Punk Religion

Stereotypes connected to the New Age movement have obscured something radical, vital, and important. With the endless parade of vapid, empty-headed, image-conscious, and self-destructive New Age icons marching before the public it is very easy to miss what is actually happening in campgrounds, bookstores, parties, and concerts where the New Age is really happening. If one stares long enough in disbelief at Brittney spears as she bubbles emptily Quaballah, and you entirely miss the fact that the New age is a revolution against the centres of power at the ideological centre of our modern society.

There are elements in our society that on complacent acceptance of the current models of belief. Around the dawn of the Victorian era they took the reins of our society and started using the schools, the dawning mass media, and rhetoric to tell us stories about How Things Are. Many of them were completely counterintuitive to what was going on around the people of the time, they were historically insensible, sometimes even bizarre… but progress was blindingly fast, and every day you woke up in a world full of new miracles, and the one you had been born in was dead and gone.

The world stopped making sense, there was an epidemic of what philosopher Alvin Toffler describes as “Future Shock,” and the powers in society told the people trying to keep their heads above water that if they just accepted these ideas it all would be reasonable again, and they could all be rich and prosperous together. And so people believed them.

And here’s what they told people:

Running a business is hard, and dangerous; you are left at the whim of the Community and the forces of luck. It is far easier to work for someone else. Join a company and they will do their best to take care of you.

Farms are a thing of the past; even food can be produced in a factory safely and healthily. We should sell our farms to big businesses and move into the cities to work in the factories.

The men who run the companies are controlled by absolute forces within the market. They can be trusted to do what is best for their companies, and for their employees, because if they don’t their businesses will fail.

Automation and technology will only improve our lots: we will become healthier, stronger, have more leisure time, develop our minds, and become a society of artists once the tech becomes strong enough. Every miserable hour spent in a factory or office will let you build a wonderful future for your family.

Science will teach us everything there is to know about the Universe. All scientists as part of the Academy will be able to use the wondrous tools of Science to explain everything, and all agree on it until we have a single Unified, and absolutely correct model of the Universe. It will show us that the Universe is a machine, and can be understood absolutely.

Work is a necessary evil. You aren’t supposed to like, and no one ever has, but if you work long enough and hard enough you will be able to retire, preferably younger if you work harder, and live like a king on your savings and the support of your grateful children.

Education will make sure we get the good jobs, and separate ourselves from the evils of hard, back-breaking, dirt-grubbing labour. Everyone should be educated in the same basics, and then discover which career is right for them, finish with more education, and then find a job that will care for him throughout his life.

The ways of the past were ignorant; they slowed us down and counteracted progress. There are new ways we will teach in the schools that will make men, workers, leaders, and academics.

The world is too complex for any one person to understand, and so we must put our trust in experts who understand one or two things very well, and their knowledge will inform our leaders in Academies, think-tanks, and councils to lead us to the best possible result.

Every person is a single being: a product of memory, nature, society, and environment. Their actions, beliefs, and thoughts are an outpouring of that being. People cannot be reborn or transformed; they will always be the same being that is guilty of their acts, and will always suffer from the same wounds.

And while these ideas were being fed to us, religion had to be reformed to fit into the new paradigm. These same forces began telling stories in the churches that agreed with the stories they were telling in school.

They told us that:

Religion shouldn’t change with the times: there are Fundamental Ideas that should be taken as the absolute message of the religion, and cannot be compromised or interpreted. Life in the modern world can only be righteous if it follows those Fundamentals.

Religion does not need to be intuitive; it doesn’t need to feel right to the person participating in it. They should follow the religious beliefs in which they are raised because it is in line with the fundamentals, even if it feels like a lie. To become apostate is failing to obey the Fundamentals.

God favours the modern nations; the Kingdom of God is a literal place, and you are living in it… or you can be if you can just get everyone to agree with you. Progress and Prosperity are markers of the favour of God.

Religion must be put in the hands of experts like everything else: theologians who understand religious texts and history. We can trust them to read the Fundamental ideas and teach us what they mean.

Faith cannot be challenged; it exists in a separate space from other forms of discourse. People can know things about God, reality, right, and wrong based on Faith, and no one shall be allowed to question it. No one is required to demonstrate that their faith is reasonable or that it makes the world a better place.

