Thursday, April 15, 2010

The New Age Dilemma

For anyone who does not know, "New Age" refers to a loosly structured collection of beliefs that finds its roots in many of the doctrines of eastern religions such as Hinduism or Buddhism. It also has a pantheistic or panentheistic focus. I do not intend to go into a prolonged discussion of the many nuances of the New Age, but a few summary points are needed in order to understand the points I would like to make.

"New Age" is a broad term that can refer to many different beliefs systems that share a general common foundation but may differ on quite a few particulars. Basically, they adopt the eastern belief that "all is one." When you look at another individual you believe that there are two persons there. There is an "I" and a "you." In reality, according to New Agers, all of reality is only "one." This whole perception of differences between you and another person or you and a tree or anything else in the universe is really an illusion. In reality we are all part of this one unified divine nature. Through various techniques we can escape this illusion of individuality. Most New Agers believe in some form of reincarnation, such that this escape from individuality can come over several lifetimes. Also, a new age of enlightenment is coming, sometimes referred to as the "Age of Aquarius" (hence the title "New Age").

That is a very broad outline of a diverse system, but it will do to illustrate two points I would like to make.

The first point deals with a logical test for truth called the test of "undeniability." Basically, this test says that if it is impossible to deny something, then it must be true. The classic example is the denial of your own existence. Think of the freshman philosophy student who asks his professor, "How do I know that I exist?" The classic response from the professor is, "And whom shall I say is asking?" You cannot make the statement "I do not exist" without using the word "I." But the moment you say "I" in formulating your question, you are assuming there is an "I" asking the question. You assume your own existence in your attempt to deny it. Therefore, your existence is undeniable and must be true.

A slight twist to this analysis applies to the New Age. New Agers deny that they are individuals, instead believing that everyone is part of of the same unified whole. The deny the "I"/"you" dichotomy. But again, in saying "I am part of a unified one" the New Ager is assuming that there is an individual "I" making the statement. Even if we were to rephrase the statement as "I believe there are no individuals but rather just one unified whole" the statement still assumes the existence of an "I." New Age beliefs fail the test of undeniability. They attempt to deny something, not realizing that in their attempt they are affirming the very thing they are trying to deny. This is a fundamental problem with New Age philosophy at its core. The same could be said for other eastern religions that invoke the same concept.

A second problem stems from the pantheistic aspects of New Age beliefs. It is not just that all is one, but that "one" is divine. Therefore, if all is "one" and "one" is divine, then all is divine. In more lay terms, everyone and everything is God.

In this respect New Agers deny that they are atheistic. They may have a different concept of God than theists, but they still believe in God. Logically, though, their position amounts to atheism. Atheists deny the existence of God because they do not believe the evidence supports that there is a transcendent being; i.e., a being that exists above the rest of us. The theist would say that reality is like two floors in a building. We live on the first floor and God lives above us on the second. The atheist denies that there is a second floor. The ground level is all there is.

Now look at the logical ramifications of the New Age position. They claim that there is this higher level to reality called the "divine." But by making everyone part of that divine, they elevate all of reality to that higher level. In essence they take everything from the first floor and move it up to the second. But in the end all of reality still exists on only one level. There is no transcendent God because no aspect of reality transcends any other. Logically speaking, then, New Age belief is the equivalent of atheism. This is not a realization that most New Agers would accept, but it is the logical outworking of their philosophy. In their quest for spirituality they actually deny the very thing they claim to be seeking.

Far more could be said abotu New Agers than is included in this short post, but ultimately their other beliefs make little difference if the foundation upon which they are built collapses. The New Age movement is growing in America today. Therefore, Christians must make an effort to understand its beliefs and logically evaluate its position. God bless.

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