Summary: What initially appeared as simply a temporary "New Age Movement" trend has become a more dominant cultural shift that I would refer to as simply the ‘new spirituality.’
Over the past few weeks we’ve been considering how to engage in Holy Conversation… that is.. how to talk about God in everyday life. One aspect that deserves some consideration…is that of engaging some of the increasingly popular ideas regarding spirituality.
Several years ago… these may have been referred to as related to the New Age movement. But what might initially have appeared as simply a new trend has become a more dominant cultural shift that I would refer to as simply the ‘new spirituality.’ Some are calling it ‘postmodern spirituality.’
The new spirituality I’m referring to is reflected in countless popular books and teachers that have arisen over the recent 25 to 30 years … sharing perspectives on spiritual reality that tend to draw upon a more eastern worldview and esoteric mysticism that only feels new to westerners.
Part of what may draw western lives… is the idea that it is a more progressive spirituality. To westerners this may appear true… but it isn’t ‘new.’ (I use the word ‘new’ in quotes because most of the ideas are reflections of an ancient eastern worldview being re-presented to the modern westerners. The concepts are most associated with Buddhism… which is a more philosophical offspring of Hinduism.) Nobody in India or Thailand is opening these books and being presented a new worldview. It is the west being presented with ancient worldviews shaped by fresh perspective and western desires. The key has been to see that all spiritual sources as saying essentially the same thing.
A. Popularized through Popular Figures: From the Beatles to Oprah Winfrey
Naturally western got sparked in the late 1960’s during the counter-cultural era.. and pop culture became interested when the Beatles took an interest in the Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi founded “Transcendental Meditation.” Many different authors and teachers have followed that shared particular ideas or practices that shared the same eastern concepts of reality…some reaching more notoriety than others and particularly if there is a celebrity who is exploring and promoting it.
Many today are recognizing a whole new level of popularization through the influence of Oprah Winfrey. (Below from USA Today –5/11/2006 and article by John Jalsevac March 7, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com))
• She has about 50 million viewers each week in the USA and more in the 122 other countries to which the show is distributed. Considered by many to the world’s most influential woman.
• “Oprah Winfrey has risen to a new level of guru. She’s no longer just a successful talk-show host worth $1.4 billion, according to Forbes’ most recent estimate. Over the past year Winfrey has emerged as a spiritual leader for the new millennium.” -
• "She’s a really hip and materialistic Mother Teresa," says Kathryn Lofton, a professor at Reed College in Portland, Ore., who has written two papers analyzing the religious aspects of Winfrey. "Oprah has emerged as a symbolic figurehead of spirituality."
• She has become increasing committed to offer the world a more unifying spirituality. As she has recently stated…
o “The new spirituality is that you are your own best authority as you work to know and love yourself, you discover how to live a more spiritual life."
o "While Christianity is a valid way to achieve high states of spirituality, it must not be considered a unique way, or a "correct way".
To share more of what is espoused would be to get ahead of ourselves. What becomes clear is that Christ gets recast and what lies central to those who have come to know the Christ revealed in the Scriptures… the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John… is that most of what is central is set aside. There are many ways we might respond. Some simply decry it or demonize it… some may be drawn and developed by it. Our purpose in this series is to consider how we can engage in conversation… to actually dialogue… to talk about God and spiritual truth.
B. I want to qualify my limitations in representing the breadth and depth of so much teaching.
I will not be able to give the thought that so many teachers and teachings deserve. I certainly believe it is fairest to have read ideas in full… and to present ideas in full. (Note: I know what it is like to have someone assess Christianity and decry many things that I do not actually believe or adhere to. All the more reason for dialogue.) A recent visit to Barnes and Noble… found the section entitled New Age with hundreds of books pouring out just in this year alone. So I ask in advance to accept that I am not an expert in discerning all that is presented… and would suggest that even many Christian authors who are quick to write books about such spiritual teaching… are not experts.