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New Age defended

Sep 24, 1997 12:50 PM
by K. Paul Johnson

In SUNY Press's hefty America's Alternative Religions there is
a good definition of the New Age movement.  Found in Phillip
Lucas's article on the A.R.E., this passage defines four
distinguishing characteristics of the New Age movement: 
"Belief in an imminent planetary spiritual transformation that
will occur at the level of human consciousness...An ethic of
self-empowerment and self-healing as a prerequisite to the
healing of society...A desire to reconcile religion and science
in a higher synthesis that enhances the human condition both
materially and spiritually...Strong eclecticism in its embrace
of healing therapies, healing practices, and millennial
beliefs."  Elsewhere Lucas accurately identifies the A.R.E as
one of the major promoters of the New Age movement, since it
was "a natural outgrowth of activities and emphases that had
long been staples of the association."  He finds "the New Age's
eclectic, pastiche-like approach to spiritual traditions and
methods" particularly harmonious with the A.R.E. approach.

The reasons for Theosophy's distancing itself from the New Age
movement are complex.  I don't agree with Bart's conclusion
that "the ego is all" and "all views are equally subjective"
are necessarily part of the New Age mix.  If they were, the same stuff
goes back to New Thought-- although the ego is never spoken of
favorably in either movement as best I know.  And I certainly
disagree with the claim that "any group that has reached any
level of advancement in their esoteric studies" would distance
itself from the New Age-- except in a very special sense of
"advancement."  First, I don't know that any of the
Theosophical groups *have* reached any level of advancement *as
groups*-- they're all highly individualistic affairs in which
one is more or less on one's own.  The ES is an exception to
this in the Adyar Society, but not an encouraging one.  There,
belief that "we are advanced in esoteric studies" creates a
spiritual elitism that looks down not just on non-Theosophists
but on all FTS who are outside the group.

It is *that* kind of advancement in esoteric studies
that has kept the Theosophists standing on the sidelines.  Advancement
in thinking that "we have the secret truth and others don't."
In 20 years of observing both movements, I have found the
A.R.E. to be much more willing to identify with the New Age,
but also much more open generally.  I think the two go hand in
hand, and that Theosophical distancing from the New Age
movement is mostly a simple case of "mine's better than
yours."  Better because older, or closer to some imagined
source of authority, or more abstract, probably.

Last year someone here made a reference to "plebeian New Agers"
as a group that Theosophists had every right to look down on.
I think that conveys an all-too-prevalent attitude.  While
Theosophists are busy looking down on seekers, other more
welcoming groups are drawing them in.

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