All spiritual belief systems must come to grips with the evidence that humanity does not always act in kind, compassionate, or loving ways. How do we explain hatred, prejudice, crime, acts of war, and other manifestations of man's undesirable traits?
An increasingly popular worldview today that has mainstreamed in Western culture is what was once called the New Age, and now also called the New Spirituality, or simply spirituality. How are man's failings explained in this worldview and what are the proposed solutions? When the term "New Age" is used in this article, it includes many views defined as "spiritual" that are not usually affiliated with any specific religion or doctrines. The terms "New Age" and "the New Spirituality" will be used interchangeably. The writer herself was involved in and followed these beliefs for most of her life.
The label "New Age" is an umbrella term that covers a broad spectrum of beliefs stemming mainly from Eastern, Gnostic, New Thought, mystical, and humanistic religions and views. Since there is no central authority or doctrine, the best way to identify New Age thinking is through some common beliefs that one finds overlapping in these systems. These include some of the following: God is usually impersonal, or personal and impersonal; all is energy; God and creation are the same (pantheism), or God is contained in creation (panentheism); the world and matter are illusory, or are denser forms of vibratory energy; man is basically good; man comes from God and shares God's nature; man and God are the same; there is no absolute truth, or absolute good or evil; man must think in certain ways to cast off illusion and see truth; man is spiritually evolving through reincarnation; and man will eventually merge with God.
The New Age is fluid and adaptive, drawing from different belief systems as it flows river-like through cultures and time. Its adaptability is what gives it endurance, since its open-ended, changing nature is difficult to challenge in a postmodern culture. The New Age borrows terms from other beliefs, but often redefines them or adapts them within the context of a New Age worldview, which is essentially positive, transcendent, and life-affirming. This use of terms familiar to other religions is highly appealing, since the recognized expressions may waylay initial suspicion about something new or different.
In New Age beliefs, what is normally designated as evil in some religions is labeled as negative energy, as illusory, as projected fear, or as challenging lessons. The concept of sin is not accepted since there is no acknowledged judgment from a holy being on man's actions, no absolute good or evil, and thus no absolute standard by which man can measure himself or by which he can be judged. Since man is basically good and is divine, there is no need for salvation, only a need for liberation or enlightenment from false views of self and the world
The New Age often refers to God, but this God is not distinct from man. Indeed, since man comes from God and is part of God, man is inherently good, having a divine inner nature [Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love (NY, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1992), 28; Neale Donald Walsch, Conversations with God (NY: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1995), 52, 85; Jane Roberts, The Nature of Personal Reality (NY: Bantam Books, 1974), 159; Paramahansa Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi (Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1998), 197-198, 568. This is just a sampling of sources; the number of books that convey this central New Age teaching are too numerous to list]. Therefore, when examining the New Age God, one must also look at the New Age view of man, because when man looks into the New Age mirror, he is taught that he is gazing at God. According to one writer, when God told Abraham to "Go forth," he was actually telling Abraham, as well as mankind, "Go to your self, know your self, fulfill your self" [Daniel C. Matt, The Essential Kabbalah (NY: HarperSanFrancisco and HarperCollins Publishers, 1994), 127].
In some beliefs, man originally did not have a body, but was god-like, and merged with materiality, thus gaining a body [Rabbi David A. Cooper, God is a Verb (NY: Riverhead Books, 1997), 55, 56. The suggestion is that Eve had sexual relations with the serpent and thus vitalized matter, giving Adam and Eve bodies]. Some say the body was not made by God, but is a result of wrong perception that keeps us in the illusion of separation from God [A Course in Miracles (Glen Allen, CA: Foundation for Inner Peace, 1992), 105]. This view seems to have originated in early Gnostic teachings that a lower evil God, the Demiurge, created matter as an attack on the light, equating matter with evil ["The Hypostasis of the Archons," introduction by Roger A. Bullard, trans. Bentley Layton, in The Nag Hammadi Library in English, rev. ed., ed. James M. Robinson (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1988; NY: HarperSanFrancisco and HarperCollins Publishers, 1990), 162-163, 167; Kurt Rudolph, Gnosis: The Nature and History of Gnosticism, trans. P. W. Coxon (pages 171-274), and K. H. Kuhn (pages 274-376), (Leipzig, Germany: Koehler & Amelang, 1977; Edinburgh; T. & T. Clark, 1984; NY: HarperSanFrancisco and HarperCollins Publishers, 1987), 60, 65-67, 95]. Even though man was created from matter, he was superior to the evil Demiurge who had created man's body, since man was secretly equipped by the highest God with a divine spirit, which gave him inner light, and thus higher status over the Demiurge [Rudolph, 92-95].
In the Kabbalah teachings, a mystical and Gnostic form of Judaism that has become part of New Age thinking, the true God is unknowable and is called the Ein Sof, an "Infinite Nothingness" [Cooper, 35] emanating into creation so that "all existence is God" [Matt, 24, 81]. Indeed, God cannot really be known; it is wrong to conceptualize God in any way, and we should give God no names at all [Yogananda, 566; Cooper, 65].
The New Spirituality emphasizes knowledge of God through experience, usually a mystical one, over any revelation outside of man. Theologian Matthew Fox, drawing heavily on the teachings and revelations of mystics such as Meister Eckhart, Hildegard of Bingen, St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, and others, whose supernatural experiences parallel those of the New Age, writes that God can only be truly known through these otherworldly experiences, because this "mystical dimension of our psyches is part of our true self," a part denied by our culture [Matthew Fox, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ (HarperSanFrancisco and HarperCollins Publishers, 1988), 41-42, 48]. Thus, external doctrine or sources of truth take an inferior or even irrelevant role in this theology, as they do in most New Age beliefs.
An interesting but complicated history of God is presented by Seth, an entity channeled by Jane Roberts, now deceased. Roberts explained that Seth began contact while she and her husband were experimenting with a Ouija Board in 1963. This led to Roberts feeling compelled to speak Seth's words aloud, and this eventually resulted in her becoming a channel for Seth by letting him speak through her [Jane Roberts, Seth Speaks (NY: Bantam Books, 1972), vii]. Ultimate Reality is not really a god, but is something called All That Is, a reality from which we all spring [Roberts, 385]. Seth explains that man originally felt a part of nature and knew that he was one with all reality, but decided to challenge himself with a new consciousness. This led to man projecting his idea of God outward, and so "the god inside became the god outside" [Roberts, 382-383]. This projection of God played out in various religious dramas, which allowed man to live out his spiritual search and struggles. This projection of ego led to man's increasing sense of separation from nature, so that man fell into using his power over nature.