Politics is downstream from culture, and religion is a very important component of culture.
The United States began as a very Christian nation. Today, many millions have fallen away from the Christian faith. But they didn’t all lose the religious impulse. Instead, many political progressives became Conscious. They became religiously aware of the plight of the poor, and performed assorted mystical exercises to purge themselves of Hate.
I could work with that. The New Agey theme of this web site is a legacy of a more civil time, when I could meet the progressives half way, to discuss over local craft beers where their favorite causes and the cause of liberty overlap.
Those groovy days are gone, alas. Today, the political left is embracing a harsh puritanism. Instead of going to yoga classes to quash tribal impulses, the new mystical exercises consist of taking courses in elaborate gibberish which provides endless excuses to be ever more angry. All the witch hunting with none of the salvation.
Except it’s not witches they are hunting. They are hunting down all who connect with what America once was. As a heterosexual white male with roots going back to the Jamestown colony, I am at the top of their hate list. It matters not that I was campaigning against the mass incarceration of black men decades before black lives started mattering. Their religion calls for my subjugation and self flagellation.
I can’t work with that.
America can’t work with that.
The cause of liberty, or simply avoiding a bloody civil war, requires finding better religions for the younger generations.
As Ayn Rand correctly pointed out, a free society requires a compatible Sense of Life. It could be her philosophy of Objectivism. It could be the groovy wackiness of Timothy Leary and Robert Anton Wilson. It could include Nordic pagan revivals, the Boomer generation’s New Age Consciousness or something else entirely. Or it could be a fresh take on Christianity.
I’m a Christian, so I’ll focus on the last option. (I mention other options because the Gate is Narrow, so I expect to coexist with non Christians. I’d rather coexist with dapper Objectivists, even keeled Stoics, groovy hippies, and happy hedonists than be on the same planet as graduates of Modern Indignation Studies.)
I don’t live in California, nor do I live in a college town, but I do share much of the mindset of these markets. I have a PhD in physics and I write software for a living. (I even went to the same grad school as the creator of the TV series Silicon Valley…) My favorite Christian radio network is NPR (for the music, not the theology). As such, I have a pretty good idea as to why our colleges have become Post Christian, and why Christianity is practically illegal in Silicon Valley.
I’m pretty turned off by many flavors of modern Christianity myself. But I’m still a Christian, and I’m not talking Christianity Lite. Indeed, the solution lies in reinvigorating ancient traditions, and becoming even more Bible-based than the Fundamentalists.
The Problems with Christianity Lite
I was born in a high church Episcopalian home and became conscious in an age when Beatles and hippies roamed the earth. As such, I watched the dumbing down and decline of Mainline Protestantism first hand.
When I was tiny, Church services were beautiful, but boring for young children. The liturgy was hard to understand, but solemn, awesome. The minister was stern and scary; the threat of Hell was real to me.
Then the Church tried to be Relevant. The Book of Common Prayer was dumbed down. The hymns were simplified. The stern and scary minister gave way to a succession of mushy milquetoasts. By the time I was ready to get confirmed, the requirements were dumbed down to the point where I didn’t truly learn what I was committing to.
And through these years as the Episcopal Church compromised with the world, the Episcopal Church shrank. Lowering the barriers to membership resulted in fewer members.
When I got to college I took a break from Christianity entirely. I dabbled in pagan philosophies and experimented with assorted New Age psychic technologies.
When I outgrew my rebellious phase I tried going back to church. Finding an Episcopal parish that resembled what I grew up in proved to be a challenge. I found ministers who would take the scripture reading and give a sermon expounding the exact opposite meaning of the Biblical passage. I joined a local startup church that met in a school cafeteria while raising money for their own building. When they did build their building, the new sanctuary looked like something in an office park – complete with mini blinds! I traveled down the road to an older church and found Sunday school classes teaching yoga and New Age nonsense.
I finally found a truly Christian parish in the town of Fairfax, with a huge congregation and an amazingly talented choir. They could take the most difficult hymns and sing them in four+ part harmony. But they also mixed in mass quantities of modern Praise and Worship music: mind numbingly repetitive Jingles for Jesus. I literally got nightmares of people singing something like “We have Jesus. Na na na na naa naa!”
I had to leave.
Charismatic Christianity works for some people. If you are one of them, go for it.
But for me and people like me – and there are many in Silicon Valley and other hyper educated hot spots – such forced emotionalism is anti spiritual: worse than fingernails on chalkboards, waiting in line at the Post Office, or filling out tax forms. More on this later, but let’s get back to Christianity Lite.
