Bridging the Chasm between Two Cultures
Great, great article. I’m ashamed to say the critique applies to me as well. It makes perfect sense, and I’m gonna try to change a bit, even though I’m still not sure what this means practically, but I’m gonna try to figure it out! Tip of the skepticap to Daniel Loxton for pointing this out on Twitter. You can follow him at @Daniel_Loxton!
A former leader in the New Age culture—author of nine titles on auras, chakras, “energy,” and so on—chronicles her difficult and painful transition to skepticism. She thanks the skeptical community and agonizes over how the messages of scientific and critical thinking could be made more effective in communicating with her former New Age colleagues.
I’ve been studying the conflict between the skeptical community and the metaphysical/new age community for a few decades now, and I think I’ve finally discovered the central issue that makes communication so difficult. It is not merely, as many surmise, a conflict between fact-based viewpoints and faith-based viewpoints. Nor is it simply a conflict between rationality and credulity. No, it’s a full-on clash of cultures that makes real communication improbable at best.
I know this firsthand, because as a former member of the New Age culture, I struggled for years to decipher the language, the rules, the attitudes, and the expectations of the skeptical culture. Yet for a great while, all I could hear from the skeptical culture was noise-and confusing noise at that.
I’m not really sure how to introduce myself, except perhaps with this paraphrase: “I have seen the enemy, and she is me.” I’m an author and healer (or I was, actually) in the metaphysical culture. I wrote about energy and chakras, auras, healing, the different kinds of psychic skills . . . the whole shebang. I’ve traveled throughout the states doing book tours, seminars, and workshops. I’ve appeared at all the top New Age venues, such as the Omega Institute, Naropa University, and the Whole Life Expo (which I call the Hell Life Expo, but that’s another story). My books have been translated into five languages, and I’ve even had a title in the One Spirit Book Club. Understanding the metaphysical/New Age community and culture has been a central focus of my life and my career.
I’m not just a member of the New Age community—I’ve also been a purveyor of the very things the skeptical community is so concerned about. I’ve been involved in metaphysics and the New Age for over thirty years, I’ve written four books and recorded five audio learning sets in the genre, and I was considered one of the leaders in the field.
I’m not in the field any longer, but it’s hard to truly disappear when so many of my books and tapes are already out there. It’s also hard to disappear when I don’t really know what to say to the people in my culture. The cultural rift is so extreme that anything I say will prove that I have gone to the other side, the wrong side—the side of the enemy. In actual fact, however, I have just seen enough to know that the skeptics and the critical thinkers have some extremely pertinent and meaningful things to say. I’ve now studied enough skeptical and scientific information about paranormal abilities and events to question many of the precepts upon which my work was based. More important, I’ve seen enough to understand firsthand the real costs of the New Age.
I’ve also learned to understand the differences and similarities in the New Age and skeptical cultures, so that I no longer react in a stereotypically offended fashion when I or the people I know and love are referred to as frauds, shams, or dupes. I understand now that these terms are not meant disparagingly, for the most part. I understand now that these terms often mask a great deal of care and concern for people in the New Age culture. It’s sometimes hard to unearth that concern—it often requires an almost anthropological capacity to understand the cultural differences between us—but the concern is there.
Until I understood that concern, I couldn’t find myself in the skeptical lexicon. I couldn’t identify myself with the uncaring hucksters, the wildly miseducated snake-oil peddlers, the self-righteous psychics, the big-haired evangelists, or the megalomaniacal eastern fakirs. I couldn’t identify my work or myself with the scam-based work or the unstable personalities so roundly trashed by the skeptical culture, because I was never in the field to scam anyone—and neither were any of my friends or colleagues. I worked in the field because I have a deep and abiding concern for people, and an honest wish to be helpful in my own culture. Access to clearheaded and carefully presented skeptical material would have helped me (and others like me) at every step of the way—but I couldn’t access any of that information because I simply couldn’t identify with it. Until now.
I’m writing this piece as a thank you letter to the skeptical community. I want to thank you for helping me to fully understand just how much bad training I’ve been exposed to in my metaphysical/New Age culture (actually, it’s not my culture any longer, but for simplicity’s sake, let me continue to claim it for the duration of this piece). But I’m also writing as an attempt to open a dialogue, and perhaps to begin bridging the precipitous chasm that exists between our two warring cultures, because at this point, the lion’s share of people from my culture can’t really hear much (if anything) from the skeptical culture. And that’s a real shame.