A few years ago I was interested in something I found on the internet that was called the ’emerging church conversation’, also sometimes dubbed the ’emergent’ movement. Being quite postmodern myself and an evangelical Christian of sorts (I still am both btw!), I learned a lot from it, and I can’t deny that some books and blogs I’ve read in that time were very important for me to become the Christian I am now. I think for example of Brian McLaren’s ‘new kind of Christian’ trilogy, and blogs that seem non-active now like Kingdom Grace, subversive influence, and the indestructible Tall Skinny Kiwi, and so on… It seemed to me that there was an interesting movement of more postmodern Christianity coming that went back to the core of what it is to follow Jesus.
But that was some years ago. And time is a train that makes the future the past, as a guy with weird sunglasses once sung… At the moment to me it seems like there’s not much left of what used to be called ‘the emerging church’, and the thing that goes on under the second name ’emergent’ doesn’t feel the same to me. It seems like the whole emergent scene (and sometimes whatever ‘progressive Christianity’ is supposed to be too) has just become some very American kind of theological liberalism 2.0. And to be honest, it’s overall just too modern and myopically academically Western to me, and I find American ‘liberal PC’ generally just annoying. I’ve lost interest in most things under that label a while ago, approximately since the Tall Skinny Kiwi more or less said goodbye to emergent himself. (He is back to blogging btw after a break of a year, and just wrote a piece about him killing the emergent church that’s very interesting if you get all the insider stuff…)
To me as an outsider it seems like the scene has both died out slowly and moved further from both Christianity and even postmodernism as I am able recognise them as a lost postmodern Christian myself. There’s a lot of ‘hyphenated’ – mergent groups left though, label, from anglimergent, baptimergent and the more recent charismegent group on FB, as well as queermergent and sceptimergent. The latter one (if I understand it well) being a group for people transitioning from Christianity to what’s called ‘scepticism’ in modern newspeak. (see also this for my thoughts on the state of contemporary ‘scepticism’) This is not that exceptional, it seems that for a lot of people the ’emergence’ has not just been into ‘a new kind of Christianity’ (which is not that new after all sometimes) but also outside of Christianity into things that mostly seem to fall into new incarnations of the same old enlightenment tradition, that’s actually not new at all in any way either… Darling you’re so unoriginal… Which is not at all what I was looking for, as a postmodern Christian who is trying to broaden his scope outside of our myopic Western modernist views and who was hoping for something beyond the modern liberal/conservative dichotomies… It’s more like the opposite of what I was looking for actually… Liberal humanism isn’t very new nor exiting to me as a European either…
Anyway, there is a question that has been bothering me, and that is probably closely related to the way the whole emergent stuff ended up completely enlightenmentified. Why is there after the demise of the original ’emerging church’ a lot of ‘neo-enlightenment-mergent’ stuff left under different names, but not for example an occult-mergent? Why if we are so progressive and open no intersections with for example neo-pagans or even buddhists? Why with a culture that goes in the direction of ‘spiritual, not religious’ no newage-mergent? Why is there talk about inclusion of muslims, but rejection of all forms of Christianity that are much less ‘conservative’ than most muslims I’ve met? Why does it all have to come down to ‘neo-enlightenmentism’ that is academically acceptable and so very purely Western (even with all the ‘white people bashing’ in certain corners)? Where is the dialogue with less Western worldviews, less materialist/naturalist ideas about the nature of, eh, nature, and people who don’t fit the zeitgeist in that way? Why does it seem like everything in the new emergent is emerging into less spiritual and more antisupernatural domains while even a lot of non-Christians aren’t going there?
Yes, my more neutral use of the word ‘occult’ in the original sense of ‘the hidden/invisible part of creation is not common and the word does have a lot of bad connotations, not without reasons even. One could think that no-one before me did ever come up with a world like ‘occultmergent’ (according to google I’m the only one to use it, as an unofficial title for a series of posts in my year of demodernisation. I wouldn’t be so stupid to use it as a nmae for a website or organisation…) because it is just the perfect bait for heresy-hunters, and that my quest for a more balanced view of the ‘invisible world’ is completely misguided and potentially dangerous, but I refuse to believe it’s more misguided than marrying Christianity to too much academically approved zeitgeist-cuddling enlightenment-thought, 21th century edition. A lot of ‘occult’ and esotheric traditions do have more faith in God than modernist scepticism will ever have, and much more Christian influence than we’d like to see anyway. Most classical occultists and stuff like the golden dawn and a lot of other esotheric orders (and Islam) are still a lot closer to Christianity in worldview than Richard Dawkins will ever be…
The thing about a more open ‘occultmergent’ approach would be that it would be much more relevant to a lot of people I know. I know that a lot of Western people live in a completely non-magical world (I will write more about that idea later if I find the time) but the invisible world is very much a reality for a lot of people outside the Western world, and in the Western world outside of academia too. I have met and know a lot of people outside of Christianity who are interested in the invisible world and actively engaging with it, and not always in healthy ways. (same for some Christians actually) People experimenting with a lot of stuff that the ‘sceptics’ would never believe in but are still real (even if all of our human explanations and systems of thought about it are completely wrong) There is a lot of interest in the ‘occult’, and the ‘spiritual’, and there’s a lot of people into this kind of stuff.
A lot of them are not that disinterested in talking with me about it, although the black and white pentecostal demonology that I’ve inherited would completely put them off (and isn’t at all that relevant sometimes), but naturalistic enlightenmentism is also completely out of the question for anyone who has active experience with the invisible world. It’s like saying to Mr. Beaver of Narnia that animals can’t talk, and will never be able to talk. You will not convince them without destroying their existence…
And yes, even though I would like to see a more nuanced view than ‘everything outside the laws of nature is demonic’, I do know that the realm of ‘the occult’ is dangerous, especially for those who have no experience with it all. I also know that although it’s not all superstition as we moderns tell ourselves before we enter the heart of darkness and can’t deny it any longer, but there’s a lot of nonsense, exaggerations and very weird explanations of the invisible too. But in the end it’s much closer to any ‘biblical worldview’ (if such a thing exists) to accept the reality of the invisible world than to parrot our current Western ignorance on these things.
So what do you people think? What am I missing? Where am I wrong?