Friday, June 24, 2022

The New Fluid Orthodoxy: The New Religion emerging from the Vacuum of Relativism

In the book of Daniel we’re reminded that the power and spread of information would increase across the face of the Earth (Daniel 12:4 NIV). Today we find ourselves in the vast spread of information, ideas, concepts, opinions, philosophies, conspiracies, propaganda, and everything in between. 

One might hope with the spread of so much information across the globe through the printing press, the radio, the television, and the internet, that Christ might become central in all things. But this is not the case. The evil heart of man spreads many lies and falsities in the world, by the millions and billions of clicks and views. 

The fragmentation of worldview in western society grew from the seeds of Darwin’s Origin of Species, which gave birth to worldviews like naturalism, nihilism, humanism, and post-modernism, and out of these ideologies, many new and disparate ideologies have developed, mixed and remixing themselves among many cultures and people groups, to the point that one might expect to find 9 billion individuals across the planet all under their own fig trees, with their own self-made religion, entirely unique from one another. So one might expect nearly infinite possibilities when examining the endless spread of philosophies, ideas, and concepts of various worldviews, cults, sects, interest groups, and fan clubs across the United States and indeed across the world. Expansive it is, but endless it is not. And we shall attempt to evaluate some of the key perspectives at work today.

The landscape of modern culture is one of constant change and adjustment in regard to worldview, fueled by dozens of different factors, from news stories to pop culture to church communities to blog posts online to friends to the public education system to government policies and political movements, every single person seems to examine the landscape of thought and ideas from various angles, and each seem to approach the many options as if they were gathered around a buffet, picking and choosing which items they feel best suits them, adding to an ever growing eclectic mishmash of different ideas and philosophies pulled from all sorts of different places, from college textbooks to graffiti scrolled on subway walls to Facebook posts and gossip with friends and family. As information spread ever increases and screen times increases with it, more and more ideas seem to flow into the public consciousness, and more and more sects and subsects and cults and groups and clubs and religions and philosophies all seem to burst forth like odd shrubs and flowers from each flower box, every flower box unique to each individual, based on what they’ve selected, or based on what propaganda has been placed in their path, for them to consume. In all this gathering of thoughts and ideas into billions of new remixed views and counterviews, we as Christians stand in grave danger and also with great opportunity, either to be lost in the endless noise, or to speak up clearly of a timeless objective absolute truth which offers a way out of the hall of mirrors that is picking and choosing based on feeling, instead to lead the confused masses to a living God who is infinite, offering difficult truth, yet pure loving mercy beyond anything they can imagine.

Remixed culture quickly went from being something expressed individually to something increasingly built into every form and function of society in the west. We now find ourselves surrounded and swimming in the effects and reinforced values of remixed culture. But how do these effects play themselves out? And what general worldviews make up remixed culture?

Remixed culture in the west is largely based around personal preference, consumerist indulgence, self-gratification, religious fluidity, multiple truths/philosophies, multiple pathways to God, and intuitional religion (religion based on personal experience). So we will examine some of these subsets within consumerist spiritualist culture, but we will also see how increasingly, there are shared perspectives, where reality is determined by a sort of communal consensus. Many of these worldviews have begun to glob together into a larger overarching consensus-built narrative on reality, life, and the universe.

I would like to outline eleven of the key worldviews of the millennial remixed mindset of modern society, and then examine a twelfth worldview that seems to be the destination that each of the others is proceeding toward. These worldviews are scientism, moral therapeutic deism, sexual maximalism, wellness movement, progressive Christianity, political activism, hobby culture, religious cults, universalism, internet/outrage culture, new age movement, and the new (fluid) doctrinism.

