Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Culture of Death and the Divinity Within

Dawn Eden has posted a video of an interview that Margaret Sanger gave to Mike Wallace in 1957. Here is Sanger's answer when Wallace asks her to define her religious beliefs:

Well, I have a different attitude about--the divine--I feel that we have divinity within us, and the more we express the good part of our lives, the more the divine within us expresses itself.I suppose I would call myself an Episcopalian by religion and there's a--many other, if you travel around the world you get quite a bit of the feeling of all--all religions--have so much alike in the divine part of our own being. And I suppose you just couldn't just put that into a book or you couldn't put it to a phrase or a sentence.

I was struck by the similarity between Sanger's tentatively-stated credo and the principles of the New Age spirituality that has become so pervasive in the past twenty or thirty years. The ideas that we have "divinity within us," that "the more we express the good part of our lives, the more the divine within us expresses itself," and that all religions are one sound as if they come from the playbook of any one of the innumerable channelers, energy healers, gurus and mystics of various stripes who inhabit the post-Christian American landscape. I never realized that there was a synergy between New Age spirituality and the blatant eugenicism of people like Sanger (and by extension, of Planned Parenthood), but I suppose it makes sense. The Nazi Party, after all, based its philosophy on an amalgam of occult belief systems from Theosophy to yoga; as Hitler himself told a Leipzig newspaper in 1931:

I intend to set up a thousand year Reich and anyone who supports me in battle is a fellow-fighter for a unique spiritual-I would almost say divine-creation. At the decisive moment the decisive factor is not the ratio of strength but the spiritual force employed.

Sometimes the facade of love and light that overlays the New Age cracks just a little to reveal what is really underneath.

For a comprehensive exegesis of the New Age, see the Pontifical Council for Culture's illuminating document Jesus Christ: The Bearer of the Water of Life, whose authors have given a sly nod in their title to the aspirations of the Age of Aquarius (and, lest anyone doubt the hipness of the Pontifical Council for Culture, the subheadings in the document refer to popular song titles, e.g. "Enchantment: There Must Be an Angel"; "Wholeness: A Magical Mystery Tour," etc.).

34 comments:

Fallen Sparrow said...

Excellent post! It points to the flaw in the "I'm spiritual but not religious" fallacy that grips so many people today.

That thinking fails to account for the reality that demons are spirits, ignoring St. John's test of a spirit: "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God." (1 Jn 4:1-3)

Pentimento said...

Thanks, Fallen Sparrow. The New Age, I think, is really about the oldest heresy, gnosticism - the privileging of special knowledge over everything else. And it goes all the way back to the Garden, when our forefather and foremother abandoned trust in God for the opportunity to be like gods themselves. . .

Kyle R. Cupp said...

The divine resides within us, and we can encounter the divine within through self-emptying prayer. Yet it is not ourselves that we encounter when we encounter the divine within. We are merely an image and likeness, which means a lot, of course, but faith isn't a self-expression, but a response to a God who reveals.

Pentimento said...

You're right that the divine resides within us ("the kingdom of heaven is within you"), but most New Age prayer practices are aimed at self-aggrandizement rather than self-emptying.

Kyle R. Cupp said...

Never got in to the New Age stuff myself. I'd make too pitiful a god.

Pentimento said...

Wouldn't we all . . .

Robot Boy said...

New Age = Nazi?
A might extreme, don't you think (not that the Catholic Church didn't have any easy time accommodating itself to fascism).
Or because I support choice and birth control, I'm de facto a Nazi? Got to love that.
The Gnostic - New Age link however is an interesting one. Something I write about at length in my new book.

Robot Boy said...

Should be a 'mite' extreme. I tend to misspell when I get heated and I tend to get heated when the forced, false analogies are wielded.

Pentimento said...

Don't be sophistic, RA; you know I'm not calling you a Nazi. Margaret Sanger's love of eugenics (also a pet Nazi project, in case you hadn't heard) is well known, though forgotten, it seems, by most latter-day supporters of her work. She herself abhorred abortion, but believed that contraception and sterilization should be used widely to contain the black and Jewish populations, and the populations of other groups who were, according to her and the prevailing philosophy of the time, less fit.

What is your new book about?

Robot Boy said...

