Bridge to the Eastern West

The twentieth century has seen the East invade the West philosophically, as the West had earlier invaded the East technologically.

Alan Boag is currently engaged in postgraduate research on the book of Revelation at St. Andrews University in Fife, Scotland.
The counterculture today is not nearly as articulate or hopeful as in the sixties and early seventies, when protest followed protest, when underground papers proliferated, and when it was firmly believed that the times were a changin'! 1 Currently, much of the energy of the movement is channeled into the quieter avenues of radical technology and country living, or mysticism's indifference. Or it is engulfed by that which it once opposed, leaving many savagely disillusioned at the failure to realize the high hopes and ideals of hip philosophy.

However, the intellectual, social, and spiritual ferment of the past decade has had a lasting affect on Western culture, particularly on its young and creative people, not excluding those within the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Perhaps this article, however belated, may help us meet more intelligently and with empathy those still influenced by the immediate past. At least it might underscore the necessity of keeping our ecclesiastical finger tips on the contemporary pulse in order to communicate the gospel as the opportunity arises.

The various explorations in human thought and society during the past 200 years of Western culture have produced a generation whose legacy is spiritual rootlessness. Yet it is a generation that refuses to accept its legacy. Confronted with Camus' "Absurd," the choice be tween physical or philosophical suicide; confronted with Heidegger's "angst," that vague feeling of dread (Is God really dead? Is man dead? Am I dead? Is there life before death?); confronted by a superficial Christianity and a powerless humanism, the counterculture hurled at society its conviction that man was significant, that life must have meaning, and that the basis of that meaning was spiritual, not material.

The beat goes on

Journeying into uncharted regions, the counterculture sought verification for its assertions. One trip was via the drug route. Much of the impetus and drug orientation of the hip movement came from Dr. Timothy Leary,2 who parted company with Harvard University in 1963 because of his use of drugs in personality research. With friends Ginsberg and Watts, themselves part of the creative and literate leftovers of the Beat Scene, Leary tirelessly proselytized his biochemic Weltenschaung through cam pus crusades and the mass media. When with great conviction Leary and his associates tried desperately to inject, via drugs, new awareness, new consciousness, new life, new assumptions and norms into our dying culture, hungering and thirsting millions followed.

Leary described our culture as a fake prop set society and proposed that man, fortified by psychedelic drugs, could break free from his restrictive, conditioned environment. By trained introspection, he could communicate with and learn from the molecular wisdom of his DNA code. This approach had been the essence of Aldous Huxley's "firstorder experience" and has always been at the core of Eastern mysticism.3

At the same time the West, devoid of any vital Christian rationale or contemporary intellectual apologetic, was boiling with dissatisfaction over Western science and philosophy. Both were seen as too mechanistic, too rationalistic, too spiritually barren and crippling to human sensitivity, imagination, and creativity. And if Western intellectuals had long looked toward the East because of the bankruptcy of Western thought, it was now the young who cast their third eye longingly in that direction.4 The twentieth century saw the East invade the West philosophically, as the East had been invaded by the West technologically.

Though educated within the system, by the system, and for the system,5 the counterculture saw with X-ray perception that the political, economic, and social mechanisms that passed as a Christian culture were instead a spiritual desert. Drugs and Eastern mysticism were perceived as avenues of awareness to ultimate truth. The gulf between the psychedelic and nonpsychedelic citizen was the result of two opposing mentalities, East and West. The hip scene spoke of ultimate issues and cosmic themes, not "How much can I make?" or "What color shall my next car be?"

Paradoxically, while denouncing the shortcomings of modern technocracy the counterculture gained much of its world solidarity and influence through electronics. Snap in a cassette, drop on a disk, and you were plugged into a worldwide group consciousness. I think it probable that we have failed to appreciate the role music played in the counterculture—and plays yet today. Too often we have off-handedly dismissed various musical styles as the "devil's device," refusing to listen, evaluate, and decode their messages critically. Indeed, we have not perceived that music may be a thermometer of society's soul and a real sign of the times. If we ignore it we miss a chance at understanding the thought patterns of those around us, perhaps our own children.

