College and University Dialogue English
An International Journal of Faith, Thought, and Action   Home Subscribe
Print Version

The New Age Is Not So New, After All...

What is New Age? How did it become a mass movement? Where is it going? What must be the Christian defense?

Did you know that Bill Clinton spent the bulk of his 1994 Christmas vacation with Stephen Covey, the New Age guru and author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People?1 Or have you heard that Russia's favorite psychic, Yevgenia Davitashvili, is among Boris Yeltsin's closest Kremlin advisors?2

Of course this does not mean that the U.S. President during his next address to the Congress will be holding a vibrating crystal, staring at its magic eye, while he outlines his foreign policy. Nor does it mean that Yeltsin is driven by supernatural forces and is about to declare New Age as Russia's state religion. Nevertheless, these things do have significance.

Observe Hollywood's obsession with New Age and Scientology. The world watches with fascination the demi gods of Hollywood and their hit productions in the hands of Steven Speilberg, George Lucas, Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, John Travolta, Mimi Rogers, and Sharon Gless. No one is saying that any or all of their work is bad or necessarily New Age oriented, but their trend and influence are inescapable--and significant.3

From politics to entertainment, from economics to management, from home to religion, New Age has become a force to be reckoned with. Multinational companies and major universities include yoga meditation in their training programs and in their curricular options. Preachers and politicians find it acceptable to use New Age jargon in their rhetoric. Astrology and psychic counselling are no longer the atmosphere of some underdeveloped superstitious village; New York, London, and Paris are their new habitations.

All these do not necessarily mean that there is a New Age conspiracy to take over the world. Give the devil some credit for subtlety! He is rarely that obvious.

The first thing to note about New Age is its high baloney content. Stephen Covey's Seven Habits majors on a repetitive use of words like synergy, paradigm and interdependent--sometimes in the same sentence. A sample: "Although you cannot control the paradigms of others in an interdependent interaction of the synergistic process itself, a great deal of synergy is within your circle of influence." Now, what does that mean? Never mind its meaning; it sounds good, so it must make sense. However, it doesn't make sense, but Stephen Covey's "holistic, integrated, principle-centered insights" have made him a fortune.

We can dismiss all this as gibberish, but the questions raised are serious--to our faith and our life--and we cannot ignore them. What is New Age? How did it become a mass movement in the late 80s? Where is New Age going? What must be the Christian defense? To answer these we have to dig into its antecedents, trace a line through recent history, touch base with its gurus, and have recourse to the prophecies of that ancient Book that paints the end-time picture.

What is New Age?

Defining New Age is not easy. There are New Age books by the store full, New Age TV series and New Age-influenced movies and music. There are any number of New Age adherents, and those who stand within the penumbra of New Age thought. Yet many of them, perhaps all of them, since 1990, have been resisting the label "New Age." It must be admitted that there are many faces and phases of New Age, and few would accept the definition I am about to give. Indeed some faces are pleasant, and many so-called New Agers are on the outer periphery of involvement and would resist the idea that New Age has an occult core.

Nevertheless, a definition must be attempted. So here goes...

New Age is the ultimate religious syncretism; absorbing and attempting to reconcile so wide a spectrum of beliefs, practices, theories, and superstitions that it has almost as many faces as adherents. New Age:

  • Takes on board the whole kit-and-caboodle of astrology, even borrowing its name from it.
  • Is holistic in a number of senses. It wants to see the removal of all boundaries in the world, religious and national, and it wants to bring mind, body and spirit together in "a whole person" concept of the individual. It carries a commitment to fringe medicine and various forms of therapy and pseudo-psychology. It longs to be in touch with powerful forces in the universe excluded or condemned by the Judaeo-Christian tradition.
  • Borrows from Buddhism the concept of "the god within." The reverence New Agers show for the oneness of the human being and creation, and the way they personalize nature in expressions like "Mother Earth," drive them into the god-is-in-everything (pantheism) camp.
  • Adopts from Hinduism reincarnation and meditation techniques. Reincarnation disposes of sin and judgment by offering a whole series of lifetimes in which to work off a negative "karma"; and meditation techniques are used to make the mind "vacant possession."
  • Recycles much from nineteenth-century spiritism. New Agers advance the view that living "enlightened ones" become "channellers" (mediums) for dead "enlightened ones," "masters," or "christs." Thus the most prominent New Agers will have the power to "channel" some dead "master" or "guru".4

The historical tap root of the movement combining Hinduism, Buddhism and the occult is in Madame Helena Blavatsky's Theosophical Society, founded in the United States in 1875.5 But it is unlikely that the Theosophical Society ever had more than 100,000 adherents. Now New Age overspreads the planet like a foul miasma numbering millions among its following.

How did New Age become a mass movement?

During the Vietnam war era, the 60s generation became peaceniks, beatniks, hippies and flower children. The pied pipers of this generation were the Beatles. By the end of the decade the more or less mindless lyrics of their early songs had given way to esoteric messages. They had begun to spend their summers in ashrams in India at the feet of gurus. Even as they topped the charts in every Western nation, George Harrison and John Lennon were working the esoteric wisdom of the East into the lyrics of their multi-million-selling records.

Suddenly the vocabulary of Hinduism and Buddhism was "in": reincarnation, yoga, meditation, TM and the rest.

By the early 70s Indian gurus were flying West on one-way tickets to the United States. In all Western nations the musical "Hair" was a smash hit. Everyone was singing "It is the dawning of the age of Aquarius..."-- with only a few knowing what it meant.

