From Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity
Christians sometimes find it easy to dismiss the New Age movement as the loony trappings left over from the counterculture of the 1960s. But that would be a dangerous underestimation. The core of the movement is a pantheistic religion (see chapter 4) deriving from an extraordinarily broad religious tendency that has appeared in virtually every age and culture--West, East, and Middle East (Islamic). In the aftermath of September 11, as the world focuses attention on Islamic cultures, Christians need to be equipped to identify this broader religious tendency in order to make sense of current cultural and political events.
Starting with the West, the quasi-pantheistic ideas we are talking about took root in the third century with the ancient Greeks. This was a period when Asian religions became fashionable in ancient Greek culture, much as they did in America in the 1960s. The result was a school of thought known as neo Platonism, which merged Plato's philosophy with Indian pantheism. "Neo" means new, of course, so you might think of it as the ancient world's form of the New Age movement.
The main spokesman for this melding of East and West was Plotinus, 1 who taught that the world was an "emanation" or radiation of being from a non-personal Spirit or Absolute--somewhat as light is a radiation from the sun. The lowest level of this radiation was matter; and because it was farthest away from Infinite Goodness, that made it evil. In other words, having a physical, material body was itself regarded as a kind of sin, something negative from which we must be saved. How? By ascetic practices that suppress bodily desires. The goal was to liberate the spirit from the "prison house" of the body in order to be reabsorbed into the Infinite from which it came.
These ideas have obvious parallels with Eastern pantheism, and indeed some modern Hindus recognize Plotinus as a kindred spirit. Swami Krishnananda writes, "Plotinus, the celebrated mystic, comes nearest in his views to the Vedanta philosophy, and is practically in full agreement with the Eastern sages. " 2 Other scholars agree: A book of essays titled Neo-Platonism and Indian Philosophy notes the "remarkable similarity between the philosophical system of Plotinus (205-270 A.D.) and those of various Hindu philosophers in various centuries. "3 For both, God is not a personal being but a non-personal essence.
From the beginning, neo-Platonism Was not just a philosophy but also a mystical religion. In fact, it was crafted in part in opposition to Christianity--as a weapon to be wielded by ancient paganism in its polemical battle against Christianity. In the fourth century, the emperor Julian the Apostate even tried to Oust Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire by replacing it with neo-Platonism. Surprisingly, many of the early Christians were nevertheless sympathetic to neo-Platonism and were greatly influenced by it-notably Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Augustine. At the end of the fifth century this semi-Eastern philosophy was actually synthesized with Christianity by an unknown writer posing as a first-century convert of St. Paul's called Dionysius the Areopagite. Later known as pseudo-Dionysius, he presented a Christianized form of neo-Platonism that became enormously influential in the Middle Ages. His writings were translated into Latin by John Scotus Eriugena about the middle of the ninth century, and from then neo-Platonism became the major conduit of Greek thought to later ages. It greatly affected many mystical movements in the West, including those of Meister Eckhart and Jacob Boehme. It was popular among Renaissance humanists like Ficino and Pico della Mirandola. Even many of the early modern scientists held a neo-Platonist philosophy of nature, which inspired much of their scientific work. 4
Later, neo-Platonism became an important influence on the Romantic movement of the nineteenth century with its philosophical idealism, in which ultimate reality was said to be Spirit, Mind, Or the Absolute. In German historicism, the Absolute was given an evolutionary twist--it was said to evolve through a series of stages from lower levels of being to ever higher ones. In the early twentieth century, this notion was modernized in Process Thought, in which God Himself became embedded in the evolutionary process-an immanent, quasi-pantheistic deity that evolves along with the world (see chapter 8). Around the same time, a new blend of Eastern religion and Western occultism was launched under the name perennial philosophy--the same ideas I encountered in my teens when I read Aldous Huxley's book The Perennial Philosophy (see chapter 4).
The point of this rapid-fire historical survey is that long before the Beatles became disciples of the Maharishi, various forms of quasi-pantheistic thought were already prominent strands within the Western Cultural tradition. The New Age movement was merely a more recent expression of a long-standing tendency to import Eastern pantheism into Western culture, which began with Plotinus and neo-Platonism.
