New Age in Religion
"The rise of centering prayer is causing many churches to become agents of transformation. Those who practice it tend to embrace this one-world-religion idea."Ray Yungen, 1991
One of the main reasons many Christian pastors fail to take the New Age movement seriously is that they are not adept at effectively measuring its real strength. They are accustomed to assessing the prestige and influence of a spiritual movement by its number of churches, attendance records, or television and radio programs. Since they do not see New Age churches on every corner, they tend to discount any cause for alarm.
Just as business, health care, education, counseling, and other areas of society are being influenced by those who have had transformation experiences, so is American religion. This influence is becoming so widespread it now appears that mainstream religions, are playing a prominent role in spreading New Age consciousness. Many people would be quite surprised to find that meditation has made its way into both Catholic and Protestant churches on a large scale. Although some would argue that it is not New Age meditation but rather a form of prayer, I would beg to differ.
Upon close examination, the methods used (mantra, breathing) are identical to New Age techniques. Only the connotation is changed. Countless times I have come across such terms as " holistic spirituality" or "combining the mystical traditions of both East and West." Frequently, the Hindu or Buddhist source of these "spiritual exercises" will be proclaimed openly.
In the book, Finding Grace at the Center, which was written by several proponents of centering prayer, the following statements are made:
Being touted as an "ancient prayer form" the "centering prayer" employs a mantra (called the "prayer word") that allows one to empty the mind by chanting "Jesus," "God" or "love" rather than "om" or "Krishna."
Centering prayer groups are flourishing in mainstream religious bodies today. Many times those who embrace these practices are the most active and creative people in the congregation. They are seen by many as bringing a new vitality to the church.
One widely popular book on this is Sadhana: A Way To God by Anthony de Mello. Sadhana, according to de Mello, means spiritual path. This book is very open in its acknowledgment of Eastern mysticism as an enrichment to Christian spirituality. De Mello lets his readers know at the very beginning just where he is coming from:
A Jesuit friend once told me that he approached a Hindu guru for initiation in the art of prayer. The guru said to him, "Concentrate on your breathing." My friend proceeded to do just that for about five minutes. Then the guru said, "The air you breathe is God. You are breathing God in and out. Become aware of that, and stay with that awareness."
I want you now to discover the revelation that silence brings.
De Mello explains what it is like to experience "silence," which is the logical progression in the Sadhana processthe altered state of consciousness:
There will be moments when the stillness of the blank will be so powerful that it will make all exercise and all effort on your part impossible. In such moments it is no longer you who goes in quest of stillness. It is stillness that takes possession of you and overwhelms you. When this happens, you may safely, and profitably, let go of all effort (which has become impossible, anyway) and surrender to this overpowering stillness within you.Sadhana has had an enormous impact on both clergy and laity. One source revealed:
This book has come to be recognized universally as a masterpiece in the art of teaching people how to pray. After its first publication in 1979, it ranked among the top U.S. Catholic best sellers for many years. Just to read it is a captivating and challenging experience. More than 20 translations have been published. Now all over the world this classic text has been acclaimed as the best how-to-do-it book on prayer available in any language.
It is often used as a textbook to teach people how to "pray." Catholic parishes, nursing facilities, hospitals, retirement centers, and religious communities are using it on a regular basis. It has been highly praised by church leaders and theologians. The back cover of the book includes the following statement made by a leading church figure: "This book...is perhaps the best book available today in English for Christians on how to pray, meditate, and contemplate."
I'm sure many of these people would be surprised if they learned what the Hindu connotation of Sadhana meant. A dictionary on Hinduism reveals the following:
Siddhis [psychic power] are also considered to be the direct or indirect result of a quest for enlightenment or knowledge. The pursuit of any method for attaining to such knowledge is termed sadhana, 'gaining;' the person practicing sadhana is called a sadhaka (fern. sadhika),... Since siddhis are magical in character, the terms sadhana and sadhu are also frequently used for sorcery and sorcerer respectively.
The literal meaning for Sadhana: A Way to God, according to this definition, would then be "Sorcery: A Way to God!"
Meditation is also being taught within the parochial school systems, generally at the high school and college levels. Students at Catholic schools have revealed to me that mantra meditation is part of their curriculum and that these classes are lead by priests. One Catholic high school textbook entitled Your Faith and You: A Synthesis of Catholic Belief revealed the following in the chapter titled "Prayer, Seeking Union With God":
Numerous Catholic retreat houses offer "Yoga retreats" or teach Zen meditation methods. But these techniques are totally removed from the Buddhist or Hindu faiths. They are often used by Christians to help them develop a conscious faith relationship with Christ in prayer. Likewise, the Buddhist or Hindu uses these same techniques to enter into a deeper union with God as his own religion has taught him to believe in him.
