Christians Overcoming the New Age

UK Apologetics Introduction:
Whilst the following article dates from the 1990s, it is far too valuable to neglect as a source of both warning and encouragement regarding New Age influences and how they can be handled. It comes from the late Bob Passantino and his wife Gretchen...

The following article first appeared in Moody Magazine

It was 1975 and a cold winter rain soaked us as we hurried, searching the storefronts along a dingy sidestreet in West Hollywood, looking for the "Academy of Atlantis." The open house began in a few minutes, and we didn't want to be late. We had come to check out the latest in the weird world of the cults -- communication with UFO entities by means of trances, crystal balls, and auras. There was the shop, sitar music and warm light spilling from the doorway. Colorful informational brochures and donation envelopes poked out among the offerings on the buffet table. A world map littered with colored pins dominated one wall.

The host, dressed all in black, explained, "The pins represent colonies of UFO entities around the world." Several pins clustered around the Los Angeles area. He pointed to one yellow pin poked into the West Hollywood area, "That's the closest colony, only a few blocks away. Its leader is nine feet tall, has 132 teeth, and lobster-claw like hands. Only our initiates can see him as he really is. To ordinary people he looks like a regular human being, a nice man who owns a tropical fish store." We asked the host how he first found out what was going on. He replied, "The only clue to his secret identity was that he talked to his fish -- and they talked back!"

We marveled that night over the seemingly normal people who took the Academy of Atlantis seriously. Sales of crystal balls, ouija boards, and Tarot cards were brisk. Many people paid their twenty-five dollar initiation fees so they, too, could see the fish man as he really was. We asked questions, hoping our skepticism would rub off on the others. "How do you know," we queried the host, "that the messages you get from the spirits are true? What if they're evil spirits? How do you know?"

He laughed at our ignorance. "Of course I can trust them. They assured me they were telling the truth. And besides, how could I have all this," he gestured expansively with his arms, encompassing the room full of occult tools, curious people, and black velvet curtains, "if they weren't right?"

"But how do you know the spirits aren't evil spirits tricking you by saying they're good," we persisted.

"Easy," he smirked. They've told me all you scoffers will be silenced within six months. Our friends from the stars will hold a public press conference on the White House lawn with President Jimmy Carter before summer begins. You just wait. You'll see!"

We ran into the Academy of Atlantis about ten months later. They were preaching their UFO gospel outside a rally for a rival UFO group. We had gone to the rally to witness and pass out gospel tracts. The leader didn't recognize us until we asked him what had happened to the White House press conference.

He quickly glanced around to be sure his rivals couldn't hear him. "It's people like you," he stammered. "You don't believe. You're too negative. They decided to wait a little longer until people are ready for them."

We stayed through the evening, witnessing to anyone who would listen, and occasionally trying to reach the Academy members, who finally gave up in disgust at us and left. "Kooks," we thought. "Nobody in their right minds would fall for spirit communication from UFO entities."

Now we move on to 1992. The tawdry trappings of groups like the Academy of Atlantis have evolved into the high tech glitz of the New Age Movement. J. Z. Knight "channels" an ancient warrior spirit named Ramtha in high priced seminars and exclusive private readings, where "Ramtha" counsels clients to invest heavily in Knight's stable of race horses. Anthony Robbins has parlayed his early 1980s stunt teaching people to "firewalk" into his current national bestselling New Age motivational book, Awaken the Giant Within (Simon & Schuster).

The precoursers to the New Age Movement like the Academy of Atlantis in the 1970s grew into the original the New Age fads of 1980s, which have transformed into the sophisticated New Age Movement corporate commercialism of the 1990s. Through it all, the basic attractions and beliefs are the same. What has changed is the packaging and widespread, unthinking acceptance of New Age values. The sensationalism of Shirley MacLaine declaring "I am God!" in her network television autobiography has given way to multi- media advancement seminars such as Lifespring conducted among some of the nation's leading executives.

The entertainment world frequently promotes New Age values without blinking an eye, as in one of actor John Travolta's promotional spots for Scientology or actor David Carradine's talk show circuit interviews promoting New Age philosophy including yoga, yin and yang, eastern meditation, and karma. New Age assumptions such as pantheism (everything is divine) and gnosticism (spiritual fulfillment comes through secret, divine knowledge) are scattered among many popular movies and television programs.