The psychedelic generation of the 70s accepted the assumptions of the 60s beatniks, and built upon them. Anyone who was anyone among the glitterati practiced TM. There were yogas for all occasions: mantra yoga, sidhi yoga, and tantra yoga. Astrology became the biggest growth industry.

On Western university campuses there were more who believed in reincarnation than in the resurrection.

As time went on, it became apparent that, along with Eastern religion and astrology, the hard-core occult was also involved in the new movement.6  

Men like British occultist Benjamin Creme and American Scientologist L. Ron Hubbard could not believe that their age-old ideas had suddenly become fashionable. Creme coined the term New Age about 1977, announcing that by the end of the millennium the age of Pisces (Christianity) would be replaced by the age of Aquarius (the New Age) in which a new world messiah would preside over a new world order.

It took the radical materialism of the 80s--Thatcherism, Reaganism, Milton Friedmanism--to make New Age a mass movement. The Yuppie culture was an inadequate diet for the human spirit--and people reacted. While in Eastern Europe, people moved from Communism to Christianity, in the West, a pagan spirituality was gaining ground. New Age had, in fact, become a "designer religion" for a generation with a conspicuous lack of political idealism, with a jaded view of Christianity, that had lost its bearings.

Where is New Age going?

Benjamin Creme is emphatic that the Lord Maitreya is waiting in the wings to preside over the new world order. He will, says Creme, be a combination of the returning Christ expected by Christians, the Messiah expected by Jews, the Imam Mahdi expected by Muslims, the Krishna expected by Hindus and the new Buddha expected by Buddhists. The years leading up to the "cusp" of the millennia will be decisive...

But the decisive question for us now is: What does the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy say on this issue?

  • In His Olivet sermon, recorded in each of the synoptic gospels, Jesus prophesied the coming of "false christs and false prophets" in the end-time age; as well as "hole-in-the-corner" and "out-in-the-desert" comings.
  • In 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 Paul prophesied that the appearance of the "Man of Sin" would be accompanied by "all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders" and "a powerful delusion" (NIV).
  • Revelation 13:13 indicates that "great and miraculous signs" would accompany the activities of the two beasts in the end-time scene. The presence of "the dragon" in the evil triumvirate that would work against God's people (Revelation 16:13-15) indicates that Satan will play a hands-on role in the end-time conflict with God's people; demons, in some way, working directly in the last great conflict.
  • Chapter 34 of Ellen G. White's The Great Controversy details the role of the demons. Further amplification is provided: "Fearful sights of a supernatural character...." The description culminates in the words, "As the crowning act in the great drama of deception, Satan himself will personate Christ."7

Could the New Age movement be the facilitator of Satan's hands-on role?

What is the Christian defense?

One positive effect that the New Age movement has had upon the Christian church is that it has caused many evangelicals to re-examine the doctrines of the immortality of the soul and of eternal fire. In his book Essentials (Hodder, 1988), leading evangelical John Stott comes out against both. The immortality of the soul, he recognizes, had made space in the picture that New Age had filled. Cambridge "high church" theologian, Professor John Hick, in Death and Eternal Life (Macmillan, 1982), traces the twin concepts of the immortality of the soul and an eternally burning hell to primal religion, and to Greek-Roman mythology.

But the apostle Paul outlines the best Christian defense against New Age. In the first-century world Ephesus was the occult center.8 It was, in the words of Shakespeare, full of "dark-working sorcerers that changed the mind." Some time after his three-year stay in the city, and despite the bonfire of occult paraphernalia (Acts 19:19), Paul still felt it necessary to remind the Ephesians that "our fight is not against any physical enemy: it is against organizations and powers that are spiritual. We are up against the unseen power that controls this dark world, and spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil" (Ephesians 6:12, 13, Phillips).

And that is exactly how it is with New Age. While commentators with the Cassandra complex search out the participants--politicians, gurus, professors, Hollywood moguls--in some New Age conspiracy, the real conspirators go unidentified. They are not beings of flesh and blood. They are "entities" of infinitely greater intelligence and menace. The arch conspirator is Satan himself. The aim of the conspiracy is to influence our minds through education and the media, to curtail our freedoms through rogue politicians and religio-political powers, to work to destroy the people of God and to counterfeit the second advent of Christ.

We caricature or ignore this menace at our peril.

David Marshall (Ph.D., University of Hull) is chief editor of Stanborough Press, England, and author of many articles and books, including The Devil Hides Out (Autumn House, 1991), New Age Versus the Gospel (Autumn House, 1993), and Footprints of Paul (Autumn House, 1995). His address: Alma Park, Grantham, Lincolnshire; NG31 9SL England.

Notes and references

1.   The London Independent, Sunday, January 8, 1995.

2.    The London Sunday Times, February 12, 1995.

3.    See Walter Martin, The New Age Cult (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House, 1989), pp. 20-21,58,85; also London Sunday Express, July 19, 1992, p. 17.

4.    For a more comprehensive definition, see the chapter entitled "Designer Religion" in my New Age Versus the Gospel (Autumn House, 1993).

5.    The most recent scholarly monograph on this movement is Peter Washington's Madam Blavatsky's Baboon: Theosophy and the Emergence of the Western Guru (Secker, 1993).

6.    This is documented in my book The Devil Hides Out: New Age and the Occult: A Christian Perspective (Autumn House, 1991).

7.    Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 624.

8.    See David Marshall, Footprints of Paul (Autumn House, 1995), pp. 59-63.