There is a lot of discussion now among Protestants about Aaron Renn’s “Three Worlds Of Evangelicalism”thesis. Is there a “Negative world”? A cultural environment in which being a small-o orthodox Christian and Biblically faithful will not cost you anything — and if so what is it like?
Derek Rishmawy comments on the controversy. Alan Jacobs makes a strong case for a Negative World for Christians. He argues that taking a public, Christian-based stance against racism within the South in the 1950s would have attracted far more negative attention than any other thing you could say today as a Christian. Is that really a Positive World? Jacobs’s point was that following Jesus faithfully will always be expensive. The lines only differ between time and places.
Rishmawy admits that this observation is true, but adds:
It is not inane or pastorally irrelevant to ask this question: Is there a coherent sense that the Roman world could have said the Roman world adopted a “neutral or positive” position in relation to Christian practice and confession prior to or after Constantine’s Edict at Milan? This question is relevant for pastoral and Christian Christian political witness. Is there another way to refer to a negative attitude of society and state towards Christian practice in China prior or after the rise in the Communists? Or, again, in Soviet Russia or post-Soviet Russia. (I am well aware of both the state of RO church persecution and non-Orthodox faiths being persecuted by the state.
The question isn’t whether the potentialcost for discipleship is higher in absolute terms. It is not about whether there has been a shift in political and pastorally important social conditions, state policies, or other factors that make the distinction between before and after, this v. that, worthwhile noting and flagging in these terms (negative, neutral, and positive). It is clear that the prophets called Israel faithful and to avoid idols, which at all times were a threat for the people God. But it doesn’t matter if it happens in Israel or Babylon. Are we able to see the signs of the (admittedly not eschatological) times in order to shepherd our people toward the all-important and perennial goal of faithfulness towards the Lord Jesus?
This is my opinion. This is not to say that there has ever been a Christian utopia. In which it was completely free to preach Biblically faithful Christianity, this is not true. Positive World was a place where Catholics who stood up to their church authorities and called them out for tolerating child sexual abuse found their lives much more difficult. This is why so few Catholics did it. Jacobs is correct. Rishmawy stated that there has been a shift in pastoral meaning.
Even though people called themselves Christians in a certain time and place, they were still referring to Christianity as the ultimate standard. Unbelieving Jew Philip Rieff recognized that a major shift occurred in Western consciousness in late 19th and early twentieth century. He went from being “Religious” in that he affirmed a set values rooted in religion but was not able to observe them properly, to being “Psychological” in that he abandoned the ideal of virtue and instead tried to manage the anxiety that comes with living without meaning. We were still Christian enough in America in the 1950s and 60s to be able to use openly Christian language and concepts in order for our fellow Christians in America to repent.
This is gone. It’s worse in Europe. A German Catholic friend of mine was speaking recently to me about a lay group that translated a lot of Catholic documents circulated among German bishops. According to my friend, the majority of them are in de facto Catholicism and pushing for radical revisions to Catholic doctrine, while lying to the public. My friend explained that her group translated these documents to warn the universal Catholic church about what their bishops were up to. This was partly so Catholics from other countries wouldn’t be deceived. She stated that standing up as a German Catholic to support the Catholic Church’s teachings on sex and homosexuality will not only earn you persecution from the secular German society but also from the German Catholic Church.
This phenomenon has been covered before so I won’t go over it again. However, I came across an interesting and different take on the phenomenon over the weekend. It wasn’t inspired by Renn’s claims. A friend gave me a copy Return Of The Gods by the Messianic Judaic megachurch pastor Jonathan Cahn. This book is a New York Times bestseller. I don’t have a lot of knowledge about the charismatic and Evangelical worlds so I was curious to read the book. Below is my review, though I will admit that I don’t have enough knowledge about the history and theology of Ancient Near East religions to be able judge his claims. As I was reading it on the train from Vienna yesterday, I did a quick online search for some of his claims and found them all to be sound.
Cahn’s book is based on Jesus’s words from Matthew 12:
An impure spirit is one that comes out of someone. It goes to arid places looking for rest, but it doesn’t find it. It then says, “I will return home to the house that I left.” When it returns, it finds it empty, unoccupied, and has cleaned it up. Then it leaves and brings with it seven spirits that are more evil than it, and they live in the house. The final condition of this person is worse than that of the first. This is what it will be like with this wicked generation.”
