Results tagged “culture; cultural change” from Reformation21 Blog

Rebirth of the Gods: The Normalization of Pagan Spirituality

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We used to talk about the New Age. When I first began to think about how a worldview can shape culture, New Age was all the rage. Now noone even mentions New Age. So it must have failed, right? Actually, quite the opposite: it became normal. That phrase "spiritual but not religious" is just one indication that people have accepted the paganism which New Age tried to establish.

During the 1990s, First Lady Hillary Clinton took on an advisor by the name of Jean Houston. Jean Houston is a brilliant thinker, but she's also a medium and very much a child of the New Age.1 Houston said in 1995, "At this time, we are living in state of both breakdown and breakthrough: a whole system transition requiring a new alignment that only myth can bring." And the myth that she proposed was in the book that she published that very year, The Passion of Isis and Osiris.2 Houston assured readers that they were living in mythic times, and that they could communicate with those mythic beings remembered as Isis and Osiris. That vision of the future, based on ancient myths, can be clearly seen in the reconstruction of our culture. Some of the powerful people in this movement talk about a new humanism, a new cosmology, a great work that we have to produce. And many of those people find themselves in the United Nations.

There has been some serious work done on this subject, including two important books recognized by anthropologists as essential to understanding who we are. The first one is Colin Campbell's The Easternization of the West: A Thematic Account of Cultural Change in the Modern Era.3 Many sociologists endorse this book as a plausible case. Campbell himself says that, "Easternization is currently occurring in the West...quite unlike anything previously experienced." He continues, "And what has been lost is faith in Christianity and the power of reason." That's very interesting; Christianity and secular humanism are both victims of this turn toward Eastern spirituality.

The second book was written by Phillip Goldberg, a western Jewish convert to Hinduism. His book is entitled American Veda: From Emerson and the Beatles to Yoga and Meditation--How Indian Spirituality Changed the West.4He says "We are all Hindus now." And also, "America is engaged in a reconfiguring of the sacred, based on Hinduism--a reconfiguration Goldberg says is "comparable in power to the Christian great awakenings of the 18th century."

In perhaps the most luminous verses in the Bible, the apostle Paul tells us about this kind of paganism: "they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!" (Rom. 1:25). In an incredibly insightful statement, Paul actually says there are only two ways to be a human being: you either worship creation in a thousand different ways, or you worship the Creator who is blessed forever. That statement, uttered in the first century, has always been true, and it's certainly true today. Some might say, "Oh, these are such complicated issues. There are hundreds of different ways to worship God." No, there are only two ways: you either (1) worship creation in hundreds of different ways, or (2) you worship God, the Creator who is distinct from us.

To make this simple, I came up with two phrases: "one-ism" and "two-ism." The Bible is basically simple. One-ism stems from the worship of nature, which only sees nature as reality. Everything in nature is united together and worshiped as ultimate. Thus, everything is the same. The view that "all is one" comes from this perspective. In this way, one-ism becomes the great solution to all our problems, actually. Its approach is as follows: "We're divided, we must bring people together." To do that, of course, we must get rid of distinctions. And so one-ism tries to obliterate all distinctions, and any notion, of the binary.

What does binary mean? It means distinctions. It means "two-ism." And, of course, that's what worshiping the Creator actually requires. If there is not only nature but also the Creator of nature, there are two kinds of reality. This is the essence of the Christian faith, and it's the very first line of the Bible: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). In other words, there is God, the Creator, and then there's everything else: creation. That makes two kinds of existence, right? And these two--God and creation--cannot and must not be confused. This is exactly what happens in paganism, where God is brought into the creation as simply that sort of power that is inside everything and everyone. Christianity's two-ism, you see, is in direct opposition to what we see today in our culture, which is the determination to destroy the binary in all its forms.

This determination to eradicate the binary is prevalent in non-Christian spirituality. I once came across a lecture by Andrew Cohen, another formerly-Jewish Hindu. Cohen asked, "Why is it important that there is only one, not two?" I was surprised to hear this, since I had just published my book One or Two: Seeing a World of Difference5 (a book he should have read). "All our problems stem," he said, "from those who believe in duality." He concluded that the discovery that there is only one, not two, is the solution to all our problems. Even more fascinating was Phillip Goldberg's statement in American Veda: "Americans are now buying a fundamental notion of Hinduism which is known in Sanskrit as Advaita." To my great surprise, I discovered that Advaita means "not two." Hinduism, which has come into our world with such power, carries the message, "Not two; everything is one." And that kind of spirituality is driving so many ideas, even within our churches, causing us to quickly change the way we look at existence in terms of the being of God and the nature of ourselves as human beings. We want to cram everything into one.

In the next post in this short series, we will give consideration to how shifting world-views have impacted sexuality in American culture. 

 

1. In her role as a medium, Houston at that time purportedly got Hillary Clinton involved in some kind of relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt. A disclaimer: the newspapers said it was an instance of two brilliant women simply talking about Eleanor Roosevelt.

2 In Egyptian mythology, Isis is the goddess of the magic, fertility, motherhood, death and healing while Osiris is the god of the afterlife and the underworld.


