Confronting Neopaganism in the Culture and in the Church Part 1 of 3

Many now believe that grounds for existence can only be found in the irrational, in the age-old metanarrative of pantheistic Oneism.

I am proposing to use two relatively neutral, descriptive terms, Oneism and Twoism, in order to avoid applying a narrow theological system that only a few of us could affirm. These terms seek to express the only two bedrock options found in Romans 1:25: either the worship and service of creation understood as closed, homogeneous system, or the worship and service by creation of the transcendent ontologically other Creator.


Revolutionary Times

We are living in a most disorienting time, especially since someone said that orientation is knowing where the East is! When I came to the States in 1964, the threat from the East was not spiritual but material—atheistic Marxism and a fear of the disappearance of religion altogether, predicted by Ludwig Feuerbach,[1] Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud. The 1960s Death of God theology seemed to represent in North America the final triumph of secular humanism.[2] In 1967, the sociologist Peter Berger did note the “overall decline in the plausibility of Christianity,”[3] but what few saw, including Berger,[4] was also the demise of secular humanism. In 2008, in an article entitled “Secularization Falsified,” Berger had changed his mind. Religion had not been declining. On the contrary, in much of the world there has been a veritable explosion of religious faith.[5]

What had created this unexpected situation? Philosopher David Harvey believes he knows: “The moral crisis of our time is a crisis of Enlightenment thought.”[6] And “assumptions of secular humanism” have been undermined by Postmodernism.[7] “The irony is delicious,” says theologian Don Carson. “The modernity which has arrogantly insisted that human reason is the final arbiter of truth has spawned a stepchild that has arisen to slay it.”[8] An informed observer called this postmodern critique “a rage against humanism and the Enlightenment legacy.”[9]

Postmodernism had brought an end to secularism in the oddest of ways. The French thinker, Lydia Jaeger, notes that “L’irrationalisme postmoderne est, en fait, l’ultramodernité: la modernité poussée jusqu’à ses conséquences logiques extrèmes”[10](Postmodern irrationalism is in fact ultra modernity, that is, modernity pushed to its logical extreme consequences). For her, the ultimate contribution of autonomous reason (postmodernism) is the lucid observation that reason has no reasonable, objective grounds on which to stand. Such deconstruction raises a serious question: where does Postmodernism lead our culture? The answer I propose represents the body of this article. Many now believe that grounds for existence can only be found in the irrational, in the age-old metanarrative of pantheistic Oneism.

[I am proposing to use two relatively neutral, descriptive terms, Oneism and Twoism, in order to avoid applying a narrow theological system that only a few of us could affirm. These terms seek to express the only two bedrock options found in Romans 1:25: either the worship and service of creation understood as closed, homogeneous system, or the worship and service by creation of the transcendent ontologically other Creator].

Perhaps, we should have seen this spiritual tsunami coming. Instead, we treated the New Age as the latest, more or less harmless religious sect, which would go the way of the hoola hoop. We failed to hear the vast implications of Lennon’s Imagine and Dylan’s The Times They Are A ’Changin. In fact, the “Yellow Submarine” was taking us to another “planet,” the zodiacal Age of Aquarius.

These changin’ times have, in one generation, radically transformed how popular culture thinks about sexuality, the family, gender roles, marriage, abortion, pornography, American history, the dating of history, the names of national holidays, the use of the Constitution, free speech, globalism, education, environmentalism, psychology and religious unity. A Roman Catholic theologian, Richard Grigg, in his book When God Becomes Goddess: The Transformation of American Religion, (1995),[11] reassures us that religion in America will not disappear but is in the “process of transformation.” “…[S]ignificant elements of traditional religious belief and practice are passing away, but a new kind of religiosity is poised to take its place.”[12] Since, of course, there are only two kinds of “religiosity,” this “new kind” would be Oneism.

