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The Great Awakenings

The Essence of Contemporary American Religion

Part Thirty-Eight

By Shlomo Phillips © 1989
(most recent update March 05, 2015)

Recorded Live on Facebook
Video 8:
Parts 34 - 38

After 'Nam

In the years following the Vietnam "police action", after Woodstock and Altamonte, after the Symbionese Liberation Army, and the Weathermen Underground had disbanded, and Timothy Leary had become the subject of university history classes, as Jewish Renewal became normative of American Judaism... what had appeared to be the dawning of a Fourth Great Awakening (the Age of Aquarius) collapsed. The hippies and yippies cut their hair and donned suits to join the corporate workforce. The promised social revolution never materialized. After Vietnam things calmed down as most people returned to spiritual slumber and political apathy. The imaginary land of the American capitalist dream and its new paradigm covered the land like wet blanket soon putting out most of the surviving embers. Social outrage and righteous indignation was replaced by passive complacency. Watergate and the impeachment of Richard Nixon for crimes that by today's standards of governmental abuse seem petty, shattered the remaining utopian hopes. Not only had the "invincible" nation lost its first war, it had been humiliated in the eyes of the world as solid proof emerged that the justification for the war had been a White House fabrication (note T).

During the 1960's and into 70's the country had awakened to new spiritual realities. These new insights are usually classified under the umbrella term New Age Movement. These beliefs were brought forward from the Second Great Awakening and were reenergized through the Aquarian concepts of the hippies, psychics, and spiritual entrepreneurs who were always ready to offer true enlightenment, but for a cost. They plagiarized all religions and created a montage without root or historic underpinning. Unlike the free 'brush arbor meetings' of the Third Great Awakening, the New Age Movement became largely the religion of the privileged few who could afford to pay the new gurus and Channelers, As the seventies passed into the 1980's American religion largely became an economic racket leaving most people out in the cold. The during the nineties it became largely irrelevant.

Those experiences fundamentally altered the society. Scholars disagree as to whether this awakening was significant enough to be recognized as the Fourth Great Awakening. In my opinion today it was not because it faded too soon. Just as the full impact of the Third Great Awakening was not completely realized until afterwards however, so too we are now beginning to see how far reaching these transformations actually were. A Fourth Great Awakening may now be beginning. Time will tell. If it is, it began in a most unlikely place: The Occupy Movement as we will discuss below.

Most observers would agree that for a while there was a genuine transformation in consciousness underway among the citizens, arguably such as had not been seen for millennia (TP 33). The awakening that occurred during these years was amazing even though its potential was never realized!

The NeoCons and Islam

During the "Me Generation" of the 1980s and 90s through the dawn of the new millennium the nation's spiritual consciousness gave way to a short lived revival of Christian Fundamentalism in various forms. This was not unlike the Christian elements of the Third Great Awakening except that within this one the Church lacked the needed zeal to sustain and unify it. It also lacked viable answers to it Secular detractors. Calvary Chapel exemplifies this point. While it began as a dynamic beach outreach of awakening 'Jesus People', it soon transformed into another reserved socially negligible organization as it merged with normative Protestant Christianity. Not that this was a bad thing necessarily. I only note it here to show how spiritual awakenings originally enliven and challenge people in ways religious orthodoxy seldom can but then fold into new orthodoxies. As religious reform movements wind down they typically either cease to exist (like the Shakers and I Am Movement) or enter into the orthodoxy of the day (like the Quakers, Seventh Day Adventists, and Calvary Chapel).

The rising NeoCon political trend reflected this. Many Americans felt that the attacks on ethics and social morality had gone too far and yet they were not ready to return to traditional religion and values. Many sensed that the nation needed a counter-weight to the leftist trends of the 1960's and politicians like Ronald Reagan, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Buchanan provided it for them. Once the new social vision was embraced politically by those on the Right side of the political spectrum, many of these people were ready to return to their pews as part of the 'Religious Right' or 'Moral Majority'. What the children of the 1960's and 70's had soundly rejected they now, as older people, repackaged and embraced as they took up the reigns of political and religious power. This too was short lived however.

The growth of Islam's popularity during the 1990's reflected both the nation's gradually returning optimism and its remaining general dissatisfaction with traditional Western religion. The Internet was becoming a public gateway to the world and many non-Western religions were quickly learning how to utilize its awesome power. Millions of Wahabi taqiyya dollars were invested in convincing Americans that "Islam Means Peace" (note I). Many of those who still felt the need for a religious center, especially former Christians, were now looking toward Mecca hoping to find the untarnished religion of Abraham.

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