And because Faith cannot be challenged, people need no reason, no empirical basis, and no experience to back their religious feelings. Thus, Religion and Science are separate spheres, and are not compatible.

And we believed it, somehow! We bought these stories even though they were often totally opposite to the ideas that drove us.

They painted a picture of the past that was distorted to sell us Industry:

Before the Industrial Revolution small and family businesses were the norm, and while it left people prone to a little risk and hard times, it also meant we were involved and invested in our community. We had safety nets of our fellow people.

Individual wealth may not have been as impressive as it can be today, but it was compensated by shorter hours, connection to one’s work, and a sense of participation in life.

While not everyone received an education in the sense we think of the term today, people in the Renaissance were allowed to make up their minds, and encouraged to study ideas on their own initiative. They also were encouraged from an early age to know their own mind and pursue a life according to it. Dabbling and experimentation; finding the careers that suited the individual were a part of the experience.

In a society where a man was encouraged to do what best suited him, and where thousands of small businesses throve on understanding their communities and on recognition of the quality of their work, a man who was passionate about his work had a strong competitive edge.

Religion was a part of the daily experience. It changed with the times, adjusted to the understanding of the people, and evolved. This is not to say that the Church and the rituals remained relevant, but that how people themselves experienced religion was so much more all-inclusive and personal that the ritual and the Church were a small element of the larger religious experience. People were free to interpret ideas such as the Love of God, and see them in their experiences. They were not told in no uncertain terms what the Fundamental Meaning of the Love of God was ad where in their life they should feel it.

There is a danger, of course, in painting the past in broad strokes. Women’s ability to educate themselves and determine themselves was limited, and some of these small businesses benefited greatly from institutionalized slavery… self-determination was the domain of the low-ranking aristocrat, the freeman, the merchant, and the tradesman for much of History, but these classes had grown to phenomenal sizes thanks to the Renaissance, The Awakening, and the American and French Revolutions; there was a movement towards developing a society of absolute freedom of consciousness that was cut short by the Industrial Revolution.

The (Post-) Industrial Age:

And in its wake, we have a society that operates on a complex structure of Narratives that we are fed in school, church and the mass media that are paper-thing. We are told we are happier, financially safer, healthier, and freer than ever before. And in some respects that is very true; slavery is no longer institutionally accepted, and there are recourses for people who have become slaves under its many other names. Women and the poor are told that they have many ore options, and won’t be beaten in the street for choosing something other than the traditional; even if they are psychologically abused by the pundits of religious Fundamentals, Academies that railroad them, Media that stereotypes them, and employers that won’t pay them fairly.

And that is telling of the whole picture. We are told “do as you please”, but schools educate us in a way that prevents us from even seeing some of the options we have. A monolithic legal and financial structure tells us we need to have a job, and it doesn’t matter if we enjoy it so long as the rent and the credit cards are paid off.

We are constantly assaulted with either-or- scenarios: you are either: good or evil, conservative or liberal, Christian or damned, gay or straight, with us or against us. To the point where the thousand other things we might choose to be instead are never taught to us.

We are made to feel helpless in conforming to the Model of life that is put before us. Experts tell us what to think ad we believe them because we don’t believe we can understand the problem as well as they do. Even when the answers seem totally wrong to us, and the options we are presented don’t feel like enough, we still trust the experts.

Real education is hard to find anywhere: from the schools where everyone is crammed with a combination increasingly obsolete factory-worker skills, to the colleges pumping out legions of white-collar office workers, to the Universities that reward a person who spends enough money and time as a starving student by promoting them to Experts. In fact these Academies seem to kill the love of learning and the initiative to learn on one’s own far more effectively than they teach.

Religious institutions feed us a model of God that doesn’t fit with the world we live in, and we accept that by accepting that the world is hostile, harsh, and Hellish; we’ll reach a better one after we’re dead if we just remain detached from it… or if we abuse the rights of others in a fruitless, thankless miserable quest to turn those Fundamentals into political law.

We become alienated from any sense of accomplishing things or taking joy in the work that consumes a third of our lives just the same. And that work is underappreciated underpaid, and undermined by corporate leaders who, rather than working for the good of society or the good even of their own companies, work hard to make a “golden parachute” so that when the company fails they have enough money to live on without ever having to work again.