This “new religiosity” maintains the fiction of progress, but as C. S. Lewis remarked: “Pantheism is congenial to our minds not because it is the final stage in a slow process of enlightenment [as it often claims], but because it is almost as old as we are.”[13] In its present iteration, this ancient ideology denigrates theism as out-of-date, dysfunctional, and blame-worthy, and triumphantly declares itself to be our future. The Jungian mystic and counselor to Hillary Clinton in the White House, Jean Huston, has provocatively declared: “Other times in history thought they were it. They were wrong. Now is it.”[14] Joseph Campbell before his death in 1987 was asked: “Do you still believe that we are at this moment participating in one of the greatest leaps of the human spirit”? He answered: “The greatest ever.”[15]

How did we get to this moment of Oneist triumph?

Ideological Revolution

The coherent ancient ideology of Oneism comes in a number of interlaced forms that together constitute a formidable construction of a “new” seductive worldview for our contemporary culture.

  1. The Hinduization of the West

In the Sixties, spiritual globalism took a leap forward as Eastern Oneism continued its invasion of Western culture. Though Vivekananda had already made the trip West in 1893, and many had followed him, the Sixties saw a whole series of Indian gurus make their mark on the student generation. The “Fab Four” met the Maharishi, and popular culture was introduced to the “wisdom of the East.” In August 2009, Newsweek announced that “We are all Hindus Now,” meaning that the Western soul has been profoundly and definitively altered—a change that spiritual observer, Philip Goldberg, in his book American Veda[16] compares to the Great Awakenings of the 18th century.

Many of the architects of modern spirituality, such as Aldous Huxley, Joseph Campbell, and Huston Smith, were converts of Vedanta. Campbell and Smith were introduced to the culture thanks to the Bill Moyers PBS video series, Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth. Campbell, mentor of George Lucas and inspiration of the Star Wars movie series, had an enduring friendship with the guru Jiddu Krishnamurti, and Hinduism became the overarching theme of Campbell’s work. Huston Smith was a MK (missionary kid) in China who converted to Buddhism and became a leading authority in the history of religions. No one can underestimate the influence in the West of the Dalai Lama, from the same Eastern spiritual tradition. It is doubtless true to say that the key New Age leaders and their present disciples all claim some form of Vedantic enlightenment.

Hindu terms have entered Western consciousness. Everyday conversation includes words like karma, mantra, mandala, yoga (practiced by 18 million Americans), and avatar (Hindu term meaning incarnation). James Cameron in his film Avatar invites viewers to give up the biblical worldview in favor of Oneism. Mindfulness is now proposed as a valid Psychological method by recognized experts in the field of psychology as a way of reducing stress. Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love, convinces many, including Julia Roberts, who played the lead in the movie version of the book, and became a Hindu, that you can eat great food, have all the sex you want, as long as you master Indian meditation and reject the God of Theism.[17] The secular Jew and Hindu convert, Goldberg, notes that the Roman Catholic mystics, Bede Griffith, Wayne Teasdale, Thomas Merton and Thomas Keating were all deeply influenced by Eastern religion, and that Centering Prayer is “the highest level of Indian spirituality.”[18] Interestingly, their major influence has been seen in Christianity since the Sixties when Vatican II officially recognized the mysticism of pagan religions as a valid form of spirituality for Christians.[19]

  1. The Return of Gnosticism

If you can speak of the Easternization of the West, you can also speak of the Gnosticization of the West.[20] The discovery in 1945 of the Nag Hammadi Library gave scholarship its first direct knowledge of ancient Gnosticism. The Gnostic documents became popularly known because of their translation in 1977 and, more recently, because of their use by Dan Brown in his mega best seller The DaVinci Code.

James Robinson, like Hans Jonas, who saw Gnosticism as an ancient form of existentialism,[21] presented these newly found texts as an attractive, timeless “answer to the human dilemma.”[22] Robinson declared that the Gnostic library had much in common with three movements.

