“Our Godless era is dead”: A reflection on the path to true “spiritual enlightenment”

“Our Godless era is dead”: A reflection on the path to true “spiritual enlightenment” December 29, 2023

A special note from Jim:

Denison Forum exists to engage cultural issues with God’s word, helping people think biblically so they can act redemptively. In 2023, we published:

  • 260 Daily Articles, comprising 286,000 words
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  • 260 episodes of The Daily Article Podcast
  • 70 articles for A Pastor’s View
  • 59 episodes of The Denison Forum Podcast
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It is a great privilege to have shared this ministry with you across 2023. I look forward to the new year with gratitude to God for his providential grace and to you for your vital support. If you have not yet contributed to our year-end campaign, would you pray about partnering with us today?

This year will end on Sunday with the date 12/31/23. Without the slashes, the number is 123123. This sequence is rare: the last time the year ended with the same number was a century ago, in 1923. The sequence also adds up to twelve, which, according to the Farmer’s Almanac, is “considered a Master Number that can mean spiritual enlightenment.”

I’m not persuaded that the last day of this year holds such numerological promise, but I do want to end my Daily Articles for 2023 by exploring the most significant step you and I can take into “spiritual enlightenment” for the sake of our nation and our souls.

Beware religious inoculation

We have been focusing this week on the perennial relevance of Christmas: the One who was born into our world in Bethlehem still lives in our world through us as “the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27). He is continuing his earthly ministry through our bodies, using our gifts and influence to advance his kingdom. This is how we are doing “greater” things than he did (John 14:12): what he did in one body he can now do through billions of lives.

But there’s a catch: a carpenter can only use a hammer to the degree that the hammer is usable. If it were to serve itself rather than its owner, refusing to yield to his will as it pursued its own, its utility in fulfilling its created purpose would be thwarted.

To be usable by Jesus, we must be yielded to Jesus. We must submit every day to his Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), asking him to direct our minds and use our capacities for God’s glory. Then we walk through the day practicing the presence of Jesus as we pray, worship, think biblically, and act redemptively.

Like a television that must be plugged into its intended power source to fulfill its intended purpose, we must be empowered by Jesus to be employed by Jesus.

Satan knows all of this, of course. This is why he tempts us to confuse a relationship with Jesus for a religion about him. He wants to convince us that going to church services, reading the Bible and praying on occasion, and reading articles like this one constitute the Christian life.

In some ways, he would rather Christians be religious than irreligious. The former inoculates us, giving us just enough of genuine Christianity to keep us from experiencing the real thing. The latter offers no such delusions.

“Humans are fundamentally spiritual animals”

The novelist and essayist Paul Kingsnorth recently published a fascinating article titled “Our Godless era is dead.” He writes: “Western culture seems in many ways to be visibly collapsing before our eyes. Our nations, our family structures, our communities, our assumptions, our ecosystems: everything is under strain, under attack, or bursting at the seams. What is the cause?”

He suggests mass immigration, postmodern relativism, the “woke Left,” and the “far Right” as possible answers. He then cites “a robust defense of ‘enlightenment values,’” “writing free speech into law,” border control, and “even more YouTube videos” as possible responses.

However, Kingsnorth calls such solutions “a form of temporary displacement activity.” Here is his diagnosis of our cultural moment: “I think the real story is that our religious sensibility is slowly revealing itself to us again, emerging blinking into the light; our instincts are trying to return to their source.”

Of course, many people will refuse to consider his hypothesis since this would be “to accept that our whole culture has been trailing down a dead-end road since the Enlightenment.” Since we won’t consider this fact, “we look at absolutely everything else.”

Here’s why rejecting God doesn’t work, according to Kingsnorth: “At root, humans are fundamentally spiritual animals. The future is not atheists in space. The future, like the past, will be religious.” But not “religious” as most people understand the term:

Religion is not, as atheists often assume and I once assumed too, a set of beliefs to be adhered to, or arguments to be made and defended. It is an experience to be immersed in. The orthopraxy reveals the orthodoxy. Fasting makes no sense until you fast. Praying is meaningless, even embarrassing, until you start to pray.

If the Christian path is straight and narrow, we can do nothing but try to walk it, even if we keep falling off. God makes no sense until you start to talk to him. Then, strangely enough, all sorts of other things start to make sense too. It is hard, if not impossible to explain, and yet it is the simplest thing in the world. We have always done it. We always will.

“An experience to be immersed in”

I wanted to share Paul Kingsnorth’s thoughtful analysis so I could emphasize his point: Religion is “not . . . a set of beliefs to be adhered to, or arguments to be made and defended. It is an experience to be immersed in.”

If you and I will be “immersed in” Jesus across the new year, we can be catalysts for the moral and spiritual renewal our broken culture needs so desperately. But only then.

If Jesus is your Lord, the God who created the universe is living in your life.

Is he living through your life today?

NOTE: Time is running out for year-end giving. So please give now in these final days of 2023 to help equip more culture-changing Christians to stand firm in 2024. Your tax-deductible gift will help ensure Denison Forum remains a strong beacon of truth in the year ahead. So please don’t wait — give your gift now.


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