Recently I mentioned to Father Phil that the previous day I had seen a car with a “Coexist” bumper sticker prominently displayed next to another that said “Save the Planet”. He replied, “Was it a Prius or a Subaru?”
While many of these platitudinous placards do seem ubiquitous for certain types of vehicles they are an expression writ large of a particular and peculiar world view, namely the New Age. They are not a statement per se about the truth claims of the three great monotheistic religions of the world that the Cross of Christ, Star of David and crescent moon of Mohammed imply, but rather these bumper stickers are a statement of cultural, religious and moral relativism that is essential to the worldview of the New Age movement and religion.
New Age, particularly its central theme of environmentalism, has taken on a new meaning and a new symbolism in the post-modern world. It is no exaggeration to state that it has become a new religion that is sweeping the world with alarming speed. Just as the descriptors, Christianity and Buddhism have a certain meaning, encompass a certain continuum of beliefs and constitute their own respective worldviews, so does the popular religion of New Age Environmentalism. To be sure, not everyone who drives a Prius is a pagan, but many of the underlying beliefs and values of the New Age movement have infiltrated into virtually every segment of society and culture, quietly, innocuously, but ubiquitously over the last 30 years.
What is the New Age?
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons…” (1 Timothy 4: 1).
As American demographics have shifted and with the rise of informational and other technologies, the traditional Christian worldview has eroded, faded and been replaced by a hodgepodge of rival worldviews. Some worldviews, such as Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism, for example are well-known and established as part of the demographic landscape and though not widely understood, are generally accepted as part of American culture. The tradition of tolerance, once celebrated in America and fostered by its traditional worldview has decayed into moral relativism and political correctness which has ultimately led to an erosion of values and a sure and certain loss of truth. In its vacuum has come a new movement and a new unifying force, something inclusive that everyone can believe in and be a part of: Saving the Planet! Now Father God has become Mother Earth and few people – especially Christians - question the metamorphosis. Those Christians who reflexively oppose the environmental movement do so at the risk of advancing the popular misperception that Christians somehow do not care about the state of the planet and they may also underestimate the power and depth of influence of this new religious movement.
The New Age Worldview
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8, NKJV).
Ecclesiastes said that there is nothing new under the sun and even though the New Age purports to be new, it is anything but. It is actually, as Groothuis reminds us, “the most recent repeat of the second oldest religion, the spirituality of the serpent. Its impulse is foreign to none of us. The appeal is ancient, indeed; its rudiments were seductively sold to our first parents in the garden. Human pride was tickled and it jumped.”1 What is new however is how human pride and arrogance has been stimulated by the rise of the information age and how old, and once thought dormant religions have jumped on technology and science as vehicles for revival.
There are four primary areas of doctrine that are common to the New Age belief system. The first is pantheism, which is the belief that each of us is God. In fact, everything in the universe is God – people, animals, trees, the oceans, the planets and the stars. We are all one which is a concept known as monism. The fact that we are all one leads to a concept called biocentrism, which means that all life is of equal value and because of this aspect of the New Age belief system, nature is of the utmost importance.
By the 1990’s, the definition of science had become blurred in popular thinking which gave rise and acceptance to the Gaia hypothesis. James Lovelock, former NASA scientist and originator of the hypothesis essentially boils the idea down to this:
“Humans on the Earth behave in some ways like a pathogenic microorganism, or like cells of a tumor or neoplasm. We have grown in numbers and in disturbance to Gaia to the point where our presence is perceptibly disabling, like a disease. As in human diseases, there are four possible outcomes: destruction of the invading disease organisms; chronic infection; destruction of the host; or symbiosis – a lasting relationship of mutual benefit to both the host and invader.”2
The second doctrine is known as Gnosticism, a religion that had its heyday in the 2nd century which essentially pits spirit against matter, considering the former good and the latter evil. In the New Testament Apostles Paul and John both describe and warn us of this false religion in 1 Timothy 6:20-21 as well as in 1 and 2 John.3 The Gnostic believes that man is capable of attaining far more knowledge than is generally thought possible and the process of attaining this knowledge occurs through evolution of the consciousness, culminating in what is referred to as cosmic consciousness, or the full realization that they are “one with God”. Only through this so-called self-realization process can full human potential be achieved. There are various esoteric (secret) initiations needed to attain these higher levels of consciousness. Finally, and perhaps most importantly for the theistic reader to note, in Gnosticism there is no such thing as evil, but merely a lack of knowledge and consciousness which causes a person to do evil things.4
The third doctrine of the New Age is rooted in Eastern mysticism and metaphysics. The New Age is an amalgamation of Hindu, Buddhist, Zen, Tao and American Indian beliefs – and probably others. One of the popular tenants of this hodgepodge belief system is the denial of death and the affirmation of reincarnation. Another is that since we are all “one” with the universe and that it is possible to attain this cosmic consciousness, it is possible to change reality through mental or psychic power. To an “enlightened” believer a person can create reality. Man can, with gnosis, (the Greek word for knowledge), communicate with the spirit world and tap into its wisdom and power. Nothing is impossible to the believer once he or she taps into this power. “We do not need to kill dolphins or whales, clear cut trees or harvest ancient forests or use chemicals or machinery to grow mankind’s food. It can all be achieved through mental or psychic power.”5
The fourth basic doctrine of the New Age belief system is called syncretism, defined by Kostenberger as simply “an eclectic mix of religious beliefs and practices,” but historically has included magic, horoscopy, oracles, augury, and all manner of paganism. 6 In the context of the New Age, syncretism represents the belief that all religions have a certain measure of truth, and all will eventually lead to the “one truth” – that is all is one. When that happens, mankind will begin to reach its full human potential and attain what is referred to as the Omega, the point of convergence where we will finally attain the Age of Aquarius, which means, to the New Ager, that mankind will be “one with nature, at peace with each other and the cosmos.”7
