My mother is ninety years old. She has vision and hearing issues, but her mind is razor sharp. We live in different parts of the country and being her only child I make several airplane trips a year to be with her. We talk almost every day by phone. A consistent topic she raises is, “What has happened to our country?” or, “I feel as though I went to sleep and woke up in a different world”. One doesn’t have to live ninety years to identify with those same sentiments.
I have been a pastor for most of my professional life. For eighteen of those years I wore two hats. The first part of each workday I wore a “pastor hat”. That was my day job. But every weekday afternoon I would jump into a phone booth and just like Superman, I would put on another hat. Well, it wasn’t a hat really. It was a pair of earphones and it wasn’t a phone booth, it was a radio studio. Since the radio station format was “Christian Talk” I was hired to, from a biblical perspective, examine politics, culture, and life style issues.
It was a dream assignment. Every weekday I could preach, pontificate, posture, and even get paid for my time. The medium allowed a slightly more irreverent tone than pulpit decorum demanded. In short, it was fun! About ten years into the talk show era I became much more sober about the assignment. My assumption had been the domination of liberal politics for four decades. The solution to that problem seemed obvious. I believed that Christians, biblically informed, and politically engaged, could resolve much of the cultural degradation we were witnessing. We could turn secular humanism on its head with the ballot. After a decade of reading, interviewing, talking to listeners, and seeing biblically informed public policy consistently defeated, I came to realize that there was no substantive foundation for a political solution in our present situation. It was obvious that the portion of the Christian church engaged politically was wedded to partisan passions rather than prophetic vision. Evangelicals who were social conservatives believed Jesus, at His second advent, would surely be riding an elephant. Evangelicals persuaded by social liberalism envisioned Jesus ushering in the consummation of history aboard a donkey. My supposition was predicated upon there being a sleeping mass of evangelicals out there somewhere who, with some education and encouragement, would turn back the massive momentum of our culture toward a post Christian era. My belief was simply unfounded.
What most of the rest of my talk show colleagues and political ilk did not realize is that underneath our radar screen something very radical had occurred. Our assumptions about “Christian America” were false. “Christian America” existed in memory alone, if it ever existed at all in reality.
Enlightenment values had unquestionably succeeded in deconstructing much of the common cultural ethos informed by traditional biblical beliefs about law, the role of the state, traditional marriage, morality, etc. Most Christians were aware of that dynamic. Secular Humanism was viewed, since the 1970’s, as the single greatest of all enemies to biblically informed faith. Other than a political answer for the drift toward our cultural decadence there was not much vigorous analysis going any further than political solutions. The assumption of the Christian Right that the ballot box could be used to retake America for God was simplistic. When I encountered Peter Jones and his work regarding the resurgence of pagan spirituality it was as though I had been smacked by lightening in the head. While Enlightenment notions could deconstruct traditional ones, it could not do one very important thing. It could not absolve, even stark atheists, from the guilt of behaving in ways defying traditional structures and morality. Secularism, atheism, and anti-supernaturalism had prevailed in the West for many years among the “gate keepers” of society. Most atheists even, for much of the modern era, would have subscribed personally to traditional morality and structures and ordered their lives accordingly.
Culture wields great influence at a suppositional level. It conditions us; it desensitizes us, but is not strong enough to give permission to openly behave in ways contrary to our consciences. Cultural influences might tolerate someone else declaring “evil to be good and good to be evil”. (Is. 5:20) However, our own consciences will not permit us to make public pronouncements or act out in ways deeply believed to be aberrant. We might do things in secret we believe to be wrong, but we would not want those deeds “shouted from the house tops”. In order for behavior traditionally deemed evil to be perceived as good, one needs a higher authority than external ideology. Something deep within our beings was created to give us permission from a spiritual authority to reorder our moral sensibilities. Pagan spirituality, retrofitted to fallen human sensibilities, does just that. I am convinced that until the body of Christ repositions itself as the pillar and ground of truth and boldly engages the culture with Gospel truth, the pagan lie will maintain its ascendancy among the gatekeepers of postmodern society.