Friday, January 4, 2013

Heralds of the New Age Past: Constance Cumbey's Rainbow Coalition


From the October 2009 E-Block.

**

This is the first of a series in which we will take a look back at some materials that were something of a supplement to books like Edgar Whisenant's in the 80s. While not strictly eschatological in outlook, they made much of the advent of the "New Age Movement" as a harbinger for eschatological events. As with books in the Ghosts of End Times Past series, we will be looking for methodological and factual problems, and we will also be offering updated "status reports" on claims made in these books. In the process, it is hoped that we may learn from past mistakes.

We open with a classic text, Constance Cumbey's Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow -- an allusion to the rainbow as a prominent symbol of the New Age movement. Immediately a problem to be found with this text is that it suffers badly from a flaw found also in Lindsey and Jeffrey: Documentation of major claims is non-existent. But more to the point, the question that arises in connection with Cumbey is her highlighting of persons of influence in the New Age Movement: Are these really important people with the power and influence to make drastic changes in our society? Or is Cumbey simply finding a certain "thrill factor" in their audacity, without critically analyzing whether they have the money to put where their mouths are? In other words, was she simply too anxious to see in some of these people "signs of the end times" and so did she give them more credence and power than they really deserved and had?
Let's answer by taking a look at three of these people Cumbey highlights and asking, "Where are they now?"

Benjamin Creme and his "Lord Maitreya". This figure more than any other was a subject for Cumbey's speculations. She notes that Creme's organization took out enormous full page ads in major newspapers on April 25, 1982, declaring that "The Christ is Now Here" and would "soon" send out a sort of telepathic address to the world. [13ff] Obviously, "soon" has yet to arrive 27 years later, unless our collective psychic antennae were on the fritz that day.

Where are they now? Despite the failure in 1982 and apparently more than one since, Creme is still alive and still plugging his messianic hopeful -- you can see a website for it here, where the telepathic address is still being predicted. Does it mean anything, and did it ever? As far as can be found, Creme's messianic movement consists of Creme himself, spending his own money to promote this Maitreya figure -- who may or may not be an actual person.

I have to conclude that Cumbey simply gave Creme far too much credit. As far as can be determined, Creme is an esoteric eccentric, saying and doing no more than any other person could do with plenty of money to spread around. There is nothing to suggest that his "Maitreya" campaign is anything more than bravado and puffery; this person, if he is real, shows no evidence of being in any position to become a future world leader. He should not have been given more than a few lines by Cumbey, and then, only to highlight he and Creme as eccentrics in the same way that we might highlight the Roman Piso theorem.

There is yet more to show that Cumbey makes too much of such persons. Cumbey highlights a meeting in Detroit where Creme spoke, attracting 750-850 people [94] and describes it as "a readily accessible power base" for Creme and his Messiah figure. [94-5] Really? 850 people show up from a metro area that even in the 1980s had nearly 4 million people, and this is a "power base"? If this is a "power base" then the Detroit Lions have a better chance of being the Antichrist than Maitreya does.

Cumbey thinks otherwise, and like many of the Ghosts of End Times Past, reworked problems into successes. She noted Maitreya's failure to appear in 1982, and expressed concern because "it could cause many Christians to develop a false sense of confidence..." [23] In other words, rather than understand this failure as an indication that Creme was merely blowing smoke, Cumbey continued to give Creme credence and interpreted the events accordingly. Why not rather take this failure to mean that Creme is a fraud? Why does Cumbey not suppose that Creme's nutty claims about Lucifer coming from Venus 18.5 million years ago [95] make him a crackpot rather than a bona fide eschatological signal? Surely Cumbey was far too anxious to read Creme's message in terms of an eschatological fulfillment.

David Spangler and his Findhorn Foundation. Cumbey frequently refers to Spangler as a major mover and shaker in the New Age Movement. His "Findhorn Foundation" -- a sort of colony for New Agers in Scotland -- is described as having "attracted vistors and residents from a worldwide base." [51] He is also noted to have given a sermon at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan, where "many of the Wall Street crowd" attend. [139]

And what of all of this? Spangler and Findhorn are still around, but there's not much to be made of either one of them. Spangler has joined the modern age with a blog, though as of this typing, it has had only 7 entries since 2007. If this is someone out to help inaugurate the reign of the Antichrist, he had best get a little more involved than that.

Findhorn, meanwhile, makes much of being recognized by the UN as an "NGO" or non-governmental organization, but this is hardly something notable; according to the UN itself, there are over 3300 NGOs associated with the UN, ranging from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission to the Zoroastrian Women's Organization. Cumbey refers vaguely to "[n]etworking efforts" and "[l]inkages" [52] between Findhorn and groups like Amnesty International, but it is not said what these "efforts" and "linkages" constituted and so there's not much that can be checked back on today. Thus I can simply say at most that Findhorn appears to be no more prominent than, say, a local megachurch near me (First Baptist Orlando) in terms of worldwide notoriety. There's certainly nothing to suggest that it's going to be the harbinger of any sort of New Age tidal wave that will overtake the world.

James Channon's First Earth Battalion -- Cumbey notes this group's self-description as "monk-warriors with the Force" [53] and refers to "ominous" yet unspecified developments under its umbrella. It is also said to be "sponsored by the United States military and enjoying good reviews from the War College in Pennsylvania" [85].

And where are they now? Channon and his group are still around; they even have a Twitter page, with a grand total of 40 followers, as well as a website. There is no sign that the interest of the military expanded beyond the initial inquiry, which apparently came at a time when other nations were investigating psychic power as a military tool. Channon's ideas appear to have been dabbled in, and then dropped -- there was certainly no sign of his group becoming an SS-like arm of the government, as Cumbey's rhetoric implied.

And in close: Where is Cumbey now? She is still active, and has her own blog; Creme and Spangler still get attention now and then, and Channon was the subject of one major entry in August; however, her new main focus appears to be Javier Solana of the European Union. The reasoning used is much the same as in Hidden Dangers -- so-and-so is said to be somehow connected to so-and-so, and they both promote New Age ideas, but why this should be of any concern is merely presumed to be obvious rather than laid out in detail.
In saying this, I am not by any means diminishing the need to critique New Age ideas (which Cumbey often does fairly well, if in a rather simple way); nor am I saying that someone like Creme does not need to be answered. But Cumbey's failure has been the equivalent of me coming forth against the Roman Piso theory (see link above) as though it were a threat to overtake college history departments. Cumbey's great flaw was, and still is, a failure to see crackpots as crackpots.

As I concluded this writing, I found an item here by CRI's Elliott Miller in which essentially the same criticisms are laid at Cumbey's doorstep: Poor documentation, overstatement, and artificial creation of hysteria. While the entire article is useful, I found this paragraph in particular of interest:
But Walter Martin and CRI (Cumbey usually attributes Walter Martin anything said or done by CRI) have always agreed that New Agers are "politically networked." (See, e.g., "Tracking the Aquarian Conspiracy, Part Two," in Christian Research Journal, Winter/Spring 1986. Or, for an earlier example, see our statement on “The New Age Movement” published in 1982.) What we have denied is something entirely different from being "networked" (which, as Cumbey had consistently failed to understand, implies loose structure, decentralization, and great diversity). That is, we've denied that the NAM is a monolithic structure wherein everyone is following one detailed "Plan" (derived from Alice Bailey and H. G. Wells) “to the letter” (as Cumbey put it). Many New Agers are organized for political purposes; they are just not as organized as Cumbey says.
See also Miller's review of Cumbey's book here.

It's always gratifying to see that those who were involved experts before I was came to much the same conclusions.

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