Inklings of Truth


New Age or Old Evil?

By Audrey Stallsmith

One of our newspapers reported recently that a witch had been invited to speak at the local Unitarian church. That, as you may imagine, caused some comment!

Of course, most women who call themselves witches these days are really Wiccans, their religion being a form of nature worship rather than satanism. And the Unitarian church, if I understand its doctrine or lack thereof correctly, can’t really be termed "Christian" anyway.

Webster describes Wicca as "a religion that affirms the existence of supernatural power (as magic) and of deities who inhere in nature and that ritually observes seasonal and life cycles." In other words, it’s much like the animism practiced by barbaric cultures.

As Helmut Thielicke comments in The Freedom of the Christian Man, "the decadence of the mass era bring with it a mysterious recrudescence of the primitive, which is as different from the genuinely primitive as is the childishness of senility from the childlikeness of a child."

Wiccans even call themselves pagans, though I’m puzzled as to why they’re so proud of the title and why they find nature worship so appealing. Why would anybody want to praise a work of art to itself rather than to the artist who created it?

Wicca is, of course, part of the New Age movement, which covers everything from astrology to alternative medicine to Eastern religions. Some aspects are legitimate enough. I’ve always been a fan of herbal medicine myself since it is natural--made by God--and cheap! But I’ve never been inclined to attribute its effects to magic.

Tony Campolo quotes Bronislav Malinowski that "magic is an attempt to control supernatural powers so that people get what they want." While Christians, of course, prefer to allow God’s Holy Spirit to control them.

Although New Agers like to talk about spirit in an annoying vague way, it doesn’t seem to be that one to which they are referring. And they don’t appear to have any clearly drawn distinction between humans and deities, since they like to call themselves goddesses too!

None of this is actually very new. Spiritualism began to be quite popular in the Victorian era, probably because that was the first time a large number of women had the spare time and/or money to sit around and commune with their own or other spirits! Naturally, specters and shamans seemed quite exotic to those bored females. But it apparently never occurred to them, as Chesterton once testily pointed out, that those spirits might not be telling them the truth.

"The very words ‘medium’ and ‘control’," Chesterton writes in one of his columns, "imply a spiritual surrender which is dubious even if the influence is good, and shocking if it be bad.' And there were also plenty of living charlatans around then and now to take advantage of such gullible females.

Paul would have recognized the type, "They are the kind who craftily sneak into other people’s homes and make friendships with silly, sin-burdened women and teach them their new doctrines. Women of that kind are forever following new teachers, but they never understand the truth." (II Timothy 3:6-7 LB)

Women of that kind, in fact, appear to live by their emotions. And heresy, as Chesterton points out in St. Francis of Assisi, always sets "the mood against the mind."

"It takes no effort at all to feel," Elisabeth Eliot agrees in Let Me Be a Woman. "But worship is not feeling. Worship is not an experience. Worship is an act." "Everybody is looking inside," she adds rather impatiently in All That Was Ever Ours, "There aren’t any horizons." One of the greatest joys of Christianity is, after all, that it allows us to forget ourselves.

But there will always be people who drop any religion, just as they drop any other love relationship, when they stop "feeling" it. That constant craving for self-fulfillment seems to be the unifying factor in the New Age movement.

Unfortunately, as Chesterton points out in Heretics, "self-consciousness of necessity destroys self-revelation. A man who thinks a great deal about himself will try to be many-sided. . .and his own real personality will be lost in that false universalism."

Many New Agers, however, seem to believe happiness lies in universalism, in "becoming one with a larger consciousness." Lack of personal identify, after all, leaves you conveniently free of any sense of personal responsibility too. Wiccans abhor the whole idea of original sin because of its "negative" connotations.

"Spiritualism," Chesterton contends, "is full of one great fashionable error. . .the notion that optimism is the same as idealism. It seems to think that it need not do anything except comfort. . ." Elsewhere, he notes, of Christian Science, what might also be true of the New Age movement, that it rests on the idea unpleasant facts "can be conjured away by moods and mesmerism."

Although New Agers may dislike the "negative" Christian philosophy, they seem to be forgetting, as Dorothy Sayers reminds us in The Mind of the Maker, "the proper question to be asked about any creed is not, 'Is it pleasant?' but, 'Is it true?'" If I’m on a sinking ship, after all, I want somebody to tell me so--no matter how "un-positive" the news may seem. I will, you may be sure, feel quite sunny about the unpleasant truth if it permits me to escape with my life.

Although we’ve somehow gotten the impression these days that dogma imprisons, it actually does the opposite. As Elisabeth Elliot points out in Discipline, the Glad Surrender, "Where there is no absolute, there is only fashion."

And, as the author of Some Words of Jane Austen states, Austen stressed in her novels that "definition is limitation, but it is also liberation." The women in her books who fared best were those who did not rely on their emotions or on fashion to tell them what was right.

I’m inclined to describe the whole fuzzy New Age movement as Chesterton in The Thing, described his own free-thinking era. "Its god is afraid to be born; its scripture is afraid to be written; it only manages to remain as the New religion by always coming tomorrow and never today. It puffs itself out with spiritual pride, because it does not impose what it cannot even invent. It shines with Pharisaical self-satisfaction, because there are no crimes committed for its creed and no creed to be the motive of its crimes."