Rejecting rationality, reinventing religion, reconfiguring the self

Pentecostal snake handlers
Pentecostal snake handlers (Mark 16:17-18)

Rejecting rationality was the central conceptual move of both countercultures. Rationality was a foundation of the systematic mode. When the systematic mode conclusively failed, rationality got the blame.

Both countercultures explicitly abandoned rationality and adopted anti-rational religions: “Eastern” and “New Age” on the monist side; fundamentalist and charismatic on the dualist one. All these new religious movements discarded traditional social norms in favor of inner transformations supposedly wrought by “spiritual” practices.


In the systematic mode, you create a rational, systematic self. A systematic self has a clear boundary, so it is not flooded by the emotions and expectations of others. You act as the administrator of an internal world of principles, projects, and formal roles. A systematic self is far more sophisticated than a choiceless one, and is a prerequisite to participating effectively in a systematic society.

Unfortunately, this sort of self is unnatural. Living as one sometimes exposes contradictions between systematicity and human nature. It can give the feeling of being a tiny cog in a vast, uncaring, meaningless machine—the “Iron Cage” of rationalized bureaucracy. When a society imposes systematicity rigidly, it becomes psychologically intolerable for many people.

The countercultures demanded to renegotiate the relationship between self and society. Both began by rejecting rationality, and the systematic principles, projects, and formal roles that rationality justified.

I defined countercultures as “new, alternative, universalist, eternalist, anti-rational systems.” The only distinctive part of this was the anti-rationalism.1 “New, alternative, universalist, eternalist, rational systems” had been tried repeatedly during the systematic era. These included, for instance, capitalism, communism, socialism, nationalism, fascism, democracy, Freudianism, and existentialism.2

The systematic mode used rationality to maintain eternalism: belief in fixed meanings. Having abandoned rationality, both countercultures turned to religion as a foundation for eternalism. Mainstream Christianity had been rationalized in the 1800s, so the countercultures constructed alternatives: the New Age in the monist one, and a reworked Evangelical Christianity in the dualist one.

The countercultural religions developed ecstatic, quasi-magical, anti-rational technologies of self-transformation. These aimed to remake the self to strengthen it against the depredations of systematic society and—particularly in the dualist counterculture—to adapt it to better conform to systematic demands. They also promised emotional, social, and pragmatic this-world benefits, whereas traditional religion emphasized self-denial, devotion to God, and other-world salvation.

The two countercultures tried to solve many of the same problems, drawing from the same limited set of pre-existing cultural tools. Superficially opposed, they attempted many similar solutions. I find these similarities remarkable, but the point of this page is not to draw the interesting historical parallels. Rather: we mostly still have these same problems—although subsequent modes of meaningness have contributed some additional tools toward solving them. Understanding the countercultures’ attempts, and how they failed, may help us now.

Overall, anti-rationalism was a disaster, I think. The self/society relationship did need extensive renegotiation—and still does. However, we can no longer live without rational social systems, and we are diminished as human beings if we lose the ability to create rational selves. The countercultures picked the wrong target, and the alternative, anti-rational systems they built were profoundly dysfunctional. When their failure became obvious, the modern world ended. We live in the wreckage, called “postmodernity.”

All is not lost. Rationality still works—just not as an ultimate foundation. Rationality does not actually contradict meaningfulness, only eternalism. The fluid mode needs to reclaim rationality, while recognizing its nebulosity and limits.

The remaining sections of this page explain:

  • Why the countercultures rejected rationality: to rescue meaning
  • How they constructed new religions as alternate foundations: reviving Romanticism
  • The form of those new religions: subjective individualism
  • The religions’ promises to reform the self: to deliver unity, authenticity, and ecstasy
  • Their promises of material benefits: health and wealth
  • An assessment of their legacy: a disaster, but one we are recovering from

Rationalism and its discontents

Science: ruining everything since 1543

Rationality ruins everything. As you know. As everyone has known for hundreds of years.

