IDOLS IN THE TEMPLE OF TOLERANCE
Our postmodern culture is witnessing the increased seduction of new age spirituality. Richard J. Foster’s Streams of Living Water is an excellent guide through the maze of Church history--celebrating the great traditions of Christian faith. He traces the paradigms of (1) Imitatio: the Divine Paradigm; (2) the Contemplative Tradition: Discovering the Prayer-filled Life; (3) The Holiness Tradition: Discovering the Virtuous Life; (4) The Charismatic Tradition: Discovering the Spirit Empowered Life; (5) The Social Justice Tradition: Discovering the Compassionate Life; (6) The Evangelical Tradition: Discovering the Word Centered Life; (7) The Incarnational Tradition: Discovering the Sacramental Life; (8) We are witnessing New Age Spirituality (see esp. David Jeremiah, Invasion of Other Gods: The Seduction of New Age Spirituality (Dallas, TX; Word Press, 1995). Also, The Death of Truth, esp. p. 212.
Idols For Destruction
From the period of the Counter Culture (from the 60s to the 90s) a new guise of New Age Pantheism has invaded our postmodern culture. “Ten years ago, you may have been on a spiritual odyssey, once again for the first time. Resurgent Eastern Religions and New Age Pantheism and “sacred water” blessed a women’s vigil, a crystal ball, a pyramid, a small brass image of Buddha sitting on a brass leaf, a votive candle, a Hebrew prayer, a tiny Native American basket from 1859 and a picture of his “most sacred place,” madrona trees visible in a pluralism of places.
Resurgent neo-pagan practice such as higher consciousness, crystals, karma, post-life therapy and the healing of memories, together with their gurus, spirit guides, universal forces and higher powers have infiltrated Main Street America.
Dissatisfaction with the materialism of the modern world and anxiety over the coming millennium (Y2K) has driven sincere seekers outside their cultures to explore the other gods of the occult.
God’s Meta Narrative Engages Cultures from
Abraham and the Prophets to Postmodern Idols
If it is any encouragement, what is happening in our postmodern culture has happened before. The prophet Isaiah, seven centuries before Christ, spoke out against the other gods of his day (e.g. this also applies to Abraham, Joseph, Moses, etc.). The kingdom of Judah to which he ministered was not allowing the corruption of bribery, murder and lewdness. Idolatry was practiced everywhere. But herein lies the paradox. “When Israel fell into idolatry, it did not openly renounce the worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in order to bow before the pagan shrines. Rather, the nation combined the old rituals with what it knew of the Canaanite religion. (Herbert Schlossberg, Idols For Destruction (NY: Thomas Nelson, 1983), p. 223).
At the end of the 19th century and the turn into the 20th century our culture was charged with a sense of decadence that the phrase, fin de siele, had come to convey the idea of decline with a foreboding of doom. These fears were not ill founded. Europe and the USA plunged into a devastating world war, then a great depression and then another world war. These disasters have convinced many people (Spengler, Toynbee, Sorokin, Bork, to name a few), that Western civilization has entered a period of breakdown from which it may never recover.
Descriptions of Western Civilization Over the Past Century
The last fifty years, though prosperous almost beyond belief, have been visited with social pathologies that reinforce the sources of those earlier expectations. Our society has been described in such terms as (1) Post Capitalist (Rolf Dahrendorf), (2) Post Bourgeois (George Licktheim), (3) Post Modern (Amitai Etzioni), (4) Post Collective (Sam Beek), (5) Post Literary (Marshall McLuhan), (6) Post Civilized (Kenneth Boulding), (7) Post Industrial (S.N. Eisenstedt), (8) Post Historic (Roderick Seienberg), (9) Post Puritan, Post Protestant and Post Christian (Sidney Ashlstrom) (See Richard J. Neuhaus, Time Toward Home: The American Experiment as Revelation (NY: Seabury Press, 1975), p. 8ff)
Understanding Our Place in History
Edward Gibbons’ history of Rome made spatial analogies, such as the rise, decline and fall commonplace in evaluating civilizations. In the 20th century, organic phase perhaps have become more common, possibly due to Oswald Spengler’s influence. Societies are thought of as being born, growing, declining, dying. Through the requirement of political propaganda, society may be said to a coming of age, to be attaining self-consciousness, to be throwing off the chains of oppression, to be entering a dark age or to be entering a golden age. We make such evaluations because we are not content with mere descriptions of events or recitations of facts and statistics. We want rather, to be able to understand their meaning and we cannot do that without having an idea about the end toward which these events are proceeding. Only those who have reached the nadir of complete Nihilism reject teleological orientation. We can state that society is growing or regressing because we have an idea of what society would be like if it should reach a state analogous to mature adulthood. Only is we know what a society should be like can we declare that society is dying. Or we can speak about the arrival of a golden age because we have in mind a state of full equality or complete order or extravagant prosperity or whatever man would inspire us to use such a phrase.
