I've been wanting to write about Christianity and The New Age for quite some time now, particularly about the ways in which they can and often do complement each other. But there are two major challenges in this:
1) there can be an immediate knee-jerk reaction from both sides, whereby "the other" seems both alien and intimidating; and
2) there is so much to talk about within each one, it can be hard to know where to even begin.
These challenges, particularly the first one, have kept me from diving right in and sharing my thoughts on this for far too long. When I set up Spirit Kid Network, I wanted it to be a place where we could discuss raising children in a way that avoids pigeon-holing faith, religion, and spirituality into tightly defined boxes with no flexibility to expand and grow. And yet, more than 18 months after first launching this site I still haven't quite found a way to do this.
The reason for this is, quite simply, fear. I know that I walk between the lines of different communities in a way that can (and sometimes does) draw negative and accusatory responses from people within both Christianity and The New Age Movement. Admittedly my own personal experience has been receiving more negative responses from within the Christian community than the New Age one (which I talked about in my previous post - What Makes a Christian?). But that does not mean that this exact same judgement doesn't exist within the New Age community, because it does. I know this, because I have been the one judging religion from within it myself!
And this morning I discovered that exact same fear based judgement bubbling away quite significantly within the New Age community in response to a recent video by Doreen Virtue. For those of you who may not be familiar with Doreen Virtue, she is a very well-known and well-loved author and speaker within New Age circles, having talked about Angels and Ascended Masters in her numerous books and oracle card decks over the past two decades. In fact, her early books on Angels were some of my very first experiences of the New Age movement, and my first oracle deck was her Messages from Your Angels way back in 2003.
So why are there such negative stirrings within New Age circles to someone as well-loved and respected as she is? Well, it seems that this has been building for some time, since Doreen first started mentioning her renewed connection to Jesus, her choice to be baptised in February this year, and her decision to move away from what she explains as mediumship and relying on tarot-style prophesy as opposed to going directly to God (or Source) for guidance. And for some people, this is a significant shift that causes a fair amount of distress and distrust.
Now, before I go any further I really want to make something very clear. Doreen Virtue is, like every single one of us, an imperfect human being on her own journey through life. Her spiritual experiences and growth are no more nor no less than anybody else's. And I feel it is somewhat unfair of us to expect her not to have these changes of heart as she develops in her own faith.
One of the responses I saw today was a (valid) concern over how those who had invested in training with one of Doreen's courses would feel now that she has decided that for her these things are not right anymore. But herein lies what I think is one of the greatest dangers we face in our spiritual journeys, namely putting too much emphasis on somebody else's interpretation of faith rather than our own personal experience of it.
We're all guilty of doing it, whether it's believing our church leaders know everything there is to know about God or thinking that a well-known spiritual author has the answers to everything. Nobody does, and our faith needs to be strong enough to withstand a sudden change in direction from those we once followed. Our faith may be shaped by them and what they say, but we must always remember that everything should be viewed through a historical and cultural lens. When their path diverges from ours, that doesn't mean ours is no longer valid, it simply means that we are the incredibly diverse beings that God created us to be.
That's not to say that we don't have shared experiences, because we do. One of the phrases I keep coming back to is, "Truth with a capital T". I believe I first heard it within one of Marianne Williamson's weekly talks on A Course in Miracles, and it reminds me of what so many of my Christian friends said to me whenever I questioned the validity of "one true religion". My friends would often mention this idea that our own personal truths were not the same as the One Truth that is God. And for a very long time I railed against this thought.
I wanted to believe that my own spiritual journey was just as valid as theirs, but the idea of "One Truth" or "One True Path" seemed to negate this. And that's because I didn't understand the idea of this "Truth with a capital T". I'm not sure that I still do, to be perfectly honest with you. But my understanding has developed to the point where I am able to accept that there is a definitive Truth, but that doesn't mean any single one of us has figured out what that is. My understanding now is that all of our religions and spiritual paths have caught glimpses of it, and where the teachings of different paths intersect is where we are closest to that One Truth.
Take, for instance, The Golden Rule. This idea that you should treat others as you wish to be treated yourself, appears in pretty much all religions spanning back thousands of years right through to the present day. It is so intrinsically linked with our understanding of the world that it is even present within the basis of morality for those who denounce religion altogether. I've lost count of the times I've read an atheist author's words on how they do not need religion to know that this is an essential part of being human. It truly is a Universal Truth.
So where does that leave us when it comes to interfaith relationships and trying to move forward in a more accepting way than we have previously done? Is it even possible to be deeply involved with one religion or spiritual path and still accept another as true too?
I'd like to think it does. And my own personal experience suggests that this is more than a dream - it can be our reality. Over the past decade I have gone from defining myself as "spiritual but not religious" and struggling to even contemplate using the word "God" because of the connotations I felt it carried, to choosing to be baptised and confirmed as a member of my local Methodist Church. You can read about my decision to be baptised here.
