Posted by: Dan | November 4, 2007

Pop-Spirituality and the Quest for Self: Just who is becoming like a god?

For those who don't know, there is a fantastic website called postsecret.blogspot.com, run by a fellow named Frank Warren, who had the brilliant idea of asking people to (anonymously) send him postcards that contained secrets — secrets that the senders of the postcards had never told anybody else. The website is updated every Sunday, and today, when I was looking at the new postcards, I was struck by one in particular. It said this:

I am tired of waiting for God to find me. So I'll find myself. I started looking last night.

What struck me was a comment that a reader had posted in response to this postcard. The comment was this:

Once I found myself, I realized God was there all along.

Now, granted, this is all pretty standard pop-spiritual language these days. The whole notion of discovering yourself, and thereby discovering the 'divine spark' (or whatever) that already exists within yourself, is close to being the dominant spirituality in Vancouver.

(Of course, such thinking also has a long history and dates as far back as the pop-spiritual language espoused by the serpent in Genesis 3, when he assures the man and the woman that they will 'be like gods' if they choose to heed his advice. Isn't this contemporary spirituality just another expression of our age-old desire to take the place of God?)

However, I was struck with a particular thought tonight as a few things came together with some clarity. Essentially, my proposition is this:

That which promises us that we will discover the divine within ourselves, is that which hides from us our bondage to other gods.

Let me try to explain what I mean by this by providing some context for this thought. A few years ago, I began to ask myself this question: “who, today, is being worshiped by the members of our society?” For awhile, struck by the dominance of this 'the divine is within me' discourse, I thought that we were worshiping ourselves. As society has becoming increasingly fractured, as the 'rugged individual' has increasingly become the model to emulate, I began to think that we had all become gods in our own eyes and were, thus, actively involved in worshiping ourselves.

I have since grown suspicious of this analysis, and believe that it does not go deep enough.

You see, although society has become fractured, and although the individual appears to have been elevated to sovereignty, there are other Powers at work that are actively involved in fostering the division of society into isolated individuals. Isolated individuals can be told that they are sovereign but, precisely because they are isolated, they are also unable to create any sort of significant change. Consequently, even though society has been fractured, one is able to see a great deal of conformity around key issues — issues of values, of priorities, and of goals. Why is it that, in a society where the individual is supposed to be sovereign, where we are supposed to be fractured from one another, everybody ends up looking and acting almost exactly like everybody else? Because the individual is not sovereign. Because we are not fractured. Granted, we are fractured from one another (from our 'neighbours'), but we are all, one and all, united in our bondage and subservience to Powers greater than ourselves. Indeed, it is these Powers that spread the ideology of finding the divine within ourselves. “Look,” they tell us, “the divine is within you!” and in this way they hide the fact that they have become like gods over us.

(Wasn't this exactly the objective of the Serpent in Genesis, who is later revealed as the Dragon in Revelation? 'You will be like gods,' the Serpent said, but really his goal was to become like a god over the man and the woman. Hence, we see the same thing occurring in the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. The Satan promises to make Jesus like a god ruling over the earth… if only Jesus will bow down and worship him!)

So who, or what, are these Powers? They are the Powers that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 6.12 when he writes:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

These are the Powers inherent to the form of free market capitalism that has come to embrace all areas of our life together. Stated in an overly simplistic manner, in the borrowed words of Walter Brueggemann, these are the Powers of “therapeutic, technological, consumer militarism.” The truth is we by acting, by consuming, and by living in the way that we do, we are not serving ourselves. No matter how much 'fun' we have along the way, and no matter how much we 'discover' about ourselves, we are actually destroying ourselves (and one another) as we serve someone (or something) that has become like a god over us.

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