Chaos Physics, The Power of Myth, and Resurgent Neo Gnostic Pantheism

 

Chaos Physics is often used by New Age Pantheism to affirm that Postmodern Non-linear Physios supports gnostic and resurgent Pantheism.  Nothing could be further from the truth (see especially John Holte, ed.. Chaos: The New Science, Nobel Conference XXVI (Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, MN 65602; John Polkinghorne, Science and Creation: The Search for Understanding (SPCK, 1988; also his Quarks, Chaos and Christianity (NY: Crossroads, 1996; and Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time (with introduction by Carl Sagan, a New Age Pantheist physicist) (NY:Banton, pb, 1990).  The influence of this new postmodern physics becomes crystal clear in Joseph Campbell's, Power of Myth.

 

After the purging of prayer and religion from public schools the 1960's secular humanists seized the chance to promote a radically different agenda, however.  The "Bible as Literature" and World Religions (sociology, anthropology, history, etc., became platforms for destructive postmodern criticism, skeptical mockery of scripture, historical revision and transformation of Christianity into just another subjective, alternative, untestable, emotional experience.  -In the past thirty years hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of college and university students have been taught that the Bible is a fairy tale, Christianity is a myth, Jesus was a factional flower child, and God is an outmoded, irrelevant aberration of fragmented psyches.  Surely Joseph Campbell, author of “The Power of Myth” series dominates most popular American criticisms of Christianity.  His book was on the best-seller list for seventy-four weeks.  His interview series with Bill Moyers is the one public television "religion" series that is rebroadcast time after time nationwide.

 

Campbell's Mythology in Science Fiction

 

Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero with A Thousand Faces and The Power of Myth, died in 1987 but his ideas about religion, society, popular culture and art still fascinate millions of people.  His ideas are transmitted through a wide cross section of the American public, including New Agers, Neo-Pagans, journalists, environmentalists, political liberals, and nominal Jews and Christians.  F. George Lucas used Campbell's mystic ideas about hero myths to create his popular Star Wars and Indiana Jones films in the 1970's and 1980's. (e.g.s.  Titanic, The Devil's Advocate, postmodern Truman).

 

Mortimer Adier, famous philosopher and editor of The Encyclopedia Britannica, declared in February 17, 1992 in an issue of National Review that Campbell's "understanding of the Christian creed and its theology [about which Campbell often spoke and wrote] was puerile.  In that field he was an ignoramus."  Adier also noted that Campbell's hedonistic philosophy," follow your bliss," which Moyers found so wonderful, "represented the lowest debasement of twentieth century culture.  Campbell's ideas are not new; rather they present resurgent neo-gnostic paganism (The only sustained Christian critique of Campbell's new age pantheism is Tom Snyder's Myth Conceptions (Bakers, 1995) Tal Brooke's "The Mythology of Joseph Campbell Part I & II, is adhesive for a Generic Religion, pp. 6ff., see also the articles of Brook Alexander and Doug Groothuis in Spiritual Counterfeits Project).

 

William Kilpatrick says that "the keys to Campbell's success are several: (1) He is knowledgeable and charming; (2) People really do, as he asserts, hunger for myth (transcendence); and (3) He offers an understandable version of myth that is Campbell’s vision is governed by an idyllic imaginations." (Kilpatrick, Why Johnny Can't Tell Right from Wrong, Simon and Schuster, 1992), pp. 211 ff.).  The reason why ethics are out of date, says Campbell, is that good and evil, like yin and yang, are relative terms.  Since it is impossible to have one without the other, good and evil are useless categories that we need not worry about.  Any divisions of reality, whether into "good and bod," "us and them," "me and you", are illusions because, in fact, there is only oneness.  As a result, Campbell ignores myths and stories that are products of moral imagination, i.e., stories and scriptures of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.  He claims that these "myths" have been reinterpreted.  He reinterprets then as Eastern myths.  He totally repudiates the Biblical distinction between God, creator, good, evil, etc.  Campbell denies all historical claims.  In death he calls all life merely a dream.  All moral claims on believers are totally rejected by Campbell.

