Wednesday 27 November 2019

Why Did the New Age Movement Fail?

Because it did fail.

Whether the revival of interest in mysticism, esotericism and the occult that fell under the umbrella term of the New Age, roughly lasting from the 1960s to the end of the millennium, was something that was divinely inspired which went awry because of a failure to live up to its ideals or whether it was just a response to natural cycles or maybe an attempt by dark powers to divert spiritual aspiration into psychic channels, one would have to say it was not a resounding success in terms of fostering real spirituality. For some people it might have been an inspiration to higher things but only if they went beyond it as it was in itself, using it as a springboard to greater understanding and leaving it behind like milk to meat in St Paul's analogy. But there is no doubt that, in itself and its attitude to the spiritual world, it was shallow and self-indulgent.

The New Age was born from two things. The descent of religion into dull conventionalism and outer observance and the increasing desire of a substantial minority to experience something of the reality that was thought to be behind the original religious impulse. I have no doubt that the widespread consumption of psychedelic drugs fed into the process too. The whole thing was given a boost by the increasing availability of spiritual books written from the perspective of a variety of traditions and also the exposure to Eastern religion of large numbers of people. This had all happened before, coincidentally or not during the same decades at the end of the 19th century and then to a limited extent and only amongst the intelligentsia in the 1920s. But at the end of the 20th century it was more widespread and open to most sections of society.

The keyword of the New Age would be experience. People wanted spiritual experience. This is fine up to a point. Personal experience can give the subject greater individual insight into the structure of reality and confirm what religion only teaches about. But the important thing about experience is the experiencer. Why is he seeking experience and what does he do with it once it has passed? Does he seek to repeat it for the pleasure he gets from it (even if he calls that 'bliss') or does he use it to learn more about himself and the world? If the latter, what sort of things is he looking for? Knowledge, power, higher consciousness? This was the primary problem with the New Age. It attracted people to higher things who were motivated by their lower nature and it did not do enough to discourage that or instruct its adherents in the proper traditional ways of spiritual development, particularly when it came to the purification of the aforementioned lower nature.

People were in it for what they could get out of it. That is not a good approach to the spiritual path which should be based on the love of God.

The New Age emphasised immanence over transcendence. As a corrective to past over-emphasis on transcendence, this was good but it had a fatal flaw. The focus on human potential and subsequent demotion of God left it exposed to self-absorption and narcissism. It may have talked about transcending the ego but if it's the ego itself who is behind this then it's like trying to make yourself taller by standing on your head. There is also the problem that when you prioritise the immanent nature of divinity you fall into the ludicrous trap of believing that you make your own reality. There is no real objective truth to which you have to coordinate your being. Reality can be what you want it to be. This was another widespread illusion associated with New Age thought.

This dismantling of the objective nature of reality was a major contributory factor for the strong correlation there is between the New Age and leftism with its Utopian idealism based on bending truth to ideology. It also partially explains why the New Age was so easily corrupted by the sexual revolution, not seeing any real conflict between sex and spirituality or even regarding the two as somehow interlinked so you can have such travesties as sacred sexuality with no recognition of the inherent absurdity of such a thing. That's because there is a relationship between sex and spirituality in that they involve the same energy but going in different directions. Either up to head and heart or down to the sexual centres. Just as water cannot run in two directions at the same time in the same river nor can the creative energy. This doesn't mean celibacy is required for spiritual aspirants but control and the submission of lust to love certainly is.

And there is one final fatal flaw in most New Age spirituality. The absence of Christ who is either ignored altogether or just reduced to a spiritual teacher, one among many, teaching higher consciousness like a guru. For us in the West (and maybe elsewhere but the New Age was a Western thing), genuine spiritual transformation, call it salvation, is only possible through the Logos as incarnated, spiritually as well as physically, in Christ. There are other forms of spirituality but none that actually save the soul in the sense of redeeming it from this world which term I use to include the psychic dimensions that surround the physical realm just as much as the physical realm itself.

