Daniël Maritz | 30 April 2020 | 10 min read
It has been said by many scholars that one of the major difficulties in discussing the New Age movement lies in the attempt to locate, capture and define it. Some have compared New Age spirituality to a jelly-like substance. The moment you think you have grasped it, it takes on another form and slips through your fingers.
In my readings on the New Age movement and its spirituality, I have come across three helpful definitions. Each one of them individually emphasizes what I think is an important feature of the New Age movement.
The first, and shortest definition is from Walter Martin who captures the essence of the New Age movement. He describes it as “the enthronement of man and the demotion of God.” This definition is helpful, because it describes the main purpose of New Age spirituality. In other words, its main aspiration is to dethrone God and enthrone man as his or her own god.
The second definition, which is my favorite definition of the New Age movement, is this one from Douglas Groothuis:
“The New Age movement is not new; it is the most recent repeat of the second oldest religion, the spirituality of the serpent. Its impulse is foreign to none of us. The appeal is ancient indeed; its rudiments were seductively sold to our first parents in the garden. Human pride was tickled, and it jumped.”
The reason why I like this definition is because it tells us that the New Age movement with many of its finer traits and characteristics, is not really new at all, but just a “recent repeat” of “the old Satan playing on our deepest longings for peace, connection, abundance, and immortality.” David Clark and Norman Geisler also confirm that the philosophical roots of this movement in the East and the West, goes back to the centuries before Jesus.
Although the ideas are very old, two more recent figures who, to a large extent, can be classified as the “father” and “mother” of the modern New Age movement include; Phineas Parhurst Quimby (1802-1866) with his mind-cure philosophy, and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891) with her spiritualism and interests in Eastern sources.
Phineas P. Quimby (1802-1866)
Quimby was the founder of the New Thought movement, a forerunner and tributary to the modern face of New Age spirituality. Among other things, he argued that since the source of all sickness lies in the mind, the source of all healing also resides there. In her turn, Blavatsky co-founded The Theosophical Society in 1875. She is said to have made regular contact with upper spirit beings to ensure that their plans were fulfilled.
Helena P. Blavatsky (1831-1891)
Finally, Ron Rhodes defines the New Age movement as follows:
“[It] is not a single monolithic organization. It is best understood as a loosely structured network of individuals and organizations who share a common vision of a new age of enlightenment and harmony…, and who subscribe to a common set of religious and philosophical beliefs (worldview).”
On the one hand this definition highlights the complexity, diversity and vastness of this movement. It consists of many different organizations, groups, cults, sects and individuals with a variety of interests, and commitments to different causes. No standard organization with one fixed creed defines New Age beliefs. On the other hand, this definition also highlights the unity of this movement, which can be traced in certain traits that are comfortably shared among many New Age pioneers. This allows us to unpack the New Age spirituality in a series of propositions and characteristics.
The Characteristics of the New Age Spirituality
A Vision for a New Age of Spiritual Awakening and Mass Enlightenment
A grand vision of a great spiritual awakening and mass enlightenment was very common during the earlier stages of the New Age movement and has become less evident among New Age proponents in recent years. This idea is based on a kind of spiritual evolution. Human beings are destined to partake in an inconceivable spiritual advancement which will reach its climax in the dawning of a “New Age.” This utopian hope will ultimately be realized when a higher spiritual consciousness is achieved. James Sire creatively describes this as the “cosmic history’s future” which is finally foreseen “as the arrival of the New Man, the New Woman and the universal New idyllic Age.” This climax of history will end in the deification of humanity as a whole.
A Growing Infiltration of Eastern and Occult Mysticism
As the Christian culture disintegrated in the West, and Naturalistic humanism failed to provide a satisfying alternative, many people went to the East for answers. Sooner or later, these people returned to the Western world, and they brought the East with them. This brought a strong syncretism of Eastern and Western worldviews to the table. James Herrick observes that “ancient Eastern traditions have shaped the new spirituality even more dramatically than have ancient Middle Eastern ones,” he adds “Buddhist influence is evident virtually everywhere on the contemporary cultural scene.” The New Age movement has become a giant cosmic sponge which absorbs different ideas from different religions, mixes it together, and turns it into a mystical spirituality. Sire is of the opinion that although this worldview managed to take on a certain shape, it is now as mature as it will ever be because of its eclectic nature with “many rough edges and inner tensions, and even flat-out contradictions.” This means that a New Age proponent has the luxury of mixing and matching until he or she eventually ends up with a spiritual product that is right for him or her. The catchphrase used to describe this is cherry-picking.
