A New Age Look
at That Old Time Religion
by Michael Maciel
edit complete (10-6-7)
There's a Hindu parable about four blind men who attempt to describe an elephant: one, touching its leg, says, "The elephant is a pillar." The second, touching its trunk, says, "The elephant is a thick club." The third touches its belly and says, "The elephant is a big jar." The fourth blind man feels an ear and says, "The elephant is a winnowing fan." Spiritual seekers argue about religion in the same way. The "true" religion is the one that most closely resembles their experience of God.
As travelers on the spiritual path, we cannot afford to ignore the reports of our fellow sojourners. We are all experiencing the same God - only our individual descriptions differ. We need to respect our different approaches, and perhaps learn something new about our own in the process.
Like trunk and tail, the basic principles of Christian Fundamentalism and the New Age Movement seem poles apart. But if we relax our opinions even a little bit about what we think we know about these two groups, and if we delve deeper into the spirit underlying their beliefs, some surprising similarities beging to emerge. Both groups are trying to describe the same 'animal' -- God.
Given that polarized issues tend to grow farther apart with time, these two bodies of believers, cousins after all, view each other with increasing suspicion and antagonism. Yet both lack, to some degree, the best of what the other has to offer. Criticisms on both sides abound. Fundamentalists say that New Agers are too open-minded. Their non-traditional interpretation of scripture is heretical, and their description of God as "principle" is too mental. But to the New Agers, the Fundamentalists' interpretation of the Bible is overly literal and inconsistent with modern science. Its "Spirit-filled" enthusiasm is not mental enough, and its insistence on possessing the "only" truth is chauvinistic. However, if we examine their teachings with a spiritual consciousness, we find that both Christian Fundamentalists and the proponents of the New Age Movement are really saying the same thing.
Fundamentalists say that the Bible is the only true scripture, because it is the "inspired" word of God. This strikes New Agers as narrow-minded, anti-intellectual, and bigoted; and yet, they too believe that the intellectual mind is not the source of Truth. In other words, God cannot be figured out. Where do the two sides agree? Both are saying that Truth is larger than the individual, and that it must be received "from above". Inspiration comes from a larger dimension than the limited human mind.
Fundamentalists, however, say that the inspiration has already been received, and has been exclusively and infallibly written in the Bible, whereas New Agers say that Truth is an ongoing, personal experience, and that anyone can get it (if they try hard enough) through meditation and by living Truth principles in every day life. But the common denominator - receiving - is the one thing that both sides agree on. Both are saying that God is not a product of the intellect.
The importance of this cannot be overstated. The current trend says that God, sacred mythology, and all things religious are merely human inventions - coping mechanisms to help us confront the "meaninglessness" of existence. Secular science wants to seal the mind within the tomb of the human skull, and make death the ultimate fade to black -- the end of life's drama. So the Fundamentalists and New Agers are united on this score - but neither side realizes it.
"Born in sin"
Fundamentalists separate humanity from God by claiming that people are inherently sinful. We might be an expression of God, they say, but we are a fallen expression in need of redemption. New Age teachings say, on the other hand, that people are perfect just the way they are, that we have never been separated from God, that the sense of separation is an illusion, and is therefore an error in our thinking. If it's an "error", it cannot be an inherent quality. The only thing inherently sinful is the "identity entity" of ego-consciousness - the source of the illusion of separateness, or the "father of lies", as Jesus called it. The Fundamentalist term "sinful humanity", therefore, is spiritually identical to the New Age term "ego-consciousness".
What does this term "spiritually identical" mean? It means that what is specific to us is general to God, and what is specific to God is general to us. We have multiple definitions for the word "love", for example, but God has only one. Love is either present, or it isn't; actions are either motivated by love, or they aren't. We try to get specific by saying that love is "kind", "accepting", "patient", and so on, but this is simply the mind's attempt to define a feeling. Feelings cannot be defined - they can only be felt. The feeling of love is far more real than the concept of love. It is a state of being, not an idea. Therefore, when two things appear on the surface to be dissimilar, they can actually be identical "in spirit", because they derive from the same principle.
Your "personal" savior
Christian Fundamentalism says, "To be saved you must have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ." But...if we consider that Fundamentalists believe that Jesus Christ is the mediator between God and man, then what they are really saying is that our access to Truth is within us and not within an external teacher, priest, or guru. This declaration of spiritual independence is a fundamental New Age concept. God is not in the church, temple, or ashram, and God is certainly not limited to any one individual. We do not have to go anywhere or to anyone except within ourselves to find the kingdom of heaven. Even believing that Jesus is separate from you, the connection with him can only be found by looking inward.
Jesus Christ as the "only" Son of God
A Course in Miracles (a major influence in the New Age Movement) calls our true collective spiritual estate the "Sonship". It implies that our sense of separateness from each other is an illusion, that there is only one Son of God -- and together WE are it. Another contributor, Buddhism, also expounds on the illusory nature of an individual "self". This is precisely what spiritual seekers in both the New Age Movement and Christian Fundamentalism are trying to rise above -- the "illusion" of ego-consciousness, or the "sinfulness" of humanity.
Sin and Evil
It is impossible for anything to be separate from God, and yet sin is defined as being just that. Hence, for the New Age Movement, sin is an illusion -- it cannot exist. Fundamentalists say that all are made one in Christ (the Sonship), and that sinfulness cannot abide in his presence. Christ knows no separation from God: "I and my Father are one". Fundamentalists undeniably place great emphasis on the reality of sin, the duality of good and evil, and on God and the devil. New Agers do not. Though their emphases are different, it's easy to see that both are striving to realize the same ideal -- oneness with God. In Fundamentalist terms, any of us could reasonably "confess" that we are sinful, because most of the time we are in ego-consciousness.
Jesus said, "Know ye not that ye are gods?" And Paul the apostle continually refers to "Christ within you, your hope [potential] of glory". In principle, we can restate Jesus' question as an assertion: "You do not know that you have infinite potential, and until you do, you are stuck in your limited ego-consciousness." And with Paul's statement: "Sure the Christ is within you, but when are you going to let him out?" To say that Jesus Christ is the "only" Son of God is just another way of saying that the Godly part of us is the only part that is Godly. It has no more to do with the personality of the man Jesus than it does with our own personality. He may have overcome the limitations of his ego-consciousness and realized his oneness with God, but he was careful to say that we must do the same.
This is not to say that there is anything unholy about the physical body or its functions. It simply says that the Christ within us, that part of us which is in perfect at-one-ment with God, is the only real part of us. This is who we are. All the rest we made up.
It is discouraging to see good people fight with each other. Fundamentalism can only be a threat to free thought as long as free thinkers fail to recognize their own core beliefs within Fundamentalism. In their essential doctrines, the two camps share the same values. But, unless both sides can look to the powerful similarities they share, they will suffer the loss of what the other has to offer. The poet Shelley wrote, "The eye sees what it brings to the seeing." Each of us must look beneath the outer shell of the other's teachings, so that we can see their original intent, and then embrace those who love God and strive to do God's will.
Who knows...if we can bridge the gaps within our own Christian Community and learn to respect and support each other, maybe someday we can reach out in harmony to the world's other believers, not just in tolerance but in genuine understanding. Maybe this broader point of view will serve as a catalyst to help the fundamentalists of the world see the deeper dimensions of their own teachings. After all, "only" one Son, "only" one Prophet, "only" one Truth - are we really that far apart?
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God." - Jesus