SAN DIEGO — A decade ago, Sharon Lee Giganti was “on the fence” between her New Age beliefs and Christianity. She had not only been a New Age follower, but a teacher and counselor, so her roots in New Age were deep.
Then she received the horrifying news that her 31-year-old brother had murdered his 4-month-old son. According to the prosecutors, who would later secure a conviction and life sentence for her brother, he had suffocated the child to get back at his teenage girlfriend for rejecting his marriage proposal. According to Giganti, he had long been an abuser of drugs and alcohol and murdered the child in a “deluded” state.
The event devastated the family and was especially painful to Giganti, as she believes her New Age beliefs contributed to the atrocity.
“I didn’t believe in sin or evil, and I told my parents not to worry about him,” she recalled. “I told them it was only our negative thoughts and feelings that led to negative outcomes.”
Giganti was born in 1961 and grew up in San Diego. She attended Catholic grade school, but graduated with little knowledge of or interest in the Catholic faith. By the time she was an adult, she was thoroughly secular and viewed her parents’ beliefs about right and wrong as “their morality.” In fact, when she made moral choices to which her parents objected, she was puzzled by their disapproval. She reflected, “At the time, there was nothing firm or objective on which I formed my conscience.”
At 21, she won the title of Miss San Diego County and was a runner-up for Miss California, which is part of the Miss USA/Miss Universe pageant. The pageant judge suggested she pursue an acting career in Hollywood, so she moved to the Los Angeles area. Giganti (then Sharon Lee Jones) began landing parts in the late 1980s into the 1990s. Some were roles on popular television programs, including Wings, Night Court and Murder, She Wrote. She also earned bigger roles in two children’s movies, Leapin’ Leprechauns and Josh Kirby … Time Warrior. Her career was well on its way.
As an attractive young woman in the entertainment industry, she was often pressured into taking parts which required her to remove her clothes. She resisted most such offers and was distressed by this aspect of Hollywood. She was also puzzled by her own reaction: “If I had no moral standards, why was I crying about it?”
It was also in Hollywood that she was introduced to the New Age. Such views were prevalent in the entertainment industry, she says.
In his book Catholics and the New Age, Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa defines New Age as “a loosely structured, eclectic movement based on experiences of monism [a belief in the oneness of everything] that leads people to believe in pantheism [everything that exists is divine], with a tendency to hold millenarian views of history [expectation of a new age to begin].”
New Age practitioners may engage in the meditation techniques of Hinduism, Zen, Sufism and Indian religions, mixed with humanistic psychology, Western occultism and spiritualist interpretations of modern physics. Others may make use of crystals, rebirthing experiences and sensory deprivation. Hallucinogenic drugs, yoga, Sufi dancing or breathing exercises may be used in an attempt to reach an altered state of consciousness.
Sometimes Catholics dabble in elements of New Age, such as astrology, the enneagram, reiki and channeling. Father Pacwa, the host of EWTN Live on the Eternal Word Television Network, admits that in his youth he engaged in New Age practices, which he today rejects.
He continued, “In general, New Age fads are attempts to awaken the so-called ‘divine energy’ within each person. When a particular method does not work, you search for the next, knowing that eventually you will find the one which will awaken your divinity.”
Despite her success in Hollywood, Giganti was depressed. She found Hollywood lonely and bleak — and a difficult place to make healthy choices. She reflected, “I was hungering for God, and I didn’t realize it.”
A friend gave her some New Age books and tapes, including Helen Schucman’s A Course in Miracles and Esther Hicks’ Law of Attraction. Schucman claimed her material was dictated to her by an inner voice, which she said was Jesus; Hicks claims to channel a group of non-physical entities called Abraham. According to Hicks’ Law of Attraction, negative thoughts lead to negative outcomes and positive thoughts lead to positive outcomes (hence Giganti’s advice to her family about her brother).
To a group of struggling young actors, such beliefs are appealing, Giganti explained: “If you create your own reality, when you go to an audition and really want a part and believe you’re the best, you’ll get it. There is nothing you can’t achieve.”
She continued, “But that’s simply not true. You can’t make your own reality, and there are some things that are beyond your control.”
Many Hollywood films and television shows have New Age themes, Giganti noted, and prominent media personalities have promoted the false teachings of the New Age. Giganti has taped an audio CD, for example, on how Oprah Winfrey has used her media empire to provide a platform for New Age gurus.
Experiences with Death
But by the mid-1990s, Giganti had become so imbued with New Age philosophies that she abandoned acting for her “higher calling” of becoming a New Age teacher and counselor. It wasn’t long, however, before she recognized the devastating consequences of her teachings.
One young woman who came to her for advice, whom she calls Tia, was a single mother with a host of problems, including drug, alcohol and gambling addictions, as well as mental-health problems. Among her vices, Tia enjoyed gambling after work. Her children, one as young as three, would be left home alone while she gambled away what little money the family had.
Giganti introduced Tia to Hicks’ Law of Attraction. Giganti recalled, “I told her that while she was out gambling to visualize that her family would be fine, and they would.”
Tia wound up leaving her family for weeks at a time, going broke, losing her home and children, and finally being committed to a mental hospital.
Even more tragic is the story of Jane, a suicide-minded student who came to Giganti for help. The girl asked, “Is suicide wrong?”
Giganti: “Only if you think it is.”
“Will I go to hell?”
Giganti: “There is no such place.”
“Will my family be devastated?”
Giganti: “Only if you think they will.”
Giganti was frustrated with Jane’s “religious conditioning,” and quoting Abraham assured her “you are free to attract anything you desire, even death.” Giganti suggested they “see what the universe thinks,” and took out her runestones, which are similar to tarot cards and an occult practice. The ivory-colored tiles bear images that have various meanings. Giganti pulled out the death tile. An upset Jane responded, “I don’t want to do this anymore.”
Jane checked into a hotel room the following day and killed herself.
Giganti remembers not seeing Jane as a person, but merely as a vibration and energy. She concluded, “The New Age movement had robbed me of my empathy.”
Giganti began studying the Bible and believing in objective truth and morality, but clung to her New Age beliefs as well. It was learning of her brother’s murder of her young nephew that “knocked her off the fence.”
She became a self-described Bible Christian and returned to the Catholic Church through the influence of childhood friend Lisa O’Neill. O’Neill recalled, “My husband, Damian, and I worked on her and prayed that the Holy Spirit would work through us to reach her.”
They encouraged her to go to Mass with them and go to confession. O’Neill continued, “That little visit really paid off, because Sharon is now on fire.”
Today, Giganti is a catechist and a professed member of the Holy Family Institute, a secular institute that helps families cultivate holiness through marriage and family life. She and her husband, Frank, have a 7-year-old daughter.
Her current projects include work on a new book, Off Center: Hidden Dangers of the Centering Prayer Movement. She also maintains a website and recently joined the Catholic Answers speakers bureau. She is featured monthly on the Catholic Answers Live radio show, where she speaks out against the New Age. She concluded, “A Course in Miracles, Law of Attraction and other such beliefs lead to death and devastation. I’ve seen it. I thank God for leading me out of this darkness, and now I want to help lead others into the light.”
Register correspondent Jim Graves writes from Newport Beach, California.