Sign Up for Our Bi-Weekly Email

Expand your perspective with thought-provoking insights, quotes, and videos hand-picked by our editors—along with the occasional update about the world of EnlightenNext.

Privacy statement

Your email address is kept confidential, and will never be published, sold or given away without your explicit consent. Thank you for joining our mailing list!


The Vatican Crusades
Against the New Age

A new report criticizing alternative spirituality
is surprisingly insightful
by Maura R. O'Connor

The Vatican's recent efforts to counteract the increasing popularity of New Age spirituality may not yet constitute a full-scale crusade, but it could be headed in that direction. Recently, Pope John Paul II fervently warned a crowd of young Catholics in Vatican City, “My dear young people, do not yield to false illusions and passing fads which so frequently leave behind a tragic spiritual vacuum!”

The Church's combative measures against what they call the “esoteric cultural matrix” of the New Age began in 2003 with the release of a sixty-page report entitled, “Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the 'New Age.'” The product of six years of research by both the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, this document is a critically acute and comprehensive study of the medley of movements and philosophies that have informed the alternative spirituality movement, complete with an appendix, a glossary, a section entitled “Key New Age Places,” and an impressive ten pages of references. With chapters like “Spiritual Narcissism?” and “Wholeness: A Magical Mystery Tour,” the report is fascinating reading for anyone interested in postmodern forms of spirituality. But it is the last few sections, which include point-by-point rebuttals of New Age principles, that are especially revelatory.

For instance, the authors write, “New Age truth is about good vibrations, cosmic correspondences, harmony and ecstasy, in general pleasant experiences. It is a matter of finding one's own truth in accordance with the feel-good factor. Evaluating religion and ethical questions is obviously relative to one's own feelings and experiences.” The report then contrasts this highly subjective relationship to spiritual truth with Christianity's nearly opposite perspective: “Jesus Christ is presented in Christian teachings as 'The Way, the Truth and the Life.' (John14:6) His followers are asked to open their whole lives to him and to his values, in other words, to an objective set of requirements which are part of an objective reality ultimately knowable by all.”

While a lack of objectivity may indeed be a failing of New Age philosophy, predictably the authors' only solution wears a crown of thorns on his head. All the same, their critique carries undeniable weight, not least because they are also willing to turn a critical eye on themselves. For instance, they admit that the “New Age is attractive mainly because so much of what it offers meets hungers often left unsatisfied by the established institutions.” And they acknowledge that in the future, if the Church is going to quench people's thirst for spiritual transcendence, its representatives will have to become more authentic messengers of God. “To those shopping around in the world's fair of religious proposals,” they write, “the appeal of Christianity will be felt first of all in the witness of the members of the Church, in their trust, calm, patience and cheerfulness, and in their concrete love of neighbor, all the fruit of their faith nourished in authentic prayer.”

Despite such progressive sentiments, “Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life” is certainly no peace offering to those who don't live by the Good Book, and the authors' bottom line still reflects the exclusivism often associated with the dominant voices in today's Vatican. “People who wonder if it is possible to believe in both Christ and Aquarius,” they write, “can only benefit from knowing that this is very much an 'either-or' situation.” Indeed, in the year since the report was released, summits have been held for Catholics around the world in order to come up with more concrete strategies in the battle against alternative spirituality. Only time will tell if the planets are aligned in their favor.


Subscribe to What Is Enlightenment? magazine today and get 40% off the cover price.

Subscribe Give a gift Renew

This article is from
Our Business Issue