Charles Reich saw counterculture music as the "chief medium of expression, the chief means by which inner feelings are communicated." 6 It spoke not only in terms of "irony, satire, and mockery of the Establishment, but also of mysticism, psychedelic meditation, and transcendence of ordinary experience." 7 Literature has never been a major medium of youth culture; if Kerouac and Ginsberg had been widely read in the fifties, they were now read merely as adjuncts to music with its solid means of communication. 8

Counterculture music hung our Western skeletons out for all to see. 9 The Beatles spoke of parent-children alienation—"She's leaving home after living alone for so many years." Country Joe and the Fish satirized Vietnam—"Be the first one on the block to have your son come home in a box . . . ain't no time to wonder why, whoopee! We're all gonna die." The group Clear Light threw into sharp relief any sense of fulfillment to be found in everyday work—"You've got a slot to fill and fill that slot you will." Frank Zappa reversed the long revered images of Americana, and in "Plastic People" he described Mrs. Citizen—

"She paints her face with plastic goo and wrecks her hair with some shampoo . . . Plastic People."

His "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" encapsulated the American dream—"TV dinner by the pool, I'm so glad I finished school.

Be a jerk and go to work, be a jerk and go to work.

Do your job and do it right, life's a ball—TV tonight.

Do you love it? Do you hate it? There it is, the way you made it ... WOW!" The meditative musicianship of the Moody Blues had a mantralike effect as they sang of astral travel, cosmic consciousness, love, peace, and harmony.

What was happening? The objective, rational, sterile West was being by passed for an extreme subjectivity, a search for "authentic existence." Momentous questions were being asked and still are by some. White music is still a thermometer of the soul for young whites. And if we really want to evangelize young blacks, we will have to plug into and understand the whole Rastafarian culture with its prophets of dub music (Bob Marley, Jah Whoosh, Bunny Wailer), its adoption of the Old Testament and dreadlocks as a mark of a Nazarite vow, its abstinence from pork and salt, its penchant for marijuana in its worship of JAH—all in reaction to Western "Churchianity," which the Rastamen call "Babylon." 10

Communication breakdown

When we consider the Seventh-day Adventist emphases on the significance of man, health foods and country living, and life in its totality as worship; when we consider that we officially oppose war, materialism, racism, and the artificial and pseudo attractions of the age, the question arises: Why have we been so singularly disregarded by those who, in spite of a .widely divergent lifestyle, apparently agree with us on so many points? There's no simple answer to that question, but undoubtedly an answer lies partly in the public-relations image of Christ and Christianity; partly in the message we have conveyed as the good news; partly in a mentality that prevents us from associating and understanding and communicating with non-Christians. And, of course, partly in the hardness of the unconverted man's heart.

It is a sad fact that Christianity has been culturally seduced by the West. AH too often we have adopted not a few of its non-Biblical ways as normative Christian life style. Non-Christians looking on have equated Christianity with the West and have judged it undesirable. Neil Young saw the white man in his mansion, the black in his hovel, and sang, "I heard screaming and bullwhips cracking . . . Southern man, don't forget what your Good Book said." Christianity has bad PR. 11

Further, because we consciously accept Western culture as the normative Christian framework, we tend to project Christ as a short-cropped, blond, blue-eyed businessman. The sure sign of conversion is to follow that model, swapping comfortable Levis for an uncomfortable suit, or handmade sandals for black-leather shoes. 12 To many, Christianity conies stamped "Made in the West." However, the New Testament emphasis is not on one vote, one program, one ministry, or one life style, but rather one Lord, one faith, one baptism. 13 Our life styles are to be shaped by Biblical, not cultural, principles. Gospel unity allows for diversity of human existence.

