The Last Christian on Earth (6): Creating Counterfeit Religion**


The goal of “Operation Gravedigger” is the subversion of the modern Church, as explained in the first post on The Last Christian on Earth:  “The Christian faith contributed decisively to the rise of the modern world, but it has been undermined decisively by the modern world it helped to create.” 


As we saw in Memoranda 3, 4, and 5, three pressures of modernity—secularization, privatization, pluralization—undermine any “tough-minded understanding of ‘worldliness’” and lead to the loss of effective resistance by the Church.  With these strategies for subversion well established, the Deputy Director outlines ways to exploit the situation and advance the agenda of cultural captivity.


Our main approach to following up the pressures of modernization works much like that:  Where religion still flourishes, we go with the flow and create such high-quality counterfeits of religion that real faith is devalued to the point of uselessness. …


The trick is to keep the counterfeit so close to the real thing, as the Church passes through [the various stages of worldliness], that only a trained eye could tell the difference.  In short, there will be few to detect what we are doing.  American popular religion has parted company with serious thinking for so long that many believers could spot only the crudest and most careless of counterfeits. … Indeed, serious discernment in American popular religion must be the most valuable commodity on earth.  It is certainly the scarcest.


The Deputy Director goes on to outline the three principal counterfeiting campaigns designed to capitalize on the weaknesses of the modern Church.


Civil Religion


Civil religion is counterfeit in the sense that it is religion shaped by the priorities and demands of the political order, so that loyalty to Caesar once again overrides loyalty to the Adversary. …


In its American form, civil religion is that somewhat vague but deeply treasured set of semi-religious, semi-political beliefs and values that are basic to America’s understanding of itself.  You can witness civil religion at it its most elegant in the speeches of any presidential inauguration, at it more homespun on any Fourth of July, or at many a point when Americans are sounding off on how they are “proud to be American.”


Like nationalism, civil religion goes beyond a [legitimate] patriotism. … The American Creed is quite different from the Apostle’s Creed.  The latter is basically theological, the former political.  The latter is a matter of sacred covenant, the former of social contract.  The latter is highly distinct, the former deliberately vague.  But the American Creed is just as deeply held as the Apostle’s Creed, and even more so when the two are confused.  As you can easily test for yourself, the charge of “un-American” is far more likely to provoke an outcry in American hearts than the charge of “heretical.” …


As things proceed well, we push to make civil religion such an unholy alliance of faith and flag that Christian ideals and American interests are welded inseparably. …


Consumer Religion


This is religion shaped by the priorities and demands of the economic order—service of “Mammon” outstripping service of the “Master”….


Consumer religion is an unholy amalgam of convictions and consumption that creates a sacramental materialism in the name of God.  Forget for a moment the wild and ludicrous examples—the crass theologies of “health and wealth,” the laughable “prosperity doctrines,” the pastors driving Cadillacs as evidence of their “success spirituality,” the fraudulent offers of prayer for money, the inflated emotional hypes, the self-glorifying building projects, the “holy hardware” and the “Jesus junk.”  These are easy to list, but are really only symptoms.  What few people analyze are the forces behind them.  They fail to see the powerful undertow of commercial forces in America that suck down all claims to be “good news” to the level of one more television jingle. …


[C]onsumer religion can be seen from a distance for what it is—a particularly crass form of cultural captivity. …


For our purposes, consumerism has two main effects on religion that allow us to corrupt it entirely.  One is the pivotal shift from meeting genuine “needs” to fulfilling “desires, whishes, and fantasies”—“taking the waiting out of wanting,” as an early ad for credit cards put it well.  The other is the unexpected outcome that is called “infantilization” or induced childishness.  With the ability to produce more goods than people need, consumer capitalism has to make children into consumers earlier and keep them at it longer.  Hence contemporary America, a culture of perennial adolescents.


All this represents a bonanza for us, as faith is confused with the American dream just as it is with American civil religion. …


The good news and the good life, the Christian Way and the American Way are all serviced under the same franchise:  Brand Jesus. …


Closed Religion


This is … religion shaped by the priorities and demands of the social order.  The issues behind closed religion and civil religion are similar, but with closed religion the focus is not on society, it is on the interests of the individual.  The issue at stake in this case is:  What is the source of an individual’s meaning and belonging, and how is this formed under the conditions of modern mobility, freedom and change?


Nothing is more characteristic of the modern world than the restless, sometimes desperate, search for meaning and belonging—the “shopping for selves” in modern consumer society.  Sense of some kind, stability of some sort—these are prerequisites for a tolerable human life, keeping the specter of irrationality and absurdity at bay.  Yet for many modern people, both meaning and belonging are in short supply because of the high degree of disintegration in advanced societies.


The Deputy Director closes Memorandum 6 with a quote from the “brooding Dane,” Søren Kierkegaard, who saw the beginnings of the modern cultural captivity of the Church.


In every way it has come to this, that what one now calls Christianity is precisely what Christ came to abolish.”



**A note on this series of posts:  The literary device of The Last Christian on Earth is similar to C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters. Here though, a master spy, the Deputy Director, writes a series of memos to an operative outlining strategies and giving instructions on how to subvert the modern Church.  Os Guinness, an Oxford-trained sociologist, uses this device to help translate concepts from the social sciences into ideas that relate to faith and discipleship.

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