Big cultural changes are usually not accidents. It is worth asking what the popularity of New Age spirituality tells us about the social world. I suggest that the New Age has become popular because in some ways it is very well suited to our circumstances.
• First, it solves the problem of cultural diversity. Traditionally, Christians have claimed that there is only one God and one truth. This is fine, so long as everyone accepts the same God. But we now live in a culturally diverse world. To continue to insist that only one religion is right and the rest are all wrong, generates endless argument and conflict. The solution is to become a relativist: if it works for you, then that is your truth, and if I believe different things, that's 'cool' too. There is no need to argue or fight. In that sense, relativism gives us an effective solution to the problem of diversity.
• Second, the New Age mirrors the modern stress on the rights of the individual to choose. Fifty years ago we left it to experts, who told us what was good art and good music. Now we accept the freedom of personal taste. The same applies to religion. We claim the right to decide what we will believe. It is worth noting that the same individualism now appears in the mainstream Christian churches. Regular churchgoers are selective about which of their church's doctrines they will follow. There is no longer the old acceptance that the priest or the minister knows best. Obvious evidence for this fact is the change in the size of the average Catholic family. Whatever the Church says about artificial contraception, it is obvious that very many Catholics choose to ignore the Pope's views on that matter.
• Third, the New Age empowers the consumer. Most New Agers do not become followers or members of anything. Some join mutual interest groups but many express interest by buying ideas and therapies. They pay for a residential week at Findhorn. They learn meditation by attending a few classes and buying a few books. Buying and selling spirituality does not offend New Agers; they like it because it establishes who is in charge. The purchaser decides what revelations to follow and what therapies to practise. This is the modern ethos. We decide what microwave to buy. We decide where to holiday. And, in the New Age, we decide how much time and effort we will commit to what sorts of beliefs and rituals.
• Finally, the New Age interest in personal therapy perfectly mirrors the modern obsession with self-improvement and pampering. The modern world does not encourage acceptance and fate. We are obliged to improve ourselves. If you are fat, you diet and exercise. If you cannot do that, pay for liposuction and plastic surgery. If you do not like your personality, change it. Get counselling, get psychotherapy, join a self-help group, take assertiveness training.
Ö Task 7. Read the part “The impact of New Age spirituality” and find answers to the following questions:
1) Why cannot the author of the article call the New Age religion an alternative to traditional religion?
2) Do you support the author’s point of view that the impact of the New Age followers on the rest of the world is not tangible?
3) Do you consider the fact of being a powerful social movement a criterion for assigning the status of religion to a set of spiritual ideas?
4) What examples does the author provide the reader with to back the idea the New Age is becoming trivialised?