|How did the
modern view of life as a "machine" produce bitterly competing secular philosophies
in the 20th century?
On the one hand
it produced modern Liberal-Democracy--with the view of the State as the
secular mechanism uniting the total number of individual humans into a
single community, guided by the "nerve center" of the machine elected by
the people. Liberal-Democracy has not been totally efficient--but
tries to be fair and responsive to the will of the people it draws together.
On the other it
produced modern Authoritarianism--with the view of the State as the secular
mechanism under the uncontested command of the all-important nerve center
(the Dictator and his men) directing all the individual humans under his
control. This "elitist" approach to modern politics was cruel but
very efficient in the redesign of the mechanism of State.
Produced the Emperor
Russian Soviet system
German Third Reich.
World Wars One
and Two and the Cold War: a bitter feud between these competing modern
How did the
1900s mark the height of the modern secular Liberal-Democratic spirit--at
least in the "West"?
The most important
impetus for this Liberal-Democratic spirit was found in the vast material
success for America and subsequently for the "Free World"--as "testimony"
to the superiority of the Liberal-Democratic state and society.
In part it rested
also on the decision to resist the potential appeal of authoritarianism/Communism
through teaching the youth to challenge all authority--to think strictly
on their own.
was founded on the idea of all standards of judgment as being strictly
natural/strictly internal to the human being. Even the authority
of the past cultural legacy must be challenged.
tear down all the corrupt old in order to make room for the new and perfect
to grow up in its place.
Hippie or Boomer Revolution challenging "authoritarianism" in our own society:
the massive State
(especially the Department of Defense)
even the ("patriarchal")
How did the
1970s and 1980s see much of this spirit in disarray?
There were major
of Boomer Hippies to form viable human relationships
the need for drugs
and political crusades to create a synthetic mood of togetherness
the failure of
drugs and crusades ultimately to sustain Boomer hearts (producing the resulting
retreat into "self")
the massive breakdown
The rising post-Boomer
generation thus ended up in a personal drift--and an attempt to repair
the psychological damage caused by the Boomer parents through finding a
new "self" in secular professionalism.
How was the
church and Christianity challenged by 20th century modern secularism?
In many places
the church was itself intimidated into submission to the authoritarian
state--or simply eliminated altogether.
the German church to get in line with its Nazi program (The German "Confessing
Church" resisted and was driven underground)
closed the church, confiscated all its properties and made the practice
of Christianity illegal.
Mao followed the
same policy as Stalin (his successors in the 1980s permitted "state-approved"
churches, but banned independent churches).
In Europe since
World War Two the challenge has been more subtle:
In Europe, the
church is supported by state taxes. This is about all that keeps
the churches of Europe alive. The European church today has no longer
any strong moral or spiritual influence on the European secular culture.
At best the European church serves occasionally to offer traditional rituals
(baptisms, weddings and funerals) to mark key personal and family milestones
along life's ways. Otherwise churches are almost totally empty:
Because the Christian
faith poses in Europe no serious challenge to secularism, by and large
the secular culture around it simply ignores Christianity.
In America the
situation is more complex because Christianity continues to command the
loyalties of a large number (though by no means the majority) of Americans.
have been just as determined as the secularists of Europe and elsewhere
to chase Christianity off the stage as the underlying culture of America.
But this is not
an easy task because unlike European Christianity, American Christianity
has been closely identified in the past not with the ways of reaction but
the ways of progress. Christianity strongly supported the American
War of Independence in the 1770s and 1780s and the Abolitionist Movement
of the mid 1800s that stood for the end to slavery. Throughout the
Civil War Christianity was the major cultural influence in directing people's
hearts toward the war. Christianity was closely identified with the
cause of democracy in both World Wars One and Two in the first half of
the 20th century. And Christianity was closely identified with the
cause of the "Free World" against "godless communism" in the 1950s and
surprisingly found itself targeted by secularist attacks in America beginning
in the 1900s--attacks which have not let up since then.
