In the novel “Attracting Virtual Reality,” Mindy follows a simple relaxation exercise down a frightening path, as she slowly becomes engrossed in the new age.
New Age practices are all around us. Mohawk Valley Community College regularly offers courses on things like finding spirit guides and creating change with the power of your mind. The local historical society hosts talks on Wicca. A local hotel hosted a psychic fair last fall, and a well-known medium held an event at the Stanley. Barnes and Noble filled an end cap near the college guides with a display on “modern witchcraft” for Halloween 2019.
Why are these things so popular today? What makes people, even those who may understand that one of these practices is dangerous on many levels, rush to adopt others?
Trends are often easy to thoughtlessly follow.
Our natural tendency to be social often leads us to follow fads and trends. We do things just because we see other people doing them. Even the most independent, weird, or outcast person has followed some trend or fad they have seen among some group of people at one point in their lives. Sometimes these behaviors are basically harmless. You’re more likely to dress all in black and dye your hair turquoise if all your friends have dark clothes and bright hair, and there’s nothing dangerous about that. Most people who collected things like pet rocks and Beanie Babies did it more to keep up with an activity other people were into than because they truly wanted rocks with little eyes or a mini stuffed animal collection. Girls collecting scrunchies and making weird noises because the other girls who use a popular app do it may be annoying, but it’s harmless behavior.
Other fads and trends open doors we do not truly want opened. Many people read their horoscopes, make assumptions about people based on their astrological sign, or wear occult symbols for love or wisdom without even realizing the practice has any connection to anything darker than reading a fortune cookie message or saying “Good luck!” to someone else. While no harm may come to you because of these things, it is important to remember that they are fake, and that many of those symbols and practices have a darker meaning than what you may know.
People feel powerless.
Our twenty-four hour news cycle, constant peeks into everyone else’s life through social media, and steady access to any information we want has its benefits. We have no excuse for not knowing what is going on in the world around us. We can find comfort knowing other people go through the things we go through, or that there is a different way to live out there. We can teach ourselves new skills without leaving home, or even paying out any money in some cases, a feature that has been a true blessing in recent times. We can become inspired. Many people find their voice, their mission in life, online. Some meet or reconnect with best friends, family, or the love of their life online.
It also has its drawbacks. We feel overwhelmed by the world’s problems. Looking into other peoples’ lives can lead us to feel like we don’t measure up if we haven’t done exactly what they have done. For every cherished friend or loved one we see online, there’s that person who insists on bullying or harassing other people. Some are even dangerous. We might feel obligated to be learning something new every minute, and have difficulty relaxing. Much of the information out there is misleading, bringing in a host of additional problems.
This can lead to feelings of powerlessness, to the idea that there has to be something more we should be doing, or could be doing, to reign all that in and stop it from being overwhelming. New age practices and beliefs offer a soothing balm for all that. They tell us that we have the power to draw the parts we want to us and send what we don’t want away with a flick of the wrist, a simple purchase, or even a thought.
Narcissism has gotten out of hand.
Contrary to popular misconception, following Jesus does not come with a lengthy list of things you are no longer allowed to do and no longer allowed to be or think. Following Jesus does however mean that you serve God instead of serving yourself, and serving God means loving and caring for other people. The focus shifts from “me and how I feel about everything” to “what I was put on this earth to do for other people.”
This is not the way of the world today. We dismiss anyone who says anything other than how wonderful we are with some form of the word “negative.” It has gotten to the point that people have begun demanding “No negativity!” before posting anything online they feel anyone might disagree with on any level.
New age thought fits in with this mindset perfectly. It allows us to rebrand selfish, controlling, or dismissive behavior into something noble. You aren’t going around saying hurtful things to your loved ones. You are “speaking your truth.” People who point out harmful things you might be doing aren’t having a much needed talk with you. They’re “bringing negativity” and need to be sent away. You aren’t being controlling and trying to dictate what other people think, do, and say. You’re “triggered” and therefore entitled to demand they change to suit you.
Stereotypes based on spiritual or religious beliefs or practices persist.
Consider the following descriptions of people:
Christians are all right-wingers. They all dress in the most boring version of preppy style possible. They’re prudish, homophobic, transphobic, anti-woman, and anti-science. A Christian’s idea of a wild night out is having pizza and soda at Bible study. They only listen to worship music, only watch Christian movies, and only read Christian novels. You can’t even talk to them about anything else, because they’ll just tell you it belongs to the devil.
New Age people are all liberal. They either dress like Stevie Nicks, in hippie style, or in some style inspired by punk or glam rock. They’re open, accepting, loving, and in tune with the world around them. Some of them may be a little spacey, but they mean well. New Agers may frown on junk food, but that’s about it. They party at Burning Man or Coachella or your local cool hangout. New Agers listen to and watch anything they want. You can talk to them about anything, because they not only engage with the world, they have extra insight into things most of us don’t even think about.
Neither of those sound like a perfect person, but which would you rather spend time around?
Both of those descriptions reflect stereotypes, not reality. Of course there are some Christians who think and behave exactly like that. And there are some New Age people who fit the second description. There are also liberal, open, accepting, wild, weird, creative Christians, and prudish, right-wing, boring New Agers. It is also possible for a person to appear one way, but be a bit different once you get to know them.
I wholeheartedly believed both stereotypes described above for many years. It was one of the reasons I began to dabble in the new age. It took a few encounters with groups like The Christian Left, some individual liberal Christians, and more than a few long conversations with actual new age practitioners to lead me to see the truth.
New Age practices are dangerous. It does not matter if your friends are into it, or your family members, or your favorite YouTuber…even if it’s your favorite Christian YouTuber.
Keep reading in the coming weeks for a closer examination of specific practices.