STUDY NINE: PANTHEISM, MONISM AND THE ‘NEW AGE’
© Rosemary Bardsley 2005, 2015
Expressions of the New Age are many and varied. A flip through popular women’s magazines can reveal up to a dozen methods of finding out what tomorrow may bring through astrology, clairvoyance, tarot cards, dream interpretation, numerology, and the like. In the shopping centres we walk past New Age book shops with their alluring array of crystals, incense and other paraphernalia. The media repeatedly makes reference to both past lives and reincarnation, and also constantly puts the opinions and attitudes of ecologists and conservationists before us. A broad spectrum of alternative practitioners vie for our custom promising us both physical and spiritual healing, and an ever-increasing number of martial arts introduce us unwittingly to the meditation of eastern religions.
These practices, and many others, are just the observable surface expression of an underlying ideology whose dramatic rise in popularity has direct connection to much of what we have already studied.
We have followed the implications of secular humanism to two of its logical outcomes in nihilism and the new tolerance. Now we look at a third outcome, the New Age, that is called by some a ‘cosmic humanism’ which is both a reaction to the devaluation of the human and a logical expression of the focus on the human. Here in this pantheistic/monistic belief system the human is revalued and reidentified as ‘god’ – as part of the ‘cosmic reality’, or ‘cosmic energy’ or ‘cosmic Christ’ or ‘ultimate state of consciousness’ or ‘God force’ … etcetera …
Groothuis comments: ‘Secular humanism and the philosophy of the One (pantheism) affirm that there is but one reality. For secular humanism all is matter and energy arranged by chance … while cosmic humanism … has a monism of spirit – all is god. … The material humanism is being usurped by the mysticism of the One. Yet both look to humanity for the answer, not to anything outside of us. Whereas the old humanism says we are “naked apes” – the product of chance evolution – the new cosmic humanism sees us as gods in disguise.’ [Unmasking the New Age, p52,53]
As well as this connection with secular humanism the New Age has borrowed heavily form eastern religion, particularly Hinduism and Buddhism, where it finds affirmation of both its pantheistic and monistic concepts, and also many of the practices which it embraces.
And there is yet an additional connection – one with evolution, for the New Age promotes the idea of an upward evolution into union with the universe, into godhood.
A. SOME DEFINITIONS
Panentheism: Pan = all; en = in; theos = god. Panentheism = the belief that god is in everything.
Monism: Mono = one. The belief that all is one.
Pantheism: The belief that god is everything, everything is god.
The conclusion that is derived from this is quite logical:
If all is one,
and all is god,
then I am god.
This is the fundamental concept of the New Age.
A.1 Some comments from Douglas Groothuis:
What monism believes:
‘Monism … is the belief that all that is, is one. All is interrelated, interdependent and interpenetrating. Ultimately there is no difference between God, a person, a carrot or a rock. They are all part of one continuous reality that has no boundaries, no ultimate divisions. Any perceived differences between separate entities … are only apparent and not real.’ [bid p18]
‘Good and evil are really one and the same .’ [ibid p19]
Groothuis further states ‘Monism, the basic premise of the New Age movement, is radically at odds with a Christian view of reality.’
Discuss this statement. Support your comments by reference to the Scriptural view of reality.
What pantheism believes:
‘All things – plants, snails, books and so on – are said to partake of the one divine essence. … All is one; all is god. Whatever is, is god and therefore perfect.
‘… if everything is one and if all dualities in reality dissolve into the cosmic unity, then so does the idea of personality. … If all is one, then there is only one being – the One. The One does not have a personality; it is beyond personality. … The idea of a personal God is abandoned in favour of an impersonal energy, force of consciousness. Ultimate reality is god, who is in all and through all; in fact, god is all. [p20,21]
Groothuis comments from the Biblical perspective: ‘The creator God is not an impersonal force, energy or consciousness, but a living, personal Being of infinite intelligence, power and purity.’
Discuss this statement and make a list of Biblical texts that could be used to support it and reveal the difference between Biblical truth and pantheistic concepts.
