To pick-up where I left off with My Answer to the New Ager Who Claims to Know God … the primary problem I have with New Age “religion” is the problem of absolute spiritual superiority. Or, for short, the ASS syndrome.
People with ASS syndrome are found in every religious group; I’d guess 50% of the 630 posts I’ve written on this blog have been about the problem of ASS Christians, for instance. (See, for instance, What Christians Want Non-Christians to Hear, or Evangelist or Ego-Driven Meddler?) But it’s been my experience that, more than any other religious group, those within the New Age camp are most prone to displaying advanced ASS, for the simple reason that they’re basically making up their religion as they go. There is virtually no constancy to the New Age belief system. It has no doctrine, no clearly defined set of beliefs, no established practices or methodologies, no authoritative text, no standardizing source. It can be whatever, whenever, and however any New Ager wants it to be. And in practice—which is to say in the ordinary interpersonal exchanges of everyday life—what the Do-It-Yourself open-endedness of the New Age belief system too often results in is its devotees automatically fashioning and donning for themselves the Teflon-coated cloak of absolute spiritual superiority.
New Agers with ASS can’t be touched. Nothing affects them. They’re too wise to be sullied by the plebeian concerns of lesser beings. They’re enlightened, self-actualized, fully aware. They’ve experienced Nirvana, reached samadhi; they are spiritual savants, embodied Bodhisattvas. Looking down from the lofty heights of Mt. Knowitall, the awakened New Ager has naught but compassion for all of us still caught up in the endless cycle of desire and material illusion, who are still mindlessly mired in the miserable machinations of Maya.
That’s what they want you to think of them, anyway. And God help you if you don’t—if you in any way question a New Ager with ASS. It’s like poking a bear with a hot stick. An even slightly challenged New Ager will usually attack you, claws full out, faster than you can cry, “Sorry! I thought you knew what you were talking about!”
What so readily facilitates the New Ager manifesting acute ASS is that what they mostly lack is moral consistency. That their “religion” is largely based on what amounts to purely self-aggrandizing feelings means that the New Ager is never hampered by the troublesome inconvenience of a consistent moral code. Having no external standard, no inherited code of ethics—no Christian Ten Commandments, no Islamic Sharia, no Jewish Halakha, no Buddhist Eightfold Path—means the New Ager always gets to decide for himself what is and isn’t moral. And (of course) whatever they do is, ipso facto, moral, by virtue of the fact that they did it.
Nothing a New Ager can do is so abominable it can’t be justified by way of their ASS. They are only, after all, following their bliss; they’re only doing what “God” wants them to. Tenaciously clinging to what they hold as their divinely appointed right to be jury and judge unto themselves, they invariably render for themselves a verdict of not guilty. You can’t break any laws that you can rewrite at will. No king ever sends himself to the dungeon.
New Age ASS is terribly toxic. It’s the stuff cults are made of, for one. When you have no God, it’s too easy to assume the job yourself.
As long as I’m venting about this, you know what else drives me crazy about many New Agers? How they completely appropriate all manner of concepts and practices rightfully belonging to the legitimate Eastern religions they’re way too undisciplined to ever actually adopt, and yet act like anything having to do with Christianity is automatically drenched in stupid sauce. They adopt the attitude that they’re too spiritually sophisticated for the moronic simplicities of Christianity—and then refuse to acknowledge that no religion is founded upon a concept any more mystically complex or challenging to logical apprehension than the Christian doctrine of the Triune God.
New Agers: You want soul-stirring cosmic mystery? A truth at once absolute, yet so incomprehensible to the rational mind it would turn the most enlightened Zen master into a babbling, two-handed clapper? Try on for size the Triune God. See how intellectually or spiritually lame three God in one strikes you.
Flip through the Bible sometime. It makes The Bhagavad Gita or the Tao Te Ching read like Big Bird’s Guide to Building Blocks.
Just because it grows in your own backyard doesn’t mean it’s not unfathomably awesome. If you’re gonna pick and choose, why not choose from the best?
Again, I’m not at all saying that all New Agers are victims of ASS syndrome. I’m just saying that no other belief or thought system I know of more readily facilitates the development of ASS than does the fuzzy, feel-good mish-mash of New Age “spirituality.” You tend to find mushrooms growing in dank ground hidden from the sun and covered with manure, because those are the conditions most conducive to their growth. Similarly, New Age “religion” tends to be ideal ground for the development of advanced ASS—for people who, contrary to their standard-issue assertions, aren’t really interested in growing at all.