The late-modern period is a a time of disillusionment in the West and perhaps nowhere else is that disillusionment more acute than in America where, since at the least the early 20th century, the false promises of Modernity (human perfectibility, the universal fatherhood of God, the universal brotherhood of humanity) have proved hollow. The dreams of Modernity died in Europe in the opening months of World War I. In part because that war was not fought on American soil, the Modern dream persisted in the USA. Who can say when it died but it perhaps it was a long, slow death. The Modernists, those who assumed that man is the measure of all things, who assumed a critical stance (in the sense Marx meant “critical,” meaning, “Modern, enlightened, autonomous) toward all extrinsic authorities (God, the church, nature) laid siege to holy Scripture and did much great damage to its reception in the church. Those who continued to receive the historic, ecumenical view of Scripture were put on the defensive and spent about a century defending its truthfulness (infallibility, inerrancy) and authority while the seven sisters of the Protestant mainline (the UMC, ELCA, PCUSA, EPCUSA, ABC, UCC, and the Disciples of Christ) ingested the higher-critical toxins and began to die. The last time I looked each of them was losing about 70,000 members annually.
By the late 60s the disillusionment with and loss of confidence historic Christianity was fairly widespread. The first sexual revolution of the 1920s was followed by a second and more sustained sexual revolution in the 1960s and 70s in which marriage was implicitly re-defined. No fault divorce was adopted leading to a spike in divorce in the mid-late 70s and signalling a loss of confidence in the institution. Roe v Wade was the sacrament of the second sexual revolution, hence the implacable, unreasoning, unyielding, intransigent defense of abortion at any stage, for any reason by its supporters. In the third sexual revolution what was implicit became explicit and the Supreme Court recognized that reality (but in defiance of any genuine legal or historical basis) by announcing that marriage is now to be regarded as disconnected from nature. The minority on the court has predicted the outcome.
Today, unless the proportionally few Americans actually attend church weekly. Years ago George Barna argued that the actual figure is about 10%. More recently, The The Pew Research Center puts the number south of 35% and dropping. Even among “evangelical Protestants,” those with whom religious fervor is most closely associated, only 58% attend services weekly. Consider the state of the second service in the confessionally and (largely) culturally conservative NAPARC world. The anecdotal evidence suggests that the second service is, as they say in boxing, on the ropes.
All this is to offer some kind of explanation of why so many people see opioids as a viable alternative to what Marx called the “opium of the people.” To be sure, there are demographic explanations. The American population is aging and living longer. Perhaps pain management via opioids is quicker than sustained, more expensive treatments? The medical explanation leaves too much unexplained. I think that many Americans are turning to opioids (and other things) as a way of dulling the pain of disillusionment.
What have the Christians to offer to the disillusioned, to those who have lost confidence in the very existence of transcendent truths, in the possibility of salvation, in heaven? All we have is what we have always had: the message that the same Jesus, who is God the Son in the flesh, whose humanity (except for sin) is the same as ours but whose deity is same as the Father’s, came for us sinners, obeyed in our place, suffered all the evil in the world and all the wrath of God for all of his people for all time, died, was buried, and was raised by the power of God on the third day. It really happened. There were sane, rational, reliable. eyewitnesses to it all. They could hardly believe it themselves but there it was before them. The evidence was so overwhelming that they had to accept it. Of course, that did not happen by sheer force of evidence. They believed because God the Spirit gave them new life and true faith but the object of their true faith was real and true. They believed something that actually happened and someone who was actually before them.
To those who have lost confidence, I apologize. I am sorry that your local mainline church let you down, that they chose not to announce those truths to you. Too many of her ministers and bureaucrats long ago lost confidence in the truths announced in Scripture but instead of resigning and taking up honorable employment selling cars, they continued to collect and check and living off the (relatively) ancient financial endowments of the churches. There are hucksters on television making a buck off of false promises, off of a cheap, Christ-less message, offering you a sort of spiritual opioid in place of Christianity.
Their unbelief, however, is not new. There were conical time-serving religious leaders in Jesus’ day. They too opposed him. Indeed, long before the Roman civil authorities got involved, they planned and sought to murder him. Still, after the resurrection the bewildered disciples believed and at Pentecost (when God the Holy Spirit empowered them), they announced it to the world. There are some who, like the Apostles, whom Jesus designated to announce the message, are still announcing the message in obscure, out-of-the way places. They are not powerful or influential. They are not prestigious but then, again, neither was Jesus. He was, after all, mocked by the powerful and crucified among criminals.
Our most fundamental problem is not that the manufacturing economy is declining or that we do not have the newest car on the block. Our most fundamental problem is our sin. Booze and opioids only dull the pain caused by sin. They dull our nagging sense that there is more. They dull our conscience, which testifies to us that God is, that he is angry with sin, that there is a judgment coming and that all of us shall be held to account. Either we shall answer for ourselves or we shall hide behind Jesus the Savior.
Turn your back on your disillusionment. Turn to Jesus. He lives. He hears. He answers. Do it now because he also judges and that day is closer than you want to think.
Reminded me of Aldous Huxley.
Of course brother. We should pray for the Lord to send laborers to the harvest, which is among those whom Scripture has shut up under sin: “The Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe, (Gal 3:22).”
This, as well as Part One, read like Machen. Machen saw so much of this back in his day and I have no doubt, he would not be appalled or surprised at the state of affairs going on today.
Dr. Clark, is it pessimistic or simply realistic to acknowledge that this country will never be what it once was in terms of faith? Though I’m new on the confessional journey (roughly a year) it just seems like nobody cares or wants to listen.
We shouldn’t think more of what this country “once was in terms of faith.” Have there been times when the USA was more pious? Certainly but the state of Christianity, since the Colonial period, has fluctuated. I discuss this in some detail in the chapter, “‘Magic and Noise:’ On Being Reformed in Sister’s America” in Always Reformed.
“I am sorry that your local mainline church let you down, that they chose not to announce these truths to you. Too many of her ministers and bureaucrats long ago lost confidence in the truths announced in Scripture but instead of taking honourable employment selling cars, they continued to collect and check a living off the (relatively) ancient financial endowments of the churches…..”
Even in some pulpits and seminaries of Reformed denominations we have those who are trying to undermine the authority of Scripture and who are urging the jettisoning of our confessional standards, either in whole, or in part through “good faith” subscription, which allows you to subjectively pick and choose which articles you want to accept. These so called leaders are unashamedly destroying the faith they swore to uphold. But it should hardly come as a surprise, since the same things were true in Jesus’ day, so that He warned the Scribes, Lawyers and Pharisees: Woe to you Pharisees!…Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it. Luke 11:43-44. Woe to you Lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge, you did not enter yourselves, but you hindered those who were entering. Luke 11:52. Beware of the Scribes…They will receive the greater condemnation. Mark 12:40 Jesus condemned them saying: You are of your father the devil, and the lust of your father you will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there was no no truth in him. Yet in spite of all of Satan’s attacks, the true Church survives, in, with, and under, the visible church, even as it did in the dark ages before the Reformation, because God always has His remnant. As long as we have our confessions, Reformed Christians have a tremendous authority by which the most ordinary lay person may defend our faith. It is crucial for us that we do not allow them to be taken away from us.
Nietzsche understood what contemporary Americans do not, meaning that the death of the Christian God would eventually carry-over and into every facet of Western and American life.
The Left’s forceful attempt at repealing the Second Amendment is but the latest example of the spill-over. Leftists and their ‘right-wing’ counterparts are ‘death of God’ pagans who believe they can disregard the laws of our land because our God-given unalienable rights are null and void due to the death of God.
According to Os Guinness, for more than two centuries Western and American elite pagans have disregarded God but the evil effects were mostly confined to their own circles. But then they deliberately desecrated Western and American tradition and lived in ways that would have spelled disaster if they had been emulated by rank and file citizens:
“But now in the early twenty-first century, their movement from disregard to desecration to decadence is going mainstream, and the United States is only the lead society among those close to the tipping point…. Soon, as the legalization and then normalization of polyamory, polygamy, pedophilia and incest follow the same logic as that of abortion and homosexuality, the socially destructive consequences of these trends will reverberate throughout society until social chaos is beyond recovery. We can only pray there will be a return to God and sanity before the terrible sentence is pronounced: “God has given them over” to the consequences of their own settled choices.” (Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times, Os Guinness, p. 20)
There is nothing new about the rejection of the Holy Creator God by European and American ruling elites and their subsequent fall into madness, paganism and other evils:
“Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger…they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.” Judges 2:10-13
And I have seen folly in the prophets of Samaria; they prophesied in Baal, and caused my people Israel to err.” Jeremiah 23:13
When the European ruling class, represented by German Chancellor Angela Markel, French President Francois Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Liechtenstein Prime Minister Adrian Hasler, and Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern took part in the opening of the world’s longest tunnel under the Swiss Alps, the ceremony was acted out under the baleful gaze of the All Seeing Eye, the symbol of Ba’al.
As the European ruling class looked on, graphically sexual and blatantly satanic rituals were performed featuring a baby-faced Lucifer (Horus) and a horned, goat-headed devil, symbol of the Void, or Mind of the Universe and its seething serpent-powered energies. The androgynous horned deity was adored by scantily clad figures repeatedly prostrating themselves before him/her. As the horned god appeared horrific wailing and screaming was heard over the audio system. The horned devil simulated sexual acts with several of the male and female performers, many of whom were androgynous. (Europe’s top leaders watch bizarre satanic ceremony opening world’s longest tunnel, Life Site News, Jun. 6, 2016)
Thank you for this Linda. It is a truly chilling indictment of what modernity and materialism is about. It is a rejection of the true God and His moral law, in favor of pagan idolatry that allows for a descent into decadence and lawlessness. It threatens to become the new religion, and I fear that God may even allow it, as a way of punishment, even as he allowed Isreal to ppursue the worship of idols and then to be brought under captivity and slavery under those who invented this false worship. Yet God’s purpose in gathering the elect cannot fail, and there will always be a true Church, even though it may seem to have disappeared, that He preserves, until the Lord returns.