Most of us don't give them a second thought. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles can fight with one mind through eastern meditation. Michael Jackson's music video Black or White hints at monism (all of reality is one) through its lyrics promoting the essential unity of all existence as computer special effects illustrate the concept through "melting" one face into another.

Advertising appeals to consumers' New Age leanings. One commercial shows a teenage girl, poutingly seductive in her skin tight designer denims, whispering that she must have been seduced in a previous lifetime by the hunk with his bare back to the screen. Bank ads liken investment security to crystal ball gazing. The ad doesn't mock crystal ball gazing, it simply says a smart investment banker is like a perfect crystal ball! One new car promotion sings the "truth" that personal accomplishment is unlimited for those with a positive mental attitude. Obviously, if you're god in embryo, you deserve the most luxurious (and expensive) automobile.

In the world of business, sadly, all too often honesty, integrity, loyalty, and cooperation have given way to the New Age values of personal realization, human potential, and success through visualization. Some multinational corporations infuse their sales forces with success seminars sponsored by New Age organizations like the Forum, Lifespring, and Summit Workshops. One Christian in the midwest almost lost his job with a telephone company because he refused on religious grounds to participate in a New Age seminar designed to improve his sales. The phone company argued that the seminar was not religious, merely motivational. "It would have been a lot easier just to give up, call in sick, or somehow drop the issue," the salesman told us, "but I just couldn't let them think they had won. They wouldn't let me teach a sales seminar using biblical principles, so why should they get away with New Age seminars?" The Christian pointed out the spiritual ideas inherent in the seminar, including the belief that each of us is our own god and create our own reality. The company finally dropped the seminar, saying it was "too controversial."

Corporate executives are bombarded with pitches for seminars, books, tapes, and weekend retreats that will help them learn to maximize their management skills through New Age practices, including "personal discovery" sessions with New Age gurus. Many executives think they work and urge their colleagues to join the game. For example, Peter Guber, Chairman of the Board and CEO for Sony Entertainment Inc., endorses Robbins' New Age best seller Awaken the Giant Within, saying, "It has been an enormous source of strength and insight for me both personally and professionally."

Yuppie entrepreneurs increase their self-confidence through New Age meditation, empowerment seminars, and spiritual therapy groups. Transcendental Meditation founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi boasts that TM practice by 1% of a community's population will lower the crime rate and increase social harmony. Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (still selling 100,000 copies a year), says that embracing the "god within" is just as meaningful for the 1990s as it was in 1974, the year his book was published.

When these programs fail to bring clients the success they anticipated, despair is often the result. Of course, none of the programs focus on failure. Bob, a Christian working within the court system found a way to bring attention to one such failure that ended up in his court. A dissatisfied client had sued a major New Age seminar provider, alleging emotional damages and unfulfilled promises. Of course the seminar provider didn't want the case publicized, and the plaintiff didn't have the media visibility to let the public know. Bob simply ensured that the controversial group's name appeared in the case file index perused daily by court reporters. The story made all the major local news reports.

Children can be exposed to the New Age long before they join the workforce. New Age parents-to-be can learn to practice actualization exercises and massage during pregnancy through New Age instructional tapes available at most chain bookstores. They don't have to special order prenatal New Age flash cards and subliminal womb music from New Age catalogs. They're available in many baby stores and children's bookstores.

Children of New Agers aren't the only ones who can learn the essentials of the New Age world view. It's available through television cartoons and mystical video games. Saturday morning cartoons still have the standard story lines of might-makes-right, but new cartoons also promote New Age assumptions. Superheroes now tap into the neutral divine super forces of the universe -- available to anyone who knows how to access them for good or evil. The world of magic and spirits slips into and out of material reality as easily as (to use a New Age metaphor) a hand slips into and out of a glove. Beetlejuice, the cartoon patterned after the hit movie about an ordinary little girl whose best friend is an extraordinary, raunchy ghost who regularly mocks those who refuse to believe or participate in the world of spiritual power.

Children of New Agers find more and more evidence of their parents' beliefs when they enter the education world where New Age assumptions are often easier to promote in school than traditional Judeo- Christian values. A Canadian literature series, Impressions, is widely acclaimed in this country as an avenue for promoting diverse literature in children's public school reading programs. But review of the multi-graded literature collection uncovers stories of magic, reincarnation, pantheism, eastern meditation, New Age mysticism, witchcraft, spirit guides, and nature worship. Christianity, of course, is noticably absent.

