.. s. Many of them offer therapy and counseling to people in need – and then interest the clients in the philosophies associated with their practices” (28). In fact, for the duration of his experience, the demands on his acts of submission increased as his willingness to submit was demonstrated continually. He ended up leaving his job, traveling half-way around the world, ending a relationship that was going well, and financially supporting the little group with which he was affiliated by depleting his bank account, borrowing on his two credit cards until they were over the limit, and even extending the limit to borrow more (Baron, 1990).
Indeed, once he had “cast his lot” with the little group, as the demands increased, he just went along with it. During one of Baron’s first interview’s with a New Age devotee, the woman made a statement to the effect that Will was benefiting somehow from experience he had in a former life. He wrote “Because Marcus’ wife was a respected professional psychologist, I felt quite open to seriously accepting her revealing statement. You know how it is; one tends to trust qualified people” (27). The language Baron uses here so parallels what we read in the textbooks, this author tends to believe that, in preparing to write his book, he had done some homework to try and understand what had happened to him. Whatever the case, he probably did not consciously say to himself that day while sitting with the couple, “she’s respected in this field, I’d better believe her.” Few of us would – it is a somewhat subconscious factor.
The purpose of this paper is to reveal what factors are at work, whether we are aware or not, and, once aware, take more control of our beliefs and actions. In addition to the above appearance of credibility as an effect of a communicator, look at how perceived expertise helps. Baron says ” .. I had never met anyone who had spoken about past lives with such frankness” (27). Even if she was the Queen of England, had she lost eye contact with him, or stuttered somewhat, or muttered under her breath, the effect it had on Will would almost certainly have been less than it was. Her delivery was forthright and level-eyed, and it sent the message that she, a qualified person, took the concept seriously.
The New Age makes good use of the factors of the effective communicator. One of the more popular proponents is the Oscar-winning actress, Shirley MacLaine. She commanded “$300-per-person at a meeting in New York City (as part of a fifteen-city tour that earned $1.5 million),” (Friedrich, 1987, cited by Clark and Geisler, p. 9). It is not unreasonable to assume that those who can afford $300 to hear a guest speaker are people in leading positions in society.
Dionne Warwick, a pioneer of the Motown era, is the Queen of the psychic television and telephone network. Top-billing Actors like Richard Gere and Steven Segal offer regularly that they are “Buddhists,” a religion not typically “American,” but gaining acceptance riding the wave of – and contributing to – the New Age. Like getting celebrities to sponsor soft drinks and athletic shoes, the New Age is certainly following the social psychological concepts to influence people. Consider also that among the leading gurus of the New Age is Stephen Covey, author of the best-selling The 7 Steps of Highly Effective People. Time Magazine rates him among the “25 Most Influential People in America today” (Lucayo, 1996).
US President Bill Clinton is “the first Democrat to win a second term since Roosevelt,” yet he is not on the list at all. (Time distinguished between most “influential,” and most “powerful,” and Clinton tops that list). According to thought leader Amitai Etzioni (cited by Lacayo, p. 45), “when I exercise power, I immediately generate resentment and opposition. When I influence you, you love what I ask you to do.” (Note well this quote, it will come up again). Whether he is studied, or not, he obviously grasps the concepts of reactance and internalization. Evidently, so do those who find themselves on the “influence” list, including Stephen Covey.
How is Stephen Covey spreading his influence? As the founder of the Covey Leadership Centre in Provo, Utah, he has led his company to grow from 2 employees to over 700 in 13 years, grossing about $78 million in 1995. He has attracted and trained employees from over half the Fortune 500 companies, which in turn all have great influence in their communities and local political scenes (since we’re talking about Fortune 500 companies, the political clout can reasonably be expected to extend far beyond the local political scene), and in the business world in which they operate. In addition, Steve Helmich, President of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce, says (cited by Lacayo, 1996) the “Covey regimen” made the whole town better. Indeed, his influence, on behalf of the New Age, is extensive, and powerful. As we observe the effective, charismatic speaker, in the wake of the tragedy of the mass suicide of member s of Heaven’s Gate, consider finally the thought that “the most important cause of death may have been the cult’s guru. His personality has been compared to Mr.
Rogers, but Herff Applewhite was a master manipulator” (Newsweek, 1997, p. 21). Is the New Age forcing strange ideas upon us? Not at all. As we recall the roots of the New Age, we remember that much of what is happening is “coming around again.” C. S.
Lewis suggested that pantheism “catches on precisely because, like an old shoe, it is so comfortable” (Clark and Geisler, 1990, p. 9-10). While ancient religious philosophies may not be so familiar to us in the modern west, remember that the New Age is a “smorgasbord of Eastern and metaphysical beliefs,” (MacLean’s, p. 460). As Will Baron discovered, the more involved he became in the little group with which he was meditating, the more they gravitated towards a form of Christianity (Baron, 1990). At one point, the leader, who had led them up to that point to study the teachings of many spiritual leaders, including but not limited to Jesus Christ, all of a sudden told the group that, from henceforth, they’d only be studying the teachings of Jesus – from the Holy Bible no less. It appears that this was the intent, but they did not start there, they wended their way there.
