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The Great Awakenings

The Essence of Contemporary American Religion

Part Thirty-Nine


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

Pre-September 11

When I originally wrote this piece in 1989 I was working on my MA degree in Religious Studies at John F. Kennedy University. The chaos of 9-11 had not yet happened and the possibility that we were witnessing the fresh blooming of a major spiritual awakening seemed likely to many us. The events of 9-11 fundamentally changed everything.

As the nation physically awakened to the events of the morning of 9.11.2001 few Americans grasped the deeper significance of the attacks nor the political shock waves that would emerge from them. Every aspect of our lives were impacted. In many ways the United States we had known was gone forever when the second plane hit.

I significantly updated this study in 2002 reflecting the change in direction caused by the attacks. I then did a slight update in 2006 and another in 2014. Now in 2015, hindsight has clarified much. 9-11 changed everything.

The consciousness of the post 9-11 nation remains confused. People are generally spiritually and socially unsettled with seemingly no where to go for answers. Feeling they can trust neither the government nor the religious leaders the majority of people in the once United States have spiritually shut down. Others are embracing political or religious fanaticism and inevitably becoming angry when their beliefs are challenged or their when heroes fall, which seems to keep happening. Neither state is conducive of spiritual awakening. And yet spiritual growth is always possible and some people will always seek spiritual enlightenment despite the obstacles set before them.

Today any viable system of knowledge, whether science, religion, philosophy, or what have you must have, at its basis, a comprehension of the relative nature of human perception and of our roles as cocreators of reality (SW 33). In today's socially acceptable paradigm people no longer look outward to a God for enlightenment. Rather the modern seeker, as so many of the ancients, turns inward, generally employing modified Eastern techniques. This belief system is supported by popular New Age gurus like Deepak Chopra, much of liberal Christianity, Reform Judaism, the Religious Society of Friends (Quaker) and many others. Within these universalist conceptions there is no place to 'humble oneself before God' as Lord and Master since believing in a deity other than oneself is generally viewed as foolish. Even many of the traditional liturgies are now being reworked to de-personalize the Deity. People now often speak of a Higher Power or Consciousness, of an impersonal omnipresent Force. These formerly eastern ideas have now become an accepted and 'obvious' Western truths.

Anti-personalism entered the Western consciousness during the Third Great Awakening through people like Madame Blavatsky and the Indian gurus. It began to flourish during the 1960's and 70's as we've discussed. Supposedly open minded people now frequently become flustered or even angry by references to God in the traditional sense as though engaged in a Unitarian Jihad (this link is to a work of satire that emphasizes this).

Absolute Relativity

Categorizing history as I do here can be interesting but ultimately it is without meaning. What has been has been and what will be exists beyond our understanding and definitions. Or least, we used to think so. We were merely striving for a handle. But according to the awakening consciousness of the day the existence of past, present, future and anything once considered to be "reality" is but more illusion, more "control mechanisms" to be rejected. Nothing exists beyond what I perceive (whoever "I" might be) and even then, it is only my current illusion. Indeed the notion of solipsism is emerging. What I do I do to myself because only "I" exist and "I" am God! Shirley Mcclain was mocked for her belief in solipsism but now it is widely held and may become the dominant paradigm of the Western World.

Outside of the Muslim world this seems to be the emerging paradigm Absolute relativity. Our choices reside in what we make of our realities not in our objective realities themselves. The years that passed between 1960 and 1975 witnessed an amazing increase in spiritual knowledge and experience. This wasn't only the case with the sciences, but also with the 'dharma bums' and 'hippies' who roamed the earth in search of truth. The years immediately preceding the 1960s I see as preparatory.

The Dead Sea Scrolls

For instance, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered between 1947 and 1956 in eleven main caves in and around the Wadi Qumran (near the ruins of the ancient settlement of Khirbet Qumran, on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea). The 972 texts support the essential rabbinic teachings and development of Jewish history and yet merely citing them became evidence for concepts not taught in them. While they lend no support to Christianity the scrolls do offer better light on the first century. The Dead Sea Scrolls don't significantly alter our understandings of Judaism but they do remind us of its depth and diversity. Their main impact remained intellectual.

Within Jewish diversity of the First century lived the Jewish followers of the historic Jew Y'shua (renamed Jesus). The discoveries excited the hope that yet other finds might turn up that might answer many of the difficult questions posed by the historic faith of Klal Israel. The popular works of Elaine Pagels (P) arose from this hope and added much to our quest of rediscovering the early faith of the Jewish sects and those spawned from them.

In 1957 Paul Edwards' edition of Bertrand Russell's book, Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays introduced a new generation of skeptics to his humanist ideas. A bit later in the 1960's and 70's books like The Flowering of Mysticism in the Fourteenth Century introduced the generation to other views of Christianity, such as those of Meister Eckhart (1260 - 1327/8), Julian of Norwich (1342 - 1416), and Saint John of the Cross (1542-1592). Gnosticism and Christian mysticism in various forms were making slight comebacks. As has historically been the case Gnosticism lacked the foundation and general appeal to become a significant presence although people were once again discussing it.

The Christianity developing during this period in some ways had more authentic roots thanks to the Dead Sea Scrolls however in most cases it remained firmly attached to the Universalism of the Vatican and its developing views remained outside the ancient Jewish mainstream of its birth and founder. Antiquity does not always equate with accuracy nor reflect prominent past views. There have always been minority views on everything. The Jewish religion of Y'shua remains undiscovered.

Those Christians who were beginning to devote themselves to the "rediscovery of the Hebrew Roots" failed to consider that what Y'shua taught, even if rediscovered, had long since been rejected by Rabbinic authority. They placed great emphasis therefor on rediscovering a heretical belief system. This effort led to yet more confused ideas.

In addition to the essential support for Jewish history offered by the Sea Scrolls, archeological research in various fields was producing ever new confirmations of biblical truth. Ironically, rather than producing faith, these generally favorable reports caused ever more skepticism. The biblical texts themselves were now being called into question as never before. As religious Bible houses were replaced by secular publishing companies selling new versions of the Bible the presentation of the Bible as something holy quickly diminished. As the masses accepted non-faith based translations and study notes (such as the NIV) soon it was not only public religious dissenters like Bertrand Russell and sympathetic Humanist scholars who were attacking. Now non-scholars began studying the Bible with an eye at disproving it. New translations of the Bible, most less scholarly paraphrases like the New International Version, all but replaced the Authorized King James Version, the main English standard since 1611. The ancient Protestant cry "God said it, I believe it, that settles it" means nothings when the Christians can not agree on what He supposedly said! More and more people were leaving the Christian religion. More and more churches were closing their doors.

Islam Rising

As a result of this change in foundational religious texts Christianity began undergoing major doctrinal changes and lost most of it 'fire' and authority. Confidence in the Bible as an historically reliable sacred text is at an all-time low now, even though it remains the world's number one best seller in its myriad translations. When the footnotes in every major translation of the Christian Bible frequently point out that this or that verse should not be in the text, better manuscripts read as... it makes it difficult to argue that one is reading "the divinely preserved inerrant Word of God." Considering this it no wonder that this generation witnessed the formal Vatican announcement that Christianity is no longer the world largest religion:

"For the first time in history, we are no longer at the top: Muslims have overtaken us," Monsignor Vittorio Formenti said in an interview with the Vatican newspaper Laisser-faire Romano. Monsignor Formenti compiles the Vatican's yearbook.
He said that Catholics accounted for 17.4 percent of the world population - a stable percentage - while Muslims were at 19.2 percent...
When considering all Christians and not just Catholics, Christians make up 33 percent of the world population, Monsignor Vittorio Formenti said (source) See also a Muslim response
The slightly awakened Christians from the 1960's and 70's (always a minority), other than the Fundamentalists (including the growing yet tiny "messianic" sects) had largely returned to spiritual slumber by 1975. As Richard Nixon had enraged the already outraged nation, now Jimmy Carter's pro-Islamic lackluster maladministration (January 20-1977 - January 20 1981) tucked the lukewarm citizens into bed with the lollypop of apathy.

Those who were still seeking truth began evaluating their experiences and applying what they had learned. The positives of the 1960's were recast as a period of nothing but sex, drugs and rock and roll. The result of this general national malaise and the self-denial of the former Beatniks, hippies, flower children and seekers, was more eclectic (non-specific) religious and political perspectives and less traditional, organized ones.

As we discussed earlier, during the Protestant Reformation a major concern of the Roman Church had been Christian and social unity of belief. With the rise of the various Protestant sects, the Church fragmented into competing beliefs and authorities. If Emperor Constantine's Nicene Doctrine had been fragmented by the Reformers of the 16th century, the reformers of the 20th century pulverized them into bits! Debates no longer centered on issues like proper biblical observance. Now Christians themselves were debating the need for any structured doctrine and beliefs. The Universalism touted at the World Parliament of Religions was strengthening its hold and the term "organized religion" became a pejorative.

For the past few hundred years belief had been a personal matter for Christians, especially for Anglicans and Protestants, but certain foundational authority was generally accepted: The "priesthood of all believers" does not grant one the right to question everything. In the world of 911 however there were no accepted authorities nor ethics. Now anything went, as long as it was not traditional. This absence of foundation resulted in the short-lived Christian "discipleship" attempts but it also was too little too late. For the first time in US history an entire generation had grown up without a Judeo-Christian foundation. Those who had been raised in the Church generally viewed it as either universalist to the point or irrelevance or fundamentalist to the point of cultic. Without faith the Bible was regarded at best as an antiquated book of suggestions.

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