Unmasking the New Age Worldview
Updated: May 4
Do you consider yourself “New Age?” Now, before you answer “no,” I would like to introduce a few concepts, so that you can see that maybe there is more New Age influence on your way of thinking than you would like to admit.
Part of our conversion is recognizing that we need continual renewal. We are never fully converted until we are saints.
For some time now, people have been challenging me to look at the phenomenon of “manifesting.” I was surprised, because I thought it was something that had gone out of style about thirty years ago. However, it is very present in our world. I was riding in a car with my friend and we came to a stoplight on Sierra Madre Avenue and New York Avenue. Now, I feel that this stoplight is my nemesis. I get the feeling that I will spend years of my life waiting at this stoplight, while there is not even any cross-traffic. I made sure to make it a little more dramatic in my reaction, to have some fun with my friend. I was very surprised by his response. First, he told me to be patient. Now, this is good advice, especially for me. I definitely need patience: every day, every hour, every minute. But then, he started saying things that shocked me. He talked about the power of positive thinking and how being calm helped him to always find parking spots. He had learned all of this in a book called The Secret by Rhonda Byrnes. Now, I was really getting excited.
“You can’t really believe that!” This was a perfect example of the Law of Attraction, which has found many proponents over the years. The idea is that you have a tremendous impact on the world around you, attracting the type of events according to your state of mind. After this experience, I decided to look more into “manifesting,” which I recognized as another New Age practice.
Looking for manifesting led me first to a website called “Witchy Spiritual Stuff.” I was a little nervous, to be sure. It seemed like an authentic site, so at least I did not have to worry about a bug infecting my computer. But what about a bug infecting my soul? The tags on the article were “mindfulness,” “How to become a witch,” and “manifesting.” So I knew that I was walking into a brave new world. “The Law of Attraction states that you attract into your life whatever you focus on. Whatever you give your energy and attention to will come back to you.” (Witchy Spiritual Stuff, Law of Attraction Real-Life Examples)
A lot of different terms refer to very similar practices. We can talk about manifesting; we can talk about the law of attraction (LOA); and we can talk about New Age. Really, we could talk about magic. We can talk about witchcraft. We can talk about horoscopes. We can talk about tarot cards. We can talk about Ouija boards. These are all different ways of looking at the same thing. The Course on Miracles tries to mask some of the same ideology in Christian language. Some talk about angels goes down this same route. There can be an attribution of power to numbers.
Now, if you resonate with any of this that we have mentioned so far, there may be more New Age in your worldview than you would have first imagined. And if you feel that there is not, wait, because you may still be surprised.
This has all opened my eyes to the reality and danger of New Age in our society. It seems very harmless and commonplace. But getting to know what it is can help us grow in our faith, reject heresy, and build others up in their faith. Learning about this in order to act against it is Christian charity.
Dualism and Esoteric Knowledge
A dualistic worldview has persisted down through the centuries. Zoroastrianism is a Persian religion that has a cosmic and moral dualism. This is reflected as well in Manichaeism, a sect that attracted the attention and devotion of St. Augustine before his conversion. The principal Manichaean modification consists in identifying matter (“hyle”) with evil. Thus, the cosmic crosses over into the moral.
There is also a desire for esoteric knowledge. We want to think somehow that we know something of which others are unaware. Around the time of Jesus in Rome, there were “mystery religions,” where the rites were practiced in such a way that everything was kept secret from the uninitiated.
“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.” (Pontifical Council for Culture, 2003) The different paths to New Age all seem to emphasize these values, which have been established as “dogmas” in the religion of secularism. “In today’s increasingly pluralistic culture, there are many dangers to the Faith that Catholics across the world might come across in their daily lives. Secularism, and the compartmentalizing of one’s public life and faith life, is probably the biggest and most prevalent of these dangers.” (Lablanca, 2018)
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. (Pontifical Council of Culture, 2003, 2.1)
Dualism and Esoteric Knowledge continue to hold attraction over people’s minds and hearts, opening them up to the dangers of New Age thinking. Those who engage in New Age practices like to think that they have access to a special knowledge that others do not. This seems to be part of the attraction of New Age. And, even when they deny the existence of evil and a personal God, they end up having opposing principles at the core of their beliefs. So they fall once again into the dualism of Zoroastrianism while trying to run away from it.
