This is the initial post I wrote for that goofy magazine. You’ll notice that it takes a slightly different tack than what I post here, but still retains the essence of our mission.
Every human aspiration to make the world a better place carries the seeds of its own destruction.
It becomes particularly obvious when we examine the rise and fall of empires and civilizations. Yet, even on the smaller scale of various political endeavors of our time, we see the same tendency to rot from within. What begins as a driving hunger against the existing system, once it succeeds and becomes mainstream, hardens into a bureaucracy that seeks to prevent change in the status quo. The creative genius of visionaries is replaced with the dehumanizing hive-mind — sometimes within the very same set of people who started the whole thing. This is the nature of human political activity.
We should hardly be surprised to find ourselves today at the ragged end of Western Civilization. Like it or not, this thing has run its course. Those who would seek to preserve what they deem the purity and vitality of past glories complain of all the invasive new trends that are obviously shredding things, but they fail to see that the destructive tendencies were there all along. Today’s whiny college dweeb scrabbling for an emotional safe space from micro-aggressions is not some insidious new attack on mainstream culture; it’s a direct derivative of the fundamental weaknesses. Every human endeavor has its own strengths and weaknesses, and Western Civilization is no exception.
The blindness to that truth comes from being too deeply absorbed into the ambient cultural myths. You cannot usefully evaluate Western Civilization using Western values. We can probably justify suggesting that the Enlightenment was the pinnacle of Western creative ferment, but if you can’t step outside of your admiration for it, you can’t see the inevitable breakage hidden within. For those pickled in the glory of it, the flaws don’t matter. Perhaps the early leading minds of the Enlightenment could turn a cynical eye to the mirror, but that died when it became the mainstream. You cannot mainstream a wise self-cynicism.
At least, you cannot do that in Western Civilization. You can write it as the essential rhetoric of the culture, but there’s nothing you can do to write it on the human soul if your culture fundamentally rejects the notion of the soul. The signal flaw of Western Civilization is the essential materialism of all assumptions. It presumes a reality confined to this universe, confined to what our reason and senses can handle. Could you step outside the cultural biases of the West, you would realize that even the vast varieties of Christian religion are locked into this narrow outlook. For all the talk of Heaven and Hell, the entire belief structure still drags them down into this realm of existence.
As you might expect, even as people begin to lose their sense of belonging to Western Civilization, church membership as a whole declines. At the same time, religious sensibilities are rising. Atheism is dying, too, because it arose from the same intellectual fabric as Western Christian religion. Even the most radical new wave of churches still share entirely too much with the dying culture. Can we remake religion as a human activity so that it better answers the evolving sense of spiritual pull for whatever follows Western Civilization?
By no means do I pretend I am some visionary genius about what’s coming toward us. Rather, I’m a pretty ordinary clergyman — using even that label cautiously. Of what I am far more certain is a sense of where I have to go in my calling, something that made me unpalatable to the existing institutional Christian structures. A painful departure, to be sure, but that was a decade in the past. Since then, I believe I’ve found a place that answers the driving convictions of my faith. That it works so well for me made it worth telling others. That others have since joined me seems to justify sharing it more widely, in that they appear to have found the same sense of peace.
What makes it revolutionary in any sense at all is what holds us together. We are a virtual parish, none of us having ever met in the flesh. It’s about as decentralized as it can be and still retain any sense of community. We’ve adapted to changing human social habits. Instead of grousing about people everywhere having their eyes glued to some electronic device, we strive to understand it and use it. That’s where people are; instead of failing at dragging them back, we take the whole thing into that world.
We also try to understand how it was that the the vitality was stolen away from those first few congregations in the First Century Mediterranean Basin. It’s part of the same robbery we see repeated over the centuries of church history. How did a wholly non-Western religion fall victim to the materialistic orientation of the West? It’s not as if we can go back and reclaim all the trappings of those times, but maybe we can at least discern some essential character that is more wired into human nature itself. So instead of working so hard to define a religion, we aim more at meta-religion. What makes a religion work? If we define “religion” as a human response to some ineffable spiritual drive, can we then capture something from those First Century churches that answers that drive in our context today? Can we make the cynical eye on the mirror normative and not lose track of higher purpose?
I like to believe that it’s possible to treat religion as fungible and discard whatever can’t follow us into tomorrow, and eventually into eternity.