The Dust of Death

I’ve been reading The Dust of Death by Os Guinness. Its a social critique, written in 1971 or thereabouts that delves into the history of the counter culture in the middle twentieth century and the failures of same – that the middle twentieth century counter culture movements failed should be self-evident to anyone who has access to any news source and to a functioning brain. A lot of the book is a role call of the various splinter movements of the 1960’s, most of which nobody remembers now except, maybe, the people who were involved in them, which is a bit dull. “Hippies failed” sums it all up. Hippies didn’t appear outta nowhere, of course. The twentieth century saw unprecedented advances in technology that gave people in the West mobility, communications, access to information, conveniences and luxuries beyond the imaginings of previous generations. Also, mechanized slaughter on scales that earlier psychopaths couldn’t have dreamed of. The turmoil shook the very foundations of civilizations, causing the West to largely turn away from religion, at least in the public arena, and embrace secular humanism. Of course, if religion, as it was understood in the West had been a stronger, more vibrant, living thing, it might not have been pushed out of it’s central role in shaping society. But it was a dull, dead dinosaur, clinging tenaciously to tenets that were rapidly becoming outdated and offering as “proofs” miracles that were beginning to seem silly when considered in light of science. Guinness mostly focuses on the developments within the secular humanist Left, taking as given that traditional Western religion has nothing to offer future generations and that secular humanism, on which almost all twentieth-century counter-culture movements were based, was a straw man, already falling apart.

Guinness offers a third way: Christianity. That’s right, he suggests that actually following the teachings of Jesus Christ would be a viable alternative to what passed for religion in the West in the centuries between Constantine’s conversion and Watergate, and to secular humanism, a philosophy that maintains that the people who fucked things up are gonna fix everything they fucked up. It is a radical statement – one that others have made before. The first person who comes to mind is Jesus Christ. Of course, if people didn’t follow His advice, there ain’t much reason to think they’re gonna suddenly start actin’ right because some Anglican named “Os” thinks they oughta. And they didn’t. The Dust of Death has a few positive reviews on the online – and one that complains that it is too long – but the fact that you never heard of it or it’s author is evidence enough that it didn’t make a dent in the steady decline of western civilization. Actually following the teachings of Christ requires some little effort, a fact which Guinness failed to take into consideration. Also, people are selfish as shit and will do what seems best for therm in the short term no matter what harm it causes to anybody else in all cases. The radical Lefties that Guinness thought were gonna change the world settled down, elected Ronald Reagan and convinced themselves that greed was a virtue. The people who broke away from the SDS to become Weathermen are now living quite comfortably and being invited to fund-rising banquets for major political parties. Os Guinness currently lives in McLean, VA, a suburb of Washington DC, where the median income is $193,426, so he ain’t doing too bad for a follower of a homeless Savior who got killed for opposing the establishment.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that actually following the teachings of Jesus Christ is a radical, subversive thing to do. I say “subversive” not because it will actually impact the day-to-day business of the West, because it won’t, but because it will liberate the person who does it from enslavement to the day-to-day business of the West. Of course, if enough people did it then it would change the day-to-day business of the West: capitalism, which is based on the love of money, would collapse and we wouldn’t be bothered by that. And that ain’t likely. If there was any chance whatsoever that that was ever gonna happen, Jesus prob’ly woulda mentioned it, but He didn’t. What He made pretty clear was that anybody who actually followed Him was cruisin’ for a bruisin’ followed by crucifixion. Seriously. That’s what He said.

Christianity – that is, actually following the teachings of Jesus Christ – will not become a mass movement that brings about peace on Earth, good will to people. If you are hoping for a better world through Christianity, you are wrong. It will not happen. Jesus was not a Leftist radical starting a social reform movement. He did not promise fair housing, equal treatment of people regardless of race, gender or whatever, and He certainly didn’t promise to forgive everybody’s college loan debts.

The world we live in is corrupt and will remain so. Not the natural world, what’s left of it. Out in the National Forest is where you can go to see God’s fingerprints still on Creation. The world of people, everymotherfuckinone of whom is shot through with sin -that’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout. That part is under the Devil’s jurisdiction and we should have no illusions about it. As Christians, we live and will live our lives in a world that is opposed to us and our Savior and which is trying to corrupt us every moment. We can have no hope that any human being or group of human beings will change that. Our only hope is God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We will see a better world – but it won’t be here.

Still, actually following the teachings of Jesus Christ doesn’t strike me as a bad idea. The old formula of the West – the rich oppressing the poor and going to church on Sunday – is how the West got to the brink of collapse. The modern alternative, secular humanism, is plainly stupid and is failing hard, though people continue to blindly accept it as the best that can be done – or abdicate any responsibility and zone out with whatever pacifier is available. I’ve spent enough time in both of those arenas to know they ain’t got nothing to offer me – unless I was to start ingesting massive amounts of mind-numbing intoxicants again, which I ain’t planning on doing soon.

So, I agree with Guinness in a way, but I also don’t. I aim to follow the actual teachings of Jesus and to acknowledge that I am not able to do so. I mean, for shit’s sake, I can’t even write a piece here without judging the fuck outta an entire generation – baby boomers, I mean. Fuck them. Acknowledging our own sins is important, I think. Being totally up front about how far we fall short of our stated intentions. We have to own up to the truth. Having done that and having appealed to God for His forgiveness and mercy, we can at least try to do better. That’s about the best we can do, as I see it. And that’s something. Setting aside whatever reward we hope to receive for being good little girls and boys, the teachings of Christ provide us with a plan for living that will allow us to be able to live with ourselves and to have the best possible relationships with those around us. I dunno ’bout you, but I’d be okay with just that. Of course, more is being offered – help with the actual work of living – which I have received and have come to expect to continue to receive.

And I’m pretty okay with the knowledge that I’ma continue to live in a corrupt and repulsive society. Being on the cold outside is something I’ve gotten pretty used to. Being a neuro-divergent alcoholic who grew up poor and who has been exposed to countless hours of entertainment romanticizing rebels, I’m fine with being a partisan for a cause with no hope of material success. I can handle it – and I kinda don’t want anything else. It’s not as glamorous as being an early Christian martyr – being stoned or crucified upside-down for the faith might not be fun, but it’s over fairly quick. Living in the postmodern world is not totally without it’s pleasantries, but it fuckin’ wears on ya. Without a cause to believe in, I wouldn’t be able to stand it.

The actual teachings of Jesus – the words He said according to the Gospels – are a plain and simple blueprint for living. There’s a lotta stuff in the Old Testament and a buncha letters after the Gospels which are part of the Bible and therefore have to be seriously considered by any Christian, but we’re followers of Christ, not Paul or whoever, so any time there is any discrepancy between what Jesus said and what anybody else said, we are obliged to go with what Jesus said. This is pretty much central to my theology. It’s reasonable to assume I’ll be hammering on this theme repeatedly and redundantly in this space.

I got The Dust of Death for a buck, used. It’s alright. Read it if ya wanna. He did a follow-up a few years later, which I’m not much interested in. I will read some of his other stuff, if it turns up for a buck, used. I did really like The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life,  for what that’s worth.


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