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Posts Tagged ‘new religon’

It may come as a surprise to some, but today is the National Day of Prayer.  I can’t blame anyone who hasn’t heard, after all, it is no longer covered by the media.  Like most things that pertain to the name of Jesus, it has been relegated to the fringe of our national consciousness.  Ironically, a quick check of the Internet will remind you that it is Cinco De Mayo, and I’m sure that if it were “National Wash Your Pet Day”, that would get a mention as well.  For (at least) the last 20 years the site where I work has held a National Day of Prayer gathering, where employees come together around the flagpole and pray for our nation.  Not that many years ago it was a rather notable event, with the full support of management, and well attended by employees.  But in recent years it has become a very intimate gathering, held in the parking lot.  Though we were granted permission to meet during our lunch break, there seemed to be grave concern about the potential that someone might use a government owned printer to produce a flier for the event.  Though I understand that there are rules about such things, I couldn’t help but notice that the level of concern wasn’t nearly so keen when it came time to printing bracket sheets for the NCAA Basketball Tournament (i.e. March Madness) a couple of months ago.  But such is where we’ve arrived.  I don’t say all of this to imply that people have become evil.  In fact, had this been a hot dog fundraiser for someone with cancer, people would have gladly come and supported it.  It’s not that our culture is embracing evil, it’s that we’re steadily redefining what is “good”.

 

I wrote the following article about five years ago, and at the time, many seemed to feel as though it was a rather harsh assessment.  But as I re-read it today, I couldn’t help but feel that it is a shoe that fits us rather well.

 

America’s New National Religion

 

As I come dangerously close to reaching the half century mark, it is amazing to ponder the dramatic cultural changes that I have witnessed.  As a child of 1960’s, I was born just as the counter-culture movement was reaching full swing and to be sure, those were tumultuous days.  By the end of that decade it seemed as though the revolution had truly begun; but in just a few short years (i.e. by the mid 1970’s) the movement seemed to fizzle into a haze of disillusionment, cocaine and disco music.  Initially, it didn’t seem as though this war on the “establishment” had been very successful in significantly transforming “mainstream” thinking; but with the benefit of hindsight, it has become clear that the impact was far greater than anyone could have imagined.

 

Considering the forty years that proceeded that period, it’s easy to see that the stage was set for something dramatic.  The people had grown weary from decades of constant struggle (e.g. World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War…) and they were restless to break out of that cycle.  As the country found itself on the threshold of yet another significant conflict (i.e. the Cold War / the Vietnam War), the collective fortitude began to waiver.  Many weren’t sold on the idea that America needed to engage in this latest battle, as the voices of dissent began to grow louder.  After years of largely standing united against the external forces of adversity, many started to doubt the wisdom of that approach for the future.

 

In many ways it was a perfect storm and it ushered in a decade of great cultural upheaval.  Most Sociologists would likely characterize this as a time of “enlightenment”, whereby traditional doctrines and values were questioned; and where concerns over the rights of the individual began to gain traction against the concept of what might be needed for the good of the whole nation.  Amongst those cultural elements that were challenged was the largely Judeo-Christian based value system that had been so prevalent during the war years.  From the earliest days of the movement, the seeds of secular humanism began to find fertile ground in the minds of its purveyors.  One aspect of this assault on traditional values was the overt sexuality that would eventually become a hallmark of the movement.  While the general public did not necessarily embrace the hedonism of the counter-culture, there is no doubt that there was a definitive shift in mainstream ideas about what was both normal and acceptable.

 

Although there is no doubt that the culture was changed by those years, I would submit that the greatest impact was still yet to be seen.  By the late 1970’s America was fully emerged in the Cold War era and seemed to have returned to some new state of normal.  At least on the surface, our national trajectory did not appear to be greatly altered; but within the collective consciousness, the seeds of this revolution continued to germinate.  Culturally, as we opened our minds to “new truths”, our belief in absolutes progressively eroded; and with the explosion of new technologies, our sense of self-reliance continued to grow.  With each successive generation, our thinking moved steadily toward moral relativism and secular humanism.  Truths that were once perceived as etched in stone became like balls of clay, which could be molded and shaped into whatever form might suit us.  Our concept of freedom shifted from maintaining a national landscape of opportunity to establishing an atmosphere of personal autonomy and entitlement.  Little by little, who we are and what we stand for, steadily migrated away from where we’d been as a nation.

