It is hard to believe it has been almost thirty years since Shirley Maclaine’s Out on a Limb came out. Her account of her discovery of the New Age movement and the doors it opened for and within her transformed many lives, both directly and indirectly. I have mentioned before how my parents dabbled in the New Age movement, and (dad please correct me if I am wrong here) my father’s view of the Cosmos is it least still partially informed by those experiences.
It was the first time, to my knowledge, that any other spiritual belief mounted a legitimate challenge to the privilege of Christianity in American culture. After half a century of almost non-stop conflict and two decades of that conflict being broadcast right into our living rooms, people, I think were ready for something different. Right or wrong Christianity suffers from being perceived as simply being about reward and punishment. I have read too much of the Bible and been friends with too many Christians and Christian leaders to paint with that very broad brush, but the perception is there, helped along by some members of that faith community. It can be an upsetting world view when you see how much pain we inflict on each other.
Along comes this new idea. Not really new, the bones of it had been around almost two centuries and it was really gaining momentum in the middle of the counter-culture movement of the sixties, but it was new to most of us. It was positive, open and above all else, not authoritarian. After twenty years of watching authorities fail us, a fair number of Americans were finally willing to reject the quasi-Confucian culture that infused so much of our society, religious and otherwise, up to that point.
This new idea was accepting of the fact that there were other ideas (another thing we were tired of, the incessant internal conflict.) It did not tell us we had to be a certain way to get into heaven, it suggested a variety of ways to find emotional and spiritual health. It pointed to several roads to finding Divine Love. It told us we were all God. That is an unbelievably affirming message.
It did not stay in the public eye for all that wrong really. There was mockery, of course. Those silly New Agers. Ridicule is a powerful tool, even when the hypocrisy of those poking fun is readily apparent. There was also an economic boom and a decade of relative peace. Why look inside for love and contentment when there are so many easy fixes outside? I wonder though, with another decade of nonstop conflict, with our economic crisis, and with internal strife over social issues at a forty-year high, if Ms. MacLaine and her friends might see a comeback.
While I dabbled, I never really got involved. My paradoxically hyper-emotional yet hyper-logical mind really cannot accept the idea of claiming answers to metaphysical questions, even when those answers are as open to further question as this movement’s. Still, I appreciate being introduced to it, and this Father’s Day want to thank my Pop (you too, Mom, where ever, what ever, you are) for doing so.
Oh, on a final note. Shirley is doing just fine. She’s still acting, still speaking and still looking for the Divine within herself and encouraging others to do the same.