The Fourth Great Awakening

The Essence of Contemporary American Religion

By Jagannatha Prakasha - © 1989

Around March 23, 5 B.C.E. a baby boy was born to an unmarried Jewish girl in her early teens. The child, born in a barn, was named I sous in Greek (Joshua in Hebrew), a name which means that the Hebrew Deity Yahweh saves (DRP352). Seemingly, the mercy of the child's ancestral God was his only hope. Under normal circumstances his birth would have resulted in the shunning of his mother (if not stoning) and possibly her entire family. Conceived from such a socially and scripturally condemned union, I sous would be branded a bastard and have little if any chance of leading a meaningful life (Isa. 57:3). This time it was different however, for you see, this child, according to millions of people around the world, this I sous, whom the English speaking world knows as Jesus, was none other than the Christ, the Son of the Living God and origin of us all! (John 1:1,2)

Perhaps even more astonishing, it is said that his mother was a virgin whom Yahweh, the God of Israel, Himself had impregnated by His Holy Spirit. It should be mentioned in passing that in the Bible the doctrine of the virgin birth is not clearly established as the Greek word employed, parthenos means maiden, not virgin (GD 3933). Presumably, of course, a godly maiden, a parthenos, which Mary certainly was, would also be a virgin, but the word itself does not mean this note 1 . For the vast majority of Christians, Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, etc., Jesus' virgin birth remains an essential truth, an article of faith. This is confirmed in the Apostles' Creed and throughout greater Christendom (BC 15; KWB 47; IBJ 197).

Since the days of Rome's conversion to Christianity, the West has focused on and debated the fundamental nature of Jesus' birth and the proper human response to it. Religious debate, revivals and awakenings therefore, have occurred primarily within the diverse Christian traditions.

Little if any dialogue occurred between Christian and non-Christian philosophers or religionists. One thing which makes the current Fourth Great Awakening unique is the degree of non-Christian participation (CE 3). During the Third Great Awakening, as will be discussed below, Eastern traditions entered the dialogue, but it was not until our period that they exorcised any real influence. Concepts such as karma, transmigration, ahimsa, yoga, meditation and the like are all Eastern ideas which have been broadly incorporated into Western culture and religion note 2 .

The designations of East and West are far more arbitrary than many would care to believe (MiD 199). Throughout recorded history explorers and travelers have circumambulated the globe. Certainly there were regions with little or no outside contact, however these were in the minority (S 13,14). Europe and America always had some communication with the East, and as a result, its ideas and insights have influenced us more than we tend to realize.

At least as far back as the Persian ruler Darius I (c.500 B.C.E.), the West has had first hand knowledge of basic Eastern concepts note 3 . By the time Alexander the Great conquered Darius III (Codomannus) at the Battle of Issus in 333 B.C.E. Western influence was permanently established in India (HA 6,7). Even the Buddhist architecture of Ashoka, with its pillars and winged lions owed much to western influence (S 13,14). Indeed, the link between India and the West, in architecture, language, economics, religion, and philosophy is of great antiquity.

After the Christian subjugation of Europe however, the exchange of ideas between what the Church viewed as the heathen East and the godly West was largely halted. As Rick Fields points out, in the West the Buddhists, regardless of how pure their ideals or sound their ethics, were condemned as unrepentant heathens destined for eternal torment. Hence, Eastern thought was generally rejected in the West and most communication ceased (S 20).

It is incorrect to say however that during the Church's theocratic stranglehold on the West only its missionaries confronted Eastern religionists. While contact was minimal, it did occur. For instance there were the travels of explorers such as Marco Polo (1254-1324). La Loubere, Louis the XIV's envoy to the king of Siam (1678-1679), discussed the difficult concept of nirvana in detail in his Description du Royaume de Siam (S 24). Likewise, in 1727 Englebert Kampfer, with his History of Japan Together with a Description of the Kingdom of Siam published the first English book on Zen Buddhism and introduced zazen, satori and Koans (S 24,25; note 4 . Due to the religious intolerance which typified Medieval Christianity, meaningful dialogue between East and West remained quite limited until the Third Great Awakening in late nineteenth century however.

