Repackaging the New Age (for a New Age)
If pollster George Barna is right, 93% of Americans believe in God.Unfortunately, says Barna, 53% also believe "that all people pray to the same god or spirit, no matter what name they use for that spiritual being."1 Half of all Americans, then, are already syncretists. So if the right package were presented by the right leaders, in a united effort, the nation might be transformed overnight into a New Age Fair.
Throughout America many are supposedly praying or chanting to a Supreme Being, a Higher Power, that most likely isn't our God: the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus. Ears and toes a-tingle, many are dying to hear James van Praagh speak to the dead and are searching for angels where angels fear to tread. Others are falling prey to false teachers who pretend to be soothsayers on the cutting-edge of a newly emerging evolutionary consciousness. It is indeed the dawning of a new age.
But all this voracious interest in spirituality is fed by a hidden agenda. By its fruits we already know it. America is being transformed from a Christian nation, as Barna observes, into "a syncretistic, spiritually diverse society." America is perceiving religion as "a personalized, customized form of faith views which meet personal needs, minimize rules and absolutes,and . . . bear little resemblance to the 'pure' from of any of the world's major religions."2 At the vanguard of this effort to redefine "spirituality," as always, are the New Age teachers. Today, however, they have found a new way of re-releasing the New Age, like an old 45 record, by re-packaging it under new labels, using the internet as their distributor.
As a result, the formerly far-flung "spiritual" teachers are uniting under a single banner. Buddhists (from Tibet, Thailand, and Cambodia), Vedantins (from India and elsewhere), New-Agers (from every cranny of the globe), and even "Christian mystics" (from the lunatic fringes) - all these find themselves now on the same web page. Linking fingers around the world are such luminaries as Sogyal Rinpoche, Da Free John, Thich Nhat Hahn, U. G. Krishnamurti, Bernadette Roberts, and Sailor Bob Adamson. Oh, and let's not forget Standing Free, Lobster, 0.0.0., and Swami Veda.
New Paradigm Shifts
How is this repackaging occurring? By means of clever linguistic and semantic shifts, along with a hefty postmodern push toward an ever-increasing faith in subjectivity and a fundamental mistrust of words. Let's first examine the genesis of this approach.
Among the trendy terms circulating in "syncretistic" circles, one has become especially useful to the New Age set. This not-so-new term, "paradigm change," was first used by Thomas S. Kuhn, the scientist, in 1962. Since then, among intellectual elites, it has been gaining ground and shifting so much that it has taken on seismic significance. Now we hear of "unprecedented paradigmatic shifts." World views are rising and falling as fast as spikes on an agitated seismograph. We live, we are told, in a postmodern world in which all words and authorial motives are suspect. Here, no truth exists. New Age hucksters, savvy as always, are exploiting this postmodern waffling and semantic dream-weaving.
In reality, "paradigm" originally meant "example" or "model." As it's being used today, however, it means that people function in life within their own mental "frameworks." Alice sees animals as vegans do; Al sees them as research veterinarians do. True believers of this persuasion say, "Perception is reality."
Where, then, should we meet? At your framework or mine? Now you see my paradigm; now you don't. Mine either fits into your paradigm or not,or overlaps part of it as in a Venn diagram. Therefore, according to New Age teachers who have latched onto this trendy term, the remedy for our sense of "separateness" is to transcend all frameworks, including the God framework. To enter this bliss, though, we will first have to shed the straight-jacket of reason and logic.
These archaic skills, which involve language ability, according to new sages, lead to too much questioning and challenging. One teacher avers that the Ultimate, with all its "paradox and contradiction" can't be "translated into the ordinary logic of common sense." Another claims, "Words and their discrimination bind one to the dreary round of births and deaths." Still another declares, words are "futile." All right, then, toward what are we shifting?
New and Improved New Age Terms
Now, thoroughly discombobulated and disarmed by subjectivistic appeals,we can consider a few new terms that are contributing to the new "paradigm shift."
Thus, first we stumble upon the most fundamental "new" term: "non-dualism."When I studied Eastern philosophy, Buddhism had its goal: Nirvana (nir, the absence of, vana, mental waves). God wasn't part of the Buddhist framework,the God-thought being just another vana. And then yoga-Vedanta had its goal, moksha (liberation from the rounds of births and deaths). To the Hindus there were three basic schools, all of which claimed to lead to God-realization: dvaita (dualism), vashish advaita (qualified non-dualism),or advaita (non-dualism). The advaitists mostly referred to themselves as monists, not non-dualists. To them Brahman alone exists.