*This is the second post in a series by Dr. Peter Jones.

Rebirth of the Gods

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When I moved to the United States from Great Britain in 1964, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. America seemed so Christian then. The only dark blot on the landscape was that people feared the rise of Marxism throughout the world. Communism was the great threat, the political expression of what we call "atheistic humanism."

Two years after I had arrived in America to study theology, I was asked to be part of a seminar on the "Death of God" movement. Some time ago, there was a group of so-called theologians describing the death of God, and it was taken seriously enough to be part of a seminar in a theological school. The whole point was (as expressed by one of its leading theologians, T.J.J. Altizer) that God had so completely incarnated himself in the world by the act of dying on the cross that he liberated man from any alien transcendent divine power. As we sat around, my professor and the students were convinced that this was clearly an indication that secular humanism was victorious--that it was going to overtake the West, and that this was the great opponent of the Christian faith. What we didn't realize was that there was another member of the "Death of God" group by the name of David Miller, who was Professor of Religion at Syracuse University and was actually on the publishing committee for the Society of Biblical Literature. This man had a powerful role in determining what was published on the Bible.

David Miller actually published a book in 1974 (which I discovered much later), entitled The New Polytheism.1 In that book, Miller gave this prediction: at the death of God, we will see the rebirth of the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece and Rome. It was a confusing prediction: the rebirth of the gods? What does that mean? Miller seemed to know something about the so-called great achievement of secular humanism that nobody else did.2 What Miller had understood was that the death of God was not the death of the notion of the divine; it was the death of the God of the Bible (as Altizer had said, any alien transcendent divine power). You see, that's what people don't want; they don't want the God who is transcendent, sovereign, and independent of us, and so that God has to be killed. Since that time, in their minds, this God has been slowly put to death.

The Demise of Secular Humanism and Postmodernism

We have seen how Christianity has diminished in its cultural influence, but what's surprising now is the demise of secular humanism. Secular humanism is pulling back, losing power. And in its place we see what you might call the rebirth of pagan beliefs. The death of secular humanism occurred after a whole series of events. Humanism promised that by reason-- by man's brilliant thinking--we would save the world. But then we saw two world wars and the destruction of millions of people via the so-called secular humanists, men like Stalin, Pol Pot, etc. And people began feel alone, facing a world without any kind of spirituality.

Many intellectuals of the 19th and early 20th centuries predicted that expressions of religion would finally disappear. Karl Marx considered man the supreme deity and religion "the opiate of the masses." Friedrich Nietzsche said "God is dead... and we have killed him." Freud, in his book, The Future of an Illusion, spoke of religion as a mass delusion or collective neurosis from which we needed healing--a kind of mental illness. "Secular humanism is bound to take over," they reasoned as a group.

That was the prediction, but not the reality. Secular humanism failed because of all the problems that it brought us. Many factors contributed to its destruction. One of the things that has been destroying secular humanism is postmodernism. Postmodernism uses reason to critique the use of reason by the secular humanists. The problem with that is that it is impossible to think rationally, and there are no objective explanations of existence. That meant the death of postmodernism as well; after all, why should we believe the rational analysis of these postmodernists who are claiming there is no such thing as rational analysis?

We have seen the death of secular humanism and even postmodernism. But what about the transformation in our culture that was predicted by David Miller--the inroads of the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece and Rome? Miller probably should have added the gods of the East as well, because that's really what we have seen. If a picture's worth a thousand words, we can learn a lot from a picture posted by the Huffington Post in 2016: that of twenty Canadian policemen, in formal dress, sitting on prayer stools in a Buddhist temple.3 This was organized, I guess, by the chief of this group of policemen, who had these policemen practicing mindful meditation from Buddhist philosophy. The photograph offered an interesting juxtaposition between traditional Western values for law and order, and a wholly different worldview of Buddhism.

How does this take place? Our culture has changed in ways we were not expecting. Our culture is not a secular humanist success, but is in fact deeply spiritual. You know the phrase, "I'm spiritual, but not religious?' That is a useful description of where we are now as a culture. People want spirituality; they don't want secular humanism. Something odd has happened to make this possible. Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, the former hippie-radical-intellectual, made an incredible statement about the 1960s revolution towards the end of her life. She said, "Within a remarkably brief period, a cataclysmic transformation of the very nature of our society took place." As this "cataclysmic transformation" took place, we saw the reemergence of ancient paganism in the West. Another observer, journalist Melanie Phillips, saw the same thing. The real agenda of what she calls the "attack on Western civilization" has been the use of sexuality as a battering ram, destroying the fundamental tenets of Western culture and replacing them with a new type of society altogether. Included in these tenets are all those Christian notions of who God is.

In the forthcoming posts in this series, we will turn our attention to consider the shifts that have occurred in American culture--specifically with regard to two overarching categories, spirituality and sexuality.


