The Stream Without the Spring

We’re all on a spiritual journey.  For some it is, alas, away from belief in any sort of great Beyond, and toward a gray, unforgiving materialism.  For others, however, it’s away from embracing the brute facts of matter and time as the sum of all reality.

Receptivity to Truth

It’s hard to understand how one could embrace materialism when he has been the recipient of relative peace, ease and comfort, as Americans have been for the most part in the last 70 years or so, certain notable exceptions aside.  We’ve taken to outsourcing horrors of war, for example, laying it on the shoulders of a strong few. 

For those of us engaged in the push or pull from one direction or the other, (that is, theism or materialism) it can be perplexing, trying to unravel the hard-set prejudices that obtain.  If you’re on the side of Canaan, how do you influence your brother to cross the River Jordan to safety, on his own power?

Bad Memories

One thing’s for sure: not with that old-time religion.  We no longer say (if we ever really did) that “if it’s good enough for grandpa, it’s good enough for me.”  Certainly we don’t fall for the carrot-and-stick hucksterism of a Billy Sunday.  We treat the memory of strong institutional church authority as relics of an outgrown past.


Now we pick over baubles in the spiritual market place.  Underlying this consumerist religiosity is a nagging sense that there might be something to the idea of a supernatural, but only in the most ethereal of abstract ruminations.  What we experience here and now, as the bedrock of the gritty truth of our lived experience; more fundamental than the merely-possible truth of a God as propounder of every particle of matter and every human consciousness, is this:  our own sacred and self-satisfying choices.  We are each of us a god.

It’s Different Now

There was a time when the gospel was received as literally the “good news” for a dying world, which had not heard it.  To be receptive to this seed, however, the soil of the human heart must first be prepared with a sense of:  one, humility (in the sense of what we used to term “fear of God”); and, two, realistic moral self-awareness (what we used to term “shame”). 

It’s different now. Author and thinker J. Budziszewski brilliantly summed it up in an opinion article for First Things, in March, 2014.  He contrasted the early pagan hearers of the Gospel, to the neo-pagans of today:

The pagan made excuses for transgressing the moral law. By contrast, the neo-pagan pretends, when it suits him, that there is no morality, or perhaps that each of us has a morality of his own.


The pagan wanted to be forgiven, but he did not know how to find absolution. To him the Gospel came as a message of release.  But the neo-pagan does not want to hear that he needs to be forgiven, and so to him the Gospel comes as a message of guilt.


Not only was the pagan devoid of nostalgia for a Christian past, he was also unencumbered by the anger of guilt for rejecting it. The neo-pagan is susceptible to both nostalgia and the anger, and he may even feel both at once.


Because the Gospel was new to him, the pagan needed to learn it from the beginning. The Neo-pagan is in a very different position; he needs to unlearn things he has learned about the Gospel that happen to be untrue.


The neo-pagan takes for granted all the good that his culture has inherited from Christendom. In his view, certain things simply got better:  That is just how history goes, or at least how it went.  If he assigns anything the credit, he assigns it not to grace but to such things as science, capitalism, and “enlightenment.” 

He expects the stream to keep on flowing without the spring.

2 thoughts on “The Stream Without the Spring”

  1. God “cares” about the slaves in egypt. He Tells Moses to go to Egypt and free the slaves and take them to Canaan. In the mean time he “hardens” the Pharaoh’s heart so the Pharaoh will not let them. He tells Moses that he is going to create plagues on Egypt until the Pharaoh “gives in”. Why? to show how powerful he is? He literally causes death and destruction on his “own” people, the ones he’s trying to save just to make a point. This can’t be the God you speak of in your blog. This is not an all loving God. This is a maniac. Certainly the creator of the universe, the creator of time and space does not need to “bully” people to convince them that he’s big and bad.
    I get the message being delivered by A darkling plain, but this does not jive with religion, Christianity, etc..

    1. Do you disapprove of God? Or do you say there is no God? It has to be one or the other, obviously. If you say He doesn’t exist, then who cares what the Bible says about what He supposedly causes or doesn’t cause? You can’t say the Bible is God’s word, and at the same time say there is no God.

      If there’s no God at all, then I think you’re going to have an even more difficult time with the presence of evil and of bad things that happen to people. If there is no God, then there is no purpose to anything. Everything that happens is just the result of all the movements of stuff in time that happened before. You do things solely because of the combination of influences on you right up to the moment you do them.

      There is no basis for calling those things bad or good, because there is no real decision-making about them, they just are. (Philosophers would say “no moral agency”). There is no shame or blame or honor or altruism or respect because how can you be faulted (or credited) for simply acting in the way pre-determined by all those movements of atoms from the big bang to this moment?

      And if there is no bad or good — just things that happen — who are you to try to say some of those things are bad; others good? How is it possible to evaluate the existence of God on the basis of Him doing good or bad? How can you reject God on the grounds that He does something you say is bad? Talking of God doing bad or good gives the game away, doesn’t it?

      We have an innate sense of good and bad because God placed that sense in us. In fact, I think that the conscience that we each feel, and the near-universal moral sense that people share, is proof of the existence of God. There is a moral law. There has to be a moral law-giver.

      God is (or, you would say, God is conceived to be) all-powerful, so the existence of any bad thing anywhere happening to anyone indicts God, if we are going to put him in the dock like we would a person. God is the ultimate moral agency, after all. But it is a mistake to do this. We’re looking at the whole thing upside down if we look at it this way. God is not a person like us, who sometimes does good, and sometimes does bad. God defines what is good. It is good if God decrees it. That’s what it means to be God.

      Besides that, people are not innocent. Their own moral failings mean that they’re not in a position to say that what happens to them is wrong, from God’s perspective. Certainly it does not put them in the position to say that what God does is wrong.

      We all die. We may think that some deaths are less just than others, but that again asserts a moral prerogative that we don’t have, if there is no God. Instead, we should consider the meaning of death in general and the meaning of deaths that seem to us unjust. We’re human. We have a poor conception of immortality. This life is fleeting. It is so brief, compared to endless time, and death is so certain. The big lesson, the one that God is screaming at us, is that this life has meaning for eternity, not just for itself.

      You’re concerned not so much with evil, but that God seems to be causing it all. But if there is no God, then He isn’t causing it all. So in your view of reality, what is? Well, it just has to be the way things have unfolded. It’s purposeless evil. We live; we die. No one to be mad at, for bad things, like death. But no One to credit, for good things, like life.

      That’s the world without God. Now if there’s no God, tough. We don’t wish God into existence so we can attach bogus meaning to meaningless events. We must have the truth. We feel it necessary to human dignity. I believe that insistence on truth is planted in us by God. You desire the truth, too, but deny God. What you believe to be true doesn’t even explain the desire for truth.

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