Wednesday, October 13, 2010

David Bentley Hart on the New Age Movement

In a chapter of his book Atheist Delusions dealing with the nature of perceived free will, Hart posits that, almost universally, “the inviolable liberty of personal volition” or “choice” is the first principle of perceived human freedom, “often seeming to exercise an almost mystical supremacy over all other concerns.” Hart observes that, due to our belief that personal choice is the “highest good,” we fear that subscribing to some established tradition, belief, worldview, etc. is to limit our freedom to choose. Thus, the great claim today is to be spiritual and not religious. It is popular to string together bits and pieces of religion, philosophy, political views, scientific theories, etc. as if we were choosing selections from a cafeteria buffet. Hart writes:

This is especially obvious at modern Western religion’s pastel-tinged margins, in those realms of the New Age where the gods of the boutique hold uncontested sway. Here one may cultivate a private atmosphere of “spirituality” as undemanding and therapeutically comforting as one likes simply by purchasing a dream catcher, a few pretty crystals, some books on the goddess, a Tibetan prayer wheel, a volume of Joseph Campbell or Carl Jung or Robert Graves, a Nataraja figurine, a purse of tiles engraved with runes, a scattering of Pre-Raphaelite prints drenched in Celtic twilight, an Andean flute, and so forth, until this mounting congeries of string, worthless quartz, cheap joss sticks, baked clay, kitsch, borrowed iconography, and fraudulent scholarship reaches that mysterious point of saturation at which religion has become indistinguishable from interior decorating. Then one may either abandon one’s gods for something new or bide with them for a time, but in either case without any real reverence, love, or dread. There could scarcely be a more thoroughly modern form of religion than this. It certainly bears no resemblance to the genuine and honorable idolatries of old, or to the sort of ravenous religious eclecticism that characterized the late Roman Empire. The peoples of early and late antiquity actually believed in, adored, and feared their gods. No one really believes in the gods of the New Age; they are deities not of the celestial hierarchy above but of the ornamental étagère in the corner, and their only “divine” office is to give symbolic expression to the dreamier sides of their votaries’ personalities. They are purchased gods, gods as accessories, and hence are merely masks by means of which the one true god – the will – at once conceals and reveals itself.

From Atheist Delusions – The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies by David Bentley Hart, pp 23-24

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