Source: TURIN, Italy, MARCH 19, 2003 Zenit.org
TURIN, Italy, MARCH 19, 2003 (Zenit.org).-
Massimo Introvigne, a leading expert in new religious movements,
analyzed the recently published Vatican document on New Age, and
expounds on the incompatibility of the spiritual phenomenon with
Introvigne, director of the Italy-based Center for Studies in New
Religions (www.cesnur.org) says that "the New Age implies an
alternative spirituality to traditional religions," and warns
that the influence of New Age is evident among some Catholics,
sometimes without their realizing it.
Q: What is New Age?
Introvigne: Sociologists and historians of religion who have been
concerned with this subject respond that it is not a religious
movement, a religion, or a sect -- a term that the Vatican document
also uses cautiously, explaining that it uses it in a
"sociological" sense and not in its current pejorative use
-- but the result of a global network, which connects centers and
groups that have some characteristics in common, but are not
sufficiently stable, permanent or hierarchical to create a movement.
The New Age network avoids exact definitions; however, it is
possible to describe it along psychological, historical,
sociological and doctrinal lines.
The network's different components can be classified according to
their respective psychotherapeutic, religious or political
interests. These precede the New Age phenomenon but in a certain
sense are modified by their participation in the network.
What unifies the New Age network is an "alternative"
spirit to the prevailing religious tradition in the West, which is
Christian, and the hope of a new era, namely, the "New
Age," or Age of Aquarius, which will replace the Era of Pisces.
From this point of view, a historical-sociological study takes into
account the doctrinal element, although it states that the New Era
affirms it does not have a doctrine. At most it proposes a
"vague spirituality," thus leaving the effort of doctrinal
reconstruction with the interpreter.
Another contrasting view stems from the Protestant-evangelical
movement "against sects," which sees in the New Age -- or
rather, "cult" -- the ultimate sect, or better yet, the
sect of sects.
Refuting the New Age apologists themselves, who talk -- in a
positive way -- of the "conspiracy of Aquarius," some
evangelical and fundamentalist authors -- followed at times by some
Catholics -- see behind the New Age a great conspiracy and powerful
organization, endowed with structures that are partly secret,
destined to put an end to Christianity.
There is a secular version of this conspiracy thesis, whose
principal exponent is French political expert Michel Lacroix,
according to whom, the New Age is a conspiracy of a political
character endowed with worrying links to National Socialism -- a
thesis that I regard as altogether erroneous.
Between the two descriptive points of view of the phenomenon, the
Vatican document pursues the path traced by historical-sociological
research, affirming that "the New Age is not a movement in the
sense usually attributed to the expression 'New Religious Movement,'
nor is it what is usually understood by the terms "cult"
Rather, it is the result of a "global network," which the
document describes with a schema similar to the one I used in my
book "New Age & Next Age" [Piemme, Casale Monferrato
2000], a book which the document quotes repeatedly, as well as the
studies of Wouter Hanegraaff, J. Gordon Melton and Paul Heelas, who
describe the field of academic research on the New Age.
As it is a document of the Catholic magisterium, emphasis is placed,
precisely, on the need to have a consistent doctrinal picture emerge
-- although with the difficulties that this implies -- reconstructed
from the basis of the authors quoted earlier, as well as with
Christoph Bochinger's studies.
Reference is also made -- perhaps because of his influence in France
-- to Michel Lacroix's positions, of which the document takes some
points, but his approach can be considered "exaggerated,"
according to the document.
Q: Is New Age so important that it warrants the attention of two
Vatican organizations, which have written a document on the topic?
Introvigne: What New Age manifests today is what the document calls
a narcissistic regression: From the great social utopias it reverts
to proposing the purely individual, private, entry into the
But, be careful: The step from the utopian phase to the narcissistic
phase does not mean that there are fewer persons involved, nor that
the "alternative" character of the underlying theme in
regard to the Christian faith does not continue in its irreducible
Given that the New Age is a movement or "cult," it does
not have registered members, well-known or baptized leaders. It is
difficult to say how many people belong to it.
What is more, the very category of membership is altogether
inadequate in this case. The New Era is an influence not an
institution, it does not ask for conversions but insinuates
sensations. Precisely because of its ethereal and elusive nature,
the Church regards it as particularly dangerous.
While one cannot become a Raelian without knowing it, one can absorb
ideas from the New Age without realizing it.
Q: Has the New Age infiltrated Catholicism? How?
Introvigne: The document says so and the Pope said it years ago to
the U.S. bishops during their "ad limina" visit in May
1993. On that occasion, the Pope affirmed that "New Age ideas
sometimes penetrate preaching, catechesis, study seminars and
retreats, and influence practicing Catholics, who perhaps are not
aware of the incompatibility of these ideas with the faith of the
Church." It is important to note that the Pope speaks of the
penetration of ideas, not of the infiltrations of a movement.
Personally, I ask myself if "infiltration" is the right
word, as it gives the idea of something organized or planned by
someone. In reality, no one organizes the penetration of New Age
ideas in an environment. Given that the New Age exists in a nebulous
way, it penetrates wherever it finds no barriers or obstacles.
To think that organized "conspiracies" and
"plots" exist means to be ignorant of the nature of this
non-movement, and to regard it more as a "cult," in
keeping with the definition of Protestant fundamentalist realms and
some French secular realms. It is a description that the Vatican
Q: Is it possible to engage in New Age practices without harming the
Introvigne: Just as I explained, the New Age is difficult to
describe or delimit in a definition. In sociological terms it is a
"meta-network," namely, a "super-network," a
place of meeting of different networks that already existed prior to
the New Age and that are found around the New Era which is presumed
to be inevitable.
To participate in one of these pre-existing networks does not mean
one is a "New-Ager," it just means to have the occasion to
enter the "super-network," to pass through a door that one
Some of these original networks, for example, the ones that unite
those who are devoted to some alternative medicines, are not
necessarily alternatives to the Catholic faith, but others are so,
such as, for example, spiritualism and occultism.
The Great New Age network, as the document explains, entails at
least one relativist epistemological option that cannot be accepted
by a Catholic who takes the faith seriously.
Q: New Age is described as a mistaken answer, but don't you think
that it implies a licit question in a chaotic world?
Introvigne: Yes, and it is another very important point of the
document. In this connection, New Age is a postmodern phenomenon:
After the end of the secular ideologies, an interest in the
supernatural and the sacred has re-emerged.
The questions that lead New Age followers to be interested in the
phenomenon are widespread in the postmodern world. And, in a certain
sense, this phenomenon represents a healthy reaction to the secular
ideologies of the 20th century.
Anyway, different answers can be given to these questions, and the
one the New Age offers is mistaken from the point of view of the
The document cautions against giving in to easy and quick
condemnation: It certainly condemns the error of the answer but it
challenges Catholics to elaborate a pastoral strategy that will
address the questions.
This task also forms part of the new evangelization, central element
of John Paul II's pontificate.