MERCHANTS OF COMMERCIALISM: THE POSTMODERN CULTURE OF
SENSATIONALISM AND AMUSEMENT—FROM BARNUM TO BARNA
Introduction: “At the hour designated I called with my friends. Brigham Young was standing in the front of his house, the “Bee Hive,” in which was his reception room. He received us with a smile and invited us to enter. He was very sociable, asked us many questions and promptly answered ours. Finally he said, with a chuckle, ‘Barnum, what will you give to exhibit me in New York and Eastern cities.”
“Well, Mr. President, I’ll give you half the receipts, which I will guarantee shall be $200,000 per year, for I consider you the best show in America.” (P.T. Barnum, Struggles and Triumphs or Forty Years of Recollection (Carl Bode, editor (NY, 1984, esp. p. 45)
Thus the commercialization of Christianity affected the radical impact in the American religious arenas of the secularization processes. The complicity in mechanism of market exchange intensified in the 19th/20th centuries. (Further bibliography included at the end of the paper)
Christ Not For Sale: Our Postmodern Culture of Merchants of Commercialism
The logic and dynamics of America’s system permits no stable delineation of authentic Christianity. The historical controversies which divided “mainline denominations” led to unsavory religious splintering, that it fed the insatiable popular desire for sensationalism and threatened to make a mockery of the biblical ideal of religious unity. The theological divisions only stoked the furnaces of controversy for the way to Postmodern definition of doctrine and theology as divergent and constrictive. Media, especially newspaper editors, love religious controversy.
The injecting of naturalistic, syncretistic secularism encouraged a “popularization” of religious message, i.e., the emphasis on “seeker friendly” audience analysis, (i.e., the audience becomes the “authority”), hermeneutics and homiletics in most Christian institutions.
The heart of this new postmodern challenge does not necessarily entail pandering to the changing tasks of the uninformed masses, but that Christians could all afford to take a disdainful stance toward what the market measures as the will of the people (e.g., origins of enormous utilization of “poll taking” as a criterion of decision making (e.g., Barna and the “calculus of probability” use in demographic analysis). Mathematical statistic is always biased by a small numb number of specifically selected auditors, and then concludes that a given percentage of the demographical poll is for or against a given proposal. At no time can the calculus of probability decide whether either side of the calculation hold true views, only that a given static is for or against a given proposal. But politically and religious decisions are too often made on this precarious foundation (note the appeal to the Democratic projection in our postmodern relativistic culture of 2004 but only in the West). But of course, this relativistic procedure fits well in our postmodern maze, which denies the very existence/possibility of “True Truth”; then only democratic relativism alone prevails. The history of science provides a very strong warning against the decision-making procedure, as the majority received view has always been “wrong” concerning foundational judgments. Buyer, beware! (Theory formation and mathematical employment of “evidence” for or against a given propositional claim concerning a given problem solution proposal.)
After the antebellum period of history, religious democratization entered the arena of discourse. The clergy (elite) were no longer the guardians of high culture as they once were.
Religion from this period of culture development
The commercialization of religion pushed Christianity into the public arena of politics and ethnic diversity. Many Christian innovators challenged “the people” to break their bonds of “bounded walls of Church institutions.” Now enters the resultant dynamics of “pop and commercial culture. The new cultural forces were pursued in the name of “pleasure.” (e.g., The Pleasure Principle).
In the stricter times of one hundred years before this phenomena it would have been less visible and demanding a cultural/religious judgment. The temperance crusade provided a crucial example of this phenomenon of “moral construction.” The use of rum and ale were employed only as an indicator of congeniality, i.e., for purely social occasions as an expression of their new found democratic ritual.
The conflict raged on alcoholic consumption as a mark of social depravity. This new found freedom was not against “twisted Puritans” who delighted in images of sinners in the hands of an angry God who sent such people to “hell.” Clearly, in our postmodern-relativistic culture, both “sin and hell” are rejected in the name of Freudian neurosis. There is no moral foundation which, if rejected, produces guilt against a holy God because there is no more guilt, only “guilt feelings” which are only neurotic responses from rejected norms, thus leaving only guilt feelings, healable only by psychoanalytic therapy. Repentance from sin is no longer a message that the ears of the ears of postmodern man can hear. Redemption is available only by socio/economic psychic modification of environment, plus the gene code.
