What is the New Age movement?

Hope for a better tomorrow is coming from many directions today. Is it a conspiracy? Or is it just wishful thinking?

Kenneth R. Wade is an assistant editor of Ministry. His book Secrets of the New Age has just been published by Review and Herald.

It was February 1971 and Edgar Mitchell was standing on the moon.

Suddenly a light flashed on in his mind, and as he described it, "the presence of divinity be came almost palpable and I knew that life in the universe was not just an accident based on random processes." 1

This knowledge, the astronaut wrote, did not come to him through analytical or logical thought, but "noetically," through "experiential cognition." When he returned to earth, Mitchell doffed his space suit, donned the philosopher's robe, and set out to share with the world the enlightenment he had gained in space.

He founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences to support research into, among other things, the nature of knowing, and ways to help humans reach their full potential through cooperation and development of the powers of the mind. In the process of trying to sort out just how the human psyche works, he consulted the mystical sages of the East along with the computer doyens of the West. Now 18 years later he is still seeking to sort out the full meaning of that experience on the moon.

Mitchell's great leap from exploring the vastness of outer space to probing the inner reaches of the mind in search of answers about why we are here, what we should be doing, and how we can best profit from the powers in our hands is typical of a shift of human thinking that was taking place in the moonwalk era. We see the fruits of that shift in the New Age movement today.

Just a year before Mitchell's noetic experience, Charles A. Reich, in a book that hit the top of the best-seller lists, had called Americans' attention to the fact that a revolution was taking place in our world. "It is now spreading with amazing rapidity, and already our laws, institutions, and social structure are changing in consequence. It promises a higher reason, a more human community, and a new and liberated individual.

Its ultimate creation will be a new and enduring wholeness and beauty—a renewed relationship of man to himself, to other men, to society, to nature, and to the land." 2

Reich was right. Things were changing in America and in much of the world in the late sixties and early seventies.

We had reached the moon. Science and technology had triumphed. But the shell of success we had built had a hollow core.

Mitchell sensed its emptiness even on the moon. After marveling at the beauty of Earth, the blue and white gem on his horizon, and its ideal adaptation to sup porting life, he said, "My wonderment gradually turned into something close to anguish. Because I realized that at the very moment when I was so privileged to view the planet from 240,000 miles in space, people on Earth were fighting wars; committing murder and other crimes; lying, cheating, and struggling for power and status; abusing the environment by polluting the water and air, wasting natural resources, and ravaging the land, acting out of lust and greed; and hurting others through intolerance, bigotry, prejudice, and all the things that add up to man's inhumanity to man."

While Mitchell's response was to found an institute to explore human potential for making a better world, the youth of the sixties and seventies responded by forming a counterculture that rejected the values they believed had led to earth's problems. They went in search of mystical experiences that could give meaning to the spiritual side of their nature.

These two responses to the emptiness of life in Western society represent two separate yet intertwined strands of the New Age movement that we see today. I call these the intellectual strand and the mystically-oriented strand.

The big picture

The New Age movement as most people perceive it today is perhaps more a product of the media than of its own roots. Because those who report the news today are always looking for the sensational, it is the spectacular elements of the movement that have caught attention and become identified as the movement itself.

While the movement does have roots deep in the occult, and while spectacular phenomena such as channeling, UFO contacts, and astrology do play a major role in the hopes of a majority of the New Age faithful, concentrating exclusively on these aspects brings chiefly the mystically-oriented part of the movement into view.

In order to see the bigger picture, let's look first at some of the intellectual roots of the movement.

At the core of the intellectual branch of the movement is a sense that our own understanding of ourselves is leading to a transformation in which we are becoming aware, for the first time in history, of ways that we can take charge of our own development.

"For the first time in history, human kind has come upon the control panel of change—an understanding of how trans formation occurs. We are living in the change of change, the time in which we can intentionally align ourselves with nature for rapid remaking of ourselves and our collapsing institutions," wrote Marilyn Ferguson in The Aquarian Conspiracy, a book that did much in the early eighties to make people aware of the developing New Age movement. 4

Theodore Roszak, a historian of mod em culture who has been closely associated with the movement, posits that we can even go so far as to take charge of our own evolution to bring about a better future: "We undergo the development we envision for ourselves; we get the evolution we deserve. If we continue to see evolution as an empty game of chance in which will and aspiration play no part, then we doom our own higher development. We will, in effect, have willed our selves into impotent drift and stagnation. If we recognize evolution as the unfoldment of visionary energies, then we will have liberated those energies as an evolutionary force, and not only within our own lives, but within the history of our species as a whole." 5

George Leonard, another prominent New Age intellectual, writes that "the anticipatory sense of the coming of a new age is shared by soothsayers, astrologers, and others of a visionary turn of mind. At the same time, social observers of various persuasions have examined the possibility of a forthcoming overturn in the way society in the industrial nations is organized."

