How America Turned Into a Nation of Small Gods

By Tom Gilson Published on November 18, 2017

America has moved beyond Christianity, beyond post-Christianity, to a new religion of small gods everywhere. How did we get to this point?

I’m not talking about old-fashioned self-worship. This isn’t merely, “I’m more important than you.” Individuals are assuming the very power of God to create their own realities and command others to comply. As I’ve written recently,

What else besides a claim of godhood is going on, after all, when a man declares himself a woman, and insists that his new sex (“gender”) is reality, not only for himself but for everyone else? What else explains his demand that everyone kneel in obedience to the new reality he has created? How else do we make sense of doctors and judges claiming they can decide whose life is worth living?

We could trace this all the way back to Satan’s suggestion to Eve that she should become like God. But at least four modern streams feed this movement.

1. Discarding the True God

The first is the West’s gradual discarding of the true God. Not long ago I was with a group of men doing Bible study together. One of the older men said he could remember saying the Lord’s Prayer in public school. The younger men in the group were visibly surprised that anyone could recall such a thing.

This “freedom” — almost god-like in its way — wasn’t real. But it felt like it.

For the U.S., 1963 marks a tragic turning point, when prayer was expelled from school. We all know the story since then. More and more, year after year, in both culture and policy, the Western world has continued finding creative new ways to reject God.

2. Increasing Personal Power (For Some)

The 60s were infamous for the sexual revolution, of course. But something even more significant lay behind: personal pleasure without personal responsibility. Sex was separated from childbirth by the Pill, and from venereal disease by still other pills. Despite high rates of inflation, the economy was strong enough to allow people to indulge in everything from unprecedented leisure time to unprecedented drug use.

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Obviously not everyone benefited from that. Poverty and racial injustice were very real. For those who did, though, there was a new-found freedom from natural cause and effect. This “freedom” — almost god-like in its way — wasn’t real. But it felt like it.

3. Contempt for Authority

Meanwhile the Vietnam War gave rise to a new contempt for authority. Watergate in the 1970s was no help at all — to put it mildly. Neither were later revelations of corporate economic irresponsibility, of Roman Catholic disregard for priests’ child abuse, or a president’s power-abusive sexual escapades. Could any trusted authority be found anymore?

People began turning inward for the answer, making themselves their own authority, especially in regard to ethics and religious “truth.”

The conflict today is a religious battle through and through — even for those who call themselves secularists.

They called it “relativism.” It could as easily have been called the self’s assuming powers never known before. Individuals claimed the power to determine truth for themselves, regardless of what reality, tradition, religion or God Himself might say. They decided what would be true in their own worlds — again, a very god-like move to make.

4. Postmodernism

This relativism was supported by an originally obscure academic movement called postmodernism. In his 1967 essay “The Death of the Author,” postmodernist Roland Barthes argued that there is something wrong in thinking an author “rules” over the “empire” of his creation. The reader ruled instead.

Other writers in that vein declared language a tool for getting power rather than for communicating meaning. And they cast aside all integrated explanations of reality (“meta-narratives”). Their world was fragmented into pieces. So were its citizens.

Where We stand, Where We’re Heading

I have written of the loneliness of the small gods, isolated in their separately constituted worlds. Reality, however, still says we share a real, common world. We can’t segment ourselves; we must interact. We can do it either as friends, or  as a battlefield of small gods, each one fighting for supremacy. Too many are choosing the latter.

The conflict today is a religious battle through and through — even for those who call themselves secularists. On the one side are millions of small gods maneuvering their way through their shifting alliances, petty battles and grand wars. On the other there is the conservative, theistic remainder. It includes those of us who know there is one true God, and a reality we must discover and submit ourselves to, rather than create and control.

When situations change, strategies must change with them.

When situations change, strategies must change with them. Strategy will work only to the extent that it matches with reality: both eternal reality and the current lay of the land.

Which means we have to see today’s struggle for what it is. This isn’t just a political battle, though it has a political side to it. It isn’t just cultural, either, though culture features strongly in it. It’s a spiritual battle. It’s a battle against the religion of the small gods. 

 

For more, see Tom Gilson’s Christians Today are Expatriates, Not Exiles and We Don’t Own Much of American Culture Anymore — What Now?.

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  • Tom Rodgers

    Wow, well stated and hits the bull’s eye. We are in a spiritual battle far greater than cultures and politics.

