Findhorn and the New Age: No Concepts, Please!

 

Findhorn and the New Age: What Can I say?

Some years ago, I met a young woman, who compelled respect. I stress that – she struck me as someone with rare capacities for psychological acuity and sensitivity.

She had recently returned from the Findhorn community in the north of Scotland – which many regard as the world’s leading or most influential New Age community. And not that long before, I had converted to Catholicism, although once I had been an enthusiastic member of Findhorn.

Our conversation turned to the differences between Catholicism and New Age spirituality.

In frustration, she turned to me and said: “But why do you have to NAME everything?” Meaning: why do I have to have names for matters of the Spirit? Why do I have to speak of Jesus Christ, the Trinity, the Incarnation, His Body and Blood …?

This conversation remains engraved in my mind. Because after my own two decades of involvement in the so-called holistic spirituality movement, it seems to go straight to the core of what this movement is all about.

Now I say “so-called holistic” because the word is often used as a phrase for a supposedly all-embracing, universalist orientation.

And yet the reality is different. In revealing her frustration with names, we see a general “holistic” frustration, that I have encountered many times, with any attempt to describe that which is of the Spirit in clear conceptual terms – i.e. not simply Catholicism then, but all of theology itself, whether it be Islamic, Jewish theology etc.

In my own experience then, this holistic ambition to be inclusive often ends up eliminating the vast majority of religion!

Yes so often at the core of New Age spirituality, I have found this suspicion of clear concepts for religious reality. A large motive for this is a search for unity. I exaggerate only somewhat, I think, if I suggest it amounts to something like this: So long as we have no concepts, we can all agree on everything!

I need to be precise. What is at issue here is not abandoning clear concepts about material reality. She would not have denied the use of terms like height and depth and width and units of time and space.

No, what this genuine young woman advocated was abandoning names for spiritual reality. And in my experience, an underlying pretext to her thought and that of many others in the holistic movement, goes rather like this:

“Religious concepts are dangerous. They bring differences where none should exist and are the source of so much war and persecution. We don’t need to NAME anything. Because spirituality is primarily an experience that is felt, it doesn’t need to have names. If we don’t have concepts for all this stuff, we can just get along.”

Yes, something like this at least, underlies a great deal of New Age thinking.

I have come to believe this is a dangerous idea.

Because we think in concepts. And to renounce concepts is to renounce thinking. Or at very least, it is to think in a vague, unconscious way. Because we can never really renounce concepts. We can only render them fuzzy and deprived of consciousness.

Moreover, I have come to feel that the New Age agenda to stop clearly naming spiritual reality, plays into the same agenda of secularism. Because secularism is also predicated on emphasising material reality to the exclusion of religious concepts. In secularism, spiritual concepts have no value beyond the private realm of the individual.

The result, I would argue, is a Private-isation of Spirituality that makes any spiritual or religious matters less and less effective in the social and cultural realm. And all the while, purely material concepts gain ever more credence and power.

BUT my Findhorn friend is right in one sense. Religious concepts belong to a process that has in the past and still does include today, religious intolerance, hate, cruelty and destruction. My Findhorn friend joins with millions of sincere, good people who long to see the end of hate. And in this goodness, lies much of the appeal of the New Age idea.

We who are Catholic need to see the goodness underlying the New Age dream – while of course, thoroughly rejecting this dream. Because hatred belongs to the Fall, and is not overcome by abandoning thinking …

And because, as I say, not only is the renunciation of spiritual concepts ultimately impossible, not only does the Private-isation of Spirituality at least tend to support the growing materialism in the world, but also as Catholics, we can have no truck with the implicit New Age Dogma in all the above.

That implicit dogma runs something as follows: There are no true differences, there is only one spiritual path, one form of spirituality, which everyone can experience themselves. Without need of thinking too much, and certainly without need of a religion or the Church!

But we who are sincerely practising the Catholic Faith of course, have faith in something very, very different. At least as a Catholic convert, I want to affirm the Catholic dogmas over the New Age dogmas that there is no need of theology or Church.