  1. Gnostic texts have “much in common with primitive Christianity.” This affirmation has given life to the New “Progressive” Christianity, which argues that the Gnostic gospels prove that original Christianity was interfaith, a notion most Americans find acceptable.
  2. Gnostic texts have “much in common with eastern religions and with holy men of all times.” This affirmation fits well with the Easternization of the West.
  3. Gnostic texts have “…much in common with…the counter-culture movements coming from the 1960’s.”[23]

Gnosticism became a cultural phenomenon through the influence of C. G. Jung, who was deeply influenced by it. Jungian psychology has introduced a form of Gnosticism into the Western psyche via the notion of the all-powerful subconscious.[24] Joseph Campbell said of Jung: his works “have inspired…an astonishing number of the leading scholars of our time.”[25] James Herrick sees the importance of Jung “less for his psychoanalytical theories than for a “closely related set of religious ideas, some of which are at the center of the New Religious synthesis, like Gnostic and occult ideas about the divinity of the individual, spiritual gnosis, and paranormal reality.”[26] Someone has called Jung the psychologist of the 21st century.[27] One writer on Jung says without overstatement that Carl Jung is the Father of Neo-Gnosticism and the New Age Movement.[28] A contemporary philosopher, Richard Wolin, Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, believes that “…since the 1970s Jung’s influence on spiritual currents of the New Age movement has been enormous. It may only be a slight exaggeration to say scratch a witch and underneath you will find a Jungian.”[29]

The modern expert on Gnosticism, Kurt Rudolf, rightly sees that Gnosticism is not spiritual dualism but “dualism on a monistic background.”[30] That is, while espousing a radical dualism between the flesh and the spirit, it affirms the primordial unity of all immateriality and expresses a yearning for the restoration of that essential non-material unity. Gnostics, like modern day Eastern spiritualists, long for the ultimate experience of “non-dual” reality and dismiss theists as dualists. Help comes to the postmodern deconstructed world not through reason but through unreason. Jung: “the distinguishing mark of the Christian epoch, and its highest achievement, has become the congenital vice of our age: the supremacy of the word…necessary at a certain phase of man’s development, it has a perilous shadow side.”[31] “The missing center of the mandala of the global community is [mystical] consciousness of the Self in the process of individuation,”[32] that is, joining the opposites in a non-dual synthesis. Humans are connected by a vast psychic force, the collective unconscious.

Jung calls Christian orthodoxy “systematic blindness” in insisting that God is outside of man, unaware of “this inner deity revealing itself from the depths of the soul.”[33] But who is this divinity? In his The Seven Sermons to the Dead, Jung following the ancient Gnostic myth, elevates Abraxas, half man, half beast, as a God higher than both the Christian God and Devil, that combines all opposites into one Being, including Christ and Satan, God’s “light and dark sons,” and the male-female androgyny.[34] Jung’s Depth Psychology seeks to be the world’s final, unitary religion.[35] Little wonder Jung’s recent biographer, Richard Noll sees Jung as the new Julian the Apostate, who, in the 4th century, turned the empire back to paganism. Says Noll, the only difference is that “Jung has succeeded where Julian failed.”[36]

  1. Pagan Mythology

All these movements are deeply related. The Jungian channeler, Jean Houston, mentioned above, believes our present society is in a state both of “breakdown and breakthrough…what I call a whole system transition, …requir[ing] a new alignment that only myth can bring [emphasis mine].”[37] Houston follows the example of the Jungian, Joseph Campbell, and his message concerning The Power of Myth. The myth Houston proposes for the reconstruction of our world is the ancient Egyptian myth of Isis, the goddess of the underworld.[38] A reviewer states: “Jean Houston’s work sparkles like a jewel whose inner fire is capable of drawing the participant out of the temporal world into the eternal realm of myth and archetype, the abode of the soul.”[39] Again, the answer is mythos not logos.As well as working both with the Clintons and President and Mrs. Carter, Jean Houston has been an advisor to UNICEF and, since 2003, she has worked with the United Nations Development Program, training leaders in developing countries throughout the world in the “new field of social artistry,” actually helping young leaders to access their indigenous pagan myths.

