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 …