Thursday 3 March 2016

New Age spiritual people - sordid shenanigans are not a good advert for their beliefs

Before I became a Christian, there was a period of about a decade when I was very interested in what might be termed New Age spirituality - I was one who could describe himself as Spiritual but not Religious.

I don't reject this tradition in toto, nor deny that there is value in it; and indeed a vital implicit message for Christians which is that alienation is probably the main disaffection of the modern world. Christians would do well to address this more up-front and focally - since it is a more acute form of angst nowadays than, for example, the consciousness of sin.

But for all my interest, I never joined any New Age group or organization, and the reason was that I found the individuals involved to be off-putting. Indeed, among the scores of authors I encountered -set aside cnsumers, there were barely a handful I found tolerable as persons or whose lifestyle seemed admirable (in so far as I could discover this): they were and are not an impressive bunch (at least, not to me).

This was confirmed by two visits to Glastonbury spaced out over six years - this town being the centre of all that is New Age spirituality in Britain; and a place that has had more hyperbolic praise for its special and wonderful atmosphere than perhaps anywhere else.

(Glastonbury is, indeed, one of the most significant places in the history of Britain and indeed the world - and I think, believing the legends as I do! - perhaps a place Christ visited as a young man with Joseph of Arimathea before commencing his ministry, and probably the site of the first Christian church outside the Holy Land.)

However --- I found Glastonbury as it is now at best underwhelming; but in fact mostly somewhat unpleasant - with a seedy, fake and slightly sinister feel about it; and (with a few exceptions) a much higher than usual head count of apparently damaged, emotionally-desparate or exploitative people.

This contrasts with my experience of (real, not liberal) Christians, where (without going over the top about it) there are located some very decent and trust-worthy people, the general atmosphere is considerably more wholesome than average, and there is a fair bit of courage, integrity, beauty and a lot more altruism than I myself am capable of. Something to look up to.

A lot of this boils down to s-e-x (variously extra-marital, promiscuous, unconventional, experimental) - I strongly suspect that the usual, mainstream secular and materialist motivation of sex is powerfully at work on or just below the surface of New Age spirituality - and there are very few who are exempt. This means that whatever spirituality is on-the-go is - in practice - put into a subordinate place; and the spiritual side really doesn't work as the primary motivator.

It would be going too far - but not much too far - to suggest that New Age spirituality in real life (as opposed to in theory) seems to operate like a gigantic rationalization for aspirational sordid shenanigans!


Nathaniel said...

It makes sense that exploitation soon follows then. Sex seems to be the most powerful, or most abused, tool in the marketers/profiteers arsenal.

Joseph A. said...

The fake neo-pagan appropriation of Glastonbury is a shame. As my patron saint is Joseph of Arimathea, I made two pilgrimages to Glastonbury (once alone and once with my brother). I loved it because of its connection to the past . . . though the monastery ruins remain an indictment of England. If only Glastonbury would again become a beacon of English Christianity. I wish that Christians there would rebuild the abbey and reinvigorate the faith of the local people. A fantasy, perhaps, but with God all things . . .

William Wildblood said...

Glastonbury is certainly a holy place which means it has a powerful energy. Unfortunately this attracts all sorts of parasitical types who wish to feed off that energy, and these people corrupt the atmosphere through their desire to appropriate the energy without being worthy of it or able to live up to its quality. That is why all holy places needs to be guarded from the profane by a dedicated priesthood or something of that nature.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - I didn't myself feel this energy - or, I felt less of it than at many other places, including Wells, just up the road. I think it is buried very deep, and also, as you say, corrupted and distorted - but if Glastonbury was revived as a real Christian place, then I'm sure it is still there waiting to come forth again. The stones do not forget.

William Wildblood said...

Yes, I think you're right both about Wells and about the fact that the energy at Glastonbury has, so to speak, gone underground. Wells has probably escaped the desecration that Glastonbury has suffered somewhat because it is more Christian and less New Age in its appeal. Pilgrims can either add to the holiness of a place (or the manifestation of that holiness) or detract from it depending on the purity of their motive for visiting. Whether it is in a spirit of humble reverence or out of a kind of spiritual acquisitiveness which is what distinguishes many New Age type people.

JMSmith said...

I've never been to Glastonbury, but I have a similar sense of New Age havens on this side of the Atlantic. Many small towns in the mountains of Colorado are infested with old hippies who eke out a living selling "crafts," "art", "religious objects" (mostly connected to Indians, American and sub-continental), and, nowadays, marijuana. To use a new age expression, these places have a "bad vibe" which I sometimes experience as a faint foul odor. It is as if a moral intuition has been transformed into a physical sensation, and I sometimes think the incense and patchouli are there to mask this sensation.

Of course the fact that I am prowling around these towns and shops betrays the superficial attraction they have for me, and the fact that, like you, I was once much more deeply attracted to this whole scene. But what I found was that New Age was like a fetching young woman with appalling halitosis from rotting teeth--attractive from a distance but fairly repulsive up close.

I agree with your diagnosis that deviant sex is at the bottom of this. False spirituality seems always to become a phallus cult because deviant sex is a substitute for spiritual nourishment. It's a rare new age bookstore that does not a large section of "erotica," which is to say genteel pornography and manuals of perversion. In the Colorado mountain towns that I mentioned, there are sometimes hot springs. When these are run by old hippies, the promotional flyers always contain hints of salacity.