Define “New Age.” Give three examples

ChandraLevyHere’s a question for GetReligion readers who live far from the D.C. Beltway.

Do you remember Chandra Levy?

Levy was, of course, the intern who went missing in the post-Clintonian atmosphere of Washington, D.C., circa 2001. The case drew the kind of cable-TV news frenzy that is so common today, especially since this particular attractive white female was — the rumors turned out to be true — having an affair with a Harrison Ford lookalike in the U.S. House of Representatives. Then her face vanished from the media, lost in the crush of 9/11 news.

This very high-profile case remains unsolved and there were all kinds of sad and puzzling delays that stalled the very flawed investigation, before and after her remains were found in the District’s scenic Rock Creek Park. After a year-long investigation, the Washington Post has turned back the pages of time — in terms of journalism style — and is publishing a massive project about Levy’s death in a series of short, dramatic articles backed with videos and blogging. In other words, this is a kind of a tabloid serial project for the digital, multi-platform age.

All of this is interesting material for classes here at the Washington Journalism Center, and I have been reading the first four installments while wearing my journalism professor hat.

But, this morning, I hit a passage that raised a GetReligion flag. This particular story by Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham and Sylvia Moreno focuses on the grief, confusion and anger of the young woman’s parents, Robert and Susan Levy. Each chunk of this ongoing story is told in a series of short, punch flashes of information and color. Here is the part that raised faith-based questions for me:

The crisis forced the Levys to draw on a spiritual foundation they had spent a lifetime cultivating. With bushy eyebrows, receding salt-and-pepper hair and a kind smile, Robert Levy was a gentle soul, an oncologist grounded in science but captivated by New Age philosophy and various religious beliefs. His wife, Susan, was his muse — a tall, outdoorsy woman with high cheekbones and a hearty laugh who loved to ride horses, paint and sing.

The couple met at a mixer in 1968 while they were both students at Ohio State University. Robert Levy was an ROTC graduate and microbiologist who would go on to medical school. Susan Katz was an art education major. When he started his practice, Robert could choose among several cities that needed oncologists: Zanesville, Ohio; Council Bluffs, Iowa; Las Cruces, N.M.; Richmond, Va.; and Modesto, Calif. They picked Modesto out of a baseball cap.

By the time they moved, Chandra was 4. Soon, the family added a son, Adam. Robert Levy slowly built his practice and became known as “Last Chance Bob” for his aggressive yet holistic approach to treating cancer. Sometimes, he would come home after losing a patient and cry.

As Chandra and Adam grew up, the family traveled the world: Africa and Costa Rica, Israel, Jamaica and the Galapagos Islands. The parents delved deeply into spirituality, exploring their Judaism and blending in Buddhism, Pentecostalism and Hinduism.

With Chandra gone, none of it seemed to be helping.

And all the people said, “Pentecostalism?”

mandalaI do not, of course, know what kind of background information will be added in future articles about the family’s religious beliefs and practices. That’s one of the weaknesses of serial journalism. I know that the Associated Press Stylebook does not contain an entry that offers any insight into what is and what is not “New Age philosophy.” That’s the kind of vague religious term that cries out for specific information that lets the readers decide whether the label is appropriate. Or did the Levys use the term to define their beliefs? We do not know.

I am also aware that there are more than a few people blending Judaism and Buddhism — since entire books have been written on the topic. There really are sincere believers who call themselves “JUBUs,” short for “Jewish Buddhists.” However, once again, I am not sure this is a label that the Levys would accept.

Then there is the issue of Pentecostalism — by definition, a Christian movement — showing up in this list. What spiritual activities or beliefs led to the inclusion of this loaded term in the seemingly grab-bag list of faiths attributed to this grieving couple? The reporters need to show us why these words are accurate, in the case of the Levy family.

GetReligion has some regular readers who are practicing pagans or neo-pagans, which are two other terms that journalists tend to toss about from time to time. How do you feel about the term “New Age”? Do you think it has any actual content and, if so, what are the specifics? What are the essential beliefs and rites that reporters should investigate?

The bottom line: If you were putting a “New Age” entry in the stylebook, what would you write?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • jeff

    I always thought the core of “New Age” philosophy was that “…we are creating our own reality…”

    if bad things happen to you, you are somehow “causing them” and that by changing the way you “think” you can change the actual reality you are living.

    I think this contrasts with most major religions as to what we should do with suffering.

    The “new age” approach seemed to be “you are causing your own suffering. Stop it!”

    Don’t forget the “Zen Baptists”!

  • Dave

    GetReligion has some regular readers who are practicing pagans or neo-pagans, which are two other terms that journalists tend to toss about from time to time. How do you feel about the term “New Age”?

