The best way to answer this question is with a description of what is known as the Human Potential Movement, a New Age movement that encompasses the burgeoning field of self-help programs and motivational seminars. Hopefully, by giving you the qualities typically found in New Age programs, you will be able to spot them on your own.
In short, a program is New Age if it promotes a human-centered psychology based on the belief that a person is in complete control of their destiny.
The following are some of the ways that these beliefs manifest:
1. The Mind is God
Even those that use Christian language or refer to God can be New Age if they "say one thing but do another" such as profess a belief in God then negate His control over the universe or preach a self-centered philosophy that leaves no room for Him to work in a person's life.
For instance, the late Wayne Dyer tells us in his book, The Power of Intention, "When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change."
Then there's Tony Robbins who claims "We can change our lives. We can do, have, and be exactly what we wish."
In other words, if you think the right way, the right thing will happen to you. Statements such as these make the mind into a "god". In these programs, It's not God's will that determines the outcome of our life, it's what the mind does or doesn't do. This is crediting the mind with a power it doesn't have.
This is a classic example of New Age thinking - it always glorifies the self. Founded in a humanistic psychology, it never fails to emphasizes a person's inherent drive toward self-actualization. Get rich! Be successful! Achieve your dreams! Just buy my book or come to my seminar and I'll show you how!
2. Claim to Have a Secret Knowledge
Other telltale signs of a New Age motivational speaker or writer will be those who claim to have some kind of secret knowledge about God, humanity or the universe that will help you to realize your greatest potential.
Popular examples of this can be found in books like The Law of Attraction or Ronda Byrne's The Secret and The Power. “At the point of creation, a great power was released," Byrne writes in The Power. "[T]his power is within everyone and everything. Those who harness the Power change the world . . ."
Again, this is classic New Age thinking mixed with a heaping dose of good old-fashioned gnosticism. Gnosticism is a belief that some people have access to secret knowledge about God, humanity and the universe which the general population does not have. Gnosticism can be traced back to the earliest days of the Church in a variety of sects that taught all kinds of novel beliefs about God and the world - such as Manicheanism - whose adherents tended to believe that salvation is achieved through knowledge rather than from the Truth of Jesus Christ.
3. Presence of the Occult
The New Age also likes to dabble in the occult which explains why other motivational programs and speakers readily introduce these aspects into their preaching.
An example of this would be Helen Schucman, the woman who claimed to be channeling Jesus Christ when she wrote the "New Age bible" known as A Course in Miracles.
Another example is Gerry and Esther Hicks, authors of The Law of Attraction series, who claim to be channeling a group of spirits known as Abraham.
4. Exhibit Signs of a Cult
Motivational training programs that are run by people or organizations who exercise an almost tyrannical control over their seminar attendees, using all kinds of mind control techniques, are yet another example of New Age.
For instance, est, the group training program designed by Werner Erhard (not his real name) which is now known as Landmark, has been labeled a "cult" by many experts because of its Zen master approach to training which is often abusive and demeaning. Since Erhard left the country in 1991, many management training programs have spun off of the original est and are to be avoided.
"The usual function of these seminars, which is not advertised, is to break down the identity and world view of the participants, and replace it with a new paradigm for reality and self-identity based on the philosophies belonging to the founders of these programs. In effect, it is mind re-reprogramming,” writes Marcia Montenegro of Christian Answers for the New Age.
The teachings in these seminars are often subtle, mixing in with helpful advice, and are advertised as methods to improve self motivation, workplace performance, team-building, and leadership skills with co-workers.
However, many of them use cult techniques such as secrecy, humiliation and mind manipulation.
For example, trance-induction techniques are often used such as closed-eye exercises, a form of guided imagery, and the “dyad”, which is the pairing off of participants who are told to stare into each other’s eyes for several minutes at a time. During these “trances” trainers may encourage participants to recall their most powerful memories as a way of conquering their past, something that can cause dangerous psychotic episodes in fragile individuals.
It's easy to spot these speakers/groups because they not only use the above techniques, but they also like to make their participants sign "hold harmless" agreements to avoid legal action against themselves if you get hurt. They never - under any condition - will reveal the content of their program ahead of time. Anyone who doesn't agree with their program is "stupid" or "the devil." All critical thinking about the program is discouraged (in other words, they don't want your input about how to make it better). You are expected to recruit others to come to the seminar.
If a speaker, writer or group has any of these qualities - stay away! As my own personal story personal story attests, only God can bring about the ideal life for you. It has been part of His plan from the beginning of time and only He can make it happen!
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