Back in the choiceless mode, all things were charged with inherent meaning, mountains were inhabited by benevolent and terrifying gods, and you always knew what you were supposed to do. Then rationality came along and pointed out that meanings can’t be objective, there are no spooks, and you can’t derive ought from is. And the world was disenchanted, emptied of meaning, and turned into mere matter.

Charge of the Light Brigade

But wait! The heroic Romantics, on their magnificent steeds of poetry, mounted the counter-charge, plumes flying from their noble helms, against the machine guns of materialism. Meaning, they cried, was subjective, revealed by emotion, intuition, and aesthetic appreciation. We can re-enchant the world in the mystic artistic unity of our True Selves with Absolute Reality.

Alas, in mundane modernity, superior firepower defeats valor. The existentialists, seemingly the last ragged company of Romantics, fell, ignobly, in the late 1950s. Rationality demonstrated that meaning cannot be subjective either; Romanticism inevitably collapses into mere nihilism.

Meanwhile, rationality had turned its guns inward. During the first half of the century, rational certainty destroyed itself—in philosophy, mathematics, and science. Not only had it obliterated all other sources of meaning, rationality finally demonstrated its own meaninglessness.

Then what? asked the founders of the countercultures, in the 1960s. Rationality had been exhausted. All possible rational bases for systems had been tried, and had failed. Also, scientific rationality was apparently to blame for all the Twentieth Century horrors: the World Wars, loss of Christian faith, rampant materialism, ecological devastation, abortion, and nuclear weapons. Anyway, meaning obviously does exist, so if rationality says it’s neither objective nor subjective, it must just be wrong.

Reinventing religion: anti-rationalism as the cure

Well, this is easy! Reject rationality, and recover meaning from its most salient source: religion. (In fact, rational analysis shows that eternalism is wrong. If eternalism is misunderstood as the only defense of meaning, any serious attempt to rescue it must reject rationality.)

Unfortunately, Mainline Protestantism—America’s dominant religion—could not do the job. It had been modernized, remade for compatibility with the dictates of rationality, and thereby drained of most of its meaning. The 1920s fundamentalist vs. modernist war was about this; the fundamentalists lost then. But they were right, in some sense. The modernists were on a slippery slope to secularism, and Mainline Protestantism became a hollow shell of hypocrisy, pretense, and going through the motions.

In the 1950s, religious commitment, despite its high levels, was superficial and largely a matter of vogue rather than conviction. Most self-proclaimed believers had little knowledge of the teachings of the Bible. To be a member of a mainline church was more a matter of adhering to convention born of the desire for social belonging. Churches were functioning mainly as social and civic clubs.3

So both countercultures constructed new, anti-rational religious movements to provide the meaningfulness Christianity had lost. The monist counterculture rejected Christianity in favor of “Eastern religion” and New Age nonsense. (Both these were mostly vintage-1800 German Romantic Idealism in disguise.) The dualist counterculture replaced rationalized mainline Christianity with anti-rational fundamentalist, charismatic, and dispensationalist alternatives.4

All these new religions promoted wacky mythologies: reincarnated space-faring priests from Atlantis bearing monist mystical wisdom; or the dispensationalist Tribulation and Rapture that separate the sheep from the goats. Such myths are defiant statements of anti-rationalism, putting you unambiguously outside the pale of the mainstream systematic worldview. Once you have publicly asserted your belief in holistic chakra rebalancing therapy, or young earth creationism, you are fully committed to simply ignoring everything rationality says. These “beliefs” are shibboleths that demonstrate your allegiance to the countercultural tribe, and rejection of the previous, systematic mode.

In this page’s analysis, what matters in the new religions is not their “beliefs,” but their practices.5 In particular, this page looks at the goals of those practices, which was to re-form the self, and to cure the body by curing the spirit. The efficacy of these quasi-magical technologies of personal transformation and faith healing was dubious. Having already committed to believing nonsense made it easier to go along with new absurdities.

