NEW YORK - New Age beliefs have become common, even among people who consider themselves to have strong religious beliefs.
A recent study from the Pew Research Center found that 60% of respondents held a “New Age” view, like believing in reincarnation, astrology, psychics or a belief that there's energy in physical objects like mountains, crystals, or trees.
To get some answers as to why there has been a surge in such beliefs, FOX 5 NY went north of the border to Toronto and spoke with a man who has lived life on both sides of this debate.
"I knew in that moment I was in the presence of Jesus," Steven Bancarz said.
His personal story and words were from a tearful testimonial posted to YouTube recorded inside his car.
In the clip, viewed by hundreds of thousands of people, he went on to describe a moment he called divine.
"The atmosphere around me started to change there was something holy and pure around me. And it was also personal," Bancarz said. "I just fell on my face before Him, and I was weeping. Basically reaching out to Him.”
But, just a few months before he recorded that video, Bancarz lived in a posh mansion about an hour outside of Toronto.
"100% of the money I spent that I used to buy this house I made teaching New Age practices - New Age doctrine on my website," Bancarz said.
Steven seemingly had it all, a big house and a flashy sports car, all paid for with profits from his New Age-based website: spirit science and metaphysics.
"I believed that I was God by nature. That I shared in the substance and being of God. That there was also an intelligence beyond the universe that I had a relationship with," Bancarz said.
The website earned him tens of thousands of dollars a month.
"Reincarnation was a big deal, some of my best articles had to do with reincarnation. All of my best articles had to do with the afterlife actually," he said.
His content was a mix of spirituality and religious beliefs -- the core of New Age.
"It's a culmination of Pagan beliefs and practices that draws on things like Eastern Mysticism, The Occult, Theosophy, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc., and this really is a prominent type of spirituality in the West right now."
It's all part of a modern-day metaphysical movement -- gone completely mainstream.
"We crave a supernatural interaction, a supernatural understanding of the world, and they're not offered that in society so than they turn to the new age and to occult spirituality to get some kind of stimulation on that level cause they know intrinsically there's something more than just molecules and motions here," Bancarz said. "There's something more than just the 9-to-5 grind and they turn to occult spirituality because our western society has become so secularized in the education system that it's left them completely spiritually unfulfilled."
From millennials fully embracing astrology to those endless companies offering crystal healing subscription boxes and another Pew Research Center study showing that the witch population in the U.S. has seen an astronomical rise in popularity.
We discussed the phenomenon with Dr. A.R. Bernard, the founder and senior pastor of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, the largest church in New York.
"New Age leans more towards, general spirituality even personal spirituality," he said. "8 billion people on the planet, you can’t have 8 billion truths. Something has to be absolute truth, ultimate truth."
He describes his services as more teaching than preaching.
"I believe in our faith tradition and I think most faith traditions hold to the notion that there’s something inside of every human being that seeks the divine, that seeks a sense of purpose, understanding,” Bernard said.
But why the research showing a spike in people blending spirituality with traditional religion? Have people lost their way?
"Because of social media and communication platforms...more people globally are exposed to these things, it’s no longer confined," he said. "It opens to more information coming in for people to sort through and say ‘Wow that sounds good, that sounds good’ and it becomes a menu."
Bernard acknowledges that you can’t turn off the internet, but from his perspective, a pastor who started with a few dozen parishioners, growing his church to a few hundred and now tens of thousands, the structure of traditional religion will win out in the end.
"We read scripture filled with promises right? Filled with principles and patterns, but we reason those things in order to trust, to build faith," he said. "And when we get back to that understanding instead of, you know, kind of whatever happens, whatever we feel, I think that things will reset."
Which brings us back to Steven and his life-altering moment.
"It did hit me," Bancarz said. "I thought God was just some kind of energy blob beyond the universe somewhere and I would talk with him and I would pray to him meanwhile it was all in vain. I was talking to an idol I had created in my mind. It's the First Commandment: You should have no other Gods before me and that was the very thing I had done."
The moment when he felt the presence of a higher power came to him lying in bed one night, in his big house.
"Well, my heart was empty. I was living in that house for maybe 2 or 3 months and what happened was my sanity started to find me out," he said.
So he gave it all up. The website, sold the house and the car, all because he wanted something different.
He found Christ.
"I needed to start seeking him for who he actually was, instead of fitting Him into this box of mysticism," Bancarz said.