The undisciplined relativity rule free spontaneous uses of time, especially among young people, was and remains to this day, a matter of personal and social consequences. (See esp. R. L. Moore, Selling God (Oxford University Press, 1994, p. 93). Only the work of humanitarian reformers, abolitionists, utopian dreamers, protectors of the blind and insane—who believed that human beings were perfectible through science, technology and education can accomplish these goals (see my power point of Classical Liberal Assumptions: (1) The Perfectibility of Man; (2) The Inherent Goodness of Man; (3) The Ultimate Reality was “Nature” and (4) the Complete Animality of Man (via Darwinian Revolutions. With the intensification attendant to the results of idleness, --“Pandora’s box is opened.”
The warning against unstructured idleness fell on deaf ears. The efforts to stamp out idle and disorderly recreations were expressions in futility. Earlier in 1846, Henry Ward Beecher spoke of a typical list of amusements proscribed by Protestants in his popular “Lectures to Young Men”—no shooting matches, no taverns, no reading of novels, new newspapers and almanacs; no drinking, gambling, smoking or soldering; no theater going; no card playing or dancing; no attendance at balls, race tracks, or circuses. As for anything suggesting the life of a sexual libertine, Beecher wrote severely that had he a son of such tendencies, he would wish him in his grave. “The plague is mercy, the cholera is love, and the deadliness fever is refreshment in man’s body, in comparison with this epitome and issues of moral disease.” (H.W. Beecher, Lectures to Young Men on Various Important Subjects (Salem, 1846, p. 122f.; compare with Horace Bushnell, Work and Play (NY, 1864).
This arena produced radical separation of “play” and “commercial leisure,” a prejudice of this enormity does not simply disappear. The path of accommodation lay in the reformation of the audience. This phenomena reaches its zenith of influence in our postmodern culture, where audience analysis is imperative, because the “audience is the authority” in adjudicating between alternatives/contradictory claims for allegiance. Entertainment reaches its peak in respectable theaters, i.e., Broadway as the most profitable form of urban commercial culture.
Architecture was used to control public positions as a way of sacral zing leisure by conferring on it some purpose higher than mere enjoyment, was for most of the 19th century a standard way to judge the success or failure of any large public project. The idea of power of architecture carried over into the design of theaters and later movie “palaces,” public parks were conceived to “soften and humanize the rude, and educate and enlighten the ignorant” (see esp. Roy Rosensweig and Elizabeth Blackman, The Park and the People: A History of Central Park (Ithaca, 1992); Ian R. Stewart, Central Park, 1852-1871, the Urbanization and Environmental Planning in New York City (Ithaca, 1973, esp. p. 343); Ellen Weiss, City in the Woods, The Life and Design of An American Camp Meeting in Martha’s Vineyard (NY, 1987); see the classic statement in B. Weed Gorham, Camp Meeting Manual: A Practical Book for the Camp Ground (Boston, 1854), 17 (A fool is born every minute: P.T. Barnum).
The development of this phenomena moves from the ridiculous to the sublime. There was no greater exploiter of this formula of mirthful, innocent amusements than P.T. Barnum. He was the most important innovative force in popular commercial culture in the middle of the 19th century. This master of the psychology of popular taste realized that in order to satisfy the “public taste” there must be “constantly changing attractions.” He contrived to satisfy their new demands via trained dogs, educated fleas, jugglers, ventriloquists, fat men, giants, dwarfs, rope dangers, dioramas of The Creation and the Deluge models of Niagara Falls and of Paris, and American Indians who enacted their “war-like and religious ceremonies on the stage.” P.T. Barnum’s museum was actually a theater that seated 3,000 people, would have been recognized to a later generation as a vaudeville establishment. (Neil Harris, Humbug, The Art of P.T. Barnum (Boston, 1973); and P.T. Barnum, Struggles and Triumphs , ed. By Carl Bode (NY, 1984), p. 394 John Dillenberger, The Visual Arts and Christianity in America: The Colonial Period through the 19th Century (Chico California, 1984); compare the 1984 work of Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: From an Audibility to a Visibility Culture (see my power point overhead chart).
