National Commentary

Reclaiming the ‘Ecumenical’ Part 1

nfbenton-mugHere’s a word that very few millenials, those curious young folk between ages 18 and 30, have probably ever heard of: “ecumenical.”

Here’s three ways in which that word can be used, according to the Yahoo online dictionary: 1. Of worldwide scope or applicability; universal. 2. Of or relating to the worldwide Christian church. 3. Concerned with establishing or promoting unity among churches or religions.

I grew up with that word. It was popular during the 1950s, part of the short-lived effort coming out of World War II to remake humanity in a more peace-loving way. As with the United Nations and its visionary Universal Declaration of Human Rights, crafted under the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt, the post-World War II era produced “ecumenical” organizations like the World Council of Churches which, however, soon ran out of steam as sinister and evil forces tightened their grip of American culture.

The “ecumenical movement” was still making headway in the 1950s, leading to the merger of two mainstream Protestant denominations in the U.S., the Congregational and the Evangelical and Reformed. They merged to form what is now called the United Church of Christ in 1958.

But over the next decade, this effort fizzled out as our culture’s generous and modernist impulses were replaced by a cynical and self-centered post-modernism that encouraged everyone to look skeptically on everyone else. Post-modernism, as expressed by elitist philosophers like Michel Foucault, was a thinly-veiled, warmed over pro-Nazi worldview and was heavily subsidized on U.S. and European college campuses.

Students fell for it because it sounded radical and very anti-conformist.

After the world had been subjected to two world wars – considered by insightful observers as one war, in fact, with a “long weekend” in between its two parts – and the slaughter of countless millions of innocents, it understandable why many young students were in the mood for something radical that could be thrown against the values of their own parents and authority figures.

Among other things, post-modernism threw out the whole idea of “love” as a phony concept, an excuse for slavery and exploitation. There were, to them, only two valid factors driving human behavior: power and pleasure. All else was false.

Through the writings of the “Beats,” including Kerouac and Ginsburg, these sentiments began infiltrating popular culture, including in a form of the “God is dead” movement, derived from pro-fascist post-modernist grandfather Frederich Nietzsche, and of Harvey Cox, in the 1960s.

Skepticism, distrust and assuming nothing but the worst of society’s formerly valued heroes, including the Founding Fathers, led to revisionist interpretations of history that dragged society’s previously admired leaders through the mud.

The rise and mainstreaming of the so-called “counterculture” in the late 1960s led to a massive cultural paradigm shift in the U.S. and Europe to this end.

All that was attempted to redeem humanity in the first years after the conclusion of World War II was destroyed. The post-war period was one of the extraordinary periods in history when the Marshall Plan was undertaken to rebuild Europe and the reconstruction of Japan were symbolic of a new and better global society.

While the ecumenical movement was based on engaging in constructive dialogue to establish what things different religious traditions held in common, post-modernism introduced the primacy of differences – not similarities. It soon became what we now have, the elevation of differences over the elevation of things in common.

So this has led to the rapid descent of our global culture toward perpetual war amongst peoples hopelessly divided by differences, just the kind of playpen in which persons of evil intent can operate with abandon.

The solution to this escalating crisis must take two forms: it must recognize the foul ideology that has set each against all and it must overthrow that with a revival of the spirit of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Restarting robust dialogues that reach for what is common among religious differences is also indispensable. In the case of Christianity, it begins with recognizing that there is no valid faith without the message contained in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

(To be continued)