New Age traditions are often criticized for being heterogeneous. Some call it the pick-and-mix religion, taking elements from various religions out of their original context, and creating new meaning with them. Under these circumstances many fear that the essence of these religions will be lost if not retained in their ‘pure’ form. I find this a relevant concern due the effectiveness of religion in conveying history and culture. It is also a relevant concern due to the amount of mixing that already occurs. In our global world, it would be only natural for such mixing to increase.
People and ideas are able to move fluidly around the world. They are also affecting and taking root far from where they originate, creating multicultural environments across the globe. In today’s global world, the creation of heterogeneous spiritual systems is inevitable. People have never been so connected. They are getting to know and appreciate each other’s cultures and traditions. It is becoming more and more common for people to marry across cultural divides. Their homes become a center for blending traditions. Their children inherit two cultures, and they must create a world view that accommodates both sets of traditions. Under these circumstances it is impossible to keep religious traditions ‘pure’ of any influence. In fact it would be unnatural to do so.
However as inevitable as mixing is in our current global age, it must be understood that there has always been co-mingling between cultures that has influenced religions. A ‘pure’ religion or culture is almost non-existent. The boundaries are not that neat. To be sure, this mixing historically occurred on a much more localized basis, but never the less exchange and evolution happened.
There seems to be a good deal of fear concerning encroaching religions or cultures, with regard to keeping one’s own traditions intact. Is such mixing a bad thing? It has the potential to distort common conceptions surrounding a religion. And if the religious institution allows such perversions to affect their core beliefs and traditions, or elects to change in response to such perversions; the religion may be at risk of losing its essence. But there may be benefits to this mixing as well. It would provide more awareness and understanding for various traditions and create more dynamic conversations around spirituality, ethics and social justice issues.
As we move toward more hybrid spiritualties due to exposure to different cultures and religions and the resultant benefits of cooperation and understanding, it is increasingly important to remember the source of elements in our spiritual practice. As various elements intermingle and become integrated into our lives, we need to keep the original texts and other cultural treasures close at hand. This will help keep the context fresh in our mind. In doing so one can add authenticity to their spiritual practice. It will prevent distortion and exploitation of religious traditions, keeping the sources of religious elements ‘pure’. Or at least maintain modern conceptions of purity in these traditions.