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Stuck upside down in a roller coaster: The popularity and peril of secular spirituality

July 5, 2023 -

FILE photo: A roller coaster is upside down at the crest of a loop. © By aapsky/stock.adobe.com

FILE photo: A roller coaster is upside down at the crest of a loop. © By aapsky/stock.adobe.com

FILE photo: A roller coaster is upside down at the crest of a loop. © By aapsky/stock.adobe.com

Here’s a story to begin your post-holiday morning: eight roller coaster riders were stuck hanging upside down for around three hours at a festival in Wisconsin last Sunday. No matter what happens to you today, you can remind yourself that you weren’t one of them.

Such stories remind us that we don’t know what we don’t know. If we knew the roller coaster was going to shut down in the middle of a ride, we wouldn’t ride on it. If we knew the plane would crash or the road ahead would shut down because of a wreck, we wouldn’t travel on it.

Sometimes we get lucky. For example, a man spotted a crack in a support beam on a roller coaster in North Carolina and alerted authorities who then shut down the ride. Now I’m wondering how many other roller coasters around the country have cracks that no one has discovered.

I’m not alone in worrying about the unknown future. According to a new Fox News survey, only 43 percent of Americans think our best days as a nation are ahead of us. This is a nine-point drop from two years ago and a nineteen-point decrease since 2017. In similar news, Gallup reports that only 31 percent of us have confidence in the US government, a decline of twenty-five points since 2006.

As we continue our Independence Day focus on America, let’s ask: What explains our nation’s loss of hope? What can we do about it?

“You don’t even have to be religious”

In a profound new essay, writer C. D. Cunningham reports that a “new religion” is emerging in our day. In his words, it “blends elements of modern and postmodern philosophies to form a belief system focused on identity, equity, and societal critique. It encourages self-discovery, introspective growth, and activism for systemic change.

“With rituals and mythology adapted for the digital age, the faith supports a non-falsifiable metaphysical worldview and champions inclusivity, diversity, and individual expression, all in pursuit of an envisioned utopian future.”

We see examples of such secular spirituality all around us every day.

For example, “The Nearness” is an online cooperative composed of eight-week courses in which groups meet to self-reflect and experiment with a variety of secular spirituality practices. Various writers urge us to pursue “spiritual awakening” by exploring our own “spiritual paths.” Biblical morality is mischaracterized and castigated wherever possible, as with this Verge headline: “Supreme Court rules for web designer who wanted to discriminate against gay clients.”

Meanwhile, books such as the popular Holy Moments: A Handbook for the Rest of Your Life invite us to seek God in the everyday but offer no discussion of sin, repentance, or the need for saving faith in Christ. (For more, see Chris Elkins’ excellent review on our website). A man who is helping to distribute the book in his community said, “You don’t have to be a Christian, you don’t even have to be religious, and you can still do the holy moments. It really goes beyond religion, into just the goodness of human beings.”

“Truth has stumbled in the public squares”

Here’s the problem: “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). As a result, “truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter” (v. 14).

Billy Graham commented on Judges 21:25, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes”: “Too many people today feel that the old moral standards are useless and out of date, and they ought to be free to make up their own minds about what is right and what is wrong.”

He responded: “I wonder if we have honestly faced the logical result of this belief. . . . Aren’t things like racism and injustice and genocide always wrong? Shouldn’t we always condemn as immoral a tyrant who allows millions of children to die of starvation?” He concluded: “The moral standards God has given us are always best—for society, and for us as individuals. The reason is because he created us, he loves us, and he knows what is best for us. Don’t be misled by those who deny God’s moral standards. His way is always best.”

When sin is exalted, those who stand for biblical truth should expect to be oppressed: “On every side the wicked prowl, as vileness is exalted among the children of man” (Psalm 12:8). Consequently, we can judge our spiritual health by the degree to which we are in conflict with a sinful culture. And we can judge our love for America by our willingness to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) whatever the cost.

“We may trample on God’s meadow”

St. Augustine noted: “My brothers, we do not seek, nor should we seek, our own glory even among those whose approval we desire. What we should seek is their salvation, so that if we walk as we should they will not go astray in following us.”

Consequently, “our concern should be not only to live as we ought, but also to do so in the sight of men; not only to have a good conscience but also, so far as we can in our weakness, so far as we can govern our frailty, to do nothing which might lead our weak brother into thinking evil of us.

“Otherwise, as we feed on the good pasture and drink the pure water, we may trample on God’s meadow, and weaker sheep will have to feed on trampled grass and drink from troubled waters.”

What “grass” and “waters” will you offer our nation today?

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