What’S Behind The Manson Cult?

Our Savage God, by R. C. Zaehner (Sheed and Ward, 1975, 319 pp., $8.95), is reviewed by Donald Bloesch, professor of theology, Dubuque Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa.

In this provocative book R. C. Zaehner, for many years professor of comparative religion at Oxford University, investigates the pseudo-mysticism that lay behind the Charles Manson murders. Manson is the California sex and violence cultist who is now in prison because of his role in the murders of Sharon Tate and others. He is back in the news because one of his followers, Lynette Fromme, apparently attempted to kill President Ford in Sacramento. What intrigues the author is that Manson not only used drugs in his quest for reality but also sought an experience of enlightenment as in the mysticism of the East. Zaehner also discusses A Clockwork Orange in attempting to explain the malaise that afflicts so many young and not-so-young people today.

Zaehner sees the speculation of the pre-Socratics, Platonists, and Oriental mystics behind much of the metaphysical confusion today. He recognizes that the great philosophers of classical antiquity as well as of Hinduism and Buddhism were not without some wisdom; yet certain of their presuppositions when not seen in the right context can give rise to a moral nihilism that undercuts the very fabric of society.

The view that in God there is both good and evil, implicit in Heraclitus and explicit in the Upanishads, can be devastating for those who seek to forge an ethical and meaningful life. In the mysticism of high Hinduism, God is the sole agent, and any responsibility for good and evil is his. Like many of the Eastern mystics, Manson sought to attain a position beyond good and evil. By becoming one with the Absolute he arrived at a “total experience” in which there is neither right nor wrong. According to Zaehner, the “holy indifference” cultivated by certain strands of mysticism can lead to a “diabolic insensitivity” as in the Crowley and Manson cults.

Zaehner definitely prefers the God of Aristotle to that of Plato, Plotinus, and the Upanishads; yet he takes pains not to identify this with the God of revelation. What is to be appreciated in Aristotle is that he distinguishes between God and the world and also insists that there is no strife or evil in God. If philosophy had remained on the path marked out by Aristotle, much of the current confusion in intellectual and student circles would have been avoided.

He is especially critical of Teilhard de Chardin’s “dynamic mysticism of progress.” He shows how Teilhard in his view of God’s organizing the chaos is much closer to the Greek than to the biblical vision. He reminds us that the distinctive imperatives of the faith are abysmally lacking in Teilhard; after the collapse of France, Teilhard extolled the Nazis for possessing “an internal flame” and incorporating “spirit in Force.” Teilhard transformed Christianity from its roots in atoning self-sacrifice “into a Platonic mishmash in which ‘holy matter’ is alternatively worshipped and spurned.” Such a position creates an intellectual climate in which the positive beliefs of a religion of historical revelation are dissipated.

Perhaps Zaehner can be accused of not doing justice to the ethical dimensions in Eastern mysticism. Yet his position is that certain truths in the scriptures of the Eastern faiths when not balanced with other truths in these same scriptures can give rise to an ideology that effectively denies the reality of good and evil. This can be seen in the popular mysticism that appeals to the youth culture and upper-middle-class society today. “The result,” he fears, “may well be the realization not of a God that is beyond good and evil but of an Evil that degrades us to a level far below that of brute beasts because we have chosen it of our own free will.”

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What is significant for the ecumenical discussion today is that Zaehner, a Roman Catholic, solidly aligns himself with the faith of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures against the perennial philosophy of monistic mysticism. He unquestionably sides with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of the prophets and Pascal, over the God of the philosophers—Aristotle, Buddha, Plotinus, Teilhard, Krishnamurti, Suzuki. He complains; “In these days of ecumenical ‘dialogue,’ it is no longer possible to speak of the God of revelation, meaning the God of the Christian revelation alone.”

Consonant with his Catholic heritage he upholds a true mysticism in which there is a personal relationship of wonder and mystery with a living, mighty God who upholds the world by his omnipotent will. He contrasts this with a pagan mysticism in which there is absorption into an immanental ground of being or an all-inclusive Absolute that transcends good and evil. Interestingly enough, he points to affinities between this so-called mysticism of being and the drug mysticism of the counter-culture.