 

Despite this migration, I do not believe that it would be accurate to say that we’ve arrived at a purely secular humanist point of view.  As an inherently religious nation, we’ve retained many of the trappings of our Judeo-Christian past; and instead of becoming a culture of atheists and/or agnostics, we’ve simply revised our brand of religion.  Despite our pension for rationalization, the vast majority of Americans still consider themselves to be “spiritual” and to believe in some form of “higher power”.  In keeping with the theme of moral relativism, we’ve chosen to retain those aspects of God and religion that we feel comfortable with and to disregard the rest.  This has created a strange amalgam of beliefs that are based on wildly diverse concepts, such as the Bible, Hedonism, Capitalism, Marxist Socialism, the “American Dream” and Darwinian Theory.  Despite the confusion caused by attempting to merge these disparate views, our culture seems to pursue this ideology with such fervor that this hybrid of religious-humanism should likely be characterized as a religion unto itself.  Though many still identify themselves as being a part of one of the more established religious traditions, this new paradigm has largely replaced anything that might pass for an orthodox theology.

 

In this new religion, we still extol the virtues of faith; but now that faith is rooted in the basic goodness of mankind, in the advances in our technology, in the power of our self-realization and in the superiority of our ideologies.  It also acknowledges the value of hope; but that hope is based on the idea that every generation should do better than the one that came before it, and that America is somehow destined to live at a level that is far beyond what the rest of the world does.  It also believes in the concept of love, but does not bind itself to the constraints of things like loyalty, self-sacrifice or turning the other cheek.  Ultimately, this new theology will accept a god who “is love”, but not one who would attempt to hold a man accountable for his deeds.  It will embrace things like angels and prayers and heaven; but it will not accept any orthodox view of sin, hell or judgment to come.

 

Despite the fact that many of these ideas (e.g. enlightenment, humanism, socialism…) are old and have a track record of utter failure, our new found faith frees us from feeling bound to their history; as we are confident that we have somehow evolved beyond the level of those cultures that came before us.  Because of the numerous contradictions inherent in this patchwork of philosophies, it seems almost immune to rational criticism.  After all, if one can reconcile this belief system, it seems doubtful that facts or logic would hold much sway.  If anything, our culture seems to be aiming for ambiguity, as a means to head off the potential for accountability. Within our new value system, the only thing that is truly sacred is our right to choose our own way.

 

Even those who perceive themselves as the guardians of orthodox religion have largely compromised the purity of their message in an attempt to remain “culturally relevant”.  In Christendom, the gospel has been blended with the “American Dream”, to create a message of endless, God ordained, prosperity; or with secular marketing strategies, in the name of evangelism or with futurist doctrines, under the guise of advancing the kingdom of God.  A recipe that’s proven successful at many of the country’s most popular ministries is to mix a little motivational talk, with a pinch of self-help seminar and a cup of musical theater; all served up in the comfort of a posh coffee bar.  It’s all about making the people feel comfortable and to keep them coming back for more; which just happens to play well with the populist view.

 

For the remnant, who still stubbornly cling to the ancient texts of the Bible, this all should come as no real surprise.  The Apostle Paul told Timothy, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths (2 Tim 4:3-4).”  In his letter to the Colossians he warned, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ (Col 2:8)”; and in speaking of the end times he said, “There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness, but denying it’s power (2 Tim 3:1-5)”.  As I turn on the television or listen to the radio or look at my computer or even just attend one of my kid’s ballgames, I can’t help but think that this is becoming a pretty fair description of our culture.  Ultimately it is the fruit of our new national religion.

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