This is a long article, but I decided not to pare it down, lest the orientation and thrust of this site and the Fool’s Journey itself be watered down, misunderstood or even lost. So even though it’s long for an internet page, it ties a lot of things together you might need a bit farther down the road.
To begin then …
There is a limit to spiritual development when all spiritual sources are made external, whether those sources are within traditional religions or are any of the New Age avatars so much in vogue today. This limit represents a plateau of advancement, in both genres, beyond which no further personal development is possible, unless those very sources are abandoned as outside authorities—whether these are personalized or not—and in their place inner, first-hand spiritual experiences are sought, for no amount of second-hand lecturing, cajoling or forcing has ever produced illumination, enlightenment or anything of the kind. It is true that this plateau is comforting; if it were not it would never have attracted all the millions that have and still do reside there. But it is a false summit of limited attainment.
To understand the nature of this plateau, its inhabitants may be characterized as worshippers or followers of one or more external deities. The names of these deities vary, of course. The traditional religions have only one deity apiece, while New Agers may have several at the same time. They are each placed “on high” in one way or another, as distinct from themselves, who are always “lower.” Hence the image of a plateau of separation; they are separate from the deities they worship or follow. This is not accidental, but is part of a design. The very idea that they themselves might be deities-in-waiting is either unknown to them, or else seemingly impossible, or is “blasphemous,” a word that connotes a certain imperialism on the part of religious leaders. The plateau-dwellers stand at the feet of their deity, master, etc. but may not approach closer, at least not in this life. But woe to those who don’t remain and continue to stand at attention, for their fate will be dire, as we have all heard about over and over from childhood.
It may be shocking to most religious adherents, especially the fundamentalists and literalists, that they should all be grouped together after so many centuries of being told they must be enemies just because their own “deity” said so. It is equally shocking to the New Agers that they should be grouped with the very religionists they rejected for whatever reasons. It has been said that at the core, all religions and spiritual paths lead to the same place, but the knowledge, practice and experience of this is relatively unknown, since the leaders in the various hierarchies are more interested in job security than getting this news out. Much is taught and well-known in the seminaries that never gets passed along to the congregations. Most people on the plateau seem to be fine with this. Of course, what you don’t know, can’t help you.
It is pertinent to ask why this sterile plateau has been so crowded, first by the adherents of the major monotheistic religions of the West (Christians, Jews and Muslims, primarily), and then when their numbers began to decline during the last century, the New Agers began taking their places from the 1980s up to the present? What’s so popular about it?
What’s so popular about this plateau?
The answer is that knowledge of individual spiritual transcendence was suppressed in the West starting about seventeen hundred years ago. A gap was purposely created between deity and follower which was filled by the officials of the Roman Church. All that was left for people was to look up into the distance, as it were, at who they were told was their God. The result of this was not all bad, though, by any means. Charity and comfort have been given selflessly by untold numbers, whether religious adherents or New Age Lightworkers, however these latter define themselves. Without their compassionate actions, life would be immeasurably worse than it is. The moral force of their actions has been equally important, although this latter is not without problems. Wars often result from misplaced moral force. The real issue is, however, there is so much more than this that is possible.
It is comforting to believe there is one (or possibly more than one) superior or supreme being “up there” somewhere who cares for us, protects us and watches over us. Moreover, it’s usual for us Westerners in the modern world to hold this belief. Being down here in the dirt, as it were, we need something better and higher to exist, for if it doesn’t, we have no hope of escaping this world, even if only after death. We have a heritage of thousands of years of belief in such a God, under various names, so the belief itself is familiar, whether we individually hold it or not.
