Why are the mainstream denominations so open to meditative and holistic practices? David R. Griffen, professor of theology at a United Methodist college in Clairmont, California, states:
A spiritual vacuum exists in organized religion that might he filled by theologies that draw–for better or worse–from what is called parapsychology, paranormal studies, psychic phenomena and, somewhat pejoratively, the “New Age” movement.1
New Agers have become very much aware of this “spiritual vacuum” and have directed their efforts toward filling it. Metaphysical leader James Fadiman makes the following observation:
The traditional religious world is just beginning to make changes, but it’s a slow process–denomination by denomination. When religious institutions begin to lose members year after year, they eventually become aware that they’re not meeting people’s needs. Before long they’re scurrying around looking for innovative programs and improvements.2
Even atheists have observed this trend. Science-fiction writer Richard E. Geis comments in his personal journal that:
The mainstream Christians are lip-service religions in the main, convenience religions, social religions, and they are the ones most subject to erosion and defections and infiltration and subversion. A large and successful effort seems to have been made by the occultists’ New Age planners to dilute and alter the message of most of the mainstream Christian religions.3
This is made evident by a quote which appeared in a newspaper interview with the owner of a New Age bookstore. She reveals:
A lot of people come in who are very Christian. They are looking, by whatever means, to move closer to God on an individual basis.4
This shows that a great number of people who consider themselves to be Christians have a rather dull and dreary attitude toward their faith. They are looking for something to fill the void. One of the foremost individuals who has attempted to fill this void with the New Age is Marcus Borg, professor and author of many widely read books. In one of them, The God We Never Knew, he lays out very concisely how he went from being a traditional Christian to a “mature” Christian. He relates:
I learned from my professors and the readings they assigned that Jesus almost certainly was not born of a virgin, did not think of himself as the Son of God, and did not see his purpose as dying for the sins of the world…. By the time I was thirty, like Humpty Dumpty, my childhood faith had fallen into pieces. My life since has led to a quite different understanding of what the Christian tradition says about God.5
Like multitudes of liberal Christians who believe as he does, Borg turned to mysticism to fill the spiritual vacuum that his way of thinking inevitably leads to. Borg reveals:
I learned about the use of mantras as a means of giving the mind something to focus and refocus on as it sinks into silence.6
This is a recurring theme in all his books, including his very influential book, The Heart of Christianity. Even though Marcus Borg would certainly not call himself a New Ager, his practices and views on God would be in line with traditional New Age thought (i.e., God is in everything and each person is a receptacle of the Divine, which is accessed through meditation).
Borg is a key example of what I am trying to convey. He is not some Hindu guru or counter-culture type personality. He represents the mainstream for millions of people in liberal churches. But his spiritual platform is pure New Age as he makes clear when he expounds:
The sacred is not “somewhere else” spatially distant from us. Rather, we live within God … God has always been in relationship to us, journeying with us, and yearning to be known by us. Yet we commonly do not know this or experience this…. We commonly do not perceive the world of Spirit.7
This perception is, of course, as I have shown [in Yungen’s book], the outcome of mantra-induced silence.
The following is another barometer of Christian tolerance to New Age ideas. The late psychologist M. Scott Peck wrote a phenomenal best seller on psychology and spiritual growth titled The Road Less Traveled. The book contains insights and suggestions for dealing with life’s problems, which is why it has generated the interest it has. But the book also incorporates the central theme of the Ancient Wisdom:
God wants us to become himself (or Herself or Itself). We are growing toward godhood. God is the goal of evolution. It is God who is the source of the evolutionary force and God who is the destination. This is what we mean when we say that He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end….
It is one thing to believe in a nice old God who will take good care of us from a lofty position of power which we ourselves could never begin to attain. It is quite another to believe in a God who has it in mind for us precisely that we should attain His position, His power, His wisdom, His identity.8
Madame Blavatsky and Alice Bailey [New Age occultists] could not have said it any better. Peck revealed where he was coming from when he said, “But (The Road) is a sound New Age book, not a flaky one.”9 This book, which was on the New York Times best seller list for over 400 weeks, has been incredibly popular in Christian circles for years. Peck himself said the book sells best in the Bible Belt.
What is happening to mainstream Christianity is the same thing that is happening to business, health, education, counseling, and other areas of society. Christendom is being cultivated for a role in the New Age….
This ultimately points to a global religion based on meditation and mystical experience. New Age writer David Spangler explains it the following way:
There will be several religious and spiritual disciplines as there are today, each serving different sensibilities and affinities, each enriched by and enriching the particular cultural soil in which it is rooted. However, there will also be a planetary spirituality that will celebrate the sacredness of the whole humanity in appropriate festivals, rituals, and sacraments. There will be a more widespread understanding and experience of the holistic nature of reality, resulting in a shared outlook that today would be called mystical. Mysticism has always overflowed the bounds of particular religious traditions, and in the new world this would be even more true.10
The rise of centering prayer is causing many churches to become agents of transformation. Those who practice it tend to embrace [a] one-world-religion idea. One of the main proponents of centering prayer had this revelation:
It is my sense, from having meditated with persons from many different traditions, that in the silence we experience a deep unity. When we go beyond the portals of the rational mind into the experience, there is only one God to be experienced…. I think it has been the common experience of all persons of good will that when we sit together Centering we experience a solidarity that seems to cut through all our philosophical and theological differences.11
In this context, we may compare all the world’s religions to a dairy herd. Each cow may look different on the outside, but the milk would all be the same. The different religious groups would maintain their own separate identities, but a universal spiritual practice would bind them together–not so much a one-world church as a one-world spirituality.
Episcopal priest and New Age leader Matthew Fox explains what he calls “deep ecumenism”:
Without mysticism there will be no “deep ecumenism,” no unleashing of the power of wisdom from all the world’s religious traditions. Without this I am convinced there will never be global peace or justice since the human race needs spiritual depths and disciplines, celebrations and rituals, to awaken its better selves. The promise of ecumenism, the coming together of religions, has been thwarted because world religions have not been relating at the level of mysticism.12
Fox believes that all world religions will eventually be bound together by the “Cosmic Christ”13 principle, which is another term for the higher self.
As incredible as this may sound, it appears to be happening now. The New Age is embedded in American religious culture far deeper and broader than many people imagine. If your concept of the New Age is simply astrology, tarot cards, or reincarnation, then you could easily miss the real New Age as it pulses through the religious current. If mystical prayer continues its advance, then we could one day see, perhaps sooner than we expect, many Christian churches becoming conduits of New Age thought to their membership. (from For Many Shall Come in My Name by Ray Yungen, pp. 123-130)
1. David R. Griffen, San Francisco Sunday Punch, March 8, 1987.
2. James Fadiman (Science of Mind, June 1988), p. 77.
3. Richard E. Geis’ personal journal, “The Naked Id.”
4. “New Age Isn’t New to Salem” (Statesman Journal newspaper article, Salem, Oregon, March 9, 1991), p. 2-A.
5. Marcus Borg, The God We Never Knew (New York, NY: Harper Collins, First HarperCollins Paperback edition, 1998), pp. 25, 29.
8. M. Scott Peck, M.D., The Road Less Traveled (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1978), p. 270.
9. Charles Leerhsen, “Peck’s Path to Inner Peace” (Newsweek, November 18, 1985), p.79.
10. David Spangler, Emergence: The Rebirth of the Sacred, op. cit., p. 112.
11. M. Basil Pennington O.C.S.D., Centered Living the Way of Centering Prayer (Liguori, MO: Liguori Publications, Revised edition, 1999), pp. 198, 200.
12. Matthew Fox, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1988), p. 65.