Now, I thought it was time I delved more deeply into defining what is New Age and it's doctrines. In contrast to Christianity there is no single defining text (such as the Bible) or list of beliefs (such as the Nicene Creed) to define what it is. Despite this, there are many common elements which describe this worldview. So, what are they?
Well, the first and foremost principle is the rejection of exclusivity of Religion. This is in stark contrast to conservative Christian denominations which claim that they are the only valid spiritual path (it is not only Christian groups that take an exclusive approach. Islam and Judaism are very exclusive, some Eastern sects are too (ISKON - The Hare Krishna's for example). Some modern "cults" are exclusive, however it would be wrong to label every religious group to crop up in recent times as New Age (ie for example Raelians or Scientology)).
Taken to extremes this can mean total Relativism, ie the idea that all truth is relative to a range of variables and circumstances. In contrast, the exclusive Religions have a dualistic Absolute view of truth ie It's either their truth or its false. Certainly many people accuse New Age of being Relativistic, and in fact many people who follow a loose New Age approach are. I have met many people that don't believe in any sort of Absolutes. However, I think you will find that most of the serious researches & teachers do not advocate absolute relativism.
What I personally think is the solution is the concept of an Absolute truth, with a descending scale of Relative truths, some closer to being an Absolute truth, and some further down the scale. Specifically in relation to Spiritual/Religious concepts it means that there is Absolute truth that can be found non-exclusively in different cultures and religions, but at the same time not all Religious doctrines are equal. So, my conception of New Age will probably be different to others in that I believe in the importance of being firmly established in a traditional Mysticism, thus having an Absolute from which to ground beliefs, and than allow for the range of Relative experiences to have their place.
Probably one of the most important application of this is in relation to beliefs about an afterlife. Conservative Christianity has maintained that there are only two places one can go after death, Heaven or Hell, and that you must belong to a particular denomination and follow all their teachings in order to teach Heaven after you die (however, these teachings emphasise that Salvation is given by grace from God through Jesus Christ. However, this still implies that you authorize a specific group to dictate what is orthodoxy and what is heresy), (Jehovas Witnesses (JW's) and Seventh Day Adventists (SDA's) both believe in annilhation for unbeliever rather than eternal torment in Hell. However both JW's and SDA's are considered fringe groups by most denominations, despite the fact that they see themselves as Restorationists). Strictly, Christians maintain that the only possible method of Salvation is through Jesus. In contrast, New Age proposes that it is not so significant what title you use to describe your Religious beliefs, or what doctrines and dogmas you follow as much as how you live the Spiritual principles, or in strictly Eastern terms, how you realize the higher truths (Dharma) in your life. Specifically, what this means is that whilst doctrines can be significant in determining what one considers important and worth striving for, it is not our intellectual ideals and concepts that are important as much as how we treat others, how we speak, think and act. The perfect example of this is NDE's where many people have been told that the religious denomination is not important, the extent to which they allow love to be the driving force in their life is.
New Age does not believe in the traditional Dualistic doctrine of Heaven and Hell. Instead you have a more complex concept of varying planes or Dimensions. There are variations on these beliefs amongst different groups, however there are common elements. Many different sources describe an Astral cosmos, a universe comprised of less dense elements than our material world which exists both inside and outside our own. Within this Astral world there are considered to be many different levels to correspond with varying levels of Spiritual/Psychological development.Some of the lower levels might be considered "Hellish" prisons for corrupt Souls, however their is a major difference between this concept and the traditional one of Hell. The traditional model of Hell proposes that all those who reject Christianity (or any other exclusive Religion) will find themselves eternally seperated from God, in a realm of hate & torture, not just those who could be considered as sinners, immoral & evil. (To me this produces a major grey area in the doctrines of Christianity which I will address one day soon.) In the New Age conception, people who lived life selfishly, showing anger and hate to others, often find themselves after death in a dark world filled with torment and pain, surrounded by others of a similar inclanation. However, in contrast to the Christian view of Hell as eternal, this New Age version presents such nightmarish experiences as simply temporary, from which a Soul can escape by calling out to God. There are many NDE's where this kind of scenario has been reported.
Likewise, the view of Heaven is also remarkably different. Specifically the Christian conception of Heaven presents it as an eternal abode where one enters due to the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus. Alternatively, the New Age conception of Heaven is one of many temporary abodes in the Astral cosmos, where one enters for a continuation of experience, this time however free from the miseries and troubles of the material world. Descriptions from NDE and OBE reports as well as those from traditional mystical texts and information produced through mediumship presents a picture of many Heavens, of differing levels of density, leading up towards a realm of the Absolute. Sometimes, Eastern views are misrepresented in this regard, whilst the ultimate aim of Eastern Mysticism is to reach a realm beyond the transitory cycles of birth and death (ie Nirvana, Moksha, Liberation), this does not mean that they do not have a concept of Heaven & Hell. For example, look up the meaning of the Sanskrit word Loka. Also, for example the Hindu texts frequently refer to the "three worlds" physical, astral & causal (mental), whilst mainting that the ultimate goal is beyond all these.Ok, I will leave it here for today.
More detail later.