In part Christianity
found itself under attack because of its close connection with the culture
of the World War Two Veteran generation--a culture that the younger Boomer
generation was hotly opposed to because it supposedly stood for the interests
of "authoritarian oppressors." Certainly this is how young Boomer
Hippies of the late 1900s and early 1970s viewed the strongly pro-war attitudes
of their parents' generation concerning the war in Vietnam.
In part Christianity
came under attack for its hypocrisy in the American South where it was
used as "religious" justification for continuing White suppression of Southern
Blacks. The fact that it was Christian clergy from the North who
were among the most vocal in their opposition to this Southern use of Christianity
did not seem to have an offsetting impact on Christianity's critics.
as Madeleine Murray O'Hare and devoted secularists such as the American
Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took up the crusade (early 1900s) to drive
Christianity from its public position as America's cultural/religious/moral
still enjoyed strong favor among Americans, these secularists avoided Congress
and State legislatures where the voice of the people was strong and where
the secularists would not have been successful in their crusade.
Instead they focused their efforts on influencing a handful of federal
judges who, because of their powers to decree law, could bypass the legislatures
in getting new laws against Christianity established (this method had a
lot in common with the "elitist" methods of Europe and Asia).
Thus prayers in
public schools (1963) were declared illegal by the federal courts--as first
line of attack against Christianity's foundational position in American
society. [Just before her recent death she was working hard with the Federal
Communications Commission to stop Christian TV and radio stations from
broadcasting their programs on the "public" airwaves.]
How did the
American church attempt a comeback in the last half of the 20th century
in the face of the secularist challenge?
that formed the segment of American society that fought World War Two (the
"Vets"--sometimes also called the "Builders") and came out of the experience
to build a new, scientific, prosperous America, basically refused to see
any real contradiction between Christianity and secularism.
Though most of
them were not "Liberals" by political identification, they nonetheless
simply absorbed most of the Liberal ideas into their brand of Christianity.
no longer given serious study. Instead their Christianity was built
more on a number of "common sense" principles of good behavior--supposedly
modeled by Jesus (whom, however, they did not read very closely).
lost interest in the ancient focus of the Christian faith, namely the saving
sinners from eternal damnation. The Vets believed that this was not
an important issue in America. If you were basically a decent person
(a well-behaved American) you need not worry about your eternal soul.
In fact it was not good to talk about sin and hell because that only scared
Thus to them,
Christianity was not about sin and salvation but was about being decent,
about being nice--following in the footsteps of the ultimate nice-guy,
were focused on the topic of how to get nice things out of life by being
was dedicated to the teaching of the Vets' children (the Boomers) about
being nice--like Jesus and all of the good people of the Bible (as they
imagined these people to be).
In other words,
in the hands of the Vets, Christianity during the 1950s and early 1900s
simply gave in to secularism, becoming indistinguishable from secularism,
maintaining its own identity only by the Vets' keeping of old Sunday habits
of showing up in church to go through the rituals of the Christian faith--even
while the content of that faith was missing.
shifted during the 1900s because the mindset that produced the Boomers
was infecting the character of Christianity.
Boomers had been
taught to be crusaders for social justice--just as America saw itself as
the ultimate defender of social justice in the world. The secular
spirit of the times claimed that a perfect world was just around the corner--and
that with just the right kind of push from right-minded people, we could
expect to see a perfect world come into being.
God had little
to do with the coming into being of this world of social justice--though
it was thought that God certainly would approve of such human efforts to
bring heaven to earth. But basically it was a man-made program.
Perfection on earth was understood by the rising generation of the 1900s
to be the responsibility of man--not God. It was up to crusading
men and women to bring this perfect world into being.
its own adjustment to this new mood in the 1900s--by focusing itself now
in remaining "social justice" issues. To younger Boomers who viewed
themselves as good Christians, their faith was more likely to be practiced
on the picket lines for hungry workers, in the protest marches through
the south, in the attacks on American militarism, in attacks on American
industrial polluters--than it was in attending Sunday services and going
through the old worship rituals with their Vet parents.
attendance (and membership) began to drop after the middle of the 1900s.