    New Age and Pagan are different things, though either can embrace spiritual influences and may assert the abililty of humans to influence events through spiritual intent. Paganism is an Earth centered religion. New Age is technically Heaven-centered, though their “heaven” is not the same as the traditional idea. In Heaven-centered religion we are great spirits trapped in matter and trying to get back to our original nature.

  • Peggy

    I went to the WaPost web site this week and was surprised to see this series. I wondered if the reporters had some leads other than Gary Condit or leads firmly leading to him…I recall that light happy summer just before 9-11, when all superfluousness evaporated in DC.

    [Not to say that her murder was not important, to her family, of course, but the silly press obsession is what I criticize.]

  • Jerry

    There are many, many web sites that try to define “new age” so you can take your pick. I think the root is a dissatisfaction with traditional structures. What “new age” means to people can vary all over the map. If you believe that traditional structures don’t work for whatever reason, there is a tendency to look around for something new. Whether or not the new is better than the old is, of course, debatable. Time will tell.

    Since you asked for examples: From an eastern perspective, a “new age” is often identified with the advent of the Avatar. Each “new age” is thus an “Avataric” age. Krishna in the Gita expressed that this way:

    “Whenever the world declineth in virtue and righteousness; and vice and injustice mount the throne, then cometh I, the Lord and revisit my world in visible form, and mingleth as a man with men, and by my influence and teachings do I destroy the evil and injustice and reestablish virtue and righteousness. Many times have I thus appeared, and many times hereafter shall I come again.”

  • Dave

    Another marker of the “new age” is a shift in astrological ages. We are about to enter the age of Aquarius, hence the famous song from “Hair.”

  • http://vagantepriest.blogspot.com/ FrGregACCA

    Well, the ecstatic worship found in some Jewish circles has apparently influenced some strains of Pentecostalism…

    There are also Pentecostal strains which come pretty close to the “new age” create your own reality thing, and there are people who seem to have one foot on each side of whatever fine line can be drawn between them.

  • http://joe-perez.com joe perez

    It seems like every time I am moved to comment on GetReligion it’s because of you’ve just posted something incredibly asinine, and had no idea you were doing it. Sorry for sounding so negative all the time.

    Here’s your asinine point of the day:

    GetReligion has some regular readers who are practicing pagans or neo-pagans, which are two other terms that journalists tend to toss about from time to time. How do you feel about the term “New Age”?

    Why in the world would you ask pagans to define the term New Age? Do you think those two groups are equivalent? That all pagans are New Age? Or all New Agers are pagans? It should be no shock to Terry Mattingly that New Agers come in all stripes: Christian, pagan, Buddhist. Some are even, gasp, associated with scientifically rigorous and empirically-based methodologies. And many people who others would call New Age rsist the terminology because New Age has come to become a derogatory term, like fundamentalist.

    There’s no reason to ask pagans what they think of the New Age, anymore than any other group. The pagan or neo-pagan emphasis on non-transcendent spirituality is diametrically opposed to the typical New Ager emphasis on the supernatural. I’m sure most pagans or New Agers will tell you the same thing.

    P.S.: Just for the record, I don’t consider myself New Age. I consider myself part of the Integral movement, which is actually a sort of repudiation of the New Age.

    I believe many of the core tenets of the New Age–belief in individual spirituality, direct mystical experience, reclaiming a connection to nature, openness to the existence of subtle energy forces, believe in the interaction between mind and “objective reality”–are actually part of a wide variety of spiritual orientations (not to mention a great number of secular people schooled in quantum physics).

  • http://www.christiananswersforthenewage.org Marcia Montenegro

    I was in the New Age for many years; it is definitely not compatible with any form of authentic Christianity, although the New Age incorporates Christian terms and quotes the Bible, all the while giving the terms and Bible different meanings from the meaning found in the historic Christian faith.

    It is impossible to give a short definition of New Age since by nature, the New Age is a blend of different beliefs: mostly Gnostic and Eastern. So one can find people in New Age beliefs not always into the same thing. Also, modern Paganism is different from New Age although some Pagans incorporate New Age beliefs.

    New Age: The world is illusory or reflects our inner vision and selves. Our true self is divine, a truth one must “awaken” to, usually through meditative techniques. Different levels of reality and truth can exist but eventually meld into one ultimate reality, which we are all a part of.

    God is usually impersonal or both personal and impersonal; Jesus is a man who had the Christ spirit or attained “Christ consciousness,” something all men can attain.

