“May you live in interesting times.”
~ Frederic R. Coudert, 1939
We are, indeed, living in interesting times. The pace of change, driven by cultural evolution, is requiring increasingly complex responses to challenges such as climate change, the proliferation of high technology, and social media. The pressure on human beings to adapt to these increasing levels of complexity is immense. A sound foundation in effective and relevant spiritual principles is critical. Even then, the challenge to attain and remain in balance and harmony can be daunting at times.
Those who are frustrated by their inability or refusal to adapt to cultural evolution are showing their anger in nationalistic movements across the developed west. They are encouraged to blame some “others” for their problems and they seek power to try to stop the larger culture from passing them by. The vitriol of current politics is difficult to see as a positive development and many are frustrated that New Thought practices often seem impotent in response. How do we handle these dynamics within ourselves without abandoning what we know to be sound spiritual principles?
“Overflow gently — don’t drown.”
~ Albert Camus
We know that when we take dominion over our thoughts and feelings that we can be in a state of harmony. We also know that when we let appearances knock us off center that we suffer. Our current world challenges we in New Thought to double down on our spiritual practices and to truly embody them so that we are prepared for the challenges of a changing world. What was sufficient in the past may not be sufficient in the future.
People are leaving traditional religion in large numbers. In Europe, regular worship attendance is at about 7% - it is under 1% in my adopted country of France. The combination of the two World Wars and the various scandals of the Catholic Church have led to this situation – but it is also the inevitable result of movement up the spiral of complexity. The idea of God and reality being taught by the churches no longer worked for people who developed modernistic ideas of scientific rationality. The same thing is happening in North America, only without the turbo-charging effect of having two World Wars on its soil. The non-affiliated are now the largest group in American religion.
But, you might point out, New Thought teachings are more compatible with modernist and even postmodernist viewpoints – shouldn’t New Thought spiritual communities be growing? The answer to this is, well, complex, and it is something that I will come back to again and again via this blog. But in a nutshell, there are several reasons why New Thought has not grown much, if at all, in the past 5 decades.
One reason for the lack of growth is also the reason for rapid initial growth in the early 20th Century: the use of Christian symbols and structures. When New Thought was starting out with its radically new ideas of spiritual healing and self-determination, the use of buildings which looked like churches, having ministers, etc., made the transition easier for people ready to leave more traditional denominations. But cultural evolution has continued forward, and, with the advent of postmodernism (Green in Spiral Dynamics terms), people have moved away from being attracted by traditional Christian symbols and structures. The continued use of them makes New Thought seem dated to younger people, as they relate to something that North Americans are leaving in large numbers, like their European counterparts did earlier.
Here is a typical position relating to this issue from a comment on Twitter:
“I need to declare that I Love God. I’m all about ‘Spirit’ and ‘The Universe.’ yet I avoid saying God. 98% of my resistance comes from what other people’s judgements will be due to their misconceptions of God; instead of what I know God to be.” ~ from Twitter
This confusion is mirrored in New Thought. To be sure, there are thriving New Thought spiritual communities. There is no secret formula to success, but thriving communities tend to offer their members an uplifting, relevant spiritual vision and opportunities to act on their spiritual teachings in the world around them. Younger people seek more vibrant experiences of spirituality, and they want to make a difference for humanity, both locally and globally.
“The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed.”
~ William Gibson
New Thought principles are timeless and of increasing value as our societies grow more complex, as people are pulled apart by differing worldviews supported by narrowly-focused media outlets. Compassion is the way forward, and compassion arises from a deep realization of oneness and connection. New Thought offers those concepts as central elements of our teachings. It is time we found more effective ways to express who and what we are. It is time to face our future with courage and clarity.
We have only just begun. Your comments are appreciated!