New Age vs. New Thought
New Thought is often confused with or even overlaps with New Age because most people are not aware of the distinctions between them and their shared ideologies.
Since New Age is so loosely followed, and for the most part unorganized, there are not that many organized groups that are actually classified as New Age, although some smaller groups do exist. Most New Age practitioners or adherents do not belong to any organization. Both New Age and New Thought believers fall into the “more spiritual than religious” group, however these are religions in their own right and protected by law in America.
Also note that New Age is a category that many people tend to lump anything into that doesn't fit into a traditional category. Classifying spiritual practices that way tends not be very accurate. There are certain criteria that are normally met to be considered New Age. My intent is not to draw a hard line but rather shed a light on how the classifications may overlap or differentiate between the two belief systems. In other words, just because it is eclectic or not found in mainstream religion, does not make it New Age necessarily. Some movements are actually new religious movements in their own right that don't already have a category of their own. Did you know there are actually thousands of religions? Yes, thousands!
New Thought predates New Age and can be traced back to the 1800’s and Phineas Quimby and Ralph Waldo Emerson. You may recognize some of the more well-known names like Norman Vincent Peale, Mary Baker Eddy, Emmet Fox, Charles and Myrtle Filmore, Joel Goldsmith, Ernest S. Holmes, Emma Curtis Hopkins, Albert C. Grier and Nona L. Brooks. The Philosophy of New Thought has a long, rich history and is older than New Age. New Thought isn’t really new anymore and has had a resurgence in recent times with the popularity of The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, The Law of Attraction, Wayne Dyer, and Marianne Williamson, just to name a few. New Thought has teachings that draw from many different religions and cultural origins including Egyptian, Greek, Buddhist, Taoist, Chinese, Hindu, Vedic, Roman and Christianity. I have a prior post on this blog that delves more into the specifics on Metaphysical Science Philosophy titled “Faith”.
There are many New Thought churches and Christian Science organizations including Unity Church, Church of Christ Scientist, Divine Science, Religious Science (Science of the Mind), International Metaphysical Ministry, Center for Spiritual Awareness and Universalism. There are far too many to list every church or organization. My ministry Metaphysical Mystical Ministry is a New Thought Ministry.
Both New Age and New Thought fall under the umbrella of “Metaphysical Science”. Metaphysics refers to the study of what cannot be known through objective studies of material reality. Metaphysics asks the ancient questions of “Who Am I?”, “Why am I here?” and the purpose and meaning of life. It’s a combination of philosophy and spirituality.
The New Age Movement originated in the 70's in the UK. Often it is associated with free thinking hippies of the time period. It was a time for innovative ideas, rebellion and a desire for a new way of expressing spirituality. New Age gained prominence in the mid 20th century and was influenced by the Human Potential Movement, the 1950’s UFO religions and the 60’s counterculture.
New Age Philosophy and beliefs may include but are not limited to:
Age of Aquarius
New World of Peace
Anti-War and Peace Focus
Energy Healing (Reiki and Pranic healing are two examples)
Ancient Egyptian Religion
Channeling and Communication with spirits a.k.a. Spiritualism
Eastern Religious influences from Hinduism and Buddhism (examples include Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture, chakras, reincarnation, Feng Shui and karma)
Influences from Native American Spirituality such as Shamanism
Psychic Powers such as ESP
Near Death Experiences
Human Potential Movement
Jesus is usually not a focus in New Age and if so, it is not in the traditional sense. He would likely be seen as a master teacher which aligns with New Thought in that respect, however it is more common that he may be followed among New Thought believers.
Sometimes it is associated with the hallucinogenic drug use of the 60's like LSD and mushrooms since it was popular with New Agers of that era. However, it should be noted that there are many modern day and past practitioners that abstain from drug use.
Many believe in a new world order bringing peace and eliminating suffering. The New World Order ideology also differs from New Thought. New Thought focuses more on personal enlightenment and oneness.
A Course in Miracles (ACIM) which is a self-study spiritual thought system derived from a book in the 70’s. It is considered New Age by many but a lot of New Thought adherents embrace it with some New Thought churches even offering the course. It had a resurgence in popularity in the 90’s after Marianne Williamson discussed the book on the Oprah Winfrey show.
Note that all of these ideas can frequently be embraced and adopted by New Thought believers in a very eclectic style. In both, it is likely to be cafeteria style for the individuals. So how are the movements and ideologies differentiated?
New Thought and New Age ideologies do overlap, but New Thought is much more organized with a defined structure and focus on the individual evolving. New Thought Philosophy believes in the oneness of God, humanity and the universe. Because New Thought has a more defined and focused core methodology and purpose, that is the likely reason it is more easily organized.
Whereas New Age can seem more like a hodge podge of ideas without a clear direction or purpose. New Age seems to be primarily focused on creating a better, peaceful world without war and looking to the coming New Age and employing many alternative spiritual practices including Spiritualism, Channeling and other beliefs as noted above. Again, this may vary as it is highly unstructured and mostly practiced individually. Whereas New Thought believers tend to congregate.
