NEW AGE: WHERE A SPIRITUALLY DIVERSE WORLD MEETS

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At various ‘New Age’ groups, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the diverse beliefs of those in attendance and their ability to share meaningful discussion and experiences with the upmost respect. This impression was reinforced at a meditation workshop I taught last weekend. In speaking with the students, it was clear that they were attending the workshop for a variety of reasons and that there were as many different spiritual inclinations as attendees. Despite their diversity, everyone enjoyed themselves and found something to appreciate from the afternoon together. This happy outcome seems all to rare amongst openly diverse groups. So, what makes it work in the ‘New Age’ crowd?

Such success may be attributed to followers’ shared demeanors. In general, New Agers are curious, tolerant people.  But common personality traits between a large group of people seems unlikely. Looking for an underlying cause, we can examine the loose structure of the ‘New Age’ milieu. The overall loose structure would allow seekers to mingle and cohabitate with people of diverse faiths. There are few hard and fast rules to police and enforce. If anything, unwritten rules of etiquette are enforced more than any structural boundaries.

While other realms have more rules and structure, I would like to see them adopt standards of etiquette similar to that employed in the ‘New Age’ groups. This extension would involve not only other faith traditions, but public policy as well. We need to allow diverse beliefs and opinions to surface so they can be discussed and acted upon. The fact that this is already a reality in some groups is encouraging, but we have a long way to go.

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RAISING CHILDREN WITH FAITH

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Children will inevitably bear witness to and perhaps inherit their parents’ religious inclinations and spiritual beliefs. This will occur due to the vast amount of time children spend with their parents, not to mention the huge amount of influence such a relationship holds. Further, parents can spend a good deal of time imparting faith on their children. Organized religions expect this transfer between generations to take place and they often set up safe guards that help ensure children will become members of their parents’ religion. For example, before allowing a couple to be married in the church, many Christian denominations require the bride and groom to sign a contract promising to raise any resultant children in the faith.  Parents make so many decisions for their children. Should the life-long faith children will grow follow be one of those decisions parents make on their behalf?

If parents devotedly raise children in their own faith, the child could accept and adopt it as their own or they could grow to reject it. Given the large absence of young people in organized religion, more seem to be rejecting than accepting their parents’ faith. Hopefully they leave the religion with only mild disinterest or disagreement rather than a major-blow out of anger and hurt feelings. Other than rejection, intense feelings, and the lasting effects of these on individuals, there are bigger consequences for what religions future generations are raised in.

Most ‘World Religions’ have mutually exclusive doctrines (they accept themselves as the one, true religion while all others are deemed illegitimate or even evil). While they often have an accompanying doctrine of peace and tolerance, elements of division and judgement are more frequently remembered and shouted louder than their kinder counterparts. In our global world this sets us up for conflict, discomfort, and pain. Is that what we want for future generations? On the other hand, raising kids with no spiritual belief system or with exposure to many systems but commitment to none may leave them feeling isolated. They will not have the same roots, history, or network to draw on. Not being immersed in a faith, they will miss out on meaningful knowledge and experiences. Children may grow up to have no sense of purpose or direction, or a splintered one at that. Both paths seem fraught with issues. It is a distressing situation for parents that just want the best for their children.

There is no easy answer. This, like so much in our world, falls within shades of gray. A parents’ beliefs will affect their child no matter what. You might as well raise them to believe what you think is right. But when what you’re teaching breeds judgement or division, you may want to rethink that belief system… for yourself and your child. It isn’t that we should all believe the same thing, but we should all have respect for each other’s freedoms. If you teach your children anything, teach them to live and let live.

BRIDGING SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE THROUGH UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE

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A universal religion is often regarded as a danger. I myself have wrote on this potential downside of globalization; suggesting that generalizations and white-washing will remove cultural richness and the complexity of human intellect leaving only a monotone and over-simplistic spirituality in its wake. These are real concerns to be kept in mind, but I wonder if we could approach the idea of universalism for the sake of deeper understanding, namely in the realm of communication.

Religious and faith traditions are often separated by language barriers due to their geographical roots and histories, but in another respect, they truly have a language all their own that is not easily overcome by simple translation. What if we had a way of speaking about spirituality so that all could understand? Here, I am not suggesting we literally come up with a universal language, but rather a way of speaking free of faith specific vernacular. Rather than concepts steeped in historical context we could communicate via the roots of all faiths: love, forgiveness, generosity, and peace. By using words that held meaning for all, we could share in experiences that are spiritually powerful for all despite our various faith backgrounds. With such shared experiences, how much respect for each other would we gain? How much humanity would we discover? While a universal religion is undesirable because of how it would limit the scope of spiritual experience and belief, a universal language could be instrumental in ending hate and opening our eyes to the big, strange, and wonderful world around us. Further it would work to acknowledge that humans do not simply have not a mired of different religions, but a colorful and complete spectrum of faith systems.

TAKING A KNEE

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In recent news, there has been controversy around the NFL and the national anthem. Players across the country are choosing to kneel or link arms as symbols of protest and solidarity. This has left people in uproar, claiming that this display is a sign of disrespect and an insult to servicemen (and servicewomen) both current and past. However, the players place their actions on the divisive nature of our country from the bottom all the way up to the top.

