Church of God, New World Ministries

America - The Modern Romans - Part Four

Religion in Confusion

        “We are adrift without answers. We are witnessing the death of the old morality. No single authority rules our conduct. No church lays down the moral law for all.” So wrote a senior editor of Look magazine several decades ago, reporting the major indications of the post-World War II American crisis.

An elder statesman of the National Council of Churches said in a meeting in Boston: “Beneath all the social unrest there is an even profounder unrest of the human spirit, a sense of meaninglessness: disenchantment, a search for ultimate meaning.”

Religion in general, like education and the home, has failed to give an answer to the most important question of all – the purpose of life.

Never has the influence of religion been at a lower ebb in the United States. The same could be said of Britain (where many churches have been put up for sale) or any other nation in the Christian-professing world!

    And yet more than 130,000,000 Americans claim a church affiliation. Let’s note this paradox between church affiliation and church influence.

The majority of Americans feel religion is losing influence.  Gallup polls for over a decade have reported a rapidly growing majority of Americans acknowledging the decline of religion in American life. In 1957, Gallup reported only 14% of Americans thought religion was “losing its influence” on American life. By 1967, ten years later, 57% held the same opinion. And by 1970, the percentage jumped dramatically again by 75%. Gallup reported that this “represents one of the most dramatic shifts in surveys on American life.

A 1975 Gallup survey indicates, however, that current problems are causing interest in religion again. Still, there is the growing feeling among Americans, Britons, and others that religion, as commonly presented to them, is “sterile,” “outmoded,” “irrelevant” to today’s needs and problems. To youth, it is especially meaningless, a part of the hypocrisy of the Establishment that drastically needs changing.

As one youth put it: “The Church has no meaning, a place full of old ladies, boring sermons, meaningless prayers.” As a result, church membership is in a decline.

There is no lack of religious form and ceremony in today’s modern American and Britain. There is plenty of that. It is just that it does not seem to offer the motivation to change lives for the better. Today’s religions are not bringing peace (witness the problems around the world). Rather they only serve to deepen the divisions between people. People have a form of godliness, but they deny God’s power in their lives (II Tim. 3:5).

Reporting on this trend, a clergyman and professor at George Washington University said in the early 1960s: “Never has Christianity been so ineffective and irrelevant. The distance between professed faith and our daily performance is astronomical” (how much more could that be said in 2013).

In other words, despite an almost unanimous belief that “a little religion is good” for society, it hardly makes a dent in altering the massive problems of our time. It doesn’t change the way people live their daily lives. Why has this happened? It can partially be understood by studying what happened to ancient Rome.

Early Roman paganism, superstitious and ritualistic (a fatal flaw), did produce one benefit: it closely united the ideals of religion and state lending support to unified thinking and action. “To a Roman of the best days of the Republic, religion represented stability in the State and in the home; it was the foundation of public and private life” (Roman Civilization, edited by J.P.V.D. Balsdon, p. 182).

With the ascent of the Roman Emperor Constantine in the early 300’s A.D., Christianity became the favored religion of the Empire. But unity of faith eluded the Emperor. The new religious form demanded a higher standard of morality than ancient paganism, but it had no profound moral effect on the Roman citizen. “For the vast majority of ordinary men, Christianity caused no fundamental change of attitude” (A.H.M. Jones, The Later Roman Empire, p. 1063).

Let’s not misunderstand. The institution of universal religion received growing acclaim, converts, and political leverage. But the greater mass of individuals professing “Christianity” did not allow it to alter their basic corrupt cravings and materialistic values.

While the adoption of State-endorsed “Christianity” brought the Empire a step closer to the ideal of unity, its conflict with ancient paganism made it a surface unity. And paganism did not lose out entirely! Religious strife and confusion abounded. In order to bring in more converts, “Christianity” absorbed more and more pagan traditions and philosophy (and surprisingly, many have been handed down to us today!).

To the average Roman any Christian moral teaching seemed to have made little practical difference. Besides this, corruption and abuse of power became widespread in the Church. Splits and schisms caused much conflict, bloodshed and disunity. Confusion and ignorance concerning doctrine were rampant, as they are today!

Hellenized education caused some highly sophisticated Romans to view ancient religious traditions as superstitious. “For the sophisticated Roman, myth was not enough. The old beliefs were not forsaken in response to the challenge of a more profound understanding of higher spiritual values, but merely because they failed to satisfy intelligent people. When the appeal of a higher moral purpose is absent, men seek their own sensual satisfactions” (E. B. Castle, Ancient Education and Today, p. 120).

And today, many educated have “seen through” the superstitious approach many people have toward religion, even in America and the Western world, and therefore reject religion entirely and fall back on liberal values of their own reasoning.

     But another trend affected a greater majority. The confusing, abstract religious concepts of the old Roman religion didn’t fill the spiritual void in the Roman populace. This was especially true among the rapidly multiplying free-slave class whose ancestral roots were in the Middle East rather than the Italian peninsula.

Samuel Dill, in his work Roman Society in the Last Century of the Western Empire, wrote: “The paganism which was really living, which stirred devotion and influenced souls came from the East, from Persia, Syria, and Egypt. Foreign traders, foreign slaves, travelers, and soldiers returning from long campaigns in distant regions, were constantly introducing religious excitement, and then penetrated to the classes of culture and privilege” (pp. 74-78).

Carcopino also noted the decay of traditional Roman religion. He wrote: “The Roman pantheon still persisted, apparently immutable. But the spirits of men had fled from the old religion; it still commanded their service but no longer their hearts or their belief. In the motley Rome of this second century it had wholly lost its power over the human hearts” ( Carcopino, Daily Life in Ancient Rome, pp. 1221-122).