I've gone from believing you had to be one or the other, to understanding you can feel connected to and be an active member of multiple faith communities, if you truly believe that there is this "Truth with a capital T" and that hints of it exist within all paths. As Marcus Borg, one of my favourite Progressive Christian scholars once said, "[...] to affirm that Christianity embodies “the way” need not mean that it is the only and exclusive way. Progressive Christians affirm that “the way” revealed in Jesus is also known in other enduring religious traditions. Christianity does not have a monopoly on God or religion. Rather, Jesus is the incarnation of a universal way." (Taken from his book, Convictions).
That is exactly what it means, to me, to be a Christian. I accept Jesus as leading the way to God, but I also accept that others may find their way to God in other religions or spiritual paths. Indeed, I feel deeply inspired by the seasonal celebrations of the Modern Pagan Wheel of the Year (as you may have gathered from the posts already written about them on this site). I also have a distinct interest in a wide range of Holistic Therapies, including those which are connected more specifically with The New Age movement, such as Reiki, crystal healing, and chakra balancing, I even deeply love my Angel cards and other oracle decks, because they all help me to connect to what I believe to be the Divine Source (God) that is within everything.
But does that mean I accept all paths as equal? No, no I don't. First of all, I'm only human after all - I have just as many hang-ups as the next person. But secondly, and more importantly, I think it is hugely important that we use discernment when we come across something new. I am in no doubt that there are many, many people who have jumped onto the New Age bandwagon in order to profit for themselves. Whether this is conscious or not, there are always going to be people who are driven by flawed intentions. It happens within all communities, including the Christian one - let's not forget the wars fought supposedly in Jesus' name, or the reports of terrible mistreatment of others by those who were meant to protect them!
Which brings me right back to where I started, the challenges faced by anyone trying to write about how Christianity and The New Age (or any kind of interfaith relationship, for that matter). There are so many aspects to each one of these paths, it would be impossible to cover them all in one blog post. You just have to look at how many books are published each year in both of these areas to see how diverse the conversation can be. But it is so important that we at least start to have these conversations, especially as our world seems to become more and more divided as each day passes.
It can be a terrifying prospect to place yourself in the middle of it all, neither fully on one path or the other, but with a foot firmly entrenched in each world. I know that, because every single time I think about writing something new I wonder just how many people I might offend and whether there's actually anyone out there that even wants to read what I have to say. Right now I've got so many ideas in my head, things I want to write about - kids' guides to Angels, Crystals, etc; family devotionals from a Progressive Christian point of view; a family guide to the Pagan Wheel of the Year; a book on the similarities between Christianity and the New Age... the list is, quite frankly, endless!
But despite all these ideas, I still wonder just how much interest there really is in this kind of approach to faith (and also, more than a smidgen of fear that by writing such a diverse selection of resources I could end up alienating people on both paths!) Such fear is, I think, quite valid having seen some of the responses to Doreen Virtue's recent video. And yet, when I watched it I realised that it was a prompt for me to "pull up my big girl pants" (so to speak) and finally do what I've felt God prompting me to do for so long - create a space for this kind of conversation to happen!.
Watching the video, I actually felt quite an affinity for Doreen, more than I have in several years in fact. I could associate with her experience of not quite knowing who Jesus was or what he was about, being completely overwhelmed by the love and freedom provided by The New Age, and then finding yourself drawn back towards the Church in a much deeper way. It's certainly an interesting place to find yourself, with positive experiences of both, and trying to figure out exactly how the two worlds come together.
That being said, she is taking a much more conservative Christian view of Biblical interpretation than I do. Whilst I agree that the New Age has a lot of love and light with little substance at times, there is an awful lot of very deep and balanced paths within it. I feel it's going to take more than just a single blog post to explore this (perhaps I really should get cracking on that book!), but I don't want to leave this without some kind of commentary on the various aspects that Doreen mentions as being irreconcilable with her new understanding of what it means to follow Christ.
When listening to Doreen talk about avoiding things like Tarot and her feelings of discomfort over mediumship, I am reminded very much that we need to read all spiritual texts, from the Bible right through to modern day commentaries, with a historical and cultural lens. What was happening in the time and place that a text was written to evoke such a message? Is that the same thing that is happening today? (The answer to that is more often than not, no!) Therefore, how should we interpret it today? Do we take it literally, or do we need to translate it to find out what the original author was trying to express? (The answer to that is usually, yes!)
With that in mind, I'd like to direct you to a post by another modern spiritual author, who has written a direct response to Doreen's video, in case you want to explore a different interpretation of the topics mentioned in the video. Aby Wynne is a Shamanic Psychotherapist and it was her blog post which first alerted me to Doreen's video, which in turn led me down the internet rabbit hole today of exploring various different responses to it.
The very fact that there are so many different responses to this one person's video about faith reassures me that there is a real desire to explore faith and spirituality right now. The internet can be a wonderful thing, and I know I wouldn't be anywhere near as confident in my own faith had it not been for the support of others who, like me, wanted to explore faith in an open and diverse way. If you'd like to experience that for yourself, please do come and join our little community over on Facebook, where we discuss all of this and more.
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