What about the Middle East? Many of us do not realize that, historically, Islamic thinkers drew on ancient Greek sources just as heavily as Western thinkers did, so that neo-Platonism spread to Arabic cultures as well. 5 During the Golden Age of Islam in the seventh and eighth centuries, Muhammad's armies swept out from the Arabian peninsula, annexing territory from Spain to Persia. In the process, we might say, they also annexed the works of Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, and other Greek thinkers. As a result, the Arab world had a rich tradition of commentary on the Greek philosophers long before Europe did. In college history courses, we often learn that the Renaissance was sparked by the recovery of ancient classical writings. But we rarely learn that it was Muslim philosophers who had preserved those texts and who reintroduced them to the West.
As a consequence, neo-Platonism became a strong influence on Islamic thought. Today several leading Muslim philosophers have embraced perennial philosophy, with its merging of Western and Eastern pantheism. In fact, the early proponents of this philosophy, who were Europeans, all ended up converting to Islam! 6 To complete the circle, the man who launched perennial philosophy (a Frenchman named Rene Guenon) believed there was actually a common core uniting all three: neo-Platonism in the West, Hinduism in the East, and Islam in the Middle East.
Since September 11, we have heard it said again and again that Islam is just another Abrahamic faith--as though it were not really very different from Christianity. So it may come as a surprise to learn that the God of Islam is actually more akin to the non-personal Absolute of neo-Platonism and Hinduism than to the God of the Bible.
Yet it is true, and the central reason is that Islam rejects the Trinity. Without that concept, it cannot hold a fully personal conception of God. Why not? Because many attributes of personality can be expressed only within a relationship--things like love, communication, empathy, and self-giving.
Traditional Christian doctrine maintains a personal conception of God because it teaches that these interpersonal attributes were expressed from all eternity among the three Persons of the Trinity. A genuinely personal God requires distinct "Persons," because that alone makes it possible for love and communication to exist within the Godhead itself.
Islam denies the Trinity, however, which means there is no way for its conception of God to include these relational attributes. (At least, not until He created the world-but in that case He would be dependent on creation.) That's why it is correct to say, as some Islamic philosophers do, that Islam is actually akin to neo-Platonism and Hinduism.
This non-personal conception of God also explains why Muslims express their faith in near-mechanical rituals: Muslim believers recite the Koran over and over, in unison, word for word, in the original Arabic. They don't pray to God as a personal being, pouring their hearts out to Him as David did, or arguing with him as Job did. As one Muslim website puts it, "understanding [the Koran] is secondary" to recitation and ritual, 7 which makes sense only if God is not a personal being. As sociologist Rodney Stark explains, religions with non-personal gods tend to stress precision in the performance of rituals and sacred formulas; by contrast, religions with a highly personal God worry less about such things, because a personal Being will respond to a personal approach through impromptu supplication and spontaneous prayer. 8
In our efforts to defend Christianity, we can easily be overwhelmed by the vast number of religions and philosophies being hawked in the marketplace of ideas today. The task becomes easier, however, when we realize they can all be grouped into two fundamental categories: The most crucial distinction falls between systems that begin with a personal God and those that begin with a non-personal force or essence. Typically we use the term non-personal to refer to secular "isms" like naturalism and materialism. But we should bear in mind that the same category includes religious beliefs as well-ones that begin with a non-personal spiritual essence. And although naturalism is fashionable among the highly educated, among ordinary people a vague generic spiritualism may actually be more widespread. Instead, it was so widespread already half a century ago that C. S. Lewis said we often find ourselves opposed "not by the irreligion of our hearers but by their real religion"--by which he meant some diluted form of pantheism. People tend to like the idea that God is not a personal being but rather "a great spiritual force pervading all things, a common mind of which we are all parts, a pool of generalized spirituality to which we can all flow. " So pervasive is this concept that Lewis considered it "the natural bent of the human mind" --"the attitude into which the human mind automatically falls when left to itself" apart from divine revelation. 9
If Lewis is right, then pantheism will always reemerge as a natural opponent of Christianity. Over the long term, then, secularism is unlikely to last. Since humanity is naturally religious, ultimately Western culture will probably become spiritualized again. Having served its purpose in undercutting Christianity, secularism itself will die off, giving way to a pantheistic spirituality that is already at the Core of so much thinking across the board in the West, the East, and the Middle East. It is crucial for Christians to learn how to analyze these non-personal, pantheistic world views--both to protect ourselves and to reach out in evangelism to the spiritually lost.
