Tuesday, December 10, 2013

New Age Deception: Self-Help & Spirituality

Concurrent with the popularity of New Age religion in the '90s was the explosion of the self-help literary genre. My favorite self-help book was Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach. Published in 1995, I consider this book a classic. Walk into any used book store today, and you will likely find a copy on the shelves. This is one of those books that seemed to serendipitously come into my life when I needed it. I can still remember turning around in the Barnes & Noble in Columbus and seeing a sea of these pinkish books on display. It was calling to me.

Simple Abundance contains a series of daily meditations revolving around the tenets of gratitude, simplicity, order, harmony, beauty and joy. It's the perfect example of combining the psychology of self-help with a personal, spiritual journey. A book written by a woman specifically for women. Full of practical advice on such matters as finding your personal style and clearing clutter, it is scattered with quotes from famous poets, actresses, writers, spiritual teachers and sages, from Colette to Bette Davis, from E.E. Cummings to Louisa May Alcott. The ultimate goal is to fuse style with Spirit and to unearth your "authentic self."

In Ban Breathnach's book, The authentic self is the Soul made visible. The pearls of wisdom contained in this book hit a chord with women everywhere, as the New York Times best seller list can attest. Her message, that you already have everything you really need, and the encouragement to pare down material possessions and discover true abundance in life through her six principles, was by and large a good and positive message. I recently discovered that poor financial choices (and marrying the wrong man) lead to Sarah losing everything. This woman who had earned millions with her message of simplicity had squandered her fortune and ended up sleeping on her sister's couch.

The problem with a book and plan like Sarah's is that it reflects the trend of the times toward a rejection of traditional religion and the embracing of "spirituality." People in the '90s were fond of saying, "I'm not religious, but I'm spiritual." (And they still are.) Everyone was obsessed with trying to figure out who they authentically were, but this quest was typically set upon without the centrality of Christ and without seeking God's will for your life. "Spirit" was not the Holy Spirit, but was similar to the idea of the "Universe", and you could place an order with the Universe or Spirit and manifest the life you desired. This idea has increasingly become more popular.

There was an innocence in this, and by and far the intentions of these self-help authors and the people who followed their ideas were good. The truth is the truth wherever it is found, and the Catholic Church teaches that Christians can learn from the good in other faiths. Yet after taking the path of Simple Abundance, Sarah herself wasn't satisfied, and so she wrote a sequel, Something More. I agreed with her that there was still something missing that needed to be found, but this 2nd book didn't have the appeal for me that the first one did, and the question of what that "something more" was never got answered. That is, until one day when someone very special invited me to the Catholic Church. But that's later on in the story...

Simple Abundance, in my opinion, isn't expressly New Age. But it contains that quality of sounding Christian but not quite. It's this not quite Christian, "universal spirituality" that has lead to dangerously leading souls astray.