    The New Age also incorporates New Thought or the mind sciences, so at the other end of the spectrum from the Eastern side is the view that we all have unlimited potential within us, and that illness is a result of incorrect thinking. These ideas are the basis of the human potential movement.

    And some New Agers are into occult practices or beliefs such as astrology, psychic powers, contact with the dead, etc.

  • Michael Stevens

    I think one of the hallmarks of the New Age is what Heelas calls “the sacralisation of the self”. This ties into what jeff, the first poster here, mentions, the idea that “we create our own reality”.
    On examination, I’d say there is really very little that is “new” in the new age movement: it’s a hodgepodge of feel-good bits and pieces lifted from many different religous traditions and re-shaped to fit the anxieties of wealthy Western worriers.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    JOE:

    I would never confuse those terms. I know that you see all kinds of stupid things written about these groups (and I also know that the term New Age means next to nothing specific, which is the subject of the post).

    However, I was hoping that you could make some suggestions about how journalists could draw some meaningful lines between these groups. I was hoping you could comment on why you DON’T think the terms apply to pagans and neopagans and others.

    I meant no insult. I was only seeking input. Please reread my post.

  • http://joe-perez.com joe perez

    I encountered the following article by Karla McLaren recently and, while it is repetitious and long, manages to convey one person’s journey with the New Age, as a skeptic, and as someone attempting to bridge the gap. Here’s a small quote:

    My voice was an important one in my culture; therefore, I’ve got to take responsibility for what I’ve done. I need to educate myself and come back into the fray in a healthy and respectful way. Maybe by the time I’ve organized my thoughts, a bridging culture will already exist. Maybe I’ll find a way to be heard – or to translate the skeptical lexicon in such a way that people in my culture can access it without being insulted or shamed. One thing I’ll be sure to stress is the fact that there is actually more beauty, wonder, brilliance, and mystery in science than there is in the mystical world.

    One of the biggest falsehoods I’ve encountered is that skeptics can’t tolerate mystery, while New Age people can. This is completely wrong, because it is actually the people in my culture who can’t handle mystery – not even a tiny bit of it. Everything in my New Age culture comes complete with an answer, a reason, and a source. Every action, emotion, health symptom, dream, accident, birth, death, or idea here has a direct link to the influence of the stars, chi, past lives, ancestors, energy fields, interdimensional beings, enneagrams, devas, fairies, spirit guides, angels, aliens, karma, God, or the Goddess.

    We love to say that we embrace mystery in the New Age culture, but that’s a cultural conceit and it’s utterly wrong. In actual fact, we have no tolerance whatsoever for mystery. Everything from the smallest individual action to the largest movements in the evolution of the planet has a specific metaphysical or mystical cause. In my opinion, this incapacity to tolerate mystery is a direct result of my culture’s disavowal of the intellect. One of the most frightening things about attaining the capacity to think skeptically and critically is that so many things don’t have clear answers. Critical thinkers and skeptics don’t create answers just to manage their anxiety.

    See the whole article.

  • http://joe-perez.com joe perez

    Marcia wrote:

    I was in the New Age for many years; it is definitely not compatible with any form of authentic Christianity, although the New Age incorporates Christian terms and quotes the Bible, all the while giving the terms and Bible different meanings from the meaning found in the historic Christian faith.

    I think that’s write if you replace “authentic Christianity” with “mythic-oriented, literalistic, and traditionalistic forms of Christianity”. Many people in New Age circles consider themselves Christian, and many attend mainstream Christian or Unitarian churches. Tielhard de Chardin, the Jesuit scientist and philosopher, influenced many Christians in reimagining Christianity within an evolving worldview (something that all brands of Idealistic philosophy such as Feurbach, Schelling, and Hegel had been doing for many decades).

    It’s fine if you think only conservative forms of Christianity is authentic, but that’s not really helpful in understanding the Christian New Age.

    I would urge you to google “christian new age” and explore the vast number of books, teachers, and web sites out there.

    Michael wrote that the New Age is:

    a hodgepodge of feel-good bits and pieces lifted from many different religous traditions and re-shaped to fit the anxieties of wealthy Western worriers

    Considering the pagan origins (or precedents) of many Christian (especially Catholic) sacraments and traditions, your definition of New Age also applies to virtually all American religionists.

    tmatt wrote:

    However, I was hoping that you could make some suggestions about how journalists could draw some meaningful lines between these groups. I was hoping you could comment on why you DON’T think the terms apply to pagans and neopagans and others.

    You don’t usually see pagans channel ancient spirits. You don’t usually see New Agers worshipping the Goddess (not exclusively, anyways). They’re different.

    Buddhists meditate. New Agers meditate. The same?