1. Neo-Platonism was founded by Ammonius Saccas, who explicitly acknowledged his debt to the religion of India. Plotinus was his student, and he was so enthralled with his teacher's ideas that he determined to travel to Persia and India to study Eastern philosophies firsthand, though historians are uncertain how far he actually got in his travels.
2. Swami Krishnananda, "Plotinus," in Studies in Comparative Philosophy, the Divine Life Society, at http://www.swami.krishnananda.org/com/com_plot.html.
3. Paulos Gregorios. ed., Neo-Platonism and Indian Philosophy (New York, SUNY Press, 200]). The quotation is from the back cover. The Baha'i faith, which became trendy in the 19705, likewise developed from neo-Platonism. Juan R. Cole points out that "the mystical theology of Plotinus (203-269/70 A.D.), the founder of Neo-Platonism, particularly influenced the cultural context of the Baha'i writings" (The Concept of the Manifestation in the Baha'i Writings, originally published as Baha'i Studies monograph 9 [19821: 1.38, by the Association for Baha'i Studies, Ottawa, Ontario; also available on line at http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jrcole/bhmanif.htm).
4. I have discussed neo-Platonism's influence on the early modern scientists extensively in Soul of Science. A major theme in the book is that, since the scientific revolution, scientific theories have been shaped by three basic worldviews--Aristotelian, neo-Platonic, and mechanistic. Though the mechanistic worldview has become dominant the other two remain as minority positions within science even today.
5. For recent treatments, see Parviz Morewedge, ed., Neoplatonism and Islamic Thought, Studies in Neoplatonism, Ancient and Modern, vol. 5 (New York, SUNY Press, 1992); Majid Fakhry. AI-Farabi, Founder of Islamic Neoplatonism, His Life, Works and Influence (Rockport, Mass., Oneworld, 2002); Ian Richard Nerton, Muslim Neoplatonists, An Introduction to the Thought of the Brethren of Purity (Ikhwan AI.Safa') (New York, Routledge/Curzon, 2003). A helpful summary by Netton can be found under "Neoplatonism in Islamic Philosophy," at http://www.muslimphilosophy.com/ip/rep/H003.htm.
6. Prominent European proponents of perennial philosophy who converted to Islam include Rene Guenon, Fritjol Schuon, and Martin Lings. Today the best-known Muslim proponent of perennial philosophy is Sayyed Hossien Nasr.
7. Sachiko Murata and William C. Chittik, "The Koran," at http://WWW.quran.org.uk/ieb_ quran_chitrik. htm.
8. Rodney Stark, "Why Gods Should Matter in Social Science," Chronicle of Higher Education 49, no. 39 June 6, 2003): B7; also available online at http://chronicle.com/free/v491i39/39b0070I.htm. The article was adapted from Stark's book For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science. Witch-Hunts. and the End of Slavery (Princeton, N.].: Princeton University Press, 2003).
9. C. S. Lewis, Miracles, A Preliminary Study (]947; reprinr, New York, Macmillan, ]960), 8], 82, 83, emphasis added.
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TOTAL TRUTH: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity
By Nancy Pearcey, Crossway Books, 2004
From Publishers Weekly
As a religiously adrift young adult in the 1960s, Pearcey found her way to the Swiss retreat, and the intellectually rigorous faith, of the Calvinist maverick Francis Schaeffer. This book continues the Schaeffer-inspired project that Pearcey and Chuck Colson began in How Now Shall We Live?-awakening evangelical Christians to the need for a Christian "worldview," which Pearcey defines as "a Biblically informed perspective on all reality." Pearcey gives credibly argued perspectives on everything from Rousseau's rebellion against the Enlightenment, to the roots of feminism, to the spiritual poverty of celebrity-driven Christianity. She also provides a layperson's guide to the history of America's anti-intellectual strain of evangelicalism. Unfortunately for the book's chance at a wide audience, several chapters are devoted to a critique of Darwinism and defense of Intelligent Design-with no substantive engagement with the many thoughtful Christians (John Polkinghorne, Ken Miller, Nancy Murphy, etc.) who dissent from Intelligent Design's scientific and philosophical program. Still, Pearcey deftly applies Schaeffer's core insight that modernity has been built on a "two-story" view of reality-with "facts" on the ground floor and "values" up in the air. Her critique of this view is compelling, and her final chapters, which begin to sketch an integrated Christian way of living and thinking, are exceptional. This is the rare long book that leaves one wanting to read more.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Nancy Randolph Pearcey is the Francis A. Schaeffer scholar at the World Journalism Institute, where she teaches a worldview curriculum. After earning an M.A. from Covenant Theological Seminary, she pursued further graduate work in philosophy at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto. Currently she serves as a Visiting Scholar at the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University, and a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute. Pearcey has authored or contributed to several works, including... read more
Does God belong in the public arena of politics, business, law, and education? Or is religion a private matter only--personally comforting but publicly irrelevant? In today's cultural etiquette, it is not considered polite to mix public and private, or sacred and secular. This division is the single most potent force keeping Christianity contained in the private sphere--stripping it of its power to challenge and redeem the whole of culture.
In Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey offers a razor-sharp analysis of the public/private split, explaining how it hamstrings our efforts at both personal and cultural renewal. Ultimately it reflects a division in the concept of truth itself, which functions as a gatekeeper, ruling Christian principles out of bounds in the public arena.
FOREWORD BY PHILLIP E. JOHNSON
INTRODUCTION: Politics Is Not Enough, Losing Our Children. Heart Versus Brain Just a Power Grab? Mental Maps. Not Just Academic . Worldview Training. Acknowledgments
1: WHAT'S IN A WORLD VIEW?
CHAPTER 1: BREAKING OUT OF THE GRID: Divided Minds. Bible School Drop-Outs. Subtle Temptation Enlightenment Idol. Two Cities. Absolutely Divine. Aristotle's Screwdriver Biblical Toolbox. Read the Directions. Born to Grow Up A Personal Odyssey. Manifesto of Unbelief. Like a Swiss Farmer. God Wins Scolds and Scalawags. In Love With Creativity. Christian Philosophers Out of the Closet. Religion: Good for Your Health. Benevolent Empire
CHAPTER 2: REDISCOVERING JOY: Sealy's Secret' Capitol Hill Guilt. Becoming Bilingual. The Faith Gap. Disconnected Devotion. Christian Schizophrenia. Why Plato Matters. That Rascal Augustine. Aristotle and Aquinas. Fluffs of Grace. The Reformers Rebel. Escape from Dualism Creation: God's Fingerprints All Over. Fall: Where to Draw the Line. Redemption: After the Great Divorce. Christianity Out of Balance. More Than Sinners. God's Offspring. Jars of Clay. A Higher Consciousness? The Great Drama. Serving Two Masters. All Together Now
CHAPTER 3: KEEPING RELIGION IN ITS PLACE: Reason Unbound. Collateral Damage. Cartesian Divide. Kantian Contradiction. Intellectually Fulfilled. Atheists' Secular Leap of Faith. War of Worldviews. Your Worldview Is Too Small. Imperialistic "Facts" . Conflicted on Campus. Leftovers from Liberalism. Evangelism Today. Spirit of the Age. C. S. Lewis's True Myth. The Whole Truth
CHAPTER 4: SURVIVING THE SPIRITUAL WASTELAND: Mystique of the Forbidden. Nor a Smokescreen. Hands-On Worldview. Repairing the Ruins. Retooling the Family. For the Love of Children. Mobilizing the Trinity. The World view Next Door. Marx's Heresy. Rousseau and Revolution. Sanger's Religion of Sex. Buddhist in the Sky. Worldview Missionaries
2: STARTING AT THE BEGINNING
CHAPTER 5: DARWIN MEETS THE BERENSTAIN BEARS: A Universal Acid. Kindergarten Naturalism . Spinmeisters in Science Darwin's Beaks. Dysfunctional Fruit Flies. Doctored Moths. Most Famous Fake. Baloney Detectors. Punk Scientists . Birds, Bars, and Bees. Divine Foot in the Door. Evolution Gets Religion. Berkeley to the Rescue. Closed System, Closed Minds. Winning a Place at the Table. What Every Schoolchild Knows
CHAPTER 6: THE SCIENCE OF COMMON SENSE: Little Green Men. Blind Watchmaker? . Marks of Design. Roller Coaster in the Cell. Behe and the Black Box. A Universe Built for You. Cosmic Coincidences. Who Wrote the Genetic Code? . Explanatory Filter. Up from Chance. Against the Law. No Rules for Hamlet. The Medium Is Not the Message. Testing Positive. Three to Get Ready. Christian Relativists. Fairy Dust. Out of the Naturalist's Chair