Thus vast gulfs existed between Buddhists and Hindus, New Agers and Christians. New Agers, of course, kept using patchwork plagiarism to create their own synthetic generic brand of truth, their own syncretistic path, always trying to unite the disparate factions. Today they are doing soby defining "non-dualism" in this way: it "is a perspective holding ultimate reality to be of the nature of sameness or homogeneity," one that "sees the traditional dichotomy of subject-object as false."3
The term "non-dualism" is now the rallying cry of everyone on every"path," because it satisfies everyone, offends no one, uniting all and lending credibility to their ecumenism. New Agers are thus succeeding in creating their longed-for One World Order, all "spiritual" people present, except conservative Christians - because we just don't get it. In fact, as a way of leaping on the bandwagon, a "Christian," Rick Katz, hosts his own "non-dual Christianity" web site that attempts to woo unwary Christians into the new ever-widening circle of cosmic, non-dual love. Every Christian who wishes to grasp the "new paradigm" (that denies any single paradigm) should study his Christian-targeted site.4
A few other related terms are worthy of note for those who would become literate in the new vocabulary intended to push us above and beyond illiteracy. Their definitions derive from the multi-layered "Nonduality Salon" website:
Awakening: Progress in spiritual growth toward non-duality,i.e., the non-dual experience.The concept of "spiritual growth" has been gestating for a long time, and"awareness" seems to be what New Agers used to call "consciousness" (chit). But, honestly, "Seeing two" can't be all that bad: How else could we tie our shoes? The word "perspective" just seems to be another synonym for"paradigm" and "framework." The word "meme" has been loosely borrowed from linguistics and genetics (and sounds suspiciously like the "engrams" of Scientologists). But most curious of all is "essencing." One wonders howa cow, cow paddy, or cowlick could be "processing" toward becoming I AM.
Awareness: Condition of being fully, in every sense, in the here and now, the non-dual moment.
Duality: Seeing two instead of one when ONE is all there really is.
Enlightenment: Ultimate awakening, transcendence of perspective and awareness.
Essencing: The process of everything becoming I AM.
Memes: Informational patterns in the memory that need to be transcended.
Standing Alone (or Free): The perspectives of the stages of non-dualism.
The Victims of This Supernatural Disaster
After writing Embraced by the Darkness: Exposing New Age Theology from the Inside Out about my New Age experiences twenty years ago, I put my hand to the plow and no longer looked back. But then Amazon.com gave the book new life. E-mails trickled in. Non-Christians began asking me questions. I responded.
One polite young man, Ricardo, especially touched me. He confessed that my book had scared him, disturbing his "frameworks." Nevertheless, he still felt that "non-dualism" is our true experience. He worried that his motive for considering Christianity was an ignoble fear of hell: "a self-separate ego trip." He spoke hopefully of a "Christian" mystic named Bernadette Roberts, who had attained to a state beyond oneness with God, the old goal of mystics. She had taken, as she puts it, "the journey beyond union, beyond self and God . . . into the silent and still regions of the unknown."5 He spoke of Buddhists, yogis, and eclectic mentors from America, all embracing non-dualism. He asked me what I thought; I responded.
Still my young pen-pal continued to scour the web pages of the non-dualist seven while I painstakingly answered his question. Gently, I tried to allay his fears and doubts. I contended lovingly for the Faith, appreciating his anguish. Still, he feared that in seeking Christian answers he was looking for "too much certainty." He didn't know what to believe. Maybe,he wrote in one e-mail, "wanting to believe" was the problem.
At last, seeking my opinion of the cyber-gurus, he directed me to a few "non-dual" websites. I soon found myself catapulted through an uncanny cyber-world of irrationalism. I encountered every politically correct guru and group in the world (even "non-dual" ecologists), finding list after list of intertwining links and even lively "non-dualist" chat groups. The assumptions and beliefs that I encountered were the same as those I encountered years ago, but now, by comparison, the garbling of voices and word choices was mind-boggling.
That ancient refrain-the one from the Garden-remained: "Come hitherto end your suffering, and you too shall, like us, become God (the I AM), having transcended such trifling dualities as good and evil." Except now this newly garbed god is "unthinkable," a fuzzy non-dualistic not-god above body, mind, time, and space, nowhere and everywhere, yet adorable to every"mystic" the world over.
After many exchanges, Ricardo remained baffled and paralyzed. Then at last he sent the email that ended our dialogue. In ten pages of overgeneralized gibberish peppered with disingenuous questions (little "quizzes"), he set out to enlighten me. He had finally reached the end of his doubts, he claimed, corresponding with a New Age guru of non-duality, Scott Morrison(whose web site has already "enlightened" over 1.1 million visitors).6 Morrison, said Ricardo, "helped [him] a lot to understand his ambivalence"about the anti-New-Age, orthodox Christian message in my book.
