Sunday 23 September 2018

New Age Spirituality

Throughout the 20th century there were numerous people who felt called to a new and, they thought, higher form of spirituality than was offered by traditional religion. Often they would be inspired by Theosophical or Eastern ideas and frequently they, or someone associated with them, would be psychic, perhaps receiving messages from a spiritual source through the method known as channelling. These messages would speak of love and brotherhood, and talk of a dawning new age ruled by the astrological sign of Aquarius when all men and women would live together in peace and harmony.

Some people went off to find Eastern gurus, many of whom appeared from the 1960s onwards. They had been there before but not in such numbers. A question of market forces, perhaps. There was a genuine thirst for spirituality but, it must be said, much of it was self-absorbed. Everyone was looking for something. Everyone wanted something. Materialistic consumers became spiritual ones. Leaders arose to fulfil the demand and they were usually charismatic people but, even if sincere to begin with, they often succumbed to the love of power that is practically always associated with the founders of spiritual cults. That, and uncommitted sex which generally makes its way into supposed gardens of Eden with predictable results.

I have a take on this which is the subject of this post. There was an unleashing of spiritual force from higher planes over the course of the last century. Human beings reacted to this in a multitude of different ways according to their temperaments and mindsets. You might even say, according to their level of spiritual evolution. Some reacted on a political level, some on an artistic one and some on a spiritual one. But mostly the reaction was contaminated by the ego. Some materialised the spiritual impulse, some were unable to handle the creative power they sensed and it over-stimulated aspects of their lower nature. Some were inspired to take to the spiritual path but did so in a way that brought true religion down to a psychic or occult level which is that of the creation rather than the Creator. The inner creation (higher planes) is still the creation. Just because something is not physical does not mean it is spiritual. And some simply sought greater freedom for themselves, seeing this as a measure of their developed humanity.

In the spiritual world everything depends on motive, on purity of heart, but the majority of New Age enthusiasts did not have pure hearts. They talked of love but more often practised sentimentality. I was never personally interested in any form of New Age spirituality as a partaker but I was interested to the extent that, in many ways, it appeared to tread the same path I did. I wanted to try to understand it because, from the outside, it did seem to say a lot of good things. But actually it didn't really do that. It talked a good spiritual game but it tended to the shallow and self-preoccupied. Many people involved in it were sincere but naive. Many more were just spiritually greedy. Few had genuine love of God and few had any real interest in Christ other than as one among many enlightened souls. 

So was the New Age a stage in awakening spirituality, something that could be built upon and developed later, or was it a diversion of real spirituality into psychic channels? I would say it depends on the individual. As a movement, I have no doubt that the latter criticism is correct but each person, who is drawn to New Age type spirituality has the chance to move on to something more serious, and I am sure many did. I am equally sure many did not and the reason they did not was to do with motive. Were they genuinely seeking God or were they interested in the spiritual path for reasons to do with the unreconstructed lower self? Would they, in traditional terms, be willing to renounce the world, the flesh and the devil, or did they want to take these things, or some parts of these things, with them on their spiritual journey? It really does all come down to motive.

There is a lesson in this for all of us for, make no mistake, we all share the same tendencies to spiritual greed and shallowness.This is why constant self-examination is an important aspect of the spiritual path. We don't need to be thinking of ourselves all the time but we do need to look at our hearts and try honestly to see what is there. What if Jesus knocked on your door and asked you to give him a report on your spiritual state? What would you tell him?


Chiu ChunLing said...

The drive away from traditional Christianity was largely driven by novelty seeking, rather than a real desire to find out what truths most Christians had ignored. Anyone in contact with a Christian community can see that the most deeply committed Christians are deeply spiritual and profound in their beliefs.

Underlying the novelty seeking was probably an unwillingness to endure hardship, which is inevitably part and parcel of serious commitment to anything, especially anything true. The Gospel only makes sense when you face the hard fact that humans don't deserve to be saved, or to live. Not that there are some who don't deserve it, but that none do. That's all the harder a fact because "none" means "not even you."