Christianity began in Jerusalem (Acts 1:4; 2:1). Shortly after the Day of Pentecost, through the efforts of the Twelve Disciples (especially Peter), it quickly spread throughout Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Greece, modern Turkey, North Africa, Italy and Spain. Within three hundred years of its inception Christianity became the dominant religious and political force of the Roman Empire in the lands which bordered on the Mediterranean Sea. In the next six hundred years it spread throughout modern Europe. With the rise of Islam however, the Church faced stiff competition.

On August 26, 636 Byzantine fell before the Muslim armies at the battle of Yarmouk and all of Syria was taken over to the Taurus. In February 637 the Persian army was devastated at Qadasiya, just south of Hira. All of Iraq was occupied, including Ctesiphon, its capital (just south of Bhagdad). In 640 Egypt was occupied; that same year the Persian Empire ceased to exist (IWH 377-398). In what remained of the Empire the Church was divided into two main bodies, the Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church, centered in Constantinople (now Istanbul in northwest Turkey) and the Roman Orthodox Catholic Church, centered in Rome (RNA 54).

From 661-750 Islam conquered a large portion of the known world, China excepted. Determined that Allah's Shariah note 5 be observed everywhere on earth, the forces of Islam moved into Europe, where the advance of the Faith of Mohammed Mustafa was finally halted in 732 at Tours, central France, by the 'stout hearted army of Franks' and their leader Charles Martel (grandfather of Charlemagne). This battle decided the religious future of Europe and, indirectly, the U.S. As a result of Martel's defeat of Islam the West was given into the hands of the Christian Church while much of the East became the domain of Islam (PWB 445).

Since the battle of Tours, Christianity has been the indubitable religious, social and legal authority in Western society. It is not surprising therefore that most of the Awakenings, as well as the revivals which occur within them, have taken place within the Christian arena (RNA 10). By this I mean that for the most part the awakenings have been manifested as reform movements within Christian communities. There are, of course, exceptions to this.

The Jews in galut (or exile, i.e. the Diaspora) have manifested remarkable spiritual achievements throughout the Christian era as well. Elias del Medigo and his disciple Picus de Mirandula, in the fifteenth century, were quite influential in the development of Jewish Theosophy. In 1485 the De Substantia Orbis was released note 6 . These texts foreshadowed the great Cabalistic Scripture the Zohar which, between about 1500 to 1800 established itself as a source of doctrine and revelation equal in authority to the Bible and Talmud. No other Jewish writing can make such a claim (Z 7). It was Rabbi Moses de Leon, not Picus de Mirandula, according to many authorities, who actually authored the Zohar toward the end of the thirteenth century (HK 563). Not only Jewish scholars were drawn to the Cabala however; many Christians also accepted and studied its mysteries. Cornelius Agrippa of Nettersheim, a Christian of the fifteenth century, prepared the first methodical description of the entire Cabala system. His three books, entitled De Occulta Philosophia are still standard textbooks on the subject (HK 452). The birth and development of Cabala, Hasidism and other forms of Jewish mysticism made significant contributions to the period.

Another example of non-Christian revival occurred among the Wiccan population note 7 . In many ways the Christian rulers of Britain were more tolerant than those on the Continent during the Burning Times note 8 The British Throne enacted several laws against the Old Religion, but seldom enforced them. As a result, British Wiccans lived their lives with little persecution while Continental Pagans, Wiccans and others, suffered fierce persecution. The Wiccans living under English rule bid their time, hoping their Christian monarchs would either mellow or be replaced. By the twelfth century however it became obvious that that would not happen. As a result, people throughout the Continent and the Isles became more bold and a major Wiccan revival took place. Many of their sacred Rites were brought back into the open again and Wiccan leaders such as Helen Philipps, of Pembroke, Mrs. Robinson, of Kidderminster and Mabel Brigge, of York, boldly proclaimed the rebirth of the Old Religion note 9 .

