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Are We Evolved Yet?

by Wendy Kaminer

The following article is from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 20, Number 4.







New Age guru Deepak Chopra has a new venture: "MYPotential is being formed to develop a multi-media approach that will nurture people in an evolutionary manner that acknowledges and supports their relationship with the larger web of life." I don't know what this means either, but Chopra would probably say that I am insufficiently evolved, (or worse yet, spiritually devolved), like most readers of Free Inquiry.

Evolution is a favorite theme of New Agers, but don't look to them for support in the battle against creationists. When they speak of evolution, they speak only metaphorically: they're 
suggesting that, if we read their books, attend their lectures, and follow their 10, 12, or 15-step programs to enlightenment, we'll "evolve": We'll come closer to God, or whomever; we'll reach higher levels of vibrations; we'll achieve synergy and synchronicity. 
Like nonsensical allusions to quantum physics, references to evolution are standard patter for New Agers. We are, after all, supposed to be on a journey, a spiritual ascent; evolution is the New Age version of salvation. As Chopra says, in praising his new company, "(I)f we could reach critical mass with a nurturing and evolutionary message, the world would never be the same. We could heal the wounds of our planet. . . ."

Rhetoric like this suggests that we do not have to be mere passive participants in the drama of evolution. Self-proclaimed futurist Barbara Marx Hubbard, author of Conscious Evolution, claims that we can direct our own evolution: "We are changing the way nature evolves from natural selection toward ever more conscious choice." This is not mere New Age fantasy, Hubbard's Web site (www.peaceroom.com) has explained: it is science. 

"Conscious evolution is based on the recent discovery of cosmogenesis, the understanding that 'time is experienced as an evolutionary sequence of irreversible transformations' (as another expert puts it), rather than ever renewing cycles." Or, you can see conscious evolution as "an awakening of the 'memory' that resides in a synthesis of human knowing-spiritual, social, and scientific-joined in an effort to discover the inherent evolutionary design, a design which we strive to manifest through ethical choice and creative action."

This may seem like gibberish, but at least it makes its own importance clear. ("The key to our survival is to learn ethical evolution now.") Unevolved people like me gravely threaten the future. How can we, and the world, be saved? Make us stupid. I realize that pop spirituality experts often seek academic or intellectual credibility. (Barbara Marx Hubbard has announced the development of the "Living University for the Conscious Evolution of Humanity" and proudly noted that "the first Doctor of Conscious Evolution has been issued by the Emerson Institute.) Still, mass market New Age books generally teach us that spiritual stasis is a consequence of relying on reason. Intellectuals "will be the last to get it," the authors of The Celestine Prophecy: An Experiential Guide, declare. 

A how-to book that followed publication of The Celestine Prophecy, a New Age bestseller by James Redfield, this "experiential guide" provides such useful items as a "checklist for engaging the flow of evolution." Not that engaging evolution necessarily requires much work. (If conscious evolution as Hubbard describes it seems too arduous, Redfield and his co-author Carol Adrienne may be the gurus for you.) According to them, if you merely "desire" making a "deeper contribution . . . you are already radiating out a level of support that assists the growth of new thinking. Your contribution is being you as fully as you can be."

Anti-intellectualism like this defines most popular, contemporary New Age writings (despite forays into pseudoscience), so I was surprised to hear Deepak Chopra complain recently that television producers underestimate the intelligence of their audiences. Shouldn't he applaud unintelligent programming that appeals to heart, not mind? For a moment, Chopra sounded like another sorry rationalist who hadn't yet made the paradigm shift.

But he was miffed, as Chopra confides in an open letter to his fans (you can find it at www.renaissancealliance.org): He had flown from California to New York for a "Today Show" appearance only to be bumped by a segment on Rick Rockwell, the ill-fated groom of "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire." Chopra taped an interview with Katie Couric that was supposed to be aired the following day, but it was killed by a producer who, he says, found his interview " 'too cerebral, too advanced,' and unsuitable for the audience."

Deepak Chopra? Cerebral? You might as well call Marilyn Monroe camera shy. Of course, Chopra's story may not be true, or the television producer may have told him he was too cerebral for the "Today Show" merely to appease him when his segment was cut. (He'd surely rather be called too smart for the audience than too boring, arrogant, or inarticulate.) But maybe Deepak Chopra really is the producer's vision of an intellectual. Maybe we are consciously evolving, faster than we know.

Wendy Kaminer is an attorney, social critic, and public policy fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. She is the author of Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials: The Rise of Irrationalism and the Perils of Piety.

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