Rebirth of the Gods: The Normalization of Pagan Spirituality
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.