Although the myths were untrue, they were at least partly functional in keeping new versions of systematic eternalism going. Despite anti-rationalism, the overall structure of justification was left largely intact in the countercultural mode. The countercultures were still more-or-less coherent systems, and still mostly made sense. As systematic reform movements, they retained legacy “becauses,” left over from systematic mode at its peak, and added new ones. However, there were now also unapologetic gaps that no one felt a need to fill, other than with emotional fantasies.

(Three decades later, in the atomized mode, structure finally disintegrated, coherence was lost, and nothing made sense other than in an emotional, associative way.)

The subjective turn and the end of “organized religion”

External, systematic duties are central to traditional religion. For 1920s fundamentalists, religious practice meant sitting on a hard bench, listening to sermons on ascetic morality, sin, and damnation. By the 1970s, nobody wanted that anymore.

The countercultures’ new religious movements were all about me. They took a “subjective turn,” toward internal personal mental states, particularly non-rational ones such as emotions and “experiences.”6 This was explicit in the monist counterculture; probably that is so widely known that I need not detail it here. On the dualist side, some Christian leaders resisted the subjective turn, but many adopted it covertly, and overall the Christian Right mostly succumbed in time. This is less well-known, so I’ll sketch some main aspects.7

The subjective turn accelerated centuries-old trends: Protestant interiority, Enlightenment individualism, and Romantic emotionalism. Especially the last: the countercultures developed a renewed Romanticism, which simply ignored rationality instead of fighting it. (I will trace the historical roots of both countercultures in Romanticism later.)

The religions of both countercultures downplayed objective, external moral criteria. They replaced rules and judgements with a view of ethics as flowing from the individual conscience, “being authentic to your true Self,” subjective feelings of compassion, and “doing what feels right in your heart.” And so: “Phrased in the language of psychology, sinfulness was discussed in terms of therapeutic maladjustment, rather than as the transgression of divine commands.”8

Countercultural Christianity retained some of the rhetoric of moral absolutism from its 1920s Fundamentalist roots. This seems to have been a major aspect of its appeal. There was much talk about Biblical inerrancy, and the Bible as the source of morals; but, for the most part, the counterculture was morally undemanding in practice.9 It placed an extraordinary, almost exclusive emphasis on sexual morality; and particularly condemned sexual transgressions of sorts that its adherents were unlikely to be tempted to.10 This enabled enjoyably self-righteous judgement of Those Horrible People In The Other Tribe (monist counterculturalists).

More generally, the specifics of traditional religion were unappealing, and so they were simply dropped. (This, at the same time the Christian Right was marketing itself as the guardian of tradition.) Subjective individualism was incompatible with Christian doctrine. Most supposed Christians were mainly ignorant of the basic tenets of their religion, and would reject them if they knew about them.11 So doctrine and liturgy were downplayed, with only a few key points retained.12

Subjective individualism was also incompatible with hierarchical authority and institutional traditions, so those disintegrated.13 This was consonant with the American individualism and Protestant anti-clericalism that had allowed for sectarian innovation for centuries. However, the countercultural era took it to new extremes: a “choose-your-own-Jesus mentality” or “cafeteria Christianity.”14

The innumerable Protestant sects had mainly defined their differences in terms of arcane details of abstract theology. Once everyone stopped preaching that stuff, the boundaries collapsed.15 Everyone hates “organized religion”, so countercultural Christianity developed a new social mode, featuring non-denominational churches; decentralized, unstructured communities; and ecumenical parachurch organizations whose lines of authority mimicked secular NGOs rather than traditional religious hierarchy. These achieved unprecedented economy of scale by appealing to Evangelical Christians regardless of sectarian affiliation. Generally, too, they gave people what they wanted, rather than demanding of people what traditional religion required.

Re-enchanting the self

Both countercultures saw the misery of modern life as due partly to inadequate selves. Both used religion as a therapeutic tool for re-forming the self to better cope. Both promoted personal transformation through magical, anti-rational, and supernatural methods. Both promised ecstatic personal fulfillment through direct experience of the divine. Both promised substantial material benefits, to be delivered after the self was properly restructured.