  1. Perennialism

The unveiling of Gnosticism, of Indian Vedanta and of many forms of ancient Nature mythology in contemporary culture evidences the surfacing of a long-existing esoteric, occult spirituality known among the cognoscenti as “the Perennial Philosophy.” Peter Occhiogrosso, author of The Joy of Sects, a 600-page encyclopedia of world religions, argues that a deep level of agreement exists between the many religions, though their proponents may not see it or speak of it. He likens this Perennial Philosophy to an underground well that feeds each religious stream.[40] Joseph Campbell combines Jungian archetypes and mystical spirituality in his The Hero with a Thousand Faces to express the complimentary notion that all human civilizations have the same mono myth(with only minor differences in details).[41] Integral thinker Dr. Roger Walsh’s work, Essential Spirituality: the Seven Central Practices, (John Wiley & Sons, 2000) identifies what the world’s wisdom traditions have in common, and his The World of Shamanism: New Views of an Ancient Tradition (Llewellyn Press, 2007), asserts shamanism to be the world’s most enduring healing and religious tradition.[42]

The Gnostic Bishop Stephan Hoeller, of the Ecclesia Gnostica of Los Angeles, agrees. The Perennial Philosophy is but another term for Gnosticism, whether ancient or modern. Ken Wilber, whom we will discuss below, calls his own system a variant of the Perennial Philosophy, as do a highly significant group of spiritual leaders, from Helena Blavatsky, Aldous Huxley, Carl Jung, and Huston Smith. Smith, hailed as the greatest living philosopher of world religion, calls himself a Perennialist with a capital P. All have rejected secular humanism. All identify with this ancient pagan tradition and promote it as the hope of the future. One notable perennialist today is Prince Charles, Patron of the Temenos Academy, which is dedicated to the central ideas of the Perennial Philosophy. Charles declares: “Only this great Tradition, in its sacralization of Nature, will solve the environmental crisis of the twenty-first century.”[43]

A decade ago the respected American historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, said: “There has been a culture war and the Left won it,”[44] but the war was also religious, and it has just begun.

Dr. Peter Jones is scholar in residence at Westminster Seminary California and associate pastor at New Life Presbyterian Church in Escondido, Calif. He is director of truthXchange, a communications center aimed at equipping the Christian community to recognize and effectively respond to the rise of paganism. Used with permission.

[1] Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity (1841), cited in Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World (New York: Doubleday, 2004), 57.

[2] See chapters 3-6 of James Herrick’s The Making of The New Spirituality: The Eclipse of The Western Religious Tradition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003) for a full-scale account of the effects of rationalism on Christianity from the Enlightenment to the Modern period.

[3] Peter L. Berger, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (Garden City: Doubleday, 1967; New York: Anchor Press, 1990), 127.

[4] Ibid., 171.

[5] Peter L. Berger, “Secularization Falsified,” First Things (February, 2008), 1.

[6] David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity (Cambridge and Oxford: Blackwell, 1990), 41.

[7] Crystal L. Downing, How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006), 26.

[8] D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 100.

[9] R. Bernstein, ed., Habermas and Modernity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 225.

[10 ]Lydia Jaeger, “Entre modernité et post modernité: faut-il réinventer l’Eglise?” La Revue Réformée LVIII, 4 (July, 2007): 39.

[11] Richard Grigg, When God Becomes Goddess: The Transformation of American Religion(New York: Continuum, 1995), 22.

[12] Richard Grigg, 22.

[13] C. S. Lewis, Miracles (New York: MacMillan, 1947), 100.

[14] “Jean Houston: Thinking Allowed,” Television Series and DVD Collection.

[15] Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth, (New York: Anchor books/Doubleday, 1988), xix.

[16] Philip Goldberg, American Veda: How Indian Spirituality Changed the West [foreword by Huston Smith] (New York: Harmony Books, 2010), 5.

[17] Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything across Italy, India and Indonesia (New York: Penguin Books, 2006).

[18] Goldberg, 312.

[19] Nostre Aetate, vol 1, par. 2 (1965) “In Hinduism men explore the divine mystery and express it both in the limitless riches of myth and the accurately defined insights of philosophy…Buddhism proposes a way of life by which man can, with confidence and trust, attain a perfect state of liberation and reach supreme illumination either through their own efforts or by the aid of divine help. The Roman Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions.” (see See also Gaudium et Spes, vol 1, sec 2 and 3, pp.904-5 (Dec 1965) — recognizes “a divine element in all human beings…offers to cooperate unreservedly with all mankind in fostering a sense of brotherhood [for human destiny].” See Thomas Merton, Conjectures of A Guilty By-stander (Random House, 1966), 155, who believes “we should fall down and worship each other.” Student of Merton, William Shannon, Seeds of Peace (Crossroad Pub Co, 1996), 180, claims that in mysticism a person “discovers that his own mystery and the mystery of God merge into one reality which is the only reality.” Contemporary Emergent evangelical, Tony Jones, in his book, Soul Shaper: Exploring Spirituality and Contemplative Practices in Youth Ministry (Zondervan, 2003), 16, proposes all the techniques found in these Catholic mystics.