And I want to express my rejoicing in the experience that I have found nowhere else but in the Church, the experience of Jesus Christ that I never found wandering through that wasteland, filled with all those doctrines to the effect that were no differences among spiritual paths, that tended to deny that we were profoundly fallen and that our own experience and effort were sufficient and that we did not need the Grace of the Sacraments and the Holy Church …

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5 Comments

  1. Edwin Shendelman
    Posted 29 July 2009 at 23:53 | Permalink

    You know New Age does have dogmas in the common sense of the word. Recently, a Catholic no less suggested we might not have need of dogma. My response to her was “Dogmas can be an act of love.” It seems to me many have found comfort in fuzzy general kind of spirituality…it is precisely as the woman in your dialogue said a matter of “feeling.” Many people want to coast along on a fuzzy feeling of being spiritual. This feeling comes from, my perspective the godly soul within us (our “nefesh chayyah”–spiritual aliveness).

    Perhaps there is a fear that embracing the larger truths enshrined in Catholic dogma will shake ourselves from the warm and fuzzy spiritual coccoon we find ourselves in. But our godly soul, the nefesh chayyah only has meaning in relation to its Creator. If we really put our attention on our godly soul we will see that we can only know in the context of the Creator/created relationship like a background and figure. The less we focus exclusively on our own spirit and more on God paradoxically the more we actually know it. At this point we enter world of Divine Truths given through revelation and ultimately, Catholic “dogma.” So there is a possible continuum between the warm and fuzzy generic spirituality to the Truth enshrined in Catholic and Traditional religion. Here, Dogma is an act of Love because it is ultimately an expression of a loving God who heals and redeems us.

  2. roger
    Posted 30 July 2009 at 09:30 | Permalink

    Thank you so much, Edwin. This very interesting comment contains so much of meaning and beauty that I wanted to read it several times. I hope others might too. Right now I am so pressed for time, that I am unable to say much on the numerous things you invoke, and so will limit myself to only two:

    “Perhaps there is a fear that embracing the larger truths enshrined in Catholic dogma will shake ourselves from the warm and fuzzy spiritual coccoon we find ourselves in.”

    Yes. Fear … I think that unconsciously that so often in such cases this is very much working in the background and …

    “Here, Dogma is an act of Love because it is ultimately an expression of a loving God who heals and redeems us.”

    Yes. Dogma as a star of love that can guide and orient us in the darkness. Of course, few in the New Age even know what a dogma is. This is not to be snide to the New Age; it is to comment on the ignorance and obscuration one finds in most places concerning Catholicism.

    Thank you again for the rich compact complexity here. There is much more here I well know. I wonder if anyone else will care to comment …

  3. peter kelly
    Posted 30 July 2009 at 12:49 | Permalink

    I feel you have hit the nail on the head with your characterisation of much in the ‘New Age’ movement. “Religious concepts are dangerous. They bring differences where none should exist and are the source of so much war and persecution. We don’t need to NAME anything. Because spirituality is primarily an experience that is felt, it doesn’t need to have names. If we don’t have concepts for all this stuff, we can just get along.”.

    It made me think of a wonderful book called, ‘The Farthest Shore’ by Ursula Le Guin . In it there are people who have lost their feeling for life, many have turned to drugs, they want a world of comforting feelings.

    A man amongst them, more articulate than the rest says, ‘ But names don’t matter there [in the spritual realm]- thats the point! It isn’t what you do, what you know that you need………….thats where eating hazia [a drug] helps, you forget the names, you let the form of things go, you go straight to the reality……’.(My interpolations in square brackets)

    I know this particular bit is in the context of people who take drugs to escape this world and experience something blissful, but the context of the whole story is a people who have lost their connection to the spiritual realm.. Their lives have become empty and meaningless and they have forgotten the ‘old ways of doing things’. paradoxically the ones who take drugs are those who feel the loss most acutely are most sensitive to it.

    A theological way to describe what many New-Agers aspire to is, ‘syncretism’, finding the common essence of all religious/spiritual endeavour. But of course one has to use concepts to try and establish such a thing, if indeed it is possible to do so, which I doubt.

    Simone Weil had an interesting response to this,
    ‘Each religion is alone true, that is to say, that at the moment we are thinking of it we must bring as much attention to bear on it as if there were nothing else…A “synthesis” of religion implies a lower quality of attention.’

