Nothing would do more to make Key 73 ineffective than an attitude of non-faith on the part of evangelizing Christians. The most common cause of non-faith is expecting rejection of one’s witness because a field is resistant to religious appeal. This in turn leads to theological rationalization: The harvest is God’s, not ours; let him determine the hour. To this the biblical answer is: When the field ripens, has he not already indicated his hour?
Although this ripening is apparent in every city, we hold fast to our cliché of “the resistant secular city.” If Key 73 is to win the city we should take a hard look at that notion of its secularity, for this is one of our great myths.
When early Christians turned from Roman religion and declared they would not name Caesar as lord and savior, they were branded as atheists. But they really were deeply religious; this abandonment of Roman religion was no turning to secularity, as Christian martyrdoms show. Neither is the city secular just because it rejects the Church. In presenting the Gospel to non-Christians, we should ascertain first whether they are secular or animist (pagan), because the problems of communication are different. A secular man will not accept the concept of the supernatural at all, and the evangelizer has a philosophical problem to deal with. An animist or pagan is a believer in the supernatural. The confrontation is religious, and the central question is, “In which supernatural power do you place your faith?”
When we eliminate those who still consider themselves church people, whether Protestants, Catholics, or members of those many marginal groups like the Mormons, the Christian Scientists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, we are getting close to having the residue I want to discuss. Perhaps we should eliminate also the adherents of Asian religions—all intensely religious and missionary, like the Zen Buddhists, the Bahai, and the Hare Krishna Hindus. These too are certainly not secular. The Hare Krishna, for example, have branches in forty major cities across the United States. Washington, D. C., is not the only city where the tourist attractions include a bus tour of shrines and temples. In the sixties Soka Gakkai was growing at an annual rate of 35,000 in the United States, and another Japanese sect was winning 2,000 converts a month, only 5 per cent of them Japanese. Several syncretistic religions from Korea currently enjoy similar prosperity. This is all growth by conversion, and we Christians should take a hard look at ourselves when we say the city is resistant and secular.
What lies on my heart now is the hard-core animism of every conceivable kind, buried in ordinary homes all about us—the cults, rituals, shrines, and covens in which small groups meet like the early New Testament house churches, and multiply as rapidly. (I hope the analogy says something to Key 73.) In the attic of an ordinary house not far from my Pasadena home, the Temple of Esoteric Religion is led by a “priestess.” The adherents worship the Great Feminine Principle, the Great Masculine Principle, and the Primordial Principle, the Dark Womb. The sponsors of this fertility cult support themselves with an occult bookshop.
I wonder how many city people make their living by divination. I have before me the promotional literature from eight, all close enough for me to visit. Three were unsolicited and came by mail. They offer to solve my problems, to give me a soul journey to cosmic consciousness, and to supply everything else from a good job to fertility. They will indicate my propitious days, interpret my dreams and omens, fix my marriage or divorce, provide charms, and read my palm. They fulfill the needs met by diviner, shaman, and medicine-man in animist society.
Other forms of divination have been commercialized. The decision-making of thousands of teen-agers is determined by the Ouija board, a divination mechanism that has had sales of two million in the United States in three years. Christmas toys I have seen include vampire sets, fortune-telling sets, crystal balls, zodiac medallions, and astrology games. One line of Christmas cards had horoscopes. More than two-thirds of the newspapers in the country run astrology columns. One writer on astrology has sold 20 million copies of his books around the world. One journal estimates that 40 million Americans dabble in the art and 10 million are firmly addicted. Many university bookstalls devote full displays to this pagan literature. Special works on astrology exist for parents, to help them train their children in the way. There are 10,000 professional astrologers in the United States. The implications this search for guidance raises for Key 73 are plain. Astrology is a religious matter, because people put their faith in it, and live by it.
Two kinds of witchcraft are practiced in the United States, the medieval European and the African. I do not have to go beyond Pasadena and Hollywood to find them. The twenty-five or thirty covens in San Diego have from thirty to fifty members each. In a recent Los Angeles witchcraft convention, many of the business personnel were also teachers in the public schools.
In one Los Angeles inter-racial area recently the police reported an abnormal number of animal carcasses, presumably killed sacrificially, and the blood mixed with LSD for the members of sacrificial cults. Spiritist statistics show that more than 6,000 meetings exist across the country. Sorcery is widely practiced. A TV commentator interviewed a sorceress who manufacturers and sells voodoo dolls by mail. These are made to order and personalized. She uses dried chicken feet and dried leaves from a graveyard, draws faces from photographs, and supplies white- and black-headed pins for the process.
Public prayers have been abolished in tax-supported schools; yet a student at Berkeley can obtain a degree in magic and then go out and establish himself as a Wizard Consulting Service, calling himself a Druid and practicing sorcery.
The First Satanic Church in San Francisco has more than ten thousand carefully screened members “with a demon in each man.” Led by the demoniac Anton LaVey, it reverses Christian forms and rituals and has placed more than a quarter of a million copies of the Satanic bible on the market. One of the best markets is the university campus. Many of the strange forms of contemporary marriage are pagan and cultic like the Cult of Happiness, which features the apple and the serpent.
The Church of Scientology, which claims a quarter of a million in California alone, has a church structure and a confessional, but its theology is unbiblical and its anthropology weird. Its eschatology makes it definitely religious, but its moral record is questionable.
The animism of the modem city is reinforced by big business. The “world’s most experienced airline” offers tourists a “Psychic Tour of Great Britain at $629”; each participant receives his own astro-numerology chart and the experience of a séance. One big bookshop carrying occult literature worth $25,000 turns over 65 per cent each month and offers day-long crash courses in palmistry at $25.
I press again the point that these are not signs of a resistant secular society. When we see people of all ages turning vainly to one form of animism, we know that the city is filled with hungry people, groping for something that eludes them, and we know this is a religious search. I believe we can say the fields are whitening unto harvest.
The problem of Key 73 is to discover why these people rejected the Church when religiously hungry; why 200,000 Americans chose Soka Gakkai in preference to Christianity, why 10,000 in one city turned to Satanism and reversed morality, thereby rejecting the Gospel—for every acceptance is also a rejection.
We believe that the answer to their quest is the Gospel. The Jesus people have shown that. But have we the forms and structures to incorporate them into the Church and the communicating capacity to help them grow in the faith afterwards? If we have, and yet they still do not become part of us, then is there something about us church people that holds them off?
If Key 73 is to win the not-so-secular city, perhaps we should begin with ourselves.
George M. Marsden is associate professor of history at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has the Ph.D. (Yale University) and has written “The Evangelical Mind and the New School Presbyterian Experience.”
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