New Age Movement and New Evangelisation: The Guidance of the Church as given in the Vatican Document “Jesus Christ, The Bearer of the Water of Life”

Franceschini, Giacomo – Gesù e la Samaritana al pozzo

This document was published in 2003 and refers to a six year study by the Roman Catholic Church on the New Age movement. Here are some excerpts which might stimulate you to read the whole document (Click Here for the complete document):

I What is New Age and its critique

New Age is not a movement in the sense normally intended in the term “New Religious Movement”, and it is not what is normally meant by the terms “cult” and “sect”. 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.New Age is not a single, uniform movement, but rather a loose network of practitioners whose approach is to think globally but act locally. People who are part of the network do not necessarily know each other and rarely, if ever, meet. In an attempt to avoid the confusion which can arise from using the term “movement”, some refer to New Age as a “milieu”, or an “audience cult”. However, it has also been pointed out that “it is a very coherent current of thought”,a deliberate challenge to modern culture. 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. Many trends, practices and attitudes which are in some way part of New Age are, indeed, part of a broad and readily identifiable reaction to mainstream culture, so the word “movement” is not entirely out of place. 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.  […]

Here is what is “new” about New Age. It is a “syncretism of esoteric and secular elements”. They link into a widely-held perception that the time is ripe for a fundamental change in individuals, in society and in the world. There are various expressions of the need for a shift:

– from Newtonian mechanistic physics to quantum physics;
– from modernity’s exaltation of reason to an appreciation of feeling, emotion and experience (often described as a switch from ‘left brain’ rational thinking to ‘right brain’ intuitive thinking);
– from a dominance of masculinity and patriarchy to a celebration of femininity, in individuals and in society.

In these contexts the term “paradigm shift” is often used. In some cases it is clearly supposed that this shift is not simply desirable, but inevitable. The rejection of modernity underlying this desire for change is not new, but can be described as “a modern revival of pagan religions with a mixture of influences from both eastern religions and also from modern psychology, philosophy, science, and the counterculture that developed in the 1950s and 1960s”. New Age is a witness to nothing less than a cultural revolution, a complex reaction to the dominant ideas and values in western culture, and yet its idealistic criticism is itself ironically typical of the culture it criticizes. […]

Science and technology have clearly failed to deliver all they once seemed to promise, so in their search for meaning and liberation people have turned to the spiritual realm. New Age as we now know it came from a search for something more humane and beautiful than the oppressive, alienating experience of life in Western society. Its early exponents were prepared to look far afield in their search, so it has become a very eclectic approach. It may well be one of the signs of a “return to religion”, but it is most certainly not a return to orthodox Christian doctrines and creeds. […]

New Age is often referred to by those who promote it as a “new spirituality”. It seems ironic to call it “new” when so many of its ideas have been taken from ancient religions and cultures. But what really is new is that New Age is a conscious search for an alternative to Western culture and its Judaeo-Christian religious roots. “Spirituality” in this way refers to the inner experience of harmony and unity with the whole of reality, which heals each human person’s feelings of imperfection and finiteness. People discover their profound connectedness with the sacred universal force or energy which is the nucleus of all life. When they have made this discovery, men and women can set out on a path to perfection, which will enable them to sort out their personal lives and their relationship to the world, and to take their place in the universal process of becoming and in the New Genesis of a world in constant evolution. The result is a cosmic mysticism (51) based on people’s awareness of a universe burgeoning with dynamic energies. Thus cosmic energy, vibration, light, God, love – even the supreme Self – all refer to one and the same reality, the primal source present in every being.

This spirituality consists of two distinct elements, one metaphysical, the other psychological. The metaphysical component comes from New Age’s esoteric and theosophical roots, and is basically a new form of gnosis. Access to the divine is by knowledge of hidden mysteries, in each individual’s search for “the real behind what is only apparent, the origin beyond time, the transcendent beyond what is merely fleeting, the primordial tradition behind merely ephemeral tradition, the other behind the self, the cosmic divinity beyond the incarnate individual”. Esoteric spirituality “is an investigation of Being beyond the separateness of beings, a sort of nostalgia for lost unity”.

“Here one can see the gnostic matrix of esoteric spirituality. It is evident when the children of Aquarius search for the Transcendent Unity of religions. They tend to pick out of the historical religions only the esoteric nucleus, whose guardians they claim to be. They somehow deny history and will not accept that spirituality can be rooted in time or in any institution. Jesus of Nazareth is not God, but one of the many historical manifestations of the cosmic and universal Christ”.

The psychological component of this kind of spirituality comes from the encounter between esoteric culture and psychology (cf. 2.32). New Age thus becomes an experience of personal psycho- spiritual transformation, seen as analogous to religious experience. For some people this transformation takes the form of a deep mystical experience, after a personal crisis or a lengthy spiritual search. For others it comes from the use of meditation or some sort of therapy, or from paranormal experiences which alter states of consciousness and provide insight into the unity of reality.

