The New Age Worldview: Is it Believable?
Eastern spirituality is a popular trend in American culture today. Dr. Groothuis addresses these beliefs and delves into whether or not they sync with Christianity.
The God Within Us
You are not good. You are not evil. You are God.
So intones a woman in her late 50s, speaking in a strange accent, because she is in a trance. Her name is J.Z. Knight, one of many talking heads that punctuate a surprisingly popular film, What the Bleep Do We Know?
This movie is a surreal account of one distressed woman who finds inner peace through taking control of her difficult life. Although the audience is not told until the end of the film, J.Z. Knight is channeling a spirit entity named Ramtha. Along with several scientists, philosophers and others who provide cameos in the film, Knight expounds an ancient message: We are divine (part of a universal energy), all is one, we create our own reality through our consciousness, and there is no difference between good and evil.
To put it in philosophical terms, the worldview of this film is pantheistic (all is divine), monistic (all is one), and relativistic (we create our own reality). Millions of American are buying into these beliefs. But should anyone believe such things? Are these claims true?
It's All About Me
This enticing message of liberation through the realization of one's inner potential has taken hold of American culture at many levels. In the 1980s this general philosophy was called 'New Age' and referred to a raft of therapies, seminars and individuals hawking our "unlimited potential" and warning of religions or ideologies that placed any limits on our unlimited possibilities. At the time, many writers (myself included) spoke of this phenomenon as "the New Age movement", although I never claimed that it ever rose to the level of a unified movement, let alone a conspiracy. New Age thinkers drew from Eastern religions (particularly Hinduism), ancient occultism, avant-garde trends in psychology, and speculations in physics to cobble together a worldview that placed the self at the center of the universe.
While the term 'New Age' is not as commonly used today, the concepts of this worldview are popping up nearly everywhere in American culture. The preferred term is now simply 'spirituality' or 'the new spirituality'. Deepak Chopra promises in his many best-selling books and high-priced seminars that by tapping into the divine within ourselves we can find enlightenment and perfect health. He promises an "ageless body and timeless mind".
Americans by the millions are taking up yoga (which means to be "yoked with the divine"), a practice rooted in Hindu mysticism. Even many Christians fail to discern the potential dangers of yoga's philosophy and thus submit to its alien disciplines. (See my article 'Dangerous Meditations' for a further critique of eastern meditation.) The ever-present Oprah Winfrey has probably done more than anyone to promote this form of spirituality. Her television program often features and endorses authors such as Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson, Gary Zukav, and many others. Many television viewers are disarmed by Winfrey's upbeat manner and Christian background. Nevertheless, the worldview she and so many others promote is both remote from biblical faith and illogical as well. Let's see how.
What's the Difference?
Christianity, rooted in the Jesus Christ of history (Luke 1:1-4; 1 Corinthians 15:1-8), cannot be stuffed into the mold of this 'new spirituality'. While many invoke Jesus as a mystical master, guru, yogi, or swami who espoused a universal spirituality at one with the supposedly deeper levels of all religions, Jesus in fact stands out from the crowd in what He taught and how He lived.
Far from teaching that everything was divine, Jesus claimed uniquely divine prerogatives for Himself
Jesus affirmed the reality of one Creator God who is a personal and moral being to whom we are accountable (Matthew 19:4; 25:31-46). Jesus knew God as "Our Father in heaven" (Matthew 6:9, NIV) and not as a universal and impersonal energy, force or principle. He believed that God can be known through divine revelation in history, through Scripture, and supremely in the person and work of Himself. Jesus said: "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30) and claimed to be the only mediator between God the Father and the human race (Matthew 11:27; John 3:16-18; 14:6; see also Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5).
