There is a profound and fascinating dialogue that has been underway for about a week on the Oprah spiritual forum regarding defining what is meant by the so-called "New Age". I did not initiate this dialogue, but I am actively participating. Like myself, there are those participating in the dialogue whose journey led them to the New Age after experiencing evangelical Christianity to various degrees. There is also at least one person participating in the discussion who was once a New Ager and is now an evangelical Christian. Others have a diversity of views, including at least one atheist.
Whether or not we agree regarding our particular points of view, I believe dialogues of this nature are essential to mutual understanding. I know that my evangelical friends and family, both online and otherwise, would lovingly like to see people like me led back to what they see as "the Truth" of the Bible. By the same token, those of us who can no longer fathom fear-based notions such as hell or the violence attributed to God in parts of the Bible hope that others will one day come to see that there is no exclusive path to the truly UNCONDITIONAL Love of God.
Often there are misconceptions about what people actually do believe, and only through dialogues such as these can we begin to find understanding. Such dialogues most certainly do NOT require that everyone agree, and indeed they can be quite empassioned, intense discussions, where everyone authentically and openly expresses their sincere beliefs and spiritual journeys.
Since I only have permission to share my own contributions to the discussion in this blog, I'm going to post two of my posts to the thread. You can read the entire dialogue (which continues to evolve) here: http://www.oprah.com/community/thread/140201.
My first post is in response to a very dedicated Christian who claims New Agers lack "conscience":
Since I consider myself a "New Ager" now (despite the many different confusing connotations of the label), I will respond in a moment to the overall question posed by this thread.
However, I did want to specifically respond to this notion of New Agers lacking "conscience". Personally I think more people need to find their conscience when they ponder the notion of a violent God who would actually choose to torture or abandon most of humanity for eternity, behave in the violent manner described in the Old Testament or engage in the promised wrath of the End Times. The reason I am now a New Ager and not an evangelical Christian actually has EVERYTHING to do with conscience (as well as courage). Other people leaving Christianity attest to much the same.
In fact, the reason I ALWAYS had doubts, even in the years I was trying to believe in the entirety of the Bible, was because of my conscience. I also find it fascinating that as I travel in New Age circles, many of the teachers and friends I encounter were once on the conservative Christian path and left it.
Personally I couldn't even fathom following a violent "god" anymore, and that has everything to do with conscience. I now know that Love is what matters, not harsh judgment and threatened punishments. God is SO much greater than that. When I used to sing "How Great Thou Art" in church, I could never fully accept it because of the violence in the Bible. But I get the concept now. I wish more people could know just how great God actually is and what true Love and grace actually are, abandoning NO ONE ever.
If you are being told something that violates your conscience (and I can surface any number of horrendously unconscionable concepts in the Bible), if it just doesn't really make sense to you that a Loving God could also be a harsh and violent judge and war-like entity, those doubts are actually God speaking within your heart. I hope you choose to listen some day, as many of us already have.
In my second post to this thread, I endeavor to define how I interpret what it means to be a "New Ager". Just to give you a little bit of context, I also refer to a question asked about the "New" Age actually being a "Middle" Age, as defined by writer Carolyn Myss.
Since I now consider myself a New Ager, and I have become quite active in New Age circles, I will tell you my impressions. I doubt I will get all of this in to one post. An entire book could probably be written on this subject.
I'm not sure about this concept of "the Middle Age" Carolyn Myss refers to (although I am familiar with some of Carolyn's work), but I will say that many view the New Age as very old. There are parallels to Gnostic interpretations of Christianity, but it even goes back farther than that to what some might call pagan roots (keeping in mind that Christianity also has many pagan roots). One concept of the New Age that is very old is the concept of the feminine aspect of the Divine (not just the masculine).
I believe I gave Biblically-based Christianity every possible chance to transform my life and show me the way to God. In fact, I cannot begin to describe my distress over the years, even starting as a young teen, regarding why others seemed to experience dramatic effects from Christianity, but I never did. As recently as about 8 years ago, I was sitting in church and Womens Bible Study trying to believe with all my heart (even after being exposed to New Age concepts) - I can't begin to describe my heartwrenching prayers over the years, begging God to assist me with my doubts, asking to be shown the way.