  • Morenowthanever

    Tom, you nailed it and complimented your earlier article which was as eloquently written. It is indeed fascinating that God’s cycle of life is applicable even in regards to generational sin. The sin of the claim that “we” are the “newly enlightened” harkens back to the first sin of man. I belong to a bible study group, a while back after one of our sessions we were discussing which sin offends God the most. We all had our litany of offenses but the quietest amongst us shut us all up when he, very simply uttered what perfectly sums up all sin. This too sums up our society and harkens back to the man’s first sin: human arrogance.

  • heuristic

    America’s downfall can be attributed to the modern versions of the Bible. I don’t care which Manuscript you translate from if it fails to recognize Jesus as the Son of God it is another Jesus and another gospel,
    Daniel 3:25 He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” (niv)
    (Daniel 3:25) He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God. (kjv)

    • The test of a translation is actually whether it’s accurate to the original. Christian life and doctrine doesn’t stand or fall based on whether Nebuchadnezzar, who is speaking there, had a correct Christology.

    • No, the test of a translation is actually whether it’s accurate to the original. Christian life and doctrine doesn’t stand or fall based on whether Nebuchadnezzar, who is speaking there, had a correct Christology.

    • No, the test of a translation is actually whether it’s accurate to the original. Christian life and doctrine doesn’t stand or fall based on whether Nebuchadnezzar, who is speaking there, had a correct Christology.

      Heuristic, if you want to have the last word on this I’ll do my best to let it be the last word on the topic. This topic is very distant from the topic of the article, and I’d be grateful if it didn’t turn into a major distraction here. Thanks.

      • heuristic

        So you believe the Bible is only accurate in the originals? Can you find me a copy of the originals, if not, why not? You don’t believe that Jesus can keep his word (which he has magnified above his name) when David through the Holy Spirit wrote, (Psalms 12:6-7) The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. (7) Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever. For ever is for ever.
        Daniel 3:25 If Jesus is not the Son of God, then it is another Jesus and another gospel (bible). 2 Cor 11:4
        He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” (niv or any modern translation)
        (Daniel 3:25) He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God. (kjv)
        I don’t care what translation you translate from – Jesus is the Son of God.

        • Well, of course Jesus is the Son of God. That doctrine doesn’t stand or fall based on whether Nebuchadnezzar, who is speaking there, had a correct Christology.

          Enough of this.

          • heuristic

            The subtility of Satan is clearly seen in the way he has affected the mentality of Christians in this century. He has convinced millions there is no infallible Bible on earth today by insisting only the original manuscripts were “given by inspiration.” To get them to swallow this fallacy, first he reminds them that all the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts which still exist are only copies, and then he insists they therefore must contain errors, making them inferior to the originals. This explains why many scholars speak the way they do in their books and commentaries. They say things like: “The most ancient and reliable texts tell us…” or “The oldest and best texts read….” Why can’t they say: “The infallible Bible says…” or “The pure word of God tells us…” and produce their authority? They can’t because they do not have a pure and infallible Bible. The only “Bible” these “experts” have is a collection of what they call “reliable manuscripts” (which according to them can only be uninspired copies), and their reliability is based solely upon the “whim and fancy” of each individual’s opinion. This leaves them with no final authority at all except their OPINION of what they THINK the originals USED to say! They will not hesitate, however, to “correct” the King James Version every time this authority (opinion) tells them to.

          • Bryan

            Dude, I’m glad you find meaning in the kjv. But Mr. Gilson is right: this is not the right context for a debate on which translation of the Bible is the most sacred. Find an article that discusses that and continue your debate there. This thread concerns man’s sinful desire to be like God, which is older than the scripture anyway.

          • You want the last word? You’ve got it. Let’s make it the last.

  • GLT

    Well said, Tom. You covered fifty years of cultural erosion in a few paragraphs and did so very effectively. Doing so in a such a brief manner is analogous to how little time is actually required for cultural decline to occur.

  • Kevin Carr

    When God is pushed off to the sidelines you get a mess, you can choose your sin but not your consequences, We shoved God aside, we don’t want him in schools, government, or the workplace and don’t really take him seriously in our personal lives. 2 Chronicles 15:3-6, explains how we get into the mess, just as Romans 1:18-31.

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