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The Encounter with New Religious Movements and New Age - Johannes Aagaard

What is labeled cults [1] in the US is normally called New Religious Movements in Europe. To that concept is added New Age, thereby indicating the wider and more pervasive but also more subtle religiosity, which is today generally the context of new religious movements. [2]

Although these phenomena have roots in the 19th century or even before that, the "age" of New Age takes it back to the last third of the 20th century.

The World's Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893 may well be taken as the real beginning of the world wide expansion of Neo Hinduism (Vivekananda), Neo Buddhism (Anagarika) and Theosophy (Annie Besant). From 1893 and up till this day those three movements have grown as part of the same New Age Tree, The Tree of Knowledge or Gnosis.

Theosophy in various forms: Antroposophy, The Wisdom of Martinus, Alice Bailey, Elisabeth Clare Prophet, Ananda Tara Shan (The Rosegarden), Benjamin Creme etc. Theosophy seem to be the common denominator of most of the New Age groupings. The theosophical paradigm seems to constitute in some way a synthesis of what one could superficially call East-West spirituality or Neo- Gnosticism.
What is a Paradigm-shift?

In connection with New Age a lot is said about the new paradigm-shift. But very little is explained about its content.

Paradigm is another term for pattern. It is used in grammar, indicating for instance the pattern of the bending of verbs. Language of course is built up around various paradigms, and therefor all communication in words are paradigmaticaly determined.

When we speak about paradigm in connection with cosmology and anthropology we are thereby saying that new patterns can make a real difference as to the content and form of communication.

But paradigm-shifts are not by necessity for the good. They may as well represent a degeneration. But they can of course mean an improvement. Most often such shifts are both for the good and for the bad.

One can approach the paradigm-shift historically. Cultural and religious paradigms come into existence as a result of inter-communication, of mutual influencing of cultures and religions. Therefore rivers were very important, for they were the major "roads" when boat-transport was the major means of transport. Not only The Nile and Eufrat and Tigris, but also Indus and Ganges and Donau and the Rhine and the Tiber and the Thames, were such major "roads" which created communication and mutual influence. Important cultures and religions centered on such rivers, each with their own paradigm.

When the Mediteranian sea became a means of transport a very important culture and religion came about around this ocean. The Roman civilization and the Roman-Catholic church was the paradigmatic result.

Later - after the reformation - the Atlantic ocean became the center for the development of the Atlantic region - mainly Anglo-Saxon culture and the Protestant religion. Its paradigm became very influential and is still the major source for the sort of international society which is the paradigmatic base for nearly all people today. Civil rights, human rights, the claim for justice and a new world-order - this is all expressions of the Atlantic paradigm.

Another paradigm, however, is coming into being. We can call it the Pacific paradigm, combining the East-Asian cities with their millions of inhabitants and the Western part of the American civilization, first of all California, the state crowded with Christian names but now a melting pot of syncretism into a new "Metropolistan".
The Light from the East and the Enlightenment from the West

The Pacific ocean - with Hawaii in the middle - is the new center of power in the world. A new republic of grand cities are coming into being, beyond traditional national boundaries and beyond all political control.

From its Pacific base this new culture is spreading all over the world. It can be characterized as a mixture of the light from the East and the enlightenment from the West. It comes into being as a fusion of the fight of mysticism with the enlightenment of rationalism. The result of this fusion is not yet clear, but it seems to end up in a sort of trans-syncretism, in which a strong holistic trend brushes aside classical Eastern religions as well as Classical Christian faith. In fact this holism, however, is monism and is much closer to the Hindu-Buddhist-Occult roots than the Christian origins in which personal engagement is the heart of the matter. [3] A red thread in this new trans-religion is its emphasis on divinisation. Man has become his own divinity or is able to become so. Human beings are all gods and goddesses in process. "There is no other god than man" runs as an echo through most of the thousands of new religious movements all over the world in this period of history. This "hubris" has also come to mean that anything which is possible also is necessary. If a euphoria is possible, then it also has to be tried out. There are no limitations for the human capacity.
Religious Multinationals

This mental attitude of course has consequences externally. In many ways it fits in well with Capitalism as such which had its birth during the Atlantic paradigm, but has come of age during the first period of the Pacific paradigm. Both models of Capitalism are characterized by the limitless nature of man.

The difference is that the first Atlantic version of Capitalism was characterized - and still is - by the lonely ranger who had his way through all sort of mischief towards the stars. The Pacific version of success is more communal and is epitomized by the multinational company with its anonymous top.

