Wednesday 26 September 2018

More on the New Age

Following William's recent piece; I was looking through examples of a representative New Age series originating some twenty-some years ago: James Redfield's Celestine Prophecy and the follow-up volumes.

I was interested in these because of the central place Redfield gives to Synchronicity (i.e. apparent coincidences that seem meaningful); and the idea of acknowledging and being guided-by events that seem to be examples of it.

(And there are plenty of good things in Redfield's books - perhaps most of what is needed is there, somewhere or another.) 

In fact, this was one of the important threads that led me to theism; since I reasoned that if synchronicity was real (as it seemed to be, in my own life) then it implied a personal God with an interest in myself personally... To make sense of synchronicity rules out a random and directionless universe, and it rules-out the idea of a reality of abstract tendencies.

At least, this is what I reasoned - but in fact Redfield doesn't go down this path of a Personal God, but keeps his discussion rooted in abstract and physics-derived concepts such as Energy, Light, Vibration and Frequency; and this is indeed typical of New Age thinking.

Such a perspective leads onto the practical conviction that the centre of religious life is therapy; and indeed Redfield was a professional (psycho) therapist, and the books are therapeutic in orientation. In other words, the centre of New Age spirituality is therapy; in other words how people feel - the books are self-help, and the social aspects are workshops and individual psychological work.

This shows the deficiency of New Age - and how it is assimilated to materialist modernity (as can be seen from the universal leftism of New Age gurus and participants). New Age is not an alternative to the mainstream meaninglessness and purposeless of publicly-shared 'objectivity - but is a strengthening of the subjective and the personally-arbitrary elements of modern life... In a sense it is a strengthened wishful-thinking within limits, and tested pragmatically in a trial and error fashion.

Because, in New Age, the ultimate reality is abstract and physics-like - because there is No personal God; this means that there is no personal moral guidance, in particular no sexual morality. And this was very important in the 'success' - and the failure - of New Age thinking.

Because sex is (probably) the second most powerful human drive (after religion) then in practice sexuality tends to take-over New Age life - and it becomes a miserable litany of promiscuity, affairs, divorces, manipulation and experimentation. 


Chiu ChunLing said...

I find it peculiar that secular reasoning from sexual desire doesn't lead to basically the same morality promoted by Judeo-Christianity with regard to ensuring that sex is confined to relationships consciously and conscientiously aimed at the generation and welfare of (mentally and emotionally as well as physically) healthy children.

It is only explicable in terms of identifying the secular outlook as hostile to quite evident truths, which is why it is secular rather than religious. In other words, people who have already decided to deny the clear evidence that seeking God is the most important thing are pretty much unlikely to be genuinely open to evidence about anything else that is true.

That said, there are many religions and I frankly disagree with most of them about most of what they teach (even before one gets to the idiosyncratic opinions that will be introduced by some congregant or minister without regard to what their denomination officially teaches). But on the whole it is at least possible for a religious person to be trying their best to seek truth about what is most important to them. That really doesn't seem to be the case for anyone that focuses only on this world.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - You say "sex is confined to relationships consciously and conscientiously aimed at the generation and welfare of (mentally and emotionally as well as physically) healthy children." - I have never been happy with the truth of that formulation, it is incomplete. but seeing it written made me think again about the subject and I think that I can capture my intuition by adding to it:

"Sex is confined to relationships consciously and conscientiously *focused on* the generation and welfare of (mentally and emotionally as well as physically) healthy children - *either in this mortal life, or what comes after*.

...bearing in mind that there is the possibility of ('celestial' to use the Mormon term) marriage, and the beraing of (pre-mortal) spirit children, as the ultimate divinie progression in the resurrected life.

That is still inadequate for me, but closer.

Chiu ChunLing said...

There is bound to be unclarity in the formulation of any general principle. I think your formulation is a little over broad in that it creates clear wiggle room for whatever psychology deems "psychologically beneficial", which is of course the argument for homosexuality, pederasty, and every other perversion being laudable as long as it is pleasurable (or even when it is clearly not, as long as it kills "irrational" aversions and prejudices).