We find ourselves waiting until old age to have fun after a retirement that becomes more and more distant. Meanwhile mood disorders become epidemic in scale, and the experts on the matter, psychologists, are helpless to offer real help, because that would involve changing a lot more than their scope ever reaches. Instead we are given mood-adjusting drugs developed by a medical industry that benefits more from keeping us sick than making us healthy or happy.

Sally Kempton was right:

“It is hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head.” Our culture perpetuates itself by creating narratives in our head: it limits some ideas by limiting options, others by stuffing arguments into categories, and even more by reinforcing myths of Progress and Success constantly in our media. Even when we realize that our culture is not serving us, it is almost impossible to completely eradicate its influence on us.

When we deviate a little from the usual narrative, such as going into business for ourselves, we immediately seek approval, and often instead get subtle peer pressure to return to the mainstream program. We find guilt, shame, and anxiety about our choices, even if the way we step out is very minor.

Big decisions, like changing your belief system or acknowledging a sexual feeling out of the heterosexual model comes with genuine risk of retaliation, along with feelings of fear, and spiritual rupture. It is easy to feel like you have damned yourself, or become something horrible.

Many people fail to move on from this state. The guilt often eats them up and can lead to drug abuse, depression, or a loss of a sense of meaning. The worst cases often rive the person to assume what they have chosen to do is genuinely wrong, and run back to the cultural centre to attack the same outsiders they had tried to join often as members of hate groups of certain breeds of “born again” religious pundits.

Often the only way to completely overcome the mainstream cultural programming is through positive action and ritual.

The human mind is programmed through repetition and through spectacle. Schools teach their programming by creating graduation ceremonies, dances, and awards for achievement, after having the students repeat, be tested on, and tell stories that include and conform to the narratives of the culture.

One can deprogram oneself in a similar manner. Wearing a symbol of your new preferred culture, be it a religious icon for a Pagan or the radical clothing of Goths lets you put on your new identity: you are validated every time you look in the mirror, in the acceptance of peers, and there is a morning ritual of re-creation as you dress. A culture of music and art helps make ideas that are far from the mainstream still feel normal.

With communities that embrace an ideology, mysticism, or religion ceremonies become a very effective tool for use in deprogramming. Many groups have an initiation ceremony that symbolizes a death of the old persona and a rebirth of a new one that is a member of the community. Ceremony has an effect of placing a person in a mental state that is more programmable; much of the resistance that one’s pre-existing ideas are often reduced or eliminated entirely.

The Punk subculture is an excellent example of a culture that has a broad range of tools for helping its members deprogram themselves: Aside from a distinctive style of dress, Punkers have numerous ceremonies and rites of passage, first piercings and tattoos, first concerts and first nights sleeping rough are all reckoned to be major events and accompanied with a semi-ceremonial recognition by one’s peer group. Punk Rock is a constant reinforcement of the ideals of the punk music that can offer validation almost any time.

Punk offers a unique advantage to its members over most outsider groups: it is highly aware of the concepts of narrative and programming, and of the dominant (“grand”) narratives of society. Punkers intentionally opposed to many of the major narratives about work, business, industry, and education. Punk intellectuals often offer impromptu courses on Cultural Studies, and there are several “free Universities” throughout Canada, the U.K., and the U.S.A. that hold courses for Punkers on surviving without work, scrounging, anti-corporate ideology, and methods of civil disobedience.

Punk culture might be said to be a full-contact rebellion: everything from appearance, to media, to education is directed toward breaking out of The Mainstream programming and creating a new, more satisfying and self-determined way of life.

Punk Teaches:

Working for others is self-destructive; it puts you in the power of other people who see you as disposable tools, while wasting huge portions of your life on something that makes you stressed-out and unhappy. It drains you of time you could be using in creative, expressive, self-realizing projects.

Modern Education is untrustworthy; while there are important and valuable subjects taught in schools, they are always accompanied by indoctrination and thought-limiting narratives. The best education is gained through experience, and through your trusted peers. They have fewer incentives to misinform you.

Big business is dangerous; corporations have proven that they only act in the interest of the board of directors. They use mass media to manipulate the forces of the market artificially, and have no interest in the public good.

Small business is the only meaningful form of economic activity; it makes the small businessperson responsible within their community; it allows a person to do what they love with their time. Small businesses enrich culture by giving artists, thinkers, and craftspeople a meaningful role.

