095 Collegians, Hungry For Heaven

  J. Budziszewski, a philosophy professor at the University of Texas, has written a handy work entitled How to Stay Christian in College: An Interactive Guide to Keeping the Faith (Colorado Springs: NavPress, c. 1999), which is dedicated “To my students, For my Lord.” He seeks to help young believers, attending universities such as his own, to negotiate the minefields of academia, growing and profiting from the adventure. Once a skeptic himself, losing his faith in college, he’s charted the intellectual battlefield and writes with gratitude for his “Lord Jesus Christ, who found me sixteen years ago in the Enemy’s camp and gave me a new heart and mind” (p. 11). He returned to God, after launching his career as a professor, when he realized that surely some Ultimate Reality, some Ethical Source, sustained the profound awareness he had when differentiating between the “wonderful and the horrible” realities of life. Without some higher standard, he could make no meaningful distinctions between right and wrong. So God found Him!

And he wants to help Christian students keep their faith! The “charter for Christian students,” he says, is Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” This means developing a thoroughly Christian worldview, rightly understanding the truth concerning ultimate realities–creation, salvation, life eternal. Knowing God, not merely knowing things about Him, lifts believers into a “new kind of life. It begins with the cancellation of the curse, but goes on to perfect holiness. It begins with the forgiveness of sins, but goes on to joy and glory” (p. 38).

Such Christian experience sparks a worldview which clearly contradicts the world’s. The resurgence of paganism amidst the collapse of Western Civilization presents believers with new challenges, evident in contemporary positions such as “Naturalism,” “Postmodernism,” and “Do-It-Yourself Spirituality.”

Naturalists, Budziszewski says, insist that the natural world is all there is, and that it has mindlessly evolved to its present condition. Despite the many evidences of Design, they insist there’s ultimately nothing but atoms-in-motion, accidentally assembling themselves into the cosmos. Harvard’s Professor Richard Lewontin, an astute paleontologist, while upholding this view, acknowledges: “‘We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, . . . in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that reproduce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door'” (p. 44).

Whereas Naturalists hold tenaciously, indeed dogmatically, to the “truth” of their position, some of their sharpest critics, the Postmodernists, deny the possibility of any absolute “truth” at all. What’s true for you is not true for me. We all tell our own “stories” and construct our own value systems. It’s fine to believe your own story, but you must never impose it on anyone else. Postmodernists further deny the reality of “a soul, a self, an ‘I’ that keeps its identity and is responsible for everything it does. At most, people wear masks or play roles-different at every moment” (p. 45). They find little “meaning” in life, though each person is certainly free to “construct” individual cocoons of comfort. And that’s precisely what Do-It-Yourself Spirituality encourages. Practitioners of this art mix together bits and pieces lifted out of movies, TV, exotic religions, and psychological gurus. “Do-it-yourselfers usually choose beliefs according to ‘what makes me feel good’ rather than ‘what seems likely to be true'” (p. 47). They ignore such things as logic, biblical or ecclesiastical authority, and tradition, determined to “make up” their own self-satisfying beliefs.

After helping clarify how Christians differ from non-Christians in their thinking, Budziszewski suggests ways Christian students can talk with them. “Don’t Be Apologetic–Do Apologetics”! he says (p. 57). Be bold! Be prepared, and present your views with confidence and consistency. “Don’t Argue, Don’t Apologize, Don’t Back Down, and Don’t Get Trapped” (p. 61). Like a skilled courtroom attorney, do your homework, present your evidence, appeal to others’ reason, and rest your case. And, finally, “Remember Whose You Are! Please notice I didn’t say who you are; I said whose you are. You belong to Jesus Christ. God wants to use you to reach your nonChristian friends-but Satan wants to use your nonChristian friends to reach you. Don’t let him turn the tables” (p. 62).

After addressing various campus “myths” regarding the search for knowledge, love, sex, and politics, Budziszewski sets forth suggestions concerning “how to cope” with the challenges of campus life. Students will encounter pernicious New Age notions such as the following precepts articulated by Neal Donald Walsch in a book which remained on The New York Times Bestseller list for more than a year, Conversations with God:

“Blessed are the Self-centered, for they shall know God”

“Let each person in relationship worry not about the other, but only, only

only about Self.”

“For centuries you have been taught that love-sponsored action arises out of the choice to be, do, and have whatever produces the highest good for another. Yet tell you this: the highest good is that which produces the highest good for you.”

“Remember, your job on the planet is not to see how long you can stay in relationship, it’s to decide, and experience, Who You Really Are.”

“Practice saying ten times each day: I LOVE SEX. Practice saying this ten times: I LOVE MONEY. Now, you want a really tough one? Try saying this ten times: I LOVE ME!” (p. 102).

Amazingly enough, Walsch pretends such rhetoric enlists on in a “holy cause,” though it’s clearly contrary to all that “holy” has meant in the Christian tradition. To recognize and refute such distortions is, however, the “holy” calling of thoughtful believers.

