Peter Jones grew up in Liverpool, England, attending school with a friend named John. “For six years we shared the same kind of humor, wrote the same kind of idiotic poetry, fooled around a lot, and played music together.” His soon-to-be-famous friend’s last name was Lennon! Following their prep school years, both young men came to America. John Lennon, singing with the Beatles, shook the world, helping launch the counter-culture which we now identify as the “60’s generation.” Peter Jones, marching to a different drummer, studied theology, first at Gordon-Conwell, then taking advanced degrees at Harvard and Princeton. For two decades he taught in a seminary in southern France, then returned to the United States and now teaches at Westminister Seminary in Escondido, California.
Looking around, he discovered that Americans were as activistically religious as ever, full of enthusiasm for their faith. However, they were far less fundamentally Christian than they were three decades ago! All too many have cheerfully slipped into the Age of Aquarius–as is evident when one peruses the “religion” sections of the nearest Bookstar or Crown Books outlet. According to one spokesman, Tom Williams, a priest of the Church of All Worlds, the “Age of Pisces” which was “fueled by masculine, yang energy, is now at an end. It is being superseded by the feminine yin energy of the Age of Aquarius” (p. 13). Many of them, as is evident in the growing popularity of Halloween, which was once a reasonably innocent children’s event, are returning to an essentially pagan faith. Startled by what he saw in this nation, Jones wrote The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back: An Old Heresy for the New Age (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, c. 1992). Having immersed himself in the ancient world’s Gnostic texts, he finds “that the New Age is in fact a modern form of ancient gnosticism” (p. 7). The finest students of Gnosticism seem to concur. Giovanni Filoramo, a world-famed expert on it, asserts we are in the midst of its “rediscovery,” and Hans Jonas, author of probably the definitive work on the subject, The Gnostic Religion, agrees. Though Gnostics widely differ, with each teacher carving out his or her own niche in the movement, they all share the basic notion that all of us are one with God, and that self-awareness and self-realization will bring us bliss.
If we are all, in our inner essence, one with God, there is, of course, no need to know anything or anyone other than our self. Historic revelation, other than offering helpful advice, has little value. Nor does Christ fill any ultimate purpose–other than as an enlightened teacher. Christ was not necessarily a historical, flesh-and-blood person, not the unique God-man who entered our world to save us from sin. Rather Jesus was a self-actualized man with whom we can identify as our elder brother. The divine powers he drew upon are just awaiting open channels, such as devotees of Shirley MacLaine and similar New Age guides. “When Shirley MacLaine goes within to gaze upon God (i.e., her higher self), she sees ‘a powerful form, quietly standing in the center of my inner space, looking at me with total love. The figure [is] very tall, an androgynous being, with long arms and the kindest face . . . saying, “I am the real you”‘” (p. 60).
Gnostics also declare that God is impersonal and beyond human understanding. So we “imagine” rather than “know” things divine. If God cannot be known, if words cannot truthfully describe Him, whatever we “feel” fits a Divine Being. Accordingly, if we desire we can imagine God as a “dyad of masculine and feminine elements” (p. 29), an androgynous power who can be called “Mother” as well as “Father” or “Mother/Father” or “God/ess.” This power pulsates throughout the cosmos, so there is often a mixing of nature worship with self-affirmation in New Age circles. It underlies the “creation spirituality” espoused by Matthew Fox and evident in a Colorado minister’s prayer, addressed to “the great Green One” (p. 45).
Moving between ancient texts and modern movements, drawing upon both highly scholarly sources and pop cultural icons, Jones shows the tie between ancient Gnosticism and today’s New Age currents. He also helps oneunderstand how many Gnostic notions, subtly disguised, have quickly infiltrated the American church.
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Jones has recently followed up his earlier volume on Gnosticism with a much longer, in-depth (65 pages of endnotes) study, Spirit Wars: Pagan Revival in Christian America (Mukilteo, WA: WinePress Publishing, c. 1997).