Beginning in 1232 (by order of Frederick II) the Christian rulers seriously sought to quell the spread of what the Church considered heresy and forced their subjects to disavow all non-Christian religions. On the Continent this attempt culminated in the infamous Inquisitions.

In 1252 torture was first employed by order of Pope Gregory IX. In 1479 Ferdinand and Isabella, in conjunction with the Pope, issued the Inquisition as an assault on the Marranos (Jewish converts) and Moriscos (converts from Islam). This order was later extended to include Protestants, Streges note 10 and other so-called undesirables. In 1542 Pope Paul III established the Inquisition as the highest court in the Land. The Spanish Inquisition was not abolished until 1814 (DRP 337,338). This darkest period of Church history therefore lasted 582 years, although its influence is still extant in Church attitudes towards non-Christian religions. From the Official Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church:

It was not until the reign of Queen Elizabeth I that serious religious persecution began in the land of Shakespeare. When Mary Tudor ascended the British Throne many radical Protestants were forced to flee to Calvinistic strongholds such as Strasbourg, Geneva and Zurich. In those towns Witch persecution was raging and it is believed by many that when these people returned to England they brought back with them their fear and hatred of Wiccans. Regardless of the accuracy of this view, beginning in 1563 Witch persecution in England began in earnest.

Considering the fierceness of Witch persecution on the Continent and the relative peace in England, the Wiccans, assuming they had, if not the support then at least the tolerance of their British neighbors, continued to come out of the broom closet as the Protestant exiles returned. This resulted in a major revival of the Old Religion as is demonstrated by John Jewel's (the Bishop of Salisbury and one of Queen Elizabeth's advisors) warning to the Queen, at some point between November 1559 and March 1560, that:

...this kind of people (I mean witches and sorcerers) within the last few years are marvelously increased within your grace's realm. These eyes have seen the most evident and manifest marks of their wickedness. Your grace's subjects pine away even unto death, their color fadeth, their flesh rotteth, their speech is benumbed, their senses are bereft. Wherefore, your poor subjects' most humble petition unto your highness is, that the law touching such malefactors may be put in due execution. For the shoal of them is great, their doings horrible, their malice intolerable, the examples most miserable. And I pray God they never practice further than upon the subject (The Works of Jewel, ed. Parker Society, 1845-50).

Today however, Christianity is no longer the only significant religion in the West. A host of Eastern religious traditions are making profound inroads here and the role, not to mention the legitimacy, of Christianity is being openly debated. Due in part to the current philosophic and scientific suppositions concerning relativism, many are questioning the basic assumptions upon which traditional Western religions, especially Christianity, are based. They find these conventional beliefs lacking in substance, yet continue to feel the need for spiritual insights and experiences. This situation was the impetus for the current Fourth Great Awakening note 11 .

It appears that Fundamentalist Christianity is currently in a state of revival. Whereas the more traditional forms of the religion are losing members and political/social authority, this branch continues to grow. It claims to be the true reflection and restoration of Jesus' original teachings. It points to what it considers the apostasy of many Christian churches and, moreover, to lukewarm Churchianity as the cause of Christianity's decline note 12 . This situation, they remind us, was predicted for the last days (LGPE).

Even as the Protestant Reformation, which achieved its zenith in the sixteenth century, sought not the disintegration of the Roman Catholic Church, but rather its reformation, a need which many Roman Church leaders had acknowledged for nearly two centuries, so too contemporary Fundamentalists are seeking to evoke a revival whereby those within the lukewarm church will repent and return to traditional Christian beliefs and values, as they perceive them. Of the remainder of lukewarm Churchianity, they believe, the following is written: And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication (Rev. 14:8). And again, And he [another angel] cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of demons, and the hold of every foul spirit, and cage of every unclean and hateful bird ... the merchants of the earth are grown rich through the abundance of her delicacies ... Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins... (Rev. 18:1-8). In support of this understanding, Fundamentalist Christian scholar C.I. Scofield note 13 Scofield writes: ... There are two forms which Babylon is to have in the end-time: political Babylon (Rev. 17:8-17) and ecclesiastical Babylon (Rev. 17:1-7) ... Ecclesiastical Babylon is all apostate Christendom, in which papacy will undoubtedly be prominent; it may even very well be that this union will embrace all the religions of the world (SB. Rev. 18: 2 footnote).