The various religious traditions - often from the East in the form of Neo-Hinduism and Neo-Buddhism and often mediated by various forms of theosophy and occultism - arrived to the West and adopted the communal approach with a multinational structure and sometimes - but normally only in the first generation - with a guru at the top. After his death an anonymous camarilla takes over. It has been a surprising experience to see what happened to such God-men from Asia. They came barefoot and simple-minded, accustomed never to touch money and women. They were in a short time swallowed up by the market-mechanism and consumerism of the Western model. They created disciples, most certainly they did, but the disciples first of all made their gurus.

The transformation of the god-men into money-men was swift and effective. The reason was the sort of competition which the market offered them, for already before they arrived on the scene, Christian salesmen had created the new model: The religious multinational.

A mutual competition between rightist fundamentalist Christians and god-men from the East created a rush for money and influence and fundamentally for souls, which has created a high tide for religion within the Pacific paradigm, but also in what is left over from the Atlantic paradigm. Even the Mediterranean paradigm has awakened to the new possibilities on the world-marketplace.

This new religiosity has come as a surprise for most people. They has settled down to the belief that the time of religion had finished. Suddenly religion flares up like that and all over the world.

The simple fact, however, is that this new rise of religion has not come about in spite of secularization, but because of secularization.

There is also a renewal of true religiosity and true religion in it. But most part of the revival of religion is nothing but a weird anti-religious plot. It first of all deals in pseudo-religion. To take a counterfeit for the real thing is considered a loss of face for an art-specialist. But many religion-specialists maintain that all expressions of religion are genuine. Counterfeits do not exist! This sort of statements must come from persons who themselves are counterfeits.
The First Amendment Neurosis

In the marketplace the only goal which matters is to "get the organization roaring along". Success is all that matters. Make money and more money! The means are secondary. The only check is the law and even that can be evaded, for every man has his price. Ethical standards are considered as relevant for a businessman (including a religious businessman) as for a bulldozer.

People have got accustomed now to PR-means and salesmens-tricks and also to manipulation and persuasion in religious matters, so that very few are able to react against perversions of religions and their appeal. Even clearly illegal practices are tolerated and critical voices are silenced.

The term "permissive society" is normally applied to the sexual state of affairs. It is in fact a more serious situation, that we have now come to a permissive society concerning misuse of other peoples souls. Mind-bending and soul-killing takes place all over the place and there are no laws against it. Under the cover of religious freedom a dangerous permissiveness has crept in.

This has happened in the US especially, because of the so-called 1. amendment, a policy which has established itself as a support for all evil exploitation of religion. Anyone who pretends to be religious and run something just faintly related to religion has to be considered outside the law. The worst sides of the Medieval ecclesiastical policy of Europe has come back to the US society, claiming that religious are exempted from the claims of the law!
Parents Organizations

It is a well-known fact that in a large number of countries parents and relatives to people who have joined new religious movements have united their forces in order to support one another and to counter the influence of what they call "cults". Also children of parents who have become members of cults participate.

These organizations understandably do not care much for subtleties and differentiations, when they approach the NRM's, and they generally take a very negative attitude to research about the NRM, because researchers do not generally stand up against the cults, but "set the truth question aside".

The parents-organizations, however, also tend to set the truth-question aside, for they consider the cults only as means of exploitation having no genuine religious characteristics. To ask the truth question in relation to NRM would for them be as phony as to ask the truth question in relation to the Mafia.

The parents-organizations, however, do not themselves ask the truth-question. They have no alternative stand of their own. They do normally not operate as religious bodies and do not deal positively with religion as a common option. [4] Individual members are often Christians, especially among the leading team, but not at all always. There even seems to be a tendency that parents against cults are also parents against Christianity. But it is impossible to generalize on this point.

The normal attitude of parents-organizations will be that they do not care about "creeds", only about "deeds". They will let people believe what they prefer to believe, and only when the creed is turned into some wrong deeds are the parents-organizations expected to react.

This is of course a distinction which cannot be uphold. But it may still be necessary for parents-organization, which have no common ground but the most elementary human-right standards, to do so.

In fact this distinction has meant in history, that the world did not care about Hitler's "Mein Kampf", for that was part of his creed. Only when his KZ-camps came about as the evil deed, did the reactions began, but then it was too late.

One has to understand that a creed is a deed. And if one wants to stop the evil deeds one has to react already against the evil creeds. But that makes an alternative creed necessary! That is where the parents-organizations are in real trouble. The best of them are struggling with that problem as a problem of their own identity. [5] Are they only united because of a common negation? If that is so then there is a serious problem.
The Scholarly Approach

Research on NRM's has become a force in itself. Sociology of Religion, Psychology of Religion, History of Religion etc. etc. all share in a general attempt to collect data and establish documentation and clarify and analyse and understand the NRM's as factual contemporary expressions of the religious search of mankind.