[20] Peter Jones, The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1992).

[21] Hans Jonas, “Epilogue: Gnosticism, Existentialism and Nihilism,” The Gnostic Religion: The Message of The Alien God and The Beginnings of Christianity (Boston: Beacon Press, 1958), 320-340.

[22] James Robinson, The Nag Hammadi Library in English (1977), 3.

[23] Ibid., 1.

[24] See Robert A. Segal, ed.,The Allure of Gnosticism: The Gnostic Experience in Jungian Psychology and Contemporary Culture (Chicago, IL: Open Court, 1995).

[25] James Herrick, The Making of the New Spirituality, (IVP, 2003) 191, citing the introduction toThe Portable Jung, vii.

[26] Herrick, 191.

[27] Merill Berger, a Jungian psychologist, calls Jung “the psychologist of the 21st century”. See Merill Berger & Stephen Segaller, The Wisdom of the Dreams, C.G. Jung Foundation, New York, NY, Shamballa Publications, Front Cover.

[28] Ed Hird, Past National Chairman of Anglican Renewal Ministries of Canada (March 18, 1998) in an e-mail.

[29] Richard Wolin, The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), 87.

[30] Kurt Rudolf, Gnosis: The Nature and History of an Ancient Religion (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1977), 58.

[31] Sean M. Kelly, Individuation and the Absolute: Hegel, Jung and the Path toward Wholeness (New York: Paulist Press, 1993), 186, see CW 10:554.

[32] Kelly, Individuation,185.

[33] John P. Dourley, The Illness That We Are: A Jungian Critique of Christianity (Toronto: Inner city Books, 1984), 23.

[34] John P. Dourley, The Illness That We Are, 63 and 99.

[35] For Jung, the archetypes point to “the sphere of the unus mundus, “the ultimate ground of the universe” (Collected Works,11:295).

[36] Richard Noll, The Aryan Christ: The Secret Life of Carl Jung (New York: Random House, 1997), xv.

[37] Jean Houston, The Passion of Isis and Osiris: A Gateway to Transcendent Love (New York: Ballantine, 1995), 2.

[38] See above note.

[39] See The Human Capacities Bookstore website.

[40] Peter Occhiogrosso, The Joy of Sects (Doubleday/Image, 2005), xvi.

[41] Pamela Johnson, The Dark Side of the Force: Joseph Campbell, Star Wars and Hollywood’s New Religion,” World (May 3/10, 1997), 23-24.

[42] See his personal website and a book he edited, Paths Beyond Ego: The Transpersonal Vision, Roger Walsh & Frances Vaughan, eds., (Tarcher, 1993), which is a collection of 50 of the best articles on transpersonal psychology and related topics such as consciousness, meditation, lucid dreaming, spiritual emergencies, and exceptional abilities, with contributors such as Huston Smith, Stan Grof, Ken Wilber, Jack Kornfield, and the Dalai Lama.

[43] See his opening speech at the 2006 conference “Tradition in the Modern World,” a conference convened by the “traditionalist journal,” Sacred Web, of the Temenos Academy. He is the Patron of the Temenos Academy, The Temenos Academy Review is the journal of the Academy and is the successor to the journal Temenos, HRH The Prince of Wales wrote that the Academy and its review are “committed both to the perennial philosophy and to the notion that Man is, at root, a spiritual creature with spiritual and intellectual needs which have to be nourished if we are to fulfill our potential.” See the site, Life and Work of HRH Charles Windsor, The Prince of Wales.

[44] See Gertrude Himmelfarb, One Nation, Two Cultures: A Moral Divide (Knopf, 1999), for an excellent documentation of this phenomenon.



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