Vox discovers Western esotericism — 100 years late
The publication mistakes an ancient set of beliefs for something new
Earlier this week, Vox published a puzzling article entitled “Is a new kind of religion forming on the internet?”. In the piece, writer Rebecca Jennings posits that a new sort of religion was brewing on the Internet with the aid of social media algorithms.
‘Call it the religion of ‘just asking questions,’ Jennings writes. ‘Or the religion of ‘doing your own research.’’
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She goes on to describe a nebula of interrelated beliefs that borrow from non-Western and Christian spirituality alike: manifestation, holistic medicine, the prosperity gospel-inspired optimism of multi-level marketing schemes, a fear of the demonic, and scepticism around Covid-19 vaccines.
Jennings cites “the QAnon-related coup on January 6th” as a real-world impact of what she believes is a nascent New Religious Movement — internet spirituality, in her words.
If what Jennings is describing sounds familiar to you, it’s because it is. It’s Western esotericism — an anti-rationalist philosophy that has been a staple of Western culture since the late 1800s . And if you’d like to split hairs and use the more contemporary catch-all term “New Age spirituality,” its current manifestation hit the American and UK mainstream in the late 1960s. We’re hardly dealing with new material here, even if they have been applied to current events.
I’ll give the writer this: the Internet has had an impact on the spread of people exposed to Western esotericism. But it’s bizarre to assert that it’s a new religion that’s formed by way of the Internet.
It makes one wonder: why would Vox feel the need to assert that social media algorithms invented something with a centuries-old history? The answer may have a political dimension to it.
Until now, a certain set of American, typically coastal, college-educated, and always upper middle class or upper-class, liberals have believed that New Age beliefs (though often by another name) belongs to them. Astrology, crystals, manifestation, holistic medicine, among many other ideas, have, since the early 2010s, been the preserve of the spiritual and contemporary Left. Use herbs to decolonise medicine; Astrology-sceptics have a narrow, Western-centric view of science; we are the granddaughters of the witches you couldn’t burn. You’ve heard it all before.
But now a more visible connection appears to be forming between these ostensibly liberal beliefs and the Right. But it’s a connection that’s always been there.
As this Quartz article notes, compare a QAnon Facebook group or an Infowars supplement-shiller with, say, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, or the offerings of spas like Esalen or Canyon Ranch. You might be surprised to find that they aren’t all that different.
Now that the Left has realised this connection — that the only difference between Goop and Infowars is its branding — they’re scrambling to come up with an explanation.
‘No’, they say, ‘this is different; it’s the product of algorithms and the way information spreads online; it’s potentially dangerous; it’s a would-be religion, and shouldn’t we be careful, after QAnon?’
But if these beliefs are a religion, then that religion has existed for a long time, and the Left has long been a part of it.
Whether you’re a vaccine-sceptic TikToker, a Vox-approved witch, or a QAnon shaman chanting the affirmation, these are branches of an esotericism that is nothing new.
“QAnon related coup”? You can stop reading right there.
Not a well thought out article, too much the lumping together and correlating. Too broad as to be meaningful, too including of everything
First she needs to define ‘Religion’
“writer Rebecca Jennings posits that a new sort of religion was brewing on the Internet with the aid of social media algorithms.”
The simplest definition of Religion is ‘That which is of Ultimate Importance’. In other words, ultimate means greater than the mundane, so that which exceeds the mundane – no Gods or Books needed, just some belief in something which is more than mundane. Extreme Veganism, AGW, and so on fit this definition.
I do not find that a useful way to think. I think some system of extremely intellectual, scholarly, philosophical work is needed, also history, set of beliefs, practices, hierarchy, and writings so that truths are open to be discussed. Strangely enough a god is not even needed – like Shintoism.
Neither of these definitions exist in this writer’s argument. Therefore I think it a phase, a sign that the Secular-Humanist, atheist/agnostic is just looking for some purpose in life. Some reason which justifies their life, and turn to anything.
Society, under Post-modernism, has told us there is no actual point at all, the ultimate truth of existence is Grievance of the Oppressed against the Oppressors. (Neo-Marxism). That Manichaeism like – all is oppressed/oppressor, good and bad, all is Identities we have which are immutable, and that this identity politics of Interscetionality may only be addressed by ‘Equity’, which is of necessity redistributive and reparations and punishment.
This postmodernism quasi religion has captured all the University, and so down to all education, all MSM, Social Media, entertainment, and most authority. In the process it intentionally got rid of Christianity, so that its immorality may go unchallenged.
This drives people to find some point, some truth, something ultimate which is good and just.
Basically modern society removed all spiritual goodness, moral and ethical goodness, and replaced it with situational ethics, relative morality, and grievance nihilism. It is like people are spiritually starving, so are eating the roots, leaves, grass, they can find to try to stop that pain of emptiness, of lack of meaning to existence..
One day this may coalesce into a religion – Pentecostalism is trying, Islam, but some religion of unified, philosophical, hierarchy, written instruction, codes, rules, philosophy, practices, and good vs evil may well arrive – and be as explosive as the Abrahamic religions were. Maybe some ‘Assembly’ Religion like Bahai, where the best bits are pick and choosed from the great religions…Maybe Facebook and Google are making one up, ready to spring it on the people they have made empty by taking faith away….They are evil enough to do that….. and with their meta-data and owning the information highway – and all the algorithms, could well do it.
If Gates, Zuckerberg, Dorsey, Bezos turn out to be the Antichrist it would not surprise me.
We do have a new religion and it has been spreading for about 50 years, Materialism.
By the way, although I enjoy your comments, it would be a great general rule to limit our responses to no more words than the original article we are commenting on. 🙂
I know this to be true, having lived for several years in a hippy village in the Cotswolds.
Just simple people , whose wants and needs are few, living off the land?
Don’t forget “Trump Russia Collusion.” The biggest fake news event in the history of the United States.
And people gobbled it up – hook, line and sinker.
The main difference between esotericism from America’s Right and Left is the Right relies on generally-recognized dubious sources like Infowars and Breitbart. The Left relies on the Washington Post, New York Times, CNN and MSBNC (and, to some extent, ABC, NBC and CBS) which were considered trustworthy and mainstream before Trump.
Even the Washington Post has started to substantially edit and correct several their prior “Trump Russia Collusion” articles since the October arrest and indictment by a Grand Jury of Hillary Clinton’s paid Russian operative who started the myth of Trump Russia Collusion via fake ‘sources’ in the Steele Dossier, which also happened to be paid for by Hillary and the DNC. Closed loops upon closed loops, reported on by closed loops who had a vested interest in keeping the conspiracy alive.
But as Bob Mueller’s Boss testified under oath before Congress after he resigned and retired at the end of the investigation: “I certainly understand the President’s frustration, given the outcome, which was in fact that there was no evidence of conspiracy between Trump campaign advisers and Russians.”
– Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Congressional Testimony under oath, 6/3/2020
But don’t expect the conspiracy to die just yet. Four years of believing tripe is hard to eradicate.
Vaccine-sceptic as a quasi-religious position? Only if you think of science as religion … in which case IMHO you can’t recognize either science or religion.
Every religious and philosophical belief has been thought of before.
Oh what’s the point then – let’s just have a mass extinction event.
It happened to the dinosaurs. It can happen again.
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