1. David Leroy Miller and James Hillman, The New Polytheism (Thompson, CT, Spring Publications, 1981).

2. As it turns out, Miller was a close friend of Carl Jung, and actually taught in the various Jungian foundations.

3. See Mohamd Omar, "Meanwhile in Canada, Peel Regional Officers Meditate in a Temple," Huffington Post, April 14, 2016.


Dr. Peter Jones is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is the Executive Director of truthXchange. He is the author of One or Two: Seeing a World of Difference

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Last week I posted a piece suggesting three principles by which the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) may respond to the call to confess racist tendencies in the years leading up to its founding.  One of these principles was to carefully observe the doctrine of the spirituality of the church.  I have noticed recent objections to this principle, including from fellow ministers in the PCA.  This surprises me, since the doctrine is plainly expressed in the Westminster Standards.  It has also surprised me to learn that in recent presbytery meetings of the PCA motions have been made to form permanent social justice committees.  At least one presbytery also received a motion for the PCA to publicly call for financial reparations from white people to African Americans in compensation for the institution of slavery that existed in America prior to 1865.  These actions would seem to oppose the spirituality of the church.

The Westminster Confession defines the spirituality of the church in this language:

Synods and councils are to handle, or concern nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate." WCF 31:4


Every officer in the PCA has taken a vow to this confession and thus to this language.  Therefore, unless an exception has been sought and granted, one might expect church officers to support this doctrine.  Even more significant is the strong biblical basis for the spirituality of the church.  It turns out that this doctrine was not invented by racially-insensitive white Christians but by Jesus Christ and his apostles.  One way to see the biblical teaching is through the proof texts of the Confession.

The first proof text offered is Luke 12:13-14, where a man came to Jesus asking him to become involved in an inheritance dispute: "Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me."  Jesus' answer revealed his priorities: "Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?"  Here was a civil justice matter involving important principles, not to mention the impact on the people involved.  We may presume that Jesus was fully away of the correct solution.  But Jesus declined to speak publicly on the matter because his office was not concerned with civil justice.  The logic is that if Jesus declined to "intermeddle with civil affairs," this same principle would extend to the officers of his church.

The second proof text is more familiar.  In Jesus' public trial, Pontius Pilate demanded to know if Jesus claimed kingship.  Our Lord answered, "My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence" (Jn. 18:36).  Here we have a plain statement from Jesus about the spirituality of his kingdom: it is not pertaining to the matters of this world.

A third proof text is Matthew 22:21, Jesus' famous declaration, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's."  Here, Jesus acknowledges a secular realm and a spiritual realm, refusing to intermingle them in the matter of taxation.  Jesus would have known full well that Caesar used taxes unjustly.  But he told his hearers to pay them because that was Caesar's responsibility and not his.

To these clear proof texts, we may add the fact that in Philemon, Paul appeals to his reader not on the basis of civil justice but on the principle of love.  Paul did not issue statements about the institution of slavery but suggested a personal course of action befitting a Christian.  To be sure, Philemon does not endorse or defend the institution of slavery (as many 19th century Christians falsely taught).  But it does show how the apostle restricted himself to the spiritual realm pertaining to the kingdom of Christ.  This principle is seen in all of the apostle's ministry, in which he did not address himself to the profound social injustices around him but instead preached the gospel and planted churches.

Perhaps most important of all is Jesus' Great Commission, where the church receives its mission directly from the Lord: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Mt. 28:19-20).  Here, the mission of the church - which its organization and activities should reflect - is evangelism, discipleship, and church building.  This is the great work of all history to which we are privileged to be called.  There is no evident biblical basis for the church to add other missions, such as social justice, to the commission given by our Lord himself.

Some might read these materials and conclude that Christians have no civil duties at all.  But this is mistaken, as Jesus emphasized in Matthew 22:21.  Christians have civil duties as citizens.  As Christian citizens, our involvement - including political activity - should reflect the ethics and values of God's Word.  But the church as the church does not have civil authority and does not have a warrant, as the Confession says, "to intermeddle with civil affairs."  When there are extraordinary cases to which the church will speak, it should restrict itself to "humble petition," whereby it declares the express teaching of Scripture, with its good and necessary consequences, and avoids comment on political strategies and endeavors.  The PCA has carefully observed this distinction in the past with respect to such vital matters as abortion and sexual/gender perversion, often refusing at its general assembly to issue political statements.  We will be blessed to follow this biblical approach in other important civil matters, including racial strife and purported matters of social injustice.

Jesus commanded the church to "teach [disciples] to observe all that I have commanded" (Mt. 28:20).  This ought to make Christians model citizens whose public and private conduct reflects the teaching of God's Word and the presence of God's gracious Spirit.  With this in mind, Christians should be urged to oppose racism and its institutions and exert their influence in the direction of racial reconciliation.  But the church has a vital spiritual mission, the eternal importance of which mandates its entire attention and resources.  Our mission, which ought to be reflected in the church's public statements and permanent structures, is well stated by the apostle Paul: "We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God" (2 Cor. 5:20).

Read it here. This should be pretty unsettling for anti-institutional pomo types. But I'd really love to know what our resident Marxist Historian thinks about the "Hunter Thesis."