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A Christian response to the New Age movement [part 2]

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CHAPTER TWO - Monism/Pantheism 'All is One'

 

The New Age bottom line can be stated In three words: 'All is One.' 'The cosmos is pure, undifferentiated energy - a consciousness or life force. Everything is one vast interconnected process' (Russell Chandler -'on understanding the New Age' p. 28).

 

This idea of God being in everything, the belief that God is one in essence with the created world is fundamental to New Age thought. It also underlies Hinduism as well as Greek philosophy which thought of the cosmos as a great animal organism with a body, a soul and a spirit. The New Age movement has given the idea a particular relevance with the 'Gaia' hypothesis - that nature itself is a living being. As Fritjof Capra puts it:

 

'The universe as a whole is alive; therefore the living environment is there and life in its multiple manifestations will arise again and again in various parts of the universe because the whole thing is alive.' (Resurgence magazine September/October 1989).

 

Just as different parts of the body are needed to make the whole function and the ability of the whole body to function properly is weakened when one part is hurt or damaged, so the various parts of the ecosystem - air, water, plants, animals, human beings, etc - need to work together to make the whole function as a healthy living body. (Christians will no doubt see a parallel with the New Testament concept of the church). Because human beings have become alienated from 'Gaia' - mother earth, the forces of nature -we are polluting the earth and thus banning our own body. So we must urgently rediscover the sacred both in nature and in ourselves before we destroy the planet.

 

At a New Age meeting I attended the speaker spoke of the native American saying 'All my relations' by which she meant not only other human beings, but also animals, plants, rocks, rivers etc. New Age and Ecology The most important result of the growth of this world view is the effect it has on 'green' issues, which have become heavily infused with New Age ideas. Bob

Hunter describes ecology as New Age relegation in an article in Environmentalism in the 1980s, Greenpeace Chronicles no, 18 (August 1979):

 

'Nature is quite obviously the physical totality of God's work. Within it, as part of it, viewing what is Our Self from the individual compartments of our little selves, we become aware that Nature is in fact us. The world is Our Body . . . Mother Earth is not passive. To align oneself with her energies is to liberate the Godhead within you, to be lifted up into a higher slate of being, to align yourself with her energies is to liberate at the same lime the true animal within.'

 

The entry point for the destructive view of nature for many New Agers is the Protestant reformation. 'The Reformation attempted to take the magic out of nature and to concentrate on the spiritual life, within human beings. The idea that places and material things, even that the consecrated mass was sacred, was anathema. Nature was not a living system with a spirit and a life of her own. The idea that Nature should be reverenced by men was considered idolatry. . . . The idea of sacred places was denied.' (Rupert Sheldrake - Rebirth of Nature in Resurgence Sept/Oct 1989). 'This paved the way for the industrial revolution in which 'man would probe and torture nature to Find out her secrets in order to gain power and dominion over her, so that she could be subjugated and used to serve man's purposes.' (same article).

 

Christian Response

 

As a Christian I too am concerned at the destruction of nature in order to serve our industrial system, but I cannot approach this problem from the New Age pantheistic view of nature, which the Bible strongly contradicts. Because most Christians have surrendered to evolutionary teaching we often fail to grasp the significance of God as Creator, as it is taught throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.

 

Although there is a harmony in nature, all is not one, as New Agers teach. All things are created by God, but God is separate from his creation, which is not the 'physical totality' of his work. There is also an unseen spiritual realm through which God can communicate with us by the Holy Spirit. What is more the revelation of God's creative work in Genesis 1 shows that he separates different created things from each other: light from darkness, waters under the firmament from waters above the firmament, dry land from sea, different kinds of plants, living creatures and human beings, all of which contain their seed within them and reproduce after their own kind. This is also taught in the New Testament; "God gives . . . to each kind of seed its own body. All flesh is not the same. Men have one kind of flesh, birds another, fish another . . ."(I Cor. 15:38-39). Human beings have a value above other created beings in God's sight.

 

The biblical view of the unseen world is also dualistic not monistic. "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Eph.6:12). This conflict between God and Satan means the Christian must learn to separate good from evil. "Test everything; Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil" (I Thess. 5.21-22). On the day of judgment the Lord will separate the lost from the saved, those who have accepted the salvation offered us in Christ from those who have rejected it. "And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life" (Matthew 25:46). All of this has profound implications in our response to the New Age movement.

 

We cannot identify with the idea of a God who is a 'universal energy', an impersonal force behind the universe, because God is personal, knowable and at the same time so much greater and higher than the created universe. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9). Our problem is not alienation from 'Gaia' but alienation from God who has given us specific moral laws which we have disobeyed both individually and collectively, causing the dreadful slate of our world today. The environmental crisis of our world is the direct result of human sin and failure to take care of the earth in the way God commanded us to in Genesis.

