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Book Review - The New Age - Christian Critique

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This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1992, Volume 9, Number 1, pages 120-121. Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.


Book Review - The New Age: A Christian Critique. 

Ralph Rath. Greenlawn Press, South Bend, IN, 1990.

Reviewed by Rev. Walter Debold, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Seton Hall University

This is a very useful book. One is tempted to describe it as a "handy" book because it surveys the whole field of New Age phenomena in a clear and orderly way. It can be used as a ready reference by counselors as well as by victims and their anxious relatives.

The author, Ralph Rath, a West Coast journalist, gets to the point with an economy of words. The book's subtitle, "A Christian Critique," enables us to know immediately where Rath is coming from. Even with its Christian perspective, the book will prove equally helpful to Christians and non-Christians. Rath draws upon specialists whose names are familiar in the cult-awareness arena: Douglas Groothuis, Walter Martin, James LeBar, Elliot Miller, Bob Larson, his fellow newsman Russell Chandler, as well as all those associated with the Spiritual Counterfeits Project.

Since the "New Age" label is used to embrace diverse things, it is convenient to have books like this to bring some order to the welter of confusing facts. In Part One, Rath defines his subject; in Part Two, he answers his question, "Where is it?" His response tells us that New Age manifestations can be found in many areas of society: business, education, religion, entertainment, health care -- and frequently in the form of destructive cults. The author observes that "the cults that arose in the 1960s and 1970s in North America are the immediate predecessors of the New Age movement of the 1980s." In Chapter 7 he discusses Transcendental Meditation, Silva Mind Control, Scientology, Eckankar, and Werner Erhard's est. Chapter 9 deals with the appearance of the New Age in the guise of religion; here we are informed about the strangely faddish "Enneagram" and the "Course in Miracles."

In a book of any size, inevitably one is bound to find some point of difference with the author. One such place for this reviewer was Rath's declaration that "Christians must be prudent and realize that New Agers are basically out to destroy the Christian faith." He makes it sound as though there were a conspiracy under way that constitutes a spiritual threat. Indeed, there may be instances where there is some conscious enmity; however, in my opinion, it is more likely that most of the real New Age aficionados have given up on Christianity and have little interest in hastening its demise.

There is also a tendency in some well-intentioned books like this to denigrate everything that comes from the East. While we may admit that in the past century Eastern philosophies have had a strong influence on Western civilization, it is not reasonable to disdain Korea on the grounds that it spawned the Unification Church or Japan on the grounds that it produced the Nichies (Soka Gakkai). India's centuries-old spirituality is hardly represented by TM or the Hare Krishnas. It is disturbing to read the fairly harsh treatment given to the name and reputation of such a deeply spiritual and sincere scholar as Raimondo Pannikar.

The chapter on the invasion of the business world by New Age thinking is one that deserves reading by all those employers and employees who are confident that their world is immune to the virus. Also useful is the Appendix which provides names and addresses of the national offices of organizations working against destructive cults.

In the course of reading this book, I came across an especially satisfying paragraph. It was a quotation from an African writing from Rome, Cardinal Arinze, who happens to be a friend and ally of the anti-cult effort. Under the heading "Christian Response to the New Age," this extract presents us with a useful understanding of "dialogue."

Dialogue is a manner of acting, an attitude and a spirit which guides one's conduct. It implies concern, respect and hospitality towards the other. It leaves room for the other person's identity, his modes of expression and his values. Dialogue is thus the norm and necessary manner of every form of Christian mission as well as every aspect of it, whether one speaks of simple presence and witness, service or direct proclamation. Any sense of mission not permeated by such a dialogical spirit would go against the demands of true humanity and against the teaching of the gospel.