Much of the norms of Victorian and Industrial society exist to control behaviour; often they make people guilty for wanting to follow their natural impulses or seeking a vocation that will make them happy. All moral authority is therefore suspect: all morals must be grounded in rational thought and intuition.

Never trust another person to tell you the way the world is; they almost always have something to gain by making you believe what they believe. You have to figure it out for yourself.

The New Age:

The New Age movement, much like the Punk movement is well aware that there are ideas being programmed into us that are unhealthy, even destructive. Their divergence is primarily in focus: Punkers focus on political, economic, and educational narratives. They practice non-participation in the economy, grass-roots education, and pseudo-anarchist politics in order to create a new program for themselves.

The New age focuses on the other half of the programming of Mainstream (post-) Industrial society. They are Focussed on the spiritual aspects of the narratives. Like Punk, the New Age is a full-contact rebellion: it has created an entire lifestyle that constantly provides reinforcing, positive action to help deprogram the brain.

The primary principles that unite it as a movement are:

Creating a new era of human history is a spiritual imperative; The current age is innately destructive to the human mind, to the richness of our culture, and to the environment. (Post-) Industrialism is not sustainable for our species.

Science requires an open mind; it is a tool for creating a functional model of the Universe, but that does not give it exclusive claim on the Truth. Science is an innately subjective tool, and one cannot trust claims of something being “Scientific” or “Unscientific” based on dogma-like insistence of the Academy. Such claims are inconsistent with the investigative spirit of Science.

Spirituality and Religion must be rational; any belief that goes unexamined is not legitimately held, and is a form of destructive mind-control. All beliefs should be examined and evaluated; those that do not contribute to the wellbeing of the follower should be discarded. The concept of Fundamental Religion is necessarily suspect.

Spiritual beliefs ought to be experienced; faith is insufficient. One must experience connection with the divine and otherworldly directly, be it through drugs, occultism, meditation, or devotion to a specific art.

No one Religion has exclusive claim to Truth; each person can find a different method of connection to the spiritual world. Every religion and spiritual practice holds a grain of truth to it. Whatever helps an individual reach their sense of The Divine is a valid tool.

Personal enterprise is preferable to participating in destructive culture; small businesses and careers in the arts allow a person to explore their own needs and beliefs, and participate in the community in a constructive way. Participating in big business at best leaves a person exhausted and unhappy, at worse it means that you unwittingly prop up the social mechanisms that perpetuate mass dehumanization.

The New Age, however is a very complex and varied subculture, and these principles manifest themselves in a broad range of ways. The Order of the Golden Dawn and the Theosophists of the late 19th century were the progenitors of the movement; and over the centuries the New age movements have included Jazz culture, the Beats, Neo Pagans, Satanists, Thelemites, Wiccans, Radical Christians, Discordians, and Religious Universalists. In each case their culture includes and interest in the occult, magic, and pursuit of enlightenment. Entheogenic drugs and ceremonies are used to deprogram the members. They are encouraged to see the spiritual in everyday life, to talk to spirits or work magical rites to try and change the world.

The New Age puts a great deal of importance on symbols and symbolism, and many wear or carry markings that, while more subtle than those of the Punkers, still allow a person to wear their new self every day. In other cases such as the Hippie movement of the 1960 and 70s, there were costumes as distinct as the later Punk and Goth movements. The Punk movement itself half evolved as a reaction against the Hippie movement and half out of the harsher, more revolutionary Jazz, Hipster, and Satanic movements of the New Age. In many ways, punk is a materialistic development of the New Age.

With such a variety, it is impossible to make ready generalizations about the members of the movement as a whole; often the ideas within the subgroups can be contradictory, even antithetical to one another, and the aesthetics of the group are incredibly varied. But there remains a significant and very effective stereotype of the New Age movement.

The Stereotype:

Despite the complexity and variety within the New Age movement, and its sophisticated philosophy of deliberate self-control and cultural awareness, however, the term “New Age” has become evocative of mental vacuity, gullibility, detachment from reality, naiveté, self deception, and the effort to divorce oneself from one’s own mediocrity. The “New Ager” is depicted usually as a middle-aged woman with few prospects, often drug addled or merely stupid, investing vast amounts of her time and money into crystals, incense, worthless pseudo-mystical fads and fraudulent Gurus.