If you are unwilling to continue a commitment when it means facing hardship, then you must either admit that you've quit or you must say something was wrong with the path you trod and seek another. Of course, there are wrong paths, but you discover them from the lack of positive improvement rather than the presence of hardships.

Moonsphere said...

For some, the New Age started in 1899 where East and West were due to meet in a spirit of mutual illumination. The Kali Yuga had come to an end - the 5,000 years of darkness were finally over. For most of recorded history we had lived in this age where the atavistic clairvoyance of mankind had slowly declined and gradually severed the link with the divine.

For the West a new clairvoyance was to arise - not least so that Christ could be perceived in his Return - for his body would not be mineral. Not the dreamy clairvoyance of old - but a clear daytime consciousness capable of perceiving the Risen Christ.

The Theosophical movement was to play a central role in preparing for the New Age but the forces of the East were formidable and subverted Blavatsky's mission to illumine the western mind. The resulting "Secret Doctrine" inspired and confused in equal measure, hopelessly skewed to the East and in many ways openly hostile to Christ and Christianity and the West in general. To say that this movement was born in New York and ended up in India would be both a literal and a figurative truth.

In this early failure the tone was set for the New Age as the 20th century opened.

Many say that Rudolf Steiner succeeded where Blavatsky failed - but the Anthroposophical Movement tore itself apart after his premature death and today few even know that his message was deeply Christian.

William Wildblood said...

" Not that there are some who don't deserve it, but that none do. " This, of course, is the basis of the idea that no one is saved except through the grace of God. At the same time, grace is not handed out indiscriminately. We must make ourselves, to some degree, worthy of it through humility, sacrifice etc. Including the way we react to what you are here calling hardship. This is what New age spirituality never comes to terms with, the fact that real spirituality always has a large component of suffering.

Bruce Charlton said...

Im sure your basic description is essentially correct, at least in outline. It is a subject I have thought about a lot, because I was something of a 'theoretically' New Age fellow traveller before I was a Christian - say, in the early and middle 2000s. I was focused on Jung, Joseph Campbell, neo-shamanism and ideas related to synchronicity.

As I've often said, the unspoken reality of New Age is the anything-but-Christianity mindset, which masquerades as eclecticism: I felt it myself; I would read with interest about almost any religion (especially ancient and simple) but skip-over Christianity.

But deeper than that is that modern mainstream metaphysics is materialist; and this means that New Age people are not really serious about their spirituality. Deep down they don't believe it and regard their own beliefs as subjective, hence malleable and adjustable to expedience.

However, the same applies to most Christians.

This is the particular problem of our age; that we 'can't' be truly spiritual because our whole way of thinking and communicating implicitly and habitually denies it - even when superficially asserting the opposite.

This, I think, is why 'everyone' is drawn towards the corruption and evil - it is not a matter of education or propaganda, but that our fundamental and fundamental belief system about the nature of reality is constantly undermining our attempts to be anything other than worldly and expedient.

I also feel that we cannot cure this by use of abstract analyses (eg referencing forces, vibrations, numbers, influences, and other physical science metaphors); but only by a conscious return to what most people would consider to be very simple, anthropomorphic/ animistic ways of thinking and reasoning: reality as composed of conscious beings with purposes and in relationships - because I think this is actually true.

This too is very difficult and people nearly always contradict their intentions; for example Rudolf Steiner's work is a mass of contradictions in this regard.

So, nobody has already done this for us merely to copy. There is no already-existing valid model. The task is still to be done.

William Wildblood said...

The impulse behind the new age was genuine. Mankind was, still is, supposed to move on to a new conception of spirituality, one in which our relation to it was more active than in the past which. of course, gives much greater scope for error. And that is just what happened. New ideas were largely trivialised and brought down to a concern with psychic phenomena and 'what's in it for me' spirituality. The New Age also rejected the mysteries of Christianity instead of going more deeply into them as should have happened.

