Unification News for July 2002
This article is about the New Age movement, and its influence on American society. Your author grew up around several of its luminaries. Despite this familiarity I’ve taken to bashing it in previous articles. This time we’re going to look more closely, with an emphasis on the positive.
New Agers certainly believe in God, the spiritual world, and the immortal human soul. Despite this, they are not particularly Christian, or even strictly monotheistic. They love scientific rhetoric, but don’t follow the scientific method.
The New Age movement is not exactly new. The Masons were well established in the thirteen American colonies. It really got rolling in the 1800s when Madam Blavatsky founded the Theosophical Society, and the first western Bahai converts were made. Various ‘fringe’ leaders, such as health advocates and utopian prophets, added to the mix.
New Age organizations like to claim an ancient heritage, usually links to Crusader Jerusalem, or Solomon’s Temple, Pharaonic Egypt, or even Atlantis and/or other planets. Obviously these claims are muddled at best, and sheer fantasy at worst. (The original Freemasons probably did take over for the ancient, banned Knights Templar.)
Whether they use the astrological, the Mayan, or even the common Gregorian calendar, all New Agers look to the future, and yearn for a transformed world.
New Age beliefs and practices are famous for their sheer variety. Like to wear purple robes, or nothing at all? Want to go vegan, or live on whatever you can catch in the wilderness? Scanning the sky for UFOs, or the ocean for Atlantean demigods? Do you scream a lot, or meditate in silence? The movement has a place for you!
The Internet is replete with New Age sites, from the supposedly scientific, to the bizarre and harebrained, to alarmist doom-saying. (All of which are being covered up by the government, mind you.)
On talk radio, Art Bell, Whitley Strieber, and several others are very popular. Your author is often irked by their uncritical, apparently credulous hosting of everyone from famous, genuine experts to creepy, whacked-out eccentrics. These hosts sound a constant drumbeat of impending doom.
Sometimes this leads to unneeded suffering. During one show a frail old man called in. He said he was being poisoned by "chem-trails," and told the radio audience of his terrible ailments -- and gave no indication he was seeing a doctor.
These so called chem-trails are simply contrails. Plain ice clouds left, under ordinary weather conditions, in the upper atmosphere by any passing jet. (One possible exception may be a classified Federal project to "counter-spray" a future bioterrorist’s particle release.)
Is the New Age movement on the fringe, or does it have a big influence on American society? Some of its groups have come and gone, while others endure. For example, Edgar Cayce’s organization has been active for decades.
Is it fad, a curious sideline -- or part of a deeper social trend? The movement does have a profound effect on society, especially through its influence on mainstream Christianity and Reform Judaism. Its ideas are more common than most people realize.
Some examples: The vision of "many paths to the one God" is well known. To regard humanity as a single family, together on a journey to a ‘higher level,’ is widely accepted. The fear that this journey will pass through an apocalyptic phase is almost universal.
To be more specific: Most Americans will make reference to, even without having an explicit belief in, reincarnation. Many people believe in reciprocal fate, known as ‘karma’ and by other names. Also, ‘natural’ healing is increasingly popular.
Spotted on a California bumper sticker: My Karma Just Ran Over Your Dogma.
New Agers are children of the modern era. They love to bandy cutting-edge terminology. You’ll hear a potpourri of elements drawn from science; especially Astronomy, Quantum Physics, and Archaeology.
On the face of it, they’ll get about half the terms right and garble the rest. Then put it all together with illogical abandon. To any listener with a relevant education, this can be quite frustrating!
They love to use ‘smooth’ terms. The aliens they’ll contact are from the Pleiades, and never from Fomalhaut, much less the Horsehead Nebula. Astrologers have latched on to the newly-discovered asteroid Chiron. Though invisible to the naked eye, it orbits the Sun in a convenient fifty-one years. They’ve quite ignored asteroid Fraknoi, which is a shame, as it was named after a brilliant and popular teacher of astronomy.
Several years ago The Celestine Prophecy spent over a year on the bestseller lists. This despite its bland plot and dialogue, and numerous basic errors; not to mention its outlandish conclusions, such as physical human invisibility.
Americans respect science, yet most don’t know enough to separate the wheat from the chaff. They want hope, and a better life, so will grasp at even the slenderest of reeds. Especially Celestine-style reeds, which impose no strictures, and require little prudence, much less exertion. Still, the optimism is there!
The few people who oppose the New Age movement are, strangely enough, from two opposite camps. Fundamentalist Christians see nothing but heresy and demonic cunning. Secular Humanists see cynical frauds leading the pleasantly deluded. These opponents have created many books and web sites on the subject.
Even without the few and tiny ‘suicide cults,’ the New Age has its downside. Not wanting to be -- or at least to be seen as -- negative, its adherents tend to be over tolerant. In conversation, "being judgmental" is likely to be the most horrible sin they’ll mention.
On an individual level they’ve tossed out personal discernment, and often refuse to make hard but necessary decisions.
Socially, do their ideas promote healthy tolerance, or lead to foolish compromises? Actually, both! New Age concepts and attitudes have moderated traditional American religions; on occasion, too much so. (There have, as yet, been few signs of moderation among organized Muslims.)
There is a dark side to the movement. Racism is clear in some older New Age books. Their belief in ‘oversouls’ has unsavory implications for individuals and cultures.
The movement has been largely white and prosperous, most converts being disaffected Christians and Jews. Poor folks, Blacks, and Latinos, if welcome, seldom apply.
If people can reincarnate, this implies a long series of ‘free passes’ for one’s current behavior; even an acceptance of suicide. If someone chose their ‘current incarnation,’ one need not pity their dismal situation. (Americans do better; think of Calcutta.)
In some places there is sexual exploitation by charismatic men.
Overall, New Agers whitewash pagan history, accompanied by hearty church bashing.
On the positive side is their hope for unity, and a few halting moves toward it. This crosses all the terrible divisions that plague our world. Many warring groups could benefit from a few evenings of campfires-and-Kumbaya. (There is, in fact, at least one summer camp for Israeli and Palestinian teenagers.)
New Agers have a sincere longing for a harmonious future, call it the Aquarian Age or whatever. There is a deep concern for nature, with a shamanistic bond to all things living. Finally, they have a vision of themselves as part of a large and purposeful cosmos.
They need only pick up the Divine Principle to learn about the real New Age. Their active support is welcome.
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