Page 8, 14th February 2003

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What happens if

we cannot trust we of the big lie at the government the heart of the New Age

Behind all the peripheral concerns and appearances of genuine spirituality, believes Moyra Doorly, the offer is continually being made that 'You shall be as God'

James Munson

The recent scandal over the Lord Chancellor's £22,000 pay rise, which was compared somewhat unfavourably with the teachers' £300, invites a variety of observations. The climb-down was appreciated but would it not have been better for the increase never to have been made?

One could have argued that his Lordship needs the extra money to pay for his famous wallpaper — after all each roll costs about £300 — except that we pay for the paper. Tories could point out that when the Cabinet voted for a pay rise during Mrs Thatcher's term, she reluctantly agreed but refused to take her extra money.

A moralist, as well as one of that tiny band of people who actually care for what remains of the ancient constitution in church and state, could point out that this scandal was only the latest in a long series which has undermined public trust. Our country is facing war and those who do not claim superior information to the Government's would like to trust that Government to tell us the truth.

Any holder of an office in our times cannot rely on traditional reverence for that office. People's trust is based on their perception that he who is to be trusted justifies their trust. We cannot imagine a Sovereign who does not do his constitutional duty or an immoral Pope.

The present government has steadily lost the trust of the people. The trust one places in government is similar to that placed in a plumber. One readily pays if he does a good job and doesn't over-charge. When one's plumber lets one down one looks for another. One has trusted him and he has, in effect, betrayed one's trust.

When this present administration took office they were going to "re-brand Britain" with people's poets and people's peers. There would be no more "sleaze": no more envelopes crammed with £100 notes. Instead we got the Dome, Bernie

Ecclestone's £1000,000 and animal rights "charities" that paid their money and demanded their pound of foxhunter's flesh. Government would become "transparent". Instead we have corruption and greed greater to any that has gone before.

Our constitution, so envied by so many for so long, is in tatters. The Cabinet has been reduced in importance whilst the Commons have seen their powers fall away as surely as they did under Cromwell's dictatorship, The venerable House of Lords is no more and we have only a rump to be filled with nonentities whom the Prime Minister likes.

Like the naughty plumber, ministers have over-charged their customers: whilst millions saw their pensions sink under new taxes introduced by the Chancellor, that same Chancellor and his colleagues in Cabinet voted MPs an enormous increase in their pensions for which we shall pay. (Lord Irvine will be getting a pension of almost £100,000 a year and this will be for about a decade's work. Not bad.) We have made politics into a business with good pay and benefits and wonderful pensions. Not only has one's plumber over-charged one, but he's now bought a Rolls Royce to replace his transit van.

Underlying all this has been the corrosive work of the Government's "spin doctors" who lie, lie and lie again, whether it is about reducing the number of illegal immigrants, Mrs Blair's property portfolio or plagiarising out of date academic articles. One cannot have trust when one is lied to on a regular basis. Honesty may not he the best policy but it is the only one on which trust can be based.

My criticism is not directly against this Government because it is Labour. Were it a Tory administration doing the _same thing the attack would be just as strong. At issue is the question of public morality, of standards in public life, of honesty with those who elected one to office, of trust instead of a cynical abuse of power to enrich oneself. The money government spends is our money; the wealth they distribute is our wealth. Government creates nothing. We pay the piper but we don't call the tune. If only we could trust the Government.

Aguest due to appear on a television programme last week to discuss the Vatican's recent document on the New Age asked not to be introduced as a nun. Her reason was that as a religious sister, her New Age sympathies and the practices she undertakes "with those who come to her for help" might attract the attention of her Bishop. She preferred instead to be introduced as a "devout Roman Catholic who is sympathetic to the New Age".

I know this because I was a guest on the same programme and heard the matter being discussed beforehand. I mention this because it demonstrates, albeit in a minor way, one of the main characteristics of the New Age, namely its desire to conceal its true nature.

The Vatican's new document on the New Age — Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the New Age — comes not a moment too soon. While the document recognises that there is much about the New Age that is hardly new at all, it also considers the range of contemporary concerns and issues which overlay the very old spiritual ideas at the movement's core.

