ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
Age, which they usually refer to as “spirituality.” If New Agers are Christians, they are of the Gnostic heresy.
Like Hinduism, Buddhism, and the Hellenistic/Roman religio-philosophies of antiquity, New Age does not emphasize social ethics. Both the traditional eastern religions and New Age are usually much more concerned with spiritual enlightenment than with the achievement of social justice. There is very little New Age emphasis on social action, with the exception of ecological concerns. Instead, they emphasize the inner cultivation of spirituality on the part of individuals.
What Does it All Mean?
Many New Agers are perplexed by the problems of psychological and spiritual stability. Some may first return to their childhood religious faith. More often than not, this does not satisfy. The person may try an alternative like Protestant evangelicalism, and then explore the possibilities opened by Baha’i, Unitarian-Universalism, and other eclectic approaches before discovering Tibetan Buddhism or becoming a follower of the most recent swami to arrive from India. Along the way, this person will probably dabble in various forms of esotericism and the occult such as tarot cards, astrology, or the I Ching, or join an ashrama. In most cases, such seekers never find what they are looking for. They demand absolute certainty, and are looking for authority figures, gurus, who have completely convincing answers.
I have one such person in mind, a typical example. A few years ago I heard from him, now an octogenarian, still searching for absolute Truth, still unsatisfied. He wondered if, in the course of the past thirty years since I had last seen him, I had learned anything. But I had no answers to give, and as before, only questions. This was intolerable to him, and I never heard from him again.
To be sure, there are some who do find lasting spiritual satisfaction. But most of those who are seekers ultimately have to come to terms with uncertainty and settle, however unwillingly, for the realization that what is searched for is probably not there to be found. The devout say to have faith, but this is precisely what is impossible for many. They want to know. If they finally come to terms with not knowing, then they confess to agnosticism, which, by definition, is the assertion that it is impossible to know the answers to metaphysical questions.
It is interesting to parallel our own times with the Hellenistic Age in which esotericism was born. Post-modern people, as they are often called, live in a post-Christian world, or so some of them contend. They are aware of living in a fallen world, in despair with the consumer culture, longing for deliverance: for whatever they have in mind when they speak of “spirituality.” There is a parallel here with Hellenistic times, when people of local ethnic cultures were uprooted and migrated to great cities like Alexandria and Rome. There they suffered identity crises; felt alienated, vulnerable, and also empty. In their need, they turned to the mystery religions like the cult of Isis and Serapis, syncretic Salvationist cults composed of elements of older folk religions.