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Published by Mise En Abyme



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Published by: Mise En Abyme on Jun 13, 2013
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The Revealed Word, or Eclipse of the New Religious SynthesisJames A. Herrick,
The Making of the New Spirituality: The Eclipse of the Western Religious Tradition
. Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2003. Pp. 331. ISBN: 978-0-8308-3279-8[1] Significant discoveries following the growth of Indo-European philology in theeighteenth century, particularly awareness of the linguistic antiquity of Sanskrit, and thesecular origins of language (or ‘discovery of language’) have largely displaced ancientbeliefs concerning the primordial Hebrew revelations delivered by God in Eden. As aresult, the unilateral transmission of sacred language and revealed authority is now widelyrejected in the scientific study of religion as well as cultural contexts beyond the WesternAcademy. To illustrate the undying evangelical spirit, or fundamentals, of the Christianrevelation, however, one would be hard pressed to find a better example than James A.Herrick, professor of Communication at Hope College.[2] Published by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship campus ministry, a home-grownbranch established in America prior to the Second World War as an active studentmovement at hundreds of universities and colleges in America with a mission to equipand encourage people to follow Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord in all of Life, with sistermovements in Great Britain and an affiliate of the International Fellowship of EvangelicalStudents, Herrick’s
The Making of the New Spirituality: The Eclipse of the Western Religious Tradition
laments the modern ‘New Religious Synthesis,’ or the ‘OtherSpirituality.’ Standing in total opposition to a mystical movement he traces to spiritualcommunities as far back as the Middle Ages is the ‘Revealed Word.’[3] It is true that the various movements generating Herrick’s eclectic ‘New ReligiousSynthesis’ share many differing characteristics, but all reject the letter of the law. The‘Other Spirituality’ is not simply limited to scriptural transcendence, indeed, thecorrelative element of this cultural pluralism is expressed in conjunction with mysticalexperience; how else could this cult manifest in the presence of such doctrinally diverse
movements as those analyzed by Herrick? In its programmatic refusal to be organizedwith canonical dogmas or articulate itself through any fixed range of myths and symbols,the New Religious Synthesis instead cultivates a network of communication for a culticmilieu which exists as a threat on the peripheries of society. The pluralistic paradigmregulating this New Religious Synthesis serves to place this cognitive domain in contrastto other historical and culturally specific modes of understanding ones subjectiveexperiences and internalization of external authority, such as the ‘Revealed Word.’[4] Related to the discrediting of scriptural revelation, modern preoccupation with ones‘inner voice’ as a source of knowledge and the concomitant rejection of tradition occupiesa prominent position in the European adventure. Renaissance humanism andEnlightenment rationalism both in their own way value ones individual autonomy, orutilitarian individualism, and distinctly human role as freethinkers (
les libertines
).Romantics, too, embody this notion through the artistic and creative merits of expressiveindividualism. Indeed, a number of sociologists of religion since Durkheim have invarious ways summarized the religion of modernity as giving rise to the ‘cult of theindividual.For well over thirty years now scholars in a range of disciplines fromsociology to political theory have emphasized modern trends of secularization in terms of their influence upon such notions as cultural values, norms, morals, human subjectivity,and personhood. Terms and phrases such as “cultural narcissism,” “psychologization,”“privatization,” “triumph of the therapeutic,” “ascent of psychological man,” etc. have allbeen employed in various contexts to underline a basic problem in the institutionalsegmentation of modern society. These expressions imply a concept of culture linked withpolitical economy, and politics linked with self.[5] The logic of this cultural production is ironically connected to the pious andindividualistic trends discovered in the history of Christianity, specifically the‘innerworldly’ attitude of Protestant theologians who sought liberation from thesacramental control of the church. Following the de-institutionalization, or laicization, of religion in the wake of the Protestant reformation and the erosion of external, ritualistic,
and papal authority, evident everywhere from eighteenth century Europe to thecommonwealths of New England, the modern form of ‘invisible religion’ celebrated theself-ethic of epistemological individualism, or individual mysticism. As the neworthodoxy for our age, then, giving faith to the divine potential lying within—if onlywaiting to be discovered—God is displaced for the deification of Human Nature.[6] A variety of mystical beliefs, magical practices, occult phenomenon, commercializedconsciousness-expanding enterprises, networks of subjectivisms, etc., enter power-relations with the Revealed Word and are taken up by participants of the New ReligiousSynthesis who believe that external voices of authority have inevitably been internalizedas the ‘ego’ through a process of socialization and individualization. Their commitmentto the self as an autonomous locus of authority also implies the possibility of liberationfrom social conditioning, but the realization of self-responsibility, that is, the underlyingbelief that knowledge lies within, leads to an awareness that it is only ones own self whois responsible for self-knowledge. It is precisely this narcissistic preoccupation with theself which stands in contrast to the Christian doctrine of ‘original sin.’ To understand theimportance of this dogma one only needs to recall that between 1659 and 1661 no lessthan four members of the Quaker movement were hanged on Boston Commons for theirheretical belief that Christ is found in some ‘Inner Light’ guiding believers.[7] In the Anglican context of colonial New England and the once newly revealed gospelof Jesus Christ, Christianity was less about systematic theology as it was the struggles of Pilgrims to provide a literalist interpretation of the Holy Bible and distance themselvesfrom the Church of England. The sinfulness of the flesh, the dualism of spirit and matterand the separation between the individual and God, the innate sinfulness of human nature,the doctrine of predestination and the belief that all souls were eternally condemned toeither heaven or hell, the belief that the grace of Jesus the only Son of the God of theUnited Kingdom of Israel and Judah was the only way of salvation, and faith in theinfallible word of God as revealed in the Holy Bible, were all part of the ideologicalconsensus and Puritanical high culture of early America.

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