3.2. Spiritual narcissism?
Several authors see New Age spirituality as a kind of spiritual narcissism or pseudo-mysticism. It is interesting to note that this criticism was put forward even by an important exponent of New Age, David Spangler, who, in his later works, distanced himself from the more esoteric aspects of this current of thought.

He wrote that, in the more popular forms of New Age, “individuals and groups are living out their own fantasies of adventure and power, usually of an occult or millenarian form…. The principal characteristic of this level is attachment to a private world of ego-fulfilment and a consequent (though not always apparent) withdrawal from the world. On this level, the New Age has become populated with strange and exotic beings, masters, adepts, extraterrestrials; it is a place of psychic powers and occult mysteries, of conspiracies and hidden teachings”.

In a later work, David Spangler lists what he sees as the negative elements or “shadows” of the New Age: “alienation from the past in the name of the future; attachment to novelty for its own sake…; indiscriminateness and lack of discernment in the name of wholeness and communion, hence the failure to understand or respect the role of boundaries…; confusion of psychic phenomena with wisdom, of channeling with spirituality, of the New Age perspective with ultimate truth”. But, in the end, Spangler is convinced that selfish, irrational narcissism is limited to just a few new-agers. The positive aspects he stresses are the function of New Age as an image of change and as an incarnation of the sacred, a movement in which most people are “very serious seekers after truth”, working in the interest of life and inner growth.

The commercial aspect of many products and therapies which bear the New Age label is brought out by David Toolan, an American Jesuit who spent several years in the New Age milieu. He observes that new-agers have discovered the inner life and are fascinated by the prospect of being responsible for the world, but that they are also easily overcome by a tendency to individualism and to viewing everything as an object of consumption. In this sense, while it is not Christian, New Age spirituality is not Buddhist either, inasmuch as it does not involve self-denial. The dream of mystical union seems to lead, in practice, to a merely virtual union, which, in the end, leaves people more alone and unsatisfied. […]

II Pastoral Guidance to dealing with New Age Movement

The Catholic Church has its own very effective networks, which could be better used. For example, there is a large number of pastoral centres, cultural centres and centres of spirituality. Ideally, these could also be used to address the confusion about New Age religiosity in a variety of creative ways, such as providing a forum for discussion and study. It must unfortunately be admitted that there are too many cases where Catholic centres 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. Catholic cultural centres, in particular, are not only teaching institutions but spaces for honest dialogue. Some excellent specialist institutions deal with all these questions. These are precious resources, which ought to be shared generously in areas that are less well provided for.
Quite a few New Age groups welcome every opportunity to explain their philosophy and activities to others. Encounters with these groups should be approached with care, and should always involve persons who are capable of both explaining Catholic faith and spirituality, and of reflecting critically on New Age thought and practice. It is extremely important to check the credentials of people, groups and institutions claiming to offer guidance and information on New Age. In some cases what has started out as impartial investigation has later become active promotion of, or advocacy on behalf of, “alternative religions”. Some international institutions are actively pursuing campaigns which promote respect for “religious diversity”, and claim religious status for some questionable organisations. This fits in with the New Age vision of moving into an age where the limited character of particular religions gives way to the universality of a new religion or spirituality. Genuine dialogue, on the other hand, will always respect diversity from the outset, and will never seek to blur distinctions in a fusion of all religious traditions.

Some local New Age groups refer to their meetings as “prayer groups”. Those people who are invited to such groups need to look for the marks of genuine Christian spirituality, and to be wary if there is any sort of initiation ceremony. Such groups take advantage of a person’s lack of theological or spiritual formation to lure them gradually into what may in fact be a form of false worship. Christians must be taught about the true object and content of prayer – in the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ, to the Father – in order to judge rightly the intention of a “prayer group”. Christian prayer and the God of Jesus Christ will easily be recognised. Many people are convinced that there is no harm in ‘borrowing’ from the wisdom of the East, but the example of Transcendental Meditation (TM) should make Christians cautious about the prospect of committing themselves unknowingly to another religion (in this case, Hinduism), despite what TM’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 the God revealed by Jesus Christ, to some other revelation, or simply to the hidden depths of the self.

Christian groups which promote care for the earth as God’s creation also need to be given due recognition. The question of respect for creation is one which could also be approached creatively in Catholic schools. A great deal of what is proposed by the more radical elements of the ecological movement is difficult to reconcile with Catholic faith. Care for the environment in general terms is a timely sign of a fresh concern for what God has given us, perhaps a necessary mark of Christian stewardship of creation, but “deep ecology” is often based on pantheistic and occasionally gnostic principles.

