity in the doctrine and the life of the Christian faith" (#1.4).
The document also says, "It must unfortunately be admitted that there are too many cases where Catholic centers of spirituality are actively involved in diffusing New Age religiosity in the church. This would of course have to be corrected, not only to stop the spread of confusion and error, but also so that they might be effective in promoting true Christian spirituality" (#6.2). In fact, the document lists some writers who had the most influence on New Agers, among whom are Carl Jung, Teilhard de Chardin, and Thomas Merton (see #9.2).
Some people think it is permissible to mix New Age spirituality with Catholicism. But the document warns that "From the point of view of Christian faith, it is not possible to isolate some elements of New Age religiosity as acceptable to Christians while rejecting others. Since the New Age movement makes much of a communication with nature, of cosmic knowledge of a universal good thereby negating the revealed contents of Christian faith it cannot be viewed as positive or innocuous. In a cultural environment marked by religious relativism it is necessary to signal a warning against the attempt to place New Age religiosity on the same level as Christian faith, making the difference between faith and belief seem relative, thus creating greater confusion for the unwary. In this regard, it is useful to remember the exhortation of St. Paul, 'to instruct certain people not to teach false doctrine or to concern themselves with myths and endless genealogies which promote speculations rather than the plan of God that is to be received by faith' (1 Tim. 1:3-4)" (#4).
It is not necessary for Catholics to look to revamped pagan religions for spiritual enrichment, especially since these religions contain grave error which is contrary to our beliefs. Our Catholic faith is the greatest treasure on earth, and contains all that we need for salvation and advanced spiritual growth: the Holy Mass, the Eucharist, the other Sacraments, the Rosary, the Holy Scriptures, and the wisdom and example of the saints. In fact, given the richness and variety of the spiritual banquet laid before us by two millennia of Catholic history, why would we need or want to go anywhere else?
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