The New Age

Here We Go Again

I often discuss the differences between a Lutheran-Christian-Western approach to the arts and "everything else," which includes mysticism (Christian, Eastern, and Other), anti-intellectualism, commercialism, and a few other -isms. These "-isms" generally share a fault: they emphasize an inward-looking, generically "spiritual" approach to life. Worse, they usually incorporate some dimension of the overtly satanic and blasphemous--including astrology, communication with the dead, random spirits, animism, gnosticism, and polytheism.

If you're fortunate enough to have enjoyed the 1970s in America, you'll recall that our culture's attention was riveted on a mysticism that ran the gamut of various "spiritual traditions," often throwing in UFOs for good measure.

One could spend an afternoon at the library reading books on ESP and the Occult, stop at the theatre and watch "The Amityville Horror," or "The Omen," (or even the innocent "The Black Hole," which features--I kid you not--an ESP link between a human and a robot), pick up a Ouiji Board at Toys R' Us, grab some crystals, and head home to play your Led Zepplin records backwards to hear encoded satanic messages. When you were done, you could consult with your guru and do some Transcendental Meditation (TM), but only if your biorhythms and your horoscope say it's the right time.

Glad that's over, right? Well, guess what: the 1970s never left. Let's look at one way the "New Age" creepiness of yore is now creeping into our modern Church life.

Whee! The New Age Is Back!

The wheels of universalism (or any broad ecumenicism) are greased in our time, with New Age lubricants. Any "spirituality" that attempts to reach believers' souls by skirting the Means of Grace (attempting for a "direct connection" to our "consciousness") should be immediately identifiable and viewed with caution. These aren't new heresies, but the vehicles being used today can be understood and identified as emerging (see what I did there?) directly from the New Age movement.

If you're attuned to the cultural trends of the 1970s I illustrated above, you'll agree--the "look and feel" and substance of the modern New Age are borrowed directly from the same efforts we saw a generation ago. One example would be the inward-focused activity of walking the labyrinth, ex.: http://www.luther.edu/ministries/worship/labyrinth/. Today let's focus on a worship style known as "Taize" that's making inroads in Lutheranism. Many of its aesthetic and spiritual underpinnings are similar to the ones found in Commercial Worship Music (CWM) and in fact, the arguments for and against these two genres are very similar.

The Taize movement emerged directly from the 1960s and 1970s youth culture (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taize) and emphasizes that demographic to this day. The usual complaints leveled against the boomers can and do apply here. To quote a famous but anonymous professor's remark on a bad paper: "This isn't right. It isn't even wrong." This type of ceremony manages to include elements of just about every theological dead end in the book: Enthusiasm, Pelagianism, Occultism, and Satanism--and probably a few I've forgotten.

Note: A quick Google search for this topic (e.g., "Lutheranism and Taize") will show that this discussion has been going on for awhile. My perspective is a bit different because my position is that there is a clear link between the music itself and the philosophy that is associated with it. This critical connection needs to be understood when assessing the suitability of *any* music for Church use.

Consider their statements on Music and Worship (http://www.taize.fr/en_article338.html):

  • Short songs, repeated again and again, give it a meditative character. Using just a few words they express a basic reality of faith, quickly grasped by the mind.
  • ...an inner life begins to blossom within us.
  • These songs also sustain personal prayer. Through them, little by little, our being finds an inner unity in God.

The songs themselves are indeed short--generally 4-8 bars--and slow, with a metronome marking of 60-80 per quarter (see here for examples http://www.taize.fr/en_article10308.html?letter=A). Melodies are usually stepwise and repetitive. Since each tiny piece or fragment is performed over and over again, they assume the characteristic of a "musical circle," something I've discussed elsewhere (http://kerygmusic.com/musical-stasis.html):

The musical circle above shows a spiralling, inward-focused anti-narrative that simply points back to itself while repeating in time. Its purpose is not to educate, communicate the Great Narrative of Scripture, or edify the listeners, but to concentrate on a single point or idea in time.

Let's explore some of the other characteristics of this type of music, in the hopes we can convince people to understand its overtly non-Christian underpinnings.

Mark and Avoid

New Age spiritualism in Taize and other forms of "spiritual" worship can be identified by the following elements:

  • Emphasis on the individual and his/her experience (feeling saved, anthropocentrism)
  • An attempt to achieve altered consciousness through meditation and repetitive music (mantras)
  • Generic spiritualism, universalism, enthusiasm (seeking to experience God through an experience outside the Word and Sacraments)
  • An avoidance of potentially complex issues of doctrine or deep truths, generic and minimal "atomic" concepts are extolled instead.

N.B.: The last point is important: Of course, singing "Alleluia" isn't necessarily a bad thing, but when it's repeated dozens times at 72bpm, with the intent of creating an inner meditative altered state, the picture and purpose of the exercise becomes clear! Moreover, the totality of Scripture is negated by such hyperfocus, distilling the large meta-narrative to a tiny atom or point. This may be a perfect technique for a universalist/ecumenical body...

Conversely, church bodies that emphasize the Means of Grace would do well to identify and vehemently reject these dimensions in their work. Worse, Scripture acknolwedges the presence of evil spirits and ravenous wolves in the world, warning us to be on guard against them (1 John 4:1-6, Mt.7:15-16, 2 Pet.2:1).

Moreover, Martin Luther reminds us that the only spirit we need to be dealing with is the Holy Ghost, through the Gospel:

This article (as I have said) I cannot relate better than to Sanctification, that through the same the Holy Ghost, with His office, is declared and depicted, namely, that He makes holy. Therefore we must take our stand upon the word Holy Ghost, because it is so precise and comprehensive that we cannot find another. For there are, besides, many kinds of spirits mentioned in the Holy Scriptures, as, the spirit of man, heavenly spirits, and evil spirits. But the Spirit of God alone is called Holy Ghost, that is, He who has sanctified and still sanctifies us...Just as the Son obtains dominion, whereby He wins us, through His birth, death, resurrection, etc., so also the Holy Ghost effects our sanctification by the following parts, namely, by the communion of saints or the Christian Church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting; that is, He first leads us into His holy congregation, and places us in the bosom of the Church, whereby He preaches to us and brings us to Christ...For neither you nor I could ever know anything of Christ, or believe on Him, and obtain Him for our Lord, unless it were offered to us and granted to our hearts by the Holy Ghost through the preaching of the Gospel. (LC, Art. III)

As boring as it may seem to the New Agers in our midst, the plain truths exposed and preached in the Holy Bible and the gifts provided to us through the Sacraments are the means through which God provides us the ultimate "spiritual experience," -- being members of the communion of saints, being forgiven of sins, experiencing the benefits of Christ's resurrection (which includes our own), and life everlasting. There is no "different part of one's consciousness" required for us to comprehend these gifts, given so freely.

Why seek spiritual gratification any other way?

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