Saying "aimed at" is actually less precise, but in not attempting to seem so precise is more "accurate" in the specific sense of admitting that greater precision is not possible in forming the general principle.

Couples who can no longer have children (whether they discover that unusually soon after marriage or in the normal course of events) should continue to remain fully faithful to the marital covenant because this is crucial to the welfare and health of children, even if not specifically their own. Even when it is known that one or both partners in a marriage may have poor prospects of fertility, the marriage should be undertaken with a sincere hope of children and a commitment to the communal posterity. Sexual activity in marriage should be consistent with the procreative pattern (whether intimate or PDA).

One should never forget the story of Abraham and Sarah, along with some other notable occurrences recorded in scripture. Ordinary history also mentions such events.

Which is all tangential to the point...the gross errors about sexual morality that are common in secular thought do not arise because of a lack of evidence nor any honest intellectual incapacity of the otherwise successfully innovative teachers. They are wrong because they choose to be wrong, as they have chosen to be wrong about the importance of a firm and committed relationship with God.

To choose to be right about anything eventually (and more often first) means choosing to be right with God.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - The definition you gave above (which I associate with the Roman Catholic teachings) has never rung true to me... perhaps because it seems to be arguing back from conclusions rather than being based on reality. It also seems to lead to 'reductio ad absurdum' conclusions.

Chiu ChunLing said...

I'm not sure what you're talking about particularly.

Generally, the Roman Catholic teaching on anything is a fun-house mirror distortion of Christianity. Still, a fun-house mirror is still a mirror, or it wouldn't even present a caricature of one's image. That is to say, you may see something grotesque reflected in it, but it is based on you in a way that a Pollack painting is not.

To recognize a fun-house mirror image as a distortion is necessary. To prefer the Pollack painting as a 'less distorted' depiction is less just.

What makes sexual relationships loving is the implied statement "I believe my world needs more people like you, and I'm willing to go to a certain amount of trouble to make that happen." What makes sexual relationships unloving and exploitive or abusive is when some aspect of the sex act is made to deny part of that statement in some way. Infidelity, abandonment, and yes, even contraception (including by perversion) all give the lie to the promise we seek from a sexual relationship.

I won't argue that there are no variations in degree involved. To me, the thought of someone overtly murdering my baby is far more horrible than asking me to wear a condom. A condom is only a way of deferring life, as far as I'm concerned.

All the same, at some point deferring something becomes de facto denial. If a woman never wants to have my children, then I see no point in making our relationship sexual. I've had plenty of positive relationships which didn't involve sex.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - My point is that there is a lot more to marriage than sex; a lot more to sex than reproduction; and therefore I see no reason why the entirety of married physicality should be structured by reproduction. To do so I regard as illegitimate abstraction and reductionism. There are aspects of human relations that are generic, and aspects that are unique to two specific individuals - and again I don't see why the generic should wholly dicate legitimacy.

Chiu ChunLing said...

There is more to procreation than mere biological reproduction, as there is more to biological reproduction than mere genetic replication.

We can have men ejaculate into a test tube and use PCR to achieve unlimited genetic replication. That does not even rise to the level of biological reproduction of an organism, as mere reproduction does not rise to the level of procreation.

The profound error of Darwinism is to assign the primacy to the genetic replication and measure the success of an organism by how much it assists in promoting copies of the genes it carries. But the exact opposite is true, genes matter because of how they assist the organism, not the other way round. We all understand this intuitively when we help a patient fight off a virus rather than help the virus further spread itself. Genes are of no value except as they functionally assist the organism as a whole.

The same is true of the organism, the value of an organism is judged by how it serves the individual. A body that poorly serves the desires of the person is less fit, the development of the divine attributes of the person may legitimately require the sacrifice of any part or even the whole of the mortal frame without any cause for censure.

At the same time, we should not ignore that, in our mortal life, a body is essential for the full exercise and free expression of the personal will. And genes are crucial to the formation and maintenance of the body.

