"FOOLS FOR CHRIST" MEET THE GRAVE DIGGERS

(I Corinthians 4.10; Psalms 14.1)

 

In our fragmented culture Christians must not lose sight of the woods while looking at the trees.  The picture is what counts. In our subversive picture we pay constant attention to the Simpson Syndrome. Operation Gravedigger is in process of the neutralization of the Postmodern Church by subversion from within. This subversive activity was expressed long ago by the secret cell in Dostoevsky’s The Possessed. The aim of this cell group was to systematically destroy society and the fabric which held it together; with the object of throwing everyone into yearning for self preservation and some guiding ideal. Then the cell would suddenly seize power. Only fools would let this happen. History is littered with "fools."

 

The Fool Proper - without God this fool fills page after page of the scripture and Sebastian Brant's great medieval satire; The Ship of  Fools.

 

The Fool for Christ - this noble line runs from Paul to Francis of Assisi; from Thomas A. Kempis to the despised and persecuted believers in our postmodern culture (especially in China and Russia). The Fool for Christ in our culture of unbelief is actually a fool maker (cf. "the fool has said in his heart there is no God").  This fool strikes subversively for freedom and for "True Truth."

 

Christ; the Fool - All along our cultural journey he has played a fool while the fool maker has been the adversary (cf. Lazarus and Jesus had the last laugh). Suddenly the truth appeared in a concrete person. This person called for divine subversion. Conversion to Him is the supreme turn-around. The incarnate truth was history's greatest double-entendre. Only this fool can empower the Church to challenge its postmodern gravediggers.  The Church has become captive to its receiving culture before! But what is historically certain is that cultured conformity is never the end of the story for the Church (e.g. Ezekiel 20.32). Postmodern Christians must face the facts and never forget that the West is not The Church. Lest we forget; Christianity contributed to the rise of the modern world; the modern world; in turn; has undermined Christianity. Christianity has become its own gravedigger (cf. Peter Berger; The Sacred Canopy (NY: Doubleday; 1969); R. Robertson; The Sociological Interpretation of Religion (Oxford: Blackwell; 1970); p. 43; Paul W. Blackstock; The Strategy of Subversion (Chicago: Quadrangle Books; 1964); p. 54. The cultural contamination of The Church is presently expressed by the renewed identification of Church and Culture (cf. "In the world but not of the world").

 

Seven crucial pressures have been imploded in our postmodern culture and The Church:  (1) Humanism: Loss of God - Man is the measure and message; (2) Secularism: Loss of Shame (cf. Sin; Guilt; Responsibility after Freud); Loss of ultimate foundations; (3) Privatization: There is no necessary universal norm; Loss of unified cosmos. A related influence is (4) Narcissism: All reality is reduced to a world of meaninglessness. (Nothing means anything; Ecclesiastes 1.2; cf. the German connection of Hegel; Nietzsch; and Heidegger; the French connection of Sarte and Camus). Nihilism is a term derived from the Latin word nihil; meaning nothing; indicating that there is a void of meaning at the center of all reality making human beliefs in absolute meanings and values absurd.  (5) Pluralism: Loss of True Truth. All truth is context bound; i.e.; all truth is constituted by the observer. From Kant forward all truth is contingent truth.  (6). Consumerism: The driving force of our world is based in self identity by the position of things.  Planned obsolescence in production insures constant production of "new things" that are essential for self esteem. Neil Postman; author of The End of Education: Redefining the Values of School (NY: Alfred Knopp; 1995); states that education mostly teaches consumerism. This is another crucial grave digger, (e.g. Oz  Guiness uses these three metaphors in his cultural criticism:  Imaging; Consumerism; and Marketing) and (7) New Age Gnosticism.

 

The cultural indicators concentrate pressures on the Church. These pressures when received will contaminate both culture and Church.  These forces create problems for the Church as it seeks relevance in our Seeker-Friendly culture. In our postmodern cultural maze of immeasurable and unmanageable realities has the Church met its match? The information and micro chip revolution has produced operation countdown. Where is the prophetic council for such a time as this? A Chinese riddle suggests our plight - "If you want to know what water is; why is the fish the last one you ask?" Our culture is in a Cheshire Cat syndrome (Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland). The grinning Cheshire cat disappeared but the smile remained. "Well"; thought Alice in surprise; "I have often seen a cat without a grin but a grin without a cat! It's the most curious thing I shall see in my life." The postmodern Church is too much like Alice's vanishing cat; but it cannot disappear or reappear at will.

 

"The Enlightenment was for the few.  Secularization is for the many." (Owen Chadwick; The Secularization of The European Mind (Cambridge University Press; 1975' p. 9). The Secularization Syndrome has marginalized Christianity. Displacement and Disenchantment of Christianity are twins born into our postmodern culture. Nothing is left to human spontaneity or divine intervention. One devastating consequence of this phenomena is Privatization. "By privatization I mean the process by which a cleavage comes between the public and the private spheres of life and focuses the private sphere as the special arena for the expansion of individual freedom and fulfillment." Peter Berger; Brigette Berger and Hansfreid Kellner; The Homeless Mind (Penguin; 1971*); chp. 3; and Christopher Lasch; The Culture of Narcissism (NY: Norton; 1979).

 

The private world is a world of our "own." This syndrome produced the "omnipotent generation" which was fragmented; dislocated; unstable; unreliable; vulnerable; manipulative; commitment-shy and conviction-less. This phenomenon produced the "last fool" religion. Privatization spawned Pluralization. "Pluralism reduces the necessity of choosing at all." B. R. Wilson; Contemporary Transformations of Religion (Oxford University Press? 1976); esp. p. 87).

 

Two consequences of these subversive activities are: (1) Evacuation from the Public Sphere and (2) Restriction to the Private Sphere. As Oscar Wilde said; "There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about." The Church unites Ecclesia Eleetronica! Here truth is indeed stranger than fiction. In this medium we lose certainty; comprehensiveness; and compelling power.  "Trendy bashing" is not the sport of fools. Fools for Christ must break with the postmodern cultural involvement; with humanism; secularism,' pluralism; privatization and narcissism. Unless it breaks these enslaving chains biblical Christianity will never be more than a harmless; if popular; folk religion.  Only the third fool; Christ; can break our cultural bonds. Augustine affirmed that the cross of the Lord was "the devil's mousetrap."

 

Assertiveness has stolen the show from conviction (not quite what Hebrews l has in mind).  Another grave digger is attempting to bury the Christian faith once more; but as always; it has failed before and it will fail again (Oz Guiness; The Gravediggers (Inter-Varsity Press; 1983) a la G. K. Chesterton; who described how five times The Church has faced its grave diggers.

 

NEW AGE GRAVE DIGGERS

 

What is it to seek for truth and freedom in a postmodern world? A nostalgic return to the "good old days" will be futile. Elaine Risley; a character in Margaret Atwood's novel: The Cat's Eye? says; ". . . post this; post that. Everything is post these days; as if we're all just a footnote to something earlier; that was real enough to have a name of its own." (M. Atwood; The Cat's Eye (NY: Doubleday; 1988); p. 90).  "Postmodernism" was the catchword of the 1980's and will be of the 1990's.  Relativism; secularism; deconstructionism; and world laxity are all around us; threatening like a rushing river.  We live in a world of Kant's philosophical; Copernican revolution; a revolution converting the world of sensible experience into a world that we finite beings create. We live in the world of G. E. Lessing's broad ugly ditch; a ditch separating the truths of history from the truths of metaphysics. Any claim to final absolute truth rests uneasy. What should be our Christian response in this maze of relativism?  (1) We could dig trenches; preparing for a long siege; (2) We could engage in destructive warfare; or (3) We could live creatively and worshipfully in the secular city. Christians cannot carry out the global commission by retreating to the trenches. We must not circle the intellectual wagons!  The postmodern stances of humanism; secularism; pluralism; relativism or narcissism will not do.

 

Perhaps the words of the theologian; Henri de Lubac; can provide comfort/ hope and courage.  "Whenever it abandons a system of thought; humanity imagines it has lost God. The God of "classical ontology" is dead; you say? It may be so; but it does not worry me over much. ...  And if "classical ontology" disappeared; it was surely because it does not correspond adequately with being. Nor is its idea of God adequate for God. The mind is alive and so is the God who makes himself known to it ... God is never left behind among the dross. . . In whatever direction we go? he is there before us calling to us and coming to meet us (Henri de Lubac; The Discovery of_ God; as quoted for Schubert Ogden; The Reality of God and Other Essays (NY: Harper; 1977); P- xiii).  "Heaven and earth shall pass away; but my words shall not pass away." (Luke 21.33)

 

THE GNOSTIC EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

 

There is a fusion of classical gnosticism and postmodern resurgent New Age pantheism. New Age gnosticism seeks to free man from the illusion of physical existence. Just as classical gnosticism believed in the superiority of mind over matter; so does Western New Age. This is pro-choice raised to the "nth" power. Redemption entails mind over matter; female over male as in C. S. Lewis’s The Lady of The Green Kirtle; The Queen of Underland. This malefic female sought by enchantments to convince the Narnians that the overworld (True Spiritual Reality) is but a figment of their imagination and that the only real world is her dark and evil kingdom. However, when cornered by the truth; the witch queen's form begins to alter.  "Her arms appeared to be fastened to her side. Her legs were intertwined with each other; and her feet disappeared. The long green train of her skirt thickened and grew solid; and seemed to be of one piece with the writhing green pillar that was curving and swaying as if it had no joints. Her head was thrown far back and while her nose grew longer and longer every part of her face seemed to disappear except her eyes. Her flaming eyes; they were now without brows or lashes." (C. S. Lewis; The Silver Chair (NY: Collier; 1953; 1970); pp. 159-160).

 

The beautiful woman became a writhing venomous serpent. Malevolent female power is an essential element of aquarian eschatology. The ultimate incarnation of anti-Christ may well be a woman!  "The New Age Goddess Savior holds the key to salvation. Only goddess spirituality can enable humanity to avoid the destruction to which the Semitic/Christian God will inevitably lead." (Richard Writer; "From Pisces to Aquarius Overtaken by The New Age" L'Afari tapes).

Much of radical feminism is borne along by a mythology of the woman as savior. This myth masquerades as history. "This golden age of idyllic society was overthrown by male dominant war-like societies worshipping male gods; hence our present problems of crime; drugs; immorality and greed; and wars of destruction can be solved only by reinstating goddess worship." The New Age movement attributes redemption to Satan.  (Joan B. Townsend; "The Goddess: Fact; Fancy and Revitalization Movement;" Goddess in Religion; p. 179ff).

 

As in Gnosticism; the creator God of Genesis? the foolish Demiurge; has to go. The Self-Savior is the new way to inward consciousness not to recognize one's sin; but to discover how powerful one is. This procedure is clearly propounded in Bultman's radical New Testament claim that Jesus was raised in the faith of the disciples. Joseph Campbell; in The Power of Myth; explains the ascension to mean that Christ "has gone inward. . . to the kingdom of heaven within" (quoted in Douglas R. Groothius; "The Shammanized Jesus;" Christianity Today; Apr. 9; 1991); p. 20).

 

Like the old Gnostics who disparaged the historical Jesus; Primavesi along with the film; The Last Temptation of Christ makes Jesus to be a sinner (Primavesi; From Apocalypse to Genesis; p. 237). Surely Irenaeus; were he alive today; would describe the New Age "Christology" as he described Patristic Gnosticism: "An abyss of madness and of blasphemy against Christ." (Against Heresies; Preface; 2).  (Note the Gnostic influence in the fifth search for the Historical Jesus; e.g. Jesus Seminar and compare Jesus Under Fire.)

 

Shirley MacLaine declares that we are coming out of the Piscean/ masculine/ young age of left-brained intellectual reflection. We are now passing into the Aquarian age of yin; feminine energy of right-brained inhibition and mystic spirituality (S. MacLaine; Going Within; p. 87). The New Age Movement is fed by Resurgent Studies on Gnosticism (1) New Age Gnosticism rests in the rejection of the material world. New Age grave diggers worship "the Great Green One." The goddess; Gaia; Mother Earth; who gives to the universe its basic unity; New Age. New Age redemption is mind over matter; female over male. As in classical gnosticism; the female principle holds the key to salvation. Classical Gnosticism worshipped The Serpent. In our postmodern culture Satan worship is no longer the province of esoteric or marginal thinkers. The Christology of New Age Pantheism is a spiritual state; not a person (cf. cited in Constance Cumbey; The Hidden Dangers of The Rainbow (1983; pp. 31-32). Shirley McLaine declared in her book; Out On A Limb; declares that "I am god." The New Age god has sought to dig the grave of The God who created heaven and earth and offer salvation to all who believe in Jesus as The Christ.

 

Resurgent New Age Gnosticism rediscovered sexuality as the new Androgynous Humanity. This phenomenon is an extension of radical ideological feminism expressed in the sexual revolution of the sixties. This revolution was touted as a liberation from heterosexual male appetites. One more god to worship is democracy. Note that the radical shift from political theory to epistemology, which is the technique for self knowledge (another grave digger's technique for self knowledge is resurgent Dianetics).

 

The Italian Gnostic scholar; Giobanni Felorama; expresses that the road to perfect androgynous balance involves the destruction of the classical male-female differentiation from sexual alternatives and New Age feminism. This movement seeks to bring an end to Judaeo-Christian religion by the feminist movement nourished in goddess-worship paganism and witchcraft that succeeds in overthrowing the global rule of men. The sexual revolution of the 1960’s unleashed a liberalization from heterosexual male appetites and produced the image of the woman as a sexual object.  (Democracy: one more god to worship in the New Age Pantheon.) The self evident truth of the sacred democratic person; the aquarian agenda of gay rights; abortion rights and feminism has managed to make enormous strides in gaining acceptance in mainstream America (George Gilder; Sexual Suicide (The Hew York Times; 1973; p. 135; 192; this work was revised in 1986 under the title; Men and Marriage.) Ironically/ the same democratic system that declares God politically and ethically nonexistent somehow function by drone right and necessity in promoting the cause of Christian liberty. Democracy has succeeded in removing God and gender distinction from the public domain.

 

Homosexuality and civil rights march gayly on. Homosexuality is here to stay because it has been accepted throughout the Harvard Business School. Readers of TIME magazine and attenders of the Harvard Business School are encouraged to consider the possibility that heterosexuality and homosexuality alternatives are really normal when compared to bisexuality which is a sign of unnatural sexual confusion or repression (TIME; August 17 1992; p. 50; see also K. J. Dover; Greek Homosexuality (Cambridge; Harvard University Press; 1978). Both classical Gnosticism and New Age self-consciousness needs stimulation from what Shirley MacLaine calls "spiritual technology." This New Age procedure leads inevitably to the loss of any true identity and even to self-destruction. The bottom line in our postmodern cultural maze is the chaotic transmutation of our unstable society. The goal of New Age is to create a humanity in the image of the god of this world. New Age is the fastest growing alternative belief system in the country. Bill Gates; the Microsoft mogul; foresees digital money and hand-held computers in his long awaited book; The Road Ahead. Gates' book details the brave new world. His Hyperline speaks of the demise of "personal relationships" which are so much in need in our rudderless society. He attacks our vital human relationships? though he denies this. An article in The San Francisco Examiner was written in preparation of the city's recent (1995) Halloween celebration. It included a Hookers Ball and gay and transsexual activities. Here the deviate became normal (a la Roman culture) in our post-Christian; modern culture. The Grave Diggers are very busy; but the Lord of the grave is still in control. He has already buried the grave diggers. New Age pantheism is the most powerful grave digger in the history of Christianity (see esp. Norman Geisler's Apologetics in The New Age (Baker; 1990); and Peter Jones; The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back. Reformed Press; 1992).

 

Dr. James Strauss, Lincoln Christian Seminary, Lincoln; IL 62656-2111