What is New Age

In the previous article I wrote down some thoughts about why the New Age wave collapsed, but then it became apparent to me that the more important question is how it came to be and what it actually is. I then tried to think of a sound-bite that would explain it in a single phrase, but that’s not easy because of the vast diversity of the phenomenon. However, as I thought more about it yesterday, typing a brief summary of the article-to-be into my laptop before checking out for the night, one idea stood out as the most important.

New Age is the bastard stepchild of Modernism. It is an attempt of finding a form of spirituality that will not be threatened by science.

You see, the basic idea of Modernism is that “the old age of religion and ignorance is over; now is the time of science and progress”. Mankind is to raise above the ignorance and superstition that held it chained to a rock for ages and is now taking its destiny into its own hands.

This attitude was overwhelming in the salons of the Western civilization, but it didn’t produce one universal outcome. The simplest way I can use to describe it is the contrast between Friedrich Nietzsche and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, where Nietzsche represents the main-stream of Modernism, and de Chardin represents the New Age.

I teach you the Superman! Mankind is something to be overcome. What have you done to overcome mankind?

All beings so far have created something beyond themselves. Do you want to be the ebb of that great tide, and revert back to the beast rather than overcome mankind? What is the ape to a man? A laughing-stock, a thing of shame. And just so shall a man be to the Superman: a laughing-stock, a thing of shame. You have evolved from worm to man, but much within you is still worm. Once you were apes, yet even now man is more of an ape than any of the apes.

Even the wisest among you is only a confusion and hybrid of plant and phantom. But do I ask you to become phantoms or plants?

Behold, I teach you the Superman! The Superman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: The Superman shall be the meaning of the earth! I beg of you my brothers, remain true to the earth, and believe not those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes! Poisoners are they, whether they know it or not. Despisers of life are they, decaying ones and poisoned ones themselves, of whom the earth is weary: so away with them!

Once blasphemy against God was the greatest blasphemy; but God died, and those blasphemers died along with him. Now to blaspheme against the earth is the greatest sin, and to rank love for the Unknowable higher than the meaning of the earth!

Once the soul looked contemptuously upon the body, and then that contempt was the supreme thing: — the soul wished the body lean, monstrous, and famished. Thus it thought to escape from the body and the earth. But that soul was itself lean, monstrous, and famished; and cruelty was the delight of this soul! So my brothers, tell me: What does your body say about your soul? Is not your soul poverty and filth and wretched contentment?

(Friedrich Nietzsche: Thus Spoke Zarathustra)

This is quintesential Modernism: all spirituality is bullshit that was invented to distract mankind from its impotence in the face of the material world that is harsh, brutal, merciless and great. Now, mankind has power over the world, it has knowledge, it has science, it is the driver and no longer a mere passenger. All blind leaders, such as religion and culture, that served mankind as a comforter serves a child, need to be abandoned now in face of a breast full of milk that is science and technology. Mankind is not only free, it now has the true guidance of knowledge and awareness of its surroundings.

However, there were dissenting voices, that agreed with the general sentiment of such statements, but interpreted the available evidence differently. Interestingly, the greatest and most sophisticated alternative to Nietzsche’s interpretation came from the Catholic Church in form of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who would probably have been burned at the stake in different times for heresy. Be firmly seated now, for I am to quote things that might shock you by the very fact that they come from a singular source.

Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.”

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”

Our duty, as men and women, is to proceed as if limits to our ability did not exist. We are collaborators in creation.”

Do not forget that the value and interest of life is not so much to do conspicuous things…as to do ordinary things with the perception of their enormous value.”

Matter is spirit moving slowly enough to be seen.”

By means of all created things, without excaption, the divine assails us, penetrates us, and molds us. We imagined it as distant and inaccessible, when in fact we live steeped in its burning layers”

God is not remote from us. He is at the point of my pen, my (pick) shovel, my paint brush, my sewing needle – and my heart and thoughts.”

The universe as we know it is a joint product of the observer and the observed.”

