DUCK SOUP: Woo-woo Versus the Bunny-hug

In our household we refer to the disciplines amorphously embraced by the label "New Age," as "woo-woo." In conversation this emerges as "She's into that woo-woo stuff," or, "Sounds pretty woo-woo to me!" This isn't meant unkindly. It is more in the way of gently humorous skepticism. Our jocularity is not triggered so much by beliefs espoused as by the mercenary slant of many of the practitioners. Sometimes New Age cosmology seems like the first fundamentally mail-order religion. Madison Avenue appears to be its Mecca. (Visit our website!)The skepticism is more consequential.Non-traditional folks in my acquaintance have split into two camps. On one side of the river we see the woo-woos. Over here on my side we practice the bunny-hug.Bunny- or tree-hugging is the manifestation of a core belief entirely opposite that embraced by the woos. Though many attempts are made to bridge the divide, peaceful coexistence involves a large measure of good-natured tolerance.Though I am not a religious scholar I am pretty sure this schism involves precisely the same issues which spurred Martin Luther to nail his 95 Theses on the door of the church. Are we saved by our faith or by our works?In the mode du jour, I'll label the following disquisition: "Theses 98."Woos clearly come down on the side of faith. I know generalizations ignore subtle wrinkles, but the bedrock remains: Woos place the inner world first and believe that changing the self will change the rest.Huggers believe in salvation through work. For us changing the world is physical and political, and the changes in self necessary to achieve that work are also physical and political. Not spiritual.This is not to disparage the many woos who are vegetarian bicycling recyclers, nor is it to ignore the huggers who entertain deep spiritual beliefs, but the divide is as real and deep as a river.This difference emerged in a recent conversation with a woo of my acquaintance. We were discussing the concept of embracing abundance -- the belief that the universe will provide for all of our needs if we simply open ourselves to that truth. A simple example of this would be the use of visualization to manifest a loaf of bread.(I am not prepared to deny that such phenomenon may occur and even admit to first-hand experience. But I consider the jury out on cause and effect.)Then my friend suggested, "Existence is not a zero-sum game."The idea here is that everyone can enjoy abundance without anyone else giving up anything. Reality is a bottomless cornucopia. We'll make more! I skidded to a halt."Wrong," I thought. "It is."Here is the hurdle. If the world is not a zero-sum game, faith might set us free. If it is, faith will not suffice. In a physically limited system we need to curb our appetites and impose pollution controls. Protecting whole watersheds and building bicycles instead of cars become imperative. In short, we need to work, not meditate if reality is circular -- if the loops of hydrology, nutrients, and energy are closed.To the hugger, the woo embraces pleasant illusions which might bring personal joy but permit the world to die. To the woo, the hugger focusses on negative images which block personal joy and prevent a perfect world from manifesting.In everyday life huggers and woos can get along, and do. Both might equally appreciate a sunny fall day, the last flowers blazing in October light, a fresh breeze off the ocean and the spark in loving eyes. They may well agree with Alice that at the end of the game we can all be Kings and Queens together. But the divide remains. Work or faith?Environmentalism is the philosophic stance taken by those who believe that we are doomed but might be saved by our work; therefore the work must be done. We have no choice.There is, of course, every possibility we are wrong.Pray without ceasing.(And whistle while you work.)

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