Thursday, July 24, 2008
Well, the first and foremost principle is the rejection of exclusivity of Religion. This is in stark contrast to conservative Christian denominations which claim that they are the only valid spiritual path (it is not only Christian groups that take an exclusive approach. Islam and Judaism are very exclusive, some Eastern sects are too (ISKON - The Hare Krishna's for example). Some modern "cults" are exclusive, however it would be wrong to label every religious group to crop up in recent times as New Age (ie for example Raelians or Scientology)).
Taken to extremes this can mean total Relativism, ie the idea that all truth is relative to a range of variables and circumstances. In contrast, the exclusive Religions have a dualistic Absolute view of truth ie It's either their truth or its false. Certainly many people accuse New Age of being Relativistic, and in fact many people who follow a loose New Age approach are. I have met many people that don't believe in any sort of Absolutes. However, I think you will find that most of the serious researches & teachers do not advocate absolute relativism.
What I personally think is the solution is the concept of an Absolute truth, with a descending scale of Relative truths, some closer to being an Absolute truth, and some further down the scale. Specifically in relation to Spiritual/Religious concepts it means that there is Absolute truth that can be found non-exclusively in different cultures and religions, but at the same time not all Religious doctrines are equal. So, my conception of New Age will probably be different to others in that I believe in the importance of being firmly established in a traditional Mysticism, thus having an Absolute from which to ground beliefs, and than allow for the range of Relative experiences to have their place.
Probably one of the most important application of this is in relation to beliefs about an afterlife. Conservative Christianity has maintained that there are only two places one can go after death, Heaven or Hell, and that you must belong to a particular denomination and follow all their teachings in order to teach Heaven after you die (however, these teachings emphasise that Salvation is given by grace from God through Jesus Christ. However, this still implies that you authorize a specific group to dictate what is orthodoxy and what is heresy), (Jehovas Witnesses (JW's) and Seventh Day Adventists (SDA's) both believe in annilhation for unbeliever rather than eternal torment in Hell. However both JW's and SDA's are considered fringe groups by most denominations, despite the fact that they see themselves as Restorationists). Strictly, Christians maintain that the only possible method of Salvation is through Jesus. In contrast, New Age proposes that it is not so significant what title you use to describe your Religious beliefs, or what doctrines and dogmas you follow as much as how you live the Spiritual principles, or in strictly Eastern terms, how you realize the higher truths (Dharma) in your life. Specifically, what this means is that whilst doctrines can be significant in determining what one considers important and worth striving for, it is not our intellectual ideals and concepts that are important as much as how we treat others, how we speak, think and act. The perfect example of this is NDE's where many people have been told that the religious denomination is not important, the extent to which they allow love to be the driving force in their life is.
New Age does not believe in the traditional Dualistic doctrine of Heaven and Hell. Instead you have a more complex concept of varying planes or Dimensions. There are variations on these beliefs amongst different groups, however there are common elements. Many different sources describe an Astral cosmos, a universe comprised of less dense elements than our material world which exists both inside and outside our own. Within this Astral world there are considered to be many different levels to correspond with varying levels of Spiritual/Psychological development.Some of the lower levels might be considered "Hellish" prisons for corrupt Souls, however their is a major difference between this concept and the traditional one of Hell. The traditional model of Hell proposes that all those who reject Christianity (or any other exclusive Religion) will find themselves eternally seperated from God, in a realm of hate & torture, not just those who could be considered as sinners, immoral & evil. (To me this produces a major grey area in the doctrines of Christianity which I will address one day soon.) In the New Age conception, people who lived life selfishly, showing anger and hate to others, often find themselves after death in a dark world filled with torment and pain, surrounded by others of a similar inclanation. However, in contrast to the Christian view of Hell as eternal, this New Age version presents such nightmarish experiences as simply temporary, from which a Soul can escape by calling out to God. There are many NDE's where this kind of scenario has been reported.