In this attempt there is a general tendency to "set the truth question aside". They assume that taking a stand concerning the truthfulness and reliability of NRM's would impair the "objectivity" and "neutrality" of the scholarly projects.

This scholarly detachment is sometimes taken to an extreme, so that even value-statements must be forsaken. For some scholars there seems to be the same value in Catholicism as in Scientology, in the Quakers as in the Ananda Marga.

It is necessary to raise the question, however, if this is an expression of naive and positivistic methodology? Is such neutrality and objectivity anything but a dream?

This dream sometimes develops into a night-mare, when the "neutral" and "objective" scholar turns against the Parents Organizations and attacks them for going up against the cults. The simple fact of being against cults and working in anti-cult organizations seems to be objectionable when seen from the "neutral" and "objective" scholars own presuppositions.

But this sort of scholar is in trouble. Often in his or her neutrality the role of an anti-anti cultagent takes over the role of the scholar. One cannot uphold neutrality by negating an anti-attitude. Minus against minus gives a plus, i.e. a factual standpoint, a creed.

The anti-cult movement is in trouble, but the anti-anti cult movement is in an even more serious trouble by its lack of identity. Show me your hand and I shall tell you who you are. If you have no hand, you are nobody! Methodologically this tends towards science for science's own sake, and that is of course "old hat". If you like it or not you are part of the game. To pretend to stand aside having no creed of your own is cheating. [6]

The anti-cult movement and the anti-anti cult movement seems to have one important point in common: they will and must evade the truth question. They will not go for the creeds for that will hit back and force them to take up the age old question: what is truth? And to answer that they would have to take theology seriously.
The Dialog Center International (DCI)

The DCI has its own profile. It is not a parents-organization, although we relate very positively to such organizations, and many parents and relatives are members of our network. We also organize special parents-parties about for instance Jehovah's Witnesses, Unifications Church, Scientology etc.

We are a research-center and we cooperate closely with the Center for Multireligious Studies at the University of Ã…rhus and with a number of similar research-institutions.

The DCI is special. We consider ourselves a ministry of the Christian churches. The DCI has a mission to people who are caught up in the new religiosity and spirituality. The mission is to share with such people the heart of the Christian faith in personal encounters.

In order to be able to solve this task, the DCI develops programs for documentation, for publication, for counselling, for training and formation. The DCI preferably is run by a community of Christians, working together with people of good will and in good faith from other religious trends.

DCI itself stands for classical Christianity and finds it obvious to defend the genuine classical jewels of the Christian faith against those who promote counterfeits in order to disqualify theology in general.

Christian apologetics was the beginning of all decent theology, and the DCI stands in that tradition in continuation of the Fathers of the early church, who both developed their positive critique in relation to sectarian Christian heresies and in relation to heretic and gnostic reductions of the faith.

The DCI, however, is not the defender of each and every faith which calls itself Christian. Also in the sectarian wing of the Christians tradition are found weird counterfeits, often legalistic and fundamentalistic.

The counterfeits carried by gnostic spirituality is the other extreme. But they are normally also legalistic. Their spiritualism is, however, so floating that they loose all contact with the reality of Gods creation.

The DCI makes it a matter of policy to operate as an international community as far as possible. Its major group of members is as far in Denmark and in the Northern part of Europe.

The ministry of DCI is in Asia too, e.i. in India, Nepal and Thailand. That has made the Asian part of the DCI very important indeed. The major task of the two staff-persons in India is to research the fundamentals of the DCI in relation to Indian religions and to support the DCI volunteers, who are sent out in order to witness to and assist Western youth in the East whom they relate to and care for.

The term "dialog" for the DCI means a straight-forward sort of dialog, not the sloppy and evasive dialog which is so often spoiling the good term "dialog". The DCI stands for what we call "dialog in confrontation", not either dialog or confrontation. We must confront reality and not evade it, and only then we can communicate in dialog honestly.

One of the most controversial questions in the cults as well as in the anti-cults not to speak of the anti-anti cults is the problem of kidnapping and deprogramming.

As mentioned already mind-bending has become the order of the day and to such an extent that freedom is becoming a forgotten reality. Therefore forceful influencing is taken for granted by friend and foe.

The DCI will never accept any mind-bending either way! We have never and will never engage in kidnapping or forceful influencing of other people. We offer our expertise and our assistance, but if this is not accepted as a free interchange, then we back out.

