Its purpose is also to encourage discernment by those who are looking for sound reference points for a life of greater fulness. It is indeed our conviction that through many of our contemporaries who are searching, we can discover a true thirst for God. The following reflections are meant as a guide for Catholics involved in preaching the Gospel and teaching the faith at any level within the Church. This document does not aim at providing a set of complete answers to the many questions raised by the New Age or other contemporary signs of the perennial human search for happiness, meaning and salvation.
It is an invitation to understand the New Age and to engage in a genuine dialogue with those who are influenced by New Age thought. The document guides those involved in pastoral work in their understanding and response to New Age spirituality, both illustrating the points where this spirituality contrasts with the Catholic faith and refuting the positions espoused by New Age thinkers in opposition to Christian faith.
What is indeed required of Christians is, first and foremost, a solid grounding in their faith. The beginning of the Third Millennium comes not only two thousand years after the birth of Christ, but also at a time when astrologers believe that the Age of Pisces — known to them as the Christian age — is drawing to a close.
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These reflections are about the New Age , which takes its name from the imminent astrological Age of Aquarius. The New Age is one of many explanations of the significance of this moment in history which are bombarding contemporary particularly western culture, and it is hard to see clearly what is and what is not consistent with the Christian message. So this seems to be the right moment to offer a Christian assessment of New Age thinking and the New Age movement as a whole.
It has been said, quite correctly, that many people hover between certainty and uncertainty these days, particularly in questions relating to their identity. The fact that what were once central elements in society are now perceived as untrustworthy or lacking in genuine authority has created a climate where people look inwards, into themselves, for meaning and strength. There is also a search for alternative institutions, which people hope will respond to their deepest needs.
New Age is attractive mainly because so much of what it offers meets hungers often left unsatisfied by the established institutions. While much of New Age is a reaction to contemporary culture, there are many ways in which it is that culture's child. With this cult of humanity, religion is internalised in a way which prepares the ground for a celebration of the sacredness of the self. The important thing to note is that God is reduced in certain New Age practices so as furthering the advancement of the individual.
New Age appeals to people imbued with the values of modern culture. Freedom, authenticity, self-reliance and the like are all held to be sacred. It appeals to those who have problems with patriarchy. But here is a central question: just what is meant by spirituality in a New Age context?
The answer is the key to unlocking some of the differences between the Christian tradition and much of what can be called New Age. Some versions of New Age harness the powers of nature and seek to communicate with another world to discover the fate of individuals, to help individuals tune in to the right frequency to make the most of themselves and their circumstances. In most cases, it is completely fatalistic.
The technological revolution in communications over the last few years has brought about a completely new situation. The ease and speed with which people can now communicate is one of the reasons why New Age has come to the attention of people of all ages and backgrounds, and many who follow Christ are not sure what it is all about.
Jesus Christ, The Bearer of the Water of Life
The Internet, in particular, has become enormously influential, especially with younger people, who find it a congenial and fascinating way of acquiring information. People need, and have a right to, reliable information on the differences between Christianity and New Age. When one examines many New Age traditions, it soon becomes clear that there is, in fact, little in the New Age that is new. The name seems to have gained currency through Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry, at the time of the French and American Revolutions, but the reality it denotes is a contemporary variant of Western esotericism.
This dates back to Gnostic groups which grew up in the early days of Christianity, and gained momentum at the time of the Reformation in Europe. It has grown in parallel with scientific world-views, and acquired a rational justification through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
It has involved a progressive rejection of a personal God and a focus on other entities which would often figure as intermediaries between God and humanity in traditional Christianity, with more and more original adaptations of these or additional ones. A powerful trend in modern Western culture which has given space to New Age ideas is the general acceptance of Darwinist evolutionary theory; this, alongside a focus on hidden spiritual powers or forces in nature, has been the backbone of much of what is now recognised as New Age theory.
Basically, New Age has found a remarkable level of acceptance because the world-view on which it was based was already widely accepted. The ground was well prepared by the growth and spread of relativism, along with an antipathy or indifference towards the Christian faith. Furthermore, there has been a lively discussion about whether and in what sense New Age can be described as a postmodern phenomenon. The existence and fervor of New Age thinking and practice bear witness to the unquenchable longing of the human spirit for transcendence and religious meaning, which is not only a contemporary cultural phenomenon, but was evident in the ancient world, both Christian and pagan.
The New Age and Catholic Faith. Even if it can be admitted that New Age religiosity in some way responds to the legitimate spiritual longing of human nature, it must be acknowledged that its attempts to do so run counter to Christian revelation.
On the one hand, new forms of psychological affirmation of the individual have be. At the same time there is increasing nostalgia and curiosity for the wisdom and ritual of long ago, which is one of the reasons for the remarkable growth in the popularity of esotericism and gnosticism.
But the links with those religions are not always clear. In fact, they are often denied. An adequate Christian discernment of New Age thought and practice cannot fail to recognize that, like second and third century gnosticism, it represents something of a compendium of positions that the Church has identified as heterodox. It is only a new way of practising gnosticism — that attitude of the spirit that, in the name of a profound knowledge of God, results in distorting His Word and replacing it with purely human words.