 

The best myths from Campbell's perspective are Eastern and Primitive ones, especially those that tell us nature is divine and we are a part of it.  The power of pantheistic philosophies and myths is that they leave us free to follow our own agenda.  The Power of Myth appeared at a time when we are experiencing dissatisfaction with materialism and technocracy.  Campbell tapped a yearning for transcendent spirituality poetic existence (cf. New Age theme).

 

A more popular version of Campbell's mythology was made available in George Lucas' Star Wars and its sequels.  Lucas drew his inspiration for Luke Skywalker and Obi Kenobi from his reading of Campbell.  Lucas' work contained a distinction between good and evil.  Nevertheless, at the end of the series Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi are revealed to be moral equivalents, both just playing their respective roles as yin and yang.  (The PBS interviews were filmed at the Lucas ranch in California, and when Campbell was asked by Moyers to name a myth suitable for our own culture, he singled out Star Wars and commenced to expound on it at length.).

 

In Star Wars, inner wisdom was connected with technology and both were connected to nature (cf. pantheistic New Age).  After all, Luke Skywalker learns some of his most important lessons in self-knowledge from a swamp creature.  These two themes of wisdom within and the wisdom of nature have now become a Hollywood staple.  In Poltergeist II, for example, the sources of evil are a Christian sect (anti nature), while release from evil is effected by a practitioner of a nature religion, an Indian medicine man. Likewise in Dances with Wolves, one of the most popular recent films, the Indians, because they revere nature, are portrayed as superior to the white men (of. Paul Vitz' content analysis of ninety of the widely used school textbooks in 1983 showed that an elementary school child would receive a more thorough grounding in American Indian spirituality than the religions of the West; compare 1990's texts.)

 

Resurgence of Idyllic Imagination

 

The idyllic imagination is taken very seriously by one group of educators who have a sizeable influence.  When Marilyn Ferguson wrote The Aquarian Conspiracy in 1980, she noted that "of the Aquarian Conspirators surveyed, more were involved in education than in any other single category of work.  They were teachers, administrators, policy makers, and educational psychologists." What is The Aquarian Conspiracy?  According to Ferguson, "its members have broken with certain key elements of Western thought." These people explore "extraordinary reaches of conscious experience," "revolt against imposed patten, -„" are aware of the brains' "awesome capacity to transform and innovate," seek "the mystical experience of wholeness," and embark on journeys of "self-transcendence" in order to find the "God within."   "Together," says Ferguson of her fellow conspirators, "we can do anything. We have it within our power to make peace within our torn selves and with each other, to heal our homeland, the whole earth. ... We can be our own children." This label moved from The Aquarian to the New Age Movement. The educational goals of New Agers coincide with goals of multi-culturalists and also the goals of the environmentalists ("to heal our Homeland and our whole Earth") and the goals of some feminists to find a non-patriarchal form of spirituality.

 

In a quote from Bleden Lane in The Christian Century, "Lane concludes, "In the 1920's C.S. Lewis began with Owen Barfield an argument on the relationship of myth and theology. They never completed it. They wanted to define the parameters of a world where mystery, revelation and reason could be held in tandem. The conversation had been anticipated somewhat earlier by George MacDaniels. It was to be continued by Charles Williams, Dorothy Sayer, Frederick Buechner and Madeleine L'Engle. Each thinker has been concerned with putting imagination to the service of truth. Perhaps Campbell's work can revive their questions, and help bring together shaman and priest, tale-spinner and creed maker." Lane's final assertion presents our crisis. How is Campbell's neo-Gnostic pantheism to be fused with the aforementioned creative giants of Christian orthodoxy? This sounds strangely like postmodern irrationalism. (Belden C. Lane, "The Power of Myth: Lessons from Joseph Campbell" The Christian Century, p. 652-654).

 

Because The New Age Movement in education has staked out the "imagination" as its special providence, it is likely to have a particularly strong influence in the kinds of stories that are emphasized in schools. Ferguson says that the "new paradigm of learning" will use "imagery, storytelling, and dream journals." One of the most influential of New Age educators is Jack Canfield, the author of "The Inner Classroom: Teaching With Guided Imagery" and other articles. In an article entitled, "Education in The New Age," Canfield and co-author Paula Klimek, recommended "Sufi dances," "warm fuzzy stories," "chanting," "music and imagery." They recommended "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin, "psychodrama," "dream walking," "fantasy literature," and "meditation/centering." What is this thing called The Force in Star Wars? How does Luke communicate with it?