I wonder how it is possible that Christians can use the "same techniques" that Buddhists and Hindus use to reach their gods without, in fact, reaching their gods.
Metaphysical meditation remains exactly the same no matter what name you tag it with. Changing the mantras does not make it "Christian."
What is happening is that this melding of meditative practices is producing some major changes in Christendom. Many are being taught that centering prayer is the most direct route to God. This in turn, is producing what one writer termed "full Christianity." He explained:
Indeed today Catholics practice Zen meditation. There are Christian-Hindu monasteries in India. And Father Raimundo Panikkar has suggested that Indian philosophy might prove a better base for Christian theology than Aristotle. Thomas Merton predicted that the 21st century would belong to two things: Christianity and Zen. Today these great traditions as well as others are meeting one another in a spirit of humble inquiry. Perhaps it is just this coming together of our world traditions that will provide the spiritual impetus needed to usher in a new age of the Spirit.
Filling the Vacuum
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, stated:
A spiritual vacuum exists in organized religion that might he filled by theologies that drawfor better or worsefrom what is called parapsychology, paranormal studies, psychic phenomena and, somewhat pejoratively, the "New Age" movement.
New Agers have become very much aware of this "spiritual vacuum" and have directed their efforts toward filling it. Metaphysical leader James Fadiman made the following observation:
The traditional religious world is just beginning to make changes, but it's a slow processdenomination by denomination. When religious institutions begin to lose members year after year, they eventually become aware that they're not meeting peoples needs. Before long they're scurrying around looking for innovative programs and improvements.
Even atheists have observed this trend. Science-fiction writer Richard E. Geis commented 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.
This is made evident by a quote which appeared in a newspaper interview with the owner of a New Age bookstore. She revealed:
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.
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.
The following is a good barometer of Christian tolerance to New Age ideas. Psychologist M. Scott Peck has written a phenomenal best seller on psychology and spiritual growth entitled The Road Less Traveled. The book contains many useful 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 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.
Madame Blavatsky and Alice Bailey could not have said it any better. Peck reveals where he is coming from when he says, "But (The Road) is a sound New Age book, not a flaky One." This book, which has been on the New York Times best seller list for over 400 weeks, has been incredibly popular in Christian circles for years. Peck himself says, "The book sells best in the Bible Belt." By viewing the continuing influence of Peck in American religious circles, one would find the following significant:
Peck has enthusiastically endorsed some blatantly New Age books, Living in Love With Yourself by Barry A. Ellsworth, and The Coming of the Cosmic Christ by Matthew Fox. Of the former, an account of a man getting in touch with his Higher Self and seeing "god in everyone," he says: "The book's vulnerability is both touching and beautiful...a book to be closely read." Of the latter, which echoes the New Age "mystical" theme, he states:
Fox's most daring pioneering work yet, stimulating us to the kind of resurrection of values and practice required for planetary salvation"
The source of Peck's spiritual paradigm can be seen in the following information taken from a magazine article about him: "Peck himself moved gradually from an interest in Eastern mystical religions toward Christian mysticism.
Another example is a spiritual resource and retreat center that advertised, "Discover the healing power within you." This center promoted such things as Zen, yoga, Reiki, and self-hypnosis for "spiritual growth." What astounded me, though, was the endorsements from a number of Protestant religious leaders on the back of their brochure. One senior pastor recommended it for "inner growth and renewal." Another one, who was a counselor at a pastoral care center, stated that it "encourages people to embrace wholeness." Most surprising, the president of a large denominational college "highly recommended" the leadership of this institute.
A Global Religion
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. The entity, Raphael, explains this very clearly in the Starseed Transmissions:
We work with all who are vibrationally sympathetic; simple and sincere people who feel our spirit moving, but for the most part, only within the context of their current belief system.
He is saying that they "work," or interact, with people who open their minds to them in a way that fits in with the person's current beliefs. In the context of Christianity this means that those meditating will think that they have contacted "God," when in reality they have connected up with Raphael's kind (who are more than willing to impersonate whomever the person wishes to reach so long as they can link with them).
This ultimately points to a global religion based on meditation and mystical experience. New Age writer David Spangler explained 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. 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.
The rise of centering prayer is causing many churches to become agents of transformation. Those who practice it tend to embrace this 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.
Religion, therefore, would be like 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.
Catholic writer Mathew Fox has called this "deep ecumenism." He believes that all world religions will eventually be bound together by the "cosmic Christ" principle, which is another term for the Higher Self.
As incredible as this may sound, it appears to be happening now.