(Investigator 85, 2002 July)

Many of the subjects covered [on this website] come under the umbrella of the "New Age" and can be found under appropriate headings such as crystals, auras, spirit, channeling, meditation, a host of alternative medicines and therapies and variegated philosophies such as the Inner Peace Movement.

While never having professed to possess paranormal powers herself, prominent among the New Age personalities is the talented actress Shirley MacLaine. A believer in the existence of UFOs, spiritualism, reincarnation and the occult in general, her seminars are well attended, her books avidly read and her films well patronized. Her teachings have had a greater influence on the public than any other New Age promoter and almost single handedly has elevated her own personal medium, Kevin Ryerson, to fame and fortune. In particular, her book, Out on a Limb, outlining her beliefs and experiences sold in the millions, and the television version of the same name became one of the most talked about mini-series. Although denying that she is, many of her followers regard Shirley MacLaine as a guru.

The protagonists of the New Age movement embrace a veritable plethora of ideals, pursuits, philosophies, beliefs, myths and superstitions, encompassing virtually every aspect of pseudoscience and the paranormal. It is not a distinct movement, some see it as a religion, others see it as an extension of the 1960s hippie culture — a rebellion against scientific and social conservatism in which "scientific materialism" is the bete noire. It espouses a garbled mixture of pop psychology, alternative unproven health therapies, ill defined and unverified claims and ancient re cycled belief systems, all of which are grist to the mill and have provided the foundations on which many an entrepreneur's fortune has been built.

It has created multi million dollar businesses selling a wide variety of products ranging from clothes through magazines, books and tapes, to expensive seminars, a market place in which the willing and the credulous are parted from their money in ways that would make Phineas T. Bamum turn in his grave with envy, not the least of which are the "human potential" and "conscious raising" courses promoting subjectivity.

No matter how inane the concept, no matter how nonsensical the premise, no matter how silly, inconsistent or contradictory the belief, no matter how lacking in empiricism, the endless list of pseudoscientific and New Age philosophical gobbledygook is swallowed hook, line and sinker, and in so doing, New Age proponents alienate themselves from reality, become vulnerable to financial and emotional rip offs, and lay themselves open in many areas to the dangers inherent in untested, unproven and highly suspect "cures", "therapies" and "miracles." It is an introspective philosophy where one is trying to find the answers to life's problems, real or imaginary. It teaches that God is within each of us, and as long as it feels right, it is right. This belief that God is within us and that we are responsible for whatever happens to us leads to a selfish attitude towards others—the disadvantaged, the sick, and those starving in abject poverty have only themselves to blame according to the New Age philosophy.

Profundities are conspicuous by their absence in New Age lectures, superstitious mumbo jumbo, inanities and pseudoscience abound. An endless list of paranormal beliefs are unquestionably embraced, as are the many fads and fallacies in the areas of medicine and psychology.

Addressing the question, "what harm is there in believing in an irrational premise or seeking an alternative treatment as long as it achieves the desired result?", there are several reasons why one shouldn't, not the least of which are the dangers and hazards involved. Personal responsibility is abrogated by attributing behaviour to powers and influences beyond one's control, and a pre-ordained or immutable future is implied. Yet this is contradicted by other aspects of New Age beliefs where it is taught that "free will" can change or alter future events.

The critical thinking and analyses fundamental to scientific and rational processes are discouraged and rejected, encouraging a belief in the equality of opinions, regardless of the evidence for them. Without a system of checks and balances, claims may be made without proof, challenge or scrutiny. New Age thinking exposes the public to exploitation by failing to offer any means whereby paranormal and pseudoscientific claims can be evaluated, thus allowing the dissemination of misinformation and the presentation as fact of unproven or unprovable events. It promulgates the belief that supernatural forces exist, and that intuition is a valid avenue of knowledge. It encourages irrational thought, it is limited by a non judgemental philosophy, and relegates every day decision making to a reliance on half baked concepts. Where these beliefs are applied in the field of alternative medicine to psychological and physical illnesses (imaginary or real) it can be decidedly dangerous. Some of the New Age diagnostic methods, therapies and miracle cures mentioned in this book, such as iridology, psychic healing, homoeopathy, crystal therapy et al, are examples of the inherent dangers in so far as they entice people away from orthodox tried and tested methods to those scientifically proven to be inefficacious and fallacious.