Many trends similar to those which affected Rome are with us today. Religion is in a state of confusion and turmoil.

The Roman Catholic Church has been wracked with controversy up to its highest levels of authority. The hierarchy is deeply concerned over the increasing number of priests leaving the ministry.

Meanwhile, Protestantism divided into hundreds of sects is having its own “identity crisis.” “We Protestants are tired and confused,” confessed former director Dr. Walter D. Wagoner of the Boston Theological Institute. He was writing in a widely circulated nondenominational magazine. He criticized the trend toward theological “fadism” exemplified by the short-lived “death of God” movement, espoused by some Protestant theologians. He complained of a widespread “spiritual malnutrition” among ministers and laymen alike. His conclusion? There is a growing awareness among Protestants that “we have no direction to go but up.”

The strong, but simple and clear-cut teaching of Jesus Christ and the apostles has been so watered down by modern religionists that it is too often a meaningless mishmash, irrelevant to the daily life of the average individual.

Too often the power and authority of God, the Bible and the Ten Commandments have been ridiculed, questioned, doubted by modern theologians and clerics. Educators have called the Bible “myth.” The spiritual base of the average layman has become a weak reed to lean on in these times of personal and national peril. How can such religion of fuzzy, vague values and meaningless formality lend weight to solving the nitty-gritty problems of our times?

Today, growing numbers of clerics are in the forefront of civil disobedience marches, they advocate “situation ethics” morality; condone premarital and extramarital sex relations, homosexuality, and other clear-cut Bible declarations of sin. Other thousands of clerics remain virtually silent about the sins of their parishioners or nation.

In much of today’s popular religions, there are no “sins” just “behavioristic abnormalities” or “social maladjustments.” There are crimes against man, but not against God. A clear definition of “sin” or wrongdoing is lacking in our modern societies, although it is clearly explained in God’s revealed Word to man – the Bible. The apostle John states that “sin is the transgression of the law” (I John 3:4).

It’s the age when millions of Americans have accepted churchgoing without bothering to learn much about it – just like the pagans who flocked – unchanged in heart into the church after Constantine. Millions are ignorant of even the most basic tenets of their faith or the Bible.

Said one Bible translator: “It is one of the curious phenomena of modern times that it is considered perfectly respectable to be abysmally ignorant of the Christian faith. Men and women who would be deeply ashamed of having their ignorance exposed in matters of poetry, music, or painting, for example, are not in the least perturbed to be found ignorant of the New Testament” It’s the age of hypocritical religion.

In the midst of pervasive religious and moral confusion, many are turning to astrology and the occult in hopes of finding the answers to the big questions in life: Who am I? Where am I going? Why was I born?

Many who have found little solace in conventional Christianity are now seeking spiritual enlightenment by attempting to “expand the mind,” explore the unusual, or experience some psychic thrill or sensation. According to a professor of sociology at the University of Washington: “Sociologists argue that in a stable society religion provides the necessary answers to the great question of life; death and man’s fate. But when stability is upset, persons experience a sense of being lost, and, in a peculiar state of receptivity, they turn desperately about, looking for new answers.

“Some are looking for new answers within the framework of organized religion. Hence such trends are ‘speaking in tongues,’ ‘underground masses,’ or the introduction of jazz and contemporary dancing into religious services.” But for the most part, the seeking of “new answers” is conducted outside the church, and has fueled the upsurge in interest in astrology and the occult. It was this way in Rome, too, at the time when the mighty Empire was crumbling.

“Predictive astrology, like divination and occultism, generally tends to take hold in times of confusion, uncertainly and the breakdown of religious belief. Astrologers and assorted sorcerers were busy in Rome while the empire was declining and prevalent throughout Europe during the great 17th century waves of plagues. Today’s young stargazers claim to be responding to a similar sense of disintegration and disenchantment” (Time, March 21, 1969).

Some sources estimate that tens of millions Americans are “hard-core adherents” to astrological forecasting. Millions of people dabble in the subject. Said one magazine: “It appears clear that what was once regarded as an offshoot of the occult is a rapidly evolving popular creed.”

In Canada, the story is much the same. Robert Thomas Allen wrote in the October 1969 issue of Maclean’s Magazine “Canadians are going in for what is probably the biggest revival of astrology since the fall of Babylon.”

In Britain, the new “psychic” age is perhaps more entrenched than anywhere else in the Western world. A leading London consultant in psychosomatic medicine says: “There is undoubtedly a colossal increase in interest in mysticism of all kinds. The unmistakable trend is for more professional people to pursue and search for a glimpse into the future.

Some estimate that over a third of the adult British public believes in fortune-telling and nearly half in telepathy. Today, the finest bookstores in any town have racks reserved for books on astrology and the occult.

Yet in spite of all this, no answers are forthcoming. Millions of moderns – like the ancient Romans-- admit to the “irrelevance” of traditional concepts and beliefs. They know organized religion has no power. Eastern mysticism and the occult are bruised religious reeds that confused, uncertain and fearful moderns are often leaning upon. But they are not providing the sought-for spiritual support.

Just as ancient Rome welcomed Eastern mysticism and occult practices, so the United States and Britain are following suit. All the same symptoms of religious and spiritual sickness are present. Speaking of the last days, God says of the modern House of Israel (America and Britain): “They be replenished from the east, and are soothsayers like the Philistines, and they please themselves in the children of strangers (foreigners)” (Isa. 2:6).

The next installment of The Modern Romans will be coming soon!  Do you see any similarities?  Is it possible that we could be going the way of Rome?

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