In many ways the New Age was a return to pre-Christian forms of religion but there is a big problem with that. These forms, call them paganism, served a purpose in the time before Christ but Christ's advent changed everything. The necessary approach to spirituality changed which is why you cannot go back. Christ really did bring something different and new and better and all earlier religions were put in his shade. They had served their purpose but they now lacked something vital. The institutional shortcomings of the Christian religion are well-known but its essence remains as true as ever and there is nothing else that can substitute for it. And there is no substitute for Christ. The New Age ignored this which is the primary reason for its failure.


Bruce Charlton said...

@William - A good summary - and a subject well worth discussion; and you show that there were indeed *several* important flaws to the New Age movement, such that it really was doomed to fail.

Because it excluded a transcendent God and an objective understanding of reality and its purpose, in practice it became (and still is) simply 'therapeutic' - like a series of technologies or practices for making people feel more happy and less alienated.

(New Age places like Glastonbury are full of 'therapists' of one sort or another - taking in each others washing, in effect!)

But it didn't even achieve that very well, since humans seem to be 'set up' such that all techniques and interventions lose their effect; so New Age became associated with a constant demand for novelty and fresh stimulus: a kind of spiritual consumerism (often literally so; in that people spent a lot of money on books, consultations with healers, artefacts, attending workshops and weekends... all of them jusged by 'how it makes me *feel*'.

So, the spirituality just became integrated with the mainstream activities of modern people, as one among many 'lifestyle choices'.

I think the impulse of seeking spiritual experience was sound; but there were far too many problems; and the spiritual leaders were often charming psychopaths and predators - so things went bad very quickly.

William Wildblood said...

Thanks Bruce, your comment mentions things I missed here such as the therapeutic nature of much new age thought which means it descended into a concern with feelings. People chasing bliss as I used to think of it. And of course many of the leaders were and probably still are, because it may have died down but it hasn't gone away, as you describe.

There was spiritual aspiration but it was built on desire not love or even a real dispassionate search for knowledge.

Moonsphere said...

Thank you William - your article identifies much of what has gone wrong over the past century or so.

From Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine onwards - the Eastern Impulse has indeed had a pernicious effect. Like a hidden magnet, it has silently skewed the spiritual compass of the West.

The opposed powers have had much success in casting Christianity as a foreign interloper. This in turn has led many to the pagan revival. They lack the insight that Christianity could never fulfil its role as a world religion had it arisen from European soil. It could only have become another national religion, a Wotan cult for northern Europeans. In that sense the Holy Land is the spiritual centre of the World.

But that there is a new spiritual impulse in the world cannot be doubted. To thwart its power required two World Wars and a full-spectrum assault by the spirits of darkness that continues to this day. We must hope that people can awaken to it by degrees and that somehow that the tide can be turned.

William Wildblood said...

Yes, Moonsphere, it's as you say. Speaking as someone who has been very interested in Eastern religion but always felt there was something missing I would say that the Eastern influence could have reminded Western religion of things it had forgotten but should never be taken as a replacement for it.

Moonsphere said...

Yes, there is something "missing" at its heart. I agree though that there is so much about the Eastern tradition that is truly sublime and incomparable. Especially it is the belief in reincarnation that the West/Christianity lacks most of all.

Perhaps one good thing that could be said about The New Age is that it brought the concepts of karma and repeated lives into the popular consciousness. Even by 2,000 years ago any higher knowledge as to its workings seem to have been already lost or degraded so it's unlikely to have suffered any additional damage in the last century in the West.

As the East shows little inclination or ability to unveil the mysteries of this its primary doctrine - the task has fallen to the Western spiritual path to bring it to life in a manner that can be comprehensible - to both East and West.

Kirstie said...

Dear William,

I believe in your friend, Michael and how he channelled. And that involved you. He was the channel and you had to adjust. You had a choice, do you believe in the crazy, marginalised individual? Or do you put that down to an unexplained coincidence, more powerful than you? For me, this is what it always comes down to... When someone is desperate, they cannot hide who they are, every tactic and rule in the book gets thrown in the fire, they feel the desire to show they are not in control.
If the devil is working how you suggest, he is succeeding, without doubt. But what I want to say, is the very essence of doubt, is trying to conceal it. And i think the first thing you and others should try to convey, is the honesty about doubt. Not proving otherwise.
I agree that psychologically and intellectually, it has become more desirable to be proved right, than what can ever be known. The devil adopted such means. In my understanding.