A Pantheistic Monistic View of the Universe
Because of the Eastern and occultic influence, New Age spirituality would typically be classified as a pantheistic monistic worldview. This may seem contradictory, but when we consider the definitions of these terms it might become clear how these can be held in tension.
Pantheism is the belief that “God is all in all.” In this sense “God pervades all things, contains all things, subsumes (includes) all things, and is found within all things. Nothing exists apart from God, and all things are in some way identified with God. In short, pantheism views the world as God and God as the world. Put more precisely, all is God and God is all. Nothing exists that is not God.”
In its turn monism views “all is one.” In this sense “Nothing that exists is really distinct from anything else that exists – which is just to say, in the final analysis, only one thing exists. And that one thing – call it ‘the universe,’ ‘reality,’ ‘the One,’ or whatever you like – cannot be divided or decomposed into more fundamental parts or constituents.”
In the New Age understanding therefore, “God is all in all,” and “all is one.”
The Deification of the Self
Once a pantheistic monistic view of reality is granted, things quickly tumble into the deification of the self. If “God is all in all,” and “all is one,” then the divine is manifested in everything. This is analogous to a large lake with many different streams flowing from it. In the same way as the water in each stream is of the same essence as the water in the large lake, each individual person is of the same essence as the divine. The idea of the self being or becoming a god in some sense is not limited to the East. Forms of ancient Gnosticism, Hermeticism, and Kabbalah have viewed the “individual’s divinity” as the goal of spirituality. These older religious movements placed a strong emphasis on the role of hidden knowledge, or gnosis. This hidden knowledge (gnosis), is what ultimately saves you and in effect transforms you into a deity. One’s own divinity can be more fully realised by reaching alternate states of consciousness using various means. This trait of the New Age is also why so many of its practices are based on building one’s own reality. If you are a god, you should be able to manipulate your world and “create in your own image.” This is done using your thoughts and words.
The Apparent Support from Modern Science
It is common for New Age pioneers to have a high regard for science. Science is then used to support certain spiritual views and to criticize the existing scientific consensus. In this way, the New Age spirituality has hijacked science as a source of new spiritual insight and cutting edge theology. Through the popularizing work of figures like Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopera “the perils of the New Spirituality [are] made to look glamorous and a pseudoscience [is] wedded to a mystical vocabulary that results in absurd deduction.” The field of science most often cited is quantum physics. It is claimed that quantum physics supports a pantheistic monistic worldview and explains the interconnectedness of everything in a religious sense. However, physicist Heinz R. Pagel states that for any qualified physicist to make these kind of claims, it would be like committing fraud.
An Infiltration into Different Levels of Society, Including the Church
The New Age movement has been able to propagate its ideas on many different levels of society with a massive social agenda. It is not just the spiritual domain, but psychology, health, medicine, sociology, anthropology, science fiction, entertainment and the arts, and in some cases politics. The New Age spirituality “has now moved into the lecture hall and the classroom, the movie theatre and the surgical theater, the corporate office and the Oval office.” Unfortunately the Church is not excluded from this list. Pastors and ministers, knowingly or unknowingly, are teaching New Age ideas, cloaked with Bible verses removed from their proper context. The New Age spirituality has indeed “revealed the unpaid bills of Christendom.”
Part 2 of this article will evaluate the basic tenets of the New Age spirituality that was set out above. Thus, to be continued…
Clark, David K and Geisler Norman L. Apologetics in the New Age: A Christian Critique of Pantheism. Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1990.
Groothuis, Douglas. Confronting the New Age: How to Resist a Growing Religious Movement. Downers Grover: InterVarsity Press, 1988.
Herrick, James A. The Making of the New Spirituality: The Eclispse of the Western Religious Tradition. Downers Grover: InterVarsity Press, 2003.
Steyn, Chrissie. Worldviews in Transition: An Investigation into the New Age Movement in South Africa. Pretoria: UNISA, 1994.
Zacharias, Ravi. Why Jesus: Rediscovering His Truth in an Age of Mass Marketed spirituality. New York: Faith Words Publishers, 2012.
The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the employees and members of Ratio Christi South Africa.
 “The New Age Movement” by Walter Martin, available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQse-4xTptg, accessed Sept. 16, 2015.
 Doulgas Groothuis has written some of the best material on the New Age movement. This include three valuable books titled Confronting the New Age, Unmasking the New Age, and Revealing the New Age Jesus.
 Douglas Groothuis, Confronting the New Age: How to Resist a Growing Religious Movement (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press), 17.
