The third widespread and influential worldview in America is a little slippery and more difficult to define than the other two, but its impact can't be denied. "The New Age" is a label we put on a wide variety of different belief systems. These systems share a common root despite their differences, and that root doesn't come from America or from anywhere in the Western world; it comes from the East. In fact, New Age is essentially Eastern religion dressed up in Western clothes.
This Eastern worldview is called Monism. As the name suggests Monism is basically the belief that all is one. This is virtually synonymous with Pantheism - the belief that everything is God. The main idea is that there really are no distinctions (differences) of any kind: there is no right and wrong per se, just different sides of the universal oneness. There are ultimately no individual people either: we're all part of the cosmic oneness, and our belief that we're distinct individuals is an illusion. It's a difficult worldview for us Westerners to grasp, but millions of people in other nations think this way. And increasingly, so do Americans as various Eastern concepts are "smuggled in" and dressed up in Western clothes via New Age beliefs.
As with all worldviews, Monism/New Age can be understood via the 4 worldview questions:
1. Origin - where did we come from and thus what are we?
We are all part of the great universal oneness. Everything, from people to animals to trees and rocks are all ultimately just expressions of the universal reality. Sometimes referred to as "god" or even "God," the universal oneness is not a person as in Christian thought. Rather, Monists see "God" as just mankind's attempt to re-connect with the cosmic oneness of which he ultimately is a part.
2. Problem - what's wrong with the world?
In a phrase: the illusion of distinctions. The problem with the world in Monism is that so many people are unenlightened: they don't yet realize that they're not distinct individuals. They haven't yet grasped the truth that they're part of the great oneness of the universe. Consequently, everyone runs around looking out for "#1" (himself) which is continually throwing everything out of balance. The details on how this works out will vary widely depending on which Monist/New Age belief system you examine, but at the root that's the understanding of the world.
3. Solution - how is the problem fixed?
Simple: obliterate distinctions! Get as many people as possible to realize the truth of the cosmic oneness. Dispel the illusion of distinction, so more and more people can get in touch with the great Oneness of the universe. Eventually, when enough people do so it will usher in a New Age (hence the name) of human existence. It will be utopia.
How does one get in touch with the cosmic oneness? There are hundreds of different ways, depending on who you talk to. Examples include things like,
- Eastern mind-emptying meditation
- the use of cosmic-energy-focusing crystals
- astral projection
- yoga (can be more than just good exercise!)
- radiating "light"
- channeling astral/spirit guides.
But again, no matter the particulars the ultimate goal is the same: to transcend this shadowy existence where people are imprisoned by the illusion of distinctions, and become free to merge with the vast cosmic oneness.
4. Purpose - why am I here?
The purpose of life is to transcend this prison-like existence and merge with the Oneness. And to help as many others as possible do the same. The goal is to open as many peoples' eyes as possible and free them from "primitive" religions (like Christianity) and dead Naturalism (which denies the existence of any cosmic Oneness) so that they too can transcend this confining life. By so doing, The New Age of human existence will begin.Monism in America
It's interesting to see how such a non-American way of thinking has become influential in America. Typically, Eastern Monist ideas get combined with Western individualism to form a whole new belief system: The New Age. Americans are urged to tap into "higher power" via spirit guides or crystals to achieve their own individual goals. Or they're told to reach within themselves where they'll discover a previously unknown power source deep inside - an idea that appeals strongly to the individualistic, "I gotta' be me" mindset of postmodern America.
Yet regardless of whether the power comes from the cosmos or from within the person, the promise is the same: that such power will enable people to break free from all the negative influences that imprison them, be that illness, poverty, depression, low self-esteem, or addictions. Some motivational speakers (not all) fall into this category, and millions of books which advance these ideas are sold every year from the Self Help sections of American bookstores.
All of these these are particular forms of the same basic view: Eastern monism, re-spun to make it palatable to a Western audience. And while few Americans buy into the entire worldview of Monism, huge numbers of us are working these ideas into our personal worldviews via books, speakers, celebrity personalities and other gurus.
In the final installment of Worldview 101 I'll try to draw this all together and suggest what difference it might make in a Christian's life.