Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Thelema operates in a post-Christian world, which means it is surrounded by the disintegrating remains of a Christian culture. This isn’t to state that there are no Christians left, and even less to imply Thelema is ‘ready to take over.’ But watching how the Christian faith is shifting as it dwindles (despite the apparent success of the religious right) is fascinating to me. If nothing else, Thelemites, whatever their precise views, look for a spiritual perspective on living, and the Book of the Law implies that we should be the successors of the Christians as this Aeon unfolds.
I only recently heard of ‘ moralistic therapeutic deism.’ The term was apparently coined by Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, in a 2005 book called Soul Searching. The concept, which the authors define as the evolving attitude among younger believers, eliminates the ideas of sin and repentance, conventional morality and hell, among other aspects of traditional Christianity.
This gives no cause for alarm among non-adherents, but represents a major wandering from the roots of the faith for Christians who study their Bibles with some attention. Anyone who has explored the New Age realm at all will be familiar with pastel-tinted, moralistic therapeutic non–deism, but that’s another story.
Rod Dreher, who writes for The American Conservative, is an ideological refugee from Protestantism who has ended up in a Greek Orthodox congregation. He is promoting a book he’s written, called The Benedict Option, which derives its name and theme not from the recently resigned Pope, but from St. Benedict, the founder of the Benedictine system of monasticism. Dreher’s idea is that, like St. Benedict’s followers 14 centuries ago, Christians need to withdraw from ‘the world’ into something that sounds like communes. Some believers have already called him out on this idea, seeing it as advocating indoctrination centres, and they insist that the gospels call for more of a worldly presence. But the idea has some traction among faith-based people.
Given the Orthodox churches’ tendency to otherworldliness, I think I grasp Dreher’s perspective, while recognising it as a capitulation. If Christianity has nothing currently to offer the world, then it’s basically over, beyond snarling from its bastions of intolerance or assumed moral superiority. Thelemites like the idea of Abbeys of Thelema, but we don’t typically think the world can be abandoned except in a very superficial and limiting sense
Now, a lot of Thelema’s energy has come from its ongoing opposition to the faith of the Old Aeon. Many people are drawn to it as a way of working their way out of lingering guilt and other neurotic sufferings they acquired in church, or from dysfunctional parents with religious leanings. For them, Crowley’s cutting observations on Christianity’s failures are still worth discovering. And if you credit him with nothing else, at least grant that AC saw clearly, and wrote lucidly, on how the old faith was becoming empty of meaning, whether or not it retained political clout.
But if Christianity fails, Thelema is still only relevant according to how much people actually discover and realise their True Wills. Anyone can have a belief: cultivating an ever-evolving consciousness (as a vehicle for the True Will to work through) is something else. That kind of consciousness has to be cared for, and meditated, and lived, but without it being shoved in people’s faces. It’s by no means clear to me that current Thelemic organisations will be the vehicles for transformation as we work through the broad crisis, ecological as well as social, in which we find ourselves. We each have to cut our own way through, as Crowley says in his Confessions. Groups and fraternities help, but they can only point to methods, not provide ‘answers.’
It’s an interesting time to be alive, isn’t it?