Idolatry As A Framework For Understanding
All analogues of man’s place in history express a visionary agenda. This raises the question of what analogy Christians are to us in understanding our society? The Old Testament does describe the beginning, of course, and the end of a number of civilizations, but never assesses them as being on the rise or decline, as progressing or regressing, as growing to maturity or falling to senility. The idea of a cataclysmic fall as a result of moral failure is common enough in the biblical literature and analogies relating to the life cycle could hardly have been foreign to nomads, herdsmen and farmers. Spatial and biological analogies are incompatible with biblical thinking because they are both quantatatively oriented and deterministic.
These teleological visions are agglomerations of values. Men may risk everything, including their lives, for family, for wealth, for country, for class or for the Kingdom of God. Even the cynic who believes he is above all this nonsense has established a hierarchy of Values; otherwise he could not identify those values as nonsense. Neutrality is impossible! All idolatrous visions have religious components: (1) A Theory of Knowledge, (2) An Authoritative Literature, (3) A Theory of Historical Relationship, (4) A Cosmology, (5) A Hierarchy of Values and (6) An Eschatology! (See my paper, “World Views in Conflict, e.g. Marxism, Animism, Mysticism, Modernism and Postmodern multiculturalism”)
All forms of Idolatry are substitutions of what is Created for the Creator. People may worship nature, money, mankind, power, history, or a social and political system instead of The God who created them all. The New Testament writers, in particular, recognized that the relationship need not be explicitly one of cultic worship; man can place anything or anyone at the top of his pyramid of values and that is ultimately what he serves. The ultimacy of that service profoundly affects the way we live. What the society around us is turns away God to idols; it is an idolatrous society and therefore is headed for destruction.
“The previous generation of evangelicals were responding to Atheism of that time. . . so they set out to prove that there was an affirmative answer to the question, “Is there a God?” But the postmodern question to answer is, “Which God?” (Andres Tapia, “Reaching The First Post Christian,” Christianity Today 12 (Sept. 1994), 22)
Oz Guinness and John Seels, editors, book, No Other God--Breaking With The Idols of Our Age (Moody Press, 1992) challenges all believers to understand the times and our postmodern challenges of Idols For Our Destruction. Multiculturalism and New Age spirituality are camouflaged in respectability. These forces wear the garb of neo-pagan tolerance.
The Shepherd and The Wolves
Francis Schaeffer, one of the greatest voices to address our cultural chaos especially in the 1970s, asked us all “Where are the tears?”--for the condition of our culture and too often the Churches! Where is the brokenness and compassion for our nation that is forsaking God? The growing seductive power of New Age Spirituality may be the answer.
As Paul was leaving to go to Jerusalem, he gathered the elders of the Ephesian Church and said to them, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. And so from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.” (Acts 20.19-31)
The Marginalization of God in Multicultural Pluralism
In the post World War II period, Richard M. Weaver brilliantly located our malaise. He declared that “There is ground for declaring that modern man has become a moral idiot.” (Ideas Have Consequences (University of Chicago Press, 1948, p. 1) Between the works of Weaver, Reich, Toffler, Marcuse, Naisbitt, M. Scott Peck, Shirley MacLaine, Marilyn Ferguson, our postmodern “savage wolves” are dressed for success (MacLaine, Out On A Limb (NY: Banta Books, 1983, p. 333), Peck, A Road Less Traveled and Further Along The Road Less Traveled (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1993), p. 155), and Ferguson, The Aquarian Conspiracy) Los Angeles: Torcher, 1980),p. 23)
Some of us said that this new age, irrational mysticism was much ado about nothing, that it was a fad similar to the hula-hoop and the Flower Children. How wrong we were. This force has invaded our culture via Outcome Based Education and Multiculturalism and the left domination of the media. New Age spirituality is no longer considered “bizarre”; it has found its way into American culture. New Age devotees have turned in their headbands and icons and donned business suits and dresses. Their targets are the schools, media, corporate America, government, health care and our Churches, just as the Medes and the Persians crept into Babylon while Belshazzar was throwing a drunken party (Daniel 5.1-31).