Along with Barnum’s influence came the century of youth emphasis, i.e., the YMCA/WWCA, etc.. This phenomenon was infused with emphasis on art (visible) and devotional aesthetics of American reverence of nature which is the first step to the reverence of nature’s God. Lack in American art was embellished by nature’s beauty, i.e, to “Christianize the sublime” (Barbara Novak, Nature and Culture—American Landscape and Painting, 1825-1875 (NY, 1980), p. 42).
Discovery of Muscular Christianity
The radical accelerated arrivals of German and Irish Catholics into northeastern cities began in the 1840s. These new comers brought the “pleasure principle” to its zenith. The long American preparation initiated and intensified by Barnum was now a part of new “liberal social structure.” Classical German liberalism entered Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Chicago, etc., but not the established Ivy League universities. Soon most top level students were “reshaped” into educated Christian leaders, including our own Restoration Heritage fed on the assured results of Biblical Criticism and the invasion of Darwin’s Evolution (1859)—supposedly destroyed the citadel of classical Christian Theology (note Vatican I (1860-1844) contra Pantheism and Biblical criticism. Compare Vatican II (1962-65) and its assimilation of Kantian constructivism as the new interpretive source of the Christian faith for postmodern audiences. We move from Kant’s constructivism to Postmodern cultural and Epistemological Relativism and Diversity and Pluralism).
Then came the outbreak of blaming Catholics for introducing permissiveness into American society. Irish disorderliness fused with the industrial revolution was a threat to our cultural fiber. The commercial forms of leisure which enlivened 19th century American cities depended on the patronage of working class men and women (e.g., economic downturn in 1850). Class would dominate American culture for the rest of the 19th century (note the coming of Marx’s critique of “The Class Struggle.”)
This is the milieu of enormous heated debate concerning the question of how to deal with “sinners;” was it solely action and/or preaching the Gospel and organizing Bible study programs. This issue runs deep into the 20th century “Modernist/Fundamentalist Debate.” One of the most powerful evangelical voices in this theological tension and its development in the 20th century was Dr. Carl F.H. Henry in his book, the Uneasy Conscience of Fundamentalism (reprinted in 2004); see other bibliography at the end of this paper).
At the turn into the 20th century local chapters of WMCA were winning more adherents among the young men of the middle class than among factory workers or common laborers (e.g., how Dwight Moody influenced the work of the WMCA in Chicago). Horace Bushnell was a major influence in the Protestant clergy (he wrote Christian Nurture). This period witnessed an intensification of the lure of sports that were enthusiastically promoted under the rubric of “muscular Christianity.” This idea had almost limitless possibilities (note the enormous utilization of Christians in sports, i.e., postmodern idolatry).
The tangible problem of this enthusiasm was the intensification of urban sports-- prizefighting and horse racing--was tainted by the association with drinking, gambling and violence. They were no longer “family entertainment.” (The first YMCA gymnasiums were constructed in New York City in 1869. Even Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, and Williams were among the many American colleges that had constructed gyms by the end of the 1850s. Of course, there was extensive revolt against “muscular Christianity.” Even in 1913 the supreme purpose of the YMCA was to lead boys and girls to become Disciples of Christ and pointing them to Church membership. Play did not require a worship atmosphere, only encouraged a spirit of fellowship (e.g., the only Protestant sport was jogging).
See these web sites and books for Christian influence in the sports industry:
http://www.crosssearch.com/Recreation/Sports/ (45 site listings)
Two articles from Christianity Today—“Christian History Corner: Muscular Christianity’s Prodigal Son, College Sports” by Chris Armstrong
The Sport of Saints? By Elesha Coffman
Sports Devotional Bible: NIV, Dave Branon, editor
Impact for Christ: How FCA has influenced the sports world.