The jump from where they started to where they ended up was not a big one, because where they started was still within the range of acceptability of most people, (not limited to, but including the teachings of Jesus, from the Bible) making it easier for people to accept what was being offered “up front,” (many of whom were reactants from “organized religions,” but didn’t want to blow too far to the extreme) demonstrating understanding, and effective use, of this concept. Fairly early in Baron’s experience with the little meditation group, they had a channeling session, wherein they would stand in a circle, meditating, and the spirit of some teacher would speak through each person in the circle, so that all could hear, (Baron, 1990). He’d never done such a thing before, and did not expect that he would “do it right.” Rather than step out of the circle, though, he stayed until his turn came up. Unsure of what would happen, and somewhat skeptical, he preferred to stay than step back, because, in his words, “I didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of a group,” (p. 44). Motivated by the fear of appearing foolish, he participated in something in which he did not at the time believe.
As we noted briefly, in addition to recognizing that beliefs shape behaviour, we now have come to understand that behaviour shapes beliefs. It is not unreasonable to conclude that those who are leading the New Age are aware of this facet of human behaviour, and setting up the learning environment to take advantage of the “help” afforded by the group dynamic of the fear of appearing foolish. Changing the belief need not be sought first; just getting people involved and participating in the activities will work upon their attitudes to bring about the changes desired. The consideration of this final concept is quite intriguing to me. While we continue to read that there seems to be reactance against the notion that organized religion is somehow dogmatic, and the New Age, with its freedoms, makes a worthy alternative, a closer look is necessary.
Observing the natural order of society, one must acknowledge the primacy and value of order, of rules. Driving on the way to work, at work, among adults, among children, among athletes, there are always rules. What would a typical morning rush be like if there were no rules? No rules to limit speed of drivers, or upon which side of the road we must drive, no rules to protect children crossing the road to reach school. We even have rules to govern how we play, and children do nothing in a game before they establish the rules of the game Is the backlash really against rules? No, this author believes. The problem is, whose rules? Even when New Agers stare at the sun and say , “there is my God,” (MacLean’s, p. 46), it was observed that “we may bow to statues, and other things, but they are still products of own making, and thus indirect idols of our own deification; we want to worship ourselves ..
.do our own thing” (Aubin, 23). Clark and Geisler have observed the same idea. “Zen,” they wrote, (p. 34), propounds a philosophy of life that fits these times. For example, without the moral constraints of bodhisattva vows or the discipline of the master in the temple, Zen can degenerate into a rationalization for self-centered living .. .All of us should ‘do our own thing’ and ‘get in touch with ourselves.’ And, why get in touch with ourselves? Why, because we are ‘gods!” That’s the message that people were paying $300 to hear from Shirley MacLaine (Friedrich, 1987, cited by Clark and Geisler, p. 9-10). Swami Muktananda, the “guru who got former California governor Jerry Brown, among others, into yoga, put it this way: ‘Kneel to your own self.
Honor and worship your own being. God dwells in you as you’ ” (Minnery, 1987, cited by Clark and Geisler, p. 9). How does this substantiate the observance of internalization as a factor in New Age persuasion? As Baron observed, “the classes constantly stressed that obedience to the higher self is a very important requirement for progress to be made on the path to God-consciousness,” (59-60). “Obedience?!” ” Requirement?!” How is it that these words, which have been rejected as the ‘dogmatic downside” of organized religion, pop in the wonderful New Age? Baron found that getting in touch with self was a matter of making the inner self available to the “teachers” of the spirit world.
He believes that it was not his inner self who told him to break off his relationship, quit his job, and send himself almost into bankruptcy to financially support “the cause,” but his inner mind, “emptied of self,” being commanded to obey. And, what took him, and so many others so long to react against it? They had internalized the ideas. The commands were not coming from the “power” that “immediately generates resentment and opposition,” the commands were coming from the “influence” that made him “love what [he] was asked to do.” The New Age gives the impression that you are just obeying yourself, and for most, it may never amount to more than that. But for a tragic few, demands for “obedience to requirements” increase to the ultimate – murder (i.e. Charles Manson and his family) and suicide (People’s Temple, Branch Davidians, Solar Temple, Heaven’s Gate). And, even if we ever remain no more than a slave to self, we are exactly that – still slaves, and no more. Conclusion The New Age is not so new. It is a mixture of old ideas wrapped up in new clothes, as it were, “yesterday’s left-overs zapped in the microwave and served on clean plates.” It is not being peddled in ways that are so novel.
The church has its preachers, the New Age has its “gurus.” For all those who reject mainstream religion in search of spirituality without rules, they unfortunately will meet some of what they left, and more, for better, or for worse. Evidently, the gurus of the New Age are either well-educated enough, or keenly perceptive enough, to have grasped human nature to the extent that they can persuade people to do most unspeakable things, even take lives, even their own. The laws of human nature are obviously powerful, and people are using those laws in such a way that their followers are hurting. In terms of social psychology, it is very important to appreciate the field that has organized thought on the issues and concepts and observations of human behaviour in a group context, as so much of our lives are in group contexts; the family, the workplace, the school, the neighbourhood, etc. Moreover, the power that the gurus have recognized and sought can also be directed for good. In developing our understanding, we are equipping ourselves to better deal with the allure of the New Age, especially that element that is as undesirable, if not moreso, than the “old time religion” in the average local mainstream congregation.
We also see how denominations can be accused of being “cults,” rightly or wrongly, by observers who don’t know a great deal of the denomination, but do recognize cult-like methods for exacting obedience. Indeed, Jesus said “the truth shall set you free.” Psychology Essays.