Doctrines based on erroneous pseudoscientific claims such as racial superiority have had horrendous ramifications in the past, and membership of bizarre cults practising under the aegis of one claiming supernatural powers have often proved to be life threatening. The mass suicide of 911 followers of the Rev Jim Jones in 1978; the 73 deaths attributed to the Branch Davidian in 1994, and the March 1995 gas attack on a Tokyo subway by a fanatical cult (Supreme Truth Sect), which killed 12 and hospitalised another 5000, are testimony to that.

Finally, New Age thinking appeals to those most vulnerable — the naive, the young, the lonely, the poorly educated and the emotionally troubled, who see salvation in claims of mysterious and wonderful forces. Others, motivated by low self esteem or greed, see the courses offered by the purveyors of the "New Age" as vehicles circumventing the effort normally required to acquire knowledge — a quick fix for whatever ails you.

In my opinion it seems basic to objectively seek verifiable evidence before I part with my money, to show for example, that a "channel" is really in communication with the spirit of one long dead, or that a crystal has the innate powers attributed to it; and in the absence of such corroboration, I am inclined to conclude that a far simpler explanation for the phenomena can be found in the New Ager's total disregard for objectivity and their proclivity to embrace fantasy.

The psychological and medical fads and fallacies popular among New Age adherents can be referred to under individual headings throughout this book, but perhaps a brief mention of some of the prominent gurus in the movement would be appropriate.

Members of the entertainment profession have a reputation for believing in superstition and the occult. Late in 1988, it was revealed that the then President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, and the first lady Nancy Reagan, had for years been consulting astrologers and had acted on their advice regarding the most auspicious times to travel and when to formulate policies.

It has been suggested that the high incidence of believers in the profession is mainly due to their Jewish or Catholic backgrounds, possibly because their mainstream beliefs are based on an acceptance of the existence of a supernatural being. This can be confirmed by a perusal of their respective biographies.

The advertising business has always been cognizant of the fact that an endorsement of their product by well known personalities, regardless of whether they believe in or use them, will enhance sales. The same criterion applies to New Age products.

Shirley MacLaine's teachings have had a greater influence on the gullible than any other New Age promoter. Whether or not she is a true believer or has used her thespian talents as an opportunist to jump on the New Age band wagon is a matter for conjecture; whatever the case, her position in the New Age hierarchy to influence is undisputed. A critical examination of her teachings however, raises, at least in my mind, some serious doubts about their value to an individual and to society as a whole. While the banalities in MacLaine's books and TV mini series were read and viewed by millions, tens of thousands unfortunately took them seriously, reiterating the incidents as fact in organizations such as the Inner Peace Movement. In all her books MacLaine recounts paranormal anecdotes that strain one's credulity. Her visit to her acupuncturist in Dancing in the Light, for example, was not to have treatment for an ailment but to take her back over past lives. She explains that the needles "stimulate memory patterns locked in the cellular memory of the physical body" but omits to say how these cells are preserved for another lifetime after the original body has decayed.

Typical of MacLaine's teaching was her response to a question on AIDS on Canadian TV. "Doctors ... are so confused with this disease they don't know what to do. Maybe this is the purposeful good of the disease. By the way...there's a purposeful good to everything..." Perhaps an AIDS sufferer would have trouble in equating their affliction with “purposeful good." Scientific illiteracy abounds in her statements. On the Phil Donahue show, September 9, 1985, she said: "Nothing ever dies   science tells us that   nothing ever dies, it just changes form." This is a distortion of a principle of physics—that matter and energy remain constant, although they can change in form. But science does not tell us that nothing dies. Some of her teachings defy interpretation. In the Los Angeles Times, July 20, 1987 for example, she is reported as saying, "The vibrational oscillation of nature is quickening". If any reader can tell me what that means I'd be glad to hear from them.

To have unquestioning faith in, or an uncritical acceptance of a creed, without first examining its tenets to see whether or not they rest on foundations in accord with natural laws, casts one onto the quicksands of pseudo ideological speculation.

Shirley MacLaine and her beliefs can only be seen in the same context as other paranormalisms — she provides a crutch for those who wish to avoid dealing with the realities of life.


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(From: Edwards, H. c.1996 A Skeptic's Guide to the New Age]

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