2. Post-secularism: New Age Spirituality
Just as in Christianity, not everything in New Age spirituality is bad from an Islamic point of view. A number of practices and bits of information fostered in the New Age movement are consonant with not only Islam, but with just being a human being. However, the central doctrines of the movement are inimical with Islam.
The effect of religious relativism has been the proliferation of other types of spirituality than the Christian ones. Of course, bankrupt Christianity has left a spiritual void, and this has been filled by an interest in oriental religions, primitive religions, and pseudo-spiritualities based on them. All of the Western interests in these other spiritualities are based on secularism, that is, on the idea that personal well-being is the core of any spirituality. There has been a shift away from the traditional Christian concern with salvation or future well-being toward spirituality or present well-being. Given the morbidity of Christian soteriology or the doctrine of salvation, the trend was predictable. It has already been noted that the proliferation of sects in Christianity almost never questioned Christian soteriology. It remained for the New Age spirituality to do so.
It should be clearly understood that New Age spirituality, or the morbid concern for health and well-being as a spiritual exercise and function, is the direct result of this misplaced concern in Christianity, namely the focus on salvation. As a reactionary trend in dialectical relationship with Christianity it is susceptible to all of the criticism that might be directed towards the original Christian doctrine. It is first of all morbid and self-centred. It is furthermore selfish and raises the individual out of his or her proper place in the family into a competitive position vis-a-vis society as a whole. New Age spirituality is merely the old Christianity couched in a more immediate form and more susceptible to marketing consumerism. All of the many sectarian movements of New Age thought, whether based on traditional Oriental religions, traditional primitive religions, or on something developed in the West, can be reduced to this one bare reality. They speak of individual health and well-being to a populace which, through secularism, has grown tired of thinking about future salvation.
The second common feature of New Age thought is the belief in reincarnation. It is clear that the doctrine of emanations, so often presented by the great names in Islamic philosophy, is susceptible to interpretations reminiscent of reincarnation, or the rebirth of the same soul in a new body. The New Age concept of reincarnation is rather developed on the basis of Hindu karma. The word karma has come to have a somewhat fluid meaning, and the whole configuration of belief differs greatly from that of India. First of all, karma is taken as the law of cause and effect, which gives it a rational coating. Without any rational justification, however, and without any proof, karma is taken to imply reincarnation. New Age thought specifically uses karma and reincarnation for several experiences. The first of these is in social relations. When people meet who either like each other or desire further contact for some motive, they use reincarnation as a justification, saying that they were associated in a former life. The second most common use of reincarnation is the attempt to explain behaviour and events in such a way as to relieve the individual of immediate responsibility. The event or behaviour is seen as the result of an action or a choice in a past life. The implication is that nothing can be done to change matters. The third most common use of reincarnation is the enhancement of a dull life with a colourful past. Those who believe in reincarnation in the West have always and invariably been more interesting, or at least more famous, people ages ago than they are now.
Reincarnation and karma are also reactions to the Christian doctrine of salvation. There is a reversal from future salvation to past salvation. The past salvation is precisely what might be expected from the secular mentality: salvation by being rich and famous, and thus happy, in the past. The configuration is again susceptible to the same criticism as the original Christian doctrine, that is, an attempt to escape the responsibility of obeying divine law in the present. The West is curiously willing to believe that God has a desire to enslave them by giving advice on how to behave. Rarely does a Westerner come to the conclusion that Godís law might have as its purpose the best possible way of living together as families in society, that is, the greatest possible freedom and happiness for everyone.