 I take note of other scholars like Christina Steyn who says that it is “trite to say that there is nothing new in New Age” [Christina H. Steyn, “A New Look at New Age in South Africa,” Religion & Theology 14 (2007): 256-283]. She certainly has a point since it has become a cliché to make such a statement with regards to the New Age. But one must remember that it is made with a great deal of justification. In fact, James Herrick argues persuasively that the roots of the New Age movement can be traced back to ancient forms of Gnosticism and is visible in many succeeding stages of spirituality and religion in the West. It emerged into what he calls the “New Religious Synthesis” [James A. Herrick, The Making of the New Spirituality: The Eclipse of the Western Religious Tradition (Downers Grover: InterVarsity Press, 2003)].
 “I was a New-Age healer. Then I realized I wasn’t the one doing the healing” by Nicole Watt, available at https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/may-june/nicole-watt-reiki-master-new-age-healing.html?utm_source=&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_campaign=2013&utm_term=28967654&utm_content=708417743, accessed April 22, 2020.
 David K. Clark and Norman L. Geisler, Apologetics in the New Age: A Christian Critique of Pantheism (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers), 117.
 Chrissie Steyn, Worldviews in Transition: An Investigation into the New Age Movement in South Africa (Pretoria: Unisa), 105.
 Paul Heelas, The New Age Movement: The Celebration of the Self and the Sacralization of Modernity (Oxford: Blackwell), 44.
 Ron Rhodes, The Challenge of Cults and New Religions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), 130.
 James S. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog (Downers Grover: InterVarsity Press), 207.
 Os Guinness, The Dust of Death (Bedford Square: Inter-Varsity Press), 195.
 This term basically explains a situation where different and sometimes even opposing theological and philosophical ideas and sources are somehow reconciled with each other.
 James K. Herrick, The Making of the New Spirituality: The Eclipse of the Western Religious Tradition (Downers Grover: InterVarsity Press), 25.
 Rhodes, The Challenge, p. 131.
 Sire, The Universe, p. 207.
 In her book, The Secret (Hillsboro: Beyond Words Publishing, 2006), Rhonda Byrne expresses this view of reality: “Some of the greatest teachers and avatars described the Universe… by saying that all that exists is the One Universal Mind, and there is nowhere that the One Mind is not. It exists in everything. The One Mind is all intelligence, all wisdom, and all perfection, and it is everything and everywhere at the same time. If everything is the One Universal Mind, and the whole of it exists everywhere, then it is all in You!” (p. 162).
 Norman L. Geisler and William D. Watkins, Worlds Apart: A Handbook on Worldviews, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House), 75-76.
 James N. Anderson, What’s Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions (Wheaton: Crossway), 71.
 Byrne claims that “You are God in physical body. You are Spirit in the flesh. You are Eternal life expressing itself as You. You are cosmic being. You are all power. You are all wisdom. You are all intelligence. You are perfection. You are magnificence. You are the creator, and you are creating the creation of You on this planet” (p. 164). Award-winning actress, Shirley MacLaine, also expresses the deity of the individual in her book, It’s All in the Playing (New York: Bantam Books): “The giant truth is that the one individual is his/her own best teacher, and that no other idol or false image should be worshipped or adored because the God we are all seeking lies inside oneself, not outside” (p. 172).
 William Honsberger and Dean C. Halverson, “The New Age Movement” (In Halverson, Dean C. ed. The Compact Guide to World Religions. Minneapolis: Bethany House. 1996), 164.
 Herrick, The Making, p. 36-42.
 The Greek word for knowledge is gnosis, hence you have an early movement with the name of Gnosticism. The idea is that access to supposed hidden and secret knowledge or gnosis is what saves you.
 Wouter J. Hanegraaff, New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Albany: State University of New York), 62.
 Ravi Zacharias, Why Jesus?: Rediscovering His Truth in an Age of Mass Marketed Spirituality (New York: Faith Word Publishers), 62.
 Quoted by Zacharias, Why Jesus, p. 87.
 Think of movies like Star Wars, Doctor Strange, and Star Trek. TV series like the X-Files and others has also had its influence.
 Herrick, The Making, p. 18.
 There are many examples of this in South Africa. Pastor At Boshoff from the Christian Revival Church (CRC) and his teachings on the so-called Law of Attraction is a good example of the New Age’s infiltration of the Church. But there are many others as well (The teachings referred to from Boshoff is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ed9F38bjLy8, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=060AmCjfxRk, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qTSseZridbg, and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmMqKNbZM50, accessed April 8, 2020.)
 Zacharias, Why Jesus, p. 20.