Sixteenth century Christian Reformers such as Luther (1483-1546), Calvin (1509-1564) and Zwingli (1484-1531) note 14 had no intention of leaving the Church. They merely hoped to reform it. One event triggered Luther's actions, or more correctly, acted as the straw which broke the camel's back. In 1517 the Church began selling indulgences to the German people. These Catholics were told that in exchange for their assistance in building Rome's St. Peter's Cathedral, they would receive full pardon for all sins, past, present and future. Furthermore, all their loved ones who reside in purgatory note 15 would gain immediate access to Heaven. That was too much; Luther and his compatriots had to speak out in opposition. At the Diet of Speyer in 1529 this group of Catholic Reformers signed and posted a petition consisting of ninety-five theses to express their dissatisfaction with certain aspects of the Church and its doctrines note 16 . This document, known as the protestatio, or the protest inadvertently placed the negative label of Protestantism on their religious descendants. The term is negative because it represents the Reform movement as anti-Catholic rather than Pro-Reform. The result of making the Protestant movement appear anti-papal is clearly seen in statements such as the above quote by Dr. Scofield. For the Protestants of who lived after the Reformation, the Catholic Church was vilified. Clearly this was not the intention nor the desire of the Reformers. The Protestant Fathers saw much good in the Roman Catholic Church. They still regarded it as the Church Christ had built. They merely wanted to purge it of its weaknesses and return it to what they considered Biblical theology. The hierarchical inflexibility of the Church prevailed however, and the Reformers were excommunicated. The Church first ordered Luther's superior to silence him, but to no avail. Next they commanded Luther to go to Augsburg, Germany for a hearing. There Cardinal Cajetan, the papal legate, personally ordered him to desist and publicly withdraw his protests. Luther refused, demanding that scriptural evidence judge the matter. This resulted in a debate at Leipzig with Catholic apologist John Eck. During this debate, Luther was coerced into rejecting the infallibility of the Pope and Church. As a result a papal bull was issued ordering the destruction of Luther's writings. Luther, instead, publicly burned the bull in protest. Shortly thereafter, Luther was excommunicated from the Catholic Church and, in 1520, declared the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in his tract On Christian Liberty with the words: A Christian man is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian man is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all (IBC 78-81). Martin Luther was particularly conservative in his views, both politically and theologically. He and his peers, especially Calvin (each in his own way), stressed the importance of God's absolute transcendence, the importance of personal revelation and the subsequent faith it invoked, the preaching and ultimate authority of the Bible (even above Church Tradition) and the observance of Rites prescribed in the New Testament only. They also demanded a much higher standard of ethical conduct for the Church hierarchy. Again, even though all these points were already being discussed within the medieval Church, the Reformers believed them to be down played by the labyrinth of medieval theology and corrupted by the notorious abuses of the Church Hierarchy. While the Reformers sought to establish individual freedom and expression, what they created, according to Geddes MacGregor, were: orthodoxy's too rigid and liturgies too limited to accommodate the light the Reformers sought to kindle (DRP 507,508). Hence, the Protestant Churches, although established on the principle of religious liberty, quickly became as intolerant as the Roman Church. Indeed, as mentioned above, it was probably the Protestant exiles who instigated the brutal persecution of non-Christian British subjects. The Church had traditionally been viewed as the bastion of intellectual thought. The hierarchy had always produced the most well educated people. Due in large part to the religious wars, turmoils and controversies of the seventeenth century however, this honored position was forfeited during the eighteenth century during what came to be known as the Age of Enlightenment (Aufklärung) note 17 . Educated Europeans began to reject the Church's claims of theocratic jurisdiction, its mandates on morality and its mystical pretenses were elided and ridiculed. In Germany a movement known as AufklSrung (later Anglicized as the Enlightenment) reflected this growing dissatisfaction with Church authority and its teachings. The Enlightenment had among it ideals the need for religious toleration. This view was admirably expressed in Lessing's Nathan der Weise and manifested in the political policies of Frederick the Great. This view sought to make reason the basis of religious (and all other) truths.

