Many who embrace New Age practices believe in karma and reincarnation. As in Hinduism, the ultimate goal in the New Age movement is to achieve oneness with the divine. Adherents of New Age spirituality reject the biblical doctrines of the fall, the sinfulness and depravity of man, the need for an atoning sacrifice, and the need for a mediator between God and man.
What is New Age spirituality?
New Age spirituality is an umbrella term that describes a contemporary religious movement, not an organized religion. Proponents of the movement encourage striving to reach one’s full potential through an eclectic mixture of concepts and practices drawn from Eastern mysticism, Hinduism, Buddhism, metaphysics, naturalism, astrology, occultism, and science fiction. In its various forms, New Age spirituality is both monistic (believing that all reality is ultimately one) and pantheistic (believing that everything is divine). Unlike organized religions, New Age spirituality has no founding figure, structured leadership, official headquarters, or authoritative writings that are accepted by all proponents. New Age spirituality has held considerable social sway over Western culture over the past three decades. An estimated one in three Americans accepts various elements of New Age ideology.
When did it begin?
References to the “New Age” come from the world of astrology. Roughly every 2,100 years, proponents argue, we enter a new “astrological age” that corresponds to one of the twelve signs of the zodiac. The exact date of the transition is disputed, but most astrologers maintain that we transitioned from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius sometime in the twentieth century.
The contemporary New Age movement originated in the late 1960s and early 1970s, concurrent with the hippie counterculture movement. The Beatles popularized Eastern mysticism and monistic religion in mainstream America after returning in 1965 from a trip to India, where they practiced Transcendental Meditation with the Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The 1967 musical Hair promoted the astrological elements of the New Age movement with its catchy opening number, which asserted, “This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.” In 1969, the promoters of the music festival Woodstock publicized it as “an Aquarian exposition: 3 Days of Peace and Love.”
Who are the key figures?
Academy Award–winning actress Shirley MacLaine promoted the New Age ideas of reincarnation and past life experiences in her 1984 book Out on a Limb. In 1989, Deepak Chopra published his book Quantum Healing, which claims to integrate modern scientific concepts into an Eastern mystical framework with the goal of healing the body. Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now and A New Earth, is among the most well-known proponents of the New Age movement today. In a 2008 article, The New York Times called Tolle “the most popular spiritual author in [the United States].”1 Prominent media personality Oprah Winfrey continues to be one of the most vocal proponents of New Age ideology.
What are the main beliefs?
It is nearly impossible to set out any systematic doctrine associated with the New Age movement, since it borrows from so many religious and esoteric traditions. However, New Age proponents hold in common several broad ideas:
- Cosmological determination. According to astrologers, the movement of stars and other heavenly bodies determines cultural and societal—as well as individual—development. Accordingly, humanity has moved out of the Age of Pisces, in which we sought to discover our identity and existence, into the Age of Aquarius, in which we seek total peace and unity. Having collectively moved into a new era, we are to embrace the cultural changes that coincide with the current astrological age. This shift has already had an impact on every person and will continue to do so. All that we learned from our parents, and all that our parents learned from their parents, was a result of the influence of the Piscean age and must now be largely abandoned. In the Age of Aquarius, we must learn to accept ourselves as people who do not need to believe in anything that lies outside ourselves. All that is in us and all that is in the universe is God; therefore, to gain unity and balance with God, we must seek to embrace what is happening in this present Aquarian age as the divine expresses itself in us and in others. This form of pantheism attributes to the created order something that belongs exclusively to the eternal sovereignty of God.
- Monistic energy. Proponents of the New Age movement believe that God and the universe are one in substance. The New Age movement rejects biblical monotheism in favor of monism or pantheism. Proponents of the New Age believe that there is divine energy inherent in every part of the universe.