New Age Syncretism from a Christian Perspective: False Teachings

Going over some of the materials of the past I stumbled upon some of the materials I had been studying and some of the older notes. It is actually quite amazing to see how my conversion last year came with a completely renewed and different understanding of the Bible (if only because there is no longer room for selective reading and use). One of the things in my old journal regarded the New Age claim that:

Christianity can no longer answer the questions to out spiritual quest. Therefore Christianity will need to accept the teachings of other types of spirituality such as Eastern Spiritual teachings (or as can be seen even pagan spirituality is being accepted by some) in order to get a more comprehensive picture of the meaning of life.

I remember well how I once was listening to a comedy artists that was interviewing Jesus. In the interview Jesus allegedly thought that if He would come back and promote his same teachings that he would find many Christians against him. Setting this remark of against the premise above one could of course wonder whether or not Jesus as God in the flesh would agree with the position that we ‘need to accept’ these different teachings. Does – as is claimed by some (New Age teachers) – Christianity indeed have gaps that can only be filled by other spiritual traditions? Or to say it in other words, is there room to suggest that Biblical teachings allow or even promote New Age syncretism?

The Old Testament

In Exodus we read how God said Himself:

3 “You shall have no other gods before me.

4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments.

The people of Israel met their disasters exactly because they worshiped other gods. This reaches a climax in 2 Chronicles 33 where we read:

1 Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-five years. 2 He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, following the detestable practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. 3 He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had demolished; he also erected altars to the Baals and made Asherah poles. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them. 4 He built altars in the temple of the LORD, of which the LORD had said, “My Name will remain in Jerusalem forever.” 5 In both courts of the temple of the LORD, he built altars to all the starry hosts. 6 He sacrificed his sons in the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, practiced sorcery, divination and witchcraft, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the LORD, provoking him to anger.

7 He took the carved image he had made and put it in God’s temple, of which God had said to David and to his son Solomon, “In this temple and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my Name forever. 8 I will not again make the feet of the Israelites leave the land I assigned to your forefathers, if only they will be careful to do everything I commanded them concerning all the laws, decrees and ordinances given through Moses.” 9 But Manasseh led Judah and the people of Jerusalem astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites.

10 The LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention.

Manasseh did just the worst thing imaginable, worse than any other king before him by bringing other gods or better yet religions and/ or systems of worship in the God’s temple thus blocking the way to have his nation reconciled with God. Now what Manasseh did could seem the logical thing to do from a human political perspective: Manassah wanted peace and acceptance for his kingdom. In a spiritual sense however it was completely against God’s will and commands. And similar to how we have been prone to sin ever since Adam and Eve; syncretism has entered the hearts of the people and has been in there ever since despite Manasseh’s later repentance. In fact, a point was reached where repentance was no longer possible, a point where spiritual confusion had grown to be so much that God used the sins of Manasseh as a paradigm for the complete fall of the whole nation

4 I will make them abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth because of what Manasseh son of Hezekiah king of Judah did in Jerusalem. (Jeremiah 15,4).

I think we can safely assume that the Old Testament does not promote syncretism whatsoever.

The New Testament

I guess Paul says it all in his letter to the Colossians:

8See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

9For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. (Colossians 2:8-10)

From the letter it becomes clear that even in his time, people were struggling with this issue. But Paul leaves us no doubt, that we do not need other religions or spiritual traditions to ‘fill the gaps.’  In fact when we see the Old Testament we can only conclude that God opposes such syncretism. So did that perhaps change with the coming of Jesus? Au contraire! Should you still have doubts after reading what Paul says, this is what Jesus said about Himself:

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Jesus did not say he was ‘one of the ways’ but THE  way, truth and life. And he continues to advise is that we will only know God, by going through Him, not some other teacher or prophet, no, through Him exclusively. Anyone that still thinks that syncretism is possible within the Christian New Age framework should now be at least slightly embarrassed for trying to find alternative ways or a syncretic middle of the road. New Age  syncretism may seem attractive from a worldly political perspective; it will not  give us spiritual progress and peace as claimed. What it will bring is confusion and spiritual delusion: I know, I have been there.  Jesus Christ warned us against such practices:

Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, “I am the Christ”, and will deceive many (Matthew 24,4-5).

