Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Unmasking the Quest for the Secular Utopia

Is it just me, or have others noticed that we are now in a driven world dominated by a new legalism based around the moral code which undergirds the utopian vision of secularism? The secular utopia appears to me to be of prolonged life (through medical means and seeking the perfect life [diet, exercise etc] that costs us more and more everyday), in a world without religion  or at least religion in privacy (we are tolerated as long as we stay in our approved spot) and especially fundamentalism (not just Islamic, but anything that is too passionately espoused and propagated, including evangelicals) in which all peoples live together in perfect harmony and tolerance (except where public religion is concerned and that is a no no), without racial slur (even a little joke here or there which is really harmless, and especially never at the expense of women, blacks or gays, but its ok to slag evangelicals—not a Muslim though, you might get a fatwa, not that this stops some), with perfect justice (except for the unborn child and the religious), which should ever operate out of guilt for the oppressions of the past (us white people must pay forever for our oppression of other races), in which there is no threat to life (e.g. a jungle gym), where people can have consensual sex with anything and anyone except a child (around 16 and under), in which divorce, adultery are normalised, without cigarettes (anything but), binge drinking, drunk driving, junk food, where all people are skinny (obesity is the new leprosy), gambling is normalised, and supposedly liberty dominates (except where public displays of religion are concerned—actually it is liberty for a certain few). It is now becoming anti-capitalist, while held together and funded by capitalists. The landscape is a bland without any religious regalia (e.g. cross), without anything religious in a name (e.g. Christmas, Christchurch—evil!). It is a supposedly neutral world, but in fact driven with a real and passionately espoused anti-supernatural, relative, tolerant, humanistic/humanitarian, seemingly sophisticated philosophy which is opposed to all things religious where that religion encroaches beyond the home, church, mosque, or other place of worship.

Now this secular utopia will come to pass in a variety of ways.
First, legislation whereby. The utopia has been and is being fostered through law more and more. By the way, it didn’t work in Israel, and it won’t work in the west—true change comes from heart change!

It works like this. When one thing happens to disturb the aforementioned utopia whether because it is not in place, or needs adjustment, a law is put in place. Or, before the law, comes the swag of reports and commissions in which we interrogate why something happened. For example, one midwife messes up a birth, and there must be a commission and the whole vocation comes under scrutiny (never mind the cost!). Or, one politician messes up their travel allowances, and after extensive reports and commissions costing yet more of a fortune, all politicians must now be subject to a fresh law to ensure it never happens again. Or, a child falls off a trampoline in Invercargill and dies; hence, all tramps must be ring-fenced in the whole nation, and some bureaucrat will need to be employed to ensure it happens and a fine will be dished out if not. This pushes up the rates, and gives the lawyers and bureaucrats more work.
We see this sort of thing everywhere and in fact, every day! One bad thing happens, a report (s) is commissioned, and new law must come in. The secular utopia cannot be threatened. So we have a pampered generation without resilience. This creates a new Halakah, an oral law, to support the religion of secularism, we become litigious and the Scribes and Pharisees rule the world. Jesus came to liberate Israel from its obsession with law, we need setting free from the new secular legalism.

Secondly, the unseen powers of the world. In the main these forces are nameless and faceless collectives in school boards, political bodies local and national, the rulers of Europe, and in its most glorious manifestation the UN and others like UNESCO. These are elected (usually by people whom in reality know nothing of the candidates who are nicely engineered to maintain the status quo) or through unelected forces who still seem to have the power to dictate how life will be to people who never agreed to their existence in the first place, let alone submitting to their power. These international non-elected faceless organisations are the people who decide that this day or that day is the day of the child, or women’s health day, etc etc. They critique the world, but do nothing to really help it. The backdrop is their secular mantra. There is a whole religious calendar set up around the religion of secularism. These are the forces that can tell the British Olympic Committee that they must pick drug cheats for the Olympics who have done their time under WADA sanctions. These are the people who tell people that they can or can’t wear crosses at work. How is it that these organisations are so powerful? They are the parliaments of secularism.
Third the media. The media seems in the hands of left wing ideologues who propagate the religion of secularism. We see it in news bulletins which are not news, but tell the story of the secular utopia. A new medical discovery, legislation against junk food advertising, another fundamentalist idiot, smoking packets without labels, the latest commission into the child who broke her leg on a tramp and the subsequent reports and law changes, the new laws to ensure a house doesn’t collapse, etc etc.

It is not just the news and docos it is found in the dramas, soaps and comedies which are as much vehicles for the religion of secularism as they are dramas and soaps. So for example, Coronation Street is now replete with gays, lesbians, and transgender characters. They are the good guys e.g. Roy Cropper. The others in the show are either bland support characters. When a religious person comes up (like Sophie), it is only a matter of time before she converts—in Sophie’s case to lesbianism. Shortland Street in NZ is a sexually liberal program based in a hospital without religion at all, and essentially a meat market as people move freely in and out of sexual relationships and marriages, hetero or homo. It is completely normalised; a wonderful portrayal of the secular world. Friends is the story of six who live the secular utopian life in harmony, despite their differences (of course not a religious one among them even though the majority of Americans are religious). Then there are programs preaching the new family, anything but the Waltons. Program after program preach anti-smoking, anti-junk food and obesity; give us the latest medical means of prolonging life; expose the stupidity of religious people; renarrate family; reject Christianity; they narrate the secular utopia in various forms. As we sit mindlessly watching TV, movies and the net, like frogs in warming water, we are being slowly morphed into dumb believers in this utopia. Or, if we don’t believe, we are lulled into silent acquiescence. The media are the reachers of this utopia, and they do it brilliantly and creatively, wrapped up in entertainment. Anyone who is right wing, overtly religious etc, is held with suspicion across the whole gambit. They hold NZ and other nations to account for the expectations of the secular utopia.
Thirdly, the school and university. The home has been abandoned in the narrative of secularism, families come in all sorts of forms, the old mum-dad-kids model is par se and not necessary. There is an avoidance of facing the reality that most of our social problems would be reduced greatly with the marriage and family returned to centre stage. Never mind the stream of research that endorses that children raised in such families, in the main, do better. The school is now the go-to place for education for all of life—that is of course because the family is failing, but nothing is done to help it, except from a few fringe groups who are usually marginalised as Christian and so not worth listening to. Forget the 3 R’s, ‘riting, ‘rithmatic, and reading. Now the school trains kids in the fourth R, ‘rything; from sexual education, to values to beyond. Bible in Schools is placed outside, or barred or course—it is a threat to the secular utopia.

Sure, the failure of the family has led to this in many cases, but the school now is expected to be the centre of the world. Not just the school, the childcare centre is needed as minds are formed in those formative years—so every kid needs to go to a childcare centre. The idea of a mum (or a dad) staying at home and providing that education is hardly noticed; even though, research supports this as a means of producing great kids—assuming a stable family base of course. Then there is the university where the narrative of secularism is told, history is read with an implicit anti-religion bias—religion is naïve, science has the answers; religion has done ill, forget that to a large degree the greatness of the western world is due to the influence of Christianity and its ethic. Christians actually had something to do with the western dream! Never mind too that studies show that religious belief is good for the soul and life. The story is rammed home so we become unthinking believers in the secular dream.
And whereas once, even secularists sent their kids to Sunday School because they believed that getting the values was worth it, despite the nonsense story that went with it which could easily be refuted by “science”, now that is not considered. Sunday Schools are a dying breed in fact. The church is marginalised, empty buildings aside from a few hot shows in each corner of the big cities. The Church schools are doing better, perhaps that is not so much in their face. On the matter of science, faith and science are not in conflict, as Newton knew well—but everyone believes they are, because the prophets of secularism have told us so.

Now I have a lot of sympathy for the secular utopia. I too believe that we should want a better world, in which many of the ideals of secularism are seen. Indeed, I suspect that the utopian dream is flogged off Christianity (or Judaism) in the first place; just with notions of the supernatural, an exclusive God/gods and belief systems that make exclusive claims taken out. I even have sympathy for the criticism of secular utopians toward Christianity which has sadly been tied up in a whole lot of things like colonialism and ecological destruction. We have allowed ourselves to form political and economic alliances that are anti-gospel. Religion has in many cases been destructive. Yet, Western civilisation at its peril fails to see that the ethical and moral undergirding of its glory is in large part due to the Judeo-Christian ethic. Even some atheists realise this! We need to keep narrating the “other side of the story”—yeah, while we have sucked in many cases, much that is glorious has been done in the name of God and that should be recognised. Would we want to go back to the world of colliding empires and political and military machinations which dominated before Christ?
I believe the secular utopian dream will fail. It will fail because like all human attempts to engineer society by our own power and thought, humans can’t pull it off. It will fail because you can’t legislate a utopia, it must come from within in relationship from hearts transformed and working together so that volitional good overcomes volitional corruption. Not to mention that its proponents simply don’t produce enough kids to keep the ball rolling! The western dream cannot be sustained on 1.8 kids per family.

It will be another Babel, another Communism. It will fall. Why? Because humanity needs the power of the divine to enable it to rise above self-interest to be altruistic, selfless and others-centred and it is these values that will enable a society to reach greatness, not laws, schools or the UN etc. Jesus came to show us this. He demonstrated it, he called us to emulate it. He carries this on by his Spirit in the willing heart who submits to him and finds within themselves the power to live out of true humility and agapē love.
The west while it rejects the story that made it great will continue to recede in power and be superseded by other forces. The thing is that this utopian dream will not come through the means above, it will come through transformed hearts, who meld into transformed families, communities, cities, nations and the world. That is the vision of the Kingdom of God. We won’t see it in its fullness but will see it more realised if we get it. And of course, in the world to come, when the King has returned as he will, he will establish the fullness of new creation he spoke of, in which the vision of utopia will be realised, eternal life, an end to injustice, and all will be whole.

The Christian gospel is the story not of a “man-made” utopia, but a Spirit-empowered world full of liberty, love, peace, joy, hope, not coerced from above through unseen political forces, but generated from below. One cannot legislate this utopia, or produce it in schools, or engineer it through the media, or guide it through unseen arrogant political forces. It can only be done as the real story spreads from person to person, freely received and given, permeating and transforming as it flows through the crevasses of society and creation. The church needs to realise this too. In this way the mustard seed that was first and foremost only Jesus, will become a tree; the pinch of salt will season the world; the message will spread.  
What do you think?


Matt Barker said...

You can add this to the evidence. While renovating my house the law changed so that certain work must be done by a registered builder. So now I have to find a builder o check the work we've already done and sign his name to it so I can get council consent. Never mind that the people who did the work were well advised and experienced in the work they're doing.

It is removing the Kiwi romance of home improvements from the landscape. In years to come people will watch that Mitre 10 add "Oh come on mate, do it yourself" and not understand how that is possible, or know anyone who has done such a thing - completely outside their frame of reference.

Howard Carter said...

I'm not sure what to think Mark... You seem to have emptied both barrels in a shot gun approach to secularism.

I think many of us have a distant memory of the Christendom paradigm where in the west at least the church and Christendom had a privileged position in society. Know we find ourselves more on the margins, a lot like our first century beginnings.

There are many responses to that... to bemoan the change and complain about t.

The second is to withdraw from it into our own ghetto's what Leonard Sweet calls a hunker in the bunker approach.

The third is seeking a political solution... what I guest in the US at least they call the culture wars. Interesting to see in the new Avengers movie that Captain America who is described as a little old fashioned is the one who in the midst of the myths of many gods says "there is only one God and he does not dress like that". But as I said he is portrayed as the epitome of 1940's Americanism (even before the post war noir). Let’s face it despite the presence of people of faith in the media we don’t have the resources to compete.

fourthly and I fear most of us want to take this line... we still hold on to the bankrupt western dream and as Christians simply want ( as Shane Claiborne so poetically puts it) with Jesus sprinkles on top. We fit into the western worldview... yes we may even be that frog in boiling water... but i suspect we are rather moored to the dock of the city and not prepared to hoist sail and head off away onto the unruly ocean following Jesus... out into the deep.

The final approach I think is the one we will be pushed more and more towards that is living as an alternative society, rediscovering our Christian distinctive. Dietrich Bonheoffer put it like this "“The restoration of the church will surely come from a new kind of community (monasticism is the actual word he used), which will have nothing in common with the old but a life of uncompromising adherence to the Sermon on the Mount in imitation of Christ. I believe the time has come to rally people together for this.” Itr I think is the hope for the church and the world in Christ.

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