In the rural Canterbury of the mid-1970s, religion was ably handled by small
enclaves of a few mainstream faiths, and the closest I ever came to experiencing
New Age anything was hearing things on the radio like Jean-Michel Jarre's "Oxygene",
Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells" and Kraftwerk's "Autobahn".
Meanwhile, among the older and more worldly-wise (i.e. dope-smokin', piss-drinkin' bad dudes)
Pink Floyd were known with great reverence to be 'fuckin' out-of-it, man'
and their albums were cultural milestones (white, male and under 50? You know
at least one Floyd album, intimately). Of course, once I too discovered mind-bending
substances the more meditative end of music took on a whole new resonance, as
did the previously-baffling humour of Cheech and Chong. But I digress.
Meditative, reflective music (Pink Floyd's "Echoes", man! Out-of-it!)
is of course merely one manifestation of the so-called 'New Age', an era of popular
cultural excursions into the esoteric generally considered to date from the 1960s
social revolutions and the rise of the Counterculture. In fact, during that strange
and protean decade the 1920s there arose a phenomenal Western interest in alternative
lifestyles, Eastern mysticism, spiritualism, and astrology. There were in fact
more communes in Britain during this 'early New Age' (and some were 'free-love')
than in the 1960s .
Since the 1960s aromatherapy, alternative medicines, aura balancing, channelling,
crystal power, flotation tanks, past life regression, re-birthing etc. have become
commonplace concepts. Astrology, clairvoyance and divination, once the exclusive
preserve of the rich and influential, are now available to anyone with a telephone
(for about $5:00 per minute) from the seers at "Mystical Pathways", "Mystics" and "Psychic
By far the worst thing which could happen while casually dipping into the New
Age mainstream is that one could get very bored (with not-quite-getting-it meditation
or music which has neither beginnings nor 'finales') or at worst waste money
on vague, nebulous 'advice'. If one leaps into the whackyzanykooky fringe of
cults, beliefs and practices, one can get into serious waters indeed. For example,
should one adopt the lifestyle of a Breatharian, one will die. Breatharians
believe that an adept, properly trained can live on something called 'prana'
(or plain old light to us regular folks). Human beings can not photosynthesise,
and at least three modern-era deaths  have
been attributed to a now badly discredited lifestyle. This not to mention any
number of other religious/mysticism cults (Heaven's Gate was a prime example)
in a New Age canon of fringe beliefs which are both benign and not-so-benign.
Although around for a long time, the mystical-fringe Christianity Charismatic
Fundamentalist and Pentecostal movements  experienced
too a startling upsurge in popularity during the 'early New Age', similarly to
fall victim to the social reverberations caused by the 1929 Crash and 1930s pre-war
uncertainty. During the post-war half of the 20th Century, so-called New Age
beliefs steadily usurped the traditional place of Christianity in catering to
many Western people's spiritual needs. Not to be outdone, since Billy Graham's
first 'crusades' in the late 1950s, big-money charismatic Christianity has fought
back with a 'revival' of fundamentalist teachings every bit as bizarre (and cult-like)
as any New Age fringe-group.
To a Fundamentalist, the Bible is taken as God's immutable Word, divinely inspired
and the only real 'history book'. Never mind that it didn't even exist until
hundreds of years after Jesus' death and was written, collated and edited together
by mere human beings (leaving a sizeable Apocrypha of stuff which didn't fit
in) working with a murky agenda, or that the original texts have been translated
many times over the centuries and even censored with Papal sanction (as with
the excised-in-medieval-times 'Gospel of Mark'). To TV evangelists like Pat Robertson
and his flock, creation happened over the course of six 24-hour days, Adam and
Eve were two real people, Noah built an ark for all the animals on the earth
to survive in, and God still works miracles for the faithful. And that's the gospel
The problem is, 'Biblical truth' (like many ancient texts) is so vague and archaic
as to become what one makes of it. In Christchurch over the last couple of years
we've been privileged to experience the endlessly fascinating Biblical Truth
of American-style charismatic Fundamentalist/Pentecostal televangelism. Tuning
into Freedom TV (the local outpost of the American global Trinity Broadcasting
Network (TBN) channel), one learns of the vast invisible realm in which God fights
the Devil, and that the power of prayer can influence God's work on Earth. At
stake are our own immortal souls.
In format, TBN resembles a constant series of infomercials for God. TBN-style
Fundamentalism relates to regular Christianity in the same way that WWF professional
wrestling does to regular sport. Each 'infomercial' features a TBN televangelist
preaching some aspect of the Word and advertising their CDs, tapes and videos
of teachings. In that a myriad of these expensive 'teachings' are available and
touted as indispensable, Scientology springs to mind as a parallel religion .
Always there are the pleas for money, or 'love gifts' (oo-er..) as the parlance
goes. Sometimes for cheap 'annointed' geegaws, sometimes for a show's continued
air-time, mostly to perpetuate and maintain the TBN money-mountain.
When looked at objectively, essentially the same forces are at work in both New
Age fringe beliefs and the kind of theologies espoused by some of these hard-core
Fundamentalist Christian evangelists. Like their Breatharian/Psychic Astrology/Yogic
Flying etc. New Age counterparts, they too look back to an earlier, less complicated
pre-urban time, but less an earth energy-megaliths-and-woad tribal existence
than an idealised golden age of 'old west' rural tranquillity. At this end of
mystic belief-systems, there are answers not questions, leaders not individuals.
One of the most popular variants is 'prosperity theology' which interprets the
Word to imply that if one prays hard enough, God will banish the Spirit Of Debt
and pay off one's overdraft.