After pointing out that expectation of imminent change for the better is ubiquitous in human history, he goes on to argue that now is the time when such change can come about: "It is my thesis, however, that the current period is in deed unique in history and that it represents the beginning of the most thoroughgoing change in the quality of human existence since the creation of an agricultural surplus brought about the birth of civilized states some five thou sand years ago." 6

People like Mitchell, Ferguson, Roszak, and Leonard peg their hopes for a brighter tomorrow on the potential that resides within human beings to harness themselves and nature to the task of overcoming the world's problems. "Rich as we are—together—we can do any thing. We have it within our power to make peace within our torn selves and with each other, to heal our homeland, the whole earth," Ferguson opines. 7

Intellect and the spirit realm

Those who seek to bring in the New Age through intellectual pursuits cannot ignore the mystical side of the movement, though, because many people's hope for the New Age is based at least in part on sources of information such as astrology and channeling.

Definitions of channeling abound. One of the best comes from John Klimo, author of the 1987 book Channeling. He describes it this way: "Channeling is the communication of information to or through a physically embodied human being from a source that is said to exist on some other level or dimension of reality than the physical as we know it, and that is not from the normal mind (or self) of the channel." 8

The channeling phenomenon typically involves a person (channel) going into a trance and allowing his or her vocal cords to be taken over by a spirit entity who proceeds to philosophize about the meaning of life, answer questions, and in general wow listeners with its erudition.

Douglas James Mahr describes what happens to J. Z. Knight, one of the most popular New Age channels, when she begins to channel an entity that calls it self Ramtha: "When Ramtha begins his appearance in the embodiment of J. Z. Knight, a completely different sensation from that of J.Z.'s embodiment is felt. The body of J. Z. Knight is still present, but a totally different personality emerges—her body seems larger and stronger, bursting at the seams; the softness of J.Z.'s mannerisms and facial expressions are replaced by those of a man; body postures and gestures are surging with power; his concentration becomes an intensity, the voice is that of another knowingness." 9

Of course, to a Bible student the channeling phenomenon bespeaks contact with demons. It immediately calls up pictures of Lucifer speaking through the serpent in Eden. It evokes images of the "consulter with familiar spirits" condemned in Deuteronomy 18:11. And it reminds us that when Jesus walked on earth He recognized the discarnate spirits who took over others' vocal cords as demonic.

In 1987 I attended a "Greater Self conference sponsored by Edgar Mitchell's Institute for Noetic Science. In an interview with Mitchell, I probed his understanding of what is necessary for the development of a better world.

Because the conference schedule included a presentation on channeling, I had anticipated that Mitchell must believe that guidance into the New Age must come from nonhuman spirits. But in the course of our conversation I learned that his view of the universe is essentially atheistic. That the presence of divinity he sensed on the moon was something quite different from what I think of as divinity. He indicated to me that he sees our present period of turmoil as a symptom that the universe is trying to reorganize itself from the disordered state that began before World War II, and said that he believes that we may reach a higher level of order early in the twenty-first century.

In this reorganization scheme Mitch ell does not see any need for a God or a supernatural power as religions have typically pictured Deity. The universe is capable of reorganizing itself on its own if human beings will just cooperate to the extent of not destroying the environment that gives them life.

But that left me puzzled about some thing else. "Why then the interest in channeling?" I asked him. Didn't he see this as communication with supernatural spirits?

No, he did not, he said. He believes that channels and psychics are simply people who have a highly developed ability to receive information from what Ru pert Sheldrake has called a morphogenetic field—a field of knowledge that takes in all of human experience and wisdom and is available to everyone who learns to tune in to it. (Carl Jung referred to something similar under the term collective unconscious; Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called it the noosphere.)

Actually Mitchell, in his attempt to explain channeling from a purely rationalistic standpoint, seems to be almost alone among New Age believers. Most would accept the channeled entities as supernatural in some sense.

Teilhardian spirits

Foundational to the New Age under standing of spirit entities and channeling is the thought of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Teilhard, a Jesuit who spent much of his life in China, was forbidden by Roman Catholic authorities to publish his writings because of their unbiblical content. But after his death in 1955 friends saw to it that several of his books were rushed into print.

