A friend recently asked me to comment on the New Age Movement. I have never been a member of any New Age group. But I associate the movement with the many spiritual ideas of the Seventies and the spirituality of the Hippies. The following is my general impression of this movement.
New Age ideas have been much disparaged by the Religious Right and other conservatives. I can understand why. Who wants competition? When I search my memory for New Age, I find images of the Theosophical Society, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Alan Watts, Wicca, and Hare Krishna. Yes, they are a mixed bag. But they also share a common thread. It would be correct to associate New Age with the counterculture and alternative religion/spirituality that is outside the mainstream. It is in this context that I affirm the New Age Movement. Anything that brings more diversity and alternatives to mainstream views should be welcome, for it opens up new possibilities of the human experience.
Many of the New Age ideas actually have ancient origins in the Indian religions, Buddhism and Taoism. Others are associated with Western pagan traditions and Native American spirituality. The Western monotheistic religions tend to be overbearing and sometimes tyrannical. Christianity, in particular, has traditionally claimed to have a monopoly on truth. To the extent that New Age groups help loosen up such monopoly, they are offering an important service to humankind.
The New Age beliefs are an immense and diverse system. Were there any abuses and questionable practices in some of these New Age groups? I would think so. But that should not be used as a reason to oppose New Age. Just take a look at all the atrocities that have been committed in the name of God in the monotheistic religions. A cursory look of that dark aspect of the history of monotheism should make one shudder. The Western religions, while preaching love and compassion, have often engaged in violence and religious wars. By and large, the Eastern religions are different in that they subscribe to the notion of ahimsa (nonviolence). They also lack the notion of a just or holy war. In addition, the notion of the Divine Feminine is virtually nonexistent in Western religions, whereas Goddess and female deities can readily be found in the non-monotheistic religious traditions. This is a serious lack of balance.
We now live in the age of pandemic and climate change. I think New Age type of spirituality is particularly needed in this special moment in history. For the polytheistic and pantheist religions tend to be more willing to embrace nature and show affinity and fellowship towards all living things. In contrast, the monotheistic religions have a tendency to be anthropocentric and God in monotheism tend to be anthropomorphic. To the best of my knowledge, monotheism does not recognize that the other animals have souls. Perhaps by believing in the non-human-like nature of other animals, it is easier for humans to slaughter or harm these other life forms.
But time has changed, thanks partially to the advancement of science, which make us aware of the interconnectedness of all things. Albert Einstein once remarked about what the disappearance of bees would mean to humans. We live in a big ecological system. The “primitive” religions of indigenous people, on the other hand, tend to revere nature and have a strong sense of connection with other life forms.
To summarize, I see the New Age religions have the following advantages over the traditional monotheistic religions:
- They are not anthropocentric and tend to be more respectful towards nature and other life forms. As such, they tend to be more ecologically-friendly.
- Many New Age religions honor the Divine Feminine, a much need counterbalance to the patriarchal and male-centered monotheistic religions.
- The New Age religions offer viable religious and spiritual alternatives to those of us who are repulsed by or burned out from the traditional Western religions.
From all these considerations, I believe it is important to accept all kinds of “New Age” religions to enable a diversity of the human religious experience. The human yearning for Truth and the Sacred is natural. Why not let a thousand flowers bloom?