In Jones’ opinion, we are living in revolutionary times when “sexuality, spirituality, God, religion, and revelation” are being redefined and often inverted. Indeed, a battle has been joined between “two powerful spiritualities; Christian theism/God the Father, and pagan monism/the Mother goddess” (p. xii). The latter is evident in the phrasing of Lazaris, a New Age guru, who refers to “God, Goddess, the All That Is” (p. 31).
Sexuality, especially, proves to be a well-paved road for New Age thought. Gnostics of old sought to bring “goddess worship and homosexuality into ‘Christianity'” (p. 198). As they knew, changing a peoples’ views of sexuality will, inexorably over time, change their views on creation and the Creator. Though ancient Gnostics such as Valentinus attracted many followers, their ideas were resolutely resisted by orthodox thinkers such as St. Irenaeus of Lyons. Almost without resistance from Christian thinkers, today’s Gnostics have orchestrated a massive shift within one generation, a shift which will totally alter the Church if unchecked.
They have done so by packing it inside a “gender” movement which seemed, to many of us, simply an endeavor to establish justice for women in society and church. The masks have recently been removed, and the true face has appeared. Thus some New Age teachers, such as Virginia Mollenkott, assert that “heteropatriarchy” has caused most of the world’s evils and must be replaced with a thorough egalitarianism which grants homosexuality its rightful standing. To achieve such ends, the openly lesbian Mollenkott (at one time a respected “Evangelical” theologian) justifies “lying and deceiving to bring down the heteropatriarchal culture” (p. 194).
Perhaps the most highly regarded (or at least oft-cited) feminist theologian, Mary Daly, recently set forth her views in Pure Lust. Having long abandoned the Christianity of her early years, she now “screams blasphemies on virtually every page of her recent books promoting witchcraft and erotic ‘spiritual’ lesbianism.” Predictably, she receives accolades from Harvey Cox,” (p. 183) the resident wind chime of Harvard Divinity School. Daly now admits that lesbianism is “‘almost required by radical feminism,’ and grants that “‘everything I write is an invitation to [lesbianism]'” (P. 231). Gnostics forever show contempt for creation, and the very notion that the Creator has specifically created men and women, assigning them specific sexual roles, offends those who want to imagine that all “genders” are socially constructed and thus subject to personal choice.
For years I regarded Daly et al. as passing blips on the radar screen of Church history, but I’m now convinced that such folks’ pronouncements cannot be dismissed as just another faddish aberration. In conjunction with their sexual agenda they have a new “spirituality” they seek to promote and establish. They are, in fact, heirs of the “liberal” movement which during the past century has eroded the Christian faith. Here Jones follows J.G. Machen (the masterful Princeton scholar who led conservative Presbyterians to establish Westminister Theological Seminary following WWI), holding that “‘whether or not liberals are Christians, it is at any rate perfectly clear that liberalism is not Christianity'” since “‘it proceeds from a totally different root'” and promulgates an entirely different world view (p. 73). As an outgrowth of liberalism, Jones argues that “This ‘New Age’ spirituality is not a cult. Cults remain marginal. World and life views transform everything. Christian colleges and seminaries tend to discuss the New Age as the last chapter in a course on ‘the cults.’ But in proper perspective, the New Age is not a cult. Nor is it a heresy, which stresses one aspect of the truth to the exclusion of all others. New Age liberalism is apostasy. ‘Apo-stasis’ means literally ‘a standing away from'” (p. 53).
Their apostasy stands clearly revealed in New Age devotees’ fixation on the “self” as well as re-visioning God. God, they insist, resides within. Illuminations of various sort become authoritative to New Age feminists such as Virginia Mollenkott. As she puts it: in “‘one distinct “holy instant” she realized that “like my Elder Brother, Jesus, I am a sinless Self travelling through eternity and temporarily having human experiences in a body known as Virginia Ramey Mollenkott. . . . Perhaps my Self has been on earth before in other bodies, perhaps not'” (p. 226). As was true of ancient Gnostics such as Basilides and Valentinus, the latest of modern liberals have reinterpreted the historic faith in accord with their own desires and experiences.