New Thought has a clear metaphysical focus on communicating with the God within via meditation, prayer, mysticism, personal power, karma, healing, power of thoughts, spiritual mind treatments and affirmations, learning from master teachers such as Jesus, Buddha and Krishna, manifesting and enlightenment. New Thought believers do not think they are God, as often misunderstood, but are created by and part of God, with God indwelling in the mind and soul of the body as Christ-Consciousness. Any other beliefs are optional but usually accepted and not required. New Thought usually also allows for dual membership in other faiths/religions.
Between the various New Thought organizations there are slight differences but most of the primary beliefs are similar, just like you could find between various Christian denominations. There are clearer and more defined beliefs between New Thought denominations. One of the notable exceptions is regarding attitudes towards doctors and medical science. Christian Science has had a reputation in the past for rejecting traditional medicine although they have softened their stance on traditional medical care. It is my understanding they have taught that healing prayer is more effective without medical care which has resulted in some catastrophic ends for some of their followers.
Whereas the other New Thought organizations tend to work with traditional medical care along with spiritual healing modalities, which can result in miraculous recoveries. Note that Jesus healed and most Christian churches also believe in direct healing from God so this is not different in that regard despite criticism from mainstream churches.
Many New Thought churches also focus on Christ-Consciousness and some are more Jesus centered than others. Jesus is considered the Master Way-Shower by Unity and Christian Science especially. Religious Science is a lot less partial to any particular master teacher.
New Thought does believe in the power of manifesting and intentions by thoughts, visualization, affirmations and positive thinking. Although manifesting is usually not considered to be magic, it does share some similarity based on directing your intention to produce a change, which can be seen as magical by some. Some outsiders discount it as magical thinking. In reality, manifesting is very natural and there is nothing supernatural about it. If it is aligned with God's will for your life and you are asking God and the Universe to manifest a reality, it is very much like the Biblical verse that says "Ask and it shall be given to you" (Matt 7:7-8) and praying for God's assistance.
That being said, both New Thought and New Age is primarily dogma-free. It allows for individuals to choose more freely and does not impose creeds or doctrines on the individuals, allowing for a lot more autonomy in their spirituality. Both movements tend to be open-minded and accepting. Neither focus on sin or salvation but on spirituality and Metaphysics instead. This is a draw for those cerebral thinkers that still have a spiritual mindset and are seeking an alternative to mainstream religion.
Mainstream Christianity seems to unfairly criticize any other religion and so-called fringe Christian denominations, even calling them cults unfairly. It is due to the dogma and literal interpretation of Bible scriptures coupled with a lack of understanding and closed mindedness towards other religions, ways of spirituality and relationships with the Divine.
Also problematic in mainstream Christian denominations are condemning attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people. Ironically this rigidity is the very driving factor that is turning a lot of Christians away from mainstream religion and towards other alternatives. As this happens, alternative religions become more popular and old attitudes give way to new ways of believing. In my opinion accepting all of God's children without judgement is a more loving approach. I will note some mainstream denominations are moving towards a more open, loving and tolerant way of thinking, which is dividing factions within mainstream Christian churches.
Many are attracted to alternative religion and spirituality for the freedom of choice in believing what resonates in their soul as truth vs. being dictated to and told it's their way or the highway to hell. Thinking for yourself is easier with access to more information and having more choices. Growing numbers of people are rejecting religions that seem to focus on being separate from God and needing some kind of redemption that often seems unsure and unobtainable realistically. It can be depressing instead of joyful for some trying to reach certain standards of saintly behavior and failing repeatedly, which effects your sense of self-worth and self-esteem. In New Thought and New Age alike you are inherently good enough just because you exist as a child of God and the Universe. You are not being constantly judged or punished. It is more about learning lessons on your journey though life and evolving.
I am not necessarily condemning mainstream Christianity or any Abrahamic religion. Each exist for people at whatever level of spirituality that they and their leaders have attained and serve a purpose for those soul's journeys. Each person practicing their faith is on their own individual path.
New Thought looks to metaphysical interpretations of scriptures and non-literal approaches to spirituality. In both New Thought and New Age there is no devil to blame and each takes personal responsibility for one's actions and seeks a new path to enlightenment with a more positive self-image. The devil is seen as symbolic, not an actual evil entity. In New Thought we see it metaphorically as people are tempted by choices and held accountable for their own decisions. The idea of “sin” or errors in judgement that are selfish, misguided, hurt others or even hurt themselves are seen as separation from God and not being in alignment with their soul's purpose and the will of God. There is no threat of eternal damnation. A person has to live with their own conscious and consequences. Forgiveness is always possible.
In conclusion, New Age is a movement with valid merit that is gaining popularity and deserves to be recognized in its own right, just like New Thought and other alternate forms of spirituality outside of the major five practiced religions. Only each person's soul can determine which direction is best to lead them to enlightenment. Anyone that says it is their way or you will be condemned is highly motivated to convince you to believe like they do. Our beautiful philosophy is not based on threats but rather based in unconditional love. After all God is LOVE!
Love, Peace and Light will attract the people who seek to find it.
Let it be so and so it is. God bless you and Namaste.
Rev. S. Castle