Both promised a better self, featuring self-actualization, self-affirmation, self-awareness, self-compassion, self-confidence, self-definition, self-discovery, self-esteem, self-expression, self-fulfillment, self-help, self-purification, self-realization, self-revelation, and self-transcendence.

Evangelicalism aligned Christian faith with the Holy Grail of the affluent society: self-realization. Unlike the classic bourgeois Protestantism of the 19th century, whose moral teachings emphasized avoidance of worldly temptation, the revitalized version promised empowerment, joy, and personal fulfillment. A godly life was once understood as grim defiance of sinful urges; now it was the key to untold blessings.16

In the face of the difficulty of conforming to an objective moral code, the countercultures sought to instill subjective compassion (for one’s own tribe, at least): an ethics of emotionalism. A moral person was now a happy, self-aware, psychologically well-adjusted one.

The Puritan virtues, required to conform to harsh external norms, were quietly dropped: self-abnegation, self-denial, self-discipline, self-doubt, self-reliance, self-sufficiency, and self-surrender.

Promises of unity, authenticity, and ecstasy

The modern contrast between the systematic/public and communal/private worlds produced fractured selves, because you had to be different people in different contexts. Both countercultures sought to dissolve the public/private boundary, and to heal the divided self. In fact, they promised that the self could be unified altogether, replacing the broken ego with the True Self. That might unify even further: with the divine.17

This required supernatural technologies—which the countercultures promised to supply.

Where the systematic mainstream culture required hypocrisy, the countercultures promised authenticity. Where the systematic economy imposed brutal regimentation, the countercultures promised to restore spontaneity and freedom. Finding the authentic, spontaneous True Self was a major project,18 for which both countercultures offered magical tools.

In the face of the disenchantment of the world, and loss of religious certainty, the countercultures promoted ecstatic personal experience of the sacred.

Epistemologically, evangelical revivalism, with its reliance on the immediacy of the divine, faith in intuitive knowledge, pursuit of self-purification and holy living, and desire for a profound personal conversion experience, resembled closely the spiritual aspirations of the sixties movements. Rooted in transcendentalist and romantic conceptions of knowledge, countercultural thinking regarded truth as the result of intense, unmediated, and pre-rational experiences that dissolved the rationally constructed dualism of subject and object and revealed the unity behind fragmented existence.19

Both countercultures developed technologies for provoking altered states of consciousness, or intense emotional engagement, in which adherents found—or thought they found—access to the numinous.

Psychedelic drugs, understood as providing transcendent non-rational insight as well as orgiastic ecstasy, were hugely important in the development of the monist counterculture. The Human Potential Movement turned the quasi-medical private practice of psychotherapy into quasi-religious public performances that resembled Christian revival meetings—and, increasingly, vice versa. The New Age offered consciousness transformation through endlessly diverse methods such as meditation, past-life regression, channelling, yoga, biofeedback, and self-hypnosis.

Before the Twentieth Century, Christianity was mostly about conduct and belief, not experience. This was very much true of American Fundamentalism, which is where the core leadership of the dualist counterculture came from. The idea of “religious experience” is Romantic, dating from the late 1700s, but it remained marginal in Christianity up to the 1980s. At that point, the fundamentalists reluctantly folded aspects of “charismatic” Pentecostalism into the new countercultural religion.

Charismatic Christianity features intensely emotional worship, emphasizing individual experience, spontaneous singing and dancing, and being “slain in the Spirit” (falling to the floor in religious ecstasy). It empowers supposedly-supernatural practices including “speaking in tongues,” divine healing, prophesy, exorcism and “spiritual warfare,” and (in some churches) miracles such as snake-handling and drinking poison without ill effects.20

Both countercultures fetishized concepts of a definitive, personal religious event. Supposedly this was an initial, overwhelming, dramatic, emotional religious experience, which lasts only a few minutes to a few days, but which sets in motion an unstoppable process of internal transformation. That is gradual and less intense, but spreads and deepens, and eventually results in a complete reconfiguration of the self that brings it into conformity with the Ultimate Truth or Cosmic Plan.

