Q. Are there differences between the occult and the New Age? If so, what are they?
First, a disclaimer: There is no authority or authoritative source to define the New Age or the occult, and even those involved will disagree with each other. My answer to this question is based on my experiences in the New Age and in some occult practices, on my reading, on discussion with others who have been involved in or studied these areas, and on the feedback I receive from my website. I have modified my statements on these two areas over time, and have tried to keep current with both categories.
The New Age and the occult are related and have much in common, yet also have some distinct differences. I like to say that the New Age can be seen as a spectrum of various beliefs that sometimes entails certain practices, whereas the occult is perhaps better described as a spectrum of practices attached to various beliefs. Both are related to some Gnostic ideas about seeking and gaining wisdom in order to empower one's self or one's spiritual journey. Both usually share a belief in an energy or force that binds everyone and everything together (this view is not common to all occult beliefs). In the New Age, this energy or force is often seen as being God.
The New Age is more oriented to transcendence and the evolvement of the soul/ spirit on a continual journey, usually through reincarnation. The New Age seems to emphasize the spiritual above the material, while the occult tends to divinize the material. Eastern beliefs from Buddhism and Hinduism play a major role in New Age thinking. In the occult, the focus is more on the present, and on harmony with nature and/or the environment. Forces or energies are seen as natural in the occult. The New Age and the occult both emphasize that one can access this energy for healing or for psychic powers, but the occult also tends to use specific rituals to access this force more than the New Age. Both the occult and the New Age may advocate the practice of spirit contact, visualization techniques, Eastern meditation, psychic powers, and various forms of divination (astrology, palmistry, numerology, etc.). However, some areas, such as ritual and ceremonial magick, are specialized areas of the occult.
Of course, both the New Age and the occult overlap into areas where the distinction between the two becomes blurred or irrelevant.
For more information, see CANA articles on the New Age and the Occult.
Q. What about all the people who were killed in the name of God?
Accusations of killing or other injustice done in the name of God, such as the Crusades, the Inquisition, witch-burnings, etc., are often based on misconceptions of Christianity and distorted facts. First of all, what people did in these cases in the name of God does not mean that God endorsed it. Secondly, many of the people who committed these acts may have claimed to be acting for Christ and without actually being Christian at all. There are many nominal Christians (Christians in name only) and cultural Christians (people who identify with Christianity as part of their culture or heritage) who have not trusted Christ as Lord of their lives. Thirdly, there is misinformation about some of these historical events, many of which were part of political power plays and which only used Christianity as an excuse for certain actions. If anyone looks into the Crusades, for example, one can see there were many complex political and historical factors at work, and that these played a part of the larger picture of tensions between the Eastern and the Western cultures at that time. What was done in the name of Christ does not mean Christ endorsed it. Fourth, one needs to consider the historical evidence for slaughter done in the name of non-Christian gods or by non-Christians. Three of the biggest mass murderers in the 20th century, Stalin, Hitler, and Pol Pot, were not Christians.
For refutations of many myths about Christianity which, however, do not deny that there was some wrongdoing by those professing Christianity, see:
Christianity on Trial: Arguments Against Anti-Religious Bigotry
by Vincent Carroll and David Shiflett
6 Modern Myths About Christianity and Western Christianity
by Philip J. Sampson
The bottom line is that murder and cruelty come from the evil that is in the hearts of men. Man is not naturally or inherently good, but instead is inherently selfish. Selfishness can be subverted and transformed into cruelty, then justified by a relative morality.
Q. What about where it says in the Bible, "Judge not?"
I often wonder if those who bring this up have ever actually looked at this passage (Matthew 7:1). The words, "judge not," are only the beginning of a sentence and are not a whole sentence. This sentence actually says, "Judge not, that you be not judged." In other words, it's saying here that we should realize we will all be judged! The passage is also telling us not to judge hypocritically: "For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with what measure you use, it will be measured back to you." Keep in mind that the Bible was not written in verses and chapters; verses and chapters were added centuries later for convenience of finding passages (and sometimes the division of chapters and verses was poorly done). Therefore, when one reads the Bible, it is best to ignore verses and chapters as much as possible. This passage (verse 1 through 5) is clearly to rebuke hypocrites, those who judge others while practicing the same thing themselves.
We are never told in God's word to judge a person's heart and motives, since that is only up to God, but we are to judge actions and teachings. We are told by Jesus to beware of false teachers, for example (Matthew 7:15), and that many false Christs (Matthew 24:5, 23-24;) will come. We judge the teachings by the principles of the Bible because God's words are true and established forever (Psalm 119:105, 130, 140; Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 5:18, 24:35; Mark 13:31); God's words are life-giving (Deuteronomy 8:3; Psalm 119:93; Matthew 4:4; John 6:63, 17:17); and God's word judges us (Jeremiah 23:29-32; Hebrews 4:12).
