Monday, October 15, 2012

From Radical to Zeitgeist


The word Zeitgeist generally means the climate and culture of the times in which we live. It includes the political, moral, intellectual, ethical, spiritual, and the overall cultural thoughts and practices of the present times. It is sometimes referred to as the “spirit of the age”. Place yourself in any certain culture and look around. See what most people believe and practice? That is the “spirit of the age” or the ‘Zeitgeist”. It is a German term translated “time ghost” or the unseen ghost of the times. The German philosopher Hegel coined the term to apply to the way art reflects the culture in which it is created.

In essence Hegel suggested that art in many ways was a prisoner of the culture in which it was created and was in some ways an expression of that same culture. His contention was that regardless of any attempts to present art in a way that is completely free from the constraints or influences of culture, it was next to impossible. Even the most outrageous art which seemed innovative and free was in some ways impacted by the surrounding culture of that time.

So “Zeitgeist” means “the spirit of the times,” and this spirit can be seen through the aggregation of millions of search queries Google receives every day. The annual Zeitgeist report reveals what captured the world's attention in the past year—our passions, interests and defining moments as seen through search. And what intrigues the world in many different venues of study and entertainment, represents the Zeitgeist of today. Look around in America and see what interests people and what elicits people’s energy and interest and that is what is the Zeitgeist of the present day.

The music, the art, the entertainment, the philosophy, the sports, and all the many ways in which people act and think are influenced and even controlled by the spirit of the times…the Zeitgeist. How we seek financial gain, how we feel about and treat the poor, how we view entertainment, how important we view sports, what consumes our minds and speech, and many other things greatly reflect the culture in which we live. Any person who acts and speaks differently that the prevailing Zeitgeist is considered odd at best and crazy at worst. Those who do not conform to the spirit of the times must be viewed as aberrations in order to protect and insulate the overwhelming majority from self inspection, or worse, indictment.

But in the secular world there is no absolute standard and so the culture evolves in direct proportion to the dictates and desires of the people. The spirit of the times is ever changing, sometimes slowly and seemingly overnight at other times. The unseen desires of the fallen heart is the rudder which steers the cultural ship. And things that might seem absurd or shocking twenty years ago are commonplace and accepted today. It is the evolution of a fallen culture as generally outlined in the first chapter of Romans. Listen to what people talk about and how people think and what people devote their energies to and you will experience the spirit of the times. The spirit is invisible but the thoughts and practices of mankind reveal the substance of that spirit.

Everyone should be able to see just how this works and how an evolving culture lives with certain alterations over time which exhibit major and minor changes that define and redefine the overarching spirit of that present culture. Most people do not see the change until it becomes stark when compared with what used to be, but most just view it as inevitable and even as progress. And many use the term “progressive” or enlightened” to describe someone who has embraced this present Zeitgeist and even looks forward to more progressive and enlightened changes in the future. That is the spirit of the times in which we in America now live.

But somewhere along the line the church has altered her views to align with the spirit of the times. And this spirit is not just confined to offensive art or music, or outrageous behavior and immorality, or the liberal and progressive philosophies.. The Zeitgeist is also revealed through the dictates and practices of those who would self classify as “conservative” or “orthodox”. The streams within the culture that are generally and loosely called conservative have been greatly affected and infected by the present culture and its spirit. Without realizing it they now exhibit views and thoughts and practices which reflect the present Zeitgeist, even though they would deny any outside influences. They would contend they live by principle without compromise from this present godless and fallen culture. But in reality they clearly and unmistakably reflect the spirit of the times.

But just a surface examination of the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament bring into focus just how bound the church and the individual believer has become to the prevailing spirit of our times. In fact, we have taken the Word of God and made it bend to interpretations and applications which much more easily accommodate themselves to the norms of this present culture. Over the years the Word has been so diluted and so conformed to the present Zeitgeist that it is no longer radical and completely at odds with the spirit of the times. Just cull out a few pro-life principles or anti-gay sentiments and the church relaxes with a self delusional contentment that supposes it is not a part of the fallen expressions of this culture.

But although the culture has moved into a pervasive acceptance of all kinds of things that are contrary to God’s Word, the ones we seem to use as proof that we are separated from the evils of this world are not the driving force behind the culture at large. The driving force behind this present Zeitgeist is money. Money dictates almost everything and occupies most of our time and thought. And right there in the middle of it all is the western church and its congregants. The teachings of Jesus which should be radical when accurately applied are little more than Biblical Hallmark cards or sayings within Chinese fortune cookies. The patterns, thoughts, and practices of the American church are well entrenched expressions of the spirit of the times.

