Thursday, April 27, 2017

Truth and New-Age syncretism

What is truth?” asked Pilate. We are still asking. There are now philosophical currents that deny the existence of the truth, or the possibility of knowing it. Science, however, aims at the discovery of truth, and the fact that technology works, seems to indicate that the scientific discoveries of the last centuries, which have made our technological advances possible, must represent, at least in part, the truth about the world around us.
There are several different types of truth:
  • Scientific truth: It is an incontrovertible fact that there is a cosmic background radiation. But the theories we use to explain its existence may not be true, or may be incomplete. Scientific theories are validated in terms of the facts they predict or explain. Thus, Einstein’s General Relativity is considered closer to truth (or to reality) than Newton’s theory of Gravitation, because the former explains the same facts as the latter plus a few more.
  • Philosophical truth: Aristotle’s hylomorphism may be debatable, but assertions such as something exists, nothingness does not exist, are indisputable. Philosophical theories are validated on the basis of the evidence of their axioms or starting points (as cogito ergo sum) and the validity of their reasoning.
  • Theological or religious truth: If God exists, can we say anything about Him? In the world there are many religions (one of them is called atheism). What do they have to do with the truth? The study of religious truth is very different from scientific or philosophical truth; it is supported by text analysis, historical studies, and especially faith. Therefore, although at a given time there is usually only one or very few scientific theories, as well as several philosophical theories, a relatively large number of religions usually coexist. We’ll talk about this in the remainder of this article.
At the same time that the existence of truth is denied, there is also a tendency to affirm that all religions are true, that we should merge all of them together (syncretism). Regarding this, I will summarize my opinion in a few statements:
  1. Almost all religions have some element of truth. Totally false religions or bodies of doctrine are rare.
  2. No religion has the whole truth. Man cannot attain the whole truth in any of its fields: scientific, philosophical or religious.
  3. Not all religions are equally near to the truth. In other words, some religions are more true than others. The claim that all religions are equally true is absurd. It would be the same as asserting that all scientific theories are equally true.
  4. If two theories start from or lead to two contradictory statements, one of them must be false. All of science and all rational activity is based on this statement. Therefore, if two religions start from contradictory statements (as God exists and God does not exist), one of them must be true and the other must be false.
During the 1970s a syncretistic religious movement called New Age emerged in the West, a mixture of ideas taken from very different sources, such as Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Theosophy, Swedenborg’s philosophy, pantheism in the style of Spinoza, the good savage of Jean Jacques Rousseau, and many other. In general, the supporters of this movement identify God with the Universe and assert that human beings are divine and to achieve well-being they must seek fulfillment by strengthening their own self.
The pseudo-Christian elements of the New Age movement have led many to let themselves be deceived by appearances and cheerfully adopt the postulates of the movement. An example of this is the rise of some clearly New Age publications, which have been adopted as bedside or Sunday school books by many Christians. I will quote two:
  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach: This book presents Christ allegorically as a Buddhist seagull who denies his unique divinity and asserts that all human beings (in his case all birds) can get everything they want, just by following their own impulses. As an antidote to this book I propose another one, which presents the Christian message allegorically through a bird society: Godhanger, by Dick King-Smith (author of The sheep pig, adapted to the movies under the title Babe).
  • The knight in rusty armor by Robert Fisher: Under cover of helping people to know themselves and increase their self-confidence, this book presents the New Age vision almost explicitly. It may be useful for someone who is plunged into the depths of despair, but there are not so many in that situation. I think the success of this book is due to the fact that it says, not what people need to hear, but what they want to hear.
 The same post in Spanish
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Manuel Alfonseca

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