The circular nature of religion
New Age philosophy is a fusion of various currents of thought. Theosophy is a big one. A characteristic of Theosophy is the view that it is universal, that is, it applies to everyone. It is divine. As such, it resembles the Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It looks to “divine teachers” for revealed truth. But it also flirts with occultism from such groups as the Golden Dawn, the Qabalah and Rosicrucians. In addition, it takes a lot from Hinduism. Because our culture is fundamentally Christian in nature, these various thread were given a Christian twist. For example, Karma, the Hindu version of cause and effect, has been given a moralistic turn in the West. If you do something bad, you will get bad Karma and bad things will happen to you. This is and isn’t how Hindus use the term. Sure, Karma will affect your next incarnation and you are likely to be born as something you abused (one reason many Hindus are vegetarians). But the idea of sin and punishment isn’t really emphasized.
There is no “bible” or dogma for the New Age so everyone is free to his or her take on things. However, despite the freedom of thought, the ideas of New Agers are remarkably similar and harmonious with each other. I detect two currents, one embracing the “oneness” of the universe. New Age thinking is recognizable as such. “Thou art god,” proclaims the hero of Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. This sums up a major difference between the New Age and Christianity. We are all god or potentially god, meaning we are ultimately responsible for “our reality.” This has enabled a trend to laissez-faire political-economic policies. It can lead to blaming the victim and discourage social justice movements. There is something solipsistic about New Age philosophy. If everything is One, then it is all perfect. “It is what it is,” is the cliche of the hour. The New Age is generally about tolerance and peace and enlightenment. But it has been used to justify darker currents. Charlie Manson, for example, can say everything is love, including murder. Organizations like the Church of Satan and Temple of Set have claimed the New Age (to the consternation of most New Agers).
The other current is the old Abrahamic duality. There is good and evil. Many New Agers use the word “Karma” interchangeably with their conscience. Anything that might make them feel guilty is likely to bring on “bad Karma.” Of course, Karma can also represent the “we create our own reality” viewpoint. Thus, you can find yourself blamed for misfortunes. “It’s your Karma,” can be a high cosmic viewpoint or it can be a callous dismissal. A “friend” once wrote off my drug bust caused by her possessing drugs in my presence as my “Karma.” At the same time, she was very paranoid about every time I reminded her on the phone that they were “her drugs.” So I pointed out that if she got busted by cops listening to our phone conversation, it would be her Karma. See how solipsistic? A sword cuts both ways. The idea that we create our own reality is supposed to encourage us from taking total responsibility. But it can be used, instead, as a way to evade the responsibility fighting injustice.
Most New Age ideas aren’t really new. In the Bible, Job’s “friends” blamed him for his misfortunes (caused in reality by God’s wager with Satan).
Job 4:7–20 (NRSV)
7 “Think now, who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off?
8 As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same.
14 If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away, and do not let wickedness reside in your tents.
15 Surely then you will lift up your face without blemish; you will be secure, and will not fear.
20 “See, God will not reject a blameless person, nor take the hand of evildoers.
In the novel, God’s Radar, a Christian tells the new recruit, “God will never let a right-thinking man starve.” Pretty much the same thing. The charitable explanation is that people want to believe they live in a just universe. The cynical explanation is that people want to lay back behind “I’ve got mine” and not concern themselves with those who don’t have. Since Christ preached to “love thy neighbor as yourself,” one would think a Christian would believe himself obligated to care for the less fortunate. But there are sufficient ways around it in theology.
Whether it’s said in the context of Christianity or the New Age,religion stands to help people accept death, disease and even injustice. It is also a dandy way to avoid the need for empathy.