New Age, belief and politics

I’ve been trying to deal with what label I can use to tell people who and what I am in a few words. Taoism worked for a while, until I could no longer face Lao Tze’s admonition to ‘cleave to the Yin’ when I’m a very Yang kind of guy. Since then, I’ve been kind of adrift when it comes to the name (I know what I am, but describing it usually takes a while). As I’ve been reading others talk about their own beliefs here, including Pastor Dan, Taliesin, lauramp, mondaymedia, my own beloved Morgan, and others, I’ve wondered how to do the same — and if it really mattered. I’m a religion of one, after all.

Except having been sick the past almost-week, I’ve had more time than usual to think about it, and I’ve realized, no, that’s not right. I’m a New Ager.

Go ahead, laugh — I don’t mind, really! It’s become something of a joke among those of us in ‘alternative religions’ that it ought to be called the New Wage, because it’s the latest sacred scam. Well, I suppose that’s true, if you also believe that the Catholic Church is the biggest one. Source knows, you’ve got some pretty slimy characters in both, but I firmly believe that most people in both are good, and headed in roughly the right direction.

Here at the home office, Morgan asks why I mention the Catholic Church when the televangelists are so much a better example of greed pretending to be faith; the point is that the joke has enough truth to be a fair joke while still ultimately being a stereotype. Barring serious evidence to the contrary, I think it’s safe to assume that honest televangelists are the exception. 😉

For a short primer, I love this description of the New Age movement:

The New Age Movement is in a class by itself. Unlike most formal religions, it has no holy text, central organization, membership, formal clergy, geographic center, dogma, creed, etc. They often use mutually exclusive definitions for some of their terms. The New Age is in fact a free-flowing spiritual movement; a network of believers and practitioners who share somewhat similar beliefs and practices, which they add on to whichever formal religion that they follow. Their book publishers take the place of a central organization; seminars, conventions, books and informal groups replace of sermons and religious services.

Emphasis theirs.

While the New Age and neo-paganism share some DNA, do not conflate the two in front of a serious pagan (unless you want to read another 10k word essay from Taliesin ;-)). I strongly suspect that “fluffy bunny” is actually often synonymous with “New Ager!” And to be honest, I’ve encountered people who fit both the ‘white light’ fluffy stereotype of believing, like Candide, that all happens as it should and ‘everything works out in the end,’ and the ‘New Wage’ stereotype of ‘sure, I’ll teach you the secrets of the cosmos, that’ll be $90 up front and $250 a month for your lessons — don’t expect to get anywhere for ten years.’ Funny thing, though…I’ve shopped at a lot of New Age stores, and maybe once have I encountered that attitude in a manager type. (OTOH, I don’t shop at New Age stores in malls as a general rule.) More importantly, the majority of New Agey folks I’ve encountered along the way, who share this strange idea that we’re getting somewhere with this whole humanity business, really have the notion that we should be flexible about our beliefs.

Which, ultimately, is where I’m going with this post. Because I can’t tell you what the New Age is, which is kind of the whole point of the New Age. I can tell you what it means to me, and I do believe that it’s relevant to the whole concept, or I wouldn’t be bothering you with this diary. (For the rest of this description, basically, preface each statement with “For me.”)

First and foremost, the New Age is anti-dogmatic. Everything from “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” to “there is no God because I don’t see Him in my microscope” to “it’s impossible to be a Christo-pagan” sends me into orbit. Dogma of all stripes drives me up the wall, and on principle, the Debasing Randi infuriates me as much as James “Heil Christ” Dobson. (Obviously, I consider Dobson to be the greater threat to liberty and justice, so in practical terms I aim my rhetorical guns at him a lot more.)

I try to be patient with ‘born agains’ of any stripe, since I’ve been there myself, because they tend to be reactionary towards whatever they used to be, but from where I sit, the real problem facing the world is sectarianism, or just rigid “ism” in general. This is why I find liberalism and the New Age (not the same thing by any stretch, but they fit together well) so comforting. In spite of the widespread demonization of both by their enemies, in the face of ridiculous odds, the notions both represent — the ecumenical spirit of the modern world, the idea that we can reach any heights together, the tolerance of anything not violent or intolerant — are spreading, which makes me believe that our fragile, puny little species really might achieve its potential in the end.

