The New Age movement
Environmental action is seen by some Christians as synonymous with participation in the New Age movement, and hence they steer clear of any involvement.
But what is the New Age movement? Its name is based on the idea underlying much of the ‘movement’, namely, that we are looking forward to a ‘new age’ in which people will see things in a different light from the present age. This is sometimes called the ‘new consciousness’. However the term New Age is a misnomer. It is not new, but rather a hotch-potch of very old ideas including monism (all is one), panentheism (God is in all) and pantheism (all is God). The idea of a New Age has been traced back to the mid-eighteenth century, to the poet and artist William Blake.
One ‘New Ager’, Jeremy Tarcher, the publisher of Marilyn Ferguson’s influential New Age book The Aquarian Conspiracy, describes four concepts that underlie much of the New Age philosophy:
(i) the everyday world and our personal consciousness are manifestations of a large ‘divine’ reality;
(ii) we have a hidden higher self that reflects or is connected to this reality;
(iii) this higher self can be awakened and assume a central part of our everyday lives; and
(iv) this awakening is the goal or purpose of human life.
The New Age philosophy is not new, and it is not a movement - it is far too diffuse and amorphous to be called a movement. What in the fifties was called ‘occult’, was called ‘mind expansion’ in the sixties, and in the eighties and nineties is ‘New Age’. It includes crystal healing, chanelling, astrology, Tarot, Tantric Yoga, earth worship, creative visualisation, transcendental meditation, hypnotherapy, theosophy, Eastern mysticism - the list is almost endless. Some Christians have over-reacted to it. Constance Cumbey writes that, ‘for the first time in history there is a viable movement - the New Age movement - that truly meets all the scriptural requirements for the antichrist and the political movement that will bring him on the world scene’. Cumbey falls into the trap of what the British philosopher Karl Popper describes as the ‘conspiracy theory of society' and in doing so she trivialises both history and biblical prophecy.
The New Age movement is best seen, not as a conspiracy, but as a shift in world-view.
There is no doubt that some of the New Age movement is not only dangerous, it could even be described as demonic, but that is not an excuse to abdicate our responsibility to care for God’s earth. As Christians we need to be on our guard against New Age thinking and its subtle ideas and influences, but we also need to be able to learn from what is good in it. Those involved in the green movement and in environmental action need to have a distinctly Christian world-view worked out, from which they can discern, critique and sift the New Age ideas that might try to creep up on them.
Many are involved in the so-called New Age movement because they have seen the futility of our contemporary ideas: economic growth at all costs, and technology as an answer to all our problems - and are looking for a more satisfying world-view. This is something that Christianity does have to offer. Indeed, Christianity is the only coherent and consistent world-view there is. Those who do not adhere to the Christian world-view will inevitably struggle to find meaning. Ultimately, it is only Christianity that has the answers that ‘New Agers’ are looking for.
There is no doubt about it that some New Agers are involved in the green movement and involved in environmental action, but that does not mean that all involved in it are New Agers, or that Christians should not be involved. Mormons do door-to-door visiting, but not all who are involved in door-to-door visiting are Mormons, and it doesn’t mean that Christians should never ‘door knock’. Video watching is part of our materialistic hedonistic society, but that doesn’t mean Christians should never watch videos.
New Age or not, Christians should be involved. The earth is the Lord’s-not the New Agers’ - and he has given it to us to care for. He has called us to be involved in his world; it is not a responsibility we can shirk. Like it or not we are inextricably linked with this planet. We are, after all, earthlings. We were created from the earth (Gen 2:7, 3:19; cf Eccles 3:20; Job 10:9), given the task to care for the earth (Gen 1:26,2:15); and it was humanity’s fall that resulted in the cursing of the earth (Gen 3:17); we have the task of taking the gospel of reconciliation to all the earth (Mk 16:15); and it is our liberation as sons of God, at the return of Jesus, that will release the earth from its frustration (Rom 8:21).