Marilyn Ferguson reports that in a survey of New Age-oriented people "Teilhard was the individual most often named as a profound influence" on the lives of respondents. 10

Teilhard's philosophy makes room for channeling because he saw the human spirit as the product of a continual evolution of spirits that has been going on since eternity past. Based on Teilhard's view, it is easy to assume that other spirits may have been evolving on other levels, and may be interested in communicating with us on the spirit level.

Understanding this is essential to understanding the New Age movement. Most people think that the roots of the movement are found in Hinduism or Buddhism because reincarnation is one of the most prominent beliefs attributed to it. (Actually, only 57 percent of the respondents to Ferguson's survey affirmed belief in reincarnation, but 76 percent believed in a "consciousness that survives bodily death.") 11

In reality neither the Hindu teaching about transmigration of the soul nor the Buddhist belief in reincarnation appeals to people raised with a Western ideology. Hinduism teaches that souls transmigrate to various physical forms until they finally achieve union with Brahman and are absorbed as a raindrop in the ocean, losing all individuality. Buddhism teaches that the goal of the spirit's many incarnations is to achieve nirvana—a blowing out of the spirit flame—which frees the spirit from having to suffer through any future incarnations.

The Western ideology of progress is frustrated by either of these journeys to nothingness. The centrality of Teilhard to the movement stems from his supplying a philosophy that translates reincarnation into a form more palatable to Western minds.

Armed with a Teilhardian understanding of progressive incarnations, New Age believers have by and large come to accept channeling as a given. After all, if there are progressive spirits currently incarnated on our level, there must be others who have moved on to higher levels. And certainly this is an adequate explanation for the phenomenon of channeling.

Spirit smorgasbord

It is hardly surprising, then, that the modern phenomenon of channeling, with its spirit entities conforming to the Teilhardian theory of evolution, burst into full flower within a few years after Teilhard's books were published.

The first of these channels to achieve prominence was Jane Roberts, whose books were based on messages spoken through her mouth by an entity who called himself Seth. Seth's main message to the world, reiterated again and again throughout the hundreds of pages of Seth books, is that life and death are mere illusions we create out of our own minds. He wants us to believe that our spirits survive death and may come back to live on earth again in a different body, or may move on to a higher plane of existence such as he has achieved.

He wants us to recognize that "reality" is not what we think it is, but rather that we, by the powers of our own minds, create the very world in which we live, including the inanimate objects we see.

In other words, he wants us to believe exactly what the serpent told Eve in Eden: You shall not surely die; rather you'll be a god capable of creating your own world.

Seth is not alone in serving up this tasty morsel that allures the human ego with its promises of omnipotence and irrevocable eternal life. The channels pro claiming essentially this message are multitude and multiplying.

While Seth had little or nothing to say specifically about the imminent New Age, the years (1963-1984) during which Roberts channeled his messages witnessed the emergence of other channels to proclaim the era's approach. Based on some of these channeled entities' messages, groups of people all over the world began to anticipate that the present order would come to an end and the New Age be established at the end of 1967. In Denmark one group followed channeled instructions to build, a leadlined bomb shelter to protect them during the "nuclear evolution" event that would mark the transition.

One of the most prominent groups to accept the 1967 transition message was a New Age community located on Findhorn Bay in northern Scotland. Findhorn was central in the development of the New Age movement in the British Isles, and through the influence of activists who studied there has influenced the movement around the world.

Limitless Love and Truth, the entity who had promised the 1967 transition, was channeled at Findhorn in 1970 by the American psychic David Spangler. His messages yielded a book titled Revelation: The Birth of a New Age, which was originally published on Findhorn's printing press.

Another prominent proponent of New Age promises is Ruth Montgomery, a Washington, D. C.-based political columnist who became involved with psychic phenomena under the tutelage of the spirit medium Arthur Ford. Ford had for years wowed audiences, including Episcopal Bishop James Pike, by going into a trance and making contact with spirits who claimed to be deceased friends and relatives. In 1962 he encouraged Montgomery to try automatic writing. After she had, for several days, spent 15 minutes each morning in meditation, a powerful force seized her hand and the pencil it held and began to trace circles and figure eights on a piece of paper. A few days later words began to come from the pencil, signed with her father's name. Later she was instructed to sit at a typewriter, and then the words from various entities came in a flood.