    This, to me seems to be a more christian and honest viewpoint than trying to ignore differences between peoples and faiths. It does not mean abandoning one’s own faith, but for a time really trying to stand in the other person’s shoes. Trying to do justice to what lives in their soul. And afterwards one returns to ones own standpoint and whatever insight/faith one’s life experience has brought one to.
    Best Wishes, Peter

  4. Edwin Shendelman
    Posted 31 July 2009 at 01:50 | Permalink

    We are living in a time of fluid identities. The sense of a general spirituality flows from our Nefesh Chayyah which is naturally attuned to things of the spirit. When you put these two together you have much of popular or New Age spiritualities. Many in the New Age or popular spiritualities have an innate sense of the spirit but an inability to commit for that would be losing the sense of the accostumed fludity in the sense of self. This is the origin of the sense of fear.
    The deepening that comes to one’s spirit as a result of commiting to a particular religious tradition is lost. Deep in the Ground of the Soul we are given a spiritual likeness which is identity in the deepest sense of the word and is the origin of things like “Jew,” “Christian,” and “Muslim.” This is part of the Baptismal gift and it dwells very deeply.

    As an alternative many search for a common concept that unite the religions or spiritual traditions as Peter said “syncretism.” This most often done in a vague kind of way but one sees it in more rigorous forms such as Ken Wilber and others like him. The problem with these is that the realities of the Faith are made subservient to concepts. God is the source of concepts if true (as in Dogma) but cannot be reduced to them. New Age, popular and post-modern spiritualities indeed has its dogmas but they too often dethrone God and would have us serve such lesser divinities. Concepts in the Catholic Faith do not devolve into themselves as in New Age/popular or syncretic spiritualities (for example, “non-dualism”) but elevate the mind, heart and spirit to its Creator.

    There are elements of syncretism in Tomberg’s writings but with a powerful inner dynamism that is drawing everything into a Center that is not “common element” but specifically a Person, Jesus Christ and His Bride, the Church. He is deeply sensitive to the need to “let God be God.”

    Thanks Peter for bringing out that beautiful quote by Simone Weil, it stops my heart.

    Thanks Roger for the great work of this web-site!

  5. roger
    Posted 2 August 2009 at 12:32 | Permalink

    I fear I cannot do justice to either of these very rich, thoughtful comments right now. And I will not even try. I will make some selected, even random comments however.
    Re Peter saying:

    “This, to me seems to be a more christian and honest viewpoint than trying to ignore differences between peoples and faiths. It does not mean abandoning one’s own faith, but for a time really trying to stand in the other person’s shoes. Trying to do justice to what lives in their soul.”

    This alone is so very beautiful.

    But you link it to syncretism in a very striking way, quoting Simone Weil as saying:
    “A “synthesis” of religion implies a lower quality of attention.”

    And Edwin you add:

    “Concepts in the Catholic Faith do not devolve into themselves as in New Age/popular or syncretic spiritualities (for example, “non-dualism”) but elevate the mind, heart and spirit to its Creator. There are elements of syncretism in Tomberg’s writings but with a powerful inner dynamism that is drawing everything into a Center that is not “common element” but specifically a Person, Jesus Christ and His Bride, the Church.”

    Now somewhere in a host of unfinished writings not at this site yet – they will be coming out either here or in print as I revise them – I speak of New Age spirituality as a system of “lowest common denominators”. That is, an attempt to get to unity via the lowest common denominator we can all agree on.

    The problem is that this is REDUCTIVE, as you have both indicated in very different and very beautiful ways, yourselves.

    And how our world suffers from reductionism! Suffers in all areas of life, right across the board!

    And how, by reducing everything to the lowest common denominator that we can all agree on, – or “common element” as you say Edwin, we so easily miss altogether the “Person, Jesus Christ and His Bride, the Church.”

    So this is one way I have of just echoing some of what you have both said, dear Unknown Friends. Your comments, my own inner processes and Valentin Tomberg’s legal writings especially, point me ever deeper in a feeling that all those who see this reductionism have a moral obligation to work to preserve what is higher.

    Yes that thought seems very much behind Valentin Tomberg’s Catholic legal thought: – the moral obligation to protect and defend the higher cultural values being destroyed by the Fatal Tree … which means as far as he is concerned, to defend the Church.

    I know there is much else indeed in both your comments. I am and will be reflecting on this content. And further responses may well come out elsewhere in this site in time.

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