What Is “New
D. Langone, Ph.D.
Cult Observer, 1993, Volume 10, No. 1
have been reading a lot about New Age techniques being introduced into
the school system to our children.
I don’t know much about New Age philosophy, and so I would like
to know how I can recognize potentially harmful techniques or
recent research study examining experts’ opinions on the New Age
Movement (NAM) concluded that the NAM “is an eclectic collection of
psychological and spiritual techniques that are rooted in Eastern
mysticism, lack scientific evaluative data, and are promoted zealously
by followers of diverse idealized leaders claiming transformative
visions,” (Professor Arthur Dole, University of Pennsylvania, Cultic Studies Journal. Vol. 7, No. 1, 1990).
There are four main
streams of thought within the NAM: 1) the “transformational
training” stream, represented by groups such as est and Lifespring; 2)
the intellectual stream, represented by publications such as
The Tao of Physics; 3) the lifestyle stream, represented by
publications such as Whole Life
Monthly, and organizations such as the Green Party; and 4) the
occult stream, represented by astrology, palmistry, crystal power, and
the like. It is important
to keep in mind that within this diversity there is much disagreement.
Many intellectual new agers, for example, deride adherents of the
occult stream of the new age.
The NAM, then, is too
“fuzzy” and disparate to constitute a great conspiracy, as some have
claimed. Nor is it a cult,
although cults exist within the NAM.
The NAM is, in essence, a world view, a paradigm, that has
attained a high enough level of popularity to challenge the two world
views that have been in competition through most of this century—the
Judeo/Christian tradition and the secular-scientific tradition.
The NAM, which some
link historically to the Gnostic heresies of early Christianity, is
similar to the secular-scientific tradition in that its “sects”
implicitly, if not explicitly, reject a personal god and the notions of
sin and redemption. The NAM
is similar to traditional religions in that it posits the existence of a
supernatural realm, or at least something beyond “atoms and the
void.” But it differs
from both of these paradigms in that it denigrates reason and implicitly
exalts magic. The NAM
adherent believes that spiritual knowledge and power can be achieved
through the discovery of the proper techniques.
These techniques may be silly, as in crystal power.
But they may be very sophisticated, as in some forms of yoga.
overlapping the two established paradigms, the fundamental conceptual
fuzziness that results from its mystical core, its missionary
“pitch” of being the great synthesizer of religions (recall John
Lennon’s song “Imagine,” particularly the verses about “imagine
no religions”), and the public relations sophistication of its leading
adherents (many of whom are well-known entertainers) make the NAM very
seductive. Its concepts
have permeated our culture in a quiet, almost invisible way.
For example, a Gallup survey of teenagers, several years ago,
found that approximately one-third of churchgoing
Christian teenagers believed in reincarnation, a fundamental new age
belief. Reincarnation is
antithetical to Christianity. Yet, one-third of church-going Christian
teenagers believe in it!
Reasons why New Age
notions can insert themselves into our culture include these:
Age mysticism can be very appealing to secularists who have had
spiritual experiences, or who recoil from the “void” of “atoms
and the void” because it enables them to explore their spiritual
impulses without making commitments to traditional religions, which
they have rejected. For the same reasons, it can appeal to religious
seekers who, for whatever reason, have rejected traditional
age notions of the fundamental oneness of existence can be very
appealing to religious persons troubled by the internecine quarrels
of religions and denominations.
New Age emphasis on techniques for spiritual development has given
it a tremendous influence within humanistic psychology, which, in
turn, has had a great influence in many aspects of our culture,
including management training, education, and growth-oriented
workshops of traditional religions. Professor William Kirk
Kilpatrick’s book Psychological
Seduction describes and criticizes the changes brought about
under the banner of humanistic psychology.
Once a person accepts
certain new age concepts, he gradually becomes more willing to accept
others, simply because the credibility of the entire network of ideas
increases once he has attributed credibility to parts of the network.
Thus, acceptance of the mystical core of the NAM, i.e., “we are
all god and duality is an illusion,” will tend to make one more
receptive to the notion of reincarnation, especially if one begins
associating with new agers who believe in reincarnation.
assumption of American pluralism is that we must not critically examine
our fundamental assumptions. Thus, it is taboo to discuss religion,
except in the most innocuous ways. In the name of peaceful coexistence,
we perform a lobotomy on the culture’s cerebral cortex! The ensuing
“mush of non-thinking agreeableness” emasculates traditional
religions, which have a strong core of rationality, and gives free reign
to fringe groups, many of which fall within the purview of the new age
background, how can one “recognize potentially harmful techniques or
procedures?” Ask the following questions about the “product” under
the product denigrate rationality?
its promoters avoid, neutralize, or condemn critical questions about
the product make extravagant claims?
Does it seem too good to be true?
there a lack of scientific evidence for the product’s alleged
between scientific evidence and pseudoscientific evidence.)
the product packaged slickly?
the product associated with a bandwagon mentality? Or does it seem
to be part of a fad?
the atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell, the Pope, Billy Graham,
and an orthodox rabbi agree that the product is nonsense or
If the answer to
these questions tends to be “yes,” step back and take a closer look.