    Yoga students do yoga. New Agers do yoga. Do you have to be New Age to do yoga?

    I think it’s useless to attempt to define a set of ideas as New Age or not New Age. What’s useful is to focus on the New Age “culture”–the specific bookstores, web sites, seminars, organizations, etc. that together comprise a New Age community. If a person is part of the New Age culture, then they’re New Age. If they’re not, or if they’re marginal, it’s very relevant how they see themselves as similar and different from New Age stereotypes.

    It’s also helpful to distinguish between unchurched Americans and the New Age. By some acounts, 25% of Americans are “unchurched”, yet we know from other surveys that probably the vast majority of these belief in some notion of God, Higher Power, or Universal Spirit. Are all these people New Age because they would likely agree with some of the tenets of the so-called New Age movement?

    I think the intellectually lazy approach is to assume that if someone has spiritual beliefs, some of which may have eclectic sources, but then are not churchgoers, then they are automatically New Age. For example, the belief that 12-step programs are inherently New Age is commonly held by conservative religionists, but ludicrous to anyone familiar with the real diversity of these groups, not to mention the groups’ origins in Protestant Christianity. Journalists especially should resist the temptation to sloppy characterizations.

    One of the difficulties writers face in discussing the New Age is that many of the movement’s tenets–e.g., the notion that truth is not limited to one religion alone, or the notion that subtle energy forces such as chi, prana, mana, , or either (can you say Holy Spirit?) exist–are actually mainstream positions with which many Americans agree. Therefore, I would discourage journalists from using the term “New Age” at all, except to refer to self-described adherents to New Age philosophy. If a journalist thinks that an interview subject is sounding awfully New Agey, then it’s fair to ask that subject how he or she feels about the New Age, and report whatever they say.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if someone said, “I may see auras, but I’m not sure what you mean by the New Age.”

  • http://www.christiananswersforthenewage.org Marcia Montenegro

    Joe Perez wrote:

    I think that’s write if you replace “authentic Christianity” with “mythic-oriented, literalistic, and traditionalistic forms of Christianity”. Many people in New Age circles consider themselves Christian, and many attend mainstream Christian or Unitarian churches. Tielhard de Chardin, the Jesuit scientist and philosopher, influenced many Christians in reimagining Christianity within an evolving worldview (something that all brands of Idealistic philosophy such as Feurbach, Schelling, and Hegel had been doing for many decades).

    It’s fine if you think only conservative forms of Christianity is authentic, but that’s not really helpful in understanding the Christian New Age.

    I would urge you to google “christian new age” and explore the vast number of books, teachers, and web sites out there.

    I am familiar with what is called the “Christain New Age” – believe me, I deal with it all the time in my ministry.

    But “Christian New Age” is an oxymoron if any substance is given to the meaning of Christianity. Either Christianity has a definition or it doesn’t – the basis of Christianity is that Jesus died to atone for sins, a statement no New Ager would agree with, even if they call themselves Christians (unless they redefine sin and redefine “die for”). The creeds held by Christians for almost 2,000 years are focused on the Trinitarian nature of God (that leaves out Unitarians), the need for atonment for sins, and Jesus Christ as the Son of God who was fully man and fully God, who died to pay the penalty for sins. I guarantee you that no New Ager would agree with that — they may say they are a Christian but their Christ is not the Biblical Christ. I know, I had the New Age Jesus for over 15 years.

    It is true that there are people with the label of “Christian” who are New Agers. The problem is that either they are Christians dabbling in the New Age unwittingly or not caring that they are, or they are syncretzing what they believe is Christianity with New Age beliefs.

    True New Age is believing in one’s own inherent divinity and that there are no sins to be saved or redeemed from. What is needed is not salvation but awakening, enlightenment, and/or liberation a la Gnostic/Eastern modes, or New Thought awakening to belief that one can attain Christ consciousness. These beliefs are totally incompatible with Christianity.

    As for Pagan vs. New Age: Pagan is here and now and gives much honor to the earth, which is sacred; New Age is transcendant and future oriented. New Age may see the earth as sacred but they are not into rituals to connect with it as Pagans are, nor do they use nature as their model, as Pagans do.

    You make some very good points, Joe. It is an issue for debate as to what makes a person New Age, but when I talk to someone, I can usually tell. It’s a combination of things. You make a good point about New Age culture rather than a specific definition. The New Age is very broad; it’s an umbrella term.

    Also, no one usually uses the term New Age for him/herself, even if they are.

    For examples in authors, see Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle, Marianne Williamson, M. Scott Peck, Neale Donald Walsch, James Redfield, and many more. These authors also exemplify the spectrum of New Age thinking.