Second, the New Age is eclectic. Yes, I know we had this discussion and most people seem to prefer syncretic — that’ll do as well — but here’s the definition of eclectic I’m familiar with:

e·clec·tic
adj.
1 : selecting what appears to be best in various doctrines or methods
2 : of, relating to, or practicing eclecticism

I’m an English major, what can I say? 🙂 Now the proper blending that creates a more syncretic result has its place. OTOH, if you’re calling on Horus in a fight and Brigid at the keyboard, well, even if they both get along with you and each other, it’s best to respect each as s/he is rather than try and artificially glue their respective pantheons together. (I speak from personal experience here; Horus is my patron and Brigid is my matron. Go figure.)

One of the things I love about the New Age ideal is that stripping away the dogma is the first step toward finding the truths within our many beliefs. So naturally the next step is exploration — sensible, mindful exploration to be sure (no, no calling on Kali to make your hamsters fertile), but exploration all the same. This exploration leads me to this eclecticism. While a New Age outlook can be wedded to just about any general faith (it is obviously anathema to dogmatic strains), I prefer to start with the open eye, mind and heart, and find belief from there.

Third, the New Age is spiritual, and in this I mean as distinct from being religious. The New Age ideal/movement sprang up as a rejection of both mainstream religion and the colder aspects of secular belief, and as a result found something that wasn’t exactly new, but instead was a new way of looking at the ancient path of mysticism — perhaps the oldest true ‘faith’ of humanity. Being a New Ager isn’t something you really do so much as feel. I can’t scientifically prove the existence of the Source any more than I can prove the existence of a power that connects me to Morgan, one I call ‘love.’ I know it exists, though, because I’ve felt it. And yes, I’ve used Ouija boards, tarot decks and crystals as conduits to the spiritual, though I see them as ways to focus the mind rather than major powers in themselves. I think they do have some power, but because millions have collectively ascribed power to them. Well, except maybe crystals. Even science has found uses for the unique vibratory qualities of quartz, and if you’re not reading a hard copy of this, you’re making use of them right now.

Finally, the New Age is optimistic. Basically, if the forces of reactionary fear and greedy pseudo-conservatism don’t kill us, we’re on the cusp of becoming something more, something greater, than we as a people have ever been. Leaving aside questions of legendary civilizations like Atlantis and/or Lemuria, today humanity is more enlightened, advanced and, well, liberal than any time in history. Sure, here in America we’re backsliding, always a bad sign in the world’s dominant military power, but put aside our (justified) vision of how far we have to go for a moment. Look how far we’ve come. Slavery is legally dead, and places where it’s practiced are horrific aberrations. Hunger and poverty are still major problems, but both are in retreat throughout the industrialized world. Democracy is widely accepted, with its first real tarnish coming from George W. Bush promoting it (I’m serious; that’s one of China’s arguments against it). People have more freedom, more choice, more security and more opportunity for themselves than any time in recorded history. We have a long, long way to go, no doubt, but we stand on the shoulders of giants, and it’s one hell of a view.

The New Age takes the principles of that scientific and social advancement and applies them to the mystical, the magickal and the spiritual. Who knows what we can achieve as we experiment on expanding our awareness, developing our empathy and understanding our own spirits? Unfortunately, I can’t find decent, reputable online links to the actual evidence that I’ve seen for ‘paranormal’ phenomena, but one widely respected work is The Conscious Universe, which is heavy on the science and psi side but essentially shows that there’s more going on in our heads than just electrical impulses. To me, that’s the ultimate goal of the New Age movement — to follow where our insights lead, whether gained in the laboratory or the temple, embracing both and denying neither.

Now I’ll admit that sometimes, healthy common sense gets lost in the shuffle with New Agers (see “fluffy bunny,” above). The rise of Skeptism/Scientism as a near-religion of its own has given the rational use of skepticism a bad reputation within the movement. Given one of the major tenets of New Age philosophy, that we can create or remake reality with sufficient enlightenment, that position is somewhat understandable, but I personally believe that we do need to pay at least some attention to empiricism as we determine what works and what doesn’t.

Another area where I diverge from the image of New Age is in my view of pacifism/non-violence. However, this doesn’t come from any hostility to either. I think non-violence is a wonderful ideal, and I believe that one day we will move beyond violence, if we last long enough. Which I’m guessing will take another ten thousand years or so. In the meantime, those of us who understand violence, even if — especially if — we don’t like it, need to protect those who don’t. Call it neo-chivalry, if you will, a less gender-specific variant where decent yang-aspected people defend the yin-aspected.

