A hard-hitting commentary recently published in The Catholic Gentleman asks some serious questions about how the New Age has become so fascinating, particularly to millennials, and if dumbed-down Christianity may be at least part of the blame.
As a New Age researcher for 14 years, I was struck by the article, written by Sam Guzman, which opened with a description of how he was visiting the website of a popular company that sells natural products like deodorant and toothpaste and came upon some blogs that had nothing to do with health and wellness.
“Rather than tips on exercise or healthy eating, the blog featured stories about the healing power of crystals and the benefits of tarot card reading. This was at once surprising and unsurprising, for new age and occult practices, in all their various forms, are experiencing a major resurgence, especially among millennials. But from a company that sells toothpaste?”
I couldn’t help but laugh and think, “been there done that.” My research leads me onto many similar websites, some of which leave me wanting to douse myself in holy water, but there are a lot of people who need answers and too few of us who are willing to look for them, regardless of where that might lead us.
But Guzman was not entirely surprised. Instead, it reaffirmed what he already knew – that our world is full of spiritually hungry people who are looking for something to believe in.
“The truth is, our culture is starving for the supernatural,” he writes. “My generation has been raised to believe that we are nothing more than accidentally advanced apes on an unusually lucky space rock floating in a meaningless sea of nothingness in a universe that could care less whether we lived or died. It is despair inducing in the highest degree. Moreover, we have been told, nearly since infancy, that science has answered nearly all questions of existence, and if any remain unanswered, they will be resolved quite soon. For every question, there is an answer, even before you ask it. Existence is thus no longer wonderfully strange and awe-inspiring, but mundane and prosaic.”
As a result, today’s young people are starving for an encounter with authentic mystery.
“Things like astrology and crystals are attractive because they are strange and defy the scientific-materialist paradigm. There are certainly explanations for how they work, but they require a level of faith. And despite what the pompous atheists claim, we want to have faith in something we can’t fully explain. We are fundamentally religious beings, and we instinctively know there is more to the world than meets the eye. We are hungry for magic and mystery and will embrace the first thing, rightly or wrongly, that offers it.”
So why aren’t they finding it in our faith, which is based in the existence of supernatural realities? Why settle for neo-paganism? Because in practice, we Christians too often deny the supernatural mysteries that are so attractive to young people.
“We claim to believe in angels and archangels and a host of saints who join us in worship. Yet, we strip our churches bare and make them into beige-carpeted business centers, rather than holy temples,” Guzman writes.
“We claim to believe that each Mass is a miracle that brings God bodily to dwell among us. Yet we make our liturgy a comfortable affair, eliminating anything that is difficult, disorienting, awe-inspiring, ancient, or mysterious. We sing cheesy ditties, hold hands, and pass out the greatest mystery of all, the Holy Eucharist, like a snack in a cafeteria.”
And so these spiritually hungry souls go elsewhere, just like I did many years ago during my hiatus from Catholicism. I frequented psychics who told me what I wanted to hear, and sometimes made astonishing pronouncements that convinced me of the existence of some kind of supernatural power. An astrologer drew up my natal chart and persuaded me that, by some secret and mysterious means, the stars and planets somehow knew me better than I knew myself.
And then one night, which reading a self-help book that as preaching the prosperity gospel, I decided to check to see if Jesus really said, “Ask and you shall receive.” I found a bible among the hundreds of books in my collection, purchased not for its content but for its value as an antique, and starting paging through in search of the famous verse. Along the way I stumbled upon the psalms of David that described a God who was loving, protective, a “hiding place” and a champion of the downtrodden and broken-hearted. Who is this God, I wondered at the time? And why didn’t I ever meet Him in the Catholic Church?
Of course, it wasn’t all the Church’s fault – not by a long shot. I was steeped in sin and convinced that I was the happiest person on earth.
If I was so happy, why was I always searching for help? And why did this God in the psalms of David, who was so caring, and tender, loving, suddenly seem so attractive to me?
As I recount in my book, We Need to Talk: God Speaks to a Modern Girl, I found myself reading those psalms a lot after that particular night, totally unaware that it was the beginning of a brilliant conversion that would finally satiate the hunger inside me for Truth and meaning. I never expected to find a God who loved me with such a deep and personal love inside the Church that I had left years earlier because it was too “old-fashioned.”
Guzman is right that we shouldn’t look down our noses at people who are involved in the New Age. Instead, me must see them as seekers who are deeply and personally loved by the God who created them, even if they don’t recognize Him – yet.
Instead, we need to insist that the mysteries of our Church be celebrated with all the pomp and glory they deserve. As Guzman writes, the Blessed Sacrament must be treated with “awesome and painstaking reverence,” and our churches should appear to be the holy temples that they are. Our saints should be venerated, our angels called upon, our priests honored as “supernaturally-endowed mediators” that they are. Because wherever this is happening, he says, young people flocking to those churches.
“If we want to be a viable alternative to neo-paganism, we need to embrace once again the supernatural traditions of our faith. Our sacred language. Our ancient and venerable rites and formulas. Our ‘superstitious’ Catholic practices. Our symbols. Our mystical traditions of prayer. We don’t need only more catechesis, as if ideas alone could save us. We need more mystery, more transcendence, more ritual, more magic, for lack of a better word,” he concludes.
“Every Catholic must become a mystic, in the sense that we live like the supernatural is as real as the air we breathe – because it is. Then, and only then, will we be able to speak authentically to a world hungry for the divine.”
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