Friday, June 15, 2012

Myths of the Sacred

If you reject truth, you create a black hole – a vacuum - and it must be filled. Myth is always a ready candidate:

  • Now having rejected the Bible, the West is trying to find meaning through myths. It is following Joseph Campbell, George Lucas, and James Cameron and inventing and selling myths, as Greece did after it realized that a finite mind cannot know universal truth. Britain gave universities to India to set us free. The West is now giving its youth myths that can only enslave them. (Vishal Mangalwadi, The Book that Made your World, 219
Perhaps Mangalwadi is defining myth too narrowly. There are many other forms of myths – God substitutes, vacuum fillers. The Humanist Manifesto II reads:

  • “Using technology wisely, we can control our environment, conquer poverty, markedly reduce disease, extend our life-span, significantly modify our behavior, alter the course of human evolution and cultural development, unlock vast new powers, and provide humankind with unparalleled opportunity for achieving an abundant and meaningful life.”
It is hard to understand how “technology” and “human evolution and cultural development can provide “an abundant and meaningful life.” If anything, technology seems to deprive us from traditional sources of meaning – family, community and shared values. However, once God is rejected, another source of meaning must be created, however fanciful.

New Age guru David Spangler presents a very different kind of myth:

  • The New Age approach is to look at the object, people and the events of our lives and to say ‘you are sacred. In you and with you I can find the sacramental passages that reconnect me to the wholeness of creation.’ It is then to ask ourselves what kind of culture, what kind of institutions – be they political, economic, artistic, educational, or scientific – we need that can honor that universal sacredness.”
However, once you have killed the Transcendent, you are left with nothing more than the physical. What then can be the basis of “universal sacredness?” If nature is sacred, then so too are swine flu and canker sores. It requires a great act of myth-making to find “the sacramental” in pimples, cankers and hives.

According to another master-myth-maker:

  • One should  beware of evaluating the force of an ideal too little (5)…the Eternal Will…dominates this universe to promote the victory of the better and stronger, and to demand the submission of the worse and the weaker. Thus in principle it favors the…thought of nature and believes in the validity of this law down to the last individual…In its opinion, out of the masses emerges the importance of the person…It believes in the necessity of idealizing mankind, as, in turn it sees in this the only presumption for the existence of mankind.(6)…The new age of today is at work on a new human type. Men and women are to be more healthy, stronger: there is a new feeling of life, a new joy in life. Never was humanity in its external appearance and in its frame of mind nearer to the ancient world [the Greeks and Romans] than it is today. (Adolph Hitler’s speeches, Nazi Culture, George Mosse, 15)
Why myth-making? Well, we need it – anything to provide definition and meaning to our lives! Once we kill God, we have to invent numerous substitutes. Why numerous? Because God fulfills many needs! Here are several:

THE NEED FOR PURPOSE.  We need to know that we are serving truth and not pleasure. The pursuit of mere pleasure is counterproductive. Pleasure becomes elusive when pursued for its own sake. In itself, it is a drug that cannot ever reduplicate its original “high.” Instead, personal fulfillment has long been seen as a by-product of living in harmony with a higher purpose. Even the atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote that “He who has a why [a purpose or rationale] to live for can bear almost any how.” 

However, Nietzsche and other existentialists thought that they had the mental capacity to produce their own purpose. However, such an arbitrary mental creation is no more satisfying than mentally creating the fantasy of having a family when we’re lonely.

THE NEED FOR OBJECTIVE AND ABSOLUTE MORAL TRUTH. Without this, meaning and purpose are impossible. Instead, life is narrowed upon self in the form of moral relativism. Nothing is real apart from our own subjective feelings. Nothing is higher than our own experiences. Instead, of meditating upon a gloriously designed creation, we are self-condemned to obsess about our feelings and evolutionary accidents.

Many plead pragmatism – moral decision-making based upon what works. However, “what works for society” inevitably deteriorates into “what works for me!” Pragmatism degenerates into our own selfish concerns. And why shouldn’t it, if there are no absolute moral standards to keep us to the straight-and-narrow!

We then have to sanctify our feelings to the level of the sacred, because, with the death of the Transcendent, our feelings are left to occupy the vacant throne of our lives and decision-making. Introspection then becomes a sacred duty – a form of worship.