Far from teaching that everything was divine, Jesus claimed uniquely divine prerogatives for Himself, which were applicable to no one else. For example, He forgave people's sins (Mark 2:1-12; Luke 7:36-50), something only God has the authority to do. Jesus also claimed to be "Lord even of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:23-28). Since God instituted the Sabbath (Genesis 2:1-3), and Jesus claimed divine authority over the Sabbath, Jesus claimed to have God's own authority.
In a dispute with some religious leaders, Jesus scandalized them when He said that "before Abraham was born, I am" (John 8:58). "I AM WHO I AM" is the divine name that God revealed to Moses when He spoke to him in the burning bush (Exodus 3:14). Jesus claimed not only to have existed much longer than His age as a human being, but to be the God revealed to Moses. Not believing His statement, the religious leaders tried to stone Him for blasphemy (see Leviticus 24:16).
The Jesus of history never called people to find the divine within themselves or to create their own reality. Instead, He called people to repent, to turn from their vain attempt to be lords of their own reality, and to turn toward Him as the only Lord of life. He came to save us from ourselves and from losing our souls: "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost" (Luke 19:10). He backed up these claims by His matchless teachings, His compassionate and just character, His miracles and exorcisms, and supremely through His death and resurrection whereby He secured the forgiveness of sin and life everlasting for those who would put their trust in Him. This is true spirituality. This new life received by faith in what Jesus Christ has done for us is not available through our own resources (John 1:12-13; Ephesians 2:1-10; Titus 3:5-6).
So, we find that the spirituality of What the Bleep Do We Know? and its philosophical soul mates is unbiblical. It is illogical, as well. Let's return to the film to make three essential points against its worldview.
A New Form of the Same Old Deception
First, in this film, a theologian (of all people), decries the terrible idea that there is such a thing as evil in the world. However, if the idea is so terrible, then the idea itself would be an evil. So, evil would exist after all. Thus the expert contradicts himself inexcusably, and the premise of his argument cannot be trusted.
if we create our own reality, why are we so horrendously bad at it?
Moreover, no one – outside of a sociopath – can consistently live out this amoral worldview beyond good and evil. If you do not reckon the September 11, 2001 attacks on America as evil, there is simply something radically wrong with your perception of reality. If you do not take rape, child molestation and racism to be objectively evil, then you are radically out of step with reality. The Christian worldview, however, can account for evil as rebellion against God. In fact, God took evil so seriously that Christ was sent to bear its brunt that the world might be restored (Isaiah 53).
Second, if we create our own reality, why are we so horrendously bad at it? Why does one of the experts (a chiropractor) struggle with his postnasal drip every time he speaks? Why has J.Z. Knight (the medium for Ramtha) aged so terribly in the past 15 years? How can gods fail to live up to their deity? Why are we gods such underachievers? This simply makes no sense. What does ring true, however, is that we are finite and fallible creatures. We are in severe need of redemption from someone outside of ourselves.
Third, the 'create your own reality' approach promoted by the film is also dangerous because it uproots us from any stable sense of objective reality – morally, philosophically or spiritually. This is the way to madness – the lunacy that takes one's thoughts to be all that there is.
We should not forget that cult leader Charles Manson thought he had transcended the duality of good and evil. On that basis, he commanded his deluded followers to murder at his whim. One of their victims was a young actress, Sharon Tate, and her unborn child. While all who believe that they create reality may not go to these lengths of evil, there is nothing in their worldview to stop them.
The new spirituality cannot deliver on its promises. It cannot be harmonized with the reality of Jesus Christ, and it is flatly illogical to boot. Besides, this spirituality is not new at all, but ancient. It is all traced back to the original lie of the serpent in the garden, who promised a better life by disobeying God and making oneself the center of reality (Genesis 3:6-7). But the way out of that perennial snare is to follow Christ on the narrow path that leads to life eternal (Matthew 7:13-14; John 10:10).
 For an introduction to the teachings and life of Jesus from a philosophical perspective, see Douglas Groothuis, On Jesus (Wadsworth, 2003).
© 2006 Douglas Groothuis
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.