Differences in Belief
Spiritual, mystical and New Age believers are routinely mocked for their faith, a hypocrisy that society seems completely at peace with.
By August Pritchett, Armstrong State University
Every day in the news, someone receives hate for making fun of the practices of another religion.
Whether it’s Christmas jokes gone wrong on Twitter, or an Islamophobic Snapchat post, getting away with mocking religions is becoming increasingly difficult. However, laughing at people who practice rituals and ideologies under the mystical and New Age umbrella still happens without the major backlash that comes along with making fun of Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
Many, if not all, of the practices that I will mention are used by and commonly associated with followers of the New Age religious movement. However, some people who employ some of the same practices identify as nonreligious. Additionally, the aspects that make up most of the New Age movement are rooted in the traditions of other religions, such as Paganism and Hinduism. As of 2010, about 45 percent of the world’s population followed a faith other than Christianity, Islam or Judaism; this includes Buddhism, Hinduism, folk religionists, the nonaffiliated and other, smaller religions.
Last week, “Right This Minute,” a TV show where the hosts show videos from the internet and provide commentary on them, featured a video from Buzzfeed. In the video, Buzzfeed employee Joanna Borns uses divination methods to try to contact a spirit connected to a haunted doll she purchased online. The method she uses includes dowsing rods, a pendulum and a Ouija board, all of which are used in mystical practices. Plus, contacting spirits is also an aspect of smaller religions, such as Spiritualism and Paganism.
During the Buzzfeed video, Borns has a ghost detection app running on her phone, which goes off a minute into the RTM segment. One of the hosts, Charity Bailey, jokes, “That noise was her data plan letting her know that it was going up.” Nick Calderone adds, “That’s going to be the scariest thing about this!” Meanwhile, the other two hosts were cracking up. Later, the frightened Borns says that she felt something touch the back of her neck while she was using the pendulum. Bailey chimes in again, “That’s called hair, boo. It’s on your head.” Oli Pettigrew suggests that it could have just been her brain tricking her, while Christian Vera is the only one to defend the idea that it actually could have been a spirit. However, the overall tone of the hosts throughout the segment is very mocking.
The fact that the practices used in the Buzzfeed video were laughed at on a mainstream TV show, without any negative attention, shows that making fun of the religions and spirituality connected to these rituals is acceptable within American society, which directly contradicts the widespread attitude of religious tolerance. Sure, it doesn’t outright discriminate against anyone, unlike how making fun of other religions has escalated into alienating their followers, but, these attitudes against mystical, spiritual practices mean that it’s an area of religion and spirituality that society has yet to take seriously.
Another piece of evidence supporting my claims that I found was a generator created by Seb Pearce. Before using the generator, which is called the “New Age Bulls**t Generator,” there’s an introduction. The tone of the initial presentation is very pretentious, as he explains how he came up with the idea, as well as how he created the device in order to give its users “a full page of New Age poppycock,” using a combination of clichés and phrases that come up in New Age spiritual literature. The generator, which has received over 1,500 comments, has garnered no negative attention online. However, if someone created a similar generator that uses Christian, Islamic or Jewish phrases, there is a large chance that it would quickly come under fire.
How on earth could someone create something that outrightly mocks a religion and get away with it? What I think most people don’t realize is that New Age, Pagan, Wicca and other mystical forms of spirituality are, in fact, identifiable as religions. Once the label is connected with those practices, perhaps it would become less acceptable to mock them.
As a spiritual “hippie,” I’ve practiced things such as crystal healing, meditation and contacting spirit guides. All of those acts fall under the mystical category that is commonly associated with New Age religion. One possible reason why people who participate in these practices haven’t fought back against the mocking of spiritual practices is because the community is mostly made up of positive people. The religions connected to the rituals are very non-confrontational; one of the main ideas is centered around positive and negative energy. In order to bring positive energy, people need to think positive thoughts and good things will happen to them. By being offended by someone poking fun at their spirituality and letting the emotion take over them, the person brings about negative energy, which, in turn, will bring bad things into his or her life. So, many followers don’t fight back because they don’t want to bring negative energy, therefore, the insults continue.
The belittling of mystical spirituality, as mentioned before, isn’t discriminatory, but can make it hard for new believers to figure out how to openly talk about their religion. Discussing unconventional religions could be very beneficial to altering society’s attitudes towards them, but the followers must feel like they’ll be taken seriously; having society take the practices seriously is the main problem.
There have been many characters in the media who portray believers as crazy people and are often created for comic relief, one of the most popular being Phoebe Buffay from “Friends,” who believes in things such as reincarnation and alternative medicine. On the show she’s the eccentric and least serious person in the friend group; such a portrayal of believers has become cliché.
As people become more open-minded about different religions and spiritual practices, society is gradually learning how to take them all seriously. Since some aspects of the more mystical religions are becoming trendy, like yoga, meditation and crystal healing, perhaps making fun of such practices will soon no longer be funny.