Ricardo, sad to say, had slipped beyond the reach of intelligible discussion.Too late I realized that Ricardo, though college-educated, just didn't know how to think. To him, words meant nothing or anything. Like him, I suspect, many earnest "seekers of truth" are being driven to distraction by the confusion of tongues in hyper-space. In the mean time, I'm sure, the New Age cyber-stars are reveling in their fifteen minutes of fame.
Implications for Evangelism and Apologetics
Now that the world is lunging into a postmodern era, in which every paradigm is equal, or relative, many New Age teachers can just keep shifting their paradigms, like a pair of dimes, from one palm to another, so that one hand needn't know what the other is doing. New terms replace the old; new alliances form. The implications, for Christian apologists and evangelists,are surely disturbing, if not alarming. Even worse, the challenges are formidable.
The "non-dualists," now on the "lunatic fringe," may soon find themselves linked into an even vaster network of new-age-speak. Just as many of the early ".com's" yielded space to, or became adjuncts to, the ".org's" and".edu's" crowding the web, so are the little New Age ".com's" being supplanted by larger, more sophisticated sites. The Scientologists have their impressive site, and so do Steiner's Anthroposophists. Recently, I stumbled upon the Transcendental Meditation (TM) site, with links to its university and to many scientific articles.7
Curiously, it was MSNBC's "Health" page, accessible from my home page,that led me there. It featured a Reuters' article on March 3, 2000, entitled "Meditation reduces hardened arteries." "TM appears to restore the body's own self-repair mechanism, the body's own homeostatic balancing . . . ,"according to researchers at Maharishi University of Management (MUM) Center for Natural Medicine and Prevention. The American Heart Association's journal Stroke had approvingly published the research. A professor of medicine at UCLA had confirmed the findings in a more recent study. Reuters quoted the director of MUM, who said that a person only had to use "a specific sound or 'mental vehicle'" to reap healthful benefits from TM. In another paradigm shift, "bijas," the seed words of mantras-kling, kring, hring, etc.-have conveniently become "mental vehicles."
So New Age cults grow ever bolder. Apparently "mum" is no longer the word in formerly occultic circles. With the "nondualists" shifting paradigms, aided by TM "scientists" re-selling "mental vehicles," the repackaging is complete. Seals of approval are being passed all around. New Age "methods"can apparently heal afflicted hearts, whether broken by love or hardened by cholesterol. As New Age tentacles spider the globe, everyone may soon be able to "imagine," with John Lennon, when "the world will be as one."
If 53% of Americans believe in a fuzzy everyman's god, then, many other unsaved souls, like my young pen-pal, may be at greater risk to deception than ever before.
Unfortunately, the saved may also be at greater risk. In the mid-1990'sGeorge Barna reported, shockingly, that 62% of born-again Christians believe that "there is no such thing as absolute truth."8 In 1999, just as disturbingly, he reported that 45% of the born-again believe that just "being good" will earn a person a place in heaven.9 Daily, it seems, a syncretized, personalized, universalized path of works is becoming ever more alluring to many.
With 1.8 million people clambering onto the Web each month, we Christians, I fear, shall have a lot of praying and fasting to do in the years to come (Mark 9:27). We shall also have to practice a good deal of discernment as the many false prophets, on- and off-line, set out to deceive the world and even "the elect - were that possible" (Mt. 24:24).
1. George Barna, The Index of Leading Spiritual Indicators. (Dallas: Word, 1996), pp. 18, 23.
2. Ibid.. p. 130.
3. "The Nonduality Salon," http://www3.ns.sympatico.ca/umbada/index.html.
4. "At One with Jesus Home Page," http://members.aol.com/Fourmo3297/index.html.
5. "The Nonduality Salon," among the many alphabetically listed teachers. Also note how many works by teachers like Roberts are listed and also how many titles are linked, for easy access, to homepages or to http://www.Amazon.com.
6. Scott Morrison, "Disappearing Forever into the Heart of God," with a link to the "21st Century Renaissance" site, <http://www.openmindopenheart.org/ScottMorrison.html>. Morrison says that the time is now for the attainment of non-duality: "Why hold back, speculating, theorizing, debating? Your own Pure Heart, the Core of your Being, the Lover of Lovers, is waiting for you."
7. "The Transcendental Meditation Program," underneath which appears the phrase "A Scientifically Verified Program," http://tm.org/index.html.
8. George Barna, The Barna Report 1994-95: Virtual America (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1994), p. 83.
9. George Barna, home page, http://www.barna.org/cgi-bin/PageCategory.asp#Beliefs.