Monday, March 11, 2013

The Church and its Growing Appetite for Pantheism

The West has embraced pantheism with a full-body embrace. Champion of the environment, Al Gore, stated:

  • “Our religious heritage is based on a single earth goddess who is assumed to be the foundation of all life…all men have a god within. Each man has a god within because creation is God.”
For Gore, it is not enough that God created nature that radiates with His wisdom and artistry. Instead, nature is actually God. Everything is God and any distinction must be eliminated.

Why does he go to such a pantheistic extreme? Perhaps Gore expects that if we deify nature, we will also care for it better. However, if everything is deified, then the toxic waste dump is also deified along with every rape, kidnapping and beheading. To deify everything therefore is to deify nothing. It also serves to eliminate any distinction – right from wrong, just from unjust, love from hate - that has built enduring and thriving societies. After all, according to pantheism, everything is God, and God is in every action, even genocide!

Leonard Sweet, a leader in the Emergent Church, also strives to eliminate distinctions:

  • For people who understand the Gaia hypothesis, which posits that the earth behaves like a living system and, indeed, that living things regulate earth’s environments, it is not craziness to suggest, as some electrical engineers have argued, that scientists who like their equipment get better results than those who don’t. …--when food, plants, animals, and machines are seen as part of us, and we of them. (Quantum Spirituality, 238)
We are our machines and our machines are us, and we are all God. In a pantheistic world, reason has no part. In fact, it is the enemy. It shows us that we are not our machines. They can be thrown onto the dump heap, and we can go on our merry way.

Reason must be eliminated. It raises embarrassing objections. Reason is eliminated in a variety of ways. We often hear the claim that reason or thinking obstructs the work and experience of God. Professed Christian psychologist, David Benner writes:

  • It is a state of active receptivity that opens us up to the sacred. This is exactly how the contemporary Quaker author Douglas Steere understand prayer, describing it as “awakeness, attention, intense inward openness.” Sin, in his view, is anything that destroys this attentiveness. The greatest threat to attention is thought. (97-98)
Prayer is no longer interpersonal – a plea to our Savior. Rather, it is something we do to ourselves – a form of masturbation, a substitute for relationship. We’re in control – the captain of our own ship.

Of course, the big enemy is thought. It raises troublesome questions. While these mystical practices insist that if we are to experience God, we must get our minds out of the way, reason asks, “What is it that I am really experiencing? Can I coerce God into my desired experience through techniques and manipulations? Is God amenable to such things?”

Likewise, the Bible insists that we shouldn’t close down our critical faculties:

  • Test everything. Hold on to the good. (1 Thes. 5:21)
The popular Christian mystic, Richard Foster, shares Benner’s warnings against thinking:

  • Imagine the light of Christ flowing through your hands and healing every emotional trauma and hurt feeling your child experienced that day. Fill him or her with the peace and joy of the Lord. In sleep the child is very receptive to prayer since the conscious mind, which tends to erect barriers to God’s gentle influence, is relaxed. (Celebration of Discipline, 39)
Once again, the “conscious mind” is the culprit. According to Foster, God has many blessings for us, but He just can’t penetrate our mental barriers. However, Foster’s wimp-god is not the God of the Bible, who declares that there is nothing that he can’t do (Gen. 18:14) and that we cannot erect any barriers against Him. The doors He opens, no man can shut, and what He shuts, no one can open (Rev. 3:7).

Instead, the Bible is consistent in its denunciation of sin and the refusal to believe – the one thing that separates us from God.

Foster’s God is also passive, permissive, and perhaps even pantheistic. He allows us to channel him and his healing benefits through our imagination, as if He lacked any will and character of His own. According to Foster, it seems that the main barriers to spiritual growth and blessing are our minds and our failure to use Foster’s techniques.

In The Signature of Jesus, Brennan Manning echoes the same message:

  • “The first step in faith is to stop thinking about God in prayer…” “Contemplative spirituality tends to emphasize the need for a change in consciousness…we must come to see reality differently.” “Choosing a single, sacred word…repeat the sacred word inwardly, slowly, and often.” “Enter into the great silence of God. Alone in that silence, the noise within will subside and the Voice of Love will be heard.” (quoted from Ray Yungen, A Time of Departing, 83). 
Manning’s advice directly contradicts Scripture, which never advises us to “stop thinking about God.” His recommendation for using a single word (or mantra) represents Eastern contemplative practice. Instead, Scripture prescribes the very opposite:

  • Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly…But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper. (Psalm 1:1-3)
According to Scripture, blessedness is a matter of relationship – staying in close contact with our Savior and avoiding sin, not thinking about God.

Manning also violates the teachings of Jesus:

  • And when you pray, do not keep on babbling [on a single word or phrase] like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. (Matthew 6:7) 
Evidently, Manning thinks that paganism and its manipulations and meaningless “babbling” are superior to Jesus’ teachings. He emphasizes the fact that prayer is a matter of talking to Another – our Maker and Redeemer. Fundamentally, it is not about a “change in consciousness,” but the acknowledge of our dependence upon our Savior!

Pantheists deride dualistic thinking – the separation of the thinker from the rest of reality. If instead reality is all one, the only thought that we have is what we share with everyone else. Therefore, we cannot talk about the “me-them” distinction, if we are all one. (Of course, the pantheists can’t logically maintain this stance. Whenever they say anything, they are making distinctions using dualist thought. We are also talking to another,  distinct person. Simply to say that some are enlightened and some aren’t or one thought is wrong and another is right is dualistic!)

Emergent Church pastor, speaker and writer, Doug Pagitt, puts it this way:

  • We are connected to each other as well. Christians like to talk about community, yet the dualistic [us-them] assumptions surrounding our theology make it almost impossible for us to experience true community. As long as we hold on to “us” and “them” categories of seeing the world, we live behind a barricade that prevents us from joining in with God and others in real and meaningful ways. And it doesn’t really matter who we decide “them” is – the non-Christians, the sinners, the liberals, the conservatives, the Jews, the Catholics, that weird church on the other side of town. Division is division, no matter how righteous we want to make it sound. (A Christianity Worth Believing, 91-92)
Nevertheless, it is dualistic thinking that keeps my marriage going. I try to maintain a sharp distinction between my wife and my neighbor’s wife. To remove all distinctions is to remove real and committed relationships. There is an essential distinction between my children and grandchildren and other children. It’s a human reality, and any attempt to wrest away children from those who love them has always been met with tragedy. Just think of the communist experiment!

However, distinction does not obliterate our responsibilities before all humanity. It affirms it! I respect other marriages because I respect my own. I acknowledge my responsibility towards the children of others because I acknowledge my own responsibility. However, there are concentric circles of responsibility and commitment starting with the most intimate. We must honor, cherish and care for our father and mother. However, because of this essential relationship, I feel for other families.

If instead all distinctions are removed, barriers eliminated and everything leveled – parents with children, husbands with wives – we violate our God-designed selves and everything is degraded.

Even Pagitt creates “us-them” distinctions between his brand of religion and that of the Bible. There is just no escaping it. Anyone who wants to eat must distinguish between food and the one who consumes the food. Dualism is inextricably built into reality.

Emergent Church guru and writer, Brian McLaren, has also stated that dualistic thinking is what is wrong with the church (not his church, of course):

  • Religious communities often take a short-cut to building a strong group identity -- by defining themselves in opposition to others. Muslims, atheists and gays are high-profile "others" which can be scapegoated to build a strong "Christian" identity. (Huffington Post Religion Blog, 2/19/03)
McLaren doesn’t seem to see that he too is scape-goating. However, his whipping boy is the Bible-believing church. However, truth always excludes, distinguishing itself against what is untrue. Likewise, justice must set itself against what is unjust. Life demands such distinctions.

Prior to this, McLaren wrote:

  • Christians have been taught to see in "us vs. them" terms for centuries, and it will take time to reorient faithful people in a new direction -- "us with them," working for the common good.
Although I make a distinction between his wife and my wife - "us vs. them"- this doesn’t prevent us from working or vacationing together - "us with them." In fact, it is our mutual respect for certain barriers that makes our friendship possible.

Why can’t (or won’t) McLaren and the other Emergents and mystics acknowledge this reasonable fact, that reality is multi-faceted? Reality is not just comprised of universals and commonalities. There are necessary distinctions that must be made between ideas and even people. If this isn’t so, then let’s just open the prison doors and give every student an “A!”

This hatred of distinctions often takes the form of a hatred towards Christianity. Lynn White, Jr., Professor of History at the University of California, claims,

  • “…As we now recognize, somewhat over a century ago science and technology…joined to give mankind powers which…are out of control. If so, Christianity bears a huge burden of guilt….Our science and technology have grown out of Christian attitudes toward man’s relation to nature… No new set of basic values has been accepted in our society to displace those of Christianity. Hence we shall continue to have a worsening ecological crisis until we reject the Christian axiom that nature has no reason for existence save to serve man.”
  • “By destroying pagan animism, Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects…The spirits in natural objects, which formerly had protected nature from man, evaporated” (Lynn White, Jr., “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis,” Garrett de Bell, editor, The Environmental Handbook: Prepared For The First National Environmental Teach-In (New York: Ballantine/Friends of the Earth Book, 1970, 21-25)
The West and all other societies make a sharp biblical and legal distinction between humanity and the animal world. Our laws protect humans before all else. While we can eat animals, we can’t humans. We put animals in zoos, but there is not one nation on the earth where innocent humans are kept in zoos. We marry fellow humans, not animals, at least, not yet.

While I appreciate White’s acknowledgment of the influence of the Christian faith on the sciences, his distinctions are far from accurate. While science has given us a greater ability to contaminate nature – and admittedly, Christianity has exerted a tremendous influence on the development of science – this phenomenon doesn’t reflect the teachings of the Bible.

Creation is God’s creation, and we are to admire and preserve it as such. Love also requires that we maintain it for the benefit of others. In contrast, even in the pagan societies that hold the world as sacred, where everything is sacred, nothing is really sacred. This becomes obvious when we investigate the actual practices of pagan societies.

In Whence the Noble Savage, Patrick Frank, writes:.

  • “The Southwest [USA] is dotted with finds of people killed en masse…These indications of war, violent deaths, mutilations and cannibalism are form tribal societies that experienced no European or modern contact, thus contradicting the idea that peoples who were free from European influence lived relatively peaceful lives.” (Skeptic Mag. Vol 9, #1, 2001, 54-60)
  • “Hawaiians drove to extinction at least 50 species of birds…By the time Europeans arrived, North America was a manipulated continent. Indians had long since altered the landscape by burning or clearing woodland for farming and fuel…Within 1500 years after occupation by Native Americans, for example, North America lost 73% of all large animal groups. About 39 genera were obliterated. Australia lost every type of vertebrate larger than humans following the appearance of the Aborigines…When the Maoris arrived in the late 13th century, the result was the rapid extinction of the moas, other flightless birds, and half of the terrestrial vertebrates.”
Frank concludes:

  •   “All this emerging evidence for incessant human warfare from the earliest days, for ancient mutilation and massacre, for cannibalism, for ecological destruction, and for massive faunal extinctions sounds the death knell for the noble savage myth. Human societies have evidently and with negligent abandon despoiled the environment and engaged in pervasive warfare and murder as far back in time as we can detect.”

Why then this love-affair between the post-Christian West and Eastern pantheistic mysticism? We have rejected our Christian roots in favor of the idea of a non-distinct, mushy oneness, one that allows us to maintain our former lifestyles. Eliminating any form of distinction, any “us vs. them,” has become a moral crusade. However, such crusades merely replace the “us vs. them” with a new set of scapegoats and a deep grave for all its victims.

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