 

When Ferguson asked her sample of 185 Aquarian Conspirators to name the individual whose ideas influenced them, the four most frequently mentioned were Teilhard de Chardin, C.G. Jung, Abraham Maslow, and Carl Rogers. Rogers came to see his later work as a bridge between Eastern and Western thought (cf. Abraham Maslow has keen interest in mystical "peak experiences" and "Eupschean Network" similar to Ferguson's "Aquarian Conspirators").

Canfield's most notable contribution is the technique of "guided fantasy" or "guided imagery" (cf. "The Inner Classroom"). In fact, the Canfield/Klimek article devotes several paragraphs to recommending four tools by Sidney and Simon including Value Clarification and his now famous children's story, I Am Lovable and Capable. Simon's journey is always in the Eastern direction and now offers summer workshops at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in upstate New York (New Age Potential Movement/Metamorphosis).

 

Jack Canfield is attempting a similar bridging function in his spearhead of self-esteem legislation in California public schools. "I consider it possible," wrote Carl Rogers in 1980, "that each of us is a continuing spiritual essence for time and occasionally incarnated in a human body." It now appears that reincarnation itself is a quasi-mystical movement. The idyllic imagination is no match for the environment of most post baby boomers (cf. William Bennett's article, "Drugs and The Face of Evil" (First Things, Dec., 1990), pp. 5,6).

 

The Conflict Between Idyllic Imagination And Utopian Imagination

 

Utopian imagination locates Eden in the technological future rather than in nature; it vs. pre-industrial societies.

 

Neither type of imagination seems to be aware of the degree to which human problems are the results of human nature. Accordingly, there is present an over simplification concerning the ease of solving them through institutional initiatives (science/technology/education, etc.). The Utopian temptation dominates contemporary post-Christian educational theories.

 

Bridging Function of Campbell's Mythology

 

In recent decades we have seen the schools go into the sex education business, the drug education business, the death education business, the psychotherapy business, the values clarification business, the sensitivity group business, the self-esteem business, the day-care business, the health care business, the social work business, and the multicultural business. As a result of these influences, JOHNNY CAN'T READ or tell the difference between RIGHT AND WRONG!!! That is the idyllic/Utopian vision, but the actual result of their progress looks more like a vision from Kafka. The turn to "imagination" in education has been over taken by the entertainment industry (see my articles, "Dancing in The Dark: Impact of Media on The Youth Culture"; and "Trends and Triage: The Challenge of Cultural Shaping"). Contemporary education can only be diagnosed as a crisis of character. The commission then went on to recommend its solution—More health clinics (cf. Johanna Miohaelsen, Like Lambs To The Slaughter (Harvest, 1989); Charles J. Sykes, A Nation of Victims: Decline at The American Character (NY; St. Martins Press, 1992); and Why Johnny Can't Read).

 

William Bennett, former Secretary of Education, comments: "The approach of the Commission indicates the Intellectual poverty of modernity, with its reliance on technology, and psychological and governmental solutions for moral and spiritual problems. The evidence in this case is clear. Never has our scientific, technological, or governmental know how been greater and never has the condition of the young been worse."

 

The Tension Between Vision and Virtue

 