The existence of a supreme being isn’t the question. The existence of a Creator greater than ourselves is self-evident, once we discard the ridiculous idea that the greater can spring spontaneously from the lesser, which is one of a whole spate of incorrect ideas put forward to attempt to explain the mess we’re in. Where did these ideas come from? The modern West is a wholly materialistic and secular world, politicians on the stump attempting to curry the fundamentalists’ favor notwithstanding. The primary forces in the modern world are economic and corporate, where there can be no spiritual beliefs of any consequence by definition. Even the debates between the creationists and the evolutionists regarding the contents of school textbooks have been Shanghaied by these same corporate forces which decide what everyone entering the workforce has to know, and what is immaterial. (The debate on this issue has itself been Shanghaied, in that there seem to be only two sides. It occurs to few that there are other interpretations different from the two usual ones that make the news.) Modern society, via official pronouncements from “science,” has almost completely abandoned belief in our transcendent origins, and has substituted counterfeit ideas that the world somehow came into being by happenstance and gravity; that life originated by serendipitous, chemical mutations with a little lightening thrown in; that consciousness is a mere epi-phenomenon of brain matter; that man somehow “evolved” from animals; that spiritual things are either sublimated issues of the sex drive or echoes and eruptions from a theoretical collective unconscious that is located somewhere “down there” in our brain cells—all with unconvincing proofs that have been refuted over and over, without apparent effect. How the lesser, the simpler and the lower can create the higher and the more complex, no matter how much time is allotted, has never been explained, because there can be no acceptable explanation; it just isn’t true. Nonetheless, we take this all for granted without asking questions. “Well, Jimmy, it’s true because nearly everybody important says it’s true.” Swell. Not even Alice could believe so many impossible things before breakfast. There is a Creator who goes on creating whether we believe in him/her/it or not. (This does not imply that the creation myths in Genesis should be taken literally though. There are hundreds of other creation stories from past and present cultures around the world which aren’t meant literally either.) There are things greater than ourselves from which we are created; it cannot be otherwise.
But whether the Creator has the qualities and attributes we suppose is another question. Bertrand Russell described faith as “a conviction that cannot be shaken by contradictory evidence.” One of the primary arguments of those against the existence of the usually-described God is this: If he exists and cares about us, why doesn’t he prevent all the horrors we commit against each other? Why doesn’t he protect us against natural disasters? Birth defects? Injustice? It’s a long list. The atheists (materialists, scientists, Darwinists and others) conclude that therefore God doesn’t exist. Many of these people are in positions of authority, so we tend to believe them. They are experts, after all, employed by us to explain the world and ourselves. But cogent arguments based on specious assumptions aren’t valid. Any argument, however seemingly plausible, that excludes a Creator and beings greater than ourselves is specious, and therefore invalid or incomplete. This covers pretty much everything we believe about ourselves and the world. Faith in our beliefs orders our world, but limits and separates us from what is higher. Faith or belief without direct experience, is brainwashing, or at best false hope. It is mere opinion. Direct experience of what is higher, by contrast, is knowing. But if everything is affected by higher beings, how can we be sure of anything unless we have direct experience of these higher beings? Such experience doesn’t mean listening to a sermon or attending a weekend workshop. It doesn’t mean reading a religious or inspirational book. It means actual, inner contact with high spiritual beings. Distinct from faith or belief, personal spiritual experiences are the only valid means to obtain accurate knowledge of anything, since the Creator, again by definition, has a hand in everything. This is the only way we can know that a Creator greater than ourselves exists. It is also the only way we can begin to know its nature. Those who have experienced it know that the Creator doesn’t have the attributes we usually ascribe to him/her/it.
Which leaves an apparent void.
Is there no one, then, to look out for us? Is there no one, say, in heaven, who will protect us, despite the fact that we will often not look after and protect each other? Oh, sure, if they’re family. But how about others: Those of other religions? Of other ideologies? Other ethnic groups? Even today we wage wars in the name of my god versus your god. Never mind that no god has ever shown up to smite for his side against the baddies. We humans do all the smiting.
There is a clue here about the problem of a religious plateau, above which none upon it can rise. If there is no God on high as many imagine him, who or what else might be candidates to fill this void the major monotheistic religions have left us with? Let’s see if the New Agers have an answer.