The beginning of the Third Millennium offers a real kairos for evangelisation. People’s minds and hearts are already unusually open to reliable information on the Christian understanding of time and salvation history. Emphasising what is lacking in other approaches should not be the main priority. It is more a question of constantly revisiting the sources of our own faith, so that we can offer a good, sound presentation of the Christian message. We can be proud of what we have been given on trust, so we need to resist the pressures of the dominant culture to bury these gifts (cf. Mt 25.24-30). One of the most useful tools available is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. There is also an immense heritage of ways to holiness in the lives of Christian men and women past and present. Where Christianity’s rich symbolism, and its artistic, aesthetical and musical traditions are unknown or have been forgotten, there is much work to be done for Christians themselves, and ultimately also for anyone searching for an experience or a greater awareness of God’s presence. Dialogue between Christians and people attracted to the New Age will be more successful if it takes into account the appeal of what touches the emotions and symbolic language. If our task is to know, love and serve Jesus Christ, it is of paramount importance to start with a good knowledge of the Scriptures. But, most of all, coming to meet the Lord Jesus in prayer and in the sacraments, which are precisely the moments when our ordinary life is hallowed, is the surest way of making sense of the whole Christian message.

Perhaps the simplest, the most obvious and the most urgent measure to be taken, which might also be the most effective, would be to make the most of the riches of the Christian spiritual heritage. The great religious orders have strong traditions of meditation and spirituality, which could be made more available through courses or periods in which their houses might welcome genuine seekers. This is already being done, but more is needed. Helping people in their spiritual search by offering them proven techniques and experiences of real prayer could open a dialogue with them which would reveal the riches of Christian tradition, and perhaps clarify a great deal about New Age in the process.

In a vivid and useful image, one of the New Age movement’s own exponents has compared traditional religions to cathedrals, and New Age to a worldwide fair. The New Age Movement is seen as an invitation to Christians to bring the message of the cathedrals to the fair which now covers the whole world. This image offers Christians a positive challenge, since it is always time to take the message of the cathedrals to the people in the fair. Christians need not, indeed, must not wait for an invitation to bring the message of the Good News of Jesus Christ to those who are looking for the answers to their questions, for spiritual food that satisfies, for living water. Following the image proposed, Christians must issue forth from the cathedral, nourished by word and sacrament, to bring the Gospel into every aspect of everyday life – “Go! The Mass is ended!” In Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte the Holy Father remarks on the great interest in spirituality found in the secular world of today, and how other religions are responding to this demand in appealing ways. He goes on to issue a challenge to Christians in this regard: “But we who have received the grace of believing in Christ, the revealer of the Father and the Savior of the world, have a duty to show to what depths the relationship with Christ can lead” (n. 33). To those shopping around in the world’s fair of religious proposals, the appeal of Christianity will be felt first of all in the witness of the members of the Church, in their trust, calm, patience and cheerfulness, and in their concrete love of neighbour, all the fruit of their faith nourished in authentic personal prayer.

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5 Responses to New Age Movement and New Evangelisation: The Guidance of the Church as given in the Vatican Document “Jesus Christ, The Bearer of the Water of Life”

  1. A major challenge of dealing with the New Age as new dominant religion is the loss of a shared comprehension of clear language. In talking to New Agers we should be alert to every word and prepared to keep steering the conversation back to what we said, resisting all distortions.

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  2. toadspittle says:

    .
    Toad has read the extract, and will read the whole thing before commenting. It’s certainly interesting.
    But for now, two things might be worth considering:
    1:This was clearly written before 9/11/2001, and the realisation of Muslim ultra-extremist activity.
    2: As a result, “New Age” just might already be Old Hat.

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  3. toadspittle says:

    .

    However…

    “On this level, the New Age has become populated with strange and exotic beings, masters, adepts, extraterrestrials; it is a place of psychic powers and occult mysteries, of conspiracies and hidden teachings”
    To many objective and uncommitted outsiders, this is a reasonably accurate picture of Christianity in general, and the Catholic Church in particular.
    Toad himself is not saying that the picture is correct. But, there we are…

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  4. Brother Burrito says:

    Extra! Extra! Toad speaks bollox as usual! Read all about it!

    Dear Toad, the Church preaches Christ, the Person, who took all of Man’s failings upon himself, forever, and destroyed them, forever.

    All that matters now is that every man/woman/child lives in eternity, which equates to the present moment as we see it. The present moment is where we are judged. In the present moment, there must be no guilt, no regret, no remorse. If you have these, Confess!

    In the present moment lies crucifixion. Even if you are high on drugs or whatever, you know this cannot last. Your trip is not infinite.

    In the next moment lies Resurrection to Eternal Life. This is the Hope which we are meant to live by. This is the Promise of Christ.

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  5. toadspittle says:

    .

    Bollox has its place, Burrito.

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