  • http://joe-perez.com joe perez

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Marcia. I intend to fisk it (line by line response) on my blog next week. I think tmatt would go bonkers if we strayed too far afield of the journalistic realm. Wouldn’t you agree though that journalists have no business injecting their opinions as to what is “authentic” Christianity, or what it means that say that “any substance is given to the meaning of Christianity”? Perhaps you would throw all liberal and many mainstream Christians out of orthodoxy if you had your way, but journalists shouldn’t set themselves up as inquisitors of theological rectitude.

  • Pingback: Joe Perez :: An Integral Blog » Blog Archive » Thoughts on defining the New Age

  • http://www.christiananswersforthenewage.org Marcia Montenegro

    Joe Perez wrote:

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Marcia. I intend to fisk it (line by line response) on my blog next week. I think tmatt would go bonkers if we strayed too far afield of the journalistic realm. Wouldn’t you agree though that journalists have no business injecting their opinions as to what is “authentic” Christianity, or what it means that say that “any substance is given to the meaning of Christianity”? Perhaps you would throw all liberal and many mainstream Christians out of orthodoxy if you had your way, but journalists shouldn’t set themselves up as inquisitors of theological rectitude.

    I see your point about journalists seemingly dictating what and what is not christianity. However, there are some basics held historically by Christians that define it, especially using the creeds, and I think that would be fine for journalists.

    After all, shouldn’t there be some basic standard as to how to define Christianity? What do journalists do about Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism? There are certain central tenets held by most followers of those faiths (even with the variations and sects) that one can refer to. Same with Christianity:

    1. Man is sinful and needs redemption
    2. The death/atonement on the cross of Jesus Christ paid the penalty for sins for those who believe
    3. The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ
    4. The Trinitarian nature of God
    5. The full humanity and full deity of Jesus
    6. Faith in Jesus Christ as a central teaching for salvation

    These are just highlights – I left out some of the other basic essentials, such as the virgin birth, miracles of Jesus, heaven and hell, etc.

    I would never think of “throwing mainstream and liberal Christians” out of orthdoxy – I don’t need to — they throw themselves out when they deny essentials of the faith. Good example of this: Bishop Spong.

  • http://www.christiananswersforthenewage.org Marcia Montenegro

    Now for the New Age basics (most would agree):

    1. Man is God or has a divine nature
    2. All is one
    3. Man spiritually progresses through many lives (reincarnation New Age style)
    4. The material world is an illusion and/or is subject to change via our thoughts
    6. We all go back to God, who is sort of a big cosmic force we came from
    7. Jesus came to show us that we have a divine nature and to correct our wrong thinking
    8. Jesus is a spirit that descends on man; we can all have the inner Jesus or Christ spirit/consciousness (Deepak Chopra, Matthew Fox [an Episcopal priest])

    I also have this more detailed list from my article on Eckhart Tolle at http://www.christiananswersforthenewage.org/Articles_NewEarth.html
    (if quoted, please cite website address of article -thank you):
    God is one with the universe or is contained in the universe

    Everything came out of God

    We are pure eternal spirit, and come from God, and/or are pieces of God or are expressions of a divine being, and will return to God

    God is usually not personal but is described as Intelligence, the Source, the One, the Divine, Consciousness, the Universe (Tolle uses “consciousness,” “Being,” “Presence,” “Source”) or variations of these

    God emanated beings from himself in order for God to learn or experience something, and/or to experience him/herself in material form

    We are trapped in our bodies and in a material existence; the world we see and our bodies are illusions or temporary forms that serve as vehicles for our eternal spirit

    We are always evolving toward our purpose (usually through reincarnation), which is to awaken to our true Self, which is part of God or an expression of God

    We must awaken to our true nature and reality by transcending the mind; thinking is a barrier to this awakening

    Everything has a vibration; vibrations are higher or more spiritual the closer one is to realizing the true Self

    Jesus was an advanced spiritual teacher, a highly evolved man who realized his true Self – the Christ Consciousness – a consciousness we all can attain

    We have the ability to create our own reality

    There is no sin, or sin is redefined as identification with the false self (or with form) and/or as a belief that we are separate from God

  • Dave2

    Marcia, I think you’re not being careful enough with your requirements on true Christianity. The idea that Jesus’s death paid the penalty for our sins arguably wasn’t developed until the 11th century with St. Anselm. Before that the ‘Ransom’ theory of atonement was predominant, a theory which bears some similarity to the still-current Orthodox view of atonement, which emphasizes the Incarnation rather than the Crucifixion as crucial for atonement (I trust tmatt will correct me if I’m totally off-base here). So the theory of atonement you’re requiring leaves out nine whole centuries of Christianity and the entire Orthodoxy.

