Sunday, July 08, 2007

Three Counterfeits

Here are three counterfeits discussed in a leaked memo in the fictional "The Gravedigger File: Papers on The Subversion of the Modern Church" by OS Guinness.


"Civil religion is counterfeit in the sense that it is religion shaped by the priorities and demands of the political order Loyalty to Caesar once again overrides loyalty to Christ.

In its American form, civil religion is that somewhat vague but treasured semi-religious semi-political beliefs and values basic to America's understanding of herself. You can witness it at its most elegant in the speeches of any presidential inauguration, or at its more homespun on any Fourth of July. The American Creed is quite different from the Apostle's Creed. The latter is basically theological, the former political; the latter a matter of sacred covenant, the former of social contract; the latter is highly distinct, the former deliberately vague. But the American Creed is no less deeply held. The charge 'un-American' is far more likely to provoke a deep reaction than the charge 'heretical'.


"A second force contributing to consumer religion has been the virtual sanctification of prosperity and success through the American dream. Religion, you remember, has been confined increasingly to the private sphere at the very time when the private sphere has become the sphere of individual gratification and consumption. This special configuration has produced a surge of conspicuous consumption in religious guise.

Notice how a complete set of principles and slogans has been created ("Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve", "Turn scars into stars", and so on). These are designed for plugging into the Apostles' Creed or the American Creed or both. The Good News and the Good Life, the Christian Way and the American Way are serviced under the same franchise."


"by which I mean religion shaped by the priorities and demands of the social order... The issue at stake in this case is: What is the source of an individuals meaning and belonging?...This lack gives rise to a simple dynamic which is natural for us to harness: When social chaos, then religious cults..Freedom! was the cry of the sixties. Freedom from tradition, custom, routine, morals, authority and all that inhibited the spontaneous expression of the autonomous created a vacuum which in turn built up a consuming hunger for the very things that had been discarded.

Predictably, there was a rebound--from openness to closure, from virtual anarchy to authoritarianism...The liberated generation suddenly woke up and found itself the fatherless generation; and in the ensuing scramble for authority, community, family, and home, it showed itself decidedly unparticular...This is the context of the '70s -style surge of closed religion which reached its climax in Jonestown...

You may have noticed the sudden somersaults in some of the fringe charismatic groups, for example. One moment they were all for freedom (rejecting one-man ministry, impatient with hide-bound liturgies and traditions, overturning male domination). Then presto, and a thousand mini-popes were strutting around telling their followers what to believe, how to believe, whom to marry, with whom not to associate.

Such swings toward micro-totalitarianism were dressed up properly, of course, sailing under the flags of respectable notions such as authority, discipleship, and accountability. But unquestionably they were closed religion, the Christian faith sucked into the black hole of today's vacuum of meaning and belonging."

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Blogger Nick Steffen said...

As always, Os Guinness puts his finger right where we hurt the most. These counterfeit gospels all preach prosperity, hope, glory, etc... but can only continue on by confusing and misleading their audience. After all, who would vote for a politician who admits that he probably won't be able to fix anything?

However, I'm not comfortable with the first opposition of the Christian faith as spiritual instead of political. There are deep political (or perhaps I mean social) implications to the gospel. Our 'politics' is not called to look like the world's 'politics', but it is called to be what it is. Prophets are not called to be silent because they are 'spiritual', not 'political'. The spiritual nature of Christianity (and by that, I mean the Holy Spirit stuff) is socially transforming, is economically transforming, and I believe is politically transforming as well. (Not that I think you would disagree with any of this, but I think it helps me to put this stuff into as stark language as I possibly can.)

2:33 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Nick, Thanks for the comment.

I think if you read the quote carefully (and with the greater context, which is excluded here), you'll find that the author is not implying what you may think he is.

What Os (or rather the character in the book) is speaking of is a Christian religion shaped by a stance of political priorities. Its a critique of fuzzy politico-religion, which is prevelant in North America. The "With God On Our Side" sort of thing.

Os clearly stands for the idea of the Lordship of Christ over all of life, so I don't think he would be making the compartmentalization that you mention.

At another point in the memo, there is the comment that speaks on this matter. There is a discussion of how in fleeing the state churches of Europe, some of those who came to America, with the noble intention of avoiding the situation in Europe, made decisions that allowed an overly compartmentalized view to prevail (this here is spiritual, and this here is political, etc.)

I think the important point is: What is the relation between our worldview and our politics? I think we should view the Biblical worldview as our undergirding presupposition, which works its way into all aspects of life, including politics. On the other hand, there is a temptation to manifest a bizzare sort of syncretism where the lines are quite fuzzy and vague. For example: We love God and country, except we don't even know who this God is except that He inspired our constitution. We so closely associate our Christianity with our culture, that we couldn't distinguish between the two if we had to (I think many people in North America are at this point). I think it seeps into many attitudes and actions.

I think it is a fallacy that Christians can stricly separate, in their life, "religion" from "state". But I'm concerned that unless the priorities and relationship between the two become clear, we'll be left neither with a worthwhile religion nor a free state. This is where I think spehere sovereignty comes in, and a proper understanding of the way in which religion and state interact.

6:28 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

When I talk about the priority & relationship between the two, I'm saying that with the understanding that we can't completely compartmentalize those two things.

6:33 PM  
Blogger Nick Steffen said...

Though I'm not sure about the whole sphere sovereignty thing, I'm totally with you on Guinness' views (and I very much agree with them). My problem was just with the use of the words 'political' and 'spiritual'. People can get the impression of a false dualism if the words are left to be mere opposites. Once again, I'm not getting on Os, just saying that leaving the words in opposition to each other can easily lead to misinterpretation.

9:35 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Thanks for your comments, Nick!

9:50 PM  

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