Puttney, Cliford. Muscular Christianity : Manhood and Sports in Protestant America, 1880-1920.
Emphasis on Leisure instead of Marketing
There has been a radical shift in emphasis from the 19th and 20th centuries to the environment of Pop Culture of “Amusing Ourselves to Death” (by Neil Postman) and our postmodern culture. “The most important aspect of the battle against prudishness was finally less a battle against morality than a battle to free recreation from the constant need to explain itself.” (R.L. Moore, Selling God: American Religion in the Market Place of Culture (Oxford, 1994, p. 117) The P.T. Barnum syndrome was—there is a connection between profit and wholesome family entertainment. The “non-profit” cultural structure is in crisis of shaping influence in the social structures or our postmodern culture.
The 19th century habit of the Protestant middle classes has all but been destroyed in the citadels of the postmodern temple. Merchants of leisure must “produce” the right reasons to have fun in a culture largely made up of the “Omnipotent Generation.”
The Market and Religious Controversy
The Dynamics of Marketing was that the needs of people needed products and the ability to purchase low-priced products. Christ has been made a commodity for consumption. Redemption of commercial culture entails the commercial means of tapping popular enthusiasms. They did not want religion to become a commodity for consumption advertised as something essential to a happy life and to transform churches into institutions that supplied “Peace of Mind” to the rich and powerful. These cultural innovators had marketing results. Conservative complaints about commercial culture were actually complaints about the operation of free market economy. This entire effort was to cleanse, not to sully or destroy. By then most American churches operated like a business. There is a deep concern over the sinking moral standards and their resistance to change. American church leaders did not set out to create a market system of competing denominations. They did not intend to redeem American commercial culture. Insatiable popular desire for sensationalism and threatened to making a mockery of the Christian idea of religious unity; they could do nothing to stop it. In this context we experienced the largest invasion of non-Christian religions, cults/occult in the history of Western civilization. America is the most religiously pluralistic country in the world.
We are far beyond the emphasis on mesmerism and spiritualism of antebellum America. (Mormonism is the fastest growing religion in America; Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world.) As Western culture becomes intoxicated with the cultural epistemological relativism derived primarily from Freud and relativistic cultural anthropology (the following essays are available on my web site: “Narrative Displacement and The Corruption of Language”; “Christian Witness in the Territory of Terrorism in the Context of Cultural Relativism”; “The Freedman/Mead Controversy and The Death of Truth”; and “The Demise of Truth in Postmodern Interreligious Pluralisms: From the Death of Truth to Relevance.”)
Marketing New American Religions as a Quest for Health
Our journey has moved from Mary Baker Eddy and radical forms of Pentecostalism in the venture into health care. There has been success in media-driven faith healers, the New Age ideologies, the public controversy over Aids and the emphasis on marketing such items as health products to reduce anxiety via promoting relaxation, via diet books, exercise videos and a whole department of athletic shoes. The dynamic of these influences are to suggest how people can live longer and produce financial security. Surely Reinhold Niebuhr was correct by describing the American national past as a massive tangle of ironies (R. Niebuhr, the Irony of American History (NY 1952; see esp. Charles G. Sellers, The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815-1846 (NY 1991); Ronald Number, Prophetess of Health: A Study of Ellen G. White (NY 1976), p. 189); R. Lawrence Moore, “Learning to Play”; “the Mormon Way and the Way of Other Americans,” Journal of Mormon History (1990); Richard Wightman Fox, “The Discipline of Amusement” in W. R. Taylor, editor, Inventing Times Square: Commerce and Culture at the Crossroads of the World (NY 1991), pgs. 83-98). The influences of our cultural revolution are also expressed in film, media, education, etc.