Q. Should a Christian practice yoga? Is there
such a thing as Christian Yoga?
Yoga is so much a part of Hindu belief and worship (it is a form of worship imo) that I advise Christians to not do yoga.
The poses themselves are often depictions of Hindu deities, and the hand positions mimic the positions of the hands of statues of Hindu gods. The purpose of yoga is not physical and it is not to relax; it is to prepare the student for more advanced meditative states and also to lead them to the realization that their true self is divine (the "Atman"). The goal is to dis-identify with the body and self as your real identity.
Many yoga classes do not use the Eastern terms when teaching yoga, but disguise these with other terms that sound innocuous, such as "breathing techniques" for pranayama; "energy points" for chakras; "center" for meditation; "poses" for asanas, etc.
The two CANA articles on yoga show the strong spiritual roots of yoga:
It is not as if there are not other forms of exercise. And yoga is not really exercise anyway - it is a spiritual practice with a spiritual purpose. In fact, many Hindu yoga masters and teachers are upset that yoga in the U.S. is being taught as a non-spiritual practice. This is not surprising, since yoga was introduced in North America by Hindus, who planned to use yoga as a vehicle for introducing Hinduism.
"Christian yoga" is an oxymoron. If one removes the true aspects of yoga to make it into something acceptable to Christians, then the breathing techniques and asanas need to be removed, which means there is then no yoga at all. Just as there is no Christian Ouija boards and no Christian astrology, so there is no Christian yoga that is truly yoga or truly Christian.
Now that yoga has been successfully marketed as an "exercise" and way to be healthy, yoga is associated with youth, health, fitness, and beauty. It is the perfect Trojan Horse.
Q. What is Biblical Meditation and is it different from other types of meditation?
The word meditation is a word with many meanings for many people, so it's
important to understand what is meant by anyone using this word.
Meditation traditionally has had the meaning of thinking deeply, pondering, or active reflection or contemplation. This is what is meant by this word in the Old Testament. The word translated as meditation in several verses in the Psalms means to meditate in the sense of reflecting upon. In fact, the New Living Translation uses the word thought for meditation in several of these passages, such as in Ps. 19:14: "May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be pleasing to you." Biblical meditation and thinking are very close; meditation is not separate from thought. We are to seek to understand God's word with our minds, not to empty the mind, or to bypass the mind, for a supposed merging with God. We cannot do biblical meditation without thinking or pondering.
However, due to the influx of Eastern religions and variations thereof in Western culture, the word meditation can also refer to derivatives of Eastern meditation, which have infiltrated this culture through the New Age movement. Eastern forms of meditation have become so widespread, in fact, that we find them not only in spiritually oriented groups, but forming the foundation of relaxation techniques in sports, business seminars, schools, and in many health related areas; as well as being presented in churches as a form of prayer. The word meditation is not always used, however. Words such as centering, contemplative prayer, relaxing, de-stressing, mindfulness and others are used instead. Many people do not realize that these techniques incorporate forms of Eastern meditation, usually from Buddhism. Or if they do know this, they think it is a good thing.
Because of this Eastern religious influence, the word meditation referring to Eastern meditation is often used interchangeably with the Biblical word for meditation. Thus, people are misled into believing they are one and the same. However, the differences between these two forms of meditation are so vast as to render them completely at odds with each other.
Eastern forms of meditation found in the West (including most of the stress reduction and centering techniques) involve most of the following: sitting in a certain position, closing the eyes, practicing a breathing technique (usually observing or counting the breaths), trying to go beyond thoughts or thinking (there are several techniques to bring this about), and repeating a word or phrase (a mantra). These practices come from both Hinduism and Buddhism (of course, Buddhism came from Hinduism, so there is overlap).
The reason it is important in the Eastern spiritual view to go beyond thinking, is because Eastern beliefs hold that the mind is part of the material world and is therefore a barrier to spiritual understanding and the grasping of ultimate reality. It is not so much a matter of emptying the mind as it is a matter of transcending the mind or transcending thoughts. The techniques to attain this transcendence are actually used in hypnosis; thus, Eastern meditation is often a form of self-induced hypnosis. The resulting state of mind is one in which the person usually feels peaceful, part of a larger whole or oneness, and close to God (if the person believes in a god), and may even feel their body is dissolving or that they are leaving their body. But these are just consequences of the meditation technique; they actually have no foundation in reality because peace and/or God cannot be known via a manmade technique.