“It is important to acknowledge the sincerity of people searching for the truth; there is no question of deceit or self-deception. It is also important to be patient, as any good educator knows.” (Pontifical Council of Culture, 2003, 2.1) It is good that there is such a great desire for knowledge, but at the same time it is important to introduce these people to a more valid understanding of truth.
There are several practices that we hear about and that are connected to New Age. We might look at them as harmless, but we risk being drawn into strange religious beliefs and exposing ourselves to demonic influences by engaging in their practices.
What is yoga and how does it fit into a New Age worldview?
New Age involves a fundamental belief in the perfectibility of the human person by means of a wide variety of techniques and therapies (as opposed to the Christian view of co-operation with divine grace). There is a general accord with Nietzsche's idea that Christianity has prevented the full manifestation of genuine humanity. (Pontifical Council of Culture, 2003, 22.214.171.124)
“Yoga, zen, transcendental meditation and tantric exercises lead to an experience of self-fulfillment or enlightenment.” (Pontifical Council of Culture, 2003, 126.96.36.199) Breathing and stretching exercises can be beneficial for health, but care must be given to avoid participating in religious rituals that contradict the faith. One danger of yoga is that it is essentially a religious practice. So, when you practice yoga with others, even though you might be focusing on breathing and stretching, others may be worshiping false gods and may thus be inviting evil spirits to where you are. You are especially susceptible to a demonic influence if you are not currently in the state of grace.
Reiki is a technique of healing that was invented in Japan in the late 1800s by Mikao Usui, who was studying Buddhist texts. According to Reiki teaching, illness is caused by some kind of disruption or imbalance in one's "life energy." A Reiki practitioner effects healing by placing his or her hands in certain positions on the patient's body in order to facilitate the flow of Reiki, the "universal life energy," from the Reiki practitioner to the patient. (USCCB, 2009)
Although Reiki is not in itself a religion, it does incorporate religious practices and should be avoided.
Since Reiki therapy is not compatible with either Christian teaching or scientific evidence, it would be inappropriate for Catholic institutions, such as Catholic health care facilities and retreat centers, or persons representing the Church, such as Catholic chaplains, to promote or to provide support for Reiki therapy. (USCCB, 2009)
Course on Miracles
This is similar to the Law of Attraction and is supposedly given to Helen Shucman. Marianne Williamson, a presidential candidate, is one of the greatest spokespersons. They deny that it is a religion, but when you read their materials you notice that they use words very differently than the common man. So, when they say “spiritual psychotherapy,” it sounds much more like religion than a treatment approved by the American Psychological Association.
Law of Attraction
The idea of the Law of Attraction is that it is always working for you. Depending on your thoughts, you are attracting negative or positive things into your life to match your thoughts. Esther Hicks claims to channel a disembodied spirit, Abraham, who gives the lessons included in the theory of the Law of Attraction.
Deepak Chopra is an Indian-American medical doctor who speaks about the healing power of the body. He uses pseudoscientific language to support his claims. He speaks as if his theory is based in quantum theory of physics, but it really cloaks itself in the language.
Psychological Evaluation of the Law of Attraction
The Law of Attraction [LOA] is pseudoscience. It makes many scientific claims that are readily disproved. It claims that electrons have positive charges. (they have negative charges) It claims that like always attracts like. (hmm, what about magnets?) It claims that thinking burns up brain matter. This is important because “these ‘scientific truths’ form the scientific basis for the LOA.” (Farber, 2016) If LOA is true, then the universe sets the purpose of life. It would not allow us to take action to change our environment. It would also not make sense to make a plan. While there is much promise of good things being attracted, the believer is not supposed to put a deadline on the universe.
“Challenges are considered negative thoughts and are to be avoided.” (Farber, 2016) LOA would eliminate any charitable work, since compassion would attract your attention to things that you do not want to attract to yourself. There is no possibility for support groups, because associating with people in problematic situations could only bring you more of the same problems. To believe in LOA, it is necessary to be mindless so as to show faith in the universe. If LOA does not work for you, you are to blame. This leads to a mindset of blaming the victim. The premise of LOA that we can control all of our reality does not stand up to a reality-check where we notice that the world is not perfect.
The placebo effect can explain the times that the LOA seems to function. “Evidence that the LOA is an effective way of attaining goals is anecdotal, nonscientific, and self-reported.” (Farber, 2016)
The New Age practices respond to the psychology of one who does not want to accept the complexity of life, and prefers to bury his head in the sand to preserve a worldview that allows him to explain things in such a way that his conscience does not bother him.