Certainly, the New Age movement has its chare of frauds and the vacuous within the subculture, but the interest in rational and reasoned spirituality suggests that there is an intelligent core to the movement. It is fallacious to induce that because a portion of the members of a group are vapid, that the group itself is vapid.

(It may be worth noting that along the same lines the Punk movement is often stereotyped as a movement of violent, ignorant, uneducated, and lazy teenagers; they are seen as sexually promiscuous, drug addled morons who listen to the music of untalented hacks and live through theft and begging while aping their musical idols poor fashion sense.)

The content and function of the stereotype itself is most telling of its actual origin: it takes the images of the most shallow and valueless elements of the New Age movement and makes them the central focus, thus distracting away from the elements that might have appeal to people who are disillusioned with the value of modern society.

By insisting on the vacuity of the movement, it suggests that the underlying principles are equally vapid – unworthy of investigation or consideration by the intelligentsia. It is an attempt to invalidate the movement’s ideas by discouraging people from considering them except in a specific, biased fashion. The emphasis on “fraudulent” spiritual teachers does much the same thing: It creates a bias in the observer against the movement.

It is also worth noting that many of the stereotypes, especially those aimed at attacking its leaders as frauds, helps reinforce the ideas of a series of Fundamentals or religion from which a person should not deviate; it suggests that any exploration of other religious beliefs may subject someone to the lure of untrue but comforting ideas. It suggests without asserting that all New Age belief systems are fraudulent, and in doing so also manages to imply that this is because there is only one form of religious Truth.

The tactics employed by this stereotype are essentially fallacious: using flawed inductive logic, innuendo, and holding up the worst and most convenient examples of a group as its exemplars. It attempts to render the New Age movement unthreatening by presenting an unappealing face to the entire movement and hopes that distaste for that face causes people to disassociate from it.

New Age warrants this attack because it is a threat to the Status Quo:

While it is dangerous to assume a monolithic conspiracy behind things like stereotypes, it is still useful to see these as deliberate attacks. There are thousands of pockets of power that have benefited greatly from the Industrial age: corporate stockholders, media corporations, stock traders, the medical and psychiatric industries, old money families, corporate board members, etc. Any one of these people could use their influence with the media to attack a movement they see as being a threat to their power.

Nor is the potential threat limited to people in power; numerous people have become deeply invested in their program and beliefs. Continuous struggle for success (whether attainable or not) by remaining obedient to the narrative structure of Mainstream Culture causes a psychological reliance on that culture. Attacks on culture may be perceived attacks on its subscribers: backlash against New Agers by people who are unwilling to redefine their idea of “success” are just as likely an vector of attack as those who stand to make material gains.

Nor does the attack necessarily have to be organized. One or two attackers can generate stereotypes, doctrine, or memetic tools for attacking a group. These are disseminated by a single motivated attacker, and then perpetuated by like-minded person. The “granola-headed hippie” character in one television programme might be an intentional parody of the New-Age movement, and a dozen imitation characters might spring up in order to “cash in” on that character’s popularity. While the imitation characters are not an intentional attack, they perpetuate the attack, subjecting the audience to the same stereotypes and underlying message.

Regardless of origin, few movements in the 20th and 21st century have come under as consistent and violent attack as the New Age movement. Dozens of books, tracts, and television programmes are produced each year decrying the dangers of “the occult”, and the media is saturated with vapid, “granola-headed” New Age stereotypes. It has intensified with the growth of corporate power and cultural influence.

Despite the attacks it is also growing: more people are growing dissatisfied with the ideas of the industrial movement. The scientific community no longer supports the mechanistic viewpoints, and Fundamentalist religion both becomes the source of more violence and less relevant to the issues. The phenomenal growth of Wicca as a movement, the revival of Chaos Magic on the Internet, the expansion of Thelemic religions or LaVeyan Satanism with Generation-X and the “Cold-Y Generation,” and the acceptance of many New Age principles by members of more traditional organized religions all seem to be symptomatic of a breakdown in the Industrial ideology, and a growing preference for New Age alternatives.

There is a breakdown in society’s mass programming; it is hard to tell if it is a result of the efforts of groups like the Punk culture and New Agers, or the breakdown of the Industrial complexes through changing science and religion. In either case, the Punks of both politics and religion are likely to be the movements that offer the system by which we ultimately discard the current, highly dysfunctional model.


~ by Brian Rideout on 12/02/2010.

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