Invasion of New Age Spirituality
In the 1960s the Hippie Movement wanted a life free of responsibility and national loyalties. “Make love, not war” was the battle cry! Vietnam separated Americans into doves and hawks and the deaths of President John Kennedy, Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King fueled national unrest. There were marches in Washington, burnings and riots on college campuses and doubts that America could survive the violent decade. The 1970s saw the Flower Children beginning to fade and inflation starting to blossom. Even the cost of mailing our first class letter increased from 10 to 13 cents. We were shocked by the Manson family murders and the kidnapping of heiress Patty Hearst. A Gallup poll showed that forty percent of adults in the U.S. attended Church services weekly, although mainline Churches were beginning to lose members. The 70’s were the decade of the Evangelicals (TIME magazine article)
Materialism marked the 1980s. Fortunes were made as inflation escalated real estate values. America has a new wave of patriotism and optimism with the crisis of the Communist system, and concomitantly of the USSR, becoming increasingly more profound in the mid 80s and with the fall of the Berlin Wall in November of 1989. The world seemed to be in overdrive as news events with international implications multiplied faster than snow in Vail, Colorado or popcorn at a ball game.
The decade of the 90s has seen optimism of the past dwindle as the American scene is clouded with violent crime and widespread immorality. Our moral compass is off course and people are searching for the missing spiritual dimension. The baby boomer generation and their children are frightened about the future. Their boomer-rang children are exposed to more immorality, violence chocking their cities and government eating their dollars. On the other hand, they are open to spiritual concerns “if they are approached in the right way”, says Russell Chandler in Racing Toward 2001.
The Fuller symposium on Generation X concluded that this generation’s major preoccupations were: (1) the search for meaning; (2) the search for relationship, (3) lack of concern for “Dogma,” and (4) search for “spiritual mooring”. Our postmodern cultural maze is “grounded” on (1) the Death of God, (2) the Death of Man, (3) the Death of History, (4) the Death of Science, (5) the Death of Language, (6) the Death of True Truth, and (7) the Death of Culture (e.g. multiculturalism is resurgent tribalism).
Perhaps a brief outline of major religious world systems might locate the source of much concern: (1) Theism (Gr. God)- one religious system is monotheism. This perspective is expressed by Christianity, Judaism and Islam. (2) Atheism - this position denies the existence of God. Atheism means “no god.” Secularistic humanists are atheistic. They believe that the idea of God is irrelevant and irrational. (3) Agnosticism - where Atheism denies God’s existence, Agnosticism declares that it doesn’t know whether God exists or not. (4) Polytheism - this position asserts that there are many gods. The Greeks, Romans, the people of South America and Africa are polytheists. Mormonism is polytheistic (Joseph Smith, The History of The Church (Salt Lake City: Desaret Books, 6.305,6). (5) Pantheism - in another form this position declares that “everything is god,” i.e., trees, animals, birds, people, etc. Process philosophy and the environmentalists are most often pantheists.
This New Age religion emphasizes self-realization or Christ consciousness. Buddhism and New Ageism are pantheistic, as in Hinduism and its sects, such as Hare Krishnas, even though they embrace polytheism as well. All reality is divine. The new spirituality has replaced New Age’s supermarket of beliefs, and millions are buying its poisonous products. J.D. Salinger’s short story, Teddy, is pantheistic. A spiritually precocious youngster recalls watching his little sister drink her milk. He says, “All of a sudden I saw that she was God. And the milk was God. All she was doing was pouring God into God.” (J.D. Salinger, Nine Stories (NY: Bantam Books, 1971), p. 189)
New Age pantheism asserts that all is god and therefore no difference between good and evil. The universe according to this view is amoral. Our postmodern culture emphasizes “unmorality.” This culture is the first to have a “moral agenda” without any “meta narrative” from which to critique alternative perspectives. They have no basis for any critique!