Montgomery's messages from beyond include the usual promises of immortality and godhood for all, but also promise that the earth will shift on its axis some time before the year 2000. Beings in flying saucers will rescue some enlightened people from the resultant catastrophes, educate them, and finally place them back on earth to begin the New Age after the environment settles down. (Those who are not rescued will simply have their next incarnation elsewhere.)

The intriguing thing about the multitude of channeled entities who are promising an imminent New Age is that although they all agree with the basic idea that human beings are really immortal gods, they can't agree on much else— especially on just how the New Age will be ushered in. Some see it as coming about only after catastrophes, while others steadfastly deny that any catastrophes must come. Still others proclaim that, since we create our own reality, how the New Age comes just depends on what we believe will happen. If we expect catastrophes, we'll get them. If we expect a peaceful transition, we'll get that.

Astrology

Astrology plays a prominent role in many people's expectations of the New Age. Most significant here is the "fact" that earth is currently going through a transition that occurs only once every 2,160 years. In the words of the songwriter, this is the dawning of the age of Aquarius.

According to astrologers, we are moving from the Piscean age into the Aquarian age. The Piscean age began just be fore the birth of Christ and is symbolized by a fish, the early Christian symbol for Christ. Some astrologers hope that the Aquarian age will be an age of more peace and harmony because Christianity will have less of an influence.

The transition to the Aquarian age will not be complete until about 2062, but according to one astrologer the transition period began in 1846. The first phase of the transition concluded in 1918 with the rise of the Soviet Union and increase in power of the United States. The second phase will end next year, and the world will have become entirely Aquarian in nature by 2062. 12

Although it is not directly related to traditional astrology, there is a related body of belief that expects the New Age to dawn in 2012. This is founded on Jose Arguelles' interpretation of an ancient Mayan calendar. His interpretation led thousands of people to gather for a "harmonic convergence" at "power points" around the world to hum the Hindu creation-word Aum together on August 16, 1987.

Anti-Christ

All in all, the New Age movement includes under its heading beliefs as diverse as those held by all of the rest of the world's religions put together. And the current popular representation of it has been strongly shaped by the media's focus on the extraordinary, not to mention the potent pressures exerted by commercialism— it seems like everybody is out to make a buck off the term New Age.

But the underlying root of it all is mankind's rebellion against God and his desire to have immortality and omnipotence apart from God.

The New Age movement really started in Eden. The lies on which hope for a better tomorrow independent of God is based have not changed since Eve listened to the first channel.

Every aspect of this movement, from the most rationalistic hope founded on the latent powers of the human psyche to the most blatantly channel-based belief in rescue by flying saucers, is rooted in rebellion against and independence from God.

Some Christians have pointed to the movement as the antichrist power. In one sense it is anti-Christ because its philosophy replaces Christ with another savior—mankind itself. But as to its being an organized conspiracy like the Nazis, to which the movement is so often compared, the diversity and petty differences between the various factions of the movement have convinced me that a workable conspiracy is not present now, and could not be easily developed within the movement we see today.

And there is even a sense in which the movement is not all bad. It has served to awaken people to their spiritual needs. And to bring spirituality out of the closet—to allow people in our technocratic society to admit that they are on a spiritual journey in quest of something beyond the material world.

How can a Christian minister today capitalize on this spiritual awakening? How can we reach out to people who have been stirred to search for spiritual things, even if they have begun searching down the New Age's perilous paths? Stay tuned—that's the topic of the concluding article in this two-part series, which will appear in the May issue.

1 Edgar D. Mitchell, Psychic Exploration (New
York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1974), p. 29.

2 Charles A. Reich, The Greening of America
(New York: Bantam Books, 1971), p. 2.

3 Mitchell, pp. 29, 30.

4 Marilyn Ferguson, The Aquarian Conspiracy
(Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1980),
p. 29.

5 Theodore Roszak, Unfinished Animal (New
York: Harper & Row, 1975), pp. 150, 151.

6 George B. Leonard, The Transformation (New
York: Delacorte, 1972), pp. 1,2.

7 Ferguson, p. 406.

8 Jon Klimo, Channeling (Los Angeles: Jeremy
P. Tarcher, Inc., 1987), p. 2.

9 Ramtha with Douglas James Mahr, Voyage to
the New World (New York: Fawcett, 1985), p. 17.

10 Ferguson, p. 50.

11 Ibid., p. 434.

12 Dane Rudhyar, The Astrology of America's
Destiny (New York: Random House, 1974), pp.
204, 205.


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Kenneth R. Wade is an assistant editor of Ministry. His book Secrets of the New Age has just been published by Review and Herald.

March 1989

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