Likewise, the view of Heaven is also remarkably different. Specifically the Christian conception of Heaven presents it as an eternal abode where one enters due to the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus. Alternatively, the New Age conception of Heaven is one of many temporary abodes in the Astral cosmos, where one enters for a continuation of experience, this time however free from the miseries and troubles of the material world. Descriptions from NDE and OBE reports as well as those from traditional mystical texts and information produced through mediumship presents a picture of many Heavens, of differing levels of density, leading up towards a realm of the Absolute. Sometimes, Eastern views are misrepresented in this regard, whilst the ultimate aim of Eastern Mysticism is to reach a realm beyond the transitory cycles of birth and death (ie Nirvana, Moksha, Liberation), this does not mean that they do not have a concept of Heaven & Hell. For example, look up the meaning of the Sanskrit word Loka. Also, for example the Hindu texts frequently refer to the "three worlds" physical, astral & causal (mental), whilst mainting that the ultimate goal is beyond all these.Ok, I will leave it here for today.
More detail later.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
The term Occult often conjures up images of Black Magic/Sorcery, but this isn't necessarily implied by the use of the term. Conservative Religions view all supernatural phenomena outside of their own as being therefore signs of Satanic/Demonic activity. Therefore the term Occult often is used with a negative connotation. However, traditionally the term was used to refer to a wide range of practices and beliefs.
The modern religion of Satanism is specifically concerned with expansion of the Ego (this word has different meaning depending on which context it is viewed), meaning seeing oneself as seperate from all others, identifying totally with the physical body and thus encouraging selfishness and hate. This is in complete contrast to New Age and traditional Mystical / Occult traditions which encourage dissolution of the Ego (see the sankrit word Ahamkara for the Eastern definition of Ego, which differs significantly to Freuds use of the term), meaning seeing oneself as interconnected with all life, identifying ultimately with the eternal Soul/Spirit and thus encouraging selflessness and unconditional love. To place Satanism in the same category as modern Spiritualism (for example) by defining them both as Occult is a gross misuse of the term, and is ultimately deceptive.
So, I use the term Occult to describe things like knowledge of the Astral realms, and laws that govern them. For example the Hermetic text The Kybalion is a short series of Occult Principles which relate to both natural science and metaphysics. Used in the context provided within the text, these principles can be used for positive spiritual growth. However, if one goes against the strong warning of all serious spiritual philosophies and chooses to use knowledge of such principles for selfish or destructive purposes then you are in the realm of genuine Black Magic.
So, the term Occult refers to the the Science (many people will object to my use of this term here, I understand) specifically and not the use of it. Just as modern technology can be used for either productive or destructive purposes, so can Occult knowledge. This is the traditional meaning of the term.
Friday, July 18, 2008
Some of the most significant basic ingredients of a NDE are as follows, the experience of leaving ones body, meeting with non-physical beings which radiate light (I'll refer to them as the Beings Of Light, BOL's), moving through non-physical worlds or dimensions, Heavens and Hells (which correspond very well with the occult concept of an Astral plane) and the life review, the experience of reliving every single experience of ones life in full detail, experiencing the consequences of ones own actions, words & thoughts on others.
Often also, the person having the NDE is given Spiritual teachings by the BOL's which in most cases correspond with New Age doctrines. Whilst from what I've seen there is not 100% consistency, there does seem to be a good deal of common ground between the NDE accounts. There are some obvious exceptions but the majority of books and websites on this topic seem to support this.
Now, as this all supports the New Age Paradigm, there is of course much dispute and opposition to this. Skeptics (generally Atheists) propose that the experiences are hallucinations caused by the dying brain and argue for purely biological processes as being the cause. They point to similarities in the experiences of fighter pilots who pass out under extreme G forces, or the experiences of Hypoxia (lack of oxygen to the brain), the ability to reproduce many elements of the experience with electromagnetic stimulation to specific parts of the brain (in particular the temporal lobes), and the common experiences of people in drug induced states (particularly hallucigons like DMT, LSD, Psilocybin and also Ketamine). Skeptics also point to the case that many people who die and come back to life later recall nothing at all, like a black out or deep dreamless sleep, ie a lack of consciousness.
Christians on the other hand present mixed responses. In my own upbringing I was not told of the New Age implications of NDE's, but I was told stories of people who had died, gone to heaven, met Jesus and come back. I was told about how after they died and before they went to heaven they moved around the hospitals and were able to later recall things that had been said in other rooms of the building whilst they were physically dead (a common claim with NDE's). So, first off, some Christians are seemingly unaware that the phenomena is generally used to support the New Age worldview, or choose to ignore this.
