XXVIII. World-Affirmation in New Religions

World-affirming religions encounter intolerance even though they tend, by and large, to endorse enlightened secular values. Notwithstanding their generally positive orientation to the world, they may also have a mission to promote social reform, particularly in those departments of life such as healthcare, education, and religious liberty, which are the focus of their own distinctive values. The crucial point of the opposition which they encounter is that this kind of religion is presented as in itself a means of realizing benefits of the kind which are associated with everyday success, in health, competence, working efficiency, applied intelligence, and probably even in wealth—in general, a better experience of life in the world. For traditionalists such things are regarded as too mundane to be the proper concerns of religion—hence the charge that movements of this type are “not religions at all”. These religions generally discard the traditional and emotional aspects of mainstream Christianity. They are characterized by a more systematic and rational approach to the spiritual and see continuity between spiritual knowledge and everyday betterment of personal circumstances. Of course, as different religions, they employ different techniques by which to release spiritual energies, and explain their successes in different terms and with reference to their own body of doctrine. But sociologically, and certainly from the perspective of religious freedom and human rights, these religions offer people a distinctive interpretation of life and spirit. They commonly claim a pragmatic sanction in offering a method of attaining higher spiritual states the effect of which are manifested in practical everyday psychic and material benefits. Some of the early examples of world-affirming religion used a Christian overview in terms of which to propound their orientation—Christian Science and various New Thought bodies, such as Unity, and Divine Science, are examples. More recent religions that we may count as world-affirming are not derived from the Christian tradition. Among such might be included Scientology, whilst in other cases a world-affirming orientation has been derived from oriental religion, as in the case of Soka Gakkai (Nichiren Buddhism) and Transcendental Meditation of the Maharishi.

XXIX. The Ethos of Contemporary New Religions