Game of Gods:
The Temple of Man in the Age of Re-Enchantment
By Carl Teichrib
*The following is an excerpt from the first pages of chapter five.
Our age is characterized by non-meaning. – Jacques Ellul.
‘What’s right is what feels right,’ has no basis for personal ethics, much less a foundation for a free society. – Lloyd Billingsley.
Epic music was cued to an iconic scene of Washington DC. A panoply of psychologically stimulating images met the viewer’s eyes; satellites and data downloads, marching soldiers, explosions and doors being kicked-in, drones, and spooky government agents.
“Like yourself,” a serious voice intoned, “I’m a true believer.”
The official video trailer for the 2016 release of the revamped FOX television show, The X-Files, was a tantalizing promise of mystery and shadows. As the trailer concluded, the words that flashed across millions of TV screens during the last decade of the 20th century came to life, but with one small twist: “The Truth… Is Still… Out There…”
If ever a television program epitomized Postmodernism, it was the hit series The X-Files. Opening each episode was the haunting tagline that, in 1993 when it originally aired, hinted at deeper questions lurking beneath the surface: The Truth is Out There. To the post-modern mind the truth may be “out there” in a taunting sort of way, but it is incapable of being discovered through the Christian message or the authority paradigm of Modernity.
The X-Files was, in many respects, the quintessential program of the Questioning Age. It was critical of establishment institutions, mistrustful of government, wary of scientific certainty, and agnostic to religion. Introspective enquiries regarding “belief” and “faith” persistently played out between the main actors. Show after show blurred the lines between science and religion and philosophy. Even the roles of the characters – FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully – often reversed or blended. Aesthetically moody, the images and scripting touched a nerve with a generation raised to believe “you can be anything you want to be,” yet unsure of believability.
Similar to other law-and-crime programs, cases would be solved and investigations wrapped up, but a disproportionate number of shows left the audience hanging. The drama would come to an end, but nagging uncertainties often remained: “I guess we’ll never know” was a standard line. Unsolvable mysteries fed the imagination.
Around the perplexing scenarios swirled other questions: What is the meaning of life? Are we alone in the universe? Is there a God? Can truth be known? While Mulder and Skully were investigating crimes, searching for what is true, their experiences inevitably bumped into those looming thoughts of ultimate reality. Always, the big answers remained aloof. Final authority, true meaning, and life-purpose dangled just beyond reach.
Today, we find ourselves steeped in the post-modern environment, even as Modernity remains entrenched in scientific philosophy and is actively promoted via the New Atheists.
Postmodernism, better labeled as Postmodernity – but we will stick to the more popular expression – is a mindset and cultural mood that can be difficult to describe. Debate swirls over what it is, how it manifests, and where it could be going. A variety of thought exists behind the label. Defining Postmodernism has been likened to “nailing jelly to a wall.”
Upfront, I believe Postmodernism is a transitional phase. It is true that Postmodernism powerfully exhibits itself in today’s culture, especially as a mask for ideologically driven politics, but an eclipsing process is observable in the search for a new meaning.
Fundamentally, Postmodernism was and is a reaction to and rejection of foundational truth claims and the narratives supporting them – first in terms of Modernity, but also the assertions of Christian revelation. Biblical doctrine had been overshadowed by materialist dogma, but now both were being pushed aside. How truth was measured and considered by other generations no longer applied. Past approaches were and are viewed as too narrow and associated with oppression, linking knowledge with power and the placing of gatekeepers to bar the way for others. Therefore, historical truth claims remain as claim only and are treated with suspicion. Grand narratives and their related worldviews are no longer relevant to the post-modern mind.
We are left with questions but no defining answers, and no tangible framework to develop a coherent worldview.
The slope immediately becomes slippery. Judgments resting on previously held truth claims melt away. History fades into oblivion. The meaning of language bends. Tolerance without definition becomes the new norm. Inclusion and broad interpretations represent the progressive path, and personal transformation means conforming to ever changing cultural cues. Traditional standards are diluted as society attempts to scrub out reminders of “privileged” exclusivity. What was once virtuous is vilified, and what was morally shameful is celebrated. Truth and falsehood are no longer discernible, and what is known to be factual becomes blurred and distorted – including biology, identity, and sexuality. Higher values are lost in the fuzzy daze of a wandering culture. Does this sound like today?
In such a milieu there is an almost irresistible pull to elevate self. Certainly, self-actualization and experiments in self-identity are lauded within the post-modern context. Our personal reality is fashioned in the image of our felt needs. The psychological cult of Selfism, a “form of secular humanism based on worship of the self,” attempts to fill the vacuum of lost value. Yes, mankind has always struggled with pride and hubris, but Selfism elevates vice to virtue and packages it as illumined personal discovery. Selfism, a product of the human potential movement, feeds our desire for meaning while stroking our ego. The Self rises as a divine spark. We are each divine selves, masters of destiny and voices of self-authority.
This is manifestly different from the Christian approach to the individual. Stanly Grenz, author of A Primer on Postmodernism, reminds us that the Biblical position recognizes “God’s concern for each person, the responsibility of every human before God, and the individual orientation that lies within the salvation message.” It was also different than Modernity with its tendency to integrate the person into state-directed systems of meaning. The cult of Selfism, rather, is a “horizontal heresy, with its emphasis only on the present, and on self-centered ethics.”