One Christian family in Southern California found a good way to respond to the Impressions series in their seventh grade child's public school curriculum. "When we first reviewed her textbook, we were shocked," said the mother. "How could this religious stuff be in a school book when our child couldn't even bring Christian Christmas cards to school?"

"At first we thought we'd pull our child out of the program," explained the father. "But then we decided to get involved. Instead, we helped our child evaluate and respond to the New Age ideas with sound, rational Christian answers."

The child explored the false beliefs in the spiritual safety of parental involvement, and then shared the Christian world view with the teacher and classmates. The parents supplemented the Impressions readings with classical literature emphasizing Judeo-Christian values and beliefs. They went further and joined the supplementary textbook recommendation committee so they could be a positive, Christian influence on future literature selections.

Physical education can be a forum for combining jumping jacks with yoga and spiritual breathing. Our daughter Karen came home from sports practice at her Christian school one day and announced, "Our coach taught a new way to win the game -- we practice yoga before the game!" We could have complained to the administration and taken Karen off the team. Instead, we helped her research the subject and then discuss it with her coach and the rest of the team. The coach was unaware of the subtle eastern religious ideas behind yoga. She was polite to Karen, but didn't seem convinced at the time. Later she called us, "What is this about yoga? I'm a good Christian. I wouldn't push anything bad!" After several conversations and reading several books we loaned her, she understood for the first time the religious assumptions behind the yoga she had learned years ago as a young student. Her team doesn't do yoga anymore, and she appreciated our friendly intervention instead of resenting us for interfering.

Some science education reflects global spiritual environmentalism and the pantheistic assumptions of some contemporary physics. The children's science magazine, Weekly Reader sometimes seems to presume a spiritual unity in all life, like the recent article urging recycling because we're all a part of the world organism. Brilliant physicist Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time (Bantam), attempts to prove a sophisticated eternal universe. Computer scientist Douglas R. Hofstadter and philosopher Daniel C. Dennett's The Mind's I (Bantam) comes to the startling conclusion that eastern pantheism was right all along -- there is a divine unity in all reality. It is not surprising that The Mind's I, described by one reviewer as "a scientific journey into the soul," is published as part of Bantam's "New Age Books" line.

Some Health care workers may combine traditional medical treatment with New Age novelties. Some doctors prescribe Transcendental Meditation to reduce high blood pressure (although studies show that any quiet, stress reducing program works as well). Some health care workers think they can diagnosis by iridology, a curious diagnostic method based on the New Age idea that every part of something is a microcosm of the whole thing (macrocosm). Using iridology, a New Age practitioner thinks one's health can be diagnosed by examining the iris of the eye and comparing it to elaborate body charts. A speck here may indicate liver trouble, a dot there may be the first sign of arthritis. Despite abundant scientific evidence to its uselessness, iridology remains popular.

When Christian chiropractor Brad Dennison saw New Age ideas creeping into his field, he determined to learn about the subject and then advise his co-workers at every opportunity. He gathered reports critical of iridology, rolfing, aura readings, and other bizarre New Age techniques and shared them with others. When he found out a Christian author was writing a book on New Age health practices, he offered his special knowledge and experience to assist the author. Brad explained his two reasons for offering to help the author, "First, I don't like the pseudo-science creeping into health care even more than some of my non-Christian colleagues. But that's not all," he continued, "I know fine doctors in my field who are providing excellent care for their patients and it's not fair for them to have their reputations harmed because of this New Age stuff."

In the mental health field one can choose therapists who specialize in such New Age experiences as past lives, UFO abduction, environmental incursion, and psychic trauma. Joan Moreau, a retired nurse, volunteered to work in a hospice program with terminal patients. She didn't expect to encounter the New Age Movement, but she said, "I felt led to use my medical skills and my Christian commitment to help terminal patients. I hoped the Lord would use me to share with people who didn't know him."

Surprisingly, Joan's first chance to share came before her first patient, "I hadn't been in my training class for ten minutes before our teacher said the best way to deal with death is to have confidence in what you believe about life after death, whether it was the reincarnation she embraced or some other belief. I knew the Lord would help me share the truth with her through the class." Joan used her homework papers and classroom responses as opportunities to contrast the inadequate answers of the New Age with the truth of the gospel. For example, when her teacher asked each person whether or not they were afraid to die, and why, Joan was able to share the peace she had as a Christian and the security of knowing the truth about life after death from God's Word.