    And of course Trinitarianism and bodily resurrection were certainly rejected by a great many Christians for a good couple of centuries.

  • http://joe-perez.com joe perez

    Marcia:

    To put it simply, your view of what beliefs are required of Christians smacks decidedly of Fowler Stage 3 memes. I don’t think believers who have evolved beyond Stage 3 to individuative-reflective, conjunctive, and universalizing structures of faith are going to buy into your definitions of orthodoxy. I don’t. There are different ways of interpreting creeds — allegorically, for example — that go way beyond your basic tests.

    This is relevant for journalists because it’s important that they not confuse those of us in Fowler Stage 4, Fowler Stage 5, and Fowler Stage 6 with “New Age Christians” simply because we may believe that the Spirit speaks through an evolving consciousnss in ever fuller waves of ongoing revelation.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    People, people….

    Back to the media issues. You are way, way out into doctrinal warfare here.

    But what you are demonstrating, of course, is how picky and specific the whole world of religion news is. You’re demonstrating WHY it is so hard for reporters to get inside the beliefs and actions of so many different types of believers.

    Also, Joe, you can see why I hate that New Age label so much — unless people claim it and use it for themselves. Then THEY have to define it.

    So we are back to my frustration with this Post story. All we have is the labels and we have no idea what the Levy family believed and practiced.

  • Stoo

    This is one of those cases where i wonder if getreligion could benefit from a greater diversity of contributers? You do all seem quite conservativetraditionalist christians, and while i realise that’s a dominant group in the US maybe a few voices outside of that would be useful?

    For what it’s worth, I’ve had a few pagan friends in my time and I know they were pretty disdainful of new-age stuff. :p

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    STOO:

    You are not reacting to the contributers here, but to the comment threads. At least, that is what you’re doing in this case. We are all members of traditional Christian flocks. Yes. But we are also enthusiastically in favor of a mainstream approach to journalism — as opposed to what many comment writers seem to want, which is a denominational approach.

    What have I WRITTEN that suggested to you that I wanted the LEVY STORY covered in a way that was not accurate from the perspective of this allegedly “New Age” family?

  • Stoo

    Hey I’m trying to be helpful, easy on the ALLCAPS.

    You guys want the press to “get” religion, right? But you’re all only familiar yourselves with a certain kind of religion. If you had someone more into some particular faith or worldview outside of that, that certain someone might be more knowledgeable as to what the press is and isn’t doing right with regard to that faith.

    That doesn’t mean I’m pushing for a denomiational approach.

  • Stephen A.

    Joe Perez is correct when he says “many people who others would call New Age resist the terminology because New Age has come to become a derogatory term, like fundamentalist.” Even here in this thread, we’ve had people give very good definitions of themselves as New Agers, but quickly deny that they are one. It’s kind of like the word “liberal” in that respect: The label fits perfectly, but they shun the label because of the negative connotations, or because they feel labeling is too constricting (though a label that screams out “not constricted by convention” seems to me like it shouldn’t be that controversial.)

    Wikipedia sometimes makes a mess of definitions, but it kind of nails New Age, and would make a good AP Stylebook reference, if it also notes that some New Agers will reject the term entirely:

    The term New Age (sometimes called the New Age Movement), refers to both a decentralized social phenomenon and a Western socio-religious movement that developed in the 1970–80s. It combines aspects of spirituality, esotericism, complementary and alternative medicine, and includes religious practices from many sources across the world, as well as environmentalism. It is characterized by an eclectic and individual approach to spirituality, and a general rejection of mainstream dogma. Other terms used to describe the movement include Self-spirituality, New spirituality, and Mind-body-spirit. Yet other terms now include Cultural Creative and New Paradigm thinking.

    As noted above a few times, those into the New Age are NOT the same as pagans. Other than some rather broad generalizations by Christians (the ancient use of pagan as “all that is not part of Christendom”), I think the confusion is due, in part, to the affinity that the New Age shares with Wicca, although one cannot *really* say that all Wiccans are New Age practitioners, or vice versa.

    I know of some Pagans (the kind who worship Thor and Odin) who have nothing but disdain for those New Agers who simply “make stuff up” rather than seek to follow a more historically accurate path of Pagan Reconstructionism, as they do.

    Eclecticism is a major part of New Age belief, and as such, it comes into direct conflict with those faiths, like Christianity, that have longstanding historical and largely unchanging core doctrines.