And how could this not be? For decades, public education and mental health services have washed our brains in the “holy waters” of the human potential movement: the theories of Erich Fromm, Carl Rogers, and Abraham Maslow. Following Sigmund Freud’s guilt-based theory of human development and B.F. Skinner’s behavioral models, Maslow’s teachings on self-actualization – the “third force” in psychology – saturated Western thinking. From the experiential encounters at the Esalen Institute to your neighborhood clinic, from daytime television to church pulpits, the feel-good mantra of Selfism rang across the land: “Express thyself, Accept thyself, and Esteem thyself.”
In an eerie symbiosis the celebrated Self and the materialistic consumer walk hand-in-hand. We line up for the hottest deals on Black Friday and then, armed with our wireless devices, proclaim moral indignation and denounce the “evils of corporations.” A universe of selfies are snapped with our smartphones and posted on social media. Seated in the third row of the concert hall we watch the live-performance through a three-inch wide screen, digitally capturing the experience of “being there” while living through our technology. We are consumed with the image itself. We are the symbol of our things.
A fitting analysis was given over two decades before Web 2.0 existed,
Selfist psychology emphasizes the human capacity for change to the point of almost totally ignoring the idea that life has limits and that knowledge of them is the basis of wisdom. For selfists there seem to be no acceptable duties, denials, inhibitions, or restraints. Instead, there are only rights and opportunities for change. An overwhelming number of the selfists assume that there are no unvarying moral or interpersonal relationships, no permanent aspects to individuals. All is written in sand by a self in flux.
But the need for a connection to something larger, a foundation of truth, tugs at the human heart. Where do we turn now that we have rejected a relationship with the transcendent Creator? And in rightly criticizing the application of naturalism to society, we distanced ourselves from the suffocating structures of Modernity. With what now will we clothe ourselves?
We stand naked and we know it.
Relativism, therefore, becomes our covering, and subjective social markers and experiences act as our guide. Because of this we constantly seek reinforcing “safe spaces” with others who share similar sentiments – an “organic community” – a location, flexible in orientation to meet our changing convictions, where we can emulate each other and call this truth.
Stanley J. Grenz put it this way,
The postmodern worldview operates with a community-based understanding of truth. It affirms that whatever we accept as truth and even the way we envision truth are dependent on the community in which we participate. Further, and far more radically, the postmodern worldview affirms that this relativity extends beyond our perceptions of truth to its essence: there is no absolute truth; rather, truth is relative to the community in which we participate.
Truth is discovered through personal experience as you feel yourself part of a culturally transforming group, and identity and meaning exist in social emotions and sub-cultural expressions. Everyone becomes a back-seat driver as we navigate by social consensus. What else could there be if the other ways to measure truth are no longer accepted?
Reality, therefore, is what we encounter and can only be subjective, for each person experiences differently. No wonder history becomes an object of question, truth ever changing, morality moveable, definitions indefinable, and language remade to fit the fads of the day. This is to be expected when our convictions are dictated by our emotions, and our feelings conditioned by the loudest mob – itself moved by voices of influence. However, if you challenge the mob, watch out! Since everyone is a backseat driver on the road to some indefinable destiny, you will be shouted out of the car.
In our age of fuzzy thinking, truth is defined by sub-cultures pushing an agenda. Hence, the post-modern claim of being untainted by “narratives of power” is artificial.
“While postmodernism did open a larger space for cultural critique,” explains Christian academic Mary Poplin, “in its purest form it is the ultimate rejection of any universal story that connects us to one another and to the world (metanarrative). There can be no truth claims, except of course this one.”
Postmodernism thus sets up its own gatekeepers.
Game of Gods is available on Amazon.
 Jacques Ellul, The Ethics of Freedom (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976), p.461.
 Lloyd Billingsley, The Absence of Tyranny: Recovering Freedom in Our Time (Multnomah Press, 1986), p.35.
 The New Atheists are those intellectuals who have played a major role in contemporary atheism: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens. These authors became famously known as the “Four Horsemen” after an informal table-talk took place between them in September, 2007. This conversation was recorded and then released for public purchase under the title, The Four Horsemen.
 Postmodernism is the more popular way of expressing the age after Modernity, and the term is often used interchangeably with Postmodernity. However, there are differences. Properly considered, Postmodernism is a form of artistic and literary criticism in response to Modernity’s interpretation. Postmodernity, on the other hand, is equated with a social condition that questions and/or opposes Modernity’s authority claims.
 Paul C. Vitz, Psychology as Religion: The Cult of Self-Worship (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), p.9.
 Stanley J. Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), pp.167-168.
 Vitz, Psychology as Religion, pp.95-96.
 Erich Fromm celebrated humanity’s independence from God and described Man as intrinsically good. Carl Rogers focused on experiencing oneself and encouraged therapists to sense what client’s feel. The highest ideal of the self is for the person to become unified as an experiential flow or movement. Maslow introduced a hierarchy of felt human needs and believed that the greatest achievement was an enlightened self-actualization.
 The Esalen Institute was a primary vehicle for Gestalt techniques in whole-person self awareness, and was an important point of contact for Maslow’s human potential movement. Educators, psychologists, cultural leaders, and clergy from liberal churches would gather at Esalen in the 1960s and 1970s, looking to experientially raise personal consciousness, advance self-awareness, explore alternative religious practices, and engage in sexual discovery. See Marion Goldman, The American Soul Rush: Esalen and the Rise of Spiritual Privilege (New York University Press, 2012).
 Christina Hoff Sommers and Sally Satel, One Nation Under Therapy: How the Helping Culture is Eroding Self-Reliance (St. Martin’s Press, 2005), p.56.
 Vitz, Psychology as Religion, p.38.
 Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism, p.8.
 Mary Poplin, Is Reality Secular? Testing the Assumptions of Four Global Worldviews (IVP Books, 2014), p.134.