Analyzing the changing spiritual landscape of America is a favorite recent media sport, though much of the commentary is either despairing or disparaging. A 2012 Pew Forum Research study revealed that 19.6% of Americans identify as “spiritual, but not religious.” This news was broadcast with varying degrees of alarm and scorn, but to a significant portion of the population it was a welcome validation of their personal values.
I am the first to admit there is much to be criticized in the realm of New Age/Pop Mysticism. I have friends who experience the same spiritual “breakthrough” every year or two with no discernible improvement in their life circumstances or their degree of personal satisfaction. Nonetheless, I remain optimistic that this philosophical chaos is a temporary and necessary phase in our spiritual development as a nation.
The Power of the New Spirituality by William Bloom helps the average person to assess and engage in spiritual endeavors without being sidetracked by feel-good but spiritually empty schemes. In the book he provides a framework for those who wish to formulate an authentic and meaningful spirituality outside of traditional Judeo-Christian structures.
Bloom is careful to distinguish between self-centered pseudo-spiritualism and genuine spiritual development. This is an important distinction, given that the harshest criticism of New Age spirituality is its tendency toward narcissism. He discourages readers from expecting spirituality to help them achieve perfect happiness or material wealth. In addition, he does not let practitioners of new spiritual movements off the hook for moral and ethical grounding. He states, “The outcomes or expressions of spirituality are surely compassion and enlightenment, love and consciousness, dedicated to all. This is precisely why the new spirituality must be as explicit and clear as the traditional faiths about its ethics.”
The Power of the New Spirituality is a practical correlate to a book I reviewed by the same publisher: Faith Beyond Belief by Margaret Placentra Johnston. Bloom and Johnston share the perspective that a person’s moral center does not deteriorate in the absence of traditional religious structures, particularly if they are in what Johnston refers to as the Mystic stage in Faith Beyond Belief. This is a person, who having experienced what there is to be found in traditional spirituality and initially rejecting it (often in favor of strict rationalism) returns to a deeper relationship to faith that, while often very different from their previous religious experience, is stronger due to being internally motivated.
According to Bloom, genuine curiosity is integral to the new spirituality. It is the responsibility of each of us to participate to the greatest extent of our ability, “In the new spirituality this specialist metaphysical work is no longer the preserve of a few ordained men and women, but can be practiced by all of us.” In this way, the non-hierarchical structure of new spiritual movements is both a freedom and a responsibility.
Bloom includes a number of practical exercises in the text. They were not necessarily unique to this book. So, I found that I skimmed over many of them. For a reader who is unfamiliar with the approaches that Bloom is referencing, it would be worthwhile to spend some time with them. Appendix A, “Spiritual Companion’s Guidelines,” was a very useful tool as well. In it he provides a summary of many of the key points in the book and provides a streamlined linear view of his core principles.
The release of The Power of the New Spirituality may be a sign that we are now ready to introduce some analytical awareness into the whirling stream of New Age spirituality. I see this as a positive sign in that it will allows us to build meaningful and relevant new spiritual structures that can sustain us through the next millennium.Powered by Sidelines