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Sunday, November 23, 2003

How we got The Da Vinci Code.

(Not to mention VGeR, A Course in Miracles, The Bible Code, Spong, etc., ad nauseum).

And why we're going to keep getting more of the same for the foreseeable future.

If you read only one book in the coming year--well, bluntly, you aren't reading enough.

Consequently, amongst the first two or three books you read next year must be this one: The Making of the New Spirituality: The Eclipse of the Western Religious Tradition by Hope College (Mich.) Professor James A. Herrick. A caveat: I haven't completed it yet, but unless Prof. Herrick completely goes off the rails (and Intervarsity Press isn't known for publishing buffoons) in the remainder, this book may have the diagnosis for what ails the spirituality of Western culture.

Herrick's thesis is fairly straightforward: ever since the early Renaissance, classical Christianity (what he terms the "Revealed Word Tradition") has been increasingly challenged by an amorphous and evolving blend of "magical" thinking, spiritualized science (loosely defined), and a pervasive form of revived gnosticism that combine to form what he calls the "New Religious Synthesis."

He defines the two worldviews according to their essential principles.
The Revealed Word Tradition holds to
1. The supernatural authority of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures.
2. A personal, creating and wholly other God.
3. God's creation of the human race.
4. An intervening God.
5. Humankind's fall.
6. Jesus Christ as God Incarnate.
7. Human destiny and divine judgment.

The tenets of the New Religious Synthesis are:
1. History is not spiritually important.
2. The dominance of reason/reason as the principal means for discerning spiritual truth.
3. The spiritualization of science.
4. The animation of nature.
5. Hidden knowledge and spiritual progress (i.e., the former as key to the latter).
6. Spiritual evolution (human attainment of the divine through human action).
7. Religious pluralism as rooted in mystical experience (mysticism as only universal and valid religious experience).

See The Making of the New Spirituality, pp. 32-35.

What is especially intriguing about TMNS is that Herrick focuses on the popular works over the last three centuries leading to the New Religious Synthesis, where the ideas raised in the books persisted and were restated long after the particular writers faded into obscurity. Consequently, one can't (and Herrick doesn't) laugh off a John Spong as being merely "Amateur Night," despite the latter's free-range self-adulation and religious illiteracy. Spong is operating in a culture prepped for three centuries by the same ideas, and unfortunately that culture's collective theological IQ, especially among its misnamed "elites," rarely goes above freezing these days. See Vargas, Elizabeth.

If you think it isn't infecting the Catholic Church, welcome to our humble planet, and please enjoy your stay. I particularly recommend the Bar-Scheeze.

Here's a couple of examples to chew on. Herrick's work also leads me to wonder whether modern American Catholic spirituality and worship are particularly susceptible to being overrun by the new synthesis, especially given the focus on good ol' us and our feelings.

Actually, I'm beginning to wonder less and less as I go along.

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Be reasonably civil. Ire alloyed with reason is fine. But slagging the host gets you the banhammer.