Something is Still Missing, part 2- Wandering Dazed and Confused

April 8, 2009

Following up on yesterday’s post about the failure of pluralism in America to satisfy the spiritual need of the people over the last 60 years, I have two illustrations arguing that the religious exploration we have engaged in has actually led to more confusion and ambiguity, not the higher enlightenment it had promised.

The first piece is a new article in Newsweek magazine entitled “The End of Christian America.” (Funny note- in Bobos in Paradise, David Brooks  comments on how every book coming out of this generation declares the “End” of something.)  This article is an elaboration on a recent finding in the 2009 American Religious Identification Survey which said that the percentage of Americans claiming no religious affiliation has doubled in the last 20 years, going from 8% to 15% of the general population.  This finding alarmed Dr. Mohler of Southern seminary, and in following awakened the people at Newsweek to an opportunity to write an eye-catching cover story.

The article itself looks at current attitudes towards Christian involvement in personal life, and more particularly at peoples views on the relationship between Christianity and government.  Honestly, I found the article to be more of an extended Op-Ed on the separation of church and state than a good look at contemporary trends, but still the point was made that Americans are becoming increasingly more comfortable with relinquishing their Christian heritage.  More than that, they seem to be going from Christianity and into nothing else in particular.  This is what I see (and Dr. Mohler appears to see as well) as the problem.  People aren’t being converted away from Christianity, they are simply losing Christianity, and in turn losing the Christian memory associated with this that has protected morality in our country for 400 years.  The article writer didn’t seem to get this (which is not surprising) but for a Christian I think it is really what the take-home message should be.  You can read the article here.

The second thing I want to show you is a quote from 50′s beat writer Jack Kerouac.  Jack Kerouac is well-known for his novel On the Road, but is also highly regarded as a pioneering American writer who was captured by the influence of Buddhism.  Kerouac’s second most famous novel, The Dharma Bums, focuses specifically on this eastern religion and how his views on it developed while stationed in California over a span of several years.  He also wrote several other novels and poems on Buddhism, and even a recently released memoir of the Buddha himself.  

However, before being a Buddhist, Kerouac was raised Catholic, and the tinges of this upbringing continually pop in throughout all of his work.  This is one of the reasons I find him so interesting, because you can honestly see him struggle as he tries to reconcile everything through his writing.  Many people don’t realize this about him, and even believe he was always a devout Buddhist, but the Catholic memory lingered with him all along, and appears to eventually even have won out.  In the introduction to his anthology on Buddhism entitled Some of the Dharma, there is quoted a note that he sent to Philip Whalen towards the end of his journey with Buddhism.  It says,

Myself, the dharma is slipping away fro my conciousness and I cant think of anything to say about it any more.  I still read the diamond sutra, but as in a dream now.  Dont know what to do.  Cant see the purpose of human or terrestrial or any kinda life without heaven to reward the poor suffering [people].  The Buddhist notion that Ignorance caused the world leaves me cold now, because I feel the presence of angels.  Maybe rebirth is simply HAVING KIDS.

Wading through this soup of feeling and philosophy that is characteristic Kerouac, one encounters a man who has tried to find the truth, tried through hedonism and drugs and Buddhism, and yet in the comes to see that it all is nothing and that something else must be out there.  Just like the Bobos and our current generation, he isn’t finding the Christian truth; instead he is finding an emptiness where nothing else he has tried seems to fit.

Once again I say this, that our question is how to witness effectively to these type of people?  How do we effectively reach out to those who have denied Chrsit because philosophically they deemed him too restricting, too demanding, too unintelligent, and yet years later after seeking completion elsewhere and never quite finding it, are now stuck in a heap of ambiguous nothing?  More and more people are arriving at this destination and so it is increasingly important that we are able to provide them with a sufficient witness for the hope that we have and that they so desperately want.