New Age Religions
New Age Religions(religion, spiritualism, and occult)
A lot of ink is used up attempting to describe New Age religions. There are so many movements, groups, cults, and sects falling under the rubric that it is impossible to deal with them all. But certain categories do recur consistently.
Many New Age movements believe spirit entities speak, or are "channeled," through receptive humans. In the popular series of "Seth" books, for instance, Jane Roberts claims to be channeling Seth. In Seth Speaks, Seth describes himself this way:
If you believe firmly that your consciousness is locked up somewhere inside your skull and is powerless to escape it, if you feel that your consciousness ends at the boundaries of your body, then you sell yourself short, and you will think I am only a delusion. I am no more a delusion than you are.
I can say this to each of my readers honestly: I am older than you are, at least in terms of age as you think of it.
If a writer can qualify as any kind of authority on the basis of age, therefore, then I should get a medal. I am an energy personality essence, no longer focused in physical matter. As such, I am aware of some truths that many of you seem to have forgotten.
I hope to remind you of these.
Whether the spiritual entities were once human, or whether they even once existed on Earth, they claim to have messages for the human race. Unable to physically put pen to paper, they must find receptive conduits through whom they are able to funnel their message. Because there are more and more entities being channeled into books nowadays, it is thought by many New Age believers that a cosmic shift of emphasis is upon us, and that the time of our particular mode of human understanding is getting short.
When the popular actress Shirley MacLaine published her best-selling memoir Out on a Limb, in which she claimed past life experiences, the Hindu concept of reincarnation (see Hinduism) was reintroduced to the mainstream American public. Since then, many Hindu and Buddhist practices, such as yoga and meditation techniques, have been given a Western twist and a new hearing. The Beatles came back from a trip to the East with sitar music and a guru, along with George Harrison's song
"My Sweet Lord," dedicated to Krishna. It didn't take long for the mainstream Christian population to adapt their religion, in the name of evangelism and attracting a younger audience. Soon Christian Bible study groups began to discover that David practiced transcendental meditation in the Psalms and John the Baptist was the reincarnated Elijah. "My Sweet Lord," cleaned up a little, began to appear regularly even in Roman Catholic liturgy. East had been brought West—Americanized, to the great dismay of an older generation—and a new trend began.
On December 26, 2002, a group called the Raelian movement appeared on the cable television network CNN, claiming to have cloned the first human baby. Details were sketchy, at best, and the scientific community greeted the announcement with scorn. Five months later, Raja Mishra of the Boston Globe reported that "there are plenty of people who are gullible, who believe... and may fall victim to their scheme." Indeed, dues-paying Raelian membership had increased by 10 percent, and dozens of people paid up to $200,000 apiece for the privilege of cloning themselves or loved ones when they learned that Raelian religious doctrine teaches that the human race began when a group of extraterrestrials began fiddling with our DNA a few million years ago.
Many have speculated that only a brush with beings from another planet could unite the populations of Earth. They may be on to something, because following the announcement by the Raelians, U.S. senators as far apart as the liberal Ted Kennedy from Massachusetts and the conservative Orrin Hatch from Utah partnered a bill aimed at banning human cloning. But not all religious groups followed the ecumenical lead of Kennedy and Hatch. The National Right to Life committee, in favor of the bill, found themselves opposing the Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, who opposed it.
Other New Age UFO groups (see, for example, Heaven's Gate and Hale-Bopp in the Cult entry) look to the stars to define their religious beliefs. And their numbers seem to be multiplying with each passing year. Ever since Erich von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods became a popular success in the 1970s, introducing the theory that ancient Earth had been visited by aliens, many people have turned to the Bible to seek "proof" of alien visitations misunderstood by the biblical authors. Take, for example, the experience of Ezekiel, excerpted from Ezekiel 1:
I saw a windstorm coming out of the north—an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was like that of a man.... I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature... they sparkled like chrysolite.... Their rims were high and awesome... spread above their heads was what looked like an expanse, sparkling like ice and awesome. Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man... and I heard a voice speaking.
If this wasn't a passage from the revered Holy Bible but had just been discovered as a fragment of text from early times, an honest reading would certainly raise interesting questions.
This is not the only example. Elijah was taken up from Earth into the "heavens," or sky, by "a fiery chariot." He later appeared to three witnesses on a mountain (see Transfiguration, Mount of). Could this be a description of what we now call alien abduction? The story becomes more intriguing when we read of the solitary death of Moses. He walked up into the mountains following the command of a voice he heard speaking from the Ark of the Covenant. When he returned from the place where he communed with this voice, his face glowed as if from radiation or sunburn. Then he disappeared. No one saw him again until he appeared with Elijah to talk to Jesus on the mountain. There the two of them stepped out of and were surrounded by a great light, with glowing raiment covering their bodies. Separated from its sacred context, this might indeed sound like an extraterrestrial encounter.
Golden Age Movements
Did Atlantis really exist? And if so, did Atlantians know something about God we have forgotten? Was there an "age of the goddess" (see Goddess Worship)? Many New Age movements think so. For example, they are interested more in why Stonehenge was built than how it was built. Were ancient builders in tune with spiritual powers we need to understand today? Neo-paganism would like to see a return to a pre-Judeo-Christian/Roman age when people were supposedly more in tune with Mother Earth. An element of this kind of thinking appears in Judeo-Christian belief as well. Eden, was, after all, a "golden age" before sin entered the world.
Many other kinds of religious movements fall under the New Age category. Robert Ellwood and Barbara McGraw, in their book Many Peoples, Many Faiths, identify categories they label reactive movements, accommodationist movements, spirit movements, new revelation sects, import religions, and hybrid movements. They summarize these movements as follows:
Basic features of new religious movements are likely to be: a different but recognizable doctrine; a practice centered on a single, simple, sure technique or a creative group process and practice; a charismatic founding and leadership and/or an intense, highly demanding group. On the other hand, they may involve a diffuse type of influence that is not directly competitive with mainstream religion. In every case, though, a new religious movement must offer inner rewards sufficiently effective and convincing to compensate for a break with conventional faith.