We do not in any way use deceit in order to promote our ministry. We always acknowledge our commitment to the Christian faith. We do no convert anyone, for that simple reason that it would be a lousy conversion. God only can convert human beings solidly and as a liberation. We can point to that chance!

The relation of the DCI to the Christian churches is characterized by this formula: "The DCI always works with the churches, sometimes inside, sometimes outside the churches, but never under the churches". The meaning is to uphold this ministry as a imaginative and mobile mission, not held in the routines of the churches, but trying all the time to learn from the churches and feed back into the churches from the frontier-situation.

Another formula, much used in the DCI is this one: "'Those who do the work, make the decisions and take the responsibility". The meaning is to uphold the personal initiative and direct responsibility of the co- workers. The capitalist system, according to which some give work and others take work or some decide what others have to do, is renounced. The board does the work relating to finances and juridical matters and to selection and appointment... and makes the relevant decisions and takes the corresponding responsibility.

The chairman is the connecting link together with the staff-meeting and supervises the coordination and is expected to be a point of inspiration and representation and consolation! A lot is spoken and written about the encounter of cultures, the encounter of religions and the encounter of persons... and the DCI is engaged in all such encounters.

The specific concern of DCI is, however the encounter of missions. All the great world religions are to day missionary in their outreach. Buddhism has been so from its beginning. Islam was missionary and is missionary by heart. Hinduism became missionary from the beginning at the last century. All the new religious movements are missionary, for the point is that missionary means universal.

In the distinct missionary outreach the religions prove their universal challenge - or they do not. Today many movements are in mission and reach out. But they normally bypass one another and never meet.

The ministry of the DCI is to promote the meeting of such missions, in order to prepare for a reasoned and mature encounter, in which "the whole truth and nothing but the truth" is taken seriously.

The DCI therefore has a sincere interest in the classical religions and want to contribute to a deep and genuine understanding of these traditions. That is only possible in so far as the factual and contemporary religions are taken seriously. The nature of a religion is not just found by reading their classical texts and studying their philosophical schools of thought from the past. What a Hindu, what a Buddhist, what a Muslim is today is a decisive part of what Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam is.

At the same time of course not anything can for instance be accepted as genuine Buddhism. When for instance Scientologists make us believe that Scientology is a sort of Buddhism, then it is necessary to challenge them to answer the question how a "religion" with a god-concept and a soul-concept can be an expression of Buddhism, which fundamentally confesses "no god and no soul".

In a real dialog - and that is what the DCI first and last stands for, it is the task to challenge and be challenged. All tendencies to what we label "cocktail-party dialog" must be forsaken. Only in genuine confrontation can dialog come into existence.


1) The term "cult" and the term "sect" are used in a number of variations, but none of these variations are really variations are really helpful. They complicate more than they differentiate. And they are both derogatory.

The term "New Religious Movement" has come to stay even if it is not perfect either. It indicates at any rate that we deal with movements, i.e. developments within something, and that the phenomenon is relatively new. In fact the newness is very relative, for good reasons takes us 125 years back to the beginning of the new religious movements in general.

2) New Age and New Religious Movements are not as terms expressing the same reality. New Age has in it a striving towards "holism" / wholeness, while for instance such important new religious movements as Scientology and Hare Krishna / ISKCON are definitely dualistic, i.e. separate soul and body.

3) Holism means that the whole person - soul and body - relates to God. Holism places an important emphasis on the body and the material world.

Dualism 1) separates soul and body and rejects the material world in order to save the soul from defilement.

Dualism 2) underlines the conflict in the world between good and evil and untruth and sees God in conflict with evil and untruth and puts personal involvement at the center.

Monism does away with all differences in order to reach "the one undifferentiated substance" in relation to which persons are observers and spectators in a "let go" attitude.

4) The Jewish community is the exception that confirms this rule. The reason is that comparatively more Jewish youth have joined the NRM's than any other religious youth. The Jewish activity is to a large extent expressed through parents-organizations and share their approach.

5) The American Family Foundation (AFF) is dealing with this dilemma in a very competent and genuine way. Other parents-organizations evade this issue, and one fully understands why. But evading should not mean ignoring or denying. If that is the attitude then Parents Organizations will not be able to deal with their most serious problem: the inevitability of religion.

6) Seen by an outsider in relation to the American scenery it seems to be an important factor in the present merciless struggle between the anti-cult people and the anti-anti cult people that both parties operate as paid (very well paid indeed) expert witnesses in court. Such a system must by necessity pervert the genuine discussion between partners.