In the monist counterculture, this was often called “Enlightenment,” and supposedly came from some sort of “Eastern religion” like “Zen.”21 In the dualist counterculture, it was the “conversion experience,” “being born again,” or “baptism with the Holy Spirit.”22 In the mid-’80s, nearly half of Americans claimed to have been Born Again—probably even more than had been Enlightened.

Promises of this-worldly benefits

God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problem that arises, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves.23

Traditional religion mainly devalued the actual, material and social world, in favor of another, transcendent one, that might be reached in the afterlife or through mystical means. The religions of both countercultures paid lip service to transcendence, but marketed their pragmatic value in this world. Both countercultures promised that you could improve your material and social circumstances by reworking your self. De facto, they celebrated hedonism—within bounds—and (especially on the right) enthusiastic consumption of the fruits of the capitalist market economy.24

New Age quackery and Christian faith healing, both operating more on the soul than the body, could cure diseases without limit. Religions on both sides promised economic success through magical means.

Evangelicals increasingly identified with the materialistic and individualistic trajectories of American society. They abandoned the humility and self-doubt of their Puritan forebears for a therapeutic Christianity that primarily asked “what can God do for you?”

Christian practice became less associated with self-denial, awareness of sin, and tough moral codes than with health, business success, and self-esteem. Conversion came to mean psychological healing. Sermons explained how faith empowered people and helped them become more affluent and better integrated. Churches presented themselves as providers of spiritual and community resources for personal and family needs.

Lifestyle churches showcased religion as useful for personal and social ends, rather than as an expression of devotion to God. By emphasizing self-help, rather than sin and damnation, faith became a means of social adjustment in this life, rather than a preparation for life after death. The countercultural construction of the converted self matched the normative requirements of consumerist market society.25

Assessment: shooting the wrong horse

Rationality was never the problem with the systematic mode. The fault actually laid in eternalism. The countercultures attacked the wrong one. Founded on this misunderstanding, it is not surprising that the countercultural religions were mostly stupid and harmful. That said, they were honest efforts to solve serious problems, and their legacies are not all bad.

The countercultural project of resolving the disconnect between self and society mostly failed, at both ends. That is because it left intact the structure of their relationship, tinkering only with reforms in each separately. In fact, by exaggerating both individualism and collectivism, it made the conflict starker than before.

At the self end, religious leaders promised revolutions in consciousness that would bring about profound personal and social transformation. If many monist counterculturalists had succeeded in seeing through subject/object duality, and always acted from non-rational awareness of the connectedness of all things, then the Age of Aquarius might indeed be upon us. If many dualist counterculturalists had succeeded in accepting the infilling of the Holy Spirit, and always acted from non-rational awareness of the will of God, then the Rapture might indeed be imminent.

But this turned out to be mostly wishful thinking. Available consciousness-transformation methods were less powerful than hoped. Mostly, all the religions accomplished was a change in the contents of consciousness—“beliefs”—not in its structure or mode of being. Counterculturalists adopted some new mythology, and many enjoyed transient non-ordinary experiences brought on by drugs, conversion, or ritual. Few selves transformed significantly and durably.

Intelligent advocates of the countercultural religions—both monist and dualist—might say that they should not be judged by their least rigorous presentations, by populist distortions, or by the effects of their superficial appropriations by the clueless and uncommitted. I agree, if the criterion is the usefulness of the religion to a sincere and intelligent seeker. Thinkers from both countercultures offer valuable insights: Carlos Castaneda and Francis Schaeffer, Starhawk and Rick Warren.