By labeling the God of Christian faith the Savage God, he unwittingly tends to blur the distinctions between Christianity and Islam, since the latter is noted for its God of arbitrary will and omnipotent power. At the same time he is adamant that the mercy of God precedes his wrath and judgment, and that the Savage God is at the same time the God of incomparable love and grace, the God who revealed himself in Jesus Christ. The Savage God condemns and judges evil as well as uses it, but he does not contain evil with himself.

This book is a welcome sign that the evangelical and biblical note is still present in Roman Catholicism despite the current preoccupation in Catholic circles with philosophical theology, especially of a naturalistic, mystical variety.

New Testament Survey

The Apostles, by Donald Guthrie (Zondervan, 1975, 422 pp., $8.95), is reviewed by Richard Niessen, Ph.D. candidate, Aquinas Institute of Theology, Dubuque, Iowa.

This is a companion volume to the author’s Jesus the Messiah (reviewed May 25, 1973, p. 36), which is a survey of the Gospels and a chronological study of the life of Christ. The new book is not a biography of the Apostles but a chronological survey of the New Testament. Acts is used as a framework for New Testament history, through the first imprisonment of Paul, and the Epistles are studied as they relate to events in Acts. Thus Guthrie begins his discussion of Acts with the resurrection of Christ and continues to the Jerusalem Council in chapter 15, then surveys Galatians and James, then Acts 16 and 17, then Thessalonians, and so on. In this way Acts and the Epistles are seen as integrated units rather than as a disjointed collection of books.

The beginning student will welcome the fact that the book is not cluttered with literary criticism. The author assumes, for the purposes of his study, that the New Testament documents are reliable. He has shown his competence in dealing with the various theories to the contrary in his scholarly and conservative New Testament Introduction (Inter Varsity). But the book is swept too clean of introductory matters; it should have included such essentials as the dating of the various Epistles and their corresponding settings in Acts.

The author hopes to inspire many to make a more diligent study of the New Testament. Accordingly, the book, like Jesus the Messiah, is arranged in sections to provide a basis for daily studies over a period of six months. It is therefore suitable both as a textbook for New Testament survey courses and for use in adult Bible studies.

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Catholic Double Standard

Morality Anyone?, by William Lester (Arlington, 1975, 143 pp., $7.95), and Moral Questions, by James Gaffney (Paulist, 1975, 147 pp., $1.65 pb), are reviewed by Norman L. Geisler, professor of philosophy of religion, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Bannockburn, Illinois.

These two books illustrate the increasing diversity within Roman Catholicism, in this case concerning ethical standards. Lester’s book is a compilation of questions and answers that appeared in his nationally syndicated column “The Moral Angle” during 1973. The articles are arranged in twelve chapters, ranging through such areas as the new morality, human engineering, crime and punishment, privacy, freedom of speech, nudity, and school rights. Lester tackles everything from insemination to Watergate.

The ethical viewpoint is decidedly traditional with its stress on natural law. No attempt is made to give biblical or revelatory answers to moral questions. Rather, the author reasons in an Aristotelian way about moral issues, using general principles of justice and and often appealing strongly to individual natural rights and the common social good.

The author, a Jesuit, takes the expected position against contraceptives and extends it to artificial insemination as well. Likewise, despite warnings of overpopulation, Lester argues that each couple has a right to have as many children as it wants. Even voluntary sterilization for birth control is morally wrong because it is a mutilation of the human body.

In the area of human engineering, Lester opposes cloning, deep-freeze death, transvestite operations, and test-tube babies. Surprisingly, he advocates psychosurgery as a punishment of criminals, and castration and even capital punishment for rapists.

Lester is strongly in favor of corporal punishment and capital punishment. He opposes strikes in favor of binding arbitration. He rejects the payment of ransom to kidnappers. He favors using facts illegally obtained for prosecution, adding that those who obtained them should be prosecuted as well.

In the realm of medical ethics he opposes euthanasia in either the active or the passive sense. He holds Aquinas’s view that the soul is directly created in the womb by God and therefore considers abortion to be murder. Death is determined by the absence of brain waves, since man is a rational animal; hence “pulling out the plug” on someone whose brain is no longer functioning is permissible.