Church-going rituals had very little meaning to this next generation of
Clearly the Boomer
generation did not feel the need to clothe their actions with the "churchiness"
that their parents clung to as a mark of their own righteousness.
The Boomers had their own set of moral-ethical principles and they did
not need to identify them with Christianity in order to believe in them.
In fact the Boomers
were just as interested in the teachings of the Hindu civil rights hero,
Mahatma Gandhi. They were more interested in the social-justice language
of Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh (which drove their anti-communist parents
By the 1970s,
the churches in America seemed to be following the churches in Europe into
was more likely to be tied up with the study of Zen Buddhism or Taoism
than with the serious study of Christianity. Even "Native-American"
spirituality came into vogue.
The New Age movement
was more characteristic of the Boomers. The New Age movement supported
almost any sort of spiritual fashion--with the exception of the Christianity
of the Vet generation, which was considered taboo.
And of course
drugs became a definite part of the spiritual scene of the Boomers--something
the church of the Vets was not likely ever to approve of.
But in the late
1970s two new developments within American Christianity seemed to breathe
life back into the church:
1. The first
development was the revival of Christian pentecostalism in the form of
the new "charismatic" movement--which worked in close cooperation with
the new "prosperity gospel." This new movement was aimed toward Boomers
who had given up on social justice crusading because it had brought them
so little personal satisfaction. The idea of God blessing
them seemed a wonderful alternative to hearts hungry. Pastors promised
them that if they simply believed in God strongly enough God would satisfy
all the desires of their hearts. Of course this sense of blessing
tended more toward material or secular satisfaction (just plain old wealth
and material success) than to the kind of deep satisfaction that Jesus
taught the world to expect if they were to give up exactly just those very
kind of material ambitions and yearnings.
this focus on believing God for wealth and riches produced some horrible
scandals among prominent and successful pastors (especially TV evangelists)
who promoted this kind of prosperity gospel. But still, people continued
to cling to this gospel--because it offered them hope that they could not
get elsewhere. If not God, who when was going to make their lives
2. The second
development was the return to prominence of Christian Conservatism.
In an age of increasing lack of moral standards, of even intellectual and
spiritual standards, Christian conservatism was appealing. It seemed
to offer something firm for people to believe in, to stand on. Of
course a person had to accept the "factual" assumptions of American Conservatism--but
it was exactly just such fundamental truths that people were looking for.
They didn't want
to keep searching for Truth. They were not on a spiritual
pilgrimage. They wanted immediate satisfaction with knowing absolute
In the meantime,
what is happening to the Presbyterian church?
Presbyterian church is graying as its members get older. Presbyterian
congregations are made up basically of aged Vets--who hang in there and
hope to keep the doors of the church open long enough to receive a decent
Their clergy are
only slightly younger--aging Boomers--who never abandoned the faith but
live on in the hope that it still will bring social justice to the world
some day soon. [The Vets learned to tolerate the peculiarities of
their clergy and Vets and Boomers that have remained behind with the church
have agreed to coexist peacefully.]
There are younger,
evangelical pastors of the Gen-X variety coming into the clergy (though
not into the congregations). This new generation of pastors hopes
to see the church turn back to the older gospel concerns of sin and salvation.
But this puts them out of step with the older congregations that they are
called to serve--for the language of the evangelicals, much less their
zeal for saving sinners, is largely incomprehensible to the older church
crowd. Many of the Gen-Xers have decided simply to start up churches
of their own rather than do battle with older Presbyterians over these
But sadly, if
the decline of congregations and church members has been slow but constant
over the past 35+ years, the decline in the number of Presbyterian pastors
is even faster. People are coming into the pastorate at a much slower
rate--and even these tend to be older, second career individuals.
Presbyterian churches are having a hard time finding pastors to fill empty
What is God
up to? Will He breath the fires of revival back into the church?
Only time will tell.