Whew! This diary started life as a primer and ended up an essay! 🙂 Well, that ought to do for now. Thoughts? Comments? Anyone want a mint?

(/) Roland X
Give me that new-time religion

19 comments

Rating comment/tip jar (4.00 / 7)

…at my beloved wife’s suggestion. 8^)

(/) Roland X
Not a true psi, yet — just a para-psi. 😉

by Roland X on Wed Nov 16th, 2005 at 17:25:40 PDT

“Fluffy Bunny” (4.00 / 3)

depends on who you’re talking to. To me a FLuffy Bunny WIccan is the sort who is a complete pacifist (or claims they are , wihtout their beleifs ever being tested–pacifism is easy when it’s jsut you but when your chidlren or sposue are endangered many find out they are not) who ignroes the parts ofmythology that make them  uncomfortable, like Warrior God/dess archetypoes and who is also granola crunchy and judgemtnal as hell.  Theya e usually young, new to WIcca, habve learned much of what they knwo from some fo the chhesier LLewllyn Press books, and thinkt he Ft. Hood WIccans can’t be REAL Wiiccans becasue they (ugh) serve inthe miltiary.  

Msotly they are harmless and often they belong to the Religion of the Month Club–Wicca is somethign they’re doing between  Tantra and Epsicopalinism.

by irishwitch on Wed Nov 16th, 2005 at 18:23:29 PDT

you are not alone here. (4.00 / 4)

I was going to do a diary of all the paths I’ve walked and I deleted it by mistake.  Haven’t had the oomph to do it over.
Do you remember The Starseed Transmissions?  After my Christian faith came to a particularly dramatic crash and burn, This book was the first thing that allowed me to hear ther language of Christ and begin my walk again.
I know it’s flaky but I’m sorry, it’s the label that works for me.  At a womams circle once, when the question was how do you know what is real or what is just someone’s imagination or lies; I made a decision.  God is always being revealed. So if something rings true and is helpful, I take it in.  If not, I let it go.    I am the one who is responsible for my own soul.  After some bad experiences, I learned that I cannot put anyone on a pedestal and turn over the responsiblity for my spiritual life.
so I have had many teachers, but I find that different practices have helped me at different points in my life.
I do believe we are growing into something better. And I believe SP is part of it.  Open Hearts coming together to build a net of understanding.  Bubbles of a future where our understanding of ourselves encompasses our entire universe and fear falls away. I don’t know how long it will take but I do believe it’s coming.

by empathy on Wed Nov 16th, 2005 at 18:34:19 PDT

Yep. (4.00 / 2)

So if something rings true and is helpful, I take it in. If not, I let it go. I am the one who is responsible for my own soul.

That about sums it up, doesn’t it? 🙂

by Morgan on Wed Nov 16th, 2005 at 21:16:51 PDT

It’s not all sew-age… (4.00 / 2)

…unless you want to read another 10k word essay from Taliesin 😉

You know, I’m tempted to write a dozen paragraphs or so contesting the implication that I’m verbose, but I’ll just get to my point. 😉

I had involvement in the New Age movement in the 1980’s and 90’s, the days of New Age fairs galore every weekend.  While I eventually left it behind, there was much to be gained from it (if nothing more than the fact that the sheer acessability of it introduced many suburbanites to concepts they may have never ran across otherwise).

What ultimately gave the New Age movement it’s flaky reputation was the crass commercialism that came with mainstream acceptance.  for every decent trance-channler (like Jane Roberts) there was a dozen outright fakers (like all of those people channeling space aliens).  People would open their minds to new ideas, and hucksters would rush in with shallow buffoonery to grab their money quickly, before they could obtain a clue.

This potentiality exists in any minority religion or spiritual dicipline when it hits the mainstream, and many of us are fighting to keep this from getting too strong a foothold in Wicca.  Yes, Silver Ravenwolf has published garbage like “Teen Witch”, but there are a growing chorus of people on the net who are saying enough is enough.

I hope you can rescue the philosophy from Ramtha.  Great fortune be upon you!