The monistic/pantheistic conclusion that ‘I am god’
‘ … we are not only perfect; we are … gods…. We are god in disguise. Only ignorance keeps us from realizing our divine reality. Our goal, according to New Age analyst Theodore Roszak, is “to awaken to the god who sleeps at the root of the human being.” [and citing Erhard] “God dwells within you as You!”’[p21,22]
In addition, note this statement from Shirley MacLaine [famous New Age protagonist]:
‘You are God. You know you are divine. But you must continually remember your Divinity and, most important, act accordingly. … I am God, because all energy is plugged in to the same source. We are each aspects of that source. We are all part of God. We are all individualized reflections of the God source. God is us and we are God. … each soul is its own God. You must never worship anyone or anything other than self. For you are God. To love self is to love God. … just listen to your feelings and trust them. You are unlimited. You just don’t realize it.” [from Out on a Limb and Dancing in the Light, cited by Rhodes, ibid p117]
Contrast these statements with Biblical truth. Use Scripture to support your statements.
A.2 New Age teaching on morality:
As we saw above monism believes that there is no difference between good and evil. Ron Rhodes comments:
‘The New Age doctrines of pantheism and monism relate very closely to the issue of moral relativism. Obviously, if pantheism if true, then this means that man himself is God. And if man is God, then man is a law unto himself and need not obey the laws of any deity external to himself.
‘Also, if it is true that all is one, then the distinction between good and evil disappears. Swami Vivekananda accordingly said, “Good and evil are one and the same.” Likewise, Shirley MacLaine …relates “ until mankind realizes that there is, in truth, no good and there is, in truth, no evil, there will be no peace.” ‘ [ibid p78]
B. THE NEW AGE QUEST
The new age quest is to find union with this god within – with the cosmic energy/Christ-consciousness of which every human being is believed to be either a part or the whole. It is perceived that we fail to do this because our consciousness has been shaped for too long by Western culture. What is needed is a ‘change in consciousness’ or a ‘transformation’, so that we can know ourselves as gods, and experience oneness and spiritual power. New Agers will sometimes use the term ‘salvation’ but their concept of salvation is quite different from the Christian concept. Salvation, for the New Age, is when I discover that I am god – when I find the god within me and become united to that god; or, in some cases, salvation is expressed as becoming one with the universe. [Similarly the term ‘Christ’ has its own New Age meaning: ‘Christ’ is another term for cosmic energy or the cosmic consciousness. New Agers believe that the man Jesus was a human being who made ultimate contact with the god within – with this Christ-consciousness; the same ultimate experience is available to us all.]
Groothuis, referring to Werner Erhard [of Est and Forum seminars] states:
‘All is perfect, says Werner Erhard. The trouble is we don’t see it. Humans are not depraved or dependent on any outside source of deliverance or strength. The answer is not reconciliation with a God different from ourselves, but the realization that we ourselves are God. The self is the cosmic treasury of wisdom, power and delight. This realization of oneness and divinity leads to spiritual power and well-being.’ [p25]
C. CONFLICT WITH BIBLICAL TRUTH
The Bible’s teaching stands in contradiction to New Age monism and pantheism.
Scripture research and discussion:
Check out these texts and discuss the Biblical teaching on the listed topics as it contrasts with pantheistic/monistic New Age belief.
God is eternal – existing before all things and separate from all things. God alone is God
Isaiah 26:4; 43:10; 45:5-6,18,22; 46:9;
Daniel 4:34; 6:26,27;
God is the creator of all things. All things come from him and are dependent on him.
Job 38 to 41;
Psalm 8:1-9; 24:1,2; 104:1-35;
God’s nature and attributes are displayed in and affirmed by created things, but created things are not God
Human beings are not God. They are answerable to him; they find their ultimate fulfilment in knowing him and reflecting his glory
Salvation is in knowing God and in knowing his Son, Jesus Christ, whom God sent
John 3:16-21,36; 14:6-9;17:3;
1John 5:11- 13,20
Jesus Christ did not ‘find the god within’. He is God
John 1:1-4; 5:18; 10:30; 14:9; 20:28
D. HOW IS THE NEW AGE AFFECTING THE CHURCH?
Pantheistic New Age ideas have a certain attraction. They convey an aura of love and acceptance, of live and let live, of peace and fulfilment, which appeal to the lost and lonely human heart, and seem to bear close resemblance to Biblical ideals. Like all of the isms addressed in this book, the New Age ideology is making subtle inroads into the Christian church. This intrusion is expressed in the following:
 Some people see New Age as advanced or improved Christianity.
