This is going to be a bit of a long rant, I’m sorry, but it all must be said. I’m going to be talking pretty broadly about “the West” and “the East,” and I apologize for this sweeping conception of human culture, but that’s pretty much the conception of human culture that most people I talk to have in mind. I also want to apologize in advance for my somewhat callous attack at people’s personal beliefs. I think very much that spiritual practices all have truth to offer, and you will find that my main problem with certain beliefs is not that I think they don’t make sense, but that they are harmful to society and other individuals. If you hold some of these beliefs near and dear to you, I hope you will not take too much offense and realize that the personal value of what you believe and practice is solely determined by you. I realize I may be alienating many readers who hold interesting notions of spirituality which conflict with my own, and I just hope you’re tough enough by now to take it (or you’ll be convinced).
The “New Age” movement is spiritual movement in the West. It draws heavily on Eastern spiritual notions, as well as some Western spiritual traditions, science, and holistic medicine. “New age” refers to the coming of the Age of Aquarius, an age which perhaps can best be described by the song of the same name:
There is much talk of the Age of Aquarius being a time when we take our destiny and consciousness to a next level with unprecedented control and unity. All in all, the Age of Aquarius is pretty much the singularity, except while the singularity is pretty well predicted, the Age of Aquarius is estimated to arrive somewhere between 1500 CE and 3500 CE.
I think that the singularity is the dawn of the Age of Aquarius, but I also think that pretty much all of the New Age movement is bullshit, and I’ll go on to elaborate.
Astrology is no good. I know that followers of astrology have all heard it many times before, but I’ll say it again: the idea that the movement of distant dust and gas relative to us in the universe has implications or effects on our lives is absurd. Nevertheless, people continue to believe in it. One of the reasons that people believe in
the zodiac is because its descriptions of people can be strikingly accurate. I searched for some zodiac descriptions and came to this site which gives some personality traits to each of the signs. I’m a Pisces, so let’s take a gander:
“Pisceans are characterised by their emotional depth. They have such a vast reservoir of positive creative energy that they don’t even come close to realizing their true potential.”
So true… I often feel like I could be doing so much more with my energy, and that a lot of it is wasted.
” Pisceans give their friends unconditional support when needed. They believe in the notion that a friend in need is a friend indeed. But this works both ways. They also need to be understood and helped when in need.”
I have a strong urge to help my friends when in need, and I do expect that from them as well. so far this describes me pretty well.
“Pisceans are also susceptible to developing habits and then acting as if they will show themselves out. Eventually, it becomes so late that things go out of control, and the habits take a heavy toll on their personal and professional lives.”
I’m definitely a procrastinator, through and through. I also continue to claim that I my pot-smoking habit is under control and I can stop if I want to. I sure hope it doesn’t take a toll on my professional or personal life…
“Pisceans tend to be a little deceptive, thinking that it is for everyone’s good.”
I can be manipulative, but not in a way that gives me advantage over others necessarily.
“In love, Pisceans fall very easily and quickly, but tend to make mistakes. And sometimes, the result is the worst. Thus, they can be summed up in one word – passionate – in life, in work, in love and everything else. Their kind and gentle side sprouts from this very passion.”
I’ve fallen into awful situations because of my commitment to love. I would definitely describe myself as passionate about life and love.
I could go through the rest of the zodiac personality traits and explain how each of them fit me, some much better than Pisces (I think I’m more of a Leo or Aquarius). The point is that these personality traits are vague and universal, and have no real meaning. Horoscopes work the same way: any set of daily happenings can be traced back to fulfill any given horoscope. When I read the horoscopes I read all of them, find the three that most apply to me, and consider those to be my horoscope for the day.
Astrology is harmful to human thinking, it is a pseudoscience. Astrology can only bar us from discovering actual truth, and as such does violence to humanity. Honestly, when people ask me what my sign is, I want to slap them across the face.
Eastern Spiritual Practices
I love Eastern conceptions of spirituality just as much as the next young liberal white guy, but let’s not get carried away now.
I realize that “Eastern” is a somewhat orientalist term to describe a large and diverse region and large and diverse spiritual practices, but I don’t care and you all know what I mean by “Eastern spiritual practices.” I’m talking about India, China, Japan, and everything in between. Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian: all interconnected spiritual beliefs and practices with focus on the cyclical nature of life, oneness of our being, our role in society, the evil of attachment and desire, the connection of suffering and existence, and reincarnation.
I feel that I should begin with reincarnation, a concept which has always been quite confusing to me. If you have a different body and a different mind, in what sense are you at all connected to a “previous life?” memories are the glue of consciousness. without continuity we become separate beings. Even if thoughts are carried from one life to the next I don’t see how that makes you any more related to a past self than another person who tells you something which makes you think the way they do. It will be said that the actions of a past life has some effect on this life, but once again, there is no proof of this, and I see no reason why this absurd notion should hold any value or possible truth.
I think that the focuses of Eastern spiritual practices are great to keep in mind as we approach the singularity, but I’m pretty annoyed with how many upper-middle class white Buddhists there are in the United States. I feel like it’s cool to be Buddhist and to therefore think differently from most westerners, and I think that these Buddhists are probably aware of how cool they look. My other problem with Buddhism is that I think that attachment and existence are the most beautiful things in the universe, even though I know that suffering is a necessary part of all of it. I think that Buddhism drives at the idea of the illusion of the self and existence much more than any other religion I’ve seen, however, which I appreciate.