Postmodern Alternative Spirituality believes in the finality of experience. There are only two sins in the postmodern Temple of Tolerance: (1) Claim to True Truth and (2) Claim to objectivity. Indirect relativism and mysticism of Eastern and tribal religions are compatible with postmodernist assumptions. These independent developments are being merged into one cultural consensus, e.g. New Age Pantheism. Since postmodernists claim that all reality is a “Social Construct” there can be no meta narrative to critically engage contradictory alternatives.
Since all reality is a “Social Construction” postmodern neo evangelicals, et al, talk of “community construction” of faith without any basis of a “community of believers.” Why believe anything? This spirituality is without content and truth! The new spirituality gives carte blanche to our behavior. There is no right or wrong; it’s everyone’s personal experience that is the final judge. This position emphasizes “higher consciousness” and intercession of higher spirits. Psychics and mediums have been with us at least since King Saul disguised himself and slipped into Endor to ask a woman who was a medium to conduct a séance for him. Today, we can view a medium/psychic on television in our own living rooms, for a fee. Scriptures say, “The Spirit clearly says that in the latter times, some will abandon the faith and will follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” (I Tim. 4.1 and Acts 20.29-31) (See my paper, “Resurgent Satanism in Our Postmodern World.”)
Marxism is gone or in total disarray (but not in China or Cuba). Capitalism appears helpless before third world hunger. Materialism has been weighed in the balance and found wanting. In fact, leisure time is replacing money as the number one desire-- “Killing time before time kills you.” In too many places the Church possesses a passionless “head knowledge” about God. The house has been swept clean and people are looking for new answers. This influence has infiltrated ministerial associations, our educational system (e.g. the National Association of Education), medical offices, and it has even taken up residence in the White House, of all places! It is the subject of countless talk shows on TV and no one is laughing at the new Eastern Way of looking at things anymore. America still has the dominant role in international leadership, but it is a leadership that is not Christian; Humanistic Spirituality is filling the void.
If our situation expresses a cancerous diagnosis, where did it all begin? If our answers are all based in our experiences, we must note that we never see environment; as Oz Guinness says we never see time and space or light but we see through them. That means that we are influenced by ideas we do not notice and therefore are not aware of their effects on us. Or, if we see the effect, we find it difficult to discover the cause. Given our media-saturated existences, we would do well to consider how Keynes’s academic scribblers (of which he is one) affect us. Surely Peter Berger has accused opinion leaders in the Church of taking their cues increasingly from the “official reality” definers. That is, from the highly secularized intellectual elite. (Peter Berger, “A World With Windows” in Against the World For the World (Berger and Neuhaus, eds., (Seabury Press, 1976), p. 12)
Berger is correct in his analysis that “the essence of liberalism is to be contemporaneous and of the essence of being an intellectual is to know what is contemporaneous.” (Peter Berger, “The Liberal As The Fall Guy,” The Center Magazine vol. 5, no. 4 (July-August 1972, p. 39) Berger analyzes a self-inflicted wound. W.R. Inge must have had postmodern intellectuals in mind when he made his famous remark that he who marries the spirits of an age soon finds himself a widower.
Berger is perhaps correct that both the liberal and postmodern intellectual have used up all their capital and fallen into bankruptcy. As Christians began their 19th century retreat before the new ideology, their retreat was into forms of pietistic, existential forms of anti intellectualism, ultimately falling into irrationalism (see my paper, “Two Counter Cultures in Postmodern Confrontation: From Rationalism to Irrationalism” II Cor. 10.5).
Postmodern Christians are exposed to contradictions and paradoxes that come from the attempt to be relevant by merging the True Truth of The Gospel with faltering creeds of the surrounding theological cafeteria of ideas and agendas. A pluralistic culture heralds the virtues of paths that have no exits. Thus Postmodern man worships In The Temple of Tolerance (see my essay by this title, “Chameleons in the Postmodern Temple of Tolerance”).
James Strauss, Lincoln, IL 62656