THE NEED FOR VALUES. Without shared values, there can be no community – no sharing. Without God, values become the inevitable creation of culture and history. Why do our laws protect humans? Why instead is not the king or the cow holy? Simply because the West still retains some of its biblical influences! Why do we still cherish the idea of the “sanctity of all human life” or “equality (when by any materialistic assessment we are not equal)?” Why don’t we turn other peoples into slaves or even exterminate them? Because the Bible tells us we can’t.

THE NEED FOR AN ETERNAL HOPE. Without any assurance of an afterlife, King Solomon understandably lamented:

  • The wise man has eyes in his head, while the fool walks in the darkness; but I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both. Then I thought in my heart, "The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise?" I said in my heart, "This too is meaningless." For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered; in days to come both will be forgotten. Like the fool, the wise man too must die! So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. (Eccles. 2:14-18)
Without the assurance of a final reward, in which our Lord will wipe away all our tears (Rev. 21:4), we too will inevitably “hate life.” Also without this assurance, it is hard to imagine that we would leave the administration of ultimate justice to God. Instead, revenge will become the norm.
THE NEED FOR SECURITY. Without the hope in our Savior, His deliverance and His promise to working all of our circumstances for good, we will inevitably take more upon ourselves than we can bear. We then become our own saviors. In order to convince ourselves that we can bear the burdens, we have to develop a grandiose, almost god-like self-esteem to compensate for the loss. This also requires denial of those personal factors that contradict our grandiosity.

Consequently, the objective nature of sin and guilt are denied. Instead of finding forgiveness in God, the therapeutic community teaches the God-myth-substitute – self-forgiveness, a form of masturbation and not the real thing.

THE NEED FOR A SELF-CONCEPT. We all need to define ourselves and to think that we are significant. We can either derive this thinking from ourselves, others or the Lord. However, when we derive it from ourselves, it inevitably entails denial, self-delusion, and self-preoccupation. We can never feel at peace with our self-constructed self-myth, and therefore, we are always trying to prove ourselves and to put on a front for others.

When we try to derive our self-concept from others, we can either become co-dependent or resentful, when they fail to affirm our self-selected self-concept. Besides, in either of these two cases, we place our lives on unstable ground. Failures or rejections become unbearable.

However, when our self-concept is derived from our loving, faithful, unchanging and forgiving Savior, we have a firm, unchanging, trustworthy foundation. We are no longer devastated by failures, rejections or inadequacies because we are assured that He is now our identity (Gal. 2:20).

THE NEED FOR RATIONALITY. Although the secularist can act rationally, he lacks an explanation for it. If the physical world is merely molecules-in-motion, there is no reason to believe that logic and reason should be any different - an unchanging standard or measurement. Likewise, there is no reason to expect that our scientific formulas will still apply to tomorrow. The Marxist Frederick Engels wrote:

  • But if the question is raised: what then are thought and consciousness, and whence they come, it becomes apparent that they are products of the human brain and that man himself is a product of nature, which has been developed in and along with its environment.
According to Engels, the brain has evolved along with the rationality by which the brain functions. This means that rationality and logic should also be evolving along with its source – the brain. It’s therefore a captive trapped within the blood and fibers of our brains. This would suggest that the “rational” laws of science – and their corresponding formulas – are also in flux, inextricably attached to our evolving brains. However, this is not the case. The laws are clearly independent of our brains.

THE NEED FOR BEAUTY. The secularist can enjoy beauty but only superficially. As a secularist, I had seen Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities and was moved by Sidney Carton’s act of self-sacrifice. In my heart, I responded to his sacrifice, but in my mind I though him an idiot for surrendering his life because of a transient electro-chemical mental state.

For me life had become narrowed down to a meaningless series of electro-chemical mental states. Such a world has little room for beauty, integrity, courage, dignity and anything beyond animalistic satisfaction. After all, everything else is illusion. Consequently, there were no higher ideals to move or enlighten me, no beauty to illuminate me. This made life drab and insipid.

In contrast to this, God breathes layers of truth into the fabric of His reality. My wife and I saw War Horse tonight, and I was moved when the young man Albert, who pursued his beloved horse Joey through the no-man’s-land of the First World War, was finally reunited with his beloved Joey against all odds.

I asked myself what about God’s reality made me react as I had? What divine truth had I plugged into? Does it represent our eventual reunion with our cosmic Lover? I won’t try to explain it here. However, for the Christian, truth is multi-dimensional, interconnected and living.

Consequently, when you kill God, you also kill the person you have been created to be and are self-condemned to desperately pursue myths, leaving your life bereft of meaning and fullness.

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