The driving force of most believers in the west is money. It may be nicely camouflaged as providing for your family or God’s blessings, but money is what consumes our hearts and minds. And what entertains us is usually saturated with money be it Hollywood or professional sports or expensive televisions and music technologies. Even “Christian” bookstores are designed as outlets for money from assortments of all kinds of Bibles to trinkets and jewelry to let people know you are a professing believer. And this and other “Christian” enterprises are money making constructs.

Even our retirement accounts are designed to afford us a comfortable living in our leisure years which will be hopefully filled with travel and other self benefits due to a life of wise financial planning. No longer are the children obligated to provide for their parents since the children are using their money on themselves, or at least to help pay the bank. And at the center of it all is self. How often does a believer save up money for many years only to give it to missions? How often does a local church borrow money in order to send out more missionaries? Or to buy food stuffs for the poor? Or to take care of more widows? And all this and yet the very words of Jesus teach against such practices including:

Matt.6: 19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

How is it that men who stand in the robes of self righteousness and aggressively proclaim that they indeed believe in the literal 24 hour creation day, and yet these same men have enormous savings and retirement accounts? Why can they squeeze out such precise measurements from the nebulous Genesis narrative but when the words of Jesus are so clear they can so easily mold them into the accepted spirit of the times?

Matt.6: 22 The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.
23 But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!

These words do not speak of adulterous eyes, they speak of money. Look at the following words:

Matt.6: 24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?

Jesus only hinted at the sin of homosexuality when He referred to Sodom and Gomorrah. But Jesus spoke often and clearly and directly about the sins of greed and avarice and the dangers of personal prosperity. And Jesus also spoke often and clearly about the poor and yet the American church disdains helping the poor through the dictates of the fallen government insisting that we all be left to help the poor voluntarily. And if we compare how much money the church and individuals spend on interest payments, entertainment, activities, travel, dog food, restaurants, sports, clothes, cars, and compare those with what we spend on helping the poor, well, we are found as hypocrites. We only say we believe the Bible is literal, but we certainly cannot substantiate that belief with lives that are remarkably surrendered to its teachings.

At the roots of nationalism and politics is money. The entire system is built upon an egregious and obscene waste of money, and the voting booths are filled with financial hopes. The poor desire financial help from the government and the rich or average person desires policies which will help his personal wealth. Either way the majority are seeking money. The democratic system is also a product of the spirit of the times. Both liberal and conservative and everyone in between embraces the system as the way to establish their own views, morally and monetarily. And there is the church at the very center of the fallen spectacle in hopes that participation in this present Zeitgeist will be the instrument of change regardless of the two facts, that those of us who are older have seen only bad changes and that the Word of God openly predicts that things will get worse. So if things get better through the democratic system God will have to change his prophetic proclamations!

But if we read the teachings of Jesus untethered to the present cultural norms and understandings, we are confronted with a radical call to faith. And this is not just in witnessing to your peers, but the teachings are extreme and revolutionary, especially when juxtaposed upon the current western lifestyles. But they are so radical and so extreme and so uncomfortable, that we have elected instead to sterilize them with the present spirit of the times. And instead of teachings that challenge us to deny ourselves and walk a blood stained path, we have made them bow to the spirit of the times.

I have no confidence that the western church will repent and take a fresh look at the entirety of what we practice and believe. They are too entrenched, too comfortable, and way too invested in this present ecclesiastical structure. But I do know that the Spirit will guide every individual believer if we are truly sincere and crucified to ourselves. I do know there is an open treasure which awaits those who would seek Christ with their whole heart. I do know that it will be extremely difficult to break free from the chains of this present Zeitgeist and leave the comfort of the known land of Ur and head to the promised land of Canaan.

And if you chose such a path be ready and aware of this: Everything you will read and understand in the Word and through the illumination of the Spirit will be radical even to the point of unreasonable. But only then will you realize you are on the path impacted with the nail scarred footprints of our Forerunner. If it does not cost you dearly, you still have miles to go before you sleep.


Anonymous said...

Good post Rick. Today I prayed that if my husband and I have anything more to donate to the poor to do it w/o delay! -Noel

P.S. in my husband's family after his sister-in-law died there was a fight over jewelry & stuff. Now 3 brothers have NOTHING to do w/the youngest brother "because he's selfish and got everything he wanted!" All this infighting and shunning due to greed. It's sad but money is an unforgiving god :(

Terry said...

"Everything you will read and understand in the Word and through the illumination of the Spirit will be radical even to the point of unreasonable." People forget that much of what Jesus said was difficult to hear, and many turned away.

A good friend of mine used to drive me crazy. He always took the most difficult path or harder to handle interpretation, all because he didn't want to miss God by going the easy way. He's no longer with us, but looking back, every choice and position he took was the right one. I'm the guy playing catch up after all these years!