Red Rock, Georgian Bay

Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind

—Albert Einstein

A TV documentary host, talking about the New Age, once said that we can experience God when we’re inwardly quiet. People want to feel the spirit, he said, something that creeds and hymns can’t deliver.1


Many say that a desire for genuine religious experience has given birth to the New Age. But others say the New Age is just a marketing term, like “Alternative Rock” or “Hip Hop” music.

From browsing around bookstores it seems that the New Age is sometimes more about opportunism and profit making than caring for souls. Are some New Age writers trying to serve God and money? Is this possible?

Myself, I don’t think so. Avaristic New Agers who opt for gold over love often seem to imply that morality is a relativistic concept or mere illusion—at least, it’s an illusion until someone or something threatens their financial security. And then suddenly life’s many details become all too real.

The unabashed love of fame and fortune can destroy relationships, families and marriages, which is all quite heart-wrenching. But this isn’t my idea.

No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth (Luke 16:13).

By the same token, not everyone in the New Age is a hypocrite or scam artist. And the New Age isn’t merely a marketing term. Most New Agers, themselves, say they’re seeking a fresh approach to spirituality. They see traditional religions as too political and ritualistic. Old teachings and liturgies seem outmoded and irrelevant, like a dry empty shell.2

Another way to look at the New Age is to ask: What, in fact, is new about it?

History suggests an ongoing battle between orthodox and unorthodox approaches to God. The early Christian Fathers, for instance, denounced Gnostics with a calculated array of damning letters.3 In medieval times, so-called witches and heretics were cruelly tortured and often burnt alive by Protestants and Catholics alike.4

At the outset of the 20th-century, the American philosopher William James in The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) outlined several spiritual movements remarkably similar to today’s New Age.

…for the sake of having a brief designation, I will give [it] the title of the ‘Mind-Cure movement.’ There are various sects of this ‘New Thought,’ to use another of the names by which it calls itself.5

Mystics, shamans, wizards and psychics have been around for centuries. In the Old Testament and further back to the Indian Veda, both holy-persons and evil wizards have exhibited gifts of the spirit and paranormal powers. And it’s still debated in the 21st century as to which wonder workers were evil and which were benevolent.

Moral questions aside, Sir J. G. Frazier’s The Golden Bough (1922) provides overwhelming evidence that spiritual, magical and occult beliefs are as ancient and diverse as mankind.

One thing that differentiates the New Age from its precursors is mass-marketing. For the first time in history large volumes of spiritually related goods and services are globally distributed. Snake oils and elixirs have been around for centuries. But today, esoteric products and services are no longer the rare phenomena of circuses, fairs and backroom apothecaries. The New Age is big business.


Often embracing the marketing dimension, contemporary psi researchers are also trying to hybridize spirituality and science. A good example is found in the area of remote viewing (RV), which is concerned with scientific verification.

Building on Freudian and Jungian beliefs about an inner-outer continuum, Allan Combs and Mark Holland say remote viewers (RVers) see inwardly. But RVers are not just analyzing the contents of the personal self, as a depth psychologist would. Instead, RVers claim to inwardly perceive external events occurring beyond the conventional limits of perception. Accordingly, physicist Russell Targ says RV involves “nonlocal consciousness.”

Because RVers claim to perceive past, present and possible future events, this new area of psi research could have great potential. RVers could, for instance, assist law enforcement agencies in locating missing persons. Or they might help to uncover dangerous criminals, hostile spies and reprobates who profit on the misery of others—e.g. child prostitution ring leaders.6

When successfully RVing an external target, RVers speak of “hits.” But RV also involves its fair share of “misses,” where viewers just get it wrong. Researcher Dale Graff calls this margin of error “white noise.” To minimize white noise, RVers run carefully controlled experiments. Funnily enough, Russell Targ says experimental results for RV were more successful when his team didn’t place too much emphasis on the commercial aspect of his research. When the research environment was not relaxed and enjoyable, results were less positive.

After our nine successes, we then were not successful the following year, and we feel that greed interfered with it…So our view was also not exactly spiritual. I think we lost that single-pointed focus of attention that is crucial, and we began to focus more on the money than on the fun and excitement of doing new research in parapsychology (ESP, Clairvoyance and Remote Perception).

Many New Age enthusiasts make a distinction between the gnostic knower (who is supposedly highly aware) and the traditionally religious person (who apparently just goes through the motions of ancient ritual without experiencing any true spirituality). But this is a spurious claim. The alleged black and white difference between gnostics and churchgoers is just another misguided myth perpetuated by those unaware of the subtler, mystical aspects of ritual and liturgical practice.

Along these lines, the Catholic theologian Bernard Lonergan says that spiritual insights must be combined with a thorough investigation of sensory data.7 Lonergan advocates the mutual support of religious knowledge and scientific observation. There’s much room for mysticism and science in this approach. And the alleged gap between RV and the spiritual “gifts” of traditional religion isn’t nearly as great as many seem to suggest.


1. In contrast, Catholics often say they feel deep spiritual peace upon entering a church, a peace that carries on through their daily lives. Likewise, countless Christian mystics say their spiritual lives are integrated within – not outside – the Church. And many Christians say the Eucharist is far more than a mere symbol or communal event. For them it embodies and conveys ultimate spiritual meaning and love.

2. The influence of Rudolf Steiner is a good example.

3. The Protestant theologian Paul Tillich believes the development of dogma was a necessary phase in the formation of the Christian Church. For Tillich, dogma defined the “in-group/out-group” boundaries necessary for a self-contained religious organization. Dogma also guarded against “in-group” misinterpretations. See Paul Tillich, A History of Christian Thought: From Its Judaic and Hellenistic Origins to Existentialism (ed. Carl E. Braaten). New York: Touchstone, 1968, pp. xxxvi-xlii.

4. Suspected young daughters of so-called witches were also tested by Inquisitors who used the most inane and, ironically, superstitious methods—all with academic and legal backing. See Jean Bodin, On the Demon-Mania of Witches, trans. Randy A. Scott, Toronto: Victoria University, University of Toronto, 1995.

5. William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience. Penguin, 1985, p. 94.

6. Anthony C. LoBaido at says the CIA have been using RVers for intelligence gathering. LoBaido also claims that the FBI has used remote viewing for the same purpose.

7. Bernard J. F. Lonergan, S. J. Insight: A Study of Human Understanding. New York: Philosophical Library, 1968, p. 412. See also Note 1, above.

Copyright © Michael W. Clark 1999-2013. All rights reserved.