There is neither spirit nor matter in the world; the stuff of the universe is spirit-matter. No other substance but this could produce the human molecule. I know very well that this idea of spirit-matter is regarded as a hybrid monster, a verbal exorcism of a duality which remains unresolved in its terms. But I remain convinced that the objections made to it arise from the mere fact that few people can make up their minds to abandon an old point of view and take the risk of a new idea. … Biologists or philosophers cannot conceive a biosphere or noosphere because they are unwilling to abandon a certain narrow conception of individuality. Nevertheless, the step must be taken. For in fact, pure spirituality is as unconceivable as pure materiality. Just as, in a sense, there is no geometrical point, but as many structurally different points as there are methods of deriving them from different figures, so every spirit derives its reality and nature from a particular type of universal synthesis.”

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

As you can see, I quoted probably the single most influential source of all New Age. To quote Wikipedia, “His posthumously published book, The Phenomenon of Man, sets forth a sweeping account of the unfolding of thecosmos and the evolution of matter to humanity, to ultimately a reunion with Christ. In the book, Chardin abandoned literal interpretations of creation in the Book of Genesis in favor of allegorical and theological interpretations. The unfolding of the material cosmos, is described from primordial particles to the development of life, human beings and the noosphere, and finally to his vision of the Omega Point in the future, which is “pulling” all creation towards it. He was a leading proponent of orthogenesis, the idea that evolution occurs in a directional, goal-driven way, argued in terms that today go under the banner of convergent evolution.”

So, essentially, unlike Nietzsche who thought that the goal of evolution is the next better animal called Superman, unlike the contemporary evolutionary biologists who think that evolution doesn’t really have a goal and is simply a feedback loop that favors the organisms that are better suited for the environment, de Chardin re-introduced Augustine, who thought that God attracts us towards him, through space and time, from the point of omniscience beyond space and time, where the final form of creation was known from the start, and the initial conditions were set in the beginning of time as to produce it, and we are now traversing the spacetime from Alpha-point to Omega-point. Essentially, what de Chardin states is that we were already shown Superman in the form of Christ, and we are in the process of collective transformation of mankind as a singular unit, towards the Omega-point, in which Christ becomes the reality that is collectively achieved.

Knowing all that, the conclusion that seems to impose itself is that all of New Age seems to be the process of having de Chardin rehashed and recycled by inferior minds.

Sure, you have Vivekananda and his “one God, many paths“ approach. You have Yogananda and his concept of raising the “vibratory level” of human body/soul unit in order to be able to approach God and attain higher levels of consciousness, and his religious syncretism where all religions and their teachers are placed in a single lineage, trying to force it all to make sense within a singular system. You have Osho and Richard Bach and Paulo Coelho and zillion others, but essentially, what one gets from it all is that the purpose of the Universe is to help you learn and evolve, that nothing is really bad or evil, that if something feels better it must be more true, and you therefore get an echo-chamber of confirmation bias where everything that confirms the feel-good ideas is integrated and everything that questions the whole concept or those involved is rejected as “negativity”, where negativity seems to become the replacement-word for evil in the worldview without evil.

Being the bastard stepchild of Modernism, the New Age shares its basic idea that what we do matters, that it is important, that some things are better than others and that we are on an evolution-vector. However, as Modernism gave way to the post-modernist despondency, which sees no difference between cultures, races or ideas, and where one’s emotions are the supreme judge of value and even permissibility of anything, the feedback loop of “I have the right to feel good”, and “everything that doesn’t feel good violates my rights and is evil”, quickly brings the entire thing to the point of structural collapse, because truth was relativized and warped and raped so much, it no longer means anything outside of “the thing that makes me feel good”. The entire community “followed their bliss” into an autistic echo-chamber that isolated itself from all diverging opinions so much that it fails to make sense to anyone who is not already heavily invested in the system. Having started as a Modernistic evolutionary system that makes clear judgments about right and wrong, better and worse, superior and inferior, and defines greatest good in terms that make sense and make demands upon the individual, the transformation into a post-modernistic state, where everything goes as long as it feels good to the individual, where “heart-centered” female spirituality of emotions dominates the narrative and is explained as God-based and an achievement in itself, and every idea that compromises the “I feel love” emotional state is perceived as disruptive, negative and, essentially, evil, degraded the whole movement. By creating a framework that is perfectly unappealing to the best minds, it committed intellectual and spiritual suicide and is now a decadent backwater of the stupid, narcissistic and cowardly.