Why New Age Is a Challenge for Christianity
Father Alessandro Olivieri Pennesi Responds
VATICAN CITY, JULY 1, 2004 (Zenit) - The spread of New Age and its use and abuse of Christian elements make of the movement a challenge for the baptized, says a specialist at the Lateran University.
Father Alessandro Olivieri Pennesi, a professor at the Mater Ecclesiae Higher Institute of Religious Sciences of the Lateran, gave that warning in an interview with us.
An international consultation on New Age, held by the Holy See from June 14-16, emphasized the need to know this phenomenon better in order to provide more appropriate Christian answers.
Q: Why does the spread of New Age represent a challenge for Christians?
Father Olivieri Pennesi: New Age constitutes a great challenge for Christianity. Not only because it is spreading on a global level, but especially because it incorporates elements of Christianity, altering its original meaning. For example, Jesus Christ is no longer recognized as Son of God and only savior of the world.
There is the loss of the concept of truth; we are living in an age of pure subjectivism. God has a thousand facets: cosmic energy, extra-cosmic energy, a Mind, the All, we ourselves are God, etc.
If Jesus Christ is no longer the savior, people go in search of other salvations which become "self-oriented salvation" through methods, meditations, different practices, including magic. The eschatological expectation is devoid of meaning, insofar as salvation is attainable after some or many reincarnations.
Perhaps the greatest obstacle that must be addressed is, undoubtedly, the loss of awareness of truth, which vitiates every attempt to use the paradigms of reason.
Q: Is it true that "weak thought" and a particularly emotional approach to New Age spirituality are quite widespread phenomena in the Catholic world?
Father Olivieri Pennesi: Some have said that New Age is "a phenomenon that is typical of the postmodern culture, based on weak reasoning, ethical relativism and consumerism." I cannot but agree with this statement.
New Age philosophy is spread in many forms and by many ways in a subtle and almost imperceptible manner, says the Secretariat for Ecumenism and Dialogue of the Italian bishops, and it is presented by highlighting its features of universal love and defense of nature.
This proposal can lead to deceit insofar as it presents some objectives on which it is easy to agree: harmony between man and nature, awareness and commitment to improve the world, mobilization of all the forces for good for a new unitary plan of life.
New Age empties the salvific event of Christ from its truth, singularity and fullness. In fact, according to this line of thought, man can make himself capable, through specific techniques, of experiencing the divine without the aid of divine grace, effecting by his own strength his salvation, on which universal harmony depends.
The 1989 document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a Letter to the bishops of the Catholic Church on certain aspects of Christian meditation, is a reference text on the attention that must be given to updating the ancient Gnosis, in which salvation takes place through the conscience, [and is] esoteric, for the few.
In regard to New Age -- or Gnostic, which is to say more or less the same thing -- practices, there are at the basic level, numerous examples.
To mention one: the last Vatican text on New Age refers to the use -- expanding alarmingly -- of the enneagram: a symbol originally of an initiation character developed in an esoteric context, syncretist, which has subsequently been transformed to a system of classification of the personality of nine psychological types, which serves for the search for self-fulfillment by an esoteric or magical way.
This is pure Gnosis. In Anglo-American Christian environments, such a method gains ground in the area of spiritual direction and guidance, so the U.S. bishops have created an appropriate commission to discern this phenomenon.
Q: What are the conceptual characteristics that describe New Age? And what are the main differences that characterize Christian doctrine?
Father Olivieri Pennesi: Douglas R. Groothuis, an American author, has identified six characteristics of New Age thought: Everything is one; everything is God; humanity is God; we must transform our conscience; all religions are one; optimism in regard to cosmic evolution.
We can summarize in the following points what those of New Age generally affirm:
One, there is no source of external authority -- only that of the interior -- "the god within us." Truth as objective reality does not exist, says one of the best-known spokespersons of New Age: actress Shirley MacLaine.
Two, the ...
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