However, here I am concerned with cultural history: the countercultures’ effect on the population at large. Some of that was beneficial:

  • In both countercultures, anti-rationalism legitimized temporary escapes from grim systemic regimentation, into ecstatic communal altered states.
  • Religious methods did help many counterculturalists develop greater psychological sophistication (even as many others regressed into pre-rational idiocy).
  • The “morality wars,” although profoundly harmful to American public discourse, made more people aware of meta-ethical questions, and helped some develop a more sophisticated ethical stance.
  • Some non-rational religious methods, pursued with sufficient tenacity, may indeed bring about significant, long-lasting change.

Overall, though, the countercultures’ anti-rationality and subjectivism undermined effective systematic understandings, methods, and institutions. (I assume readers of Meaningness understand why this was harmful, so I need not elaborate.)

Originally, both countercultures’ new religious movements attracted many intelligent, accomplished people, because they seemed to offer plausible solutions to the nihilism of the systematic mainstream. Gradually, smart people figured out that they were nonsense and left. As the countercultures faded, most other adherents shook off the silliest parts. By the mid-’90s, both the New Age and Fundamentalism were widely seen as “religions for losers.” This has somewhat limited the damage done.

Rationality after counterculturalism

In the next mode of meaningness, subcultures, having abandoned the failed quest for ultimacy and universality, did not need to take any particular position on rationality. Most neither reaffirmed rationality nor harmed it further. We’ll see, though, that subculturalism developed a new structural approach to the self/society mismatch. If fully implemented, it might make the value of rationality more obvious, and the emotional reasons for opposing rationality less compelling.

Tent in snow with disco ball
Now is the winter of rationality’s disco tent

Unfortunately, subculturalism failed, and our present atomized mode abandons coherence altogether. Without any means for structuring relationships among ideas, rationality is impossible. This could eventually be disastrous. However, unlike the countercultural mode, the atomized one is not against rationality; just incapable of it.

I hope and believe there is an opportunity for the fluid mode to reclaim a relativized, non-foundational rationality. The fluid mode explains that rationality is correct that meaning can be neither objective nor subjective, but points out a third alternative that preserves meaning and thereby avoids nihilism. Its meta-rational perspective appropriates rationality as a collection of often-useful, but not ultimate, tools for co-creating meanings.