So, as one would expect, they construct a new Bible, an Aquarian version which satisfies their adherents. With lesbians such as Daly demanding we move “beyond God the Father,” and Mollencott joining the movement, God must be re-envisioned to suit their personal experience. Consequently, “Inclusive language” translations and liturgies have proliferated, rigorously excising patriarchal language and masculine terms for God. Thus the New Revised Standard Version renders John 13:31 as: “Now the Human One has been glorified, and in that one God has been glorified. If God has been glorified in the Human One, God will also glorify that very one in Godself and will glorify that one at once.” (Compare In the RSV which reads: “Jesus said, ‘Now is the Son of man glorified, and in him God is glorified; if God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and God will also glorify him in himself and glorify him at once.”) Such Orwellian language, utterly obscuring the meaning of the original text, gratifies the politically correct pressure groups who are mounting a Gnostic attack within the ranks of Christendom.
To Jones: “The desire to be sexually inclusive produces a two-headed androgynous divinity that would be more at home in mythologies of ancient Greece than in the Bible. And so the Lord’s Prayer begins: ‘Our Father/Mother in heaven, hallowed be your name.’ This is surely one of the most impressive attempts not to hallow God’s name in the history of Christian thought, for the very heart of the revelation brought by Jesus concerning the Father is disfigured beyond recognition” (p. 84).
Amazingly, many seminaries and churches, walking in harmony with the National Council of Churches and working with denominational bureaucracies, promote such language. Such linguistic maneuvers generally reveal the underlying influence of ancient Gnostic texts and a corresponding hermeneutics. So, John Richard Neuhaus recently noted: “‘The teaching of the Bible in theological schools is in the grip of gnosticism, the belief that it is necessary to appeal away from the plain sense of Scripture to a higher knowledge that lies above or behind the text. The aim of biblical studies is to put the students “in the know” so that they will be privy to an esoteric knowledge that even most intelligent and educated folks cannot get form their reading of the Scriptures in Hebrew, Greek or English'” (p. 130).
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On related issues, William D. Watkins’ The New Absolutes (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, c. 1996) alerts us to cultural shifts which should concern us. As the title suggests, Watkins argues that no one is a consistent relativist. Everyone holds to “absolutes.” What we see in our day is not “relativists” but “absolutists” who hold to new standards. They make glib claims–“if it feels right, do it” or “anything goes”–but they will, given the chance, impose strict limits on anyone who dares violate their convictions. Devotees of the new absolutes are just as intolerant and given to prosecution as were those of the old. Only the convictions have changed.
Watkins addresses ten new absolutes in his treatise. First he considers “freedom from religion.” Americans formerly held to the “old absolute” that “Religion is the backbone of American culture.” Such views were rooted in the conviction of John Adams, who declared “‘Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people'” (p. 62). Today, under the guidance of groups such as the ACLU, the “new absolute” insists “Religion is the bane of public life” and must be rigorously excluded from schools and courts. A nation which for two centuries openly embraced its religious roots has lately turned hostile to any public expression of religious faith. Crosses which once graced parks and hilltops have been removed, as have plaques listing the Ten Commandments from courthouses. The Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles has no problem allowing personal license plates which read “2Sexy” or “Witches,” but refused to allow “Pray” to be portrayed!
The second new absolute declares that “human life, which begins and ends when certain individuals or groups decide it does, is valuable a long as it is wanted” (p. 65). Fifty years ago few Americans would tolerate abortion and mercy-killing. Today multitudes declare their “rights” to engage in such lethal acts. The views of Malthus and Darwin, of Paul Ehrlich and Margaret Sanger, have prevailed. Human life, once considered sacred, has lost its God-given dignity.
