Some years ago while studying at a previous college I had a chance to interact with Mike (not his real name). Mike, like many New Agers, typically borrowed Eastern philosophical beliefs and amalgamated them together into a worldview & thus into a way of life. However, unlike some other worldviews, there were few Christians at that college; there must have been (from what I knew) seven or eight of them (there were roughly 400 to 500 students). However, what was well represented was New Age Spirituality; in fact, I am confident that New Age Spirituality provides a much sterner challenge to the truth of Christianity, at least on many fronts, than does atheism or Islam, for example. Our colleges in the West are often swamped with New Age believers and New Age ideology, and that doesn’t mean to downplay post-Enlightenment philosophical naturalism that seeps from the lecture halls too.
Annually we would get into groups where seven or eight students from several different specializations over a period of five weeks to come up with a brand campaign (I am sure if any of my former classmates are reading this then they will know exactly what I am referring to!). So, this project gave students a taste of the real world as real corporations had us innovate marketing campaigns for them. If these brands fancied our ideas (we would present our campaign to brand representatives in the last week) then they would likely implement them. And, of course, as groups go there is always diverse range of people forced to work together; people usually with different beliefs, cultures, and backgrounds all work together to achieve a collective goal.
So, one day Mike & I somehow get into a discussion about our religious beliefs. Mike was the business & marketing minded student (and he was good at it although his confidence would often come across as arrogance, unfortunately) whereas I was about to graduate as a multimedia designer. The multimedia person is usually responsible for videos, websites & other cool digital stuff, and they would also work closely with the team graphic designer. Nonetheless, Mike and I asked each other questions about our beliefs – it was actually rather cordial. Mike clearly respected me and I respected him, and I could gather that he was a devout New Ager. After all, he informed me about how personal absorption was his goal (he wanted to become one with a divine consciousness), how he saw Jesus as an enlightened human being who had managed to become one with his divine nature (and how if he ever met Jesus that he would embrace him) etc. He really believed all this.
However, having this substantive discussion helped me piece together Mike from what little I could figure out. I eventually figured out what Mike’s main contention with Christianity was. Did it have to do with science? No. What about the biblical portrayal of God? No. Theodicy? No. Instead, it had to do with his grandmother.
I found out that Mike’s gran was a Christian believer. However, when Mike was still young he would ask her questions about her Christian beliefs and he would often be told not to question them. In other words, his grandmother had a belief that we would rightly define as blind faith. However, instead of Mike noting this and trying to investigate Christianity for himself (for instance, he could have consulted the works of apologists and leading Christian thinkers online or in books, or at least consult more believers than solely his grandmother), he unfortunately assumed that all Christians were like this. Namely that all Christians believe devoid of evidence & facts; that they had a weak blind faith. But how mistaken Mike was, and how sad it is that he would reject Christianity as a viable option because of the way his grandmother saw it. Yet this brings us to a central point – and that is to never judge a philosophy by its abuse. In other words, Mike is judging the truth of Christianity by a faulty, misguided view that his grandmother had. Of course, this abuse of the Christian religion is intellectual as opposed to physical (after all, his grandmother wasn’t abusing Christianity by slaying unbelievers with a sword. Instead, she would ignore directives from scripture that instructs believers to give a rational defence of why they believe what they do (1 Peter 3:15)). For Mike to come to reject Christianity based on the view of one or two people is too simple for Christianity is diverse in many ways. There is always far more to the picture than than one perspective & that is something that we need to explore.
However, this encounter with Mike should reveal a few important details. Firstly, similar events like this are one of the many reasons why over 70% of children brought up in a church & in a Christian home will end up leaving Christianity by the time they’re finished with high school (1). These children are often reared in Christian homes that teach them not to ask questions about their faith, or at least if they do ask questions they are never answered. So, what happens to such a child when he finishes school? Simple: he is confronted by other beliefs (from a lecturer, peer, friends etc.) that he isn’t prepared for. This is why basic training in apologetics is important for parents. Sure, there is some good (and really bad) apologetic material online, but not everyone knows about it. Some people don’t even know what apologetics is. After all, I have had a few Christian readers tell me that I should never “apologize” for being a Christian. Such a reader clearly misunderstands who a Christian Apologist is. Secondly, it tells us that we need to equip young Christians for when they leave school. As I mentioned above one will be exposed to many worldviews that will certainly challenge Christian belief. One should have a basic understanding of these worldviews. Thirdly, it is important that Christian parents are open with their children about their beliefs. For in the case of Mike it was his gran who he inquired about Christianity – and who had deliberately decided not to answer some genuine, seeking questions. It is also more likely to be the case that a person will ask someone close to them (a parent, brother, sister, grandparent, a close friend) about serious questions in life; questions often centered on God, theology, religion. And if we cannot answer, or at least attempt to answer, these genuine questions we will then continue to have many more Mikes leaving high school. Some people, like Mike, when asking questions don’t look much further than their families for an answer, and very often family members don’t have the answers to questions that they haven’t even asked themselves.
I greatly appreciated my encounter with Mike. After all, I got to know another person and the things that he believed. Yet, it has been some years since we had that conversation and I haven’t seen or spoken to Mike since then. Although it is highly probable that he still holds to his New Age beliefs, it is my prayer that he comes to know the one true Jesus. Not the Jesus that Mike claims once achieved enlightenment, but the real Jesus who willingly died on a cross to put us right with God once again.
1. Turek, F. Youth Exodus Problem. Available.