Religion 21st Century

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  • Evangelical Protestant Churches

    Worthen described the evolving, conflicting styles of evangelical Christianity in the USA. She focused on a radical revival of Calvin’s early protestant dogma in the form of Mark Driscoll, the pastor of a megachurch that draws about 7,600 visitors to seven campuses in Seattle each Sunday. Driscoll and others advocate regression to Calvan’s early protestant dogma. Worthen summarized the Calvanist vision: “Human beings are totally corrupted by original sin and predestined for heaven or hell, no matter their earthly conduct. We all deserve eternal damnation, but God, in his inscrutable mercy, has granted the grace of salvation to an elect few… Traditional evangelical theology falls apart in the face of real tragedy, says Brett Harris, who runs an evangelical teen blog with his twin brother, Alex. Reducing God to a projection of our own wishes trivializes divine sovereignty and fails to explain how both good and evil have a place in the divine plan. There are plenty of comfortable people who can say, ‘God’s on my side. But they don’t say, ‘God gave me cancer.’ Worthen recalled that John Calvin did not tolerate insubordination or dissent: “He had heretics burned at the stake and made a man who casually criticized him at a dinner party march through the streets of Geneva, kneeling at every intersection to beg forgiveness. The new Calvinism underscores a curious fact: the doctrine of total human depravity has always had a way of emboldening, rather than humbling, its adherents.”

    Worthen wrote: ”Driscoll has the coolest style and foulest mouth of any preacher you’ve ever seen. His books, blogs and podcasts have made him one of the most admired — and reviled — figures among evangelicals nationwide. Driscoll represents a movement to revamp the style and substance of evangelicalism. His message seems radically unfashionable, even un-American: you are not captain of your soul or master of your fate but a depraved worm whose hard work and good deeds will get you nowhere because God marked you for heaven or condemned you to hell before the beginning of time. God called Driscoll to preach to men — particularly young men — to save them from an American Protestantism that has emasculated Christ and driven men from church pews with praise music. What really grates is the portrayal of Jesus as a wimp, or worse. Some paintings depict a gentle man embracing children and cuddling lambs. Hymns celebrate his patience and tenderness.

    Other more benign Evangelicals have taken another approach, claiming that Jesus is a benevolent, omnipresent friend; believers are free to accept God’s grace. To be born again is a choice God wants you to make; if you so choose, Jesus will be your perfect, personal friend. Born again Christians are a peculiar group with euphoric attachments to their idea of Jesus as their ever-attentive friend.

    For idealists who assumed that progress toward free, rational and secular societies would be a natural evolution, the re-emergence of belligerent Christianity in the US and belligerent Islam in many parts of the world has been alarming. Lilla stated: “For more than two centuries, from the American and French Revolutions to the collapse of Soviet Communism, world politics revolved around eminently political problems. War and revolution, class and social justice, race and national identity — these were the questions that divided us. Today, we have progressed to the point where our problems again resemble those of the 16th century, as we find ourselves entangled in conflicts over competing revelations, dogmatic purity and divine duty. We are disturbed and confused. Though we have our own fundamentalists (in the USA), we find it incomprehensible that theological ideas still stir up messianic passions, leaving societies in ruin. We had assumed this was no longer possible, that human beings had learned to separate religious questions from political ones, that fanaticism was dead. We were wrong…Even the most stable and successful democracies, with the most high-minded and civilized believers, have proved vulnerable to political messianism and its theological justification. “[i]

    Douhat described an eclectic trend in the US where the minority return to orthodoxy is diluted by others dabbling in an assortment of religious ideas and rituals. Exclusive group membership is replaced by shopping around for novel experiences:" Americans seem to have done with mysticism what we’ve done with every other kind of human experience: We’ve democratized it, diversified it, and taken it to mass market. No previous society has offered seekers so many different paths to unity with God or Gaia or Whomever. A would-be mystic can attend a Pentecostal healing service one day and a class on Buddhism the next, dabble in Kabbalah in February and experiment with crystals in March, practice yoga every morning and spend weekends at an Eastern Orthodox retreat center. Sufi prayer techniques, Eucharistic adoration, peyote, tantric sex — name your preferred path to spiritual epiphany, and it’s probably on the table."[ii]

    [i]Lilla, M. The Politics of God. NYT August 19, 2007 (adapted from his book) The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics and the Modern West.
    [ii] Ross Douthat, Mass-Market Epiphany. NYTimes. March 7, 2010

    • Religion for the 21st Century is available as printed books and an eBook download. 332 Pages, The book is intended for an educated reader who is interested in a world view of religious expressions past, present and future. The main theme is that each religious group has its own claims and stories and will tend to reject others. A reader committed to one point of view may not accept the egalitarian review presented here. Innate tendencies are expressed as religions and in the past have created conflicts that hinder progress towards the real and true. The book examines paths for religious renewal in the 21st century.

      The author is Stephen Gislason

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