The New Age has even settled solidly into American religious life. Some churches are openly aligned with New Age belief, such as many Metaphysical Churches, the Churches of Religious Science, and Theosophy. One Religious Science church near us offers psychic readings before the offering, testimonials of past incarnations, spiritual counseling through divination, and healing through crystal power. In Japan, Ryuho Okawa calls himself Japan's Messiah and interprets the writings of Nostradamus as predicting the demise of all world powers except for Japan, and his own subsequent rule over the world.

Subtle New Age values sometimes slip into more traditional churches, evidenced by seemingly "neutral" activities such as New Age positive mental attitude seminars, where the "positivism" of reliance on the trustworthiness of God's Word is replaced with a New Age belief in the inherent divinity of man. A pastor of a large conservative denominational church discovered several members of his congregation were becoming involved in a New Age seminar program called Lifespring. When he first talked with us he explained, "I don't know anything about Lifespring, but I know God's Word and I knew right away what they were learning was contrary to the Bible." He obtained information from us to give them, and then followed up to be sure they had talked with us personally and were no longer recruiting congregation members for the New Age. "I wish they had given up their involvement with Lifespring," the pastor concluded, "but at least I can protect the rest of my congregation now."

Today's Christian cannot be isolated from the lure of the New Age, but can understand and reject the threat, and offer positive responses to the claims of the New Age. Mark Poggioli is a Christian who loves to share the gospel but who didn't know much about the New Age Movement. When he saw that his city, San Francisco, hosted the largest annual New Age fair in the country, he knew there had to be a way to share the gospel effectively. He bought a ticket to the fair, roamed the convention floor, and witnessed personally with anyone who would talk with him. "I remember the first person I talked to," Mark recounted. "I was scared to death and had no idea what to say, so I thought I'd start with a question. I asked the tofu burger man who he thought the most spiritual person of all time was. He told me about some guru whose name I couldn't pronounce, and when he was done I told him about the most spiritual person I knew of, Jesus."

Mark talked with dozens of New Agers that weekend, and left with an exciting idea. "I couldn't believe how open people were to all kinds of new spiritual ideas. What a great missionary field right in my own neighborhood! Here were thousands of people together in one place and hardly a Christian presence anywhere," explained Mark. The second year Mark worked with several other Christians and operated the only Christian booth at the fair, passing out tracts and witnessing throughout the conference. Now we work with him each year, sending a team of specially trained Christians to help witness, and preparing gospel and apologetics materials especially for New Agers. Mark started out with an idea and ended up making a big difference for the gospel.

Answers for the New Age

Margie and Joanne were two women who looked for answers concerning life after death. Margie looked to the New Age Movement for comfort after her husband's death and found only tenuous testimonials of subjective belief in reincarnation. Joanne looked to God's Word, and found peace with God and an incredible source of spiritual strength she shared with others. Shortly before her death she contacted Answers In Action, concerned for members of her cancer support group who had been encouraged to learn to heal themselves from a New Age visualization tape. She took answers from the Bible back to her group, and then gave us the tape so we in turn could help others. Joanne wasn't a professional theologian, and the Lord took her home before she could begin a career as New Age buster. But like the other Christians in this article, she knew the truth in God's Word and she was committed to sharing what she had with others.

As prevalent as New Age beliefs and practices are, the truthfulness of Christianity has the real answers to today's world. Christians don't need to be afraid of the New Age, but should be confident that with proper information, scripture, and compassion the Bible can successfully answer any challenge of the New Age.
© Bob and Gretchen Passantino.

Some Helpful Further Reading

  1. Albrecht, Mark. Reincarnation: A Christian Appraisal. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1982.
  2. Alnor, William M. Soothsayers of the Second Advent. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1989.
  3. Barron, Bruce. The Health and Wealth Gospel. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987.
  4. Chandler, Russell. Understanding the New Age. Waco, TX: Word Books, 1988.
  5. Geisler, Norman L. and J. Yutaka Amano. The Infiltration of the New Age. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1989.
  6. Groothuis, Douglas. Confronting the New Age. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988.
  7. __________________. Unmasking the New Age. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986
  8. Martin, Walter R., general editor. The New Cults. Ventura, CA: Gospel Light Publications, 1981.
  9. Miller, Elliot. A Crash Course on the New Age Movement. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989.
  10. Rhodes, Ron. The New Age Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1990.

Bob and Gretchen Passantino are directors of Answers In Action and authors of award-winning books and articles in the field of apologetics. Sadly, Bob passed away in 2003. One of the couple's most influential books was When the Devil Dares Your Kids (Servant, 1991).