The Secret of New Age Thinking

Are we still living in a New Age? To judge by the stream of popular texts and movements that mix together self-help and spirituality, we are. But what is it about? And what is the secret of its popularity? Such are the questions this book tries to answer through a survey of recent mystical fads and plenty of references to the hallowed traditions of TV, movie, and comic-book fantasy. Read ‘Karma Chameleon’, the chapter on Deepak Chopra, or ‘A Course in Malarkey’, on Helen Schucman’s A Course in Miracles, and you’ll long for the days when all we needed to save us from evil was Superman.

Alas, today’s make-believe issues not from heaven, but from personal commitment. Besides money for books, DVDs, candles, and lessons, it requires devotees to grow their own magic powers. In the spirit of contemporary society, it is both commercial and fiercely individualistic. It is faith in the self at a time when the self has to sell its soul and haggle for the best bargain. And it is the mind-over-matter, name-it-and-claim-it illusion that goes with rampant consumerism. You want pizza. You visualize the pizza. You dial the number. You whisper ‘pepperoni’ … and it materializes on your doorstep. The hard labor of workers on farms and in kitchens does not come into the experience.

Naturally, such superstition is shameless. As long as it has a payback, why should it make any further sense? Let Rhonda Byrne assert in her best-selling book The Secret that ‘Thoughts are magnetic, and thoughts have a frequency … they magnetically attract all like things that are on the same frequency’, as quoted in Chapter 1.  Let Eckhart Tolle say that ‘You cannot be free in the future. Presence is the key to freedom, so you can only be free now’, as quoted in Chapter 4. And let James Redfield argue, in The Celestine Prophecy, that ‘We must assume every event has significance and contains a message that somehow pertains to our questions’, as quoted in Chapter 8. Like Joel Osteen’s prosperity gospel, dissected in the final chapter, it all works because it offers believers, at an unbeatable price, a reason to believe in themselves.

The author, a theologian and former Baptist minister, is sometimes too generous about the value of New Age thinking. And while he traces its links to older religious traditions, he does not delve into its contemporary social roots. But he does know it is just a mystification of everyday psychology, blame-the-victim attitudes, and medicine-show fraud. With a foreword by atheist comedian Julia Sweeney, and appendixes discussing what is a cult, why people join them, and the reasons some of them erupt in violence, his book makes a worthwhile introduction to today’s dime-a-dozen spiritualities.

Robert M. Price, Top Secret: The Truth Behind Today’s Pop Mysticisms. New York: Prometheus Books, 2008.

About the Author

Paula Cerni is an independent writer. For a list of publications please visit http://paulacerni.wordpress.com/.

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