Many people in this country do not like the state of things and disagree with the direction America is headed in. This distaste can be displayed in different ways and we are free to do so. We do not have to blindly follow or support a government or its members. This is one of the most quintessential American principles, to freely voice disagreement and dissatisfaction with our government. This is the right NFL players are exercising. And it is something that must be permitted.

My only criticism of their protest is that while it is highly visible, it is not very constructive. Just look at all the controversy debating what kind of statement they’re making. In the act itself there are no viewpoints to be shared, no conversation to be had. The real power is in the players’ words released through interviews or social media. This is where Americans can agree or disagree, find solidarity, or work toward understanding.

Though I have reservations, I stand and sing the national anthem with my hand over my heart as a sign of hope that this country can come to live by those words. I hope our leaders can live by those words, not only when it is convenient for them or their bank accounts, but every moment of every day for every American. I sing out this hope and then try and make it a reality in my little corner of the world. I hope you do too.

RELIGIONIZATION BACKLASH

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It seems that governments and their policies come in waves. Actions and decisions come… and then the backlash follows. We see the religionization of war, politics, and nationalism through history when our understandings were less evolved. The resurgence of this religionization in modern times is backlash from secularism. It is a way to turn the tide and perhaps turn the clock back to another time. It is a round-about way to inject religious morals into public policy while keeping secularisms essentials intact. After all, secularism dictates the separation of church and state. It dictates the separation of organizations, not ideals.

Government officials bring their ideals into office with them. This is inevitable. People don’t live in a vacuum and they cannot be expected to check religious beliefs at the door when going to work. One’s beliefs, intentionally or unintentionally, will make their way into decisions. For government officials, these decisions effect all of us. There is no clean division as secularism often implies. To act more fairly and more mindfully, we must leave behind the unrealistic ideal of the ‘the vacuum’. We need to find a way to think and act that preserves our faith without requiring everyone to concede to it. Then both faith and the freedom of all can thrive.

THE INTERFAITH AND NEW AGE MOVEMENTS

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Interfaith efforts and New Age practices utilize much of the same subject matter. Both exist to explore various religious traditions. New Agers do so largely to enrich their own spiritual life. Those involved in the interfaith movement explore faith traditions other than their own to make connections across religious boundaries, facilitate understanding, and promote peace. The main point where these philosophies differ is how strictly they maintain boundaries between different faith traditions. “[Interfaith organizations] recognize the distinctiveness of world religions and see in their variety an enrichment of the human spirit” (Braybrooke in Kirkwood, 221). But New Age followers often blend religious beliefs and practices to create an intricate spirituality that may be shared among followers or be completely unique to a single person.

There is nothing wrong with either way these movements address religious categories. New Age blending provides an immense amount of inspiration and allows for creativity. The danger being the formation of an over-simplistic homogenized spirituality. However, I am confident that the complex traditions New Age draws from will provide items to discuss and ponder for eons preventing blended spiritualities from becoming too simplistic. The fear of homogenization I think is misplaced. If you have ever been in a room of New Agers, you know none have the same views, beliefs, or practices. Without firm categories or labels, it may be difficult to tell who has different inclinations, but these varying inclinations will exist all the same.

Interfaith activities seek to explore religions while upholding firm categories and labels to differentiate the traditions. The effort to preserve religious traditions is noble, but we must not forget that no matter how hard one tries, they can never be preserved completely. After all, the world religions do not exist in a vacuum. The world religions are not ‘pure’. They are fluid and have changed greatly across time due to the influence of war, geography, politics, and popular culture. We cannot, nor should we aim to, suddenly freeze our religions now. As the interfaith movement explores religion with boundaries intact, the natural progression is to allow such exploration without the necessity of categories. Eventually the understanding and peace it sought to create will manifest into something entirely new.

 

Kirkwood, Peter. The Quiet Revolution: The emergence of interfaith consciousness. Sydney, NSW: ABC Books. 2007.

 

 

 

MANY FACES OF LOVE

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I feel that if extraterrestrials were to discover earth and observe us, they would conclude that our lives are centered around love. Or perhaps they would determine that a lack of love, or the quest for love is central to earthling life. It seems that any way you square love, we are always looking for it, growing it, despising it, or running from it.

Think about all the time we spend looking for ‘the one’ or painstakingly working through issues with the loved ones already in our life. Romance is a genre all its own in literature and film. Some would argue that the best songs of all time are love songs. Love permeates our lives as individuals and in the wider culture. Due to this fixation, love has become lucrative. Think about the amount of money spent and made off internet dating platforms and products that promise to make one irresistible to potential partners. A good deal of Western economies capitalize on ideals of love.

Love is also the overwhelming common denominator in religions and spiritual traditions. All of them discuss in some capacity how humans should regard the world, each other, and the divine through love (or lack thereof). Across the great traditions we find examples of conditional, temporary, eternal, and boundless love. It is a main subject in religious texts and practices. Love’s wide sweeping prevalence across all realms of life shows how important it is. However, the light in which it is depicted varies considerably.

Love can be a weakness to be manipulated, something to distort and pervert. It can fade and extinguish. It can grow and last. It can empower and strengthen. These are all realities of love. There are schools of thought and tactics to support each one. But in these times, I implore you to foster love that heals rather than hurts, and is steady rather than fleeting. So when extraterrestrials find their way to us, we can show them the beauty of earthling life.