The tension between vision and virtue continues in our race toward 2001! Just any vision won't do. Some ways of envisioning the world are more realistic about humans than others. The idyllic and Utopian visions mistakenly image that virtue and character can be safely left out of the picture. Moreover, when we ignore or minimize the tragic limitations of life, tragedy is only multiplied. Sex education is a model for consideration. This Utopian vision images a miracle of social engineering, at least in some Scandinavian towns where healthy, honest and guilt-free boys and girls sample the joys of sex while enlightened adults beam proud approval. Or education can elect to take the yellow brick road: the path of New Age mythology, guide fantasy and therapeutic stories, a path that leads only in a circle of distraction. Neither technology nor better social science can replace character as the goal of education. Educators can no longer afford to be neutral bureaucracies or shopping malls or service providers. They need to reflect the kind of character they hope to instill. Is this goal possible in our post-Christian culture? The educational shapers of the past three decades have left students confused and unable to make commitments (Baby-Boomers and The Boomerang-ers lost in the 1990's). If we can defeat the world's fourth largest army (Iraq-Desert Storm) in a matter of weeks, is it possible to rehabilitate education before it is too late? Our present educational vision has prepared a generation of students for jobs and consumership and AIDS avoidance, not character formation. What became of the moral climate that was once so prevalent in schools?  (For the demise of morality in schools see Edward Wynne and Kevin Ryan, Reclaiming Our Schools: A Handbook on Teaching Character, Academics and Discipline (cf. Parade Magazine. State Journal Star (May 16, 1993), "We Must Fix Our Schools", pp. 4, 5).  This work traces our plight from the destructive influence of Rousseauian philosophy in the 1960's. Spooked by Spock, contra responsibility for action and negative response; see also A Nation of Victims. No one is responsible for anything anymore.  Intensification of problems in the inner city, the armed services, etc., male modeling in the streets, female modeling in the home; Afro-centric curriculum.  "Why can't a woman be more like a man?" asks Professor Henry Higgins in "My Fair Lady." But for women the question is just the reverse; civil rights division of the Justice Department has tried to force the Virginia Military Institute to admit women; authority and legitimate resistance to authority.  Examples such as Thomas Jefferson, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, Jr.  Who should be in or out of such a list?

 

Thirty-five teachers at the Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia, attempted during the summer of 1990 a three-week institute to study the foundation of ethics in Western Society. The program centered on Plato's Republic and five of his dialogues; Aristotle's Nicomachian Ethics, and selections from four books of The Bible:

Genesis, Exodus, Samuel and Matthew.  These texts, according to the institute, raise four fundamental questions:  "(1)  What is a good life? (2)  What constitutes good character?  (3)  What is virtue?  (4)  What is a good society?  In essence, what kind of human beings should we be?"  The student body responded positively to this effort during the school year.  WE must teach virtue by making it visible, such as Robert Bait's play, "A Man For All Seasons" (all four virtues in one man. Sir Thomas More); the plot of the movie, "High Noon" revolves around a tension between justice, courage and prudence.  "To Kill A Mocking Bird" shows one kind of courage. The Old Man and The Sea is another.  Measure For Measure and The Merchant of Venice teach us about justice; Moby Dick depicts a man who has lost his sense of prudence and proportion (eg.  Jane Addams, Marie Curie, Winston Churchill, Douglas MacArthur, Anne Frank, Ruby Bridges, Lech Walensa, Charles Colson, Colen Powell, et.al.).

 

The United States has an AIDS problem and a drug problem and a violence problem.  Who is to blame in a nation of victims?  These will not go away without a paradigm shift in education, homes, churches, and media, in order to seek to form a socially constructive character.  Courage to reinstate virtue will accomplish more toward building a healthy society than an army of doctors, counselors, and social workers.  May the virtue paradigm shift start soon—even sooner!!

See the following: William Kilpatrick, Why Johnny Can't Tell Right From Wrong (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1992); Anthony C. Thiesleton, New Horizons in Hermeneutics (Zondervan, 1992); Grant R. Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral (Inter-Varsity Press, 1991); Jean S. Bolen, Goddesses in Every Woman (NT: Harper, 1984); Stanley Kripper and David Feinstein, Personal Mythology (Los Angeles: J.P. Tracher, Inc., 1988); Irving Babbitt, Rousseau and Romanticism (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1919); Edmund Burke on the "Revolution in France" in Russell Kirk, ed.. The Portable Conservative Reader (NY: Penguin Books, 1982); Russell Kirk, Eliot and His Age (LaSalle, IL: Sherwood Sugden and Co., 1984); Kafchryn Landskoop, The Lion of Judah: Never Never Land (Eerdmans, 1973); Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth (Doubleday, 1961); Paul Vitz, Censorship; Jack Canfield and Paula Kliaek, "Education in The New Age" New Age (Feb. 1978); 27-39; and Marilyn Ferguson, The Aquarian Conspiracy (Los Angeles, 1980).

 

 

James Strauss

Lincoln Christian Seminary

Lincoln, IL 62656-2111