Vision for Society
Written by: Benjamin E. ZellerGenerally speaking, the New Age movement possesses an optimistic view of human society, and looks to a dawning future new age when all persons can achieve personal spiritual self-development and evolution. However, in presenting this vision for society, the New Age movement adopts a strictly individualistic worldview. While the movement hopes to improve society, it understands the process as accomplished one person at a time.
The New Age movement privileges an individualistic worldview. Unlike the members of many other religions, New Agers believe that one's personal spiritual development depends solely on the self and its will and determination. Though many New Age practitioners believe in deities or spiritual beings, they generally look to such entities as teachers or guides rather than sources of grace. Instead, New Agers believe that individuals must master their own spiritual paths, learn the appropriate techniques and tools that allow them to develop themselves, and advance along a path of spiritual evolution toward a greater consciousness and awareness. Scholars call this religious perspective a form of individualism since the New Age community, teachers, and spiritual beings serve as assistants or helpers, rather than necessary components of an individual's salvation. This individualism functions as the foundation for the New Age movement's vision for society.
Scholars note that the New Age's individualistic worldview developed in a culture and time period that stressed the value of the individual. The United States during the 19th century, and to a lesser extent Great Britain and western Europe, embraced the ideal of the individual as master of his or her fate. The New Age assumes this approach and grants it religious sanction. Further, scholars have noted that the New Age movement grew in response to, and in rejection of, Christian ideas. Christianity generally looks to the grace of God, and specifically the sacrifice of Jesus, as means by which humanity has gained spiritual value. The New Age rejects this notion, and looks to individual human effort as the root of all positive social change.
The New Age movement looks to the future and a dawning new age of humanity as its goal, hence the name of the movement itself. Broadly speaking, this new age represents the movement's hopes for social development. However, New Agers take an individualist approach. Rather than embrace utopian social experiments, as did the movement's predecessors in the 1960s counterculture, or political action, as did many of the New Age's allies in the world peace and environmentalism movement, New Age practitioners hope to save the world one individual at a time. As each person gains spiritual awareness and develops the self as a spiritual being, the world moves closer to the New Age. This gradual approach represents the movement's vision for world transformation.
Despite this overall individualistic approach, the New Age has occasionally looked to mass social means of establishing the future new age for society. The Harmonic Convergence of August 16-17, 1987 represents the best known of these occasions. During the Harmonic Convergence gatherings, New Age practitioners congregated together so as to harness their collective spiritual energy and seek to inaugurate the dawning new age. In locations such as Sedona (Arizona), Mt. Shasta (California), and Stonehenge (England), New Agers came together to meditate, chant, and pray for the dawning of the New Age. However, such gatherings are exceedingly rare, with no similar large-scale event having occurred since 1987.
New Agers possess different views of the society to come in the future new age, but all agree that society will become harmonious, peaceful, and characterized by love and freedom. These goals follow the specific moral outlook of the movement, and extend New Age values to the broader society. New Age practitioners envision a future society wherein each individual freely follows their own spiritual path, having access to a variety of spiritual teachers and technologies. This in turn will result in a world of peace and tranquility, since individuals who adopt such spiritual paths will naturally seek to embrace qualities such as love, harmony, and peace.
Several specific movements within the New Age have offered more particular visions for society. UFO movements, a distinct subculture within the New Age, look to extraterrestrial contact as both a condition for the dawning new age and a characteristic of it. New Age UFO religions such as the Raelian Church have offered specific visions of technologies and social innovations that the extraterrestrials will bring, and described a vision of the future featuring scientifically mediated immortality, an ethos of sexual and social freedom engendered by enlightened extraterrestrial cultural mores, and advanced medical technology freeing human beings from pain and suffering. Other New Age subcultures, such as those predicated on channeling, offer variant messages of world transformation.
Despite the degree of difference between the varying New Age visions for society -- including the movement's overall perspective as well as the specific views of subcultures within the movement -- all share a vision of a future radically different than the current one.
1. How is spiritual development fostered?
2. What can be said about the time period in which the New Age movement was developed, and the ideals of the movement?
3. What are some examples of specific movements within the New Age that have definite understandings of a societal vision?