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Archive for February, 2017

Some people refer to it as “the days when God still spoke to people.” German philosopher Karl Jaspers (1883-1969) called it the Axial Age. It was the time of humanity’s most prolific religious and spiritual output, roughly 2500 years ago.

In India, the Buddha was achieving enlightenment. In China, Lao Tzu was grappling with non-duality, and Confucius was articulating morality. In Athens, Greece, Socrates was questioning everything and formulating the bedrock of western philosophy. And in the near East, Hebrew sages, under Babylonian Captivity, were using a revolutionary alphabet to compose the literary foundations of Judeo-Christianity.

These were heady times indeed. And some have drawn comparisons with our current era. The proliferation of what have come to be known as “New Age” ideologies suggests to some that we are currently moving through a second Axial Age. Of course, there are other factors at play, the ability of modern technology to spread ideas with unimaginable ease and quickness, and a response to the relatively recent Age of Enlightenment, also called the Age of Reason.

Extenuating circumstances aside, it’s hard to deny the outburst of spiritual ideas that we have witnessed in the last hundred years. Maybe it started with Carl Jung, sometimes called the father of the new age movement. Perhaps we can trace it back even further to the prophetic writings of Friedrich Nietzsche. At the turn of the twentieth century, religion effectively meant Christianity; now it includes everything from from reptile idolatry to past-life clairvoyance. And today we have entire bookstores devoted to new age spirituality, this in a time when bookstores are disappearing faster than Manischevitz at a Jewish wedding.

Deepak Choprah, Eckhart Tolle and Jane Roberts have all become household names, among a sea of others like Ken Wilber, Matthew Fox, Michael Talbot, and hundreds of others. The current Dalai Lama is the 14th in a long line of Tibetan Buddhist visionaries, but has there ever been another Dalai Lama even a fraction as popular and influential as the incarnation who has held this venerable position since 1950?

Ordinary people from all walks of life turn to these alternative ideas and ideologies to escape the meaninglessness and absurdity which has plagued our species for the last century or so. For significant segments of society, traditional religion has grown inadequate, while the basic need for some sort of spiritual outlet or connection still looms large. For others however, attachment to the old religion has grown stronger than ever.

Perceiving an existential threat from these novel spiritual schools, the most traditional Christians (as well as Muslims and others) have responded by clinging more tightly than ever to their old beliefs. This resurgence of fundamentalism has been all too obvious in the last couple decades, coming to a boiling point in what we so casually refer to now as the Culture Wars.

The failures of neo-liberalism notwithstanding, progressive movements have advanced with great strides in terms of racial integration, LGBT rights, gender equality and more compassionate social. It should come as no surprise then that we should see a pushback against this progress. Under Donald Trump’s flag of making America what it used to be, xenophobia, patriarchy, traditional religion and intolerance are soaring to new heights. Terrifying as this all might be to any forward-thinking individuals, it also confirms the fact that we have accomplished some great changes in the last 50 years.

In the spiritual sphere, we have witnessed a coming together of ideas, old and new, from East and West, like never before. Major swaths of the population are undergoing a shift in consciousness, growing increasingly aware of the universality and interconnectedness that tie us together. The teachings date back to the first Axial Age, but today, those ideas are embraced on a whole different level, in an entirely new context.

The quantum leap of consciousness is something worth celebrating, but, as tremendous as it is, it will not take place without a violent wave of resistance from those still attached to the traditional and archaic. In fact, the collision of traditional and new age belief systems, as we see, is only pushing them further back, to the point where they literally refuse to look at the facts. The sense of tribalism has grown so tenacious, that they will follow their strongman leader blindly. So intolerant have they become to the flow of progress, that they willfully ignore any message, however valid or reliable, when it goes against the ethos of their own narrow and regressive worldview.

People speak now of resisting, and organizing resistance, against the reign of Trump and this resurgence of bullying and ethnocentrism. But we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that this new regime is the resistance. It is a reactionary resistance against an undeniable movement forward. We are witnessing the death throes of a belief system on the verge of collapse. It might happen slowly, and will almost certainly get ugly, but ultimately, the forward momentum will always prevail over the backward resistance.

This is happening now, and it is happening daily. It is nothing less than a war of ideas. But as we see their movement scurry forth, and watch them sink lower and lower into the depths of anger, denial and willful ignorance, what’s most important is that we not allow them to drag us down with them. Like the young Luke Skywalker when confronted by the wrath of Darth Vader (the Dark Father, the symbol of a passing generation), we must not give in to anger.

Anger leads to the Dark Side. And we all know this. They have already dragged us into their post-fact world. If it comes down to a battle of bullshit, the Dark Side wins. If we reduce ourselves to a rivalry of name-calling and finger pointing, again, the Dark Side will prevail. When they take the low road, we must take the high road. If they insist that Jesus entitles them to the moral high ground, and they do, then we must remain vigilant.

Such flagrant hypocrisy and hyperbolic dishonesty cannot last long. In time, they will be their own undoing. But it could still get worse before it gets better. Our leaders are teachers and mystics, not generals and politicians, so the struggle might not be an easy one, and for a time it may look like they are ahead. We must stick together and steel ourselves for some nasty displays of darkness. But their desperate extremism only proves that the forces of progress and tolerance are winning.

Finally, remember the words of Dr. King, for he too withstood a few beatings and proved his own moral supremacy while resisting the temptations of anger and violence. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

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