During the heyday of the secular theologies and radical theologians, thoughtful persons wondered when and in what form the public and societal reaction would come. The theology-of-the-month writers and speakers hailed (celebrated was their word) the advent of the technopolitan man. This widely welcomed product of urbanization was projected to be indifferent to all forms of organized religion, tolerant of each, and likely to say to his neighbor, “Stand back: I am more secular than thou.”

The proposal to eliminate the sacred in all of life was taken seriously, overtly by some and by osmosis by masses of others. But the aftermath shows quite clearly that the psyche of a people cannot tolerate total secularization without experiencing trauma. This experience of shock leads people to try varied means of relief, few of which are spiritually or psychologically wholesome.

Reactive movements within society are complex phenomena; one cannot in fairness assign them a simple cause. The escapist trends within today’s culture have multiple roots. I propose, however, that the widely popularized secular theologies must bear a significant share of responsibility for these escapist trends.

The evident personal success of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (the Great Sage Who Exalts Yogi) and his cult of Transcendental Meditation is a case in point. Maharishi International University, established on the campus of what was Parsons College in Iowa, appears to be a flock of followers whose personal motivations would, two decades ago, have been thought to show an abdication of common reason.

But this assemblage bears witness to the existence of a spiritual vacuum, an emptiness that cannot be filled by the blandishments of secularism, particularly in its cultic form. In the light of history, it can be noted that today’s society contains many persons whose mental processes resemble strongly those prevalent with nineteenth-century Romanticism. At that epoch there appeared, among other elements, a strong appeal to the irrational and a magnetic pull of the East upon the mind of the West. Some romanticists yearned themselves half to death after the lands where fancy ran free and ruled by deception.

Today’s followers of TM seem strongly akin to this. They accept gladly the Maharishi’s offer “to take each person where he or she is,” without asking toward what each is to be taken. Naively accepted also is TM’s disclaimer of being “a religion,” despite its rituals: its emphasis upon numbers, its superstitious use of the personally assigned mantras, and the mumbo jumbo associated with them. (Mantras are Sanskrit words, chosen as a focus for meditation; some of them are innocuous, while others are derived from the pantheon of Hinduism.)

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Similar forms of the abdication of reason include Zen, considered to be chic, even among persons whose knowledge of parent Buddhism is nil. Both Zen and TM indicate a trend toward the mindless, the unstructured, the esoteric. But they also seem to express a protest, however deeply concealed, against the cultic secularism that was in such vogue in the sixties.

There is a more impressive evidence of the uprooting of humanness by the forms of secularism and the spread of secularity. This evidence is the rising demand for experiences of fantasy and the idealization of fantasy as a state of mind. It is generally agreed that so-called consciousness-expanding drugs are in reality mind-distorting. Beyond the force of social pressures toward experimentation with drugs, especially hallucinogens, there lies the demand for what such drugs afford, namely, escape into Fantasy Park.

Prodded by the pervasive experimental attitude, large numbers of teen-agers and even subteens, it seems, express their general feeling of malaise and futility by a drug-induced flight from reality and into the realm of fantasy. This is a “land” in which time and space assume totally new meanings. The world of usual concepts seems to the spaced-out person to be ultimately and radically unreal. Reality is attributed by too many of our youth to the forms of perception that go beyond communication in terms of ordinary concepts.

The massive acceptance of rock music witnesses to this same trend. Such musical forms are, it is now widely agreed, deliberately contrived to produce in the listener sensations similar to those produced by hallucinogens. Fantasy-rock, as some of the more recent forms of pop music are termed, seems designed to distort the sensorium, so that perceptions of time and space conform to the “new reality” of the fantastic.

This is, so it is reported, a world whose orientation is totally apart from that of the conventional world. Relationships of position and temporality take on new and ineffable forms, often beyond the power of the one expressing them to communicate them to others.

What is the meaning of this retreat into fantasy? Is it simply an adult form of what children find in Disney Land or in the Grimm Brothers fairy tales? I submit that while similarities may exist between the normal fantasy life of children and the induced fantasy of hard drugs and hard rock, the two are radically different.

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Children have an ability to move from reality to fantasy and back again with ease and normality. It is far from certain that adults have this same ability. Rather, it seems probable that in adults or nearadults, induced fantasy springs from the inability to take reality in stride, and may issue in the final inability to judge between reality and fantasy.

Can it be that more recent theologies have contributed significantly to this blurring of reality? Once Christian preaching centered in the proclamation of certainties. In the secularized and secularity-tinged forms, proclamation has been replaced by dialogue and by “rapping.” In place of “thus saith the Lord,” contemporary audiences too often hear their shepherds saying, “This is my perception of things.”

While (and this is repetition) the pulpit cannot be held exclusively responsible for the inability of multitudes to cope with reality, some responsibility must lie at the Church’s door. When the biblical emphasis upon sacredness is bypassed, the human heart will react by sacralizing the irrational, the bizarre, the fantastic. Secularism produces one-dimensional persons. These fall easy prey to those who raucously proclaim that the realities of an imperfect world are intolerable, and who hawk counterfeit forms of reality.

A generation that seems all too willing to accept false structures promising “the real” needs to be confronted by a sure World. Free-floating forms of secularity have had their day and have left behind a trail of destruction. Our times challenge the Church to proclaim the divine Person of Jesus Christ, in whom final Reality resides.


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