I think you're being a bit coy, my dear. After all, you're the one who is drawing the parallels between Planned Parenthood, New Age and the Nazi Party. Casting your nets just a bit wide. Sadly, many people supported the excesses of the 'population control' movement in the 60s and 70s. The only population control that works comes from a higher standard of living, education (including sex education) and access to low-cost prophylactics.

Pentimento said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pentimento said...

I don't think it's been proven that access to sex ed and contraception "work." Look at that brouhaha at Gloucester High, for instance. Also I'm not too sure about the benefits of "population control." As you know, the alarm has been sounded about the negative birth rate in Europe.

The parallels between Nazism and PP have been drawn by many others. I'm just interested in Sanger's stated spritual beliefs and the way they, with her eugenicism, dovetail with the spiritual basis of that other twentieth-century eugenicist organ, the Nazi party.

And you didn't answer my question about your book. I know you have a new book coming out in 2009, but I don't know what it's about.

Robot Boy said...

The Gloucester thing is an overblown joke, nor do those kids get any kind of real sex ed. Chastity programs don't work at all, btw. I also think the world doesn't need nine billion people.
I'm sure others have compared PP and the Nazi Party - but that doesn't make it a responsible argument. The 'dovetailing' of Sanger and the Nazis spirituality seems pretty slim - unless you think all vague mystics are de facto Nazis.

Pentimento said...

What I do think is that the vague kind of mysticism that Sanger touts, which puts the self at the center of the cosmos, can easily segue into other belief systems -- ones that posit the perfectability of the self on earth and the perfectability of the state through a heightened, glorified self. It's a suggestion, not a proven fact. You should listen to the interview.

Robot Boy said...

Never let it be said that I fell in love with you for your ability to construct an argument.

BTW: Support for eugenics went far beyond the Nazi Party (and PP, apparently). It enjoyed wide support here for example. In the 1930s, thousands of immigrants and the mentally ill were sterilized. In the 70s, women in SE Asia were painfully sterilized - by chemical burning! - by American supported programs. Etc.

dreshny said...

Native Americans were forcibly sterilized, too, btw. What a world we live in.

Robot Boy said...

Unfortunately, the movement to sterilize WASPs never really took off.

Pentimento said...

Glad you're not on my dissertation defense committee, Robot Boy. And I love you too.

Tertium Quid said...

The WASPs are sterilizing themselves as we write. As G.K. Chesterton said, "Fortunately, those of us who don't believe in contraception will soon outnumber those who do."

Robot Boy said...

Re: Chesterton
That's pretty funny coming from a guy who didn't have any kids. Wondered what he practiced?

Pentimento said...

Robot Boy, that is unkind. We have no way of knowing why he had no children (something I wasn't aware of, actually), or why anyone has no children. Lots of people have problems conceiving, and in his lifetime the reasons for that were not well understood.

Robot Boy said...

GK can take it, you big crybaby.

Pentimento said...

OK, Robot Boy, have some kids of your own and get back to me. I am offering right now to be godmother to your firstborn at his/her baptism.

Robot Boy said...

There will be no baptism. The chains are broken with my get.
However, you can certainly be the back-up baby moms.
s

Pentimento said...

Can't do that, RB - you should have asked many years ago.

Robot Boy said...

It means be a secular godmother, you aesthete.

Pentimento said...

OK, now I'm confused. When you say "get," I think Jewish divorce ???

Robot Boy said...

Get - n. offspring or the total of the offspring, esp. of a male animal: the get of a stallion.

I do sort of think of myself as a stallion.

Pentimento said...

OK, got it. Well, you never know. You could have a profound, remarkable conversion, like Fr. Hermann Cohen (see http://pentiment.blogspot.com/2007/11/from-salon-to-carmel.html) or myself.

Robot Boy said...

Your conversion? Profound, sure. Remarkable...I wasnae surprised.

It could happen. I mean, I could be devoured by army ants too at any moment.

Pentimento said...

You never know . . .

Robot Boy said...

I would hate to be devoured by army ants.

Pentimento said...

Right, but I'm sure you'd love to hang out with G.K. Chesteron in heaven, not to mention your countrywoman St. Brigid, who turned water into beer.

Now go listen to that Planxty song - it is so good.

Robot Boy said...

A rather more nuanced look at the history of family planning.

http://www.powells.com/blog/?p=3677&utm_source=review-a-day&utm_medium=email&utm_term=&utm_campaign=rad_20080818_text&utm_content=Post%20Comment