But ultimately it was only New Age concepts which transformed my own life for the better, not Biblically-based Christianity, and I do know many other people in New Age circles who have had much the same experience. So if you think New Age concepts are not life-changing, you are wrong. People have personal testimonies of miraculous transformations every bit as dramatic as any Christian conversion story I ever heard in my many years of being around evangelical Christians.
But I will say that New Age life transformation is different (yet in some ways the same) as what Christians report. For a New Ager (and many would choose NOT to use that label at all, but I'll use it), it is more about empowerment than disempowerment, not in a prideful way challenging God (as is often misconstrued), but such that you are on the path to becoming EVERYTHING your Creator intends you to be. God doesn't want us on our knees. God gently lifts us off our knees and then teaches us how to hold the keys to the kingdom, in full PARTNERSHIP with the entirety of God. And just like what many Christians report, God gently shows us the way to becoming a far more loving, giving, compassionate person in the way we deal with our fellow humanity. This is not at all a path devoid of conscience as some seem to think. I am a far more giving person now than I ever was before.
The most fundamental belief of New Agers, shared by almost all of them in my experience, is that we are inseparable from God, that we are aspects of God having a human experience, not yet fully conscious of Who We Are. Once they begin to have an increased awareness of this reality, people often have profound "One with the Universe" experiences. Often the Love conveyed in such an experience is completely overwhelming. It is not at all impersonal (even though some on New Age paths have a less satisfying impersonal view of God). What some might call "miracles" also occur, including dramatic healings (which I have personally observed) and other amazing "coincidences" (which New Agers call "synchronicities"). Many New Agers approach the dire news of the economy, wars, terrorism, the oil spill, etc., with far fewer fears than the average person. I know I wouldn't have handled it well years ago, as I was a very fearful person. I can see the transformation on a daily basis within me, more and more each day. I place my trust in God.
The dawning of the "New Age" itself is that process of more and more of humanity becoming aware of their Divine natures, precisely as our Creator intends. Many call this "expanded Consciousness". Some with Christian roots like to call it "the Christ Consciousness" because they believe mainstream Christianity has misinterpreted (misled by early saboteurs) what Jesus actually said and did. Many New Agers can point to verses in the Bible supportive of their views (though not in the entirety of the Bible).
What is the "New Age"? In many ways it isn't all that much different from what Christians look forward to on the Earth, a time of Love, peace and complete communion with your Creator. A Golden Age. An Age of fully knowing the unconditional Love and omnipresence of your Creator, including within your own heart. It is dawning already for many of us.
We would welcome more contributors to this dialogue, no matter what your point of view. Keep in mind that the Oprah forum requires respectful dialogue, even though it supports the notion of healthy debates. "Respectful" doesn't necessitate that everyone agree, and people do very honestly express things that sometimes others may not want to hear, what some might call a form of "tough love". But it is important to realize that LOVE for others is indeed the primary motivation behind the posts of almost ALL participants, no matter what they happen to believe. Many of us have discovered lasting online friendships on the forum with people of much different beliefs than our own. We may debate each other, but at the end of the day, we still love and care for one another, which is why we are engaging in the discussions to begin with.
If you do wish to participate in the discussion, registering for the Oprah forum is quite straightforward, and my experience with the forum, its privacy and email policies, etc., have all been very positive. I have been an Oprah forum member for several years, posting very honestly and authentically under the pseudonym bridgebldr. Over the years, I have found that hiding what I believe, just because some may not agree, serves the purposes of no one. To have authentic understanding of one another in this world, we must not only BE authentic ourselves, but we must allow OTHERS to be authentic too. Nothing undermines genuine dialogue and understanding more than the judgment or suppression of ideas and beliefs. What is so refreshing about the Oprah spiritual forum is that people do find the courage to express what they actually do believe, whatever it may be.
Here once again is the thread containing the ongoing dialogue: http://www.oprah.com/community/thread/140201.