Several letters of Paul are at least to some extent written to address false teachings (2 Corinthians, Galatians, Colossians), 2 Peter addresses the matter of false teachers and so do 1 John, 2 John and Jude. In 1 John 4:1-6 John details a way to “Test the Spirits.”

And think of it really: what sense would Jesus death on the cross have had if He had been just one of the many ways to know God, what purpose would his horrible death have served? Why would such a dramatic and horrible course of events have been necessary if we indeed could have reached the same end goal by diligently following  one or the other religion? I can hear some thinking:  by the salvation that came from Jesus’ death was for the people of Israel only. Again I think Jesus’ own words are the best rebuke to such an argument, as that is in my view certainly not how Jesus saw it:

18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (Matthew 28:18-20)

One of the more recent proponents of such syncretism is Bahaism. On the website we read:

Throughout history, God has revealed Himself to humanity through a series of divine Messengers, whose teachings guide and educate us and provide the basis for the advancement of human society. These Messengers have included Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad. Their religions come from the same Source and are in essence successive chapters of one religion from God.

Bahá’u’lláh, the latest of these Messengers, brought new spiritual and social teachings for our time. His essential message is of unity. He taught the oneness of God, the oneness of the human family, and the oneness of religion.

Bahá’u’lláh said, “The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens,” and that, as foretold in all the sacred scriptures of the past, now is the time for humanity to live in unity.

Implicitly this appears to be similar to position I read in Eckhart Tolle’s “A New Earth.” In such a perspective Jesus is but one of great teachers in the history of man and analogue to the blind men trying to identify an elephant by being presented with only part of it, such a position claims that all world religions hold a measure of truth, they must be seen as incomplete, valid for the past ages of human history and for a limited group of people. Effectively what is said here is that all these religions have an incomplete perspective but no worries because I have the complete picture. A certain amount of arrogance or self-righteousness can not be denied. Moreover such a syncretic position can only come from a lack of or superficial understanding of the major religions and the underlying teachings of their founders. World religions do not lead to a same finality are not compatible with each other and are not to be seen as alternative paths to the same ultimate truth.
As a Christian, I refer back to John 14:6 and note that while this may seem like an attractive proposition in the modern day world, it seems to me as incompatible with the absoluteness of the truth of God.  I do agree that the earth is but one country an mankind it’s citizens. It is out of love that Christians go out to “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.”

A final note on religious (in)tolerance

Just so we are very very clear on this. I do not promote in any way whatsoever religious intolerance in any form. At the same time that does not necessarily mean that we cannot disagree on matters. Intolerance or even hatred can in my view only come from a lack of understanding and practice of one’s own religion. As a Christian we will need to be tolerant and caring to all people.Jesus himself taught us to:

“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12,31 and Luke 10,27).

From the Parable of the Good Samaritan it follows that according to Jesus’ own teachings ‘your neighbor’ does not not necessarily mean someone with the same belief but ALL people. Tolerance doesn’t require us to embrace our neighbor’s religion, but to respect him for what he is, a human being created in the image and likeness of God. Similar teachings can be found in the Quran (2:62) and  similar teaching can be found in Hinduism and Buddhism.

So let this article not be read as promoting religious hatred and/or intolerance. Instead, it is my belief that tolerance is not achieved by being ignorance or superficiality, but rather by understanding of the other’s faith. From an apologetic perspective I can add that effective apologetic argumentation comes from an understanding of the other’s perspective. Jesus and Paul are a good examples of how this works: your arguments are within the reality and perspective of the other yet without compromising and totally consistent with the ultimate truth.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s