Origins of The Counter Culture: New Age Marketers of Spirituality
Following World War II, there was an outbreak of inspirational commodities which saturated the American cultural landscape. This persistence attempted a spiritual awakening of the late 40s and 50s. At this very juncture in our cultural history there was an outbreak of the Counter Culture and “contentless” emphasis on spirituality (see my essays “Language, Truth and Logic: Dates and Isms—Cultural Indicators from Rationalism to Irrationalism”; “Rage Against Reason: Gurus of Postmodern Irrationalism”; “Demise of Truth in Postmodern Interreligiuos Pluralism”; “An Analysis of Youth Trends: Character Formation of Generation X and Their Children.”
In a 1949 NEWSWEEK magazine reported an increasing number of religious books on the non-fiction best seller lists. Some of the more successful ones were Thomas Merton’s, Seven Story Mountain; Fulton J. Sheen, Peace of Soul and Norman Vincent Peals, A Guide to Confident Living. Sheen and Peale were widely known to Americans because of their radio preaching and Sheen would become a master of television (also The Old Fashioned Revival Hour and The Lutheran Hour via Walter Maier’s preaching). In this same milieu, Charles Fuller would generate the largest religious radio audience in American history. Fulton Sheen scored a big hit in his 1949 retelling of “The Life of Christ, The Greatest Story Ever Told.” When the paperback boom started in the mid 1950s, religious titles were a strong part of the market. (Only Mel Gibson’s 2004 film, “The Passion of the Christ” has transcended the aforementioned audience successes.
Hollywood enters the arena of confrontation between the masses and the Bible. Religious epics were nothing new on film—“the Passion Play” of Oberammergan in 1897, and a nine reel version of Quo Vadis (1912). Cecil B. DeMille produced a spectacular version of The Ten Commandments in 1923 and The King of Kings in 1927. In his earlier work, DeMille presented a cautionary “modern tale” in which all the commandments were broken (how significant this tale would be for our culture of 2004); In 1920s lavish film treatment of Ben Hur, 1926 and Noah’s Ark in 1929 (see esp. Henry Harx, “Religion and Film” in Charles H. Lippy and Peter M. William, editors, Encyclopedia of American Religious Experience (NY 1988), pgs. 1341-1358).
The Federal Council of Churches came into being (as of 1950 the name was changed to the National Council and announced an organization, a Broadcast and Film commission. The response to the NCC’s efforts to control broadcast time came into being when evangelicals formed the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) in 1942) Two years later, the evangelicals created another organization, The National Religious Broadcasters Coalition. By the 1950s, the Southern Baptist convention of Radio and Television Commission promoted a rapid expansion of religious radio and television, which gave evangelicals a clear load in overall air time.
After the 1950s, the battleground shifted to television. The National Association started working with NBC which is transparently “liberal” even according to Andy Rooney of 60 Minutes fame; (by 2004 NBC is a major Left Wing voice in media—see esp. Bernard Goldberg’s book, Arrogance: Rescuing America from the Media Elite (Time-Warner Books, 2003); see also his earlier work, Bias—Tom Brokaw, Katie Couric, Matt Lauer, Leslie Stahl, Mike Wallace and Tom Bradley are clearly left wing liberals. These people are totally hostile to Rush Limbaugh and the entire “Conservative Axis of Evil.” Al Gore said that Fox News and The Washington Times were nothing more than mouth pieces for the Republican Party!
Before the 1950s, Evangelical progress relied on preaching. Innovative programming was expensive to produce but the National Council sponsors retained the luxury of free time. Thus media conflict intensified as the production costs increased. Earlier, Evangelical progress, such as Rex Humbard, started televising his services from Akron, Ohio (ca 1952). In 1 1955 Oral Roberts entered the television ministry and broadcast healing services to audiences who watched primarily out of curiosity rather than conviction... Roberts presented an American version of Lourdes. We now had moved fro m the hysteria of the Cane Ridge revival to postmodern expressions. Money was the message of the Oral Roberts ’ revivals. His business advertisements were presented in “Blessing Pacts” and thousand of dollars flowed into flowed into his coffers.