Part of the reason for the conspicuous nonresponse to Christ from countercultural groups lies in the message we convey as good news, which too often has been interpreted as primarily moral achievement. The good news has often been seen as "don't" or "do," immediately alienating those who "have done" or "won't do." Paul cursed all such "other gospels." He never saw the mighty work of our Lord as step one in a process designed to make us acceptable to God. Not the gospel of the changed life but the gospel of the finished work is His and the New Testament's message. As Christians we must be quite clear that the changed life is the fruit of the gospel root. 14

The apostolic message was not primarily that God would do something in man, but that He had done something for man, and had done it decisively! The message that broke men's hearts and bent their knees was "It is finished" (John 19:30). It is humbling good news indeed to hear that the Lord of glory, the Creator, stepped into His own creation as my Representative and Substitute, keeping His own high and holy law on my behalf and dying to its curse on my behalf; to hear that Christ is my life, Christ is my peace, Christ is my wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption; to hear that I am already counted as sitting in heavenly places, already forgiven, already reconciled, already accepted, already complete in Him; to hear that all I need to be right with God is sitting at the right hand of the Father in the person of Jesus Christ. 15


To confuse the fundamental content of the gospel is to focus our attention on ourselves, here on earth, rather than on Christ in heaven (see Col. 3:1,2), and we inevitably come to gauge our acceptance with God on what He is doing in us rather than on what He has already done for us in Christ. The joy and assurance of salvation vanish, and witnessing degenerates into a program of dry doctrinal proselytizing. And this type of witness will never do for this age; it is only an objective gospel centered in what God has done for us in Jesus that will balance the extremely subjective spirituality of the counterculture. Of course, the message must be proclaimed within a context with which the countercultures can identify.

Our danger as Christians (and perhaps particularly as Seventh-day Adventist Christians) is that we shall develop our own pietistic fellowship, playing ball with others only if they play by our rules and on our ground. But we need an openness of mind that will allow contact and communication at every level of our social structure in order that we might talk with people, not to them or about them. We need forms of outreach that are both appealing and appropriate. Counterculture evangelism falls into two main categories country and city out reach. The following are but a few suggestions.

Suggestions


City evangelism for the disaffiliated cannot be the traditional. These people are contemptuous of mailbox material, which represents to them an anonymous "they" wanting them to do something or subscribe to something. Their paranoia often prevents them from appearing in a public hall, exposed to the prejudice of the public eye and tongue. Thus we need to work as Christ did by presenting the truth in the framework of their most
familiar associations. 16 To do so demands both a knowledge of their most familiar associations and the presentation of the gospel within various con
texts street preaching, food and secondhand clothing shops, drug centers, surf shops, health-food stores.

Imagine surf-shop evangelism. While someone is ordering his board or watching his board being shaped, he is getting the good news. 17 Imagine health-food store evangelism. The place becomes known as a Christian health-food shop that serves truly healthful items—balanced meals; no sugar, et cetera. It holds Five-Day Plans to help its clientele quit smoking, vegetarian-cooking classes, and full-length evangelistic campaigns that are advertised within the shop itself. Two or three times a week chairs are pushed back and the program continues, attended by familiar customers friends. Christ is taken down from the stained-glass windows and seen as a living Lord in a living context.

One appealing idea for country evangelism is the Bible health farm. Three or four compatible, gospel-oriented families in separate dwellings on a suitable property manage the farm. Bunkhouses provide sleeping facilities for perhaps two dozen people, and an appropriate study area is available. Those seeking honest answers to pertinent questions can simply attend or live in and with the aid of tapes, slides, books, and lectures can study for four hours a day. The period of study is balanced by four hours' work in the gardens or orchards or in maintenance. Here would be a qualitative context catering to the whole man body, mind, and spirit. In such a setting the beauty of Christ and His gospel and its implications would be clearly seen, appreciated, and embraced.

Those leading out must complement one another in providing a balanced framework for the students. At least one should be trained in Biblical theology. Another's talents might lie in mechanics, agriculture, or intermediate soft technology. A trained primary-school teacher would provide a Christ-centered education for the workers' children. Someone else could contribute a knowledge of basic dietetics. All would thus complement one another in establishing a living, integrated outpost.

