45: No One Was Expecting It
I first came to the States in 1964, a naïve European student, with a full head of hair, who thought he knew everything. One thing took me quite by surprise-the level of Christian influence in the everyday life of American culture. The one thing that threatened that idyll, as everybody knew, was the rise of global communism and the insider influence in the American academy of its philosophical sister, atheistic secular humanism. The great danger, in 1964, as the Beatles flew into Logan airport in their “Yellow Submarine,” was, as some crudely put it: commies behind every bush.
Never, in my wildest dreams, did I imagine that one day I would help lead a think tank in the USA on “Varieties of Pagan Spiritual Techniques and a Christian Response.” That event, CWiPPTHINK, took place January 21-24, 2008 in Escondido, CA. In introducing the event, I asked if what we were doing was of vital significant for the future of our Faith, or merely a specialized interest in a marginal spiritual phenomenon.
A generation ago no one was expecting pagan spirituality in America. Secular humanism, the belief in man’s reason as the measure of all things, was the great enemy of the Church. What happened?
Predictions in the nineteenth and early twentieth century of the final victory of secularism and the disappearance of religion never took place. Freud’s dismissal of religion as a pathology, from which the future utopian world would be healed, proved to be a false diagnosis. Freud would not have predicted the death of secular humanism.
In December, 2006 a BBC poll of young people aged 16-19, in ten major cities in the world, found that a whopping 89% believed in God or some higher power-not exactly a promising pool for the future of secularism. With regards to the political form of secular humanism, the Wall came down in 1989 and Marxist regimes have all but disappeared. The title of a secular, academic literature conference in 2006 suggests something is afoot: God is Undead: Post-Secular Notions in Contemporary Literature and Theory.
What has killed secular humanism? People are beginning to realize that, far from creating a humanistic utopia, secularism has produced two devastating world wars, a series of mounting ecological disasters, and a “disenchantment of the cosmos.” The West has begun to lose its faith, not in religion, but in human reason.
Oddly, the death knell was sounded not by robust Christian witness, but by the “atheistic” postmodern children of secular humanism. The withering barrel of the postmodern laser gun has been aimed not so much at Christianity as at the ideology of Enlightenment secularism, at the belief that reason could deliver objective truth. This postmodern, relativizing of all truth has undermined the faith of modern man in his own rational abilities. This “postmodern” thinking is taught in the vast majority of philosophy departments throughout the world as “gospel truth.”
Alister McGrath asks, “What will replace atheism?” Here is my answer: atheism will be replaced by pantheism. Logos (word) will be replaced by mythos (myth). The conclusion stares us in the face. Postmodernism has brought an end to secularism. But this raises a further question: where does Postmodernism lead us? Lutheran scholar Frederic Baue answers: “[to] a phase of Western or world civilization that is innately religious [emphasis mine] but hostile to Christianity…or worse, a dominant but false church that brings all of its forces to bear against the truth of God’s Word.”
The “New Age” popularizer of a few years back, Marianne Williamson, known as the “guru to the stars,” declared with prophetic insight: “we are in the midst of a revolution that will usher in a mystical age.” Jean Houston, a “seer,” and guru to ex-first lady Hillary Clinton during the Nineties, saw what was happening and had the right word. She observed in 1995: “we are living in a state both of breakdown and breakthrough…a whole system transition, …requir[ing] a new alignment that only myth can bring.”
It is not, therefore, surprising to read a British sociologist, Christopher Partridge who notes a that:
…There is some evidence to suggest that “a rising tide of spirituality…is producing a re-enchantment of the world”…, a return to a form of magical culture.
I remember singing a haunting song in the Sixties, suggesting that someone back then was expecting it:
When the moon is in the seventh house
And Jupiter aligns with Mars,
Then peace will guide the planets,
And love will steer the stars.
Is this the dawning of the Age of Aquarius?