To rightly respond to such campus challenges, Budziszewski says, “may be a turning point in your walk with God–a time when your relationship with Christ either deepens or weakens” (p. 111). Staying in touch with fellow believers is one of the best ways to deepen one’s faith. Doing things with others–praying, studying, supporting, reaching out to the needy–enriches one’s spiritual development. Student groups on campus are good, but so is attending and supporting a nearby church, where one worships with older and wiser believers. To choose a church, “Look for a fellowship that openly acknowledges Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior” (p. 113). Be sure it stresses salvation by faith, insists upon high moral standards, and is blessed by peace and balanced programs. Professor Budziszewski insists on orthodoxy and orthopraxis! Still more: be sure your church rightly emphasizes the Bible and avoids overly-emotional experiences or manipulative ministers.

This is a good book to give students entering college! It’s easy to read, develops a cogent argument, and points readers to good resources, including Internet sites with almost unlimited potential. Budziszewski is one of the brightest young philosophers in the country, and he makes it clear how deeply Christian is his commitment to the life of the mind.

 


Given the importance of music in the life of young people, it’s helpful to read Steve Turner’s Hungry for Heaven: Rock ‘n’ Roll & the Search for Redemption (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, c. 1995). Turner is an established British journalist, long interested in popular music, and this is a revised edition of his book. Central to its thesis are the words of Bruce Springsteen, reaffirming one of St Augustine’s most famous insights, that “Everybody’s got a hungry heart” (p. 8). Consequently, as an Oxford professor of Eastern religion, R.C. Zaehner said, “Loss of faith in a given religion does not by any means imply the eradication of the religious instinct. It merely means that the instinct, temporarily repressed, will seek an object elsewhere” (flyleaf). For many folks, rock music, has, during the past four decades, served a religious function, even becoming a religion for true devotees.

Turner is impressed by the fact that many eminent musicians have, in time, turned to religion, and believes “that the best rock ‘n’ roll is itself a crying out for an experience of transcendence that the modern secular world doesn’t offer” (p. 14). Early shaped by singers like Elvis Presley, who said his “first love would be spiritual music” (p. 17), there is an undercurrent of gospel in the pulsating appeal of their songs. Like Jerry Lee Lewis, many of them believed the Gospel was true, but admitted they simply could not live it with integrity. Presley and Lewis recognized the great chasm which separated what they’d learned in church and what they promoted in their songs. “Ultimately,” Turner wisely notes, “it was the redemption feel rather than the redemptive message that Southern rock ‘n’ rollers took to the world” (p. 33).

From England came bands like the Beatles, whose music literally captivated millions. Their music, with its exploration of drugs and exotic religions, early illustrated a spiritual hunger which had not been satisfied. “Apathetic agnostics became passionate seekers after ‘truth,’ rock ‘n’ roll was perceived as tribal ritual, and the gates were thrown open to every religion, cult and heresy that humanity has ever known” (p. 54). Soon hippies were wandering through India or raptly sitting in Ravi Shankar concerts or hoping to find divine illumination from the Beatles’ very own Maharishi Mashes Yogi. “The Beatles had experienced the best that mammon could offer. They had become millionaires at an early age. They were worshiped around the world; they’d reached the peak of their creative powers, and their place in history was assured. ‘Yet,’ said John Lennon’s wife Cynthia, ‘human nature and the ultimate search for something new and unobtainable in their young lives drove them to experiment with anything and everything that was offered to them. The incredible speed and madness of their success story created a very large vacuum in their day-to-day existence'” (pp. 71-72.).

Delving into more demonic pathways, the other great British Band of the ’60’s, the Rolling Stones, issued albums such as Their Satanic Majesties Request and sang songs filled “with darkness and menace” (p. 85). “‘I look inside myself,’ sang Mick Jagger, ‘and see my heart is black'” (p. 85). Jagger, Keith Richards, and Brian Jones “fancied themselves as the devil’s musicians on the margins of polite British society” (p. 89). They were deeply influenced by the filmmaker and occultist Kenneth Anger, who sought to popularize the ideas of Malcom Crowley, who fancied himself the “Great Beast 666.” Crowley urged his followers to indulge in alcohol and drugs, to “‘Lust, enjoy all things of sense and rapture'” (p. 92). In addition to the Stones, David Bowie, Jimmy Page and Jim Morrison devoted their music to Crowley’s satanic themes. And they all sought to popularize this Crowley message: “‘There is no law beyond do what thou wilt'” (p. 95).

Living out that message in Los Angeles, Charles Manson (an aspiring if untalented rock ‘n’ roll musician who was deeply immersed in the music of the Beatles and the Stones) decided that “If God is one, what is bad?” He implemented his philosophy and orchestrated some of the most brutal acts of our times. “Manson argued that as we are all God, it’s no crime for one part of God to stick a blade into another part of God. The only moral consideration is whether you feel love as you do it. Love is all you need” (p. 108). Manson sucked in and mashed together “all the fragmented, half-digested philosophies of hippiedom;” freed from “the idea of an objective God ‘out there,’ he jettisoned the morals associated with such a God. He raised the specter of a world of annihilated egos where the strongest ruled and nothing really mattered anyway, because all was part of the anonymous One” (p. 108).