Secondly, some Christians choose to agree with skeptics in dismissing NDE's as hallucinations, mostly because of the New Age doctrines that are put forth, also because some (and I use that word cautuosly) Christians do not believe in the possibility of the Soul existing externally from the physical body (This is a major grey area from what I've seen. I would love to hear from anybody willing to let me know where their branch of Christianity stands on this. I do believe that the Bible is not specifically clear on this area of metaphysics, ie the strict definitions of Mind, Spirit and/or Soul. In contrast, Eastern and Occult traditions go very deeply into this area. I do know that some Christians believe that Soul is a combination of Body and Mind/Spirit, and that eternal life relies entirely on physical ressurection. Therefore any account of out of body experiences (OBE's for short) are rejected as either Hallucinations or evidence of Demonic activity.)
Others that I have seen tend to declare some NDE's as real and others as fake depending solely on what doctrines are put forth in them. ie If a NDE account makes no mention of doctrines which are in conflict with Christianity then it is accepted as being real, however if like a significant percentage of NDE's it presents doctrines that are in conflict with mainstream Christian beliefs then it is declared to be either a hallucination, a fantasy of the subconscious or a Satanic delusion. (It must be mentioned here that as there are common beliefs between Christianity and New Age, some NDE's will be presented as evidence for both of these conflicting worldviews.)
Now, I have much, much more to say on this topic, but I think I will leave it here for today and continue very soon. Please, I would love to get some comments, so don't hold back on your thoughts. Also, anyone, if you feel I have misrepresented a particular viewpoint please let me know and I will respond to your thoughts. I am trying to be objective, but it will be very difficult for me to achieve that so please bear with me. I will try to own up to any mistakes I make along the way.
Bye for now.
Sunday, July 6, 2008
All Christians believe that God incarnated fully in Jesus as completely God, completely Man, therefore they accept the writings of the Gospels (as well as the rest of the Bible) as being historically accurate and literal portrayals of actual physical events rather than as mythology/allegory. They believe that the primary purpose of this was to show mankind the way to live and then to provide a sacrifice for our sins by dying on the cross, and then rising after three days. Therefore, Christians believe that we must accept Jesus as our personal saviour, forming a personal relationship with God, and try to live by the principles layed out in the Bible to the best of our abilities.
Christianity has a unique concept know as the Triune God, whereby there is only One God, yet there are three distinct persons to God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit. Generally, Christians object to the conclusion that the three parts are aspects of the same God, proposing a new concept that they are independant, yet all only One (I'm interested to hear someone explain this in greater depth.) Christians generally believe that the world is in a fallen state due to origional sin in the garden of eden, and that mankind therefore is born into sin and needs external redemption. Therefore Christians assert that the only means of Salvation is through Jesus Christ, as a equal and opposite consequence of this belief, they generally stand opposed to other forms of Religion / Spiritual practice, maintaining claims of exclusivity.
Christians also generally believe in the existence of a Fallen Angel previously known as Lucifer, now known as Satan (literally, the advesary) who led a rebellion in the heavens against God. They believe that Satan and his Demons (other fallen Angels) try to tempt mankind away from God and into Sin. Generally, most Christians believe that human beings are restricted by naturalistic laws that govern the material world and that paranormal/supernatural phenomena are the result of the intervention of a spiritual force or being, whether Holy or Evil.
So, in the Christian doctrine, human being live only one life on earth, after which we recieve judgment as to our eternal destination between two places, Heaven & Hell. Due to the exclusivity of the beliefs, any paranormal phenomena or spiritual practices which are not condoned by the Bible, or the particular church, are viewed as being evidence of Demonic activity, with the purpose of leading people away from Christ, and by consequence away from Heaven to eternal seperation from God in the fires of Hell.
There are liberal movements within some churches, & certainly many people consider themselves Christians and do not subscribe to all the above views. However, the above views are considered mainstream, and generally those in the mainstream view any deviation from these views as being heresy. For a more concise understanding of Christian doctrine, you can read the Nicene Creed, or read the statement of beliefs on the websites of some Churches.
