LV writes: “I’m so tired of trying to figure out if an alternative is related to the New Age or not. Are there any guidelines Christians can use to help them discern what’s okay and what isn’t from a spiritual perspective?”
Yes! In the back of my book, The Learn to Discern Compendium, I list nine questions that Christians can use to discern whether a healing therapy or technique is related to the New Age or the occult. These questions, which are also applicable to Christian practitioners, were designed by the Rev. Dr. Gareth Leyshon, a Cardiff trained astro-physicist and priest who is an expert on the New Age.
1. Does the practitioner explicitly ask for God’s help in carrying out the practice, or explain that the “spiritual energy” of the practice comes from God?
If so, first ask whether the “god” called upon is God as Christians understand Him, the God who exists as three persons: the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. To seek the help of any other “god” is the sin of idolatry. (See CCC 2113)
Next, does the practitioner claim that God’s help is guaranteed, or is God humbly asked to help without any promise of what He will do? Only in the case of the seven sacraments, or where there is a clear promise in the Bible, or a genuine God-given gift of prophecy, can we guarantee God’s action. Otherwise, anyone who makes an absolute promise of God’s help acts falsely, and sins.
2. Does the practitioner claim to be helped by intelligent spirits – for example, angels, demons, dead persons’ souls, or “spirit guides” – or speak of channeling?
The only legitimate recourse to angels, saints and holy souls is to ask them to pray for us, or to help us in ways which accord with God’s will. Any other attempt to use the power of spiritual beings, especially requesting them to contact us, is a sin of idolatry.
3. Does the practitioner claim to manipulate or depend upon any kind of unintelligent “spiritual energies”?
Doing so is technically called the sin of sorcery (CCC 2117), and is forbidden, even in the case of “healing therapies.”
4. Is it likely, or possible, that the therapy in general, or the method of an individual practitioner, has recourse to spirits secretly? Note that secret elements may include, in example, the use of a dowsing pendulum over the ingredients used in homeopathy or aromatherapy.
To participate unknowingly in such practices is not technically a sin, but may have negative spiritual effects.
5. Is the practice compatible with Christian teaching about Jesus and the nature of human beings?
The most likely alternatives to be suggested in New Age practices are suggestions that you “are God”, are already one with God, can become or get closer to God purely by virtue of your own exercises; and teaching that Jesus is one of many “christs.”
6. Are there good reasons, based either on experimental evidence, or the theory of how the therapy works, to believe it is truly effective?
If there are no good grounds, based either on reason (including scientific research), or on the truths of the Christian faith, then the practice is superstitious (CCC 2110-2111).
7. Am I being sincere, and founding my teaching on good evidence, if I am promoting or offering a particular technique?
Promoting or providing a practice involves moral responsibility for others as well as for yourself. Doing so based only on anecdotal evidence could be a sin against truth.
8. Will my participation in this practice give others a false impression of Christianity, or lead Christians into sin? (To answer this question, you will need to consider the practice’s “spiritual significance” in its culture of origin, and in your local culture.)
All Christians are responsible for encouraging every person in the world to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior from sin, even if Catholics do approach this duty differently from evangelical Christians. It is a serious matter to lead anyone to believe that it is good to turn to spiritual powers other than Jesus Christ. Therefore we must consider the impression we will give to others by using a practice which has passed all the other tests.
9. Am I using this practice in a way that is under the Lordship of Christ, and totally trusts Him with my future?
Do we trust in Jesus? If we use any kind of fortune teller to peer into our future, we are implicitly saying that we don’t trust Him, and that is a sin.
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