 Some of the psychic aspects of the New Age are becoming accepted as okay by individual Christians, which leads them into forbidden practices.
 The distinction between the God of the Bible and the gods of the world is diminished; God and the gods of the nations are seen to be one and the same with different names in different places.
 Various ways to God are accepted. Jesus Christ is no longer seen as the one and only way to God. Christians assume or suspect that there are indeed many ways to heaven.
 The exclusive claims of Jesus Christ lose their significance; Jesus Christ is reduced to one among many religious leaders.
 Confidence in the Bible is undermined.
 Impetus for evangelism and mission is curtailed.
 Some church groups utilize New Age practices – visualization, clairvoyance, meditation, ecstasy, dream interpretation, mind power, etc – in the name of God and of Christianity.
E. HOW DOES THE NEW AGE AFFECT INDIVIDUAL CHRISTIANS?
In addition to those affects listed above on the Christian church generally, individual Christians suffer the following affects of the New Age:
 Confusion because of similar terminology used.
 Temptation to try out psychic practices.
 Loss of confidence in the Bible.
 Uncertainty about the lostness of the lost.
 Uncertainty about the exclusive claims of Christ.
 Guilt and hesitancy about believing that the God of the Bible is the one true God, and that he can be known only through his Son, Jesus Christ.
 Participation in practices which utilize psychic powers as a substitute for Biblical faith and prayer. This is blatantly promoted as Christian by certain preachers.
F. PRACTICAL STRATEGIES TO PROTECT AGAINST THE NEW AGE
 We must maintain confidence in the written Word.
 We must maintain the Biblical distinction between God and his creation.
 We must believe the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ.
 We must listen carefully to what people say and judge it by the written Word, rejecting everything that is contrary to that Word.
 We must refuse to participate in New Age practices, even when they are given apparent Biblical validation. Let us be aware that some practices at present within the Christian church have more in common with the origins of the New Age in eastern guru worship than with the Biblical worship of God. We must also be aware that high powered businesses are embracing New Age methods of mind control, sensitivity groups, and self-empowerment. These things find no validation in the Bible; they are rather a worldly substitute for Biblical faith and dependence on God.
 We must give true Biblical meaning to terminology, not New Age meaning.
 When praying, we must make sure that we are indeed praying to our Father in heaven, and not to some spurious god-within or cosmic powers without.
 We must refuse to be intimidated or despised by New Age people who believe they have risen to a higher level of self-realization and truth than us.
 We must recognize that New Age thought is a resurrection of ancient occult practices outlawed in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 18:9-13), and of the Gnosticism which threatened the New Testament church (Colossians 1 & 2; 1 John). It is also a westernisation of eastern mysticism.
At this point a caution needs to be added, lest we go overboard and see New Age practices and beliefs under every green tree. While many alternative health practices and practitioners are New Age, not all are. While many conservationists and ecologists are pantheistic and New Age, not all are; (indeed Christians ought to be committed to care for the earth). Let us be careful not to lump them all in the same basket. Discernment is essential. It is not intrinsically wrong to seek chiropractic, herbal, naturopathic or other alternate treatments, but ask questions before choosing your practitioner. Find out if the treatment is purely physical, or if some psychic method is involved. If the practitioner is tapping into so-called cosmic energies as distinct from the body’s own energy, or using powers of clairvoyance for diagnosis, find another whose methods are straight. Our greatest threat is not from alternative therapies but from the intrusion of New Age beliefs and practices into the church under the name of Biblical spirituality.