Cahn points to the fact that ancient Israel’s priests and prophets were always at war with the gods from the Near East. Baal and other demonic entities were worshiped by the tribes of the area, so the Israelites were constantly being temped to give up worshipping the true God. Cahn’s and mine believe that these false gods are spiritual entities but were actually demonic. He also points out that God punished the Israelites for worshipping these demon entities when they abandoned God.
Cahn claims that Jesus Christ sent all the demonic gods into civil exile in this book. They didn’t cease to exist. But they lost the power they once had over civilization. This made me think of the 2003 essay by David Bentley Hart entitled “Christ Or Nothing”, which Hart stated:
The First Commandment states, “I am your Lord and God”; “Thou shall have no other gods than me” For Israel, this was a first and foremost demand for fidelity. God then bound His people to Him, even though it became a proclamation to all nations later. The commandment was made clear to Christians and they were indissolublely bound to Christ. It was not a ban on foreign cults but a call for arms and an attack upon the old order of the heavens-a declaration that war had been declared against the gods. All of the world was to receive evangelism and baptism, with all idols being torn down and all worship to the One God who had, in these last days, sent His Son into this world for our salvation. Although it was a difficult and often terrible struggle, sometimes involving the death of martyrs, it was ultimately a victory. The temples of Zeus, Isis, and the dithyramb were abandoned, their sacrifices were not collected, and all the glory, nobility and cruelty of the ancient world fell at the feet Christ the conqueror.
This was not a metaphor for the early Christians. On Easter’s Eve, a gentile convert stood at the baptistery and before falling naked into the water, he was rejecting and reviling the gods in his life. When he turned to West to renounce devil and devil’s ministers, it was clear that he was rejecting and reviling the gods in his life. And when he turned to East to confess Christ, then he was giving himself over to the invincible hero, who had taken away from the powers of the air and was raised to become the power of the air and was made the earth. The early Church believed that spiritual warfare was the essence of life. No baptized Christian could deny the profound transformation it was to accept Christ as the only god.
Although we are still at war, I believe that the Church’s situation has changed significantly. I also suspect that the First Commandment will not place a burden on us, so the defeat of the old pantheon and the elemental spirits and demons behind them will be incredibly easy. We moderns believe that nothing is possible. The nothingness and power of the will can miraculously give form to the world. At least the gods were actual, even distorted, indications of the mystery tremendum and could incite holy dread or holy love. These brutes were often benign despots. I believe that all of us, in those corners of our hearts where we are all monarchists can appreciate a good despot if he is sufficiently dashing, mysterious, and able strike a pleasing balance between capricious anger and serene benevolence. The Olympians were a great deal of fun and had a beautiful face that vanished from the earth. The Church had enemies because of their objectivity and superiority over their worshipers. They were perhaps just a collection of elaborate brocades and gaudy veils that were drawn across the abyss between night and death. However, they had distinct shapes and established religions. When their mysteries were forgotten, they disappeared.
But how do you make war against nothingness? How can you rid the abyss of its mythic allure and let it go? It is easier to convince someone that they are in demon throes and offer them manumission than convince them that they are slaves to themselves and prisoners to their will. This god is more mysterious, less predictable, and more powerful than Dionysus or Apollo. His throne has been placed in the hearts of those he enslaves, whether he manifests in some demonic titanism or the banality of consumer culture or in the mass delirium of Third Reich. It is against this god that the First Commandment calls for us to fight, I believe.
Cahn may not be saying that, but Hart is. Hart quotes Hart to emphasize that Christianity crushed pagan belief so thoroughly that we aren’t tempted to worship pagan gods again.
Cahn claims that these deities, as demonic spiritual entities, did not cease to exist. He claims that they are returning under new names or with no theological identity at all. According to him, all the old demons have been brought back by the de-Christianization in our society. Return of the Gods is based on Cahn’s belief that three specific Ancient Near East gods — Baal and Ishtar — have been elevated in some way over the post-Christian West. And that the West, specifically the United States, will face the same fate that ancient Israel did when it worshipped false gods. This is a much stronger case than you might think.
(I must warn you again that I do not know anything about Ancient Near Eastern religion so Jonathan Cahn’s claims are unreliable. I have only researched a few of them myself. If Cahn or I have made a mistake, I would be happy to correct it.