    Seemingly paradoxically, the New Age, while it rejects “mainstream dogma” does indeed have its own dogmatic about beliefs, as do Wiccans, and they share many of the same ones.

    However, just because both have dogma doesn’t bring them closer to Christianity. In fact, the dogmas each group holds are often diametrically opposed, making an easy syncretism of the two almost impossible without doing great damage to the language (i.e. changing the meaning of “trinity” “morality” or “salvation” or even “God” or “righteousness.”)

    In summary, this is a minefield for reporters. I find it not at all surprising or odd that Sandra Levy’s parents or anyone else in the New Age movement would adopt Pentecostal elements into their faith systems. But some reporters not having a background in this kind of syncretistic faith system may not express it correctly or accurately.

    Stoo is right if he’s saying we need to hear Pagan, New Age and other non-traditional voices more in the MSM, and we also need more attentive reporters who can ask probing and specific questions about the faith and belief systems of those they’re covering.

    (And Dave, I’ve got bad news for those who believe the “Age of Aquarius” is about to break out: it won’t for another 600+ years.)

  • Jerry

    Also, Joe, you can see why I hate that New Age label so much — unless people claim it and use it for themselves. Then THEY have to define it.

    Terry, I think in this case you opened the ‘barn door’ by your “Give three examples” topic title:-) But I do agree that we should not assume we know what people believe no matter what the label is: new age, evangelical or whatever.

  • http://www.christiananswersforthenewage.org Marcia Montenegro

    I think the main problem for journalists and others in identifying the New Age is that is essentially a blend. It might help to use the analogy of a tapestry.

    Those who get involved in it are plucking various threads from the New Age tapestry and re-weaving those threads into their own desired design — not taking in the whole thing. So the designs are all somewhat different (as what the Levys came up with for their own personal spirituality,) but the designs are using threads from the same tapestry. The designs will also resemble each other, but some more closely than others.

    Someone into Eastern meditation and views (although these would be Westernized) might have some similar views and practices as someone into crystals and alternative healing, but would look very different from someone else into something like “The Secret” and human potential. Yet they are all plucking threads from the same tapestry.

  • Dave

    Joe Perez (#10) wrote:

    You don’t usually see pagans channel ancient spirits. You don’t usually see New Agers worshipping the Goddess (not exclusively, anyways).

    I’ve seen Pagan channel spirits ancient and modern. And typical Pagan ritual invokes both Goddess and God.

    I’m pleased and frankly surprised at the general accuracy of comments here about Pagans and Paganism.

    Stephen A., astrology is not my thing. I was simply reporting what I’ve heard.

  • http://www.christiananswersforthenewage.org Marcia Montenegro

    Dave2 wrote:

    And typical Pagan ritual invokes both Goddess and God.

    True, but this is not typical for New Agers. Although people mix and match, I think the Neopagan worldview and New Age worldview differ in many respects. As a New Ager and astrologer, I had many NeoPagan clients and friends — our worldviews overlapped in places but the core was different.

    Re astrology: I was a professional licensed astrologer for over 8 years, and taught astrology for over 5. The Age of Aquarius is very important to astrologers and to most New Agers, who generally hold that we are transitioning into the Age of Aquarius, or have already done so. This belief colors their view/interpretation of world events and other things.

  • http://joe-perez.com/ joe perez

    Stephen A. (#24):

    Even here in this thread, we’ve had people give very good definitions of themselves as New Agers, but quickly deny that they are one. It’s kind of like the word “liberal” in that respect: The label fits perfectly, but they shun the label because of the negative connotations, or because they feel labeling is too constricting (though a label that screams out “not constricted by convention” seems to me like it shouldn’t be that controversial.)

    This point reminds me that I failed to note the most important reason why I don’t consider myself New Age. I personally define the central feature of the New Age as its anti-intellectualism, particularly the belief that rationality is an enemy of true spirituality. Thus, I set myself outside the definition of New Age. That, and the fact that I am an Episcopalian. ;-)

    The relevant point here for journalists, I think, is that they shouldn’t assume somebody is New Age because they happen to fit THEIR OWN definition of New Age.

  • Dave

    Marcia (#28), that was plain ol’ Dave, not Dave2.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Joe, if everyone who calls himself a “Christian” is one, would your roll-your-own view of religion extend to someone who claims to be “Moslem”, but denies that Mohammed is the final prophet, or that the Koran is the final revelation? I suspect you would take it amiss if journalists depicted someone of that description as “Moslem”.
    As Lincoln said, “calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one”.