  • 1. This wasn’t actually new. Both countercultures drew heavily on Romanticism, a major cultural movement of the 1800s, as a source of anti-rational ideas, inspirations, practices, and programs. I discuss this at length in “Countercultures: modern mythologies.”
  • 2. Freudianism is arguably non-rational, and existentialism is arguably non-rational plus non-eternalistic, although both could often fit my definition in practice. Both countercultures did borrow heavily from both Freudianism and existentialism—the monist one overtly, the dualist one covertly.
  • 3. Countercultural Conservatives: American Evangelicalism from the Postwar Revival to the New Christian Right, p. 36, lightly paraphrased.
  • 4. Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics is a useful history of American Christian anti-rationalism in the past few decades. He writes from a center-right perspective, and takes the Christianity of the 1950s, rather than the 1970-80s, as his inspirational model.
  • 5. I’ll return to the “beliefs” in “Countercultures: modern mythologies”—not to debunk them, but to investigate meta-myths about the origins of the myths themselves.
  • 6. The term “subjective turn” comes from Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age. There’s an excellent brief discussion in The Spiritual Revolution: Why Religion is Giving Way to Spirituality pp. 2-5; you can read it via Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature.
  • 7. See Countercultural Conservatives, p. 28: “The personalization of the religious message in evangelicalism constituted a shift from a concern with the proclamation of an objective and universal truth to a concern with the subjective applicability of truth, and thus embodied an alignment to the normative codes of modern pluralism… The emphasis on the individual in popular evangelicalism had its origin in the existentialist focus on subjectivity and the heroic rebel.”
  • 8. Countercultural Conservatives, p. 102. See also Smith and Denton’s Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers: “A significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually only tenuously Christian in any sense that is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition, but has rather substantially morphed into Christianity’s misbegotten stepcousin, Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”
  • 9. It is remarkable how willing the movement was to find ethical excuses for its leaders when they were caught snorting cocaine with underage male prostitutes. Such Christian forgiveness was also generally extended to the flock—so long as they publicly swore renewed allegiance to “traditional moral values” afterward. Bad Religion, p. 239, “Evangelical teenagers are more likely to have sex at an early age; Evangelical mothers are more likely to bear children outside marriage; Evangelical marriages are more likely to end in divorce. Catholics have more abortions than the national average.” And, p. 228: “The sense of harmony, unity, and communion that so many mystics experience can provoke a somewhat blasé attitude toward sin and wickedness, and a dismissive attitude toward ordinary moral duties.” See also Cultural Conservatives, p. 146: “While the Christian Right’s insistence on biblical absolutes reinforced its image as the defender of the true faith, it … produced less an assertion of traditional Biblicism than its reduction to generic moral exhortations.”
  • 10. See Weeden, Cohen, and Kendrick’s “Religious attendance as reproductive support” for much useful insight here. The central emphasis on specifically sexual sin was new as of the 1970s, not traditional. It’s notable also that the Biblical basis for opposition to abortion—the #1 moral teaching of the dualist counterculture—is somewhere between extremely scant and non-existent. “Pro-life” and “pro-choice” Christians both claim that a handful of Bible passages support their positions; but all of them, on both sides, seem obscure, oblique, desultory, and dubious. We need to look elsewhere for an explanation for anti-abortion sentiment.
  • 11. E.g.: “The great majority of active Baby Boom Presbyterians subscribe to neither the traditional Presbyterian standards contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Shorter Catechism, nor to any of the more contemporary theological formulations espoused by their church.” Bad Religion, p. 77. “Eight in ten Americans say they are Christians, only four in ten know that Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, and only half could name the four gospels.” Countercultural Conservatives, p. 33, calling this a “cycle of biblical illiteracy.”
  • 12. See Countercultural Conservatives pp. 28-33 and 124-5 for further discussion of the themes of this paragraph.
  • 13. “The era witnessed an extraordinary weakening of organized Christianity in the United States and a fundamental shift in America’s spiritual ecology—away from institutional religion and toward a more do-it-yourself and consumer-oriented spirituality—that endures to the present day.” Bad Religion, p. 62.
  • 14. Bad Religion, pp. 178, 181.
  • 15. This was taken to Perennialist extremes by the monist counterculture, which considered all religions interchangeable. It blithely mixed bits of Aztec myths, Daoism, and Sufism—as representative “wisdom traditions”—in a single sentence.
  • 16. Brink Lindsey, “The Aquarians and the Evangelicals,” Reason, Jun. 27, 2007.
  • 17. Kramer and Alstad’s The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power, p. 167ff, analyzes fundamentalism as a response to the divided self. It’s motivated by fear of internal anarchy; that without external restraint, you couldn’t maintain control over evil parts of yourself, which would run amok. Fundamentalism makes this pattern worse, by reinforcing ideas of internal evil and undercutting self-trust. However, surrender to it actually does (temporarily) end internal conflicts by tipping the internal power balance in favor of one part of the self against all others. This frees up a lot of energy, and in a social context creates powerful bonds with people who have made the same move.
  • 18. Not least because it doesn’t exist. The subcultural mode made a major advance in abandoning the quest for the unified True Self, and beginning to develop realistic methods for living successfully with a fragmented self.
  • 19. Countercultural Conservatives, p. 94. See further discussion there, p. 95 et passim.
  • 20. This has long sounded like big fun to me. I’ve avoided ever going to a Pentecostal service, for fear I’d abandon Buddhism.
  • 21. The “Zen enlightenment experience” was mostly invented by D. T. Suzuki, who got it from William James, who got it from the Eighteenth Century Christian mystic (and proto-Romantic) Emmanuel Swedenborg. See Robert Sharf’s “The Rhetoric of Experience and the Study of Religion” for discussion of this history, and for a useful deconstruction of “religious experience” in general.
  • 22. The phrase “born again” appears just thrice, obscurely each time, in the Bible. It was very rