Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Matt 24 watch, 42: The Golden Compass 3 -- dealing with the de-Christianising tidal wave

I think it was Gibbon who said that in classical times, the common people thought the stories of the gods were all equally true, the philosophers that they were all equally false, and the politicians that they were all equally useful; or, words to that effect.

Now, over the past two centuries, as the tidal wave of evolutionary materialism-driven secularism, apostasising accommodation and associated neo-paganism has steadily mounted up in the power centres of the West, the Christian faith has come under increasing pressure in our civilisation. This has now led to a similar trend that has been aptly described by Dr Wade Bradshaw of L'Abri Fellowship, UK:
The understanding of our culture increasingly is that the Christian God is seen as primitive, old-fashioned and immoral . . . non-Christians will say that to you but, increasingly, as I speak to Christians who are going to church, they have this nagging sense that they may be in agreement with them . . . In other words, that the church no longer occupies the moral high ground . . . It is as if . . . I was trying to call them up to what is clearly good and true and right and they kept acting like I was trying to call them down to something . . . Can you see if the church does not understand this dynamic, that we are proclaiming these people to be sinners in need of reconciliation with the real God and they are thinking, whether clearly or not, 'if there were a God why would I go to yours? Because I already consider myself morally superior to your God.'
The Golden Compass movie and the associated Dark Materials series of books, on the evidence we have been looking at, presents a view of the world that both appeals to this underlying feeling, and seeks to accelerate the trend. This is not surprising, as Mr Pullman has evidently openly declared that ". . . My books are about killing God."

In particular, Pullman's works build on the rise of an increasingly popular genre of fantasy, science fiction and pseudo-historical novels and associated movies over the past several decades that have to a large extent become the forum for discussion and popularisation of worldview options for a West that -- under the impact of secularisation -- has to a significant extent forgotten, distorted, despised and/or lost confidence in its Judaeo-Christian heritage.

For instance, the original Star Trek popularised a world in which God is simply irrelevant and science is the gateway to a bright, somewhat socialist post-economic idealistic future. The Star Wars movies, with their semi-pantheistic Force plainly lent significant momentum to the rise of the new age movement. Star Trek the Next Generation explored the synthesis between the neo-pagan and the utopian-scientific. As I have taken some time to read a fair amount of current science fiction -- for the first time since the 1970's, I have seen that by and large there is an imaginative world created in which God is irrelevant or at most a personal or cultural force without objective reality.

Nowhere do we see a serious engagement of the issue that the only actually known source of functionally specific, complex (and often fine-tuned) information that turns up in the nanotechnology of the cell, is intelligent agency. Nor, is there a serious addressing of the issue that the fine-tuned organised complexity we see in the foundational physics of the life-facilitating cosmos we inhabit, as an organised evidently purposeful system, is likewise best explained as the product of an awesomely powerful intelligence. Apart from, of course, C S Lewis' science fiction trilogy from sixty or so years ago.

On the Fantasy side, the Harry Potter series of books have created a hugely popular imaginary world in which magic is real and powerful, but acts as an apparently "natural" force in an alternate world that partly intersects with the everyday world inhabited by "muggles" -- who are all too prone to misunderstand, fear, despise and persecute the minority who are the magical elite.

On pseudo-history, we have had outright pseudo historical conspiracy theory reconstructions of the origins of the Christian faith that latterly gave rise to the vastly popular and influential Da Vinci Code novel and movie, which roundly -- and without merit -- declares that there is a trunkful of proof out there that the Bible as we know it is false, a Constantinian fraud. Kathleen McGowan, in her The Expected One, has moved this one step further, by in effect claiming to be a real-life Sophie Neveau who is writing a thinly veiled autobiographical novel.

Pullman's work draws on all these trends, putting forth a world in which there are multiple, partly interacting materialistic but magical universes, in which as one "angel" boldly and persuasively declares:
The Authority, God, the Creator, the Lord, Yahweh, El, Adonai, the King, the Father, the Almighty – those were all names he gave himself. He was never the creator. He was an angel like ourselves – the first angel, true, the most powerful, but he was formed of Dust as we are, and Dust is only a name for what happens when matter begins to understand itself.
Then, as the movie version comes out, one is now being invited to Meet your Daemon.

Is it any wonder that in such a situation, Mr Blair, the former UK prime minister has just gone on record, that while his "religious faith" was "hugely important" to him during his tenure as Prime Minister, he was previously unable to be open about this key element of his character because "Frankly, people do think you're a nutter."

Indeed, he also tellingly observed in an interview, that:
. . . voters tended to think that religious politicians “go off and sit in the corner and … commune with the man upstairs and then come back and say, ‘Right, I’ve been told the answer and that’s it’.
But in fact, even a reading of Locke's 2nd Essay on Civil Government will rapidly show up a decisive step in his case for liberty, in Ch 2 section 5, where he cites "the judicious [Richard] Hooker" from his Anglican work, Ecclesiastical Polity [1594- ]:
. . . if I cannot but wish to receive good, even as much at every man’s hands, as any man can wish unto his own soul, how should I look to have any part of my desire herein satisfied, unless myself be careful to satisfy the like desire which is undoubtedly in other men . . . my desire, therefore, to be loved of my equals in Nature, as much as possible may be, imposeth upon me a natural duty of bearing to themward fully the like affection. [Cf Matt 7:12, Rom 2:14 - 15, 13:8 - 10, also 1 - 7] From which relation of equality between ourselves and them that are as ourselves, what several rules and canons natural reason hath drawn for direction of life no man is ignorant.
What a contrast we see between the secularist caricature and the historical, Biblically anchored reality of a massive and costly contribution of people working consciously in the Bible-anchored Judaeo-Christian tradition, across centuries, to the rise of modern democratic self-government of and by a free people. Including, here in the Caribbean.

In short, first, Dr John Sentamu — the [African!] Archbishop of York — is tellingly apt: “Mr Blair’s comments highlight the need for greater recognition to be given to the role faith has played in shaping our country [i.e. Britain].”

How can we effectively respond to this tidal wave from the North?

There are several steps:

1] We must fearlessly address the mindset and morality of a Romans 1 culture:

Paul, in Rom 1:18 ff., aptly observes:
RO 1:18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

RO 1:21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. [Some would add: In the old days, in temples, now often on TV or in textbooks, magazines and museums.] . . .25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised . . . . RO 1:28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity . . .

Here, we see a chillingly accurate portrayal of our own culture, from 2,000 years ago.

There is abundant and adequate evidence to warrant recognition of the loving God who created our world and us, but in our resentful ingratitude and rebellious hostility, we turn our backs on him. We pretend to be wise, but the rejection of plainly evident truth warps our minds so we are en-darkened, not "enlightened" -- our arrogant boast. And, as a direct consequence, our behaviour spins out of control into immoral, destructive chaos.

Our first duty, then, is accurate public diagnosis of our civilisation's plight, cost what it may.

2] We must expose the key cracks in the foundations of current Western and Westernised cultures:

In Athens, Paul from the opening words of his epochal Mars Hill address, went straight to the key crack in the foundation of the secular western intellectual tradition. For, first, he carefully observed the shrine that exposed the critical flaw in Pagan thought: an altar dedicated TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. That is, on the most important possible point of knowledge, the Athenians — the founders of the Western intellectual, artistic and democratic traditions — were forced to admit their ignorance, in a public monument.

So, he opened his speech:“what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.”

For, God created the nations from one man, and "he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him.” [Acts 17:25 - 27; emphasis added.] That is, the nations were created to foster godliness, and we are God’s tenants and stewards on the lands in which we live. God therefore so controls our times that he brings us to the point where we must decide whether to seek or serve Him.

Our world today is in precisely the same situation, and with far less excuse.

3] We must expose the roots of the immoral chaos that surrounds us:

In Ephesians 4:17 - 24, we may read:
EPH 4:17 . . . you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.

EPH 4:20 You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
This expands on the point brought out by Romans 1, and highlights not only the Christian alternative ethic of the truth in love to God and neighbour, which among other things means that we should do no harm, but also it points out that our moral challenge is so radical that only transforming spiritual renewal by the power of God can turn around the situation.

4] In particular, we must highlight the intellectual and moral incoherence of evolutionary materialism:

Here, we can observe that:
if materialism is true, the "thoughts" we have and the "conclusions" we reach, without residue, are produced and controlled by forces that are irrelevant to purpose, truth, or validity . . . . Thus, evolutionary materialism reduces reason itself to the status of illusion. But, immediately, that includes “Materialism.”. . . . As a further consequence, materialism can have no basis, other than arbitrary or whimsical choice and balances of power in the community, for determining what is to be accepted as True or False, Good or Evil. So, Morality, Truth, Meaning, and, at length, Man, are dead . . . . In Law, Government, and Public Policy, the same bitter seed has shot up the idea that "Right" and "Wrong" are simply arbitrary social conventions. This has often led to the adoption of hypocritical, inconsistent, futile and self-destructive public policies.

"Truth is dead," so Education has become a power struggle; the victors have the right to propagandise the next generation as they please. Media power games simply extend this cynical manipulation from the school and the campus to the street, the office, the factory, the church and the home.

Further, since family structures and rules of sexual morality are "simply accidents of history," one is free to force society to redefine family values and principles of sexual morality to suit one's preferences.

Finally, life itself is meaningless and valueless, so [once one has enough power and has lost all feeling] the weak, sick, defenceless and undesirable — for whatever reason — can simply be slaughtered, whether in the womb, in the hospital, or in the death camp.

A grim picture, and one that has unfortunately repeatedly played out under evolutionary materialism-dominated ruling elites over the past 100 years, costing well over 100 millions their lives; not counting, say the 45+ millions dead in the womb through the American abortion holocaust. (By the way, I gather that some in Jamaica now hope to adopt the same sort of callous attitude to the taking of innocent life in the womb. For shame!)

Thus, the attitude that it is the Judaeo-Christian view that is morally suspect is patently absurd. No, the root issue is that men are fallen and need to be redeemed and find true enlightenment and empowerment from God.

5] In the manifest power of the outpoured Spirit of God, call men to humble themselves and repent under the Gospel message:

In Acts 2:22 - 39, we read Peter, speaking to the potentially hostile crowds on the first Pentecost Sunday:
AC 2:22 "Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him . . . . 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear . . . . AC 2:36 "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" . . . . AC 2:38 . . . "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God will call."
In 1 Cor 15:1 -11, we similarly read Paul's summary in AD 55 of the C1 church's testimony from the 30's AD on:

1CO 15:1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you . . . . 1CO 15:3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures [cf here Isaiah 53, circa 700 BC], 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep . . . 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born . . . . 11 Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
In short, the authenticity and power of of the Gospel are vouchsafed to us by both eyewitness lifetime records and the manifest power of the Spirit of God, over 2,000 years, a power seen in transformed lives and manifest power from God in many, many ways. It is truth, life- and soul- saving, transforming truth, if we will but humbly listen to and heed it.

6] We must diligently and effectively disciple the nations:

The gospel is not principally a fire insurance policy. As Paul points out to Titus:
TIT 2:11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
In short, we need to go through careful, disciplined, diligent discipleship training that equips us to walk in the truth, love, power and purity, helping to transform our own lives and families and communities, then the wider region and world.

A tall order, but through the grace of God, a feasible one. So, again: why not now, why not here, why not us? END

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