Lester strongly favors the rights of privacy but justifies the Ellsberg break-in on grounds that “plans for doing unjust harm do not fall within the legitimate bounds of secrecy.” Likewise, newsmen can be morally wrong for withholding information under similar circumstances.

Not surprisingly, the author favors laws against pornography, arguing for an objectively determinable element in this evil. Likewise, communal bathing is morally bad. But surprisingly Lester favors nudity in Olympic swimming on the grounds that the participants could swim faster and the audience would not be adversely affected morally in this context.

X-rated movies should be banned in order to prevent evil, but sometimes legalizing prostitution is the greatest good in order to prevent worse evil. Lester opposes socialized medicine. He favors helping the oppressed escape from tyrannical governments. He argues that a state must not be neutral toward religion lest it thereby encourage atheism, and that the state should honor the religious holy days of the major religion of its participants. On the crucial question of individual vs. community rights he favors the community over the individual providing that the community is basically for the welfare of the individual.

The reader may not agree with all the answers Lester gives but will nonetheless be impressed that he treats all the main questions.

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A markedly different approach to ethics is offered by the other author, James Gaffney, who is a theologically trained layman. Gaffney presents the “new morality” in Catholic ethics. Lester is writing for non-Catholics from a presumed basis in natural law, but interestingly Gaffney makes a more direct appeal to a biblical base.

Gaffney begins by disavowing the belief that there is any distinctly Catholic or even Christian point of view in ethics. Indeed, he contends that there are no irreformable moral definitions. He agrees with the satirical play Nothing But the Truth that there are many exceptions to truth-telling, and adds that there are no “air-tight” ethical systems. Of the three approaches to ethics, traditional absolutism, definable exceptionalism, and contextualism, Gaffney opts for the latter. He cautiously entitles it the “new morality” but demands that its love principle be understood as the Christian love principle exemplified in Christ.

Gaffney argues for applying consistently to sexual ethics what moralists have acknowledged with regard to lying, that is, that there are in certain contexts exceptions to the commands against extra-marital sexual activity. Just as a lie is justifiable if done kindly without harm to others, likewise not all extra-marital sexual activity need be harmful or unkind. Sex need not be lust outside marriage, but Gaffney does feel that it would be lying unless one’s love promises are permanent.

Because the Church has not spoken unequivocally on contraception, Gaffney leaves it to individual conscience but implies it is thereby morally permissible. He strongly opposes abortion on demand but makes a strong case for therapeutic abortion to save the mother’s life on the parallel with the Catholic principle of protecting the innocent against attack by the immature or insane.

On the subject of divorce Gaffney interprets Paul as permitting divorce in the context of our “contemporary social dilemma.” He shows both sympathy for and approval of some homosexual activity, rejecting the traditional Catholic concept of “nature” as naive. One is homosexual by nature—not by his own acts—through no fault of his own, and homosexuality is no worse than greed, pride, or envy. But total abstinence is not demanded for the homosexual, any more than, supposedly, it would be for a person who drinks alcoholic beverages.

Some of Gaffney’s theological statements are as startling as are some of his moral conclusions. The doctrine of pennance is based on the teaching in Matthew 16 about “binding” and on Jesus’ statement about “retaining” in John 20. The substitutionary atonement implies “a rather primitive ethical mentality in God himself,” and the doctrine of original sin implies “a less than admirable divine complacency and complicity in causing the innocent to suffer what only the guilty deserve.”

Gaffney refers approvingly to Charles Curran’s attack on absolutes in A New Look at Christian Morality. And there is no doubt that Gaffney himself is a one-norm absolutist, relegating even the Ten Commandments to merely general rules that admit of many exceptions for love’s sake. To be sure, Gaffney’s Catholic tradition enables him to read more Christian content into what is meant by love than does, say, Joseph Fletcher, but in principle their views are the same. That Gaffney’s book was published by the religious order founded to convert Americans to Catholicism should not pass without notice.

