Previously I’ve written on the relationship between organized religion, secularism and the rise of New Age phenomena (see my article “Organized Religion & Secularism: The New Age Result”) and identified New Age largely as a response to secular society. The other response, or retaliation perhaps, is fundamentalism. New Age phenomena and fundamentalism are a world apart, but both identify largely by what they are not: mainstream secular humanism. Neither group hesitates much to point out Western cultures faults, as opposed to their chosen ways. While New Age phenomena has an intricate set of beliefs and practices to fuel its existence independently as a spiritual / religious path, its relationship with the Western secularism it is largely situated in cannot be understated as a factor in shaping New Age. Fundamentalist traditions too have this relationship with the wider, secular world as an integral part of their identities and motivations. While their beliefs and practices strongly oppose one another, New Age and Fundamentalism both promote themselves as better alternatives to Western, secular society. They are two sides of the same coin.
New Age favors holism, rather than the separate, arbitrary spheres of life created and maintained through secularism. This is especially true with regards to religion being quarantined in secular society. New Agers look to integrate their spiritual and daily lives. They often integrate elements of different faith traditions in their own spiritual life. Some even go as far as to promote a universal religion to bring down barriers and bring people together in peaceful understanding. Fundamentalism on the other hand, looks to give religion a more central part in people’s daily lives, but through exclusivist means. While they are opposed to the separation of religion from public life they support the separation of faiths and cultures in an effort to preserve the ‘fundamentals’ of their religion. Both strive to release religion from the neat container secularism has given it, though their views on how to do this are highly contradictory.
Some say that secularism simply provides the space for people to do what they wish in peace. But secularism is more than live and let live. It has a tendency to white-wash culture, to create this overarching normality and implicit pressures to exist within this realm of normality. The secular humanist standard being imposed across the board is what causes Fundamentalists to become violent, and New Agers to push holism and its embrace of diversity. In Western culture today, secular humanism can be seen as the middle path with New Age being one ‘extreme’ and Fundamentalism being the other. While their principles are greatly opposed, they being at opposite ends of the spectrum, they both resist the white-washing of secularism. In their own ways, New Agers and Fundamentalists are trying to keep some flavor and richness in Western culture rather than a contrived, standardized culture. Two very different sides to the same coin.