CHAPTER 7: TODAY BIOLOGY. TOMORROW THE WORLD: Universal Darwinism. Evolution for Everyman. Darwinian Fundamentalism on Rape. Mothers Red in Tooth and Claw. Peter Singer's Pet Theme. Darwinizing Culture. The Acid Bites Back. Telling Genes to Jump in the Lake. Mental Maps. Beware Scientists Bearing Values. Dilemma of Leo Strauss. Born-Again Darwinists. The Kitchen As Classroom
CHAPTER 8: DARWINS OF THE MIND: Holmes Loses His Faith. Darwin's New Logic. Cash Value of an Idea. What's Religion Worth to You? . Tough Versus Tender. Disciples of Darwin. Transforming America. Let God Evolve. Why Judges Make Law. Dewey's Dilemmas. Hamstrung Teachers. Inventing Your Own Reality. "Keeping Faith" with Darwin. Tom Wolfe and Darwin's Doubt. Truth from the Barrel of a Gun. He Is There and He Is Not Silent. The Cognitive War
3: HOW WE LOST OUR MINDS
CHAPTER 9: WHAT'S SO GOOD ABOUT EVANGELICALISM?: Denzel Asked the Deacon. Forward to the Past. Identity Check. And the Winner Is. When Government Help Hurts. Wild West Religion. Riders in the Storm. Frontier Fallout. Whitefield Across America. Heart Versus Head. Defiant Individualism
CHAPTER 10: WHEN AMERICA MET CHRISTIANITY GUESS WHO WON?: Democracy Comes to Church. A Politician for a Priest. Fetters for Our Children? Half American. Salvation on the Spot. America the Natural. Leapfrogging 1,800 Years. Christians for Jefferson. No Traffic Cop Self-Made People. Preacher, Performer, Storyteller . Celebrity Style. In PR We Trust. Pulling Strings. Not a Rogues' Gallery. Rise of the Sovereign Self
CHAPTER 11: EVANGELICALS' TWO-STORY TRUTH: Scotch Tip. The Science of Scripture. Campbell's Rationalist Soup. Old Books for Modern Man. Sola Scriptural . The View from Nowhere. Becoming Double-Minded. A Science of Duty. Celestial Mathematician. Blinded by Bacon. Religion on the Side. Making Sense of Common Sense. Reid Romans 1. Colors and Shapes. Just a Habit?. Are You Nobody? Mere Chemistry?. Disinformation Minister. Philosophical "Cheating". Signs of Intelligent Life. Boxed-In Believers
CHAPTER 12: How WOMEN STARTED THE CULTURE WAR: Women and the Awakening. Households At Work. Communal Manhood. Home as Haven. Why Men Left Home. The Passionate Male. Taming Men Feminizing the Church. Morals and Mercy. Female Standards, Male Resentment Manly Men. Romper Room Dads. Feminist Fury. What Hath Woman Lost? Remoralizing America. No Double Standard. Reconstituting the Home. Private and Personal. Blueprint for Living
4: WHAT NEXT? LIVING IT OUT
CHAPTER 13: TRUE SPIRITUALITY AND CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW: Wurmbrand's Freedom. Schaeffer's Crisis. Idols of the Heart. Theology of the Cross. Rejected, Slain, Raised. Life-Producing Machines. His Work, His Way. Gold, Silver, Precious Stones. Results Guaranteed. Marketing the Message. More Money, More Ministry. Operating Instructions. From Good to Great. Loving Enough to Confront. No Little People. Real Leaders Serve. Getting It Right by Doing It "Wrong" . True Spirituality
APPENDIX 1: How American Politics Became Secularized
Appendix 2: Modern Islam and the New Age Movement
Appendix 3: The Long War Between Materialism and Christianity
Appendix 4: Isms on the Run: Practical Apologetics at L'Abri