Briefly Noted

A History of the Criticism of the Acts of the Apostles, by W. Ward Gasque (Eerdmans, 360 pp., $20). This work has been described as “the definitive survey and critique” of the scholarly study of Acts during the past two centuries and will be of interest to all who study Luke-Acts. A useful appendix, translating all foreign-language quotations, makes the American edition more widely useful. Originally a doctoral dissertation written under F. F. Bruce at Manchester University, England.

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The Horizontal Line Synopsis of the Gospels, by Reuben Swanson (Western North Carolina Press [Box 29, Dillsboro, N. C. 28725], 597 pp., $23.95). The usual synopsis has three or four parallel columns and no one gospel appears with its verses in consecutive order. This synopsis is in four parts, one for each gospel, always printed consecutively. Underneath (instead of alongside) the lines of each gospel are the primary and secondary parallels from the others, if any. The text is the RSV. Because it does not call for nearly so much editorial judgment, this may revolutionize the way synopses are laid out. (When did you last see an old-style airlines time-table?)

Your Church Is News, by Raymond Mecca (Judson, 94 pp., $3.50 pb), and Let the People Know: A Media Handbook For Churches, by Charles Austin (Augsburg, 91 pp., $2.95 pb). Two practical, easy-to-use promotional helps. Mecca is mostly on getting church news into secular media. Austin deals with that more briefly and talks also about church newsletters, bulletins, brochures, and the like.

Who’s Who in Religion (Marquis Who’s Who, 616 pp., $52.50). See editorial, page 31.

The Story of Chrismas, by Felix Hoffmann (Atheneum, 30 pp., $6.95). A beautifully executed book. Type, paper, color, and illustrations match the well-chosen words to narrate effectively and simply the story of Jesus’ birth. A fine gift book for children and adults.

The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100–600), by Jaroslav Pelikan (University of Chicago, 394 pp., $4.95 pb). Kudos to the publisher for issuing a paperback reprint of volume one of a widely acclaimed projected five-volume history of doctrine.

Baker’s Pocket Dictionary of Religious Terms, by Donald Kauffman (Baker, 445 pp., $2.95 pb). Often one just wants to know a little bit about something (When is Whitsunday? Who was Wilberforce? Where was the Westminster Confession produced? What’s a Wat? How did the Wailing Wall get such a name?). Here’s a handy answer book with thousands of brief entries. (Reprint of a 1967 original.)

The Gospel of John and Judaism, by C. K. Barrett (Fortress, 99 pp., $5.95). Here the well known British commentator reflects on what some scholars have regarded as a neglected aspect of his commentary on the Fourth Gospel, which was substantially completed before the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls had made its impact on the world of New Testament scholarship. It is a pity that the book is so expensive.

New Periodicals

Themelios (Greek for “foundation”) begins a new series with the Autumn, 1975, issue. Featured articles in volume 1, number 1, are on hermeneutics, inerrancy and exegesis, and preaching from the patriarchs. To be published three times yearly at $2.50/ year. Order from International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, 10 College Rd., Harrow HA1 1BE, Middlesex, England. Deserves wide circulation among seminarians and ministers.

The Council on the Study of Religion, a federation of several major scholarly societies, has launched Religious Studies Review as a quarterly journal of long and shorter reviews of books in its field. Should be in all theological and many personal libraries. Subscriptions are $6 for members, $10 for institutions and non-members. Office at Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario N2L3C5.

Presbyterion is the twice-yearly journal of Covenant Seminary (Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod). The first issue (Spring, 1975) contains studies of the fall of man, the quest for the historical Jesus, and Charles Hodge’s social ethics (12330 Conway Rd., St. Louis, Mo. 63141; $4/year)

After being suspended since October, 1972, Pastoral Psychology has now reappeared as a quarterly with volume 24, number 228 (Fall, 1975). The sponsor is Princeton Seminary, the editor is Liston Mills of Vanderbilt, and the publisher is Human Sciences Press (72 Fifth Ave., New York, N. Y. 10011). Subscriptions are $9.95 for individuals, $30 for institutions. The current issue features five articles. The journal is aimed at parish ministers with an active counseling ministry and will appeal to a wide theological spectrum.

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