ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
was not traditional, but his own invention, based on his reading of Gnostic texts.
One of the striking features of modern Western occultism is that it actually stems from the ideas of a very few persons, and, in large measure, is not the result of a continuous tradition except in the cases of alchemy and astrology. Otherwise, Gnosticism almost vanished in the West with the extermination of the Albigensians of Provence during the crusade of 1208–13. While as stated earlier there were isolated Gnostic survivals which persisted throughout medieval and early modern times, the origins and development of these is highly problematic. However, from time to time throughout the history of the Christian Church there have been movements somewhat similar to Gnosticism, a conspicuous example being the Society of Friends, or Quakers. George Fox’s doctrine of the Inner Light is very much like the Gnostic γνόσισ
The Decline of Christianity
Many scholars speak of today’s world as being Post-Christian This may seem startling. The World Almanac lists well over a billion people as Christian, divided into some 900 sects and denominations. Most Europeans and people of the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and much of the rest of the world identify themselves as Christians to census takers. However, it can scarcely be denied that the West can no longer be identified as Christendom. Most Christians are only nominally so, and many contemporary commentators maintain that what are called the mainstream or mainline churches are in decline. By these, they mean Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and the major Protestant bodies such as the Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians, the United Church in Canada, the Baptists, Lutherans, etc. It is also acknowledged that the co-called evangelical churches, such as the Pentacostal, are increasing dramatically in membership and appeal, as shown by the imposing church buildings erected by these “fundamentalist” denominations and sects during the past twenty or thirty years. Nonetheless, this growth is chiefly confined to the United States in the Western world, and, thanks to its proximity, is also experienced to a considerably lesser degree in Canada. In Europe, however, American-based evangelists have had limited success, at least in making lasting converts, and the traveller in Europe is left in no doubt but that the people of countries such as Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, and Holland are secular, even though nearly all, if asked, will say that they are members of this or that denonmination. How did this happen?
The answers are complex, controversial, and can only be alluded to here. However, they are bound up with several important movements of the past two centuries. The first is the scientific revolution of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, especially in biology, physics, and astronomy, accompanied by the shattering of ancient cosmologies of Hellenistic origins. As mentioned, free thinkers known as philosophes appeared during the eighteenth century who challenged long accepted dogmas and doctrines, among them Voltaire in France, and Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson in America.