Then the euphoria of the famed Woodstock festival in 1969 dissipated amidst the violence of Altamont, California, four months later. “When the Rolling Stones began to play ‘Sympathy for the Devil,’ some Hell’s Angels [hired as security guards for the concert!] knifed a black teenager to death in view of the stage. Mick Jagger turned to his band, saying, ‘Something very funny happens when we start that number'” (p. 106). The Stones’ message, when acted out at Altamont, “is now regarded as the beginning of the end of the utopian dreams of the 1960’s” (p. 107). Then the peace-posturing Beatles broke up! If the “composers of ‘All You Need is Love’ can’t see eye to eye, can anyone get along?” (p. 107).

From the utopian hopes of early rock ‘n’ rollers, the music slipped into such by-roads as punk rock. The nihilism which was a minor theme in earlier rock ‘n’ roll became an angry anthem. Johnny Rotten, of the Sex Pistols, declared there was “‘no future for you / no future for me'” (p. 139). Rotten himself posed as “morally depraved” and hopeless, “an anarchist and an antichrist” without a future. Equally bored with life, The Clash assailed various evil “systems,” turning their music into a political incantation.

Other musicians, however, craved something better–indeed they longed for heaven! So Ian McCulloch, of Echo and the Bunneymen, said, “‘I use the word heaven a lot in my songs because it sounds good'” (p. 148). Sting blended religious themes with his music. Bruce Springsteen, educated in Catholic schools, wasn’t overtly religious, but he considered the album Born to Run a “‘religious album'” (p. 152). His music wrestles with religious questions, though he provides no answers. He’s run, and he keeps on running.

Until the 1980’s, Turner notes, “there was no effective Christian contribution to rock ‘n’ roll” (p. 159). Many musicians, like Jerry Lee Lewis, came out of Christian backgrounds, but they drew a sharp line between their music and their past. So-called “Jesus Rock” had no measurable impact upon the broader music world, but when Bob Dylan, one of the legends of rock ‘n’ roll (influenced by a Jesus Rock musician, Larry Norman), issued Slow Train Coming, followed by Saved and Shot of Love, a distinctively Christian beachhead was clearly established. From the beginning Dylan’s music had explored religious themes, and he once said: “‘I think art can lead you to God. I think that’s the purpose of everything. If it’s not doing that, what’s it doing? It’s leading you the other way. It’s certainly not leading you nowhere” (p. 159). His “born again trilogy” contains some of his finest tunes, and though he’s moved in different directions since the mid-80’s he certainly illustrates the spiritual quest which drives one of rock ‘n’ roll’s leading lights.

T-Bone Burnett, Bruce Cockburn, and Johnny Cash then added their voices to the Christian rock ‘n’ roll canon. Cash’s 1994 album, American Recordings, treated “sin and redemption,'” he said, and it contains some marvelous lyrics such as these:

And the blood gave life to the branches of the tree

And the blood was the price that set the captives free

And the numbers that came through the fire and the flood

Clung to the tree and were redeemed by the blood. (p. 174).

From Ireland came U2, as distinctively Christian as Dylan, Cockburn, and Cash. In Bono’s words, “‘I’m still interested in the things of the spirit and God and the mind-boggling idea that he might be interested in us'” (p. 175). Influenced by Christian thinkers such as Watchman Nee, U2 (in the early years especially, as is evident in “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”) sought to reach their audience with some Gospel claims.

Turning from the rather explicit Christian themes of U2 and Johnny Cash, Turner discusses the music of Madonna, Marvin Gaye, and Prince, who blended the sinful and the sacred, sanctity and sexuality. Madonna and her band, she said, joined hands and prayed to “the Lord” before each concert. She believes in God and heaven. “‘I believe in everything,’ she told Rolling Stone in 1991. ‘That’s what Catholicism teaches you'” (p. 190). Marvin Gaye, son of a Pentecostal preacher, rebelled against the strict teachings of his father, declaring, in notes he included with his 1973 album Let’s Get It On, that he saw nothing “‘wrong with sex between consenting adults'” (p. 192). Considering such musicians, says, “Sex has become the religion of our secular age” (p. 193). “Through multiple partners you find your true self. In an age starved of true spiritual experience, the loss of ego experienced during a sexual climax is the closes many people get to a feeling of transcendence. As Malcolm Muggeridge once commented, ‘Sex is the only mysticism materialism offers'” (p. 193). And that’s precisely what fuels the music of Prince, who was reared in a Seventh-day Adventist church. He talks about the God of Love, the Cross, heaven and he all. Yet, as one of his bodyguards observed, “‘Prince worships two gods. He worships religion and sex. He’s just a little confused over which one he likes the best'” (p. 194). His LoveSexy album, apparently, pretty well illustrated that decision!

Turner’s discussion sympathetically explores one of the most influential popular movements of the post-WWII era. Love it or hate it, rock ‘n’ roll has powerfully shaped the world we live in. He discerns the deep spiritual longing embedded in many of the most significant musicians, and he effectively explains the message of the small number of Christians who found ways to open the medium to it. Readable and quotable, Hungry for Heaven is a fine source for those of us who forever seek to understand the young folks we work with!

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