End Part One

Om Tat Sat

Maranatha, the Christ is in our midst!

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  1. Note 1: That she was in her teens is indicated, in the Greek, by the word parthwnoos which means maiden (GD 3933). Return
  2. Note 2: Of course, the law of karma was expressed in Jesus' teaching: you reap what you sow, and meditation is to be found among Christians independent of direct Eastern influence. Likewise for transmigration and non-violence. The Eastern explanations and presentations of these concepts however have fine-tuned the practices of the pre 1960 Western practitioners and introduced them to the masses. I might add that pre-Christian Wiccacrafte (the Pagan religion practiced by much of pre-Christian Europe, especially Britain) held all of these tenants, though again there is some divergence. For instance, the traditional Crafte accepts reincarnation rather than transmigration. Return
  3. Note 3: Darius I took possession of Gandhara and Hindukush. Later, Indian troops formed an alliance with Persia and fought the Greeks at Thermopylae. Return
  4. Note 4: Zazen: Sitting meditation
    Satori: Sudden awakening or enlightenment
    Koans: Fundamental principle which is directly experienced; a story which points to this experience. Return
  5. Note 5: Literally pathway, the path which Allah wills people to follow. Return
  6. Note 6: It was edited and republished by Issac Reggio in Vienna in 1833. It is this edition which is best known. Return
  7. Note 7: Wicca is a Pagan religion which was widely observed throughout the British Isles and Europe prior to the political ascendancy of Christianity. Return
  8. Note 8: The Burning Times refer to the period of legal English Witch persecution which lasted 173 years, from the reign of Elizabeth I (1563) to that of George II (1736). The Inquisitions (which are sometimes referred to as the Burning Times as well) lasted from 1814-1232, 582 years. Return
  9. Note 9: All three of these women were burnt at the stake due to their religious convictions. Return
  10. Note 10: I.e. Spanish Wiccans. Return
  11. Note 11: Or, is the current period of uncertainty due to the Awakening? Return
  12. Note 12: In the Book of Revelation Jesus describes seven churches. According to most Fundamentalists, these refer to seven Church Ages. This interpretation is based largely on the works of the Rev. Clarence Larkin (DT). According to this view, the present dispensation is the seventh and final. It is known as the Church of Laodicea and reflects the hypocrisy of the modern pseudo-Christian religion. Of this Church Jesus said: I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot; I would thou wert cold or hot. So, then, because thou art lukewarm ... I will spew thee out of my mouth. Fundamentalists believe themselves to be among the few who open the door to this truth and receive Divine favor (Rev. 3:14-19). Rev. Larkin, incidentally, taught during the Third Great Awakening. Return
  13. Note 13: Rev. Scofield, who is still considered by many to be one of the most authoritative Christian teachers, lived and worked during the Third Great Awakening. Return
  14. Note 14: The three men were quite different in their approach. It has been said that if Luther was the prophet of the Reformation, then Calvin was its theologian (RNA 89). Zwingli, a Catholic priest, worked to keep the Protestants in the Church. Return
  15. Note 15: Luther rejected the Church's teaching concerning the existence of Purgatory. Return
  16. Note 16: According to legend, these demands were nailed onto the doors of the university chapel, as if in rebellious outrage. For what its worth, Luther's spiritual decedents point out that this particular chapel door was the usual town bulletin board. The Reformers merely sought to evoke public (especially Church) discussion of their issues (IBC 79,80). Return
  17. Note 17: It should be remembered of course that the Enlightenment was foreshadowed by the work of the old rationalists such as Descartes, Leibniz and Spinoza, as well as the rise of modern (old paradigm) science in the 17th century. Return

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