New Age is a general term for the modern application of spiritual practices and beliefs seperate from a traditional system of religion. It is a very wide open field currently with little organising structure between different organizations. There are however, many common threads that run throughout:
Most, if not all New Age beliefs can be found within Mystical / Occult based religions, with the major difference being that what was once kept secret for initiates is now published freely and openly. For example, Hinduism can be considered the foundation for the New Age movement, yet the elements of Hinduism that are used are the deeper esoteric teachings of Yoga, Vedanta & Tantra, rather then the daily home & temple rituals and the venerations of a multitude of forms of God.
New Age views Mysticism as a Divine Science, discovered by holy men & women, seers, sages, mystics, prophets, yogis, shamans, witches, & philosophers and sees it as a common thread throughout human history. Aldous Huxely coined the term "Perennial Philosophy" to describe this timeless teaching found in many (if not most cultures). This idea is also put forth in the writings of Joseph Cambell and Carl Jung to name a few. (However it must be noted that this idea is extremely controversial and is certainly not viewed as an accepted fact. It is disputed by many experts in anthropology, mythology and religion). So as a result, New Age excepts many spiritual paths as being valid, yet at the same time believes them all to be one path, ultimately being the same narrow path rarely trodden. Some people take this a bit too far and state that all Religions are the same, clearly this is not the case. However, the general idea is that the same spiritual laws and principles apply to different cultures and belief systems.
New Age excepts traditional Eastern Doctrines such as Reincarnation & Karma, yet explains & interprets them differently to many traditional sects. Much of this has to do with the influence of the study of NDE's (Near Death Experiences), OBE's (Out of Body Experiences) / Astral Projection, and the teachings presented through Mediumship, ie through Spiritualism.
At this point I could probably go on writing for a long time, so I'll cut this short and go into greater detail later.
The common thread amongst Atheistic/Naturalistic philosophies is the belief that there are no Supernatural realms or beings and that all claims of Paranormal / Supernatural / Psychic phenomena can be explained as either deliberate fraud, delusions/hallucinations/mental illness, mental or sensory tricks (ie visual illusions) or some currently unknown natural phenomena.
Therefore, they believe that Consciousness is created solely from the electro-chemical activity within the brain, coming into existence in early fetal development & disappearing with the cessation of bodily functioning at death. Hence as a consequence, Atheists do not believe in an afterlife of any sort, nor any sort of reward or retribution outside of the social laws governing physical actions.
Please keep in mind that I'm being very general at this point, I can go into specifics later. I've left out alot of points for the sake of keeping this post brief. As I stated in the previous post, by no means am I saying that these are the only three worldviews of any significance. What I'm saying is that these three are by far the most dominant here in the modern, westernized world. I am very interested in hearing any opinions. In this blog I will try to present different topics and examine the way these three different paradigms interpret the same information, seeing whether it is possible to resolve some areas of dispute.
Something else I intended to mention before but forgot. I stated previously that everybody has a worldview yet for many people this is somewhat subconscious. I meant to expand upon this and state that many people adopt simple, pragmatic philosophies or simplified, liberal versions of major world views, or simply choose to remain Agnostic, open to information without locking themselves in to belief systems.
Ok, I think I'll just cut this off here for today.
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
Now, I'm going to grossly oversimplify here, in the west, the debate rages mostly within three particular groups, the rest pretty much stay out of it. Christianity (mostly the conservative Protestant denominations), New Age and Atheism/Naturalism. That's not to say that others don't have opinions, it's just that these three groups are by far the most vocal. More to the point, these three groups are generally the only ones that attempt to explain other groups into their own paradigm. Christianity has been the dominant Religous worldview in the west for around 1700 years, Naturalistic philosophies have been getting popular over the last 2-300, and New Age started around 100 years ago, really picking up in the last 30 odd years.
Scientific paradigms are now moving away from mechanistic concepts (the clockwork universe) into more holistic, systems based paradigms. Within the scientific fields today, Naturalistic ideas are dominant in most areas. Most Christians today generally doesn't challenge much of what Science has to offer, with the major exception of the origion of life and the universe, hence Evolution vs Creationism/Intelligent Design. New Age however has alot of thoeries regarding the Sciences which are currently viewed as "fringe", or pseudo-science by a large percentage of proffesionals.
At this point I think I should state that I am not by any means particularily knowledgable about Science from a technical viewpoint. My interest lies in the philosophical side of Science. Anyways, this will do for today, any thoughts anybody?
Bye for now.