To reach this point of convergence, New Agers seek what is termed as a Paradigm Shift, a term that became a buzz word of the business world in the 1990’s, but to New Age believers, it means a fundamental transformation, (like that which the current American President has implemented, and that embodied in Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis), in the way humans see themselves in relation to the earth. Every time mankind drills another oil well, or cuts down a tree, or builds a road, or uses fertilizer or pesticides or drives a car, he is, according to the New Age environmentalist view, stabbing, maiming and poisoning a living, breathing, conscious entity, that is God – or more accurately Goddess – and her name is Gaia. This is the very heart of the New Age Environmentalist worldview. With the Paradigm Shift, “[a]ll humanity, all life on this planet and throughout the Universe shifts to an exalted level of love and awareness. Each particle finds its place in the whole and experiences the truth if ancient wisdom: I am One, We are One, All is One. With this shift, self-interest dissolves; nationalism collapses; greed, hostility, jealousy and blame disappear and Self-governance takes the place of traditional governments.”8
The Christian Worldview as a Reply to New Age Environmentalism
“Let heaven and earth praise Him, the seas and everything that moves in them” (Psalm 69:34, NKJV).
The Christian worldview can be summed up in a short, succinct confession which Groothuis calls The Touchstone Proposition: 9
The universe (originally good, now fallen and awaiting its divine judgment and restoration) was created by and is sustained by the Triune God, who has revealed himself in nature, humanity and conscience, Scripture and supremely, through the Incarnation, that God may be glorified in all things.”
Since the time of Constantine, when Christianity was made the official religion of the Roman Empire, the dominant worldview was based upon the belief that the planet’s natural resources could and should be used for the benefit of mankind. This Christian worldview neither defies nature nor denigrates its worth.10 Christians are given the sacred responsibility of stewardship (Genesis 2:15), and this ethic is the basis of nature serving mankind and not, as New Agers would have it, that is, mankind serving nature. The earth was given to man by God that he might cultivate it and bring it under dominion (Genesis 1:28). Furthermore, because of man’s original sin, God made him struggle painfully with the sweat of his brow to eat from the earth for all the days of his life (Genesis 3:17-19). This God-given dominion over the earth does not mean that mankind had a right to pollute, although many did, and mankind’s abuse of the natural resources of the planet is a reflection of man’s fallen state. The fall of man, Groothuis points out, set creation against itself such that harmony between humans, animals and the rest of nature is difficult to attain.11 The Bible tells us, however that the earth will be restored, that “creation itself will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21) and that God will “make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).
This biblical view of the fallen state of man and the earth in nature is not to be construed as a license for corruption. Although Christianity has traditionally permitted anthropocentric (mankind’s selfish) resource utilization, it is equally true that a strong stewardship ethic is inherent in its worldview. It is also true that stewardship principles, much like the Christian worldview, eroded and broke down sometime during the second half of the 20th century and resource development became amoral and largely divorced from the Christian worldview. That there are ecological problems in the world is not a matter of dispute to the responsible and conscientious Christian. What is clear, however, in the post-modern age is that nations of the world that have traditionally and historically been known for a strong Christian worldview are those which have taken leading roles in the environmental movement. That New Age beliefs have infiltrated the various Western cultures and become the moral basis for environmental policy is where Christians should part company philosophically. Environmental responsibility from a Christian perspective is best represented in the concept of evangelical anthropology which affirms that “[h]umankind, created in God’s image is given responsibility to subdue and manage the natural world. Such anthropology takes into account both the inherent value of human persons (imago dei) as well as human depravity. Such a view provides the transcendent impetus for responsible ecology in addition to a realistic framework for anticipating and checking human selfishness.”12
The Christian worldview supports policies that respect the sanctity of life – particularly human life and the recognition of inalienable human rights as articulated in the U.S. founding documents, including the right to life, liberty and private property. It rejects policies that would seek to exterminate human life (abortion) and cause undue suffering to humankind by arbitrarily limiting its development of natural resources. The Christian worldview rejects the notion of overpopulation. The notion that natural resources are overused and overexploited by humankind falls into the realm of a Marxist worldview which sees economics as a zero-sum game.13
A responsible Christian approach to the environment should recognize that there do, indeed exist certain environmental problems in the world, some of crisis proportions. The Christian approach should not, however, seek to placate critics of the faith by altering its doctrines simply to appear more “green-friendly” like some churches have done by adopting beliefs compromising sound theology to fit the popular, naturalistic and New Age mold. It should be affirmed by the doctrinally sound Christian that mankind and nature have a common position in that both are totally dependent on God. There is no autonomous area within humanity or within nature. There is real freedom, however, which serves as the basis of moral responsibility and values, but this freedom is granted by God, not achieved by human effort or natural biological development.14
To condemn all environmentalism because of its underlying New Age beliefs however, is to throw out the baby with the bathwater.15 Christian environmentalism is a valid approach to the issue even though much of what is termed environmentalism promotes a pagan form of nature worship. As noted previously, not everyone who drives a Prius is a pagan and “to label all who are involved in environmentalism as promoting paganism is to commit the fallacy of guilt by association.”16 Christians have a duty to care for the planet and should do so and not exclude themselves from the effort based on their opposition to other faiths and belief systems. As Christians have come to recognize that pollution is a moral problem they have likewise come to the realization of the role that the church can play in helping to solve and mitigate the problem. That they are criticized by non-believers should not discourage their efforts.
Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary
19 October, 2014.
1 Douglas R. Groothuis, Confronting the New Age, (Downers Grove: IVP, 1988), 17.
2 James E. Lovelock, Healing Gaia: Practical Medicine for the Planet, (New York: Harmony, 1991) 153. Note that the author capitalizes the word “Earth” as Christians capitalize the word “God”.
3 Andreas J. Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum, Charles L. Quarles. The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament. (Nashville: B&H, 2009) 909.
4 The definition and description of Gnostic beliefs should be especially familiar to most Americans who are steeped in the popular culture; these beliefs which dominate the field of transpersonal psychology have infiltrated every aspect of American life and essentially make up a new moral value system, values that are exemplified and propagated by a generation of New Age celebrity superstars like Anthony Robbins, Louise Hay, Wayne Dyer, Shirley MacLaine, Deepak Chopra and the high priestess of the New Age, Oprah Winfrey. Drury notes that people are attracted to the New Age “because they hope that by attaining new levels of mystical self-realization they may come to feel that they are a class apart – exclusive members of a group of ‘more evolved’ human beings, or ‘spiritual illuminati’.” See Nevill Drury, The New Age: A History of a Movement, (London: Thomas & Hudson, Ltd., 2004), 127.
5 Coffman, Environmentalism, 14.
6 Ibid., Kostenberger et al., 925.
7 Coffman, Environmentalism, 11.
8 Carolyn Anderson, Co-Creating heaven on Earth: Birthing New Structures for Empowerment, in Who is Who in Service to the Earth, H.J. Keller and D. Maziarz, Eds., (Waynesville: VisionLink, 1991), 85.
9 Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, (Downers Grove: IVP, 2011), 92.
10 Ibid., 113.
12 Robinson, Theo 908 Doctrine of Humanity.
14 Bush, The Advancement, 43-44.
15 Richard A. Young, Healing the Earth: A Theocentric Perspective on Environmental Problems and Their Solutions, (Nashville: B&H, 1994), 267.
Works Cited and Resources for Further Reading
Anderson, Carolyn. "Co-Creating Heaven on Earth: Birthing New Structures for Empowerment." In Who is Who in Service to the earth, by Eds. H.J. Keller and D. Maziarz, 85. Waynesville, NC: VisionLink Education Foundation, 1991.
Andreas J Kostenberger, L. Scott Kellum, Charles L. Quarles. The Cradle, the Cross and the Crown: An Introduction to the Old Testament. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2009.
Beilby, James K. Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What it is and Why We Do It. Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2011.
Bush, L. Russ. The Advancement: Keeping The Faith In An Evolutionary Age. Nashville: B&H, 2003.
Coffman, Michael S. Environmentalism: The dawn of Aquarius or the Tilight of a New Dark Age. Bangor, ME: Environmental Perspectives, Inc., 1992.
Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case For Biblical Faith. Downers Grove: IVP, 2011.
Groothuis, Douglas R. Confronting the New Age. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988.
J. Gordon Melton, Jerome Clark and Aiden A. Kelly. New Age Almanac. Detroit, MI: Visible Ink Press, 1991.
Lovelock, James E. Healing Gaia: Practical Medicine for the Planet. New York: Harmony Books, 1991.
Robinson, Jeffrey. THEO 908 Doctrine of Humanity Environmental Presentation. Lynchburg, VA, June 20, 2013.
Rudolf, John Collins. "An Evangelical Backlash Against Environmentalism." The New York Times, December 30, 2010.
The Southern Baptist Convention. Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative. 2010. http://www.baptistcreationcare.org/ (accessed August 15, 2013).
United Nations. "Earth Charter Initiative." www.earthcharterinaction.org. 2000.
Young, Richard A. Healing the Earth: A Theocentric Perspective on Environmental Problems and Their Solutions. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994.