Blessed Be

Taliesin Athor Govannon
HP, Coven of Caer Arianrhod
Taliesin’s Witchcraft Page

by Taliesin on Wed Nov 16th, 2005 at 23:22:25 PDT

Here in TN (none / 1)

most New Agers I have met are somehow “liberal Republicans” whatever that means, and the Pagan community here regards them as “politically conservative Pagans”, but that is not a reflection of the movement as a whole (and there is a difference between the two, though one could say New Agers are Pagan but interested in different traditions than most Neo-Pagans).  You should NOT feel embarrassed by your beliefs.  If some don’t like it, F*ck ’em, I say.  And I say that as a Buddhist who is not New Age at all.  Some of the best human beings I have met are New-Agers and you should have no shame about it.

by southernblues on Wed Nov 16th, 2005 at 23:41:31 PDT

hmm (none / 1)

You are what you are. I’m still not convinced as to just what that is.

“There ain’t no sanity clause.” Chico Marx

by Asbury Park on Thu Nov 17th, 2005 at 01:31:24 PDT

I’llthe best I can (none / 1)

I think a healthy dose of skepticism is smart.
New Age…think the dawning of the Age of Aquarius (with appropriate musical acompaniment(sp).
It is a huge umbrella term which is talking about a change of conciousness (once again(sp)for humanity.  The time when perfect love will cast out fear.  Where all people will realize that we are beloved children of a divine creator.  That we will all be able to easily see this connection and live with love and compassion towards ourself, and all of creation.
Everyone has their own take on it.  Literally there are no two new agers that have the same practice or set of beliefs. So just as in any given faith there are people who take things to a bizarre or unhealthy extreme…same for New Age.  The phrase could be from the astrological ideas that earth is entering a new energy pattern.  A new part of it’s spin through the universe.
Just like Christianity talks about the end times and Christ’s return.  New Agers talk about Christ consciousness(sp).  So indegenious religions are examined by some.  Mytsical practices of traditional faiths, like Kabbalah.
Then there is the conversation regarding quantum physics and where is the line between quantum and metaphysics. I think this is where crystals fit in. Just like crystals have energy that is used in electronics and watches and our bodies are electromagnetic.  (that’s why MRI’s work)Then there are people who are interested in beings that are not human.  Angels, demons, ghosts, extraterrestrials, faeries,and gods and goddesses from a variety of faiths.
Most people in the movement are aware that on has to be cautious about negativity and messing with stuff you don’t understand, but discermment is a spiritual discipline that everyone of any  faith must learn.
“The previous comments are the sole expressed opinion of the author. There is no implied or explicit endorsement by SP, The New Age store or any of their affiliated industries.  Any comments or complaints should be directly addressed to empathy by post between the business hours of 9am -11pm est”. 😉

by empathy on Thu Nov 17th, 2005 at 09:02:38 PDT

I’ve been told (none / 1)

that my beliefs are that of the New Age movement. I do embrace a great deal of what you have described here. In particular:

“The New Age takes the principles of that scientific and social advancement and applies them to the mystical, the magickal and the spiritual. Who knows what we can achieve as we experiment on expanding our awareness, developing our empathy and understanding our own spirits?”

The way it makes sense to me: Everything evolves. Everything. Languages, spirit, the Universe, humans, Religions. And nothing dies. Energy does not die. New Agism is another evolution. It’s not right or wrong, it’s the spilling over into a group conscience of the considerations and intellectual applications of our human knowledge onto the spirituality in all of us.

What feels right for me here is that I am able to embrace all types of wisdom from all types of religious instruction I have received. My son said it best last week when he said he would like to attend a church that welcomed people of all beliefs.

by one bite at a time on Thu Nov 17th, 2005 at 07:51:03 PDT

My spiritual trajectory has (none / 1)

placed me right in the middle of the New Age movement for many of the reasons you mention in your diary. Most importantly, I abhor dogma and since I have yet to find a religion that has none, I have yet to claim one. And these days I no longer claim New Age as my label because it no longer fits.

Some people call what I have done “cafeteria style religion” but I have no problem rejecting that. As long as you are not bouncing around and changing in order to avoid yourself, you can create a meaningful spiritual path in that manner. One only need look at the results of such a practice to see if works for the individual or not. You could apply the same test to a person’s practice of their chosen religion.