This living unit encourages the growth of God-given individuality rather than its suppression. It respects and upholds the sanctity and privacy of the family circle, yet the circle is open enough to provide a supportive context for those in need. Of course, all leading out must know that they themselves sit in heavenly places in Christ, blood-bought and free. For it is this message that holds the whole operation together and provides the relevance
for its various aspects.

This type of outreach is admirably suited to the Seventh-day Adventist understanding of the gospel of salvation full and free in Christ, and its relevance
to the whole man. Such outposts would have a powerful influence for Christ among disillusioned, itinerant searchers.18 Toffler urges the setting up
of "enclaves of the past" 19 where life slows to a more natural rhythm. How much more enticing is the concept when seen as a way of helping a needy people to be healed and enabled to stand in our world with new hope and new faith because of the unspeakable gift of God, our Lord Jesus Christ!

Notes:

1 We agree with Stair's comment that "the concept of the counterculture or contraculture was invoked to encompass whatever ideological coherence which seemed to underlie the diverse activities of youthful innovators." He is also correct when he observes that in the sixties committed student activists and hippies were not a minority group as the media would have the public believe but were in fact "prototypical" of the majority of youth and articulating their grievances. See J. M. Starr, "The Peace and Love Generation: Changing Attitudes
Towards Sex and Violence Among College Youth," Journal of Social Issues, vol. 30, No. 2, p. 74 (1974). Compare also the works of Theodore Rosczak, The Making of a Counter Culture; Where the Wasteland
Ends (Faber).

2 A reasonable account of Leary's position can be gleaned from his book The Politics of Ecstasy (New York: Paladin, 1970).

3 F. A. Schaeffer, Escape From Reason (London and Downers Grove, 111.: IVP, 1968), p. 54.

4 O. Guinness, "The Eastern Look at the Modern West," HIS, February, 1972, p. I.

5 The Free Speech Movement in particular articulated and expressed the sentiments of many youth who saw the educational system in terms of production-line conditioning. See P. Jacobs and S. Landau, The New Radicals (England: Penguin, 1967).

6 Charles A. Reich, The Greening of America (New York: Random House, 1970), p. 204.

7 Ibid.

8 M. Farren and E. Barker, Watch Out Kids (Open Gate Books, London, 1972).

9 The counterculture failed to recognize the Biblical fall and man's basic depravity as the origin of many social evils.

10 See The Rastafarians, L. E. Barrett, Heineman, 1977, and Dread: The Rastafarians of Jamaica,
Sangster, Kingston, 1976.

11 Nor can we indignantly protest that the counterculture failed to distinguish between Christianity and Churchianity, for if that is difficult for the saints to discern (Rev. 3:14-18), how much more difficult for those of the counterculture?

12 My wife and I and a group of friends coming to Christ from the Australian drug scene have experienced this spoken and unspoken tendency to confuse cultural norms with moral principles.

13 C. Teel, Jr., "How to Be a Movement, Not a Machine," Spectrum, Spring, 1975, p. 330.

14 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1950), p. 256.

15 See Col. 3:4; Eph. 2:14; 1 Cor. 1:30; Eph. 2:4-6; Col. 2:13; 2 Cor. 5:19; Eph. 1:6; Col. 2:9, 10.

16 Ellen G. White, Evangelism (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1970), p. 55.

17 The Jehovah Witnesses, for example, have had an added influence among the surfers on Australia's East Coast because of the efforts of some of their converts, surfers, who have remained in the surf scene and operated just such a board shop at Byron Bay.

18 My wife and I have visited various Christian concerns operating along similar lines that have shown encouraging results.

19 A. Toffler, Future Shock (London: Pan Books Ltd., 1970), p. 354.

 


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Alan Boag is currently engaged in postgraduate research on the book of Revelation at St. Andrews University in Fife, Scotland.

August 1979

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