New Age Temptation: ‘Find your Inner Church’

 

New Age temptation

Illustration: Gustave Dore

Not so long ago, my wife Kim and I took part in a conversation, which seemed to me at least, distinctly revealing of the New Age ethos.

It was a conversation with a friend, who even if she probably does not consider herself ‘New Age’, nonetheless seems to me steeped in in a very distinctive kind of attitude, culture and literature that I myself was once steeped in.

Yes, I was steeped in this distinctive culture for something like twenty years. And I did not even fully recognise it – until I stepped outside. The fish in a lake never sees the water it breathes as lake – a distinctly bounded lake – until it moves beyond …

At least, I did not fully see the air I breathed those twenty years as a distinctive kind of air. But if I did not fully see, I did see to an extent however and for those two decades, I was content to call my subculture: ‘New Age’.

And as I called it such myself for all those years, I hope that neither my friend, nor anyone else reading this, will take it amiss if I use the term ‘New Age’ for what appears to me at least, as the same particular subculture to which I once devoted myself.

Now, our conversation turned to the subject of the Church – and to grief. That is to say, Kim and I had found ourselves temporarily in a situation where access to the Church was going to be more limited and difficult. We had become accustomed to participating in the Grace of the Sacraments every day … And Kim was expressing her loss to our friend.

She – a truly compassionate soul – expressed herself with real kindness and sympathy. Her exact words escape me, but they went to this effect: ‘Maybe it’s not so bad, Kim. Maybe the time has come to find your Inner Church.’

And perhaps she went on to say that Kim might discover she did not need the outer ‘trappings’ of the Church. ‘All was available within …’

But my wife protested her need for the Church. And in this regard, I recall her confessing her own ‘horribleness’.

Our friend seemed to laugh a little at this. It was not an unkind laugh. I imagine she was just a bit startled at Kim’s frank admission of ‘horribleness’…

But this is the confession of a Christian. Even the greatest of the Saints is victim to the Fall. A horrible darkness is at work inside each of us, whatever spiritual gifts and graces we may have also been given. We are each and everyone of us sinners …

Sinners, the Fall, horrible darkness – such are not words likely to find much favour when swimming in the New Age current, wherein, generally speaking, ‘upbeatness‘ and far greater estimation of the human condition is the norm. Indeed I have heard many a person of this persuasion talk about a need to acknowledge our own ‘perfection’.

But it seems to me that an admission of fallen imperfection and moral effort go hand in hand. At least, the more we really try – that is exert oneselves – to live a life of love, the more we realise how meagre our love really is and what it is inside ourselves that serves to impede the love. The good which I would do, I do not, as Saint Paul said …

All of this is not unconnected to the counsel: ‘Find your Inner Church.’ It is counsel I find typical of my experience in the New Age milieu: ‘One does not need to rely on Grace… one can do it oneself. Better to recall one´s own inner perfection … Better to be detached and strong …’

I have even heard warning from the New Age quarter that one could become too ‘dependent’ on the Church.

To many of a New Age persuasion, all the above is clearly logical and consistent. For if we are not Catholic and see no need for Grace, if we are New Age and at least tend to confidence in our own ‘inner perfection’, then we will see no need at all for the Mystery of the Church.

My wife’s distress at losing regular contact with the Sacraments becomes nonsensical in this context: She is not dark and fallen and in need of Grace – certainly not the Grace bestowed by the Sacraments; she can look instead within her own Inner Church.

And to feel otherwise of course, may seem shameful. For, if one believes in a Pelagian self-sufficiency, without need of Grace, it is weak to be dependent …

A Pelagian self-sufficiency: I refer of course to the fourth century doctrine of Pelagius rejected by the Church. It is a strange thing to note. The New Age scene so often claims to have transcended doctrines and dogmas, Yet if one digs a little deeper, one certainly finds New Age dogmas indeed! And often they are many centuries old …

As for myself, may I declare my joy in having found another way than that prescribed by many New Age doctrines? It is a way of increasingly being enabled to face unpleasant truths about myself. Even if I know indeed I am hardly strong enough to face them all, nonetheless it is way of Grace that helps me bear the interior darkness.

And it is also a way of realising that I am not alone with my ‘heart of darkness’, that we are all in this boat together and that the Mercy and Grace of God exists to help us.

And that as a practicising Catholic that Grace is available in a formidable, life-transforming way through the Mystery of the Sacraments.

And may I declare outloud my joy in a way that does not shy away from talk of sin or need to appeal to an ‘inner perfectness’. And in a way in which we do not so much seek to be liberated from guilt, but as to be given the strength to admit our guilt and accept forgiveness …

And yet oddly enough, it is easy for me to imagine a New Ager arguing against ‘dependency on the Church’ while at the same time advocating countless others forms of assistance: crystals, colour healing, psychotherapy, astrology, Feng Shui, aura balancing … And how much else besides? The list goes on a long, long way, but it usually does not include the Sacraments.

Frankly, I would like to confess that I am most happy to admit weakness and risk ‘dependency’ on the Grace of the Church, in preference to all of the above. For nothing I ever found in this New Age realm gave me what I have today …

UPDATE – 2017:

Many years after this blog was written I now have books published about the New Age movement, as well as online videos on the topic. Here is the first one:

 

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2 Comments

  1. Posted 31 July 2009 at 14:18 | Permalink

    You touched on something I’ve noticed in my New Age and non-denominational Christian friends: so many of the beliefs they espouse either, A) have already been part of Catholicism for centuries, and they just haven’t seen it in the narrow picture of the 1970s Church that they’ve seen (mysticism or silent meditation, for example); or B) are ideas the Church considered and rejected long ago.

    When you think about it, 2000 years is a long time, and many very intelligent and holy people in the Church have spent their lives trying to know God in that time. It’d be surprising if someone were to come up with something truly “new”. There will always be developments, new ways of understanding the Truth, of course; but they’ll built gradually on what has already been established. If someone claims to have come up with something radical that all those Popes and Doctors of the Church never considered, he’s almost certainly wrong.

  2. roger
    Posted 2 August 2009 at 12:28 | Permalink

    Thank you so much for this comment, Aaron, which I have found peculiarly touching. In our iconoclastic, irreverent and cynical age, I am moved to hear of your veneration of the Saints and Doctors of the Church. While they are not infallible of course, how much we forget the value of those heroic souls, whose tremendous striving and virtue was rewarded with such profound treasure for the Church and for our contemplation. A treasure the Protestant Reformation began the process of disposing of, and which in the secular and New Age culture that has followed, so often seems completely forgotten. Or as you say as well, even in “the narrow picture of the 1970´s Church” …

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