How common are “new age” beliefs?


new ageFirst let’s define what the term “new age belief” means. It is basically a catch-all term that involves a belief in non-traditional supernatural claims such as reincarnation, astrology, psychics and the presence of spiritual energy in physical objects like mountains or trees. The term “New Age” harks back to the 1970s movements that embraced such ideas and also looked forward to a “New Age” of love and light. It is all now part of our cultural inheritance and is quite pervasive, but just how deeply entrenched is it?

Let’s take a look.

Pew has a FactTank article on the Topic

Pew will often mine their various polls and pull out cultural insights. One of their recent postings (Oct 2018) does exactly this on the “New Age” topic and is titled …

‘New Age’ beliefs common among both religious and nonreligious Americans

Well yes, I guess the title gives away their insight.

When asked during a 2017 poll, who were the people that said they held such beliefs?

Here is what Pew discovered …


The rather interesting highlight they draw out is that a clear majority of Christians do also hold some non-Christian beliefs as well. This should not really be a surprise because often those that embrace supernatural ideas will be naturally suspitxable to embracing many other supernatural claims. This is in many respects akin to the observation that those that embrace one specific conspiracy theory will often also embrace other conspiracy theories. If our mode of thinking leads us to embracing a type of idea uncritically then we will be naturally inclined to accept multiple variations even if they are mutually exclusive.

Mutually exclusive?

Well yes, and that is fascinating and also ever so human.

For example, in traditional Christian theology there is a belief that you get just one life and that there is no reincarnation, just heaven or hell, and yet almost a third who identify as Christian also believe in reincarnation as well. It sounds weird, but it does indeed appear to be the case that vast multitudes of people embrace mutually exclusive beliefs.

Nones

The most dominant group of “New Age” believers are the “Nones” – those that reject traditional mainstream labels such as “Catholic”, “Methodist”, or “Evangelical”.

It is perhaps fair to say that those that would have previously used the term “New Age” in the 1970s would today self-identify as a “none”. It would in fact be interesting to understand how such numbers panned out back in the 1970s to see if they align, but the data simply does not exist (that I’m aware of).

Neither Religious, nor Spiritual

Another group that also stands out are “Atheists”. These have the lowest probability of holding a “new age” belief . This again follows a natural pattern. If your mode of thinking is one that is analytical and not simply intuitive, then you will be far more inclined to reject things that simply have no evidence at all such as all variations of supernatural thinking.

Another way that pew looks at this is to align answers for the “New Age” questions with answers to a question about how people identify themselves – “Religious” and/or “Spiritual”?

It is a consistent pattern and once again reveals that if you reject labels such as “Religious” and also “Spiritual” then it is highly probable that you also do not embrace “New Age” ideas.

Final Observation

It is quite fascinating to observe just how pervasive and common some of these supernatural beliefs are in society and how they traverse all variations of belief. It is perhaps part of the human story that our species is like this. Unfortunately the commonality of such thinking means that many are open to the embrace of ideas that are simply not true at all. We can’t avoid the fact that as a species we are naturally suspitxable to manipulation by pseudoscience, quackery, and the outright fraudulent.

The most successful means our species has ever contrived for working out what is and is not actually true is the scientific methodology, and it is that process that reveals that all of these supernatural claims simply do not withstand any critical analysis – and yet they persist, thrive, and will no doubt continue to flourish.

We live in an interesting place amongst an interesting species. If like me you don’t embrace such claims, then you will be well aware of the huge challenge involved in grasping for a way to have meaningful conversations with people about what they believe and why they believe it.

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