in New Age Religion

Irrational Dogma Or Dogmatic Rationality?

drama.masksTraditional models of religion and spirituality present us with a problem.

We have the “irrational dogma” of institutionalized religions and spiritual teachings, on the one hand, and the “dogmatic rationality” of a scientific or wholly secular view on the other. Taking one or the other side presents us with a false dichotomy between a purely rational or a purely mystical viewpoint1. Irrational dogma and dogmatic rationality are both rigid oversimplifications of the nuances of modern religion and new age spiritualities.

Dogma With Two-Faces

“A real ‘passion for knowledge’ is, I believe, the step beyond those rudimentary forms of ‘self-fulfillment’ that have swept through our culture”, writes Ronald Gross, author of Peak Learning and five other books on life-long learning. “Those who have tried everything from est to Esalen [or meditation to mindfulness], many have indeed found an enlargement of spirit. But at this point such vague, personality-centered quests are proving unsatisfactory2“. These self-centered seekers, Gross refers to, are irrationally dogmatic. On the other hand, rigid skeptics, or those who dismiss ‘spirituality’, are likewise self-centered and in group isolation with their dogmatic rationality.

naS bookcoverNew Age Spirituality: Rethinking Religionexamines “new spirituality” as ‘lived’ religion. Rather than dismiss New Age spirituality as exotic and on the margins of “proper” society, the book’s Introduction argues that “lived religion” is the normal and typical state of religion. (See my post “Lived” Religion). Gilhus goes so far as to say this “lived” religion or practiced spirituality is everywhere throughout modern society. (See my post Everywhere Religion).

Non-religious and secular domains are “mixed-up” with spirituality. The “irrational dogma” of institutionalized religion and the “dogmatic rationality” of a scientific or wholly secular worldview are both rigid oversimplifications of the nuances of religion in modern society. The fluid and popular nature of spirituality makes “lived” religion challenging to understand if we use traditional models of religion.

See my index of my posts inspired by the book, New Age Spirituality: Rethinking Religion.


  1. New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought. Wouter J. Hanegraaff. SUNY: NY, 1998. Print. p204. Hanegraff is Professor of History of Hermetic Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam Netherlands and writes extensively about the history of esotericism and the secularization of spirituality in Western culture.
  2. Adapted from The Independent Scholar’s Handbook by Gross, R.. Ch 1: Risk Takers Of The Mind, p 4. Ten Speed Press. (1993). Print. The subtitle of my edition reads: “The indispensable guide for the stubborn intelligence” and on the back-cover: “How to Become an Expert in Any Subject — On Your Own”.
  3. This book is a collection of socio-cultural studies and essays. New Age Spirituality: Rethinking Religion. by Sutcliffe, S. J. et al. Acumen. (2013). Print. Case studies how new age spirituality is integrated with popular culture, business, and everyday life.

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  1. I am suspect of many things.

    Anytime I hear “institutional religion”, I suspect the speaker is trying to sneak something else in the door and to buy themselves unearned virtues.

    “Spiritual teachings” is always an alarm for me too. Really? What the hell are those?

    “Dogma”, that is what we pejoratively label the firm beliefs we dislike.

    And as you say, anytime I hear people setting up dichotomies, trichotomies or any other otomy, I doubt immediately.

    Another key word is “real” — like “real understanding”.

    I do like the phrase “lived religion” as a way to broaden concepts.

    So, to your question (your post did not hold together for me):

    I think “irrational dogma” and “dogmatic rationality” are not valuable categories — just rhetoric.