Once upon a time there was a real market for Christianity Lite. Back when I was a child and before, going to Church was expected. Millions of non-Believers went to church just to be upstanding members of their respective communities. (And this is fine, by the way. The Gate is narrow; true believers are supposed to set an example that others follow. Something about letting their light shine…)
Today, it is possible to be respectable and not show up for church. Indeed, in many niches today, being a regular church goer is frowned upon.
So today the market for Christianity Lite is much weaker – but not zero. Church going does provide a form of social contact that doesn’t involve going to bars and whatnot. In rural areas, churches and high school sporting events are the primary places to social network.
But colleges are societies unto themselves. So are big corporations, especially those which entice knowledge workers via on-campus perks. A religious organization needs to provide something beyond social networking. It needs to provide spiritual experience, moral instruction for the children, a connection with the past, and/or…a better afterlife.
Spirituality for Silicon Valley
Consider the mindset of your stereotypical Silicon Valley computer nerd: hyper-intelligent, introverted, socially awkward, often weird.
Consider also what they are tasked to do for their day jobs. They dissect the ambiguous statements of natural language into the deterministic logic that a machine can “understand.” The resulting tangles of logic are often huge, more than any human mind can contemplate at once. So a large part of the job is organizing that logic into hierarchies so a human can focus on manageable chunks at a time. And even then, the more chunks one can hold at a time, the better.
This leaves no room for ear worms – including Jesus Jingles.
Modern day Accessible Christianity is not so accessible to the denizens of Silicon Valley.
Try this thought experiment. Imagine Mr. Spock from the original Star Trek series attending a modern hip church service with its repetitive tunes and forced emotionalism. He would stand still looking over the crowd displaying a mix of confusion and disgust. The only way he would participate would be if some hostile alien energy beings forced him to participate. Then, Spock would indeed end up speaking in tongues – due to brain damage. Dr. McCoy would have to come up with a miracle cure, probably involving a Klingon nerve gas derivative.
Now imagine Mr. Spock attending an old school Catholic or Orthodox service in a beautiful cathedral. Order, beautiful art, beautiful music. Mr. Spock appreciated such things. In early episodes he played an electronic lyre type of instrument. In a later episode he demonstrated a thorough knowledge of earth art history, and the ability to sight read a Brahms waltz at a piano.
And yes, I can imagine Mr. Spock visiting a Medieval Christian monastery as well. Mr. Spock meditated frequently…
Our Silicon Valley overlords are not quite Vulcans, but comparatively speaking, the analogy is useful. There is plenty of spiritual hunger among those who write code. Stoicism, Minimalism, Zen, and psychedelic drugs are all relatively popular among this crowd. So is fantasy literature.
Much the same can be said about academia. Reading hard books and appreciating unapproachable art are what humanities professors do for a living. For them (and me), NPR is the best Christian music radio network.
Ancient Christian traditions are rich with ceremonies and spiritual exercises suitable for those who think for a living. Indeed, Christianity was once tailored too much for nerds. Making Christianity more accessible/democratic was a good thing up to a point. But we have overshot the mark. By writing off the intellectual elites, we end up with a Post Christian overclass at odds with a Christian middle class. The arrangement is dangerous…
An Afterlife a Nerd Can Believe In
If there’s one thing that Vulcans like less than emotions, it’s contradictions. Logic is the process of detecting and weeding out contradictory statements. This has produced headaches for Christendom from the very beginning.
The Bible is a noisy data set; it is the record of human witnesses to divine interactions. Jesus and the prophets often used poetic language to convey their messages across the centuries – concrete metaphors survive language translation better than abstract reasoning. Jesus used hyperbole to emphasize certain points; italics and emojis had yet to be invented. God left us with mysteries to ponder. And there are hidden messages which become clear to those who pay close attention and obey the more obvious dictates.
And so there have been disagreements about theonomical matters from the start – both important and trivial. St. Paul admonished Christians to be One, and not form factions. Many have interpreted this as a call to stop thinking, to accept the interpretations of those in authority. At times this worked. At other times it resulted in deeper factional splits, excommunications, lost outreach opportunities, and outright religious war.
I wonder if Paul was arguing against factionalism but not for fascism. Maybe Christian worship should include some pondering and debating. It would certainly make things more interesting for the nerds in the congregations. Maybe the mysteries and ambiguities of the Bible are there as chew toys for the argumentative…
With that being said, some of those hidden messages may prove to be important. Some of them may well be messages sent across time to a rich and secure future, where there is less fear to inspire faith, but there are computerized Bibles to allow easy cross-referencing and word studies. (More on this in a moment.)
In the United States, with our early adoption of Freedom of Religion, we developed a market for Biblical interpretation and worship style. Since we have a multitude of Christian denominations with different takes on controversial points, you can change denominations if your current denomination is wrong on a point you consider important.
This spiritual capitalism has worked. The U.S. has remained more actively Christian than most prosperous countries – including those which have official state sponsored churches. But there is an important market that is being poorly served: the especially prosperous and well educated. Our elite is going Post Christian, and storm clouds are on the horizon.
Let us address a major contradiction, one embraced by most of the major denominations, a contradiction which is especially glaring in our prosperous age in our nominally free country. Consider these two statements:
- God is love.
- God will burn the souls of sinners and unbelievers for eternity.
This is a colossal contradiction! It may have been a useful recruitment tool at one time, among people used to evil gods and human sacrifice requirements. It may have been reasonable seeming to those living in societies where torture was a routine part of the criminal justice system.
But in our comfortable age, which is more just and merciful in part due to Christian influence, the contradiction is glaring. Might be time to sing a few hundred Jesus Jingles to overwhelm the logic circuits and make the bad thoughts go away…
Or maybe this is a valid reason to switch to Christianity Lite. Downplay the unpleasant bits of the Bible and focus on the love and mercy parts…
I have an interesting irony for you: the Christian denominations which have been most up front preaching against this contradiction include the most legalistic and Bible based. These include the Seventh Day Adventists and more extreme Sabbath keeping denominations which also observe the annual Sabbaths which most Christians don’t even know about. The average members of the extreme denominations know their way around the Bible better than the clergy of Christianity Lite churches. These reactionary Christians have been preaching against Hell for decades.
Old Testament Law often features proportional punishment – an eye for an eye. Proportional punishment for a Lenin or a Hitler would indeed entail some serious agony, but it would still be finite.
Actually, Old Testament Law is often less than proportional. Many penalty functions peg out. For property crimes, the maximum sentence was six years, even for Bernie Madoff levels of criminality.
Of course, for many crimes/sins the penalty was death. Death is not eternal torture; death is not living. The talk of souls burning does not begin until the New Testament, and there Jesus was referring to a garbage dump outside of Jerusalem. A garbage dump can be perpetually burning even if the individual bits of garbage are consumed.
On the static pages of this site, there are chapters which go deep on the subject. I show where Jesus talked of multiple degrees of punishment for the wicked and multiple levels of reward for the just and merciful. And there are many passages implying that the most wicked will be simply disposed of: maybe the most wicked are NPCs, placed here for the training of the potentially righteous. (Or maybe even the worst will be converted in the end. See here. I am uncertain on this point.)
Alas, these denominations tend to be very Low Church – especially those which observe the annual holy days. The latter view errors of older denominations as proof that they are not the Real Church. As such, they distance themselves from a glorious heritage of hymns, traditions, and spiritual practices. Even worse, most eschew building church buildings and meet in hotel meeting rooms or private homes. No point in building if Jesus is coming back in a few years…
And here we come to my vision for preventing a Post Christian America: I would love to combine the beauty, solemnity, and quiet spiritual disciplines of the more orthodox denominations with the fresh deep dives into scripture of the extreme Sabbath keeping denominations (those which keep both weekly and annual Sabbaths).
Let’s have some beautiful churches near college campuses and tech centers and invite the logical nit pickers who cannot swallow contradictions, the introverts who cannot tolerate forced emotionalism, and the sensitive NPR listeners who intuitively reject the God is Lovecraftian vision of Hell.
And for goodness sake, bill it as incremental improvements to Christianity vs. yet another One True Church. And don’t neener dance about those improvements, either. We have cheap books and near universal literacy. We have computers. And we don’t have to worry about being martyred – at least, if we act in time. Christians in the modern age need to achieve higher standards in some areas to offset the slack we have been given.
A Shinier Light
Not all are Called. Throughout history, Christianity has had its unBelieving followers: poor people who were willing to be moral in return for alms, not-so-poor people who wanted to network with other moral people, rulers who wanted a source of public morals which didn’t involve human sacrifice or other unpleasantness.
This is a feature, not a bug. As Jesus said:
“Let your light shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, which is in heaven.”
If true Believing Christians do what they are tasked to do, the non-Beliving will respect Christianity. Society will be pulled in a more moral direction. The true Believers become the salt that flavors the entire stew.
Conversely, if Christians treat baptism as a perpetual Get Out of Hell Free card, if they treat End Time prophesies as an excuse to trash the planet for future generations, if they invoke the Might of the State to enforce the full set of Christian standards of morality on unBelievers, if they completely outsource Good Works to governments and endowment funds, then The People will see our slack works and glorify Satan, Marx, Foucault, Bill Nye, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
This is my major gripe with some of the nit-picking Bible-studying denominations mentioned earlier (but not the Seventh Day Adventists). Getting the Calendar correct and finding the hidden messages in the Bible is secondary to Charity. On this matter, some of the Christianity Lite congregations do better than the diligent Bible students.
I also have a gripe with those Christians who assume that the End is coming soon so it’s OK to trash the planet, run up the national debt, and/or cheap out on the worship facilities. Yes, it does look rather end timey these days: knowledge is much increased, people are moving to-and-fro, there is a great falling away, women and children are telling men what to do, etc. But there is still no Temple to desecrate, and humanity has pulled back from the brink more than once in the past.
Suppose Jesus does come soon. What do you want to say when brought before Him:
- “I was looking forward to your coming, so when I saw the Antichrist coming to power, I cheered. Also, I demonstrated my faith in your coming soon by trashing the planet, and not giving a shit about future generations.”
- “I have read about false Antichrists in the past, so I fought against the real one just in case. I worked to preserve the planet, and build for the future on the off chance that current troubles were a false alarm.”
I would rather be in the second group.
But is preserving the planet for future generations even a Christian concern? Or is it some sort of Earth worshipping paganism?
Humans definitely have a license to subdue the planet – but the planet still belongs to the Creator [Leviticus 25:23]. We are the caretakers. Browse through Jesus’ parables. Many of them involve servants being left in charge of a master’s property, while the master takes a leave of absence. These stories end with the master rewarding servants who did a good job of taking care of his property, and punishments for those did a poor job – including mistreating the lower ranked servants. How we take care of those we are in charge of in this life, has major implications in the next life.
But do animal lives count? Consider the Old Testament admonition against muzzling the ox who treads the grain [Deuteronomy 25:4]. And note also the rule for slaughtering meat animals. They were to be bled, not strangled. Messy, but likely less painful for the animals. I have been dunked and I have donated blood. The former produced panic; the latter produced a feeling of faintness. (Readers who have lived a more dangerous life might know more. Please correct me in the comments.)
How about GMO foods? The Old Testament Law forbids putting an ox and an ass together to plow. It forbids planting diverse seed in a vineyard and mixing wool and linen [Deuteronomy 22:9-11]. Transferring DNA between species strikes me as an even bigger abomination. Note also the Days of Unleavened Bread that follow the Passover. Hebrews were supposed to toss out their yeast cultures and not use yeast for a week. Then, they started with fresh wild yeast. Something to think of when breeding microbes…
Finally (for now), I have noted in the past that the Old Testament Law had a built in population control mechanism(!) All Hebrews of legitimate birth were entitled to a share of the family farm on the Jubilee Year – no matter how badly their ancestors managed their finances. But, if their ancestors had more children than the farm could support, members of that family felt the pinch.
A Hint of an Action Plan
This blog post – and the religion chapters elsewhere on this site – could form the basis for yet another denomination. But I’d be far happier if some existing denominations/churches were to take ideas from here as they see fit.
If your denomination is ancient, with slow and awe-inspiring rituals, don’t throw it all out in the name of being Relevant. Have livelier, Relevant, services available for those who crave it if you wish, but for introverts especially, a more stately order of service can be more spiritually uplifting.
If your denomination is gentle and/or open-minded, and struggles with the harsher bits of the Bible, I invite you to dig deep into my Narrow Gate series. The Bible promises afterlife options that are rather more just than tradition indicates. See also my series on the Law of Liberty: Old Testament Law was harsh in some ways, but in many other ways it was much gentler than current U.S. Law.
If you are one of the multiple tiny denominations that split off from the Worldwide Church of God, I have just handed you a better marketing plan. Instead of buying time slots on Christian radio and TV stations, where most of the audience considers you to be heretics, target those who have already walked away from existing denominations for intellectual reasons. You produce college level lectures on a regular basis. Reach out to the people who like that sort of thing!
And a quick note to conservative and libertarian Christians: Jesus called for voluntary giving on top of a mandated welfare system. In some ways the Law of Moses resembles the anarcho-capitalism favored by some libertarians. But though it had no provision for king, army, or police force, it had several nontrivial mandatory welfare provisions. See God’s Welfare System for details. Some of the ideas answer the objections to pure capitalism.
More to Come?
I could write more on this subject. I could probably fill up a book if there was interest. (Though the book would include material already published on this site.)
Is there interest? Who wants to prevent a Post Christian America?
 We did not meet to my knowledge. Different departments.
 Theology is often concerned with trying to derive the properties of God philosophically. I coined the word “theonomy” to make it clear that I’m talking about reasoning on the nature of God based on our given data set: the Bible.
 Read The Lost History of Christianity to learn how a third of Christendom was lost to theological quibbling. The Middle East and Central Asia was once heavily Christian. The novel Shogun is based on a true story, the story of an English adventurer who stopped the spread of Christianity in Japan by importing Protestant quibbles with Catholicism.