Baal is an example. Baal, a god of abundance and fertility in the ancient world was also a god. Cahn says that Baal’s cult was one based on carnality. Cahn believes this is the reason America has shifted to the worship of money and sex, rather than the worship God. Baal had a bull as a symbol. Cahn points out the bull statue that was built near Wall Street to honor the bull market, and to represent wealth. Eugene McCarraher has written a fascinating 2019 book the Enchantments of Mammon about capitalism’s demise as the true religion in the modern West. On Father Stephen De Young’s recommendation, I am reading it for my reenchantment project. McCarraher writes in an academic, secular voice. It is not like a pastor’s voice. But the message is the same.
The second — and most interesting — god in Cahn’s book is Ishtar (Astarte/Ashtoreth/Venus/Inanna), the Babylonian goddess of love, pictured above. She was the goddess for sacred prostitution, transgression and blurring of borders. Did you know she was also the goddess for gender fluidity? It was too unbelievable to believe, but it’s true. It’s easy to find this information online from trusted sources. But here’s a quick excerpt from Psychology Today :
To emphasize her bellicose side, the Mesopotamian Ishtar was often depicted with a beard. She was able to transform a man into woman. The assinu and kurgarru who were part of her cult had both female and male features.
Cahn questions what it would look like for America to worship Ishtar.
It is expected that a transformation will occur, which would change the world of sexuality. We would expect the biblical ethics and standards regarding sexuality and marriage to be eroded with the goddess’s entry. It is possible that the moral foundations and values which have governed Western civilization for almost two thousand years will begin to crumble.
We would expect a radical change in the world of sexuality — a sexual revolution.
Ishtar not only introduced, promoted, and championed sexual immorality, but she also declared it holy. In her shrines and temples, sexually immoral acts were part and parcel of her cult. The same thing started manifesting in American culture and Western culture because of her spirit. Now, sexual immorality was not only accepted, but also treated as sacred.
It was the old standards and restraints which were deemed sinful, puritanical and repressive and evil. The one who did not revere the newly sanctified sins was considered a heretic and the opposition to the new morality was considered blasphemy.
The spirit of Ashtoreth or Ishtar had taken the spirit of Baal’s spirit to another level. Each god’s task was to invert civilization. Ishtar had reversed the role of sexuality. It was taboo, forbidden and taboo that she had brought into mainstream culture, step by step. Each step would bring about familiarity and numbness. Then, there would be tolerance, acceptance, acceptance, and celebration.
Cahn claims that the third false benefit of his “Dark Trinity”, is Molech. This god was the one to whom the Ancient Near East people sacrificed their children. These children were sacrificed for the sake of receiving blessings, including prosperity from the god. Cahn correctly ties this to abortion and Ishtar’s rituals — that is, unborn children conceived by Ishtar worshippers could be offered as a sacrifice to Molech. The pastor says that Planned Parenthood not only provides abortions but also cross-sex hormones for changing your sex, which renders you infertile. It is all a death cult.
This book contains amazing Ishtar material. Cahn quotes from a Hittite hymn about the goddess, which describes her as the one who “…grinds away men’s manliness. Cahn quotes a Hittite hymn to the goddess praising her ability to emasculate or feminize men. (Cahn footnotes this, citing academic articles but I couldn’t find an online source). According to Zainab Bahrani, NYU archaeologist and author of Women of Babylon, Ishtar was designed to “destroy masculinity” as well as to work in the “destruction of culture order.” A different writer said:
Inanna, another name for Ishtar — RD], is shown as embodying both male qualities and female traits. She said, “Though I am female, I am a noble young woman.” (24) Her androgyny can be seen in her cultic personnel which included transvestites and eunuchs. Young men wore hoops (a feminine symbol), while young women wore swords. The(25) In-nin-sa-gur-ra says, ‘She (Ishtar) [changes] the right side (male) into the left side (female), she [changes] the left side into the right side, she [turns] a man into a woman, she [turns] a woman into a man, she ador[ns] a man as a woman, she ador[ns] a woman as a man.’ For Sjoberg this merely refers to the changing roles of men and women in cult ceremonies, but given the world-turned-upside-down nature of her cultic festivities an element of gender role reversal does not seem unfeasible. Harris claims that Inanna was a deity who incorporated fundamental, irreducible paradoxes.
Cahn states, in a sensible way, that if Ishtar worship were to come to America, we would expect the feminization and masculinization of males, as well as gender confusion. Well… .
