ORGANIZED RELIGION & SECULARISM: THE NEW AGE RESULT

Single path splits in two directions, a fork in the road in the high grass in India

There is an idea of new agers as rebels against organized religion. That their ‘alternative’ structures and practices are a direct response to undesirable characteristics of organized religion. For some individuals this is true. Some people I have met that are involved in new age practices (whether they identify as new agers is not clear), think of themselves and their beliefs and practices as the direct antithesis of organized religion. However, there is another entity that, in my experience, is cited more frequently as the enemy: secularism.

On the first night of my yoga teacher certification class, each student introduced themselves, told how they had come to discover yoga and why they enrolled in the program. Not one cited dissatisfaction with organized religion. But many, if not all touched on their struggles with and their distaste of modern society. Some discussed yoga as a lifestyle to help combat the effects of the modern world. Namely stress, anxiety and depression. Some saw it as a means to integrate different areas of their life. Taking a stand against the rigid categorization that secularism imposes and encourages in favor of a more holistic lifestyle that allows spirituality to spread and take root in all areas of life.

Another reason cited was to combat capitalism. Students thought the training would open their mind and provide the means to leave the ‘rat race’ along with all the stress and long work hours required to earn more money to buy more, more, more of everything. Modern society rather than organized religion was the antithesis for these yoginis. While one student has blatantly voiced her distaste for a particular religious group, the overall attitude of the group has been one of overwhelming respect for organized religion and its followers. They are largely seen as fellow seekers utilizing a different path on their spiritual journey. Adherents of organized religions are regarded as comrades. It is secularism and capitalism causing strain and prompting people to seek another way of life. As organized religion is firmly placed in the private sphere by secularism, people seeking alternatives are increasingly drawn to New Age traditions. I believe this is the case because New Age appears directly applicable to all areas of life, while organized religions appear stifled and irrelevant, largely due to secularism.

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