Kirstie said...

It is not possible to be right.

Faculty X said...

I wasn't aware the New Age failed. If I go to a New Age event it gets more young people attended voluntarily than any church I know of.

The New Age peaked in the mid '80s. By the same time in the development of Christianity Christians were being fed to the lions.

The New Age was attacked spiritually by the usual suspects in the media, the same who will attack any genuine spiritual movement and customarily attack Christianity.

Today Yoga studios have grown in the West massively and crystal sales are booming and South America has a alternate religion of Astrology.

As clearly shown by Christian leaders such as the Pope and the Anglican power structure Christians are in the vanguard of replacing Europeans so ask yourself this:

If in the 1970s and 80s we had a council of Druids ruling the West, a New Age concept, would massive immigration have occurred?

Would local, indigenous European culture have been more or less likely to have been preserved?

William Wildblood said...

Faculty X, it failed spiritually. Numbers don't matter. And yoga studios, crystal sales, an alternate religion of astrology? Are you joking?

There were no real Christians ruling the West in the 1970s and 80s either. But that's not the point. I was potentially sympathetic to the New Age. I share many of its beliefs, higher planes, reincarnation, the reality of God being within as well as transcendent and more. But it's the spiritual shallowness of the thing I'm talking about. This can be summed up by the fact that it is really more interested in the psychic than the genuinely spiritual. The inner creation is still the creation. We are meant to seek unity with the Creator. Contemporary Christianity is also a failure in my view but for different reasons.

Kirstie, I'm afraid I don't understand the point you are trying to make.

William Wildblood said...

And regarding the Druids, FX, the New Age is solidly leftist so I would say probably yes.

JMSmith said...

One reason the New Age failed was that it had no St. Paul. It is obvious from the New Testament that the primitive Church quickly attracted opportunists of every description, and it was largely Paul who kept it from either slipping back into legalism or going over the edge into an orgiastic cult. If there was something genuine in the primitive New Age, it was quickly debased by slipping back into consumerism and going over the edge into an orgy of sex and drugs. Another way to say this is that it never evolved into a Church, which (unless corrupted) is neither a business or a cult, and so it degenerated into a business and a cult. It was full of grifters who were in it for the chicks and grins.

I think it also fell victim to the usual decay of Romantic movements. Romantic movements begin as reactions against a regime that undervalues feelings and experience, but then by their own logic develop into regimes that overvalue feelings and experience. They begin with the sensible complaint that reason is not everything, but end with the nonsensical doctrine that reason is nothing at all. What you describe as "chasing bliss" makes Romantics into sensation junkies, and their desperate effort to maintain the intensity of sensations leads to perversion, drugs, and a horror of everything that is ordinary.

The Pauline antidote to all of this is a healthy respect for the persistence of sin. If this was indeed a New Age, the men and women in it were the same old men and women,

William Wildblood said...

Those are some very good points. Thanks! St Paul is often thought of by liberal Christians as someone who deflected Christianity from a universal love, everyone's good scenario to an obsession with sin but actually he was a spiritual grown-up who recognised the fallen nature of men and women and was not blinded by sentimentality.

Kirstie said...

William, that is a very fair point, nobody ever has. What I am always trying to explain, is the inexplicable. Because I have at root in me, exactly that. The inexplicable. So to try and put it simply, I am fascinated with your decision to follow Michael and for that experience to give you the grounding (and supernatural experience) and now assumptions to build from, which for me personally have been illuminating. However, I am still a cynic because I have seen certain similar personalities become over-awed with such experiences, and when it really gets down to it, they are more concerned with the euphoric feeling they receive back from another individual recognising the supernatural understanding they hold within them, rather than just being with God.

I think this is what a lot of psychotherapy is about. And I genuinely don't believe you are doing wrong (far from it), it's just that I think you may have forgotten how many individuals read your words and posts and books. Just because we don't comment, doesn't mean we are not here.

So, going back to the first time I commented, when I felt you had become so occupied with proving all that is bad is happening, I just wanted to try to say, don't spend too much time trying to explain the obvious, try to stick with what you know crucially, and that is your experience with the Masters.

I hope this brings more clarity. As I say, I am no intellectual.

Best regards,