Sex is not the purpose of marriage, marriage is the purpose of sex. One does not have children so as to justify getting married, one gets married to serve the needs of children.

There is more to marriage than sex, but marriage without sex is like a biological organism with its genetic material removed (or rendered inoperable by gamma irradiation). There is more to family than marriage, but marriage is still a crucial component and removing it destroys families.

We do not value our children because of the genes they carry, we value the genes we give them because they serve the needs of their bodies, making their bodies better able to serve them as individuals. If I pass along a genetic trait that ends up causing my children to suffer, I do not rejoice that they inherited and preserved my gene, but lament that my gene has impaired rather than improved their life. And this I do rightly notwithstanding my faith that all things work together for good to them that love God. For that grief at the suffering of my children also works for good if I love God.

Or should if I felt it, let me be clear that I do not claim that to be the case.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - As you may recall - (adopting standard Mormon theology) I regard the complementarity of men and women as metaphysical - all Men are either a man or a woman, each is only a 'half', the whole Man is the man and woman eternally 'married' in post-mortal resurrection.

I regard God as being of this nature (Father and Mother).

Because of this, I see no need to begin the argument with reproduction: mortal men and woman marry because it may be a glimpse of our ultimate destiny.

However, my understanding is that full divinity, of the same quality as our Heavenly Parents, is ultimately associated with the procreation of spirit children, such as we all were pre-mortally. I presume that (so far) of Men only Jesus Christ has attained this; but that (thanks to Jesus) this is a possibility for others.

In this sense sex within marriage may be another glimpse of ultimate destiny.

So, in that sense, I do see a link between ultimates, and sex, and reproduction.

But actual and good mortal marriages are set in this ultimate, metaphysical context; but they don't seem to be very uniform; don't seem to be converging on a standard pattern. I see mortal actualities in terms of individuals having awareness of reality and God's hopes for us in creation.

Chiu ChunLing said...

I think that what you are saying is that we do indeed have the chance to be father/mother figures in the lives of children that are not genetic offspring of our own mortal bodies. This I do not dispute.

However, as such spiritual parenting does not require sex, so it does not require marriage.

More specifically, it is actively harmed by marriage that is sexless or based on perverted sexuality. I am not wholly certain exactly what constitutes perversion of such a degree as to undermine spiritual capacity, I feel that most institutional religions draw up lists of rules which are more arbitrary than soundly reasoned, and I feel even more strongly that what is perverse or not is affected to a very great degree by individual, local, and even temporary circumstances.

I don't want to get into specifics that might be seen as inappropriate, but for me it seems that the general principle of sex that is firmly rooted in a clear willingness and commitment to conceive, nurture, and protect children in accordance with human nature (and attentive to the particular and individual nature of a given pair of spouses and their off-spring) is what must lie at the center of what is wholesome and holy, while deviation from that principle (especially consciously intentional) is what marks perversion.

Thus some supposed transgressions that doctrinaire moralists (e.g. Catholics on the one hand or Feminists on the other) make much of I find ludicrous, others which are widely permitted I find clearly perverse. But while I acknowledge that individual circumstances vary, I usually find most claims of marked variation from basic human sexuality about as credible as the claims of 'furries' to be fluffy pink dragons or unicorns.

This may be a bias introduced by the fact that despite being clearly neurologically atypical in many other respects, I'm very much non-atypical in basic sexual orientation. On the other hand, it may be that application of the ideal of sexuality being an honest expression of desire to increase the enduring imprint of another person on the world has served to constrain my sexuality from becoming perverse in ways that would have been possible otherwise. Probably both factors play some part and interact.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - There is something profoundly unsatisfying, wrong, about the way that these matters get discussed - including here, between us. It just doesn't ring true. I'm not sure how to do better, but this way of doing it doesn't work!

At any rate we should not allow ourselves to be coerced by arguments that don't ring true, any more than by behaviours we know to be wrong although we can't explain why.