- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 4, 2003

The Vatican said yesterday that New Age spiritualism's promise of special powers and self-fulfillment cannot substitute for Christian faith.
Turning to New Age practices, from yoga and shamanism to reading the Harry Potter children's books that extol magic, reflect the "spiritual hunger of contemporary men and women," according to the 92-page document, issued at a Rome press conference.
Subtitled "A Christian Reflection on the 'New Age,'" the document was prepared by the Pontifical Council for Culture in response to concerns by the world's bishops, who will respond to its content for a final doctrinal statement.
"The New Age presents itself as a false utopia in answer to the profound thirst for happiness in the human heart," said French Cardinal Paul Poupard, head of the council. "New Age is a misleading answer to the oldest hopes of man."
The document said persistence of the "immensely popular" New Age trend shows people today yearn "for a deeper spirituality, for something which will touch their hearts, and for a way of making sense of a confusing and often alienating world."
The Catholic tradition, with two millenniums of spiritual modes of prayer, meditation, philosophy and supernatural saints, has been more amenable to New Age pursuits than Protestant fundamentalism, which sees it as strictly demonic.
Among modern spiritualities, the Vatican said, "It is hard to see clearly what is and what is not consistent with the Christian message."
While new spiritualities have boosted ecology, for example, they also have wrongly led to nature worship, one Vatican official said, and the same goes for using music for "spiritual" relaxation.
"But if this music empties prayer and prayer turns into just listening to music and falling asleep, it's no longer prayer," said Monsignor Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
The new document is "a call to discernment" about what Catholics may dabble in, said the Rev. Peter Fleetwood, secretary for the Conference of European Bishops. "It is saying that some of the answers to the search cannot fit with Christianity. … The power over others is the key to understanding the negative aspect of the New Age."
Many non-Christian spiritualities appeal to forces in nature, within the self, or from spirits to produce good fortune or deal with enemies.
The document, which makes references to "Magical Mystery Tour" and "Age of Aquarius," contains a glossary of New Age terms and practices. They include yoga, Feng-Shuimanism, rebirthing, positive thinking, theosophy, transcendentalism, channeling and healing by crystals.
Father Fleetwood said the Harry Potter series, now in its fifth installment, may be harmless enough in opening youthful minds to faith.
"I don't think that any of us grew up without the imaginary world of fairies, magicians, angels and witches," he said. "They are not bad or a banner for anti-Christian ideology. They help children understand the difference between good and evil."
Many evangelical groups have condemned the Harry Potter series as espousing demonic witchcraft, and a similar criticism from strict evangelicals has fallen upon the revival of the three-part "Lord of the Rings" fantasy, due for its third and final movie adaptation this Christmas.
That fantasy novel, published in 1954, developed a global cult following and was written by the Catholic believer J.R.R. Tolkien, an Oxford don who described it as a "moral" story about good and evil.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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