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Religion Library: New Age

Ultimate Reality and Divine Beings

Written by: Benjamin E. Zeller

No single theology or cosmology characterizes the New Age. Rather, the New Age is united in rejecting the dominant theology of western monotheism, most explicitly Christianity and Judaism, though implicitly Islam as well, through an emphasis on the individual rather than religious authority embodied in institutions. This attitude, a key trait of American metaphysical religion, stands in contrast to the cardinal tenets of the traditional Christian and Jewish theology: a single transcendent, omniscient, omnipotent deity as described in the Bible, alongside a view of the cosmos as created and sustained by such a deity.

The most common theologies within the New Age envision God as within each individual. Though New Agers tend to avoid categorizing themselves along traditional theological categories, scholars label such New Age beliefs monism, pantheism, and panentheism. Monism declares that the summation of the entire universe is the divine, and that each individual within the cosmos represents a small sliver of god. Pantheism upholds a similar position, that god is within all things. Panentheism postulates that all things are in god, but that god transcends the sum of all these things. All three philosophies lead their New Age adherents to envision the self as the seat of the divine. New Agers tend to envision god as impersonal and diffuse, part of all living things. Such a theology enables New Age practitioners to see the divine in humans, nature, the earth, and inanimate objects, though some New Agers limit god to living beings. Such a holistic approach to the divine helps explain the environmental ethos that also characterizes so much of the New Age movement.

This cosmology also explains why New Agers seek self-development and self-evolution. New Age practitioners generally agree that all individuals must focus on an ultimate goal of developing the god-aspect within themselves. The various practices of the movement, what some scholars have called spiritual technologies, aim to develop the self and bring it into awareness of its nature as divine. Such spiritual technologies-for example yoga, channeling, aura-reading, and crystal work-aim to assist the practitioner in self-development.

A less popular theology within the New Age movement envisions a universe filled with multiple divinities. Scholars call such a position polytheism, though few New Agers would themselves use this characterization. Polytheism appears most frequently amongst New Age practitioners who also identify with Paganism, since the latter religious tradition assumes polytheism as a foundation. Some New Agers envision the world as filled with two deities, the cosmic ideals of male and female, whereas others believe in entire pantheons of divinities. However, like their coreligionists who accept pantheism or monism, New Agers who adopt a polytheistic theology reject the dominant western religious paradigm.

 
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