ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
We deal here with the concepts which the German philosopher of religion called the numinous and mysterium tremendum et fascinans. New Agers chiefly base these ideas on their studies of Hindu metaphysics of the Vedanta school, as well as on the more fragmentary Gnostic texts.
In Indian thought, both Hindu and Buddhist, gods such as Vishnu, Siva, and their shakti (power) spouses such such as Kali are manifestations of Brahm/atman, the ultimate, transcendental World Soul, God beyond God, only accessible through intermediaries. In Indian metaphysics, the gods are the ninety million persons of the Godhead. Divinity or atman prevails in all forms of life, and in all apparently inanimate entities. New Age thought shares this viewpoint, which is wholly consistent with Gnosticism, the Western version of the same metaphysical concept. Essentially, they differ only in terminology, and by no means, always in that.
New Agers also embrace the Hindu-Buddhist concept of karma, which was introduced to the West by Blavatsky. The bookstores of Theosophical chapters from her time until other translations appeared during the 1970s and 1980s sold sets of Max Müller’s Sacred Books of the East, a multi-volume series of eastern scriptures made available to anglophones for the first time in history by this German-born Oxford Sanskrit scholar who was among the first to study this literature. Müller’s writings are important to New Age intellectuals. Although he was discredited by scholars because of his overemphasis on solar mythology, his ideas are highly respected by those New Agers who are familiar with his writings.
The New Age, Christianity, and History
New Age visions of history are almost exclusively Western, despite the admixture of ideas and doctrines from India, China, and native religions. Most New Agers identify themselves as Christians. Rather than reject Christianity, New Agers prefer to find the hidden dimensions in the Judeo-Christian heritage. There is much emphasis on the esoteric aspects of the teachings of Jesus, therefore an emphasis on the Gospel of Thomas and other Gnostic Christian texts. According to Hanegraaf, New Age emerges from post-Enlightenment Western religion.
Like Gnosticism, Platonism, Neo Platonism, and other classical philosophies and religions, however, New Age has a mythic rather than an historical orientation. New Agers are characterisically interested in the lectures and books of Mircea Eliade and Joseph Campbell on myth, and, in general, tend to accept Eliade’s view that all myths are creation stories and Campbell’s view that myth establishes cosmology and quest. This is in sharp contrast to the biblical and Koranic prophetic message. In the latter, God acts in and through history to achieve consummation of the divine plan. Those who are of Israel, the Church, and/or Dar al Islam participate in the redemption of the world.
For these and other reasons, it is open to question that New Age is Christian in the strict sense. Conservative Christians, such as Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants, certainly do not consider New Agers to be so. Liberal Christians, however, do, and are today very strongly affected by New