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Debunking a New Age Myth

A Call for Discernment

Wheaton - December 4, 2010

Laced with jokes about New Age gullibility, jabs at its cynic exploiters, and appeals to critical thinking, author and interreligious activist Jim Kenney presented a searing critique of the proliferating and contradictory prophecies of impending cataclysms and radical societal transformations expected in the year 2012, a year now propelled into prominence because of an arbitrary quirk in one of the Maya calendars.

Kenney set the critical and humorous tone of his December 2 Thursday lecture at The Theosophical Society in America about the 2012 phenomenon with a story about the widely popular New Age novel The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield, in which the author looks for and finds in Peru a sixth century BCE Maya manuscript full of wisdom.

In 1993, Kenney recounted, he gave a lecture on The Celestine Prophecy and intended to take a "critical look at a careless book." Little did he know that he was facing 200 true believers who were not charmed by his criticism.

According to Kenney, when Redfield was not able to get the public interested in his self-published piece of fiction, which he was initially selling from the back of his car, he cynically repackaged the book as a tract of serious scholarship and sales increased dramatically.

One of the problems Kenney pointed out was that Redfield set the Maya civilization in sixth century BCE Peru, which is inaccurate, as the Maya civilization is not to be found in Peru and only started roughly a thousand years later.

Kenney confessed to be a serious believer in the idea that "we do live in a rare period of dramatically accelerated change of cultural evolution" and that, contrary to New Age annihilationists, cultural pessimists and post-modern skeptics, humanity has made dramatic progress if you would just look at the relatively recent abolition of slavery, the increased importance of human rights, "the dawning sense that the planet is fragile," and the decreased legitimacy of war.

His recent book, Thriving in the Crosscurrent: Clarity and Hope in a Time of Cultural Sea Change, published by Quest, the publishing arm of The Theosophical Society in America, attests to that optimism.

"Yes," Kenney exclaimed, "believers in 2012 say we're on the threshold of transformation. Change is due! But it has nothing to do with Maya!" after which he held up the now well-known cartoon by Dan Piraro.



"We are made to belief that something ends in December 2012." The proffered scenarios are legion and according to Kenney their proponents can be classified as either "Annihilationists or Transformationists" with the Annihilationists claiming the arrival of "doomsday objects," on a collision course with earth, which are Kenney's tongue-in-cheek "favorites."

Kenney didn't want to get too technical about the Maya calendar in question, called the Long Count which is only one out of five different calendar systems, but still roughly sketched its logic. The Mayas had a 20-digit system for counting, possibly because of people having a total of twenty fingers and toes, and the number 13 was also important, because that is the amount of levels of higher and lower worlds the Mayas believed in.

The Long Count calendar ends at the unit of 13 Baktun, which is 13x20x20=5200 cycles of 360 days, which is approximately 5.000 years, and as its "arbitrary" zero point was set at a specific date around 3.000 BCE, the calendar ends at December 21, 2012.

"Scholars say it doesn't end. It is just the end of a cycle." Kenney compared all the fuss about the end of the calendar with making a big deal out of the fact that our own yearly calendar ends on December 31. "There is nothing portentous about January 1. It's all arbitrary."

The next question Kenney addressed was "Who is pushing 2012?" Now names were named and culprits taken to task. Most responsible, and making money in the process, is Jose Arguelles, author of The Mayan Factor: Path Beyond Technology, who peddled a similar scheme with the Harmonic Convergence event during the night of 16-17 August 1987, the date of a supposed planetary alignment with transformative effects on humanity's collective consciousness.

Number two on Kenney's list is Daniel Pinchbeck, author of 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl. Kenney stated that "after 35 years of inter-religious work" and meeting numerous religious frauds, he was now "vaccinated against religious b.s." and Pinchbeck is "part of the b.s."

Throughout the lecture Kenney appealed to critical thinking and presented the virtue of discernment in sorting the wheat from the chafe, evaluating arguments, awareness of one's own biases, awareness of ideologues who are "impervious to new information," and fallacies in reasoning.

According to Kenney the most prevalent fallacy in religion is the "mythos-logos mistake," as pointed out by historian Karen Armstrong in her study of religious fundamentalism, Battle for God, in which more poetic, figurative notions are taken for real, as in "love is like the ocean" and then ending with "little bottles of ocean water around your neck."

As a long-time Theosophist I felt that most of Kenney's critical arguments were eminently and painfully applicable to many of the metaphysical notions and attitudes within the Theosophical Society, and I wondered what kind of lecture Theosophists might receive if Kenney were allowed to direct his b.s.-vaccinated look at Theosophy itself. It might not be as politely received as the debunking of the 2012 myth, with which most Theosophists present apparently had no problem.

Kenney's favorites are the 2012 "doomsday objects" like Planet X, Niburu, Wormwood, Nemesis and other objects like comets and asteroids. Planet X cannot be seen yet, because it is in the shadow of the sun, according to its spokesperson, Nancy Leader, who received some DNA from the extraterrestrial group the Zetans from the solar system Zeta Reticuli, enabling her to communicate with them.

Zecheria Sitchin, amateur translator of Sumerian texts and "not taken serious" in academia, is convinced of the existence of a 12th planet, which initially he claimed to return in the latter part of the 21st century. But now, according to Kenney, he has cynically jumped on the 2012 bandwagon and prophecies its return in 2012.

Kenney ended the lecture with the observation about the 2012 beliefs, that "if it opens people to transformation, that would be ok, but we have to understand better the past and history."

Though there was no time for questions, I did briefly discuss with Kenney the people who might provide the best insights into the mechanism of civilizational transformations. I proposed philosophers of history like Oswald Spengler, Arnold Toynbee and Caroll Quigley. He thought Toynbee would, if alive, not agree with his own philosophy anymore. He asked me if I had ever heard of Jean Gebser, which I could confirm. "He's the one to look into."

Jean Gebser, author of The Ever-Present Origin, was a German philosopher of culture whose diffuse influence, for example on the New Age thinker Ken Wilber, has not yet been widely recognized. Gebser posited five distinct structures of consciousness--the archaic, the magical, the mythic, the rational and the integral--and thought mankind was moving from the now predominant rational attitude into the integral, though this process is not without danger because mankind could cling to the rational attitude and thereby self-destruct.

I asked Michael Hazdra, who was in the audience, about his interest in 2012. He "was into it 2 years ago" and read three books about it in a couple of weeks. He now "is jaded with the info" and became skeptical when it became part of pop culture and read that even Pinchbeck himself "thought it was all crap."

In a short exchange with Betty Bland, President of The Theosophical Society in America, we commented on the new comfortable chairs in the auditorium and she said Kenney "did a good job" in pointing out the need for clearer thinking.

Paula Finnegan, program coordinator at the Theosophical Society in America who had booked the speaker, thought Kenney was right. "It's not the end of the world." She had taken astronomy classes and has a science background. "I hope humanity will transform, but 2012 is hyped up."

Govert Schuller

Jim Kenney's lecture, titled "2012: Or Why the World Isn't Ending Just Yet!", can be watched online here or here.

P.S.: Helpful chart: 2012: End of the World? (Skeptics vs. Believers No. 1)





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