"You are a 'New Age' Christian!"
What does this mean? And, why do some religious people feel it necessary to label everyone else?
My critics sometimes say to me, "You've just become too 'New Age' for me." Or, "You're just another 'New Ager."
What is meant by this criticism?
I am not quite sure.
Here are a few guesses, however.
1. I am sometimes labeled a "New Age" Christian because I do not regard the Bible as a magical and infallible book, the way some Muslims do the Koran, or regard the Bible as miraculously dictated by God herself to the Biblical writers themselves.
Plain and simple, the Bible is full of contradictions, even plainly reprehensible things. I have great regard for the Bible, even believing it to be inspired. Clearly, however, many of its teachings are so antiquated that to lump all of Scripture together as if it is either equally infallible or even equally applicable to today's world is utterly ridiculous. To say anything less than this is either an admission of ignorance regarding the Bible or dishonesty about its content or both.
I read the Bible and discern for myself -- which, btw, everyone else does who reads it, too -- what is applicable, authoritative for my life and spiritual practice, and ignore the rest. If that makes me a New Ager, then I am a New Ager.
2. I think a second reason Christians label me as a "New Age" person is because I frequently refer to God as "she" about as often as I do "he."
Why? It is because God is neither. Frankly, I think it is time that we graduate beyond this elementary image of God as a big, superhuman-like grandfather-figure who lives just above the sky and dishes out judgment with natural disasters. God is more than just a better version of you or me. She is not a super-duper human male or female who inhabits the heavens...seated upon some imaginary throne...with angels -- more males with wings btw -- all floating around on clouds and singing the Hallelujah Chorus.
Santa Claus is easier to believe in than this mythical nonsense. Besides, Jesus himself said, "God is spirit"(John 4:24).
Most religious people would deeply bothered if their children never outgrew the golden-age of the make-believe world of early childhood. Yet, they remain at this level of believing when it comes to the stories of faith that make up the Bible.
The recent blockbusters movies, for example, as in Exodus: God's and Kings, are a case in point. No mature person believes Moses stuck a stick in the Red Sea and it parted, permitting Israelites to cross safely before consuming in a tsunami the Egyptians who followed. Such stories make for good storytelling and blockbuster cinematic filmmaking. But they are not factually true. To make it a necessity to believe such stories are true as a test to the authenticity of one's faith says more about the little faith of those who insist on this rather than the stories themselves or the lessons they were designed to teach.
Every New Ager knows this. LOL! So does every thinking person. The only people who do not seem to get it are those who mistakenly think you must believe myths or their meaning is missed.
3. There is a third reason I think I am sometimes labeled a "New Age" Christian. The fact that I am an Ambassador to the Parliament for the World's Religions and promote with my necklace pendants interfaith unity, cooperation, and respect is inconceivable to some Christians.
They view my openness as compromise. They cannot tolerate someone within their ranks who believes truth can be found beyond that truth which could only ever come, or so they believe, in-and-through the Christian tradition.
My understanding of God, however, is much larger than the little God I grew up being taught to believe in -- a God who was tribal..."our God"...a God who favored "us" over "them"...and, a God who could not be known any other way than by "our way."
People ask me all the time, for example, "Is Jesus the only way to God?"
I answer by saying, "He is my way to God."
Is he the only way? I do not think so. And, do not bother to point to John 14:6 as a "prooftext" that Jesus himself said he was the "only way to God."
John 14:6 may be the most abused and misused verse of Scripture in the 21st century.
Jesus was neither starting a new religion nor singling himself out as the one-and-only-way to God. I sometimes think the greatest disservice Christians do to the Bible -- a book many of them regard as infallible -- is to misinterpret and so misapply Scripture, as they almost universally do with John 14:6.
When these nervous, frightened Christians ask me whether I believe Jesus is the only way to God, they are not really asking because they are concerned about what I believe. My beliefs are of no interest or concern to them whatsoever. They ask because it is their beliefs they feel are under attack. It is their little faith that cannot tolerate a difference of opinion. Since their faith is weak, they seek to build it up by finding a "prooftext" to support it and groups of likeminded folks who will help secure what would otherwise not stand on its own.
They want to know whether I will join them in saying, "Jesus is the ONLY way to God," not because it is truth they seek. Whatever they seek, it isn't the truth. They seek only a confirmation that what they believe is true. They will label, associate with or disassociate, confirm or castigate whomever they must in order to find an illusory something to which their weak faith may cling.
What they do not know, however, is this: the only way you ever know you are "right" is by making others "wrong." But even that is an illusion. You cannot make something true by making something else appear false. You only ever discredit yourself, as well as set yourself up as the infallible judge of others. It is pure insanity. And, New Agers know this. LOL!
There are likely other reasons I get labeled a "New Age" Christian. If you can think of one, add it in the comment section below. I am interested in knowing what you think.
4. I will mention here one other possibility. I suppose I am so labeled because I frequently use terms like "awaken" and "enlightenment" to refer to spiritual transformation.
More traditional words like "salvation," or "repentance," or "saved," and "lost," are fine but I find no reason to be bound to any of them. They're only words and words are vehicles in which truth travels. That's all.
In this respect, therefore, I like to remind traditionalists that, if they would read the New Testament, they would discover Jesus was the first "New Age" thinker. He used the word "awaken," for example, long before I did or anyone else has done.
Consider his words here:
Jesus said to his disciples, "Be awake. Be alert. You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man travelling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work. And he orders the gatekeeper to be on watch. So I tell you, watch. You do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cock crow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you asleep. What I say to you, I say to all: stay awake." - Mark 13:33-37
BTW, this passage has nothing to do with the "second coming of Jesus," whatever that's supposed to be. Jesus is simply referring to the need to stay alert...to wake up...to be aware that each moment is potentially a Divine moment.
If there is any place in my life where I need "saving" (to use one of the more traditional words), it is in this area of my life. Most of the time, I go through the motions of living with little or no alertness or awareness that the Eternal Christ may be making herself known to me in everyone and through everything that is occurring.
In fact, there are times when I actually stand in resistance to what is happening in life because, instead of regarding it as a Divine moment, I view it, and so respond to it, as if it is a burdening moment...an unwanted moment...or something that is happening that should not be happening.
I seek to make it my spiritual practice, therefore, to live INTO everything that occurs. To resist nothing. To be alert instead, even watchful. Awake. Aware or conscious of the fact that the Christ inside everyone I meet is the Christ within everything that occurs. Not necessarily the cause but the active Presence. This practice alters how I live and how I face all that occurs in life.
If you will make this your practice, your life will transform.
This is cause for rejoicing (how's that for a good traditional word?). Rejoice that, like Jesus, you are becoming a New Age person, or what Saint Paul called, "a new creation in Christ" (2 Cor. 5:17).
Dr. Steve McSwain is an author and speaker, counselor to non-profits and congregations, an advocate in the fields of self-development, interfaith cooperation, and spiritual growth. His blogs at BeliefNet.com, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website (www.SteveMcSwain.com) inspire countless followers. Dr. McSwain's interfaith pendants are widely sought and worn by those who share his vision of creating a more conscious, compassionate, and charitable world. Visit his website for more information or to book him for an inspirational talk on happiness, inner peace, interfaith and diversity, or charitable living (www.SteveMcSwain.com).
This post first appeared in Dr. McSwain's blog with BeliefNet.com.