In the 1960s, the FCC ruling promised to break the network monopoly of the National Council of Churches. Evangelicals made their way on television by buying up bankrupt UHF stations. That was the origin of Robert’s CBN which became the first television station to devote more than fifty percent of its time to religious programming. The story of how Roberts built CBN into one of the largest cable networks and how he devised the 700 Club program with Jim and Tammy Bakker and of how the latter pair left CBN to found the PTL cable network and Heritage USA. Jim Bakker’s spectacular downfall in 1987 that started in the arms of Jessica Helm eventually brought down his fellow Pentecostal friend, Jimmy Swaggart and damaged Jerry Falwell’s enterprises that included the Liberty Broadcasting Network. The collapse of Jim Bakker’s PTL ministry brought many things to public attention, including the distinction between Pentecostals and Baptist fundamentalists. Jerry Falwell took over Bakker’s empire and discovered that he was out of place. Bakker sought to be Walt Disney and Johnny Carson, but soon realized his impossible aspirations. Bakker’s ultimate goal was to “control the user of leisure time” for all fundamentalist Christians. The effort to sell religion was almost at an end—for now.
Into the milieu entered Journals for all mainline religious faiths: (1) Commonweal Roman Catholic), (2) Commentary (Jewish), (3) Christian Century (Liberal Protestants), and Christianity Today (Evangelicals). Religious publishing goes unnoticed, which is the policy of the secular press when compelling the best seller lists. Religious publications fused with the media invasion now encounters the courts’ interpretation of the first amendment and the postmodern identification of Christianity (religion) was professionally organized psychotherapies (see esp. Phil Boyers, When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture (Cambridge, MA, 1992, pb); W. Elzey, “Popular Culture” in Lippy and Williams, Encyclopedia (op.cit., p. 1729).
There was an enormous development when the New Age framework began. From the Moonies to Hare Krishna, the Erhard Seminar, the Institute of Esoteric Transcendentalism, the American School of Mental, the Life Study Fellowship Foundation, and the Institute for the Development of the Harmonious Human Being (see esp. J.G. Melton, The Encyclopedia of American Religions, 3rd edition (Detroit, 1989); Catherine Albanese, Nature Religion in America: From the Algonquin Indians to the New Age (Chicago, 1990); W.M. Ferguson, The Aquarian Conspiracy, A Personal and Social Transformation in the 1980’s (Los Angeles, 1987), and H. Whitehead, Renunciation and Reformulation—A Study of Conversion in an American Sect (Ithaca, 1987).
Even in the new millennium (2004) there continues to be market entries for every imaginable promise, a Promise of a bargain basement Nirvana. Religious Hucksterism has become a professional calling. The new religious practices derive from Asia or any New Age. The postmodern religion controversies are far beyond the classical unmodifiable conservatism or unrestrained liberalism. They derive from a conflict of World Views. From the work of Matthew Arnold (Culture and Anarchy: an Essay in Political and Social Criticism (NY, 1883, xix-xxvii) to the multicultural tolerance syndrome derived from Postmodernism. The classical prejoritive-barbarian is replaced by Pop Culture. No longer is it politically correct to call anti Christian cults or any of an almost infinite number of “religious voices” barbarian or heretical. The religious Market Place has multiplied the “recipes” for effective human action, economic ones to be sure, but also moral and benevolent ones (Thomas Hashell, “Capitalism and the Origins of the Humanitarian Sensibility,” American Historical Review 90 (Spring/June 1985, pp. 342ff.)
This trek through the corridors of religious bargain hawkers should conclude from the brilliant remarks of Jan Butler (Yale University).
Religion in America is up for sale, the products range from a plethora of merchandise in questionable taste, such as Bible-based diet books (More of Jesus, Less of Me), rapture T shirts (e.g., one features a basketball game with half its players disappearing in the Rapture—the caption reads “Fast Break,” and bumper stickers and Frisbees with inspirational messages, to the unabated consumerism of Jim Bakker’s Heritage USA, a grandiose Christian theme park with giant water slide, shopping mall, and office complex. We tend to think of these phenomena, which also include a long line of multi-millionaire televangelists and the almost manic promotion of Christian giving, as a fairly recent development. But as R. Laurence Moore points out in Selling God, religion has been deeply involved in our commercial culture since the beginning of the 19th century. From the period of P.T. Barnum artist Frederick Church, film director D.W. Griffeth and evangelist, Norman Vincent Peal, ranging from the rise of gymnasiums and “muscular Christianity.” (See esp. R.L. Moore, Selling God: American Religions in the Market Place of Culture (Oxford, 1994); also Craig M. Gay, Way of he Modern World or Why is it Tempting to Live as if God Doesn’t Exist? (Eerdman, 1998); Millard Erickson, The Promise and Perils of Postmodernism: Truth or Consequences (IVP 2001); Laury Elder, The Ten Things You Can’t Say in America (St. Martins Press, 2000).
The constant search for leisure in both modern and postmodern culture, occurred in the context of the Enormous Modern Heresy. “Modernity promised us a culture of unintimidated, curious, rational, self-reliant individuals, and it produced. . .a herd society, a race of anxious, timid, conformist sheep and a culture of utter banality.” (Robert Pippen, Modernism as a Philosophical Problem (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990, p. 22)
This phenomenon was described long ago by G.K. Chesterton. “The huge modern heresy is to allow the human soul to fit modern social conditions, instead of altering modern social conditions, to fit the human soul.” (What’s Wrong with the World? (NY: Sheed and Ward, 1910, p. 104).
“Modern man who has emancipated himself for God’s order and usurped the right of God has made for himself the claim: “Behold I make all things new. . . . As he overlays nature with his man-made artificial second nature by technical civilization, so he also substitutes for already slowly developed culture as artificial, planned civilization, which is ugly and inhuman and destructive of real creativity.” (Emil Brunner, Christianity and Civilization, Part Two: Specific Problems (NY: Charles Scribners and Sons, 1949, p. 41).
The godlessness of our culture is a final effort to attend the funeral of “The Death of God”; i.e., the Lordship of God over every dimension of reality (see Klaus Bockmuehl, “Secularization and Theology,” Crux 19 (June 1983), p. 13, and Tage Lindbom, The Myth of Democracy (Eerdmans 1996), esp. p. 18).
The same culture that celebrated the “Death of God” and the triumph of an entirely “secular theology only a generation ago seems prepared to believe virtually anything anyone has to say about the “gods”, transcendence and spirituality today. The radical resurgence of emphasis on postmodern (contentless) spirituality appears to stem from a loss of “secular nerve.” Having liberated ourselves from a divinely inspired and therefore, inherently meaningful universe, we find that we are now plagued by an acute sense of insecurity and homelessness. The postmodern pluralism of theologies tends to leave the modern/postmodern world to self-definition largely intact, thereby repudiating God’s authority. Perhaps we want the coherence that the idea of God was once able to provide for our culture without the inconvenience of actually having to obey the loving creator-redeemer God.
Our mistaken accommodation of modernity (see Jacques Ellul, The New Demons (NY: Seabury Press, 1978, esp. p. 228) has run its course. Stephen Toulmin, has noted the impact of science on Christianity. “Twice already non Christian religions have committed themselves enthusiastically to the detailed ideas of particular systems of scientific theory. This happened, firstly, when the medieval Church naturalized Aristotle and gave his views about nature in authority beyond their true strength. Secondly, when from 1680 up to the late 19th century, Protestant thinkers (especially in Britain) based a new religious cosmology on mechanical ideas the nature borrowed from Descartes and Newton, as interpreted by emphasizing reading of the argument from design. In both cases the theologians were unable to deal with the radical changes in scientific paradigms (see esp. Stephen Toulmin, “the Historization of Natural Science: Its Implications for Theology” in Paradigm Change in Theology, ed. H. Kuegal and David Trac (NY: Crossroad, 1989, p. 237; A. MacIntyre, P Ricoeur, Religious Significance of Atheism (NY: Columbia University Press, 1969).
