New Age Philosophy – Introduction
If you want your head to swim, try some New Age philosophy. Joseph Campbell tells us, “The mystery of life is beyond all human conception....We always think in terms of opposites. But God, the ultimate, is beyond the pairs of opposites, that is all there is to it.”1 Neal Donald Walsch clears things up with, “All things are One Thing. There is only One Thing, and all things are part of the One Thing That Is.”2
To understand New Age philosophy it’s important to understand that the contemporary Cosmic Humanist movement has its roots in the Romantic poets of the 1800s, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Henry David Thoreau. These men rejected the God of the Bible, instead writing at length about a transcendent quality of spirituality experienced purely through personal introspection. These ideas did not attract a broad audience until the 1960s, when popular recording artists, movie stars, and Eastern gurus began trumpeting their New Age views across the nation. More recently, well-known recording artists such as Madonna and Alanis Morissette have identified themselves with Hinduism, while popular personalities such as Tiger Woods, Phil Jackson, and Richard Gere openly embrace Zen Buddhism. Other luminaries, such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta, express a belief in scientology.
As a result, Cosmic Humanist ideas are being widely disseminated through movies, television, and burgeoning book sales. Since its publication in 1993, The Celestine Prophecy has sold over 8 million copies in more than 32 countries, achieving distinction as the bestselling American hardcover book in the world for two consecutive years. Author James Redfield wrote in the 1997 afterword, “[W]e are manifesting nothing less than a new world view that will flourish in the next millennium.” Another “modern day spiritual messenger” is Neale Donald Walsch, the author of fifteen books on spirituality in everyday life. His first five books in the Conversations with God series all made the New York Times bestseller list (the first book remained there for well over two years). His books have been translated into 27 languages, selling more than 7 million copies worldwide.
New Age Philosophy – What is Real?
New Age philosophy rejects naturalistic and materialistic philosophies because such explanations deny the all-pervasive supernatural. David Spangler says, “From a very early age I was aware of an extra dimension or presence to the world around me, which as I grew older I came to identify as a sacred or transcendental dimension.”3 If Spangler’s perspective is correct, and if (as pantheism declares) every aspect of existence is sacred, then everything must have a spiritual nature.
If the spiritual aspects of life lead to higher consciousness and inner truth, we should view all reality from a supernatural perspective. This perspective leads Cosmic Humanists to a philosophy of non-naturalism—nothing is natural, everything is supernatural. The philosophical stance of Cosmic Humanism is that ultimate reality is in the spiritual dimension.
Cosmic Humanists believe that all reality is God—from a grain of sand to the Milky Way. Their philosophy reflects this belief by focusing on such principles as the Gaia hypothesis, which views planet Earth, and indeed, the whole universe, as a living organism. (Gaia is sometimes referred to as Mother Earth.) According to Fritjof Capra, “The universe is no longer seen as a machine, made up of a multitude of objects, but has to be pictured as one indivisible, dynamic whole whose parts are essentially interrelated and can be understood only as patterns of a cosmic process.”4
New Age Philosophy – Epistemology: How Do We Know?
The New Age philosophy of non-naturalism affects both its epistemology and its ontology. In terms of epistemology (theory of knowledge), proponents of the New Age movement emphasize the importance of getting in touch with our higher self. When we get in touch with the God-force within, we can intuitively know truth without limits. Shakti Gawain says, “When we consistently suppress and distrust our intuitive knowingness, looking instead for [external] authority, validation, and approval from others, we give our personal power away.”5
When we look within, we will find truth, but this is not truth as it is commonly understood. New Age truth is emotive rather than descriptive. Joseph Campbell, in one of the New Age movement’s most influential books, says, “What’s the meaning of the universe? What’s the meaning of a flea? It’s just there. That’s it. And your own meaning is that you’re there. We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget that the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it’s all about.”6 To Cosmic Humanists, truth—what we can know—is a feeling or an experience. Knowledge does not contain the meaning of life.
Each of us creates our own truth according to the principle if it feels like truth to you, it is. All knowledge exists in the God-force within us, and if we connect with that power, we tap into knowledge. Jack Underhill explains what would happen if everyone in the world were to connect with his or her godhood, “They can turn off the sun and turn it back on. They can freeze oceans into ice, turn the air into gold, talk as one with no movement or sound. They can fly without wings and love without pain, cure with no more than a thought or a smile. They can make the earth go backwards or bounce up and down, crack it in half or shift it around....There is nothing they cannot do.”7
New Age Philosophy – Ontology: What is Ultimate Reality?
The Cosmic Humanist ontology also stems from a non-naturalistic philosophy. Ultimate reality or substance is the God-force or Christ-consciousness. God is “the essence of existence, the life force within all things.”8 Cosmic Humanist philosophy, like Secular Humanism and Marxism-Leninism, is monistic—all reality is one—but in a very different sense. In Cosmic Humanism, ultimate reality is spiritual rather than material. Robert Muller suggests this when he says, “Oh God, I know that I come from you, that I am part of you, that I will return to you, and that there will be no end to my rebirth in the eternal stream of your splendid creation.”9
Whereas Muller’s statement only implies that God is the essence of humanity, Spangler more accurately describes New Age ontology: “This worldview encourages us to treat all things not only as ourselves, as the holistic view would see it, but as honored and precious manifestations of God.”10
This ontological perspective may prove problematic since it does not specify the substance that makes up the God-force. However, Cosmic Humanists seem unconcerned with this question since each of us arrives at our own truth and our interpretations will differ. To Gary Zukav, consciousness is ultimate reality: “All that is can form itself into individual droplets of consciousness. Because you are part of all that is, you have literally always been, yet there was the instant when that individual energy current that is you was formed. Consider that the ocean is God. It has always been. Now reach in and grab a cup full of water. In that instant, the cup becomes individual, but it has always been, has it not? This is the case with your soul. There was the instant when you became a cup of energy, but it was of an immortal original Being. You have always been because what it is that you are is God, or Divine Intelligence, but God takes on individual forms, droplets, reducing its power to small particles of individual consciousness.”11
Other Cosmic Humanists may answer the question differently based on their own personal experience of the truth, preferring to acknowledge their godhood without insisting on dogmatic views of its ultimate nature. Marilyn Ferguson states, “We need not postulate a purpose for this Ultimate Cause nor wonder who or what caused whatever Big Bang launched the visible universe. There is only the experience.”12
New Age Philosophy – Conclusion
In New Age philosophy, all is one, so only one type of ultimate reality can exist. This ultimate reality must be spiritual because God, which is everything, is ultimately spiritual. Spirit is the only substance that exists, and matter is only a manifestation of spirit.
The purpose of knowing is not to explain or describe reality; rather, knowledge is useful only as experience, and experience is getting in touch with our godhood. Each of us may experience different truth because truth resides in the individual and manifests itself in our godhood.
New Age philosophy is a useful tool to help us think thoughts that lead to feelings of unity rather than a system for discovering and interpreting reality. Marianne Williamson, a popular New Age feminist author, says that although most people do not think this way, they should: “To say, ‘God, please help me,’ means, ‘God, correct my thinking.’ ‘Deliver me from hell,’ means ‘Deliver me from my insane thoughts.’”13 The best thoughts are not necessarily logical, but they are sane in that they remind us to feel at one with God.