To a greater degree than Buddhism, Yoga has been creeping into the West. In India, Yoga is the practice of spiritual enlightenment through physical action, and is a very complex set of beliefs about energy and the body. In the west, Yoga is exercise and deep breathing which middle age mothers pay top dollar to get in on, not realizing that you don’t need an instructor to breath and exercise. The spiritual practice of Yoga is completely divorced from the physical action in the west because we don’t understand what it would mean to achieve enlightenment through physical movement.
We have an impression in the West that if one is looking for spiritual enlightenment, one has to go to India. I say enlighten thyself. Faiths and practices are all paths toward Truth, toward God. Are your own beliefs so inadequate that you must travel half way around the world to understand who you are? Lame.
This includes Faith healing, “intuitive” healing, healing crystals, and holistic medicine.
I think healing is great when it works. There are, however, too many psychic healers in this world (one is too many). All healers who cannot prove that they heal are not healers at all, they’re liars. If you say that the proof is in the faith, first of all that’s not proof, and second of all, if all a person needs is faith, why do they need you?
The power of positive thinking is insane. Placebos can do so much good, but we must be honest when we have a placebo, or else once again we are doing violence to humanity. I know this contradicts the idea of a placebo, but tricking each other to this extent cannot be healing in the long run.
I think we are amazing beings capable of wielding energy in powerful ways, but this doesn’t mean we’re psychic. if there are “psychic” powers, then they are explainable as a form of communication and consciousness different from the other senses. There is, however, little evidence to indicate this.
Psychic healing ties in with healing crystals. healing crystals would be much more of a joke if they weren’t so expensive. Geometry is great, and is very important to the universe, and crystals are really cool. What’s not cool is claiming that crystals will heal people for the low low price of 5 easy installments of $499.99. They won’t work.
Holistic medicine is a big thing for new age. This approach to medicine contradicts the usual western surgical approach, targeting an illness with a molecule delivered to the inside of the body. Holistic medicine is herbal, includes many things we don’t yet understand, and is a general approach to healing rather than a specific one.
I think herbs are great, especially Cannabis, the greatest holistic medicine on earth. Herbs are great for sore throats, alleviating rashes and sunburns, and helping all sorts of ailments. What holistic medicine will not do is produce predictable results all the time, and work as effectively as western medicine in many cases. I think more attention should be paid to holistic medicine in the west, but there is a place for Tylenol as well. An important aspect of holistic medicine is looking at the cause of the problem, not just the symptoms. I personally feel that our practice of medicine creates ailments in our minds that we were never aware of before (restless leg syndrome, anyone?) and therefore I stay away from using drugs to improve my suffering, knowing that they will only increase it. However, if I get cancer I will use all of the powers of Western medicine to heal myself, knowing that that is my best bet.
I used to hate it when people described themselves as “spiritual,” because as an atheist I thought it was just another way of talking about things that don’t exist. I have come back somewhat from that view, but I still feel that to describe yourself as “spiritual” is to say that others are less so, that you are especially spiritual. There is a strong conceited nature to psychics and spiritual healers, an arrogant notion of superiority, in knowledge of the divine which others cannot share because they aren’t as enlightened. An “intuitive healer” implies more intuition than others.
I experienced this with the few Wiccan friends I’ve had. Their use of Tarot and other spiritual nonsense seemed to elevate their personal esteem, and they revel in the thought that they somehow know more than the ignorant masses. This is not spirituality, this is the opposite: self-centeredness, self-elevation, and exclusivity.
So I’m here to say what spirituality should mean for us westerners, members of a culture wrapped up in materialism, commodities, science, and technology. Spirituality doesn’t mean the renunciation of your possessions like your TV, game systems, and iPhone. Each of these things, despite being material objects, make us more spiritual because they bring us together. “Nay!” you say, “Technology drives us apart!” Well, who is the “us” you are talking about? Am I not closer to Jon Stewart when I watch The Daily Show? Am I not closer to myself when I play video games, and am I not closer to my family when we talk on the phone? Sure, we spend less time with our families when we’re chatting online, but that’s because we are spending more time with our more distant family members of the human race, and this is not a bad thing.
Our commodities will become the vehicles of our spirituality, our oneness. They will share our thoughts so fast it will blur the lines between us. I will end with a quote I have already posted from Buckminster Fuller:
The telephone rings and you say to me Hello Buckling this is Christopher; or Daddy it’s Allegra; or Mr. Fuller this is the Telephone Company Business Office; and I say you are inaccurate. Because I knew you were going to call and furthermore I recognize that it is God who is “speaking”…
At least a quarter of a billion people sit quietly each day for hours in darkened halls. And they say they are “at the movies” not looking at anyone or anything real. They certainly don’t see the screen. I say they are looking at God.
-Buckminster Fuller, 1940
Wait, I forgot one thing. Somewhere along the line the “Mayan apocalypse” in 2012 has entered into some new age circles. At this point if you’re still reading I feel like you probably understand why 2012 doesn’t really mean anything, but I just wanted to point out another absurdity.