It is this combination of modern issues — feminism, psychology, ecology etc — together with tinkling bells, scented candles and relaxation techniques that is largely responsible for the confusion the movement generates.

Evidence of this confusion can be detected by studying mainstream reactions to the New Age. These tend to fall into two categories. The first is that the search for meaning in life is part of the human condition and that the New Age, which isn't really a movement at all but merely a set of loosely connected ideas and practices, is just another way of making this search, a way as valid as any offered by the established religions of the world.

The second is that in the modern age, the world's religions, particularly Christianity, are no longer able to satisfy and in order to survive in any meaningful way they must embrace the New Age, particularly by addressing concepts like the "feminine face of God", the "sacredness of the Earth" and the desire of the self for spiritual wholeness".

But there is a big lie at the heart of the New Age, which is basically the first lie ever whispered in the ear of a human being. Because behind all the peripheral concerns and appearances of genuine spirituality, the offer is continually being made that "You Shall Be As God". And the only question about the New Age that really matters is how the big lie at its heart operates and how it conceals itself behind the peripheral concerns and appearances that surround the movement.

It works something like this. Inspired by the relativist spirit of the age is the idea that none of the religious traditions of the world has a monopoly on the truth. The various religions are mere manifestations of the one great cosmic truth that underpins all life in the universe. They are equally valid and at the same time equally limited in their perceptions and interpretations of the cosmic principle. Their creeds and dogmas are inherently faulty because they are the products of power-hungry and corrupt religious institutions.

It follows, therefore, that since there is no objective truth "out

'Inspired by the relativist spirit of the age is the idea that none of the religious traditions of the world has a monopoly on the truth. The various religions are mere manifestations of one great cosmic truth'

there", the search for meaning must be inwards, into the sacred realm of the human unconscious where the only real truth lies. The task is then to explore the divine inner realm and by so doing come to understand the universe itself. True divinity lies inside the human individual and the task is to wake up the inner deity.

Ultimately all New Age efforts at self-realisation and self-actualisation have this aim — the empowerment of the "god within". The trouble is that the "god within" likes to be worshipped as well as empowered and at that point the ghastly trap is sprung as the state of self worship combined with a belief in the possession of divine power is realised. As you read this, you can be sure that New Agers will he attempting to affect and change not only their immediate environments but the world itself by setting their inner gods to work. One response might be to laugh, but these beliefs can have disastrous consequences for the individuals who hold them. There is increasing evidence, at present mainly anecdotal, of people falling into serious trouble as a result of indulgingin New Age practices.

Remember, too, that behind the smiling faces and offers of working together to create a more authentic spirituality, lies a real hatred of Christianity and a desire to see its end. You don't believe me, I expect, but when I was a practising New Ager I came across this time and time again. The smiles and the charm would be at full strength while meeting the local vicar to discuss the possibility of utilising an underused church hall as a venue for a spiritual healing or creative visualisation group. Afterwards the hands would be rubbing and the eyes shining with glee that yet another inroad into the structures of the Church had been made.

What can the Church do, then, to address the New Age.. A great deal is spoken of the social and cultural changes which have contributed to the decline in religious observance. But while these factors no doubt play their part, it cannot be mere coincidence that people have chosen to desert Christianity in droves during a period when no effort seems to have been spared in making make Christianity ordinary.

Every attempt has been made to strip away the mystery and discard ritual and beauty. Watered down theology and a do-it-yourself liturgy that resembles amateur dramatics more often than not have made church going today an overwhelmingly banal experience.

GK Chesterton said: "As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity." To escape morbidity people are running into the New Age movement. At the same time some of the ideas which underlie the New Age have found their way into the Church itself. The current emphasis is on the almost divine status of the "People of God" and on the sacredness of the people "gathered round the altar".

It is hardly surprising that this tendency to deify the laity has coincided with the spread of New Age spiritualities into retreat houses and religious communities.

Responding to the New Age must mean assessing how much it has influenced current Church practice. That is surely the first step.

Remember the smiling faces.




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