We Must Not Worship in the Temple of Technique or the Therapeutic
From Descartes, Newton, Freud, Einstein, Planck, Heisenberg, Darwin, et.al., further radical shifts in science occurred calling the Christian paradigm worldview in question. As Leszek Kolskowski recently noted in Modernity an Endless Trial (Chicago University Press, 1990) noted—“the perception of religious sensibility as meaningless resulted neither from science nor from the possible conflict between scientific truth and the content of revelation, but from human preference and from the priority given on our scale of values, to these kinds of mental activities that were likely to increase the scope of our dominance of nature; science was something to be trusted in terms of verifiable effects; religion could not be trusted in the same sense.” (Ibid., pp. 97, 98); see esp. Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Erdmann, 1994, esp.; 83ff. Evangelicals were blind-sided by Marxism, Darwinism, Freudianism, etc., so-called scientific readings of reality.
This trek as to suggest the impact of scientific common sense on American Evangelicalism from the influence of Bacon to Barna and the Church Growth Movement which deeply imbibed on the manipulative and technical orientation (see esp. Lyle Schiller, Forty Ways to Increase Church Attendance (Abingdon, 1988); N. Shawchuk, P. Kotler, B. Warren and G. Ruth, Marketing For Congregations (Abingdon, 1971); and esp. Os Guiness, Dining with the Devil: the Mega Church Movement Flirts with Modernity (Baker, 1993); G.M. Marsden, the Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Unbelief (NY: Oxford University Press, 1994); on the emergence of modern consumerism, see esp. C. Compello’s last chapter in The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987).
Revisiting the Grave Diggers’ File
There are simply not the sort of convictions and aspiration that emerge naturally out of human experience such as G.K. Chesterton so brilliantly has stated over eighty years ago but Barnum and Barna prevailed.
Rooted in reaction against secularizing tendencies, anti modernism helped ease accommodation to law and secular cultural modes. . . . This was an effort to salvage meaning and purpose amid the crumbling Protestant culture of the late 19th century. The sterility of 19th positivism, anti modern seekers nevertheless adapted those symbols for modern ends. . . This martial ideal ennobled not a quest for the Grail but a quest for foreign markets. . .the Protestant ethic of salvation through self-denial to a therapeutic ideal of self fulfillment in this world through exuberant health and intense experience. . . . The anti modernists were far more escapist. They were dominated by the consumer culture.” Of a bureaucratic corporate state. They sought to ease, i.e., adjust to the streamlined culture of consumption. (G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (1920, pp. xv, xiv); also R.B. Fowler, Unconventional Partners: Religion and Liberal Culture in the U.S.A. (Eerdman, 1989).
See my “New Hermeneutical Horizons in Logic, Epistemology and Language Communication;” “Philosophical and Psychological Horizons of Hermeneutics;” “the Search for Truth in Cyber Space;” “Terrorism of Truth: Truth and Theory in Postmodern Epistemology;” and “Whatever Happened to True Truth?” George Marsden, editor, Evangelicalism and Modern America (Grand Rapids, 1984); and his Reforming Fundamentalism, Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicals (Grand Rapids, 1987); D.W. Kelly, Why Conservative Churches are Growing NY, 1972); Martin Marty, Modern American Religions, vol. 2, The Noise of Conflict, 1919-1941), (Chicago, 1987); see excellent examination; Wm. Martin, “Mass Communication” in Lippy and Williams, Encyclopedia of the American Religious Experience, pp. 1711-1726; Ben Armstrong, The Electric Church (Nashville, 1979); David Harrell, Pat Robertson, A Personal, Religious and Political Portrait (May 1987); Steve Bruce, Pray TV: Televangelism in America (London 1990); and his The Rise and Fall of the New Christian Right, Conservative Protestant Politics in America, 1978-1988 (NY, 1989); Mark Silk, Spiritual Politics: Religion and America Since World War II (NY, 1988); and esp. Frances Fitzgerald, “Reflections on Jim and Tammy” The New Yorker, April 27, 1990.
Web site: http://www.worldvieweyes.org/strauss-docs.html
Dr. James Strauss, Professor Emeritus
Lincoln Christian Seminary
Lincoln, IL 62656