Wednesday, October 7, 2015

New Age, Human Thriving, and the Good Inner Self

Will love conquer all? Well, it depends on how you define “love.” One anonymous New Ager, reflecting the thoughts of many others, stated:

  • Since this inner nature is good or neutral rather than bad, it is best to bring it out and to encourage it rather than to suppress it. If it is permitted to guide our life, we grow healthy, fruitful, and happy.
The way we regard human nature determines how we address human problems. If we regard human nature as basically good and loving, we will gently try to help humans bring forth and accept their natural and good impulses.

David Spangler adds:

  • “The New Age approach is to look at the object, people and the events of our lives and to say ‘you are sacred. In you and with you I can find the sacramental passages that reconnect me to the wholeness of creation.’ It is then to ask ourselves what kind of culture, what kind of institutions – be they political, economic, artistic, educational, or scientific – we need that can honor that universal sacredness.”
For Spangler, “sacredness” doesn’t mean that we are created in the image of God but that we remain fundamentally good at the core. And we bring forth humanity’s good nature by affirming their “sacredness.” If we are told we are sacred, perhaps we will begin to act that way.

But if we are basically good and sacred, why is it that we can’t treat others in a loving manner? Why wars, jealousy, hatred, and ethnic cleaning? A common answer is that suffer from a lack of self-esteem. According to New Age guru, Shakti Gawain, we have failed to learn how to trust in ourselves:

  • “When we consistently suppress and distrust our intuitive knowingness, looking instead for external authority, validation, and the approval of others, we give our personal power away…Every time you don’t trust yourself and don’t follow your inner truth, you decreased your aliveness and your body will reflect this with a loss of vitality, numbness, pain, and eventually physical disease.”
However, it often seems that those with the highest levels of self-trust or self-confidence can be the most inhumane of people. It is also possible that the attempt to trust in ourselves comes at the expense of understanding ourselves. Perhaps we shouldn’t be affirming ourselves but examining ourselves. Perhaps we do not measure up to the self-trust that Gawain wants us to adopt. Perhaps instead, we need to learn how to be scrupulously honest with ourselves.

Instead, according to another branch of the New Age, our problems derive from our inhumane institutions. In Understanding the Times, David Noebel explains:

  • Every humanist psychologist believes the secret to better mental health lies in getting in touch with the unspoiled, inner self.  When man strips himself of all the evil forced on him by society, he will become a positive agent with virtually unlimited potential…The three major assumptions of Humanist psychology are: man is good by nature and therefore perfectible; society and its social institutions are responsible for man’s evil acts; and mental health can be restored to everyone who gets in touch with his inner ‘good’ self.
How then do we get in touch with our “inner ‘good’ self? The outer layers of social conditioning and acculturation have to be peeled back. How? Humanist psychologists use a number of techniques to affirm and love the client through empathy, reflective listening, and unconditional positive regard for each individual, whatever their conduct.

However, while these affirmative techniques often bring about positive and immediate responses, it is questionable whether they succeed in bringing out the good inner self. Perhaps instead they are temporarily effective in manipulating the desired response from the client.

There is also another problem when we believe in the good inner self. We tend to dismiss all other ways of treating others, especially treating others punitively or critically.

Several humanistic women have confidently informed me that any form of punishment is barbaric. After all, if the tender, gentle, and loving response is all that is necessary to bring out the optimal response, then prison and censure become entirely unnecessary, even inhumane.

I asked one of these very lovely and personable women if she thought that if the Allies had just been more empathetic with Hitler, using more reflective listening, they would have been able to tap into his “good inner self,” and WWII would have been averted.

She answered, “Yes.” I was troubled by her revealing response. I was hoping that she would admit that other responses might have proved more fruitful with Hitler, namely a speedy military response.

Wisdom requires discernment. It recognizes that one size does not fit all. It sees that different responses are needful with different people in different situations.

Life is multi-textured, and it requires wisdom to recognize the complexities. Sometimes empathy will not work with a rebellious child. Sometimes firmness and punishment are required. As a probation officer, I often noticed that my younger probationers would respond positively and respectfully to my firmness, as if they recognized that they needed it, and that I was someone who cared about them enough to set firm limits.

The New Age blames institutions and even organized religion. However, our institutions are made up of individuals, each having a “good inner self.” How then is it that our institutions have become so utterly corrupt? We can’t blame other institutions. After all, humanity pre-dated the institutions we created. The answer must be sought at a deeper level.

Perhaps instead, the problem resides in all of us, in our adversity to the truth. Jesus put it this way:

  • And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:19-21)
If the problem resides in each one of us, changing institutions will do little to correct it. Instead, we need an answer that goes to the very core of the problem. Perhaps we must be born again. The Prophet Ezekiel prophesied that God would do this very thing:

  • And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. (Ezekiel 36:26-29)

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