Having said that, Roland I offer to share my label with you, should you desire to use it…I call myself a spiritual mongrel, adopt it if you please. 😉 That wouldn’t make it a religion, but at least we would have company. 🙂

I am That, you are That, all of this is That, and That is all there is.

by shakti on Thu Nov 17th, 2005 at 11:36:13 PDT

my label (none / 1)

is equal opportunity believer:-)

by empathy on Thu Nov 17th, 2005 at 19:48:45 PDT

The Convenience Store (none / 1)

What do Horus & Brigit require of you? (Assuming your Horus is the son of Osiris and Isis.) Keep an apartment in Cairo & a cottage in Galway? If the going gets tough, will you just kick them out & put two less demanding divinities on the altar? When you deal a tarot spread, do you insist on having The Empress & the Six of Clubs removed first because you don’t like what those cards represent?  Sorry, no Winter Solstice, I don’t believe in it because, well, it’s just too darned  cold outside.

“There ain’t no sanity clause.” Chico Marx

by Asbury Park on Thu Nov 17th, 2005 at 12:28:51 PDT

it’s not about things that are less demanding (4.00 / 2)

I was a Born Again Christian.  The pastor of our church ended up being a child molester.  Kind of rocked my world, Know what I mean? Made it hard to hear God’s voice for a while.
I knew that I needed spirit back in my heart.going back to the old definitions didn’t make sense and as a woman, I needed to explore a feminine divinity.  The divine as mother not  one who was a perennial virgin.  I saw the damage being done to the earth and learned what native american’s had to say about the divine relationship we have with our planet.
I studied science and discovered that physics is telling us that our connection to the divine is constant if only we pay attention.  Lo and behold just like what the bible says.
My faith walk has not been easy.  Not when I struggled with God over my son’s alcoholism.  Not as I have fought for my marriage through a lot of heartache.  I don’t pick and choose based on laziness.  I discard the parts of a religion that are the voice of dogma, ego, arrogance, mean spiritedness. Because I don’t believe that part of the religion is the divine inspiration.  I believe it is the polluted voice of the humans that recieved the information.  Just like Pat Robertson is sure that God is telling him that Orlando and Dover will be destroyed.
Guess what, that hurt.  I’m sure there is a lesson here for me and I will work to hear what God is saying for me to work on, but I think I just figured why someone might give a zero.  Because I think your comment was mean sprited and derogatory.

by empathy on Thu Nov 17th, 2005 at 20:10:04 PDT

Your description of your faith walk (none / 0)

is beautiful and one I relate to completely. And I think you did a wonderful job of trying to explain such a search for God to someone who tries but does not neccessarily understand, and because of a lack of understanding, sometimes needs to pass judgement.

I am That, you are That, all of this is That, and That is all there is.

by shakti on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 04:14:30 PDT

that hit me like a ton of bricks (none / 1)

I spent a lot of time working with it after I went to bed.  It hit a spot in me that doesn’t get activated much anymore.  I think because this is a place where I feel very open it went right in.  I realized it activated my belief that I am not good enough that who iam is not OK.
At this point in my life, I am usually the only one who can push my unworthiness button, but this did it.
It also gave me greater compassion for Irishwitch.
So now I am sitting with it in a gentle way. To let go and pay attention.  Breathe in, breathe out.

by empathy on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 05:17:16 PDT

It rather took my breath away too, (none / 0)

coming as it did in the middle of friendly discussion. I thought about it a lot and thought about responding and just decided not to. You did it much better than I could have. Maybe the answer for you, is the same as the one your husband told you when he said that some born again Christians absolutely can’t accept…(I don’t have the exact words, but you will remember the comment I speak of.)

Your response was a perfect example, IMO, of a person who’s spiritual or religious practice is working: Warm, loving, openhearted, compassionate and open. I know you to be a joyful, giving person as well, and these are two more hallmarks of an effective spiritual path.

I know A.P. to be a good person, but one who has trouble understanding this kind of practice. I try to understand why this is, and draw a blank. Why is it so hard to just say I don’t understand and let it go, why the need to judge? Keep breathing, Empathy. 🙂

I am That, you are That, all of this is That, and That is all there is.

by shakti on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 07:10:29 PDT

Thanks (none / 0)

Your warm words mean a great deal to me.
When do you sleep? 🙂

by empathy on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 11:31:18 PDT

ROFL re: sleep (none / 0)

EST 9PM to 3:30AM, if I am lucky. 😉 And you???

Empathy, your understanding is so great, I love reading your words and it is a pleasure to know you.

I am That, you are That, all of this is That, and That is all there is.

by shakti on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 12:35:31 PDT

After the daily show (none / 0)

until the cat wakes me up! 😀
Usually 7:30ish. I am not a morning person.
I noticed your posting time and thought OHmigosh!

I feel the same way. Namaste

by empathy on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 13:54:57 PDT

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