There is nothing all that new about New Age. It reflects old practices and religions that have been around for millennia. Thus, it is easily recognized in the Catechism of the Catholic Church when it condemns divination and recourse to demons.
All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to ‘unveil’ the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone (CCC 2116).
The Bible paints a very different picture of God than the universal life-force proposed in one way or another by New Age, which is essentially a pantheistic and syncretistic philosophy.
God demands that we worship him, and him alone.
“You shall not worship the LORD, your God, that way, because they offered to their gods every abomination that the LORD detests, even burning their sons and daughters to their gods.” (Dt. 12:31)
God forbids that we seek knowledge from the supranatural realm through divination and similar practices.
Let there not be found among you anyone who causes their son or daughter to pass through the fire, or practices divination, or is a soothsayer, augur, or sorcerer, or who casts spells, consults ghosts and spirits, or seeks oracles from the dead. Anyone who does such things is an abomination to the LORD, and because of such abominations the LORD, your God, is dispossessing them before you. (Dt. 18:10-12)
This term of “abomination” is not a condemnation of the person but a description of how far from his intended purpose such a person has strayed.
In the New Testament, we are warned about how false teachers will try to poison our faith.
“Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the last times some will turn away from the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and demonic instructions.” (1 Tim. 4:1)
“Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention the things done by them in secret; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light.” (Eph. 5:11-14)
St. Paul encourages us to engage in spiritual warfare. This is not the same as adhering to a worldview where we think we have superpowers due to pseudo-powers of our mind.
“For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.” (Eph. 6:12)
St. Paul warns against those who represent Satan willingly or unwittingly.
[The Lawless] one whose coming springs from the power of Satan in every mighty deed and in signs and wonders that lie, and in every wicked deceit for those who are perishing because they have not accepted the love of truth so that they may be saved. Therefore, God is sending them a deceiving power so that they may believe the lie, that all who have not believed the truth but have approved wrongdoing may be condemned. (2 Thes. 2:9-12)
Some forms of New Age could be channeling true spirits – but they are evil spirits.
Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh; such is the deceitful one and the antichrist. Look to yourselves that you do not lose what we worked for but may receive a full recompense. Anyone who is so “progressive” as not to remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God; whoever remains in the teaching has the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him in your house or even greet him; for whoever greets him shares in his evil works. (2 John 10)
Charlatans abound. Be careful.
Fathers of The Church
From the first days of the Church, the bishops were careful to warn against false teachers. The first centuries were plagued by Christological heresies – false teachings about the nature of Christ. Much of New Age philosophy seems to be recycled Christological heresy.
For everyone who does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is an anti-Christ; and whosoever does not confess the testimony of the Cross is of the devil: and whosoever perverts the oracles of the Lord for his own lusts, and says that there is neither resurrection nor judgment, -- this man is the first-born of Satan. (Polycarp of Smyrna, “Letter to the Philippians”)
The Church Fathers were careful to avoid confusion of the Divine Life granted to the Christian and some Gnostic power he could use to draw success, fame, and wealth to himself.
“Truly herein consists the real assimilation to the Divine, that is, in making our own life in some degree a copy of the Supreme Being.” (St. Gregory of Nyssa, “On the Soul and the Resurrection”)
Traces of New Age in Our Own Worldview
It is too easy to allow New Age ideology to poison our own worldview. It is easy to “over-spiritualize” our faith and its practice and to give too much importance to evil in the world. It is easy to deny the reality of suffering instead of facing it. It is easy to be too accepting of practices that are inconsistent with the Catholic faith in the name of “tolerance.”
Correcting our errors is part of being Catholic and is part of the mystery of conversion. We want to be more like Christ. Pushing away from the worldview of the “universe” can help us discover more deeply the reality of a personal God, who loves us and is even willing to suffer for our sake. Discovering the love of God is far greater than any purported benefits of the New Age, and gives us lasting trust, peace, and hope
Farber, N. (2016) The Truth about the Law of Attraction. Psychology Today.Truth about LOA
Law of Attraction Real-Life Examples. Witchy Spiritual Stuff LOA Examples
Lablanca, N. (2018) The New Age Movement and Where it Came From. Ascension Press. New Age Movement and Where it Came From
Noonan, M. (2005). Ransomed from Darkness: The New Age, Christian Faith and the Battle for Souls.
Pontifical Council for Culture. (2003). Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the “New Age.” Bearer of the Water of Life
USCCB. (2009). Guidelines for Evaluating Reiki as an Alternative Therapy Reiki