These Eastern forms of meditation have infiltrated the church and are being called prayer or meditation, contemplative prayer, or centering prayer. People are even advised to choose certain words from the Bible as a mantra, though the word mantra is not generally used. Instead, one may be told to choose a sacred phrase or sacred word to repeat. These techniques do not resemble the prayer that is modeled for us in the Bible, however. Biblical prayer involves actively petitioning, thanking, and praising God. "Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving" (Colossians 4:2 NASB).
Christian prayer should be taught as it is modeled in the Bible, particularly in the New Testament. Some key passages include: Matthew 5:43-45 (pray for our enemies); Matthew 6:6 (pray without showing off); Matthew 6:9-13 (often called the Lord's Prayer, which is the model for praise, petition, and thanks); Matthew 7:6 (do not pray with vain repetitions); Matthew 9:38 (pray for God to send workers into His harvest); Matthew 21:22 and James 1:6 (pray in faith); Luke 18:1-8 (pray/petition without losing heart); ask in the name of Christ (John 16:23-24); 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (pray without ceasing - not mindlessly, but having an attitude of prayer and being in the Lord in all things); and James 5:14-16 (pray for the sick). Our prayers are to make use of words and thought.
The goal of Eastern meditation is to know an ultimate reality (in Hinduism and New Age, it is to realize one's true nature is divine; in Buddhism, it is to realize that there is no self or to realize the Buddha nature of all things); the goal of Biblical meditation is to know and love God through reading and contemplating (with an active mind) His word. One is non-thinking; the other is thinking. One is to know ultimate reality; the other is learning about God who has revealed Himself. One is established on techniques; the other is based on the Biblical pattern and uses our God-given minds to read and study His word.
See the Question below on Hypnosis, and for further information, see the following CANA articles:
Q. Is Hypnosis okay?
Hypnotists perform on stage and increasingly now, in schools. Many people also consult hypnotherapists to stop smoking or get rid of some other bad habit. Hypnotherapy is used in counseling sessions. Even if the results seem harmless or good, there is much more to hypnosis than meets the eye.
A hypnotic state, even a very mild one, is a state where critical thinking and judgment are suspended. Therefore, the person in such a state has their mind open to whatever influences want to come in, from the suggestions of the therapist or counselor to the spiritual realm. The mind in this state is very receptive and malleable. No matter the intent of the hypnotist or hypnotherapist, the hypnotist or therapist is not in total control.
The hypnotic state is the same as the altered states one goes into in Eastern meditation and in occult "centering." This state is very desired in the occult because occult practitioners (psychics, tarot card readers, mediums, etc.) know that in this state they are more sensitive and receptive to their supposed sources of information and the guidance of their "guides" or other disembodied beings (i.e., fallen angels, though of course, they do not see it this way). All of the popular mediums go into this kind of state to "hear" from the dead and recommend it to others as a way to contact their "guides."
The hypnotic state is the state one is put in or goes into in order to meet their "guides." This is how I was introduced to my spirit guide. When I practiced astrology, I would naturally fall into this state during the reading (consultation for the client). It is like having your mind in neutral, open to external or alien guidance that is not from God.
The hypnotic state is not normal, natural, or healthy.
There have been incidents of people becoming depressed, suicidal, or having psychotic breaks or nightmares as a result of having been hypnotized. Hypnosis affects the mind, often in a negative manner. It can alter a person's psyche and, over time (as in Eastern meditation), their worldview.
This is a link from a former hypnotist warning people of hypnosis:
Although the article at the link below advocates a "safe use" of hypnosis (I think the dangers and risks are too high for any "safe" use), they do explain some of the possible complications and negative repercussions of hypnosis:
Also, see the above Q & A on Meditation.
Q. Are there any stress lowering apps
for Christians that are not connected with the New Age?
Any app for stress reduction would involve the same tactics as done in the New Age because techniques to lower stress on apps that I know of are based on hypnotic techniques.
There are many normal ways to reduce stress: reading the Bible, prayer, taking a walk, a hot bath, listening to nice music, exercise, participating in a hobby, playing with pets, watching a good comedy, etc, all of which have been shown to reduce stress as much as any New Age method. I think the New Age methods and the meditation apps are very temporary measures anyway and do more damage than good. Why? Because
* People become dependent on them
* They can alter one's worldview
* They lead to self-absorption
* They lead one away from God and/or to a false god
* They don't give true rest or peace but a false sense of peace or false sense of closeness to God that can lead to further deception
* They can affect some people in negative ways emotionally or mentally
An app for stress-reduction is based on a technique usually derived from non-Christian spiritual principles.
For more information see other Q&A here on meditation and hypnosis, as well as CANA articles on Meditation and Mindfulness.