Then there is the problem you draw attention to , Bruce, which is that we try to force any spiritual beliefs we might have into the framework of our largely materialistic metaphysics, thereby completely deforming the spiritual. That goes for many modern Christians as well as New age people.

faustgang said...

New Age spirituality has the attraction of incorporating sexual license, which Christianity soundly rejects, and there are few gurus or New Age movements that don't degenerate into scandal about the leaders'use of power to obtain sex. Steiner did predict that a possible misuse of the spiritual impulse in our time would lead to the normalization of perversion, i.e. homosexuality, etc. But as one who has studied Steiner and participated in some Steiner groups, I can attest that most of his current followers have no idea what he said and are clearly aligned with the political Left in all its aspects, including its adoption of homosexuality as its cause celebre. Another attraction of the New Age is our addiction to novelty. We want to believe that something new will offer us an easy way to become happy, which is why we have no end of new amalgams of therapy, spirituality, metaphysics, meditations, etc. We are looking for a way to keep the ego - old Adam - while freeing ourselves from its downside: the misery of self-absorption and lovelessness. To know Christ is to obey Christ, to serve, not to be served, to love as He loved. It is a radical transformation that, as has been observed, is incompatible with materialism, which is self-centered hedonism, perhaps with a bit of altruism thrown in. Spirituality must be primary if it is to be real.

Chiu ChunLing said...

"Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me. These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."

The truth is that we cannot serve God and Mammon. More precisely, we cannot be fully excellent in service to both. Those who achieved fame in the world do so at some cost to their dedication to God. Christ makes this clear in dozens of His teachings.

Yes, the reward of secret dedication to God will be visible, but it will not be the markers of success that the world perceives (even when it does not exclude them). This holds special significance for those who become well known for their teachings, it is always and everywhere the case that the teachings most flattering to the world will be the ones that become well-known and define the "public" image of those who are at all famous. Those that are dedicated to God will languish in obscurity, even when they are the only reason that someone is known at all. In the case that one really did not waste time on flattering the world, the intellectual legacy is labeled 'controversial' and essentially ignored entirely except for slanders about it.

This is more obvious in ages where the rulers do not find it useful to adopt a pretense of Christianity to bolster their legitimacy (or are especially inept at such pretense). But it is true in every age.

William Wildblood said...

Thanks for all these comments which develop and add considerably to the initial thoughts.

ted said...

This is a great thread on insight and Truth. "hose that are dedicated to God will languish in obscurity"...makes it hard to get any new movement going. We definitely live in a world where flattery gets you everywhere (from the view of Mammon). Reading this newer book about a conversion story of someone who came from the New Age and became Catholic. It's not a typical conversion story, so that's why I was intrigued by it. It appears only in his acceptance of Christ and becoming more "personal" did his real transformation begin.

William Wildblood said...

To go from Findhorn to Rome is certainly a step or several steps in the right direction but I still think the way forward is not through a complete return to the past. Our spirituality is meant to arise now from our own inner awareness of God and not be dependent on any outer teachings. I don’t know how much complete adherence to Rome would allow this. Having said that, it’s far better to be guided and sustained by a true religion than fall into one of the many errors of the spiritual but not religious camp.

Moonsphere said...

One thing seems certain - traditional religion is in desperate need of an esoteric impulse. That is the missing dimension. Some individuals will have a powerful enough spiritual experience that provides the motive force for awakening. But millions will not.

What else but some form of esoteric path could possibly fill the gap? Christianity is necessarily guarded with its mysteries. We wouldn't go to a priest for answers - that is not their function. It is a Church, not a Mystery School. With this comes an attitude of "we cannot know" which can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We absolutely should wish that we could know something of the depths and heights. Just how did Christ's Death save us? That question is as deep as the Earth and as high as the Heavens but I find the appetite for Mystery to be singularly lacking in my culturally Catholic background.

Seeking truth in the "New Age" may be a dangerous game. One might start believing in things that are not true. But over-zealous scepticism can shield us from truth as well as falsehood. Its easy to forget that belief itself is a gift.