    Will, member of a “strange church” that “doesn’t believe in normal things”

  • http://www.LutheranLucciola.blogspot.com LutheranLucciola

    Hello, interesting question here.
    I am a Lutheran convert, and was a Strega (streghe, Italian Witchcraft) before that. This means I was not wiccan, and didn’t follow the “harm none” pseudo Christian rule that became popular by the Anglo Gardnerian type traditions.

    I would say , people in my (past) category are definitely not New Age, and this goes along with Santeria, Yoruban, Voudoon, Huna, and Romani (gypsy) traditions also for the most part.

    Most all of “Wicca” is evolving into New Age, though.

    I wrote a piece on my blog about this a while back, not sure where it is now…..

  • http://www.christiananswersforthenewage.org Marcia Montenegro

    Dave says:

    Marcia (#28), that was plain ol’ Dave, not Dave2.

    Yeah, I noticed that later. Sorry about that!

  • http://www.christiananswersforthenewage.org Marcia Montenegro

    Will wrote:

    Joe, if everyone who calls himself a “Christian” is one, would your roll-your-own view of religion extend to someone who claims to be “Moslem”, but denies that Mohammed is the final prophet, or that the Koran is the final revelation?

    I’m glad someone posted this! I was thinking myself of posting something similar. For example, Islam consideres the Baha’i religion heretical because they do not accept Mohammed as the last prophet. So could someone say “Hey, I’m Muslim but I don’t think Mohammed was the last prophet?” No, they would not be Muslim.

    Could soomeone say, “Hey, I’m Buddhist but I don’t think desire causes suffering.” No, they could not, because then they would hardly be considered Buddhist.

    Same with Christianity – there are certain essentials shared by Christians for 2,000 years, even with all the various denominations, at the very least, the Trinitarian God, the deity of Jesus, his suffering and death on the cross and bodily resurrection, and redemption through Christ. All Christian cults deny one or more of these (Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the deity of Christ and his bodily resurrection; Mormons deny the Trinity plus believe there is more than one god; the Way Int’l denies the deity of Christ; “Christian” Gnostics denied the bodily incarnation, etc.) plus usually have other stuff they add in.

  • Dave

    Marcia, your post #34 is the first example I’ve seen on this board — and it’s a very pure example — of why I don’t like the word “cult.” It’s a way to denigrate a religion one rejects.

  • Fangsz

    Marcia, your definition of New Age seems very broad. Based on your definition, “New Age” would include much of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Gnosticism, which doesn’t make much sense as the “New Age” is a relatively recent historical development.

  • http://www.christiananswersforthenewage.org Marcia Montenegro

    Dave wrote:

    Marcia, your post #34 is the first example I’ve seen on this board — and it’s a very pure example — of why I don’t like the word “cult.” It’s a way to denigrate a religion one rejects.

    It depends on how it’s used. There is an objective meaning to “cult” which is either sociological and/or religious. There are groups that depart from a long-held orthodoxy in any religion and are considered to be outside the faith, as in the example of Baha’i. If you have a quarrel with that, address that with the Muslims.

  • http://www.christiananswersforthenewage.org Marcia Montenegro

    Fangsz wrote:

    Marcia, your definition of New Age seems very broad. Based on your definition, “New Age” would include much of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Gnosticism, which doesn’t make much sense as the “New Age” is a relatively recent historical development.

    The New Age is broad! It’s an umbrella term. It’s not a specific group or centralized faith system. It is a blend of those things mentioned above and has a wide spectrum. The New Age as a movement (if one wants to use that term) may be recent but the essence of New Age is in most cases variations on old beliefs, except for New Thought, which is relatively recent. Also, some New Agers add their own spin, and some are into UFOs as well.

    Look at the examples of New Age authors and you’ll find this is true: Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson, Neale Donald Walsch, James Redfield, Elizabeth Gilbert (author of “Eat Love Pray” who blends several belief systems), Eckhart Tolle, and many others.

  • Fangsz

    My point is that it seems rather insulting to call some of the fundemental beleifs of religions that have existed for centuries “new” anything.

  • http://www.christiananswersforthenewage.org Marcia Montenegro

    Fangsz, no one is saying that Buddhism, Hinduism, etc are new. The New Age takes those beliefs and casts them into westernized, sanitized forms, and mixes and matches them. So it is “new” in that sense. Anyway, I did not invent the term “New Age.” No New Ager practices Buddhism the way a Buddhist does in a Buddhist country. For reincarnation beliefs, Hindus believe that you can come back as an insect or animal: New Agers don’t. You always come back as a human. So New Age borrows from these older beliefs and reformulates them. That’s the whole essence of New Age. It’s a broad spirituality that makes people feel good and spiritual because they are not accountable to anyone except themselves and they can pick and choose.