First, we consider the worldview of scientism. Scientism is the opinion that science and the scientific method are the best or only objective means by which people should determine normative and epistemological values. Scientism flows very naturally from naturalism and appears as a common religious expression in the world today. Young people regard scientists as the new ministers of the modern age, trusting only those things that have studies to back them up, and only ideas and concepts stated by those carrying many degrees and doctorates. The saints of this religious expression include personalities like Noam Chomsky, Richard Dawkins, Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Sam Harris, and others. According to Pew Research, in 2020 approximately 40% of the population of the USA had a great deal of trust in (medical) scientists, but that number dropped by 2022 to 29% showing a steep erosion of trust in that particular field of the sciences. But in regard to general trust in the scientific community, in 2018 44% of Americans had a great deal of trust in scientists overall. All this tells us that scientists in labcoats have a great deal of influence in our society.

In consumerist millennial culture, where truth is relative, and personal preference is king, one finds much uncertainty. For a certain subset of remixed culture, they seek refuge in the warm embrace of the certainties of the scientific method, research, development, technology, and the pronouncements of cultural elites. It’s encouraging to consider the possibility of ministry to this group because at least on the surface it would appear they may be willing to listen to reason and evidence in regard to God’s existence, manuscripts of the Bible, and the historical Jesus.

Second, we consider moral therapeutic deism. Moral therapeutic deism is a form of watered down and sanitized Christianity that removes the various concepts within biblical Christianity that offend or disturb modern sensibilities. It finds a reasonable place in the hearts of some of modern remixed culture who are looking for the certainties of biblical Christianity without the harsher pronouncements of the scriptures on sin, judgment, wrath, and hell. This worldview provides the certainty of heaven for all but the worst of history, the comfort of self and experience driven truth, and the rejection of all forms of judgment or condemnation. It’s at least somewhat promising to note that people are still willing to believe in God and heaven. But a milquetoast version must be corrected with the timeless truth of God’s scriptures. The road back is shorter for these groups at least, who are willing to believe in a personal God.

The wellness movement, an exceedingly common find in public education, medical healthcare, social sciences, and psychology, is an expression of humanism which seeks the maximal benefit for the individual through a wholistic approach to self-care. Self-care and self-flourishing are the ultimate in wellness culture. Wellness culture and consumerism are natural bedfellows, both valuing the individual above all, the value of products and services rendered by society to help the individual, and showcasing a self-directed guide to life, in which the internal instinct, the intuitive is the guide to all things. Wellness is to me a very stripped down and sanitized form of spiritualism from a naturalistic viewpoint, that only the physical really matters, while also recognizing at least an ancillary need for some sort of spirituality. At least in that way there is an open door to tolerance and even encouragement toward a Christian footing for spiritual truth.

Next, we consider progressive Christianity. In the 1950s and 1960s mainline Protestantism was the consensus viewpoint of much of the United States world (Burton, 2020, p. 52). But by the late 1960s and early 1970s mainline Protestantism had declined drastically, with evangelicalism subsequently growing rapidly to overshadow the movement. In the present-day remnants of mainline Protestantism, which dropped from a cultural majority, to as of 2017 only 10% of the American public, we find the new progressive Christianity. But what is progressive Christianity? According to (2012) the key tenants of the faith include viewing Jesus as a source of experiencing a sacred and unified oneness, Jesus as one of many ways to God, inclusive community that accepts all people, behavior as an expression of belief, questions as more important than absolutes, the importance of social justice, the importance of climate change activism, and the value of compassionate love. One can easily see that these beliefs fit with consumerist remixed culture in the world today.

When evaluating progressive Christianity I really see a sort of politicized Christianity married to liberalism and social justice ideology. Biblical truth comes in as secondary to the prevailing viewpoints of culture, Hollywood, social elites, and political powers. There is a great hunger in progressive Christianity for justice. That in itself is an open door to help these individuals embrace the true Jesus Christ of the Bible. But it also poses a greater challenge, because progressives tend to view evangelical Christianity as abusive to minorities, hateful to the LGBTQ community, judgmental toward differing perspectives, and teachers of a mean-spirited gospel. The challenge will be to help progressives to see the beauty of Jesus Christ, his deep love, but also his divine accountability and justice.