To show their devotion, Cahn’s ritual followers, priests and other religious leaders, engaged in public androgyny to demonstrate their devotion. Cahn believes that drag culture, Pride parades and the like are just that. She was considered a goddess of inversion. Cahn says that if she were worshipped in America, the JudeoChristian sexual order would be overthrown and its opposite would become normative. That is exactly what happened. An ancient Sumerian document explains that Inanna/Ishtar is accompanied by demons when she emerges from the underworld.
You will have to take the wife out of a man’s arms. They seize the son from a man’s waist. They force the bride to leave her father-in law’s house. … They remove the wife from a man’s arms.
Enhuedanna was the high priestess for the moon in Sumerian city Ur. She hymned Inanna/Ishtar as this
Inanna, destroy, create, tear out, establish.
Inanna can turn a woman into an angel and a man into woman.
Cahn quotes this passage from a trans commentator of the present:
A well-known text from an antiquity similar to Enheduanna’s works describes a religious festival in honour of Inanna. The following describes the celebrants:
Sumer’s people parade in front of you.
Prostitute males will comb their hair in front of you.
They decorate their necks with colored scarfs.
The women wear men’s clothes on their right sides.
Men wear women’s clothing on their left sides.
The ascending kurgarra priests raise the swords in front of you.
… It seems that the festival’s description shows people cross-dressing for the occasion. The whole thing seems very much like a gay pride parade with many people simply dressing up to have fun.
This is the most bizarre thing. According to Ancient Near Eastern mythology Tammuz was Ishtar’s lover. Tammuz, which still exists in Hebrew calendar, is the month of Tammuz. It marks the month when Tammuz and Ishtar were separated. Cahn interprets this as a symbol of the tearing apart of women and men from one another. He points out the Stonewall Riots which were the birth of gay rights, took place on the 10th Tammuz. This was in Babylon when it was ritually acceptable to cast spells that made men love each other.
This is correct: The modern gay rights movement was founded on this anniversary. Cahn also points out that the three most important Supreme Court decisions for the gay rights movement were Lawrence (2003), which made homosexuality illegal across the board, Windsor (2013), which overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, and Obergefell (2015) which legalized same-sex marital relationships. Tammuz is also a lunar month, so it doesn’t always fall on our calendar. However, most of the time, Tammuz falls in June, which has been designated the High Holy Month for Pride.
Although I don’t have the expertise to evaluate the bold historical and theological claims of Jonathan Cahn I find his words fascinating. I also cite him in Negative World context because we are worshiping ancient gods who have rushed in, regardless of whether people know it.
Cahn also writes:
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Israel was destroyed and judged by the gods. Is America also at risk of destruction and judgment? Both countries were dedicated to God from their inception. However, they both turned away God and followed the gods Baal and Molech.
But America had gone further. It was the main vessel for the return to the gods. It was the main proponent of materialism, money worship, sexual immorality and transsexuality. America had singlehandedly revived the goddess’s midsummer celebrations and procesions that now covered the entire globe.
America had honored and championed rainbow sign, not just within its borders but all over the globe. To turn the sign of God’s mercy given in the aftermath of judgment against the ways and wills of God is to invoke a judgment without mercy.
… The prophets warned Israel not to turn from God and follow the gods. This would bring about destruction. America has turned from God and is now following the gods. What will it eventually lead to? It must, at the end, lead directly to destruction.
This is near the end of the book. After reading that passage, I was struck by the torn US Flag on 9/11/2002 — it was almost like the tear of the Temple veil at the death of Jesus of Nazareth.
You might find the spiritual and theological aspects of Jonathan Cahn’s arguments to be absurd. Even if you don’t believe there are any epochal spiritual conflicts, it is important to recognize that the end Christian civilization has brought forth a new one based on new sacred value. There were significant gaps in Christian social practice in the past ages of Christianity, but Christian societies and nations maintained the Bible as the ultimate truth and moral truth. It is now over. It is possible to bring it back, I hope and pray that we can do so. But we have to recognize where we are. Since the beginning of my life, I have lived in Europe intermittently for two years. Now, I am permanently here. I have met many practicing Christians throughout Europe during that time. It is hard to emphasize enough how post-Christian Europe has become. This is due to the fact that the European culture is becoming increasingly secularized, not only by the governments and cultural institutions but also the passiveness of the people. The United States is moving in the same direction and very quickly. Although you may not believe in God, it is important to recognize that all civilizations are going through a period of change. This includes a change in gods. All societies must share a set of transcendental moral beliefs.