As I said in a comment to my last entry, I felt very, very heartened by a comment from Aaron here.
In a departure from my usual, slightly more formal approach, I want to use this space to engage with your thinking, Aaron.
First, I’d like to quote you – albeit with some editing.
The editing is not because I dislike anything, but because I want to emphasise certain important observations you make:
“About half the New Agers I know are former Catholics, but the Catholicism they tasted was probably as bland as the Protestantism you mention. In the 70s and 80s … we went to a Mass where Christ came down to our level, so there was little Mystery to be had.
It’s not surprising that people drifted away looking for something more meaningful and coherent, but somewhat ironic that they drifted into a belief system where meaningfulness is almost suspect by definition. By trying to embrace everything, they wind up embracing nothing—nothing except the self, perhaps.
I find that these are generally very intelligent, caring people who are searching for something; … They read voraciously, looking for answers to the meaning of life, but mostly from one shelf of books written in the last century plus a few older Gnostic tomes …
Every term they use, like “Spirit” or “Christ,” was taken from the Church and then stripped of meaning until it had nothing left to offend—or illuminate.”
Well, not quite “every term”, Aaron.
There are Eastern terms aplenty! But apart from such quibbles, I feel there are very acute observations in what you write. Moreover I feel they are of burning importance.
First, the liturgy is a catastrophe and whether we belong to those who want the restoration of the Latin Mass or those who want a “Reform of the Reform” – a restoration of Mystery to the new Mass in the vernacular, it is disheartening that so few sense or care about all that is being lost and destroyed.
Moreover I do believe much of the power of the New Age movement lies in a reaction to a Christianity stripped of Mystery. As I come to, this I think is usually Protestant …
For it was striking to me, living in Findhorn, seeing thousands upon thousands of people come through ever year, how many were from what we might call cultures stemming from Northern Europe.
Findhorn prided itself on being “international”, but the French, the Spanish, the Italians for example, were hardly present at all.
Aaron you also write: “one shelf of books written in the last century” … Yes indeed. And this is also very predominantly an Anglophone stream of books.
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was a Russian who came to write The Secret Doctrine – a very major font for those books – in English in 1888, at a time when English was not the world-conquering language that it is today. (For other readers of my site, it is not insignificant in this context, that another Russian, who never lived in France or any Francophone country, deliberately chose to write his book on the Catholic Mystery in French).
In my book, I maintain that New Age-ism – far from being universal – is much more culturally bound to Anglophone Protestant heritage than is usually observed.
Though I fully take your point, Aaron, that where a bland, Protestantised Catholicism has arisen, the results can be the same. There is much in my book which echoes your thoughts above and although I wasn’t planning on quoting from it again, I can’t resist throwing into the pot another extract from my draft-in-progress:
“There is a vast group of people in the West today, who are disillusioned from the materialistic culture, that I have begun to paint. This collective experiences real spiritual hunger and yet they are also disenchanted with organised religion.
Or at least, they are disenchanted with their preconceived images of institutionalised religion. For in matter of fact, a great many of these people have never even had significant experience of any organised religion! They react to the institution of religion and confidently proclaim that such institutions are passé now and only limit one’s experience.
Being often barely acquainted at all with a religious path, they do not realise that the institutions of the Church rather than being a limitation, can be a gateway to something they have never known. Thus in many cases their judgment about religion is not based on reality, but on images that are superficial or incomplete indeed.
Now the images which they react to, are usually and naturally those of Christianity. (And more specifically I wager, Protestant Christianity. Though in some cases it may well be a Protestantised Catholicism that is so “reformed” that it can often now appear nigh indistinguishable from Reformation Christianity, itself.)
This New Age approach formed in reaction to these images, frequently espouses the notion that it represents one vast and universal spirituality.
Yes, although it frequently disclaims any unifying ideology or set of doctrines, here is one doctrine that one will find repeated right across the spectrum of New Age thinking: Beyond the manifold, divided and divisive all-too-human religions, there is but a single spirituality which, the more one transcends the narrowness of the individual creeds, the more one approaches.
According to this idea, religions like Christianity thus serve to obscure this true universal spirituality, because they are time and culture-bound.
The New Age however rarely if ever see its own brand of spirituality as every bit as culture-bound – or indeed more so. Its adherents frequently suppose frequently suppose that the New Age spirituality of the twenty-first century somehow represents a perennial core to all forms of spirituality that have ever existed and at which they have have arrived, now that they have transcended limited religion.
Or at any rate, something like that is what I once supposed myself, never imagining that the New Age spirituality I passionately advocated might actually be far more time and culture bound than any of the great religions.
It never occurred to me that these claims were being made in and from a very specific slice of time and space. One would not go too far wrong, I think, in saying the North Atlantic secularised cultures in the aftermath of the 1960’s. Above all: England and America.
And back at Findhorn, if anyone had said to me Catholicism was more universal – in both time and space – than New Age-ism, I might have laughed …”
I will stop for now – with a final personal comment to you, Aaron. I have not commented on everything you say. But there is still more going on within me in response to other things you raise. Your post has been REVERBERATING in me for 48 hours now and helping me …
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