The Appeal of New Age in the Modern Age
Lorde’s distaste with the fast-paced, impersonal, technology-dominated lifestyle of modern people is understandable. She hints at the ways this sort of lifestyle has hurt her personally on “The Path” (Teen millionaire having nightmares from the camera flash3) and “Mood Ring” (Can’t seem to find what’s wrong/ The whole world is letting me down4), and her desire to get away from the dominating influence of technology (I throw my cellular device in the water). In reaction to the destructive effects of the modern lifestyle, Lorde turned to New Age culture, “tryna get well from the inside,”5 saying that she became “obsessed with New Age culture and flower children.” She did not accept every New Age idea uncritically, and at times even satirizes New Age in her music, but Solar Power is teeming with New Age imagery and ideas.
In an article recounting her trip to Antarctica, Lorde states that it is “an obvious fact” that “witnessing the natural world is the most important reason to be alive, that its [nature’s] wellbeing matters above all else.”6 The comment from her article already carries philosophical overtones by making a statement about what is the most important reason to be alive, but she makes even more religiously-toned statements about Solar Power, describing the album as a “hedonistic worship of nature” (hence the concerns about climate change), saying she “ looks to the natural world for answers.” Lorde is not subtle when she sings that she is “kinda like a prettier Jesus,”7 or when she sings “I just hope the sun will show us the path.”8 Despite the times when she satirizes the New Age, Lorde seems to see the solution for healing a broken world and broken people offered by New Age practices and beliefs to be the best available.
Christianity and New Age
In the face of the challenges to human flourishing posed by the modern lifestyle, Lorde’s interest in New Age beliefs and practices is understandable. Some of the practices she has adopted have seemingly even helped resolve some issues in her life. For example, her departure from social media and efforts to not let technology control her life have benefited her tremendously. Also, since her ascendance to fame Lorde has become increasingly climate-conscious, and all humans should desire to care well for the natural world we live in ( Genesis 1:28)—although to say that “the wellbeing of the planet matters above all else” is an overstatement that cannot be reconciled with Christianity. In fact, Christianity and the New Age, in contrast to the modern lifestyle, are both concerned with human flourishing.
People who hold New Age beliefs hold views of flourishing that make a person’s spiritual self-actualization and holistic wellbeing central, while a Christian view of flourishing “ties the concept of human flourishing…to Shalom.” 9 Shalom means that we are in right relationship with the world and those around us, and first and foremost that we are in right relationship with God. According to Christianity, being in right relationship with God is the only way we can achieve the “holistic wellbeing” and flourishing that people pursuing New Age practices are seeking. There are critical differences that distinguish the beliefs that define a Christian idea of human flourishing and the beliefs define a New Age idea of human flourishing.
The New Age makes human flourishing and care for the natural world primary. Within Christianity, while flourishing is important, what is most important for people is cultivating a relationship with God. God himself is the actual “most important reason to be alive,” and we are meant, above all else, to live under his Lordship and work for his glory to further his Kingdom ( Matthew 28:19). Within Christianity, the flourishing of humans, and to a lesser degree, the natural world, follows naturally when people are living in right relationship with God under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Another major difference between Christianity and the New Age is that the New Age looks for inner guidance, while Christians rely on sources outside of themselves for guidance. The Holy Spirit of course lives within us, but he is not “from within us.” We do not guide ourselves. It is God, who is far greater than anything that could ever come from within us, who guides us. Much New Age teaching is that we can be self-sufficient to find our own way through life by looking inside of ourselves, which can become dangerously subjective. Lorde alludes to this sort of highly subjective spiritual experience when she sings,
Your dreams and inner visions
All your mystical ambitions, they won’t let you down
Do your best to trust all the rays of light10
The sort of inner self-guidance that Lorde alludes to is antithetical to the Christian belief that truth ultimately comes from outside of ourselves. The New Age teaches that salvation (whether temporal or eternal) must be found inside of one’s self, but Christianity clearly teaches that, while there is an element of inner resurrection for those who came to faith in Christ, salvation can only come from outside of ourselves, because on our own we are lost in sin ( Ephesians 2:1).
Some Christians assume that New Age beliefs are completely opposed to Christianity. Others find New Age practices or beliefs appealing, finding similarities between the New Age and Christianity. Like any worldview, the New Age is appealing because it contains elements of truth, so to dismiss New Age beliefs as meaningless mystical experiences will fail to realize the ways in which some New Age ideas are parallel to Christian teaching.
An example may be helpful to show a way in which paying attention to New Age beliefs or practices can be helpful for Christians. The modern world has created a “culture of busyness”11 that is embodied in the forty-hour workweek. The modern world inculcates most people, including Christians, with the idea that a busy, work-dominated lifestyle is the right way to live. While there’s nothing inherently wrong about a forty-hour work week, there’s nothing inherently right about it either. This can be easy for Christians to forget, because many of us have accepted assumptions about what makes a good life.
Some of the people who are most likely to have escaped the assumption that work should dominate our time are those who have decided to live according to New Age teachings. In their search for flourishing, many New Age people, while perhaps still being conscientious and productive workers, do not make work or “success” central to their lives. A forty-hour work week does not necessarily facilitate the type of flourishing that Christians should be pursuing. For Christians who have forgotten this, noticing those who practice New Age seeking to flourish in ways contrary to the modern world’s methods may make us more aware of the ways we have accepted false narratives from the world about how we should live, and of how we have stopped seeking flourishing in our lives and our relationships with God.
On one hand, Christians’ beliefs can be overly influenced by the New Age, transforming Christianity into something that accepts false beliefs, relies on self-guidance, and is ultimately focused too much on a person’s own inner experience. On the other hand, the modern lifestyle that Lorde expresses her distaste for on Solar Power can have similarly distorting effects on Christianity. Without even noticing, Christians may adopt technology-dominated or success-driven lifestyles that are antithetical to how Jesus calls Christians to live. In such cases, considering what the New Age gets right might help Christians see where they’ve gone wrong.
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