 

"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them 'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it; rule over the Fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the ground" (Gen 1:27-28).

 

Since the original creation was 'very good' human dominion over the living creatures must imply care for the environment and their welfare and not exploitation of it for our selfish greed (See also Psalm 8). Any committed Christian must join with the environmentalists in crying out against the destruction of nature in order to feed the Frankenstein monster our industrial society has become. But we will do this from the very different motive of our concern for what God has created and given humanity to look after and not that we are harming the earth mother, Gaia.

 

Pantheism/Monism and Idolatry

 

From the biblical point of view the main problem of pantheism is that it leads straight into idolatry. Because Satan is actively working in fallen human nature, if you look for God in nature and created things, inevitably you end up finding some thing or place which is invested with a special religious significance and you worship it. The effect of denying the creator is clearly spelled out in Romans 1, leading to a situation where people "exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator who is forever praised" (Romans 1:25).

 

There is nowhere like India, the source of so many New Age ideas, for the worship of idols, and sacred places. This has not led to enlightenment or even to environmental concern, but to fear, superstition and is a major factor in contributing to India's poverty. In the quote above from Rupert Sheldrake's article it is significant that he criticises Protestant Christianity not only for 'taking the magic out of nature' but also for 'denying the idea of sacred places.' New Agers go to places like Glastonbury and Stonehenge to make the 'great invocation' for the new age of truth, justice and co-operative living. There is an interest in locating sacred places through ley lines where one can make contact with and harness spiritual energy and power.

 

A New Age leaflet calls for 144,000 Rainbow Humans to 'gather at sacred sites such as stone circles, ancient earthworks, sacred mountains and lakes. Beacon hills, hill carvings, cathedrals, churches, abbeys, fountains, village crosses' to invoke 'great fire Serpents' to bring about 'a planetary change of consciousness and become co-creators and friends of God'. (Harmonic Convergence published by Acorn Publishing, Wiltshire). Incidentally this has a parallel in the way many professing Christians are making pilgrimages to such places as the shrine to Mary at Walsingham. For Bible-believing Christians all this is a massive deception, for "the earth is the Lord's" and we may call on his name at any time in any place. The condition of whether or not he hears us is whether or not our hearts are right with him and whether or not we come in repentance and faith in the one mediator between God and humanity, the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

I have experienced the presence of the Lord in the most unpromising places - an inner city comprehensive school, or the London Underground - and his absence in the most magnificent cathedrals and the most spectacular coastal scenery in Cornwall, depending on the condition of my relationship with him at the time. The danger of looking for spiritual experiences of God in specific places considered holy or sacred is similar to the danger we will be looking at in the next chapter of looking for God within ourselves. We may well have an experience of the super-natural which is demonic in origin which the unwary may believe to be an experience of God. Many of these places favoured by New Agers have been centres of occultic worship from pre-Christian times and are now places where it is easier for evil spirits to make contact with human beings who are looking for spiritual experience, but denying the one mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ.

 

Another negative result of the pantheistic view is that it gives no adequate explanation for the problem of evil and suffering and reduces our will to resist evil. Despite all the New Age calls to world transformation, where its view has become dominant in any culture it leads to a fatalistic view of life that suffering and evil are inevitable and have to be accepted as 'karma' through which we pass into a better life in our next incarnation. I heard of a Christian working in India who was discouraged from doing welfare work to alleviate poverty because it would prevent those suffering from working out their bad karma and thus preparing for a better incarnation next time.

 

The biblical view sees God as separate yet involved in his creation, a personal being whom we can know and a holy being who calls us to repentance and faith. This gives us a reason to struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil and a hope in the resurrection of the dead. Jeremiah's rebuke to his generation for their idolatry is very relevant to our generation who look to eastern religions for enlightenment:

 

"My people have exchanged their glory for worthless idols...They have forsaken me, the spring of living water and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water" (Jeremiah 2:11-13).

 

Questions

 

What difference will our approach to the issue of creation make to our response to the New Age? Does the evolutionary ides fill in with the New Age view that 'all is one'?

 

What does Romans 1:18-32, particularly verses 20 and 25, have to say about the pantheistic view of nature?

 

What does John 4:20-24 have to say to those who believe some places are more sacred than others?

 

Why should a dualistic view of the unseen world (i.e. God and Satan, angels and demons exist in opposition to each other) give us a different view of suffering and evil from a monistic view (all is one)?

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