Gnosticism never completely abandoned the realm of Christianity. The appeal of New Age religiosity cannot be underestimated. When the understanding of the content of Christian faith is weak, some mistakenly hold that the Christian religion does not inspire a profound spirituality and so they seek elsewhere. But bookshops and radio stations, and the plethora of self-help groups in so many Western towns and cities, all seem to tell a different story.
It seems that, at least for the moment, the New Age is still very much alive and part of the current cultural scene. The success of New Age offers the Church a challenge. People feel the Christian religion no longer offers them — or perhaps never gave them — something they really need. The search which often leads people to the New Age is a genuine yearning: for a deeper spirituality, for something which will touch their hearts, and for a way of making sense of a confusing and often alienating world.
If the Church is not to be accused of being deaf to people's longings, her members need to do two things: to root themselves ever more firmly in the fundamentals of their faith, and to understand the often-silent cry in people's hearts, which leads them elsewhere if they are not satisfied by the Church. There is also a call in all of this to come closer to Jesus Christ and to be ready to follow Him, since He is the real way to happiness, the truth about God and the fulness of life for every man and woman who is prepared to respond to his love.
Christians in many Western societies, and increasingly also in other parts of the world, frequently come into contact with different aspects of the phenomenon known as New Age. Many of them feel the need to understand how they can best approach something which is at once so alluring, complex, elusive and, at times, disturbing. These reflections are an attempt to help Christians do two things:.
This is a pastoral response to a current challenge, which does not even attempt to provide an exhaustive list of New Age phenomena, since that would result in a very bulky tome, and such information is readily available elsewhere. It is essential to try to understand New Age correctly, in order to evaluate it fairly, and avoid creating a caricature. It would be unwise and untrue to say that everything connected with the New Age movement is good, or that everything about it is bad. Nevertheless, given the underlying vision of New Age religiosity, it is on the whole difficult to reconcile it with Christian doctrine and spirituality.
Because it is spread across cultures, in phenomena as varied as music, films, seminars, workshops, retreats, therapies, and many more activities and events, it is much more diffuse and informal, though some religious or para-religious groups consciously incorporate New Age elements, and it has been suggested that New Age has been a source of ideas for various religious and para-religious sects. People who are part of the network do not necessarily know each other and rarely, if ever, meet. It is a syncretistic structure incorporating many diverse elements, allowing people to share interests or connections to very different degrees and on varying levels of commitment.
It can be applied to New Age in the same sense as it is to other broad social movements, like the Civil Rights movement or the Peace Movement; like them, it includes a bewildering array of people linked to the movement's main aims, but very diverse in the way they are involved and in their understanding of particular issues.
Furthermore, at the heart of New Age is the belief that the time for particular religions is over, so to refer to it as a religion would run counter to its own self-understanding. However, it is quite accurate to place New Age in the broader context of esoteric religiousness, whose appeal continues to grow. There is a problem built into the current text. It is an attempt to understand and evaluate something which is basically an exaltation of the richness of human experience.
It is bound to draw the criticism that it can never do justice to a cultural movement whose essence is precisely to break out of what are seen as the constricting limits of rational discourse. But it is meant as an invitation to Christians to take the New Age seriously, and as such asks its readers to enter into a critical dialogue with people approaching the same world from very different perspectives. The pastoral effectiveness of the Church in the Third Millennium depends to a great extent on the preparation of effective communicators of the Gospel message.
What follows is a response to the difficulties expressed by many in dealing with the very complex and elusive phenomenon known as New Age. It is an attempt to understand what New Age is and to recognise the questions to which it claims to offer answers and solutions. There are some excellent books and other resources which survey the whole phenomenon or explain particular aspects in great detail, and reference will be made to some of these in the appendix.
However they do not always undertake the necessary discernment in the light of Christian faith.
The Historical Jesus and the Christ of Faith
The purpose of this contribution is to help Catholics find a key to understanding the basic principles behind New Age thinking, so that they can then make a Christian evaluation of the elements of New Age they encounter. It is also true that many of the phenomena mentioned in this document will probably not bear any particular label, but it is presumed, for the sake of brevity, that readers will recognise a phenomenon or set of phenomena that can justifiably at least be linked with the general cultural movement that is often known as New Age.
For many people, the term New Age clearly refers to a momentous turning-point in history. According to astrologers, we live in the Age of Pisces, which has been dominated by Christianity. But the current age of Pisces is due to be replaced by the New Age of Aquarius early in the third Millennium. People who stress the imminent change in the world are often expressing a wish for such a change, not so much in the world itself as in our culture, in the way we relate to the world; this is particularly clear in those who stress the idea of a New Paradigm for living.
It is an attractive approach since, in some of its expressions, people do not watch passively, but have an active role in changing culture and bringing about a new spiritual awareness.
Related Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith
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