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?
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.