In the absence of actual video evidence of God at Work, Freedom/TBN is an intense,
constant torrent of words from evangelists, talk-show hosts, body-builders and "Village
Of The Damned" children all strenuously damning as demonic an umbrella of
'New Age' (especially the Eastern) beliefs and practices while simultaneously
espousing a faith itself unabashedly based in the fantastic and the supernatural .
News of miracles, signs and wonders abound in the charismatic movement. You want
channelling? TBN has channelling. Every single day on a show called "Praise
The Lord", the on-screen team are directly spoken to by none other than God
himself. None of your dubious 35,000-year-old Atlantians here. Right there
in front of us, these people (evidently closer to God than the rest of us, they
are Adepts by any other name) receive from Him 'Words of Knowledge' concerning
miraculous events occurring simultaneously off-screen (i.e. spontaneous healing
of everything from drug addiction to sore feet) among the praying, viewing, believing audience.
The televangelist preachers themselves are intriguing theatrical creations, pompous,
hectoring and cringingly reverential all at once. Like many of the New Age 'gurus'
they rail against, some claim to have spoken with, seen or even met God ,
while others say that they have actually been taken up for a glimpse of heaven .
All have their own multi-tape/video teachings and their own 'angle' on the 'love
gift' action. Take Walt Mills, for example. The TBN gang do not of course believe
in faddish New Age crystal or pyramid power (except as a wicked tool of the Devil
designed to ensnare the souls of the gullible). Instead, TBN has 'annointed prayer
cloths', pitched by Mills on his show. A stiff, stern Gregory-Peck/Pilgrim Father
silver-haired patriarch type, Walt mimes a few country gospel songs in the open
country air and then the hard-sell preaching begins. During his 'infomercial'
sermon, Walt is shameless. Apparently these 'annointed prayer cloths'
are the conduits for the Anointing; Walt tells tales like the one where a woman
kept hers in her wallet and lo, she became rich! Somebody else wrapped
it around their painful ankle and behold, it got better! Fuckin' out-of-it,
In a gallery of true grotesques, among TBN's business-suited Shamans there is
Joyce Meyer (a deeply unlovely hard-edged woman disturbingly reminiscent of your
least favourite primary-school bitch teacher), Larry Huch (genuinely sinister
'reformed' ex-biker) and John Hagee (preposterously vast, weather-balloon-obese
hellfire-and-brimstone specimen), but the head honcho must be Benny Hinn. The
mechanics of the big miracle healing 'tent-revival'  shows
became obvious when a Benny Hinn Crusade meeting in Auckland was filmed, edited
and shown last year on Freedom TV. Between numerous singers and hard-sell speakers,
a revival meeting audience is exhorted to sing slow, emotional hymns of praise
for periods of up to 20 minutes at a time, until they enter a state of extreme
suggestion. Undoubtedly a mass, but a mass-hypnosis. Suddenly, it's the
big moment when Benny Hinn appears; it's showtime!
The oleaginous Hinn's pitch is pure 'prosperity theology', coupled with spontaneous
divine healing. He argues that illness and poverty are not 'of God' (conveniently
forgetting that God created everything including plagues, poisons, Satan
himself and of course, catastrophic 'acts of God'), and that not only will God
make you physically well (in order to proselytise the Word), he will also make
you monetarily rich, too. Long, intense, rhythmic audience-involving preaching
follows, then it all goes quiet. Benny dramatically whispers "Jesus is herrreee.." and
the 'miracles' come. After hours of sizzle, here comes the steak. Just
a little bite-sized bit, though. The actual healing process is not shown; the
'spontaneously-healed' are merely paraded and introduced on-stage. Then Benny
shouts "Take it!" and God's Holy Anointing is on them, via a touch
of his hand (or, sometimes, his whiter-than-white jacket. Wonder how many 'love
gifts' pay for those?), and behold they fall to the floor twitching in ecstasy.
Or something very much like it. In Auckland, Hinn clearly demonstrated what was
expected of the 'healed' when he 'annointed' first the country's Fundamentalist
Ministers (conveniently sitting at the front) and over they went, like ninepins.
The big problem with all New Age stuff, Christian Fundamentalist or otherwise,
is that nuts-and-bolts proof of the many supposed realms beyond our own
is woefully scant. There is a rather hefty degree of faith involved. Take for
instance the 'spontaneous gold teeth' phenomenon which did the rounds in the
during the pre-millennium tension of 1999. In essence a close parallel to the
travelling urban legend, the local manifestation (in Rotorua) was memorably dissected
by the Holmes show. Faith was so strong, memories were put into a state of 'doublethink'
which effectively re-routed connections (to having eaten, in the case of the
Breatharian 'guru', and in this case to having had a gold tooth or filling installed).
Like Prosperity Theology, the phenomenon was unarguably a reaction to the believers'
depressed socio-economic status. God bestowing riches on the faithful in order
to ensure that the Word is proclaimed.
Despite its age Fundamentalist Christianity is essentially an extreme greed-is-good Right-wing 'New
Age' belief-system. As with other fringe New Age teachings its followers believe
in an invisible world which directly affects our own, and that with concentrated
mental effort human beings can influence and benefit from the energies there.
One belief-system is essentially 'liberal', the other 'conservative'. Both adapt
to present needs, both look back to an idealised yesteryear. Both are states
of faith which are wide open to abuse. In catering to people's spiritual and
mystical needs they are in fact merely manifestations of the same human strengths
and weaknesses. Purist faith along with darkest greed, unbridled imagination
hand in hand with calculated, cold deception.
Wade Ronald Churton [Libran Tiger] is a Christchurch-based writer and
some-time musician who has just published Have you checked the children:
punk and post-punk music in New Zealand, 1977-81. He is now working
on a volume taking into account the following 20 years. He played in the
seminal bands the Skuzzbuckets and Ape Management, and is presently in