Thirdly, whereas the old absolute insisted that “marriage is God-ordained and occurs between a man and a woman until death severs the bond,” the new view insists it “is a human contract” which can be terminated at any time for any reason. Marriage, just a few generations ago, was treasured as the basis personal well-being as well as social morality, but “today marriage is regarded as a human contract made between any two people, and either person can end it at any time for any reason. Marriage has gone from a covenant of promise to a contract of convenience” (p. 93). This nation’s divorce rate is the highest in the world, and the chaos which results from such is only beginning to be understood.
Another old absolute decreed that a “family” consisted of a man and woman with their offspring. The new view declares that “Family is any grouping of two or more people” who share some aspects of life together. So we have single parents and kids, gay and lesbian couples, groups of folks who simply hang-out together who want to call themselves “family.” Predictably, another old absolute, chastity, has fallen to the new belief that “sexual intercourse is permissible regardless of marital status” (p. 113). During the past three decades, sexual promiscuity has soared, and “living together” has become socially acceptable.
Representing the new absolutists, Watkins says, is Jocelyn Elders, the former Surgeon General appointed by President Bill Clinton. During her years of public service in Arkansas, teen pregnancy increased 15 percent, and the state enjoyed the second highest teen pregnancy rate in the U.S. STDs rose dramatically and Elders’ only “solution” was to push more of the “sex education” which apparently helped cause the problems. Elders and Clinton also championed homosexual “rights,” thus upholding yet another new absolute, which insists that “All forms and combinations of sexual activity are moral as long as they occur between consenting parties” (p. 131). Anyone who challenges the “right” of homosexuals to follow their desires is quickly branded “homophobic” and viciously assailed. Public school curricula, speakers invited to school assemblies, and powerful groups such as the NEA all promote the gay and lesbian agenda. Formerly, “same-sex and bisexual intercourse” were judged wrong, but now “all forms and combinations of sexual activity are moral as long as they occur between consenting parties” (p. 45).
New Absolutes further appear in the official histories dispensed from academia. The Old Absolute treasured and focused on the worth of Western Civilization, often highlighting its Christian dimensions. Today, “Non-Western societies and other oppressed peoples and their heritage should be studied and valued above Western civilization” (p. 193). Frequently flying the flag of “multiculturalism,” today’s curricula routinely focus on the abused and oppressed within the West or lionize non-Western figures and traditions. This is, of course, a re-tooled Marxist strategy, which calls for re-writing history from a suitably doctrinaire perspective. Thus a UCLA proposal for teaching history mentions neither Paul Revere nor Robert E. Lee but finds space to treat Harriet Tubman six times. The architecture and agriculture of the Aztecs and Mayas are celebrated, while their rites of human sacrifice are basically ignored. The New Absolute decrees there are no absolute truths or ethical laws–all cultures, all activities, all peoples are equal and entitled to respect if not emulation.
Having surveyed the scene, Watkins suggests ways to deal with the new world emerging. First, he urges us to deal realistically with the external world, refusing to embrace the fantasies tossed about by those who glibly talk about “creating reality” or the “social construction of reality.” The world is at hand, and we can touch and measure and deal with it. The “new absolutes,” when carefully examined, simply fail to deal honestly with the data. Second, he proposes we become intolerant of error and evil. If we fail, much goodness will be destroyed. “We have turned our backs on the institutions and safeguards that have prospered and protected us for centuries. We are paying dearly for this choice. The West is unraveling before our very eyes” (p. 235).
To stop the unraveling, we must fight to re-establish the well-being of the family. There are alarming parallels between the dissolution of today’s families and what we find in the final days of the Greco-Roman world: easy divorce; less children; meaningless marriage ceremonies; little respect for heroes; permissive cohabitation; parents refusing to care for children, preferring work and amusement; anti-family laws; tolerated adultery; children revolting against parents; acceptance of various sex perversions. Should the family continue to disintegrate, nothing but chaos awaits coming generations. Watkins’ five-page discussion is one of the finest summations of the issues at stake is one of the best I’ve read, and the book itself gives us a helpful summary of signiticant cultural trends.