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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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milton-satan

I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about the value of resistance and the importance of breaking with tradition. In the process of maturation, every individual must go through a phase of rebellion in order to define his or her own personality. It can be a turbulent business, as dramatized by a thousand coming-of-age stories, dating back as far as the oldest fairy tales right up to latest holiday blockbusters. The chivalrous knight slays the mean old dragon who stands in his way, as in the legend of St. George. Luke and Leia take up arms against the evil empire, in the science-fiction movie that delivered the defining mythology of my generation. Even Oedipus struck down his own father to defy prophecy and flout authority.

Some rebellions prove more successful than others. Some uprisings result in growth, progress and maturation. While other cases of subversion—driven by pride, arrogance and self-interest—serve only to inflate the ego. With no capacity for self-reflection, the ruthless and unscrupulous iconoclast tears down the old hierarchy and with it every standard of moral decency, without regard for truth or integrity. Such is the tragic fate of the indecorous anti-hero, unable to discern between the subtle gradations of good and evil, unable to embrace real human values.

I have dredged the annals of world mythology to find the quintessential super villain, to serve as a model of our new President, who has promised to shake things up, bring down the old establishment, and sell the earth and the sky up the river without a second’s hesitation. I considered the Joker, terrorizing Gotham with his brightly colored hair, and the Pharaoh, who stood proud before Moses and unmoved in the face of frogs, locusts and a river of blood. Finally I found him, staring back at me from the profound depths of Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, the archetype of reckless defiance, the unmistakable face of Satan.

In the first two books of this epic 17th century poem, Milton has Satan seduce the reader with his confident oratory. He takes a bold stance against God, the status quo, and the old world order. He goes so far as accuse God of ruling the earth only according to might makes right, in what he calls “the tyranny of heaven” (Book 1, line 124).

Satan, in all his smooth and silver-tongued rhetoric, would have the reader believe that God rules by virtue of his omnipotent strength, rather than admit that God’s omnipotence goes hand-in-hand with his unbounded virtue. “Who overcomes by force,” says Satan, “hath overcome but half his foe.” (Book 1, line 648-9). The powers that be, he suggests, have no right to rule, when they rule only by force. Assuming authority by means of enterprise and zeal is a far more respectable endeavor, chasing the American dream by hook or by crook, in other words.

A widely held opinion in America says that the government has fooled the people into believing that it is here to help us, when in fact its laws and regulations are really little more than an abuse of power. It is high time, in their minds, to dismantle this sprawling and bloated behemoth, and to restore order to those who have demonstrated their own superior merit. The demonstration of merit however, is all too often nothing more than a little flash of wealth and avarice, and a lot of rhetorical obfuscation.

Bold gestures of anti-establishmentarianism, however well intended, do not a comprehensive, normative and forward looking body of value-based public policy make. And it’s overblown sentences like that that can easily lead an all-too-easily-led faction of dissidents into a state of whipped-up anti-social fanaticism. Which is where our country seemingly stands today.

Like a smooth-talking defense attorney, the blindingly successful Trump campaign wielded a lot of cross-eyed double talk and half-baked obscurantism, with the cheap aim of simply causing confusion and raising a shadow of doubt, as his social media presence did with mind-numbing results. Satan himself couldn’t have asked for a better outcome. What sounds good in a six-word headline finally carries more weight than what is factually true.

“Our cure, to be no more; sad cure!” So goes Satan’s lamentation in Book 2 of “Paradise Lost”, when God has banished the devil and his cohorts to the fiery lake of Hell. Ignoring the darker instincts, suppressing the shadow element—to put in Jungian terms—is no solution, only the postponement of inevitable disruption. But this interjection could just as easily refer to Satan’s strategy to topple God from heaven’s throne, or the Republican remedy to drain the swamp, and then the lake, and the ocean, and the ice caps. The cure might very well prove worse than the disease.

With the valuable aid of Mammon, his most loyal accomplice, the billionaire narcissist persuaded the curious American electorate to take a bite from the forbidden fruit, turning their backs on more than 200 years of law and order. And now the country savors the sweet taste of knowledge, knowing that it has defied everything righteous and reasonable, in favor of unruly dissent and glorious freewill.

It won’t be long before the new administration moves in to the White House, and if they keep their promises, they’ll ransack the place like a gang of reckless, self-centered teenagers who have been waiting months for their parents to leave town for a weekend. Everyone and his kid brother will be invited to the party, so long as they can be trusted not to speak a word of it to mom and dad. There’ll be kegs in the back yard, coke on the coffee tables, and barf in the bathroom sink. It’s the highest form of disobedience and self-expression they can think of at this adolescent stage of development, and don’t expect them to clean up after themselves.

Who will prevail in this cosmic struggle, between order and chaos? In “Paradise Lost”, even a pyrrhic victory was enough of a victory for Satan. “Better to reign in Hell,” he says, “than to serve in Heaven” (Book 1, Line 263). For the Donald, too, the campaign was a costly one. He allowed himself to be blasted and lambasted, made to look like a fool and an ogre. But no price was too high for the title of ‘most powerful man in the world’.

Yet the struggle has only just begun. Even if you skipped Milton, you probably recall the events of Genesis. Satan pulled off his dirty trick by seducing and deceiving Eve, and God levied His cruel punishment against the human race. It is we who had to pay the price. Men were made to labor in the fields and women were made to suffer the pains of childbirth. (Gen. 3:16-18)

And this is how Paradise was lost for humankind. But will the new President relieve the suffering of the women who feared him and ease the burden of the working class that supported him? Or will we undergo another spate of divine retribution for opting to sympathize with the devil? I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.

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