G. NEW AGE PRACTICES
Many New Age practices are clear expressions of the New Age quest to find union with the god within – to know and experience oneself as ‘god’. Most of these consist of some form of mystical experiences by which the person believes that they have been transformed or experienced a change in consciousness, and transcend their physical selves and make contact with the divine
There is an almost endless list of experiences through which this transformation, this deliberate change in consciousness, can be achieved. Below are six of the more significant New Age practices through which this transformation is sought:
G.1 Mystical experiences
By ‘mystical’ is meant apart from the rational mind. Thus a mystical experience is one in which rational thinking is left behind. [We will be studying mysticism in a separate study.] New Agers believe that they can achieve the desired change in consciousness and find the union with the divine by abdicating their minds. (Fundamental to New Age mysticism is the concept derived from eastern mysticism that the material universe is an illusion, and only the spiritual or mystical [non-rational] is real.) Here are some quotes:
‘If you want to know and realize that which is undivided, go beyond mind. Do not use your mind as an instrument … there is no problem in the reality and there is no need for any answer. But when you think there are problems, when you do not think and realize, there are no problems. So, religion is a process to go beyond thinking, to achieve a point in your mind where there is no thinking at all.’ [Rajneesh, in Beyond and Beyond, cited by Mangalwadi, p81].
‘Mystical experiences are very important in the New Age Movement, especially because they tend to confirm New Age beliefs. In the New Age, mystical experiences are most frequently induced by human means (yoga, meditation, drug use) or by means of contact with spirits. A mystical experience usually involves a misperception of physical reality. For those who aren’t already believers in an Eastern world view, the mystical experiences are important because they seem to bring all the proof that is needed to persuade. … the mystical experience conclusively persuades that “all is God” and “God is all,” and that men can tap a reservoir of inner divine power. Besides the feelings of the divine oneness of all things, common mystical experience involves a feeling of going beyond matter, time, and space which is often perceived as illusion.’ [p13,14, Ankerberg & Weldon, The Facts on The New Age Movement].
Many Christians think that yoga is simply a form of exercise. However, the following definitions from Rabindranath Maharaj, a converted guru, indicate otherwise:
‘Yoga: Literally “yoking”, it refers to union with Brahman. There are several kinds and schools of Yoga, and various techniques, but all have this same ultimate goal of union with the Absolute. The positions and breath control are intended as aids to Eastern meditation, and a means of controlling the body in disciplining oneself to renounce all desires which the body might otherwise impose upon the mind. Yoga is designed specifically to induce a state of trance which supposedly allows the mind to be drawn upward into a yoking with Brahman. It is a means of withdrawal from the world of illusion to see the only true Reality. If one desires to achieve physical fitness only, exercises designed for that specific purpose ought rather to be chosen. No part of Yoga can be separated from the philosophy behind it. Yogi: … in the true sense, one who is a master of Yoga – that is, one who has attained, through the practice of Yoga, union with Brahman, which is its aim. The true meditating Yogi has cut himself off from all sense perceptions, including family, friends, and all human relationships. He is supposed to be beyond space, time, caste, country, religion, and even good and evil. [Death of a Guru, p208]
‘ Self-realization (is) the ultimate goal of Eastern meditation and Yoga by whatever name it is called: deliverance from the “illusion: that the individual self is different from the Universal Self, or Brahman. Through ignorance man has supposedly forgotten who he really is and thus thinks of himself as distinct from his neighbour and Brahman. Through Self-realization he is liberated from this ignorance of individual existence and returns to union with Brahman again.’ [ibisdp206]
‘Eastern meditation (being taught as TM, Sen, etc) is a technique for detaching oneself from the world of things and ideas (from maya) through freeing one’s mind from all voluntary or rational thought, which projects one into “higher” states of consciousness. Though popularized in the West under many names, the aim of all Eastern meditation is to “realize” one’s essential union with the Universe. It is the doorway to the “nothingness” called nirvana. Generally sold as a “relaxation” technique, meditation really aims at and ultimately leads to the surrender of oneself to mystical cosmic forces.’ [Maharaj, ibid p204,205]
‘There are various “levels” of consciousness opened up in Yoga and meditation, called “higher” states because they differ from one’s normal consciousness and are supposedly experienced on the road to nirvana. Different schools of Eastern mysticism define them in different ways. Typical states would be “unity-consciousness,” where one experiences a mystical union with the universe, and “God-consciousness,” where one experiences that he himself is actually God. Similar “states of consciousness” are experienced through hypnosis, mediumistic trance, certain drugs, witchcraft ceremonies, voodoo, etc, and all seem to be slight variations of the same occult phenomenon.’ [ibid p202]
‘For the committed New Ager, the process of transformation is the highest spiritual goal, almost becoming an end in itself, and even drugs are openly condoned as an initiation into the transformation process. Ms Ferguson candidly admits that: “If is impossible to overestimate the historic role of psychedelics as an entry point drawing people into other transformative technologies … The changes in brain chemistry triggered by psychedelics cause the familiar world of metamorphose. It gives way to rapid imagery, unaccustomed depths of visual perception and hearing, a flood of ‘new’ knowledge that seems at one very old, a poignant primal memory … psychedelic awareness is not fuzzy but many times more intense than normal waking consciousness.” Apparently, this drug-induced altered state of consciousness enables some to become fully aware of the role of consciousness in creating everyday reality.’ [The New Age Gospel: Christ or Counterfeit, p19]
‘I began to encounter increasing numbers of drug addicts and made a startling discovery: some of them were having the same experiences on drugs that I had had in Yoga and meditation! I listened in amazement as they described the “beautiful and peaceful world” they often encountered through LSD, a world whose psychedelic sights and sounds were all too familiar to me. Of course many of them had bad trips on drugs, too, but most drug users seemed as reluctant to heed these obvious warnings as I had once been while practicing Yoga.
‘”I didn’t need drugs to have visions of other worlds and weird beings, and to see psychedelic colours and to sense a oneness with the universe and the feeling that I was God” I would tell them. “I got it all by transcendental meditation”.’ [Death of a Guru, p157,158]
G.5 Channelling and spirit guides
‘Channelling is a New Age term for spirit possession where a willing human “channel” or medium relinquishes his mind and body to an invading spirit who then possesses and controls that person for its own purposes, usually as a mouth-piece to give the spirit’s own teachings … there are hundreds of spirits claiming responsibility for New Age books and their message has reached millions of people. … A recent … poll reported that 67% of Americans now believe in the supernatural, and that 42% “believe they have been in contact with someone who died.” … spirit contact has become in many quarters a socially acceptable practice …’ [Ankerberg & Weldon, p16,17]
[This is just one of the many clearly occult-related practices of the new age.]
G.6 Visualization techniques, guided imagery
These techniques are used in schools, in business seminars, (and in some churches). They basically teach that it is possible to create our own reality by our beliefs about ourselves and our expectations of life. They teach the power of visualization and positive affirmation. Groothuis identifies seven ways to recognize seminars where this New Age technique is being employed:
The use of visualization to create reality
The use of positive affirmations (self-talk)
The use of some form of Eastern meditation or other “psycho-technologies”
Extravagant promises regarding how the seminar can forever “change your life”
Secrecy regarding the content of the seminars
Excessively long hours.
[Cited in Rhodes, p161, from Groothuis Confronting the New Age]
‘According to New Thought, human beings can experience health, success, and abundant life by using their thoughts to define the condition of their lives. New Thought proponents subscribe to the “law of attraction.” This law says that just as like attracts like, so our thoughts can attract the things they want or expect. Negative thoughts are believed to attract dismal circumstances; positive thoughts attract more desirable circumstances. Our thoughts can be either creative or destructive. New Thought sets out to teach people how to use their thoughts creatively.’ [p166]
‘The idea that a person’s beliefs create his or her own reality forms the conceptual basis of Gershon and Straub’s Empowerment Workshop. They explain it this way: ‘We make and shape our character and the conditions of our life by what we think. What you think and believe will manifest in your life. By becoming adept at intelligently directing your thought, you can become adept at creating the life that you want. You can take charge of your destiny. … we cannot avoid creating our reality; each time we think a thought we are creating it. Every belief we hold is shaping what we experience in our life …” Gershon and Straub offer us a game plan for achieving empowerment that focuses on making effective use of affirmations (positive self-talk) and visualizations (mental pictures of what you want to create).’ [p177,178]
In addition there are equally numerous practices engaged in by New Agers which range from commitment to natural health practices, conservation and ecology to full blown occult practices. Not all of the practices seen as typically ‘New Age’ are wrong; discernment is needed when assessing them.
H. NEW AGE VISION
Among some New Age followers there is a vision to improve and preserve the earth [seen in their alignment with conservation and ecological issues] and to bring unity [world peace] among the people of the earth [seen in the agenda of one world religion, one world government, and so on.] It must be noted that all of this grand ideal is to be achieved by human effort.
Christian sites worth reading on the New Age: