Book Review: If Daddy is a Cipher, Who is God the Father?

BC HowtheWestReallyLostGod 1

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How the West Really Lost God, a New Theory of Secularization, is an important book. It’s the kind of book that is bound to provoke discussion. It will be lauded and excoriated.

That’s because it deals with important issues and advances an argument for a new explanation of much-discussed social trends. A lot of people have a social or professional stake in the old-school explanations of why secularism has taken hold in the West. Many social scholars have based their life’s work on the gradualist explanation of secularism.

Social scientist gadflies, such as Dr Richard Dawkins, are attempting to base new socio/political movements at least tangentially on those same explanations. When someone comes along and advances a new theory about what has become a kind of social science cant, the reactions will be strong and varied.

This is exactly what has happened with Mary Eberstadt’s fine book, How the West Really Lost God, a New Theory of Secularization. Ms Eberstadt’s premise is that the rise of secularism is linked to the demise of the family. She does a good job of establishing a historical correlation between these two trends, going back hundreds of years.

The theory she advances in her book is that this is more than a correlation, that the destruction of the family leads directly to a lessening of religious fervor, specifically as it relates to Christianity. In other words, she’s saying that strong families buttress the practice of religion and the loss of family weakens it. She is saying that the loss of family, which began with the industrial revolution, is the primary cause of the rise of secularism.

I am not sure exactly what I think about this. I agree that the correlation between the loss of family and the rise of secularism is there. I also agree that single people go to church less.

I do think she Ms Eberstadt is correct that the loss of family is a real factor in the rise of secularism. But I tend to think that there are economic forces at work here that underlie the loss of family that are probably the true, root, cause. I also think that the two things feed on one another. Declining religion also leads to a decline in family.

My opinion, which is not based on research, but is just my opinion, is that one of the main reasons that a smaller percentage of single people than marrieds go to church in today’s society is because they feel compelled to engage in sexual activities which the church forbids. Notice I said “compelled.” Sex is a powerful, even overwhelming, drive in young people. Young human beings go through a period of years in which their hormones are running so strong that no matter what they’re doing, sex is in their minds somewhere.

However, much of the sexual behavior they engage in today is being pushed on them by adults. Sex education, the media and even their own parents push them toward sexual awareness before they want it and then toward sexual activity before they are ready for it. They are often coerced into sexual activity at a point when they are actually scared of it and would, if allowed to make free choices, much rather just talk and giggle about it for a few years.

They are also forced, by the way adolescent social life is currently constructed, (again by adults) to engage in sexual activity whether they want to or not in order to be one of the group. At that point, their sexuality is no longer their own and it is not so much a response to raging hormones as it is a coerced situation.

Progressive churches often fail to offer a bulwark or any sort against this, while traditional churches, just tell young people to stay pure and not engage in sex outside of marriage. Church does not give kids, even those in intact families, the resources to deal with the cultural landslide of influences pushing them into early sexual activity. What churches do is make them uncomfortable about what they are doing. They are betrayed by progressive churches who are actually part of the problem. They are simply given mandates with no real comprehension of what they are facing or support in facing it from traditional churches. It is easier, once they reach the age where they can decide, just not to go.

Once they are married, they usually find it possible to comply with church sexual teachings and their social group, both at once. The dissonance is removed. They can go to church again.

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that. All this sexual activity weakens or even destroys the bonds that sex forms between spouses. It contributes to the rise of unwed births, and once people are married, their prior sexual promiscuity makes it easier for them to break their vows.

People aren’t as committed to their husbands and wives because they’ve left too many pieces of themselves with their priors. They find it easy to think of divorce in times of trouble. They also find it easy to engage in extramarital sex. Divorce is just as easy as sex for people like this, and for the same reasons.

The upshot of this is that more and more children grow up in partial families with only one distracted and overwhelmed parent. They may never have seen their father. They may not know who their father is. They may grow up in homes wrecked by divorce with absentee fathers or parents who hate one another and are constantly dragging one another into court over custody and child support.They can’t form families of their own when they grow up because they don’t have any idea what a family is.

This is more than the loss of family. It is the destruction of normal child parent relationships and the introduction of acute insecurity, abandonment and isolation on a primal level into children’s developing years. It leads to partially dismembered adults who cannot form normal permanent relationships or commit to any other person.

Meanwhile, the Church tells them that God is their heavenly father, the church is their home, and heaven is their ultimate home.

The best reaction those metaphors are going to get from children who’ve grown up in one of today’s chaotic, shattered and almost non-existent families, is huh? More likely they will respond with a rejecting anger.

After all, if Daddy is a cipher — or worse — then who is God the Father?

How the West Really Lost God, a New Theory of Secularization is an important book. It dares to break step with the accepted explanations for how we got here. The fact that it also raises questions as well as answers them, is a mark of its relevance to today’s world.

I think anyone interested in discussing why Western Civilization has turned toward an increasingly totalitarian form of secularism should read it.

 

Why Did Jesus Have to Die, and Why Does the Resurrection Matter?

Resurrection

Calvary is the fulcrum of history.

Everything changed on that hill called Golgotha 2,000 years ago. Three days later, when the stone rolled away, God put His final redemptive imprimatur on the story of our salvation.

Before that Day in the garden outside the empty tomb, when He looked at the woman and said, Mary!,  Solomon’s ancient wail of “Vanity, vanity; all is vanity,” was the summation of the reality of human existence.

But Calvary and what He did there, the garden and Who the woman met there, changed all that forever.

Do not eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, for you will surely die, God told them.

“You will not die,” Satan countered, in one of the deceptive lies disguised in a seeming truth that he uses so often against us.

They ate.

And they did not die.

Then.

But death was born into the world with that first bite of disobedience. The scales fell from their eyes and they knew. They fouled their primal innocence with willfulness, and they knew shame; first the shame of their nakedness, and then the shame of their fallenness.

Their first action was to hide from God because, as they told Him, “We were ashamed because we were naked.”

God’s answer illuminates their changed condition, Who told you that you were naked?

Their second action was to blame one another.

Primal innocence was gone in a single bite of the apple of disobedience, replaced by primal love of self.

Humankind denied this loss throughout its history, denies it even to this day. Self-will battles with God’s will in each of us every moment of our lives. And yet, there is in each of us, encoded in our souls, a haunting memory of who we really are, and an inchoate longing that will not be silenced for what we have lost.

“Our hearts are made for thee,” St Augustine said. And so they are.

God-longing is a part of the human condition, as is a hunger for transcendence and lost innocence. Separated as we are, this longing festers into resentment and denial, while the hunger congeals on our souls as hubris and self-worship.

The curse of lost innocence drives us to rageful disobedience. It ensnares us in our own desires and, if we let it, murders us with the excesses those desires breed in our lives.

Throughout human history this pull of longing for God and lost innocence has played against the push of the hubris of our self-aggrandizements and twisted desires. The tension it creates drives us into a universal acceptance of insanity. We kill one another and we kill ourselves in as many ways as the human story can devise. Our blood-soaked history of suffering and misery has one message: We cannot save ourselves.

The God-hunger encoded in us and the God-image inside of us, drive us to seek propitiation. From moloch to corporatism, we feed our lives and the lives of our children into the empty maw of false gods of our devising. We seek our lost transcendence in debauchery and achievement; in doing good and doing bad; in war making and peace making; in causes and rights and laws.

We try to achieve a lost immortality by looking as Ted Bundy did, into the eyes of those we kill and persuading ourselves that in that moment when the light of life fades we are like gods. We attempt to overcome our finite hopelessness by doing good works, and advancing humankind through the achievements of our efforts and our minds.

But in the end, we are but dust. Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.

God does not force us. He doesn’t reach down and re-invent us back to our lost innocence.

That is not cruelty as some claim. It is love and longing. Love, to be love, must be freely given. Our love for Him must be ours to give or withhold, or it is not love at all.

So God led us gently over long years and slow changes to the moment when He stepped into our history as one of us in order to offer us a Way. Jesus had to die because by dying He became the ultimate sacrificial lamb, the complete propitiation for our sins. He made it right by offering Himself in lieu of us on the altar of life and death.

He was our Passover lamb and Calvary was the ultimate and final Lord’s Passover.

If that is true, then what is the meaning and the necessity of the Resurrection? Wasn’t dying on the cross enough to redeem us?

The answers people give are all true. The Resurrection demonstrates that Jesus is God. The Resurrection is a sign of the resurrection that awaits all of us who accept Him and go through the open doorway of redemption that He represents. He is the Way in a literal and absolute manner. We enter into the Kingdom through Him.

But I think there is another ultimate meaning to the Resurrection. Calvary wasn’t the only way that God could have restored us to Himself. It was the only way He could do it and leave us free.

The Resurrection was the great undoing of that curse we cursed ourselves with in the garden. If you eat of the tree of knowledge, you will surely die. 

You will not die, Satan told us, and left out the word “today.”

We believed the lie, and the curse of death, real death that is separation from the Light, entered humanity.

The Resurrection broke that curse. God Himself entered into death, took on the curse, and experienced its depths. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me, Jesus cried from the cross as He experienced the cold annihilation of The Alone in its absolute form.

I’ve have written about The Alone that we inflict on one another with our cruelties. But that Alone, which is a foretaste of the pit of hell, is nothing but a foretaste. The real hell, the true Alone, is complete separation from God.

We experience shades of this hell in the bitter blackness of our sinfulness. I have lived a bit of it, both in things I’ve done and things that have been done to me. The pleasure people take in hurting other people is a dark thing that swallows their own humanity.

We can cast other people into The Alone with our rapes, tortures, murders, greed, gossip and pretentious claims to superiority. Every time we do this to another person, we experience a bit of the cold blackness that such actions come from.

The curse of the fall is our daily experience, and that curse is death. The Resurrection broke that curse. God entered into our cursedness and experienced its shattering consequences. He, Who knew no sin, became sin for our sakes.

Then, on the third day, He shattered the curse like a glass by breaking death itself. He cast off death and arose from the grave.

This was different in every way from miracles such as raising Lazarus or the little girl or the young man who was being carried to his burial place. The difference is that He didn’t stand outside death and undo it for a time, He entered into death and dissolved it for all time.

Physical death is a huge thing to us. But to God it appears to be almost trivial. Jesus raised people from the dead as easily as taking a drink of water. Little girl arise, He said. He took pity on a mother’s grief at her son’s funeral procession and raised the young man with a word. Lazarus, come forth He commanded and Lazarus walked out of his tomb.

Physical death isn’t the great divide that it is to us to One who sees both sides of the experience, to the One Who created life in the first place.

The Resurrection isn’t another casual raising of someone from the dead so that they will die again in a few years. The Resurrection is an everlasting casting off of ultimate death altogether.

Eat, and you will surely die. 

You will not die … today.

I am the Way … all who believe in Me will never die. 

The Resurrection is the end of death. It is the Way out of getting what we deserve.

And it leaves us free. We can accept Him and love Him … or not.

Love is not love unless it is freely given.

To Heaven and Back: Dr Mary Neal’s Near Death Experience

I reviewed the book Dr Mary Neal wrote about her near death experience a few months ago.

She describes her experience in this video.

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