Next, we consider political activism. One of the increasingly important religions of remixed culture is political activism. Politics has always played an important role in the lives of Americans in the west. But more and more we see a political polarization that is more than simply political, it is religious in its expression. People have increasingly learned to hate their political rivals. They’ve learned to view perspective as moral and their opponents perspective as fundamentally wicked or evil. Political leaders opinions are taken and repeated. News media and social media magnify the conversation outward. People on both sides of the aisle view their leading personalities as arbiters of truth. If something is not seen on CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS, the NY Times or the Washington Post, it simply can’t be trusted. Similarly, if something is not articulated by Fox News, the Wallstreet Journal, the Daily Wire, Newsmax, Breitbart News, the Blaze, the Daily Caller or other such sources, it simply can’t be trusted. The political becomes religious, in that the worldview of either the conservative narrative or the leftist narrative takes on preeminence in the mind. The world is viewed from the perspective first of the political ideology. I would suggest that these are probably the two fastest growing religions in the west today, leftism and conservatism. Once again, I believe this rise in political activism and even extremism poses both an opportunity and a danger. When people are excited about important topics of political concern, this can quickly translate into a worldview conversation and a conversation about the value of Jesus Christ. The danger can be in political activists taking the message of Jesus Christ and using it for their own ends. There is also a danger in either conservatism or leftist merging with Christianity, in which case you get a hybrid of both, which after being fully formed, is no longer biblical Christianity.

Increasingly hobby culture is becoming more than just a subset of one’s life, but much more so, it is becoming a place through which people find value and meaning. Increasingly we see people forming into hobby groups that have their own unique expressions of lore, history, meaning, truth, destiny, and purpose. People of like-minded interests gather in groups and “do life together” through their hobbies and interests. Some examples of hobby interest groups would be Harry Potter, Bike riding, Star Wars, Zumba, PC gamers, Medieval jousting, Motorcycling, Nerd culture, Sports groups, Wicca clubs, Technology interest groups, political interest groups, activism interest groups, herbal vitamins, foods and diet, farming and crop management, theological interest groups, heavy metal musicians, sexual activity groups, and hundreds of other expressions of hobby culture. Hobby culture is one thing when it is kept within the lenses of an interest in the context of other beliefs and philosophies, but hobby culture becomes religious/philosophical/worldview in nature when it begins to help the individual fundamentally define life, nature, humanity, future, past, and present. Often times when involved in church plants I have wondered, are we really reaching into all the necessary people groups? At one point I was part of a Christian death metal church plant called “The Edge” which attempted to reach death metal rockers in the city. Imagine all the expressions of Christian community that could come out of targeting hobby-based subcultures. Many have done this already, such as ministries like the Christian motorcyclists association, Geeks under Grace, The Christian Apologetics Alliance, Christian metal bands, and many others.

From the perspectives of free love and sexual liberation that developed in the 1960s and 1970s, comes what today could be called sexual maximalism or sexual ultimism. This is the concept that romantic and sexual expression is the ultimate and highest level of physical, emotional, and even spiritual expression available to humanity. From the ballads of bands like Death Cab for Cutie and Radiohead and dozens of other contemporary bands, we find romance and sexuality expressed as the ultimate for human experience. Sexuality is spiritual it is the highest level and purpose of life. Along with sexual maximalism one can see how sexual/gender identity have taken center stage for young people. Young people today often see their sexual preferences or gender identity as the basic fundamental reality of who they are. They are fundamentally a sexual being expressing themselves ultimately in sexual ways. Once can see how this ties back to evolutionary biology, naturalism and humanism. If the physical is the only real thing, then sexuality quickly becomes the ultimate high and expression of human flourishing. Many in the gender nonconforming hierarchy of today, and the LGBTQ community find their base identity in their sexual desires and beliefs. This is a fundamentally religious/spiritual view of sexuality as the ultimate human experience.

The opportunity for ministry to those who are sexually focused is in the bankruptcy of sex as the ultimate or identity for the individual. Ultimately sex and romance fails utterly as a basis for the meaning of life and true fulfillment. When those things fail to satisfy, we have to be there as Christians to point the lost to Jesus Christ who shows a way out of sexual addiction, and a firm foundation for identity. Where sexual identity failed as a foundation for meaning, Jesus Christ’s free gift of eternal life, and adoption to the family of God provides a clear basis for value, meaning, and truth.

Next we consider religious cults. In the midst of the confusion of the 1800s and 1900s in regard to truth and meaning, many cults sprang up, like Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientology, Witchcraft, Satanism, the Branch Davidians, and many others active in the USA today. These cults are characterized by a requirement of strict devotion to those who partake in the cult. They are characterized often by extreme or dangerous viewpoints. These cults really grew up out of the cultural confusion in regard to truth and meaning in the USA. Today though their memberships are a vast minority in the grand scheme of the country, still they pose an option to remixed cultural consumerism, as a refuge from the meaninglessness of relativism. Mormons currently make up approximately 6.5 million Americans, as of 2018 (World Atlas). According to the NY Times, there are approximately 1.3 million Jehovah’s Witnesses in the USA. Though a small percentage of the population, cults remain at least somewhat influential in the United States, and makes up a small but important part of remixed culture. There is an opportunity for ministry as always, to guide the hurting away from abusive cults and toward the liberty and hope found in Jesus Christ. The body of Christ can be a loving, gentle, healing influence to those who have been used and manipulated by cults.

Internet culture is a beast of it’s own unique nature, and for many over time it has become more than a preoccupation or obsession, but a worldview. One could point in particular to the outrage culture prevalent on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and in particular Twitter. Mobs of users rifle through the tweet histories of famous individuals, seeing if they can find any evidence that the person may be racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, or hateful. And upon finding evidence, they post the information publicly, and a mob gathers to begin verbally attacking the individual. A new sort of group ethos forms around certain key issues, mainly related to racism, social justice, women’s rights, climate change, and various selective topics of public discussion. And those who disagree with the prevailing orthodoxy are attacked, denounced, and cancelled. Many times these individuals lose their jobs, and face ostracism from society. It seems, from the philosophical relativism of post-modernism, married to humanism, political activism, and social justice, a new orthodoxy has formed, in which a new set of communal values is set forward as that which must be believed and agreed upon without question. But more on this later, as internet/outrage culture is only one piece of this picture.

In any case, there is a great opportunity for Christian ministry on social media. In a atmosphere where no forgiveness is allowed and only justice without mercy is being delivered, Christians can bring forth the beauty of God’s grace. Grace offers total forgiveness in Christ Jesus for all our wrongs of the past. Suddenly, the outrage mob may be confronted with a powerful love that makes the hate in their hearts melt away.

Next, we consider universalism. Universalism brings in various different elements, from post-modern relativism to Greek philosophy, to eastern pantheism, to synergistic thinking, and all these form into a new religion in which all religions are equally true, and all roads from Buddhism to Judaism to Taoism to Christianity and Hinduism all lead to the same summit, to the same universal all-inclusive religion. This is exceedingly appealing for a remixed culture that views all perspectives as equally valid to the individual. But to scientism and humanism it may appear as simple madness which violates the law of non-contradiction. And given universalism’s lack of firm foundations and clear ethics, it may pass the way of liberal mainline Protestantism. In the hazy mix of various religions and ideas all being equally true, it can be difficult for Christians to find a footing on which to proclaim Jesus Christ as the exclusive and only way to God the Father. Universalism is so nebulous, it may be difficult to bring forth biblical truth, however, through prayer, and expressions of the unique power found in the Christian gospel, one can see through the vapid feel good philosophy of universalism to the timeless truth of the word of God.

Similar to universalism, yet also radically different, is the new age movement. The new age movement is I believe one of the furthest edges of the descent of man away from theism and out into the milieu of self. At last, humanity has gone all the way from Adam and Eve in the garden loving God, through the swamps of deism, naturalism, nihilism, and humanism, and now all the way back to the moment of the deception, when Satan said to them, “you will be as gods” (Gen 3:5 NIV). In the new age religion, humanity is deified. Humans become gods. Many thoughts from humanism and evolution are brought in, but with a hopeful tone, that humanity is evolving, becoming better and better, and humanity is developing new technologies, and new consciousness is taking place, and new paradigms are shifting, and a new age of prosperity and technology and space exploration and deification is coming. Humanity will soon evolve into the next phase of existence, where humans will have control over space and time and entire solar systems, and nothing will be impossible for humanity. These are the pronouncements of those of the new age persuasion. To quote one of the leading thinkers in the new age movement, Jean Houston: “It’s almost as if the species (humanity) were taking a quantum leap into a whole new way of being” (Sire, 2020, p. 160). Important thinkers of the new age movement include people like Deepak Chopra, Oprah Winfrey, Eckhart Tolle, Sylvia Celeste Browne, and others.

The new age movement is probably most dangerous in that appeals to the worst angels of human nature, the desire for self to be the center of all things, the desire to be like god, the desire for power, and so on. But it becomes doubly dangerous because it marries itself with evolutionary concepts, progressive ideology of societal development, and a very hopeful utopian view of the future.

At one time before I knew Jesus Christ and had become a follower of the Way, I practiced as a new ager for several years. I read many of the prominent books of the new age movement. I practiced things like walking meditation, transcendental meditation, clearing of the mind, even astral projection, and communing with spirits. The chink in the armor of the new age movement is that when all of the nice sounding ideas are stripped away, there is no power behind it. When I sit alone and attempt to manipulate the universe to my whim as if I were a god, nothing happens, because I am not a god. And so, as we Christians reach out to the new age community, we can help these people see that there is real power in Jesus Christ, there is really someone on the other end of the telephone when calling upon Jesus. In the past at least for me, there had always been nothing, or worse, dark entities on the other end.

Lastly, I would like to propose a concept I call the new fluid doctrinism, or the fluid orthodoxy. I believe every one of these remixed worldviews will inevitably lead to this concept. Every one of these concepts leaves a vacuum in the place of morality and meaning. And we each long and hunger for these things. As remixed culture has taken hold of society and reshaped it, we increasingly see a group consensus forming, in which the majority defines and redefines base concepts of culture and civilization.

So we find a new fluid doctrinism, in the place of nebulous concepts like universalism or the sorrow of nihilism, or the incoherence of scientism, filling the void is a new orthodoxy of beliefs. There was a vacuum for a time in the place of objective morality, and slowly over time we see in it’s place, a new structure of societal viewpoints. These viewpoints are increasingly formed by a group consensus of prevailing cultural elites, political commentators, media personalities, wealthy individuals and so on. Thus we see emerging on the public scene in the place of theism’s doctrines, a whole new set of doctrines. These are the fluid (ever-changing) doctrines of the new philosophy. Some of it’s views are as follows: LGBTQ is always good, climate change is the chief danger of the world, Christians are suspect and dangerous bigots, gender is a social construct, science is to be trusted and valued above all other disciplines, religion is always suspect, government is oppressive, yet government wielded by us will solve all problems, and all those who disagree with us must be destroyed. On and on the list goes of prevailing moral perspectives, of what one might call political correctness, but perhaps more so, worldview correctness, or religious correctness. In the place of relativism and relative beliefs and morals, a new doctrinal system is forming, that seeks to force itself on all others, and will tolerate no dissent. I believe that this new doctrinism married with various elements of the new age and universalism, may in the end be the vehicle through which the anti-Christ will ride into the world, to take total dominance over humanity.

As always, we as Christians find ourselves with dangers and opportunities in this new dynamic. First, is the danger that should this new worldview gain preeminence, Christians will find themselves increasingly marginalized, persecuted, and even physically in danger. Second, is the great opportunity in this. In such a totalitarian worldview that offers no ability to dissent or disagree, many will quickly become disillusioned with it, and we as Christians must be there to show them the way of love, mercy, grace, service, and self-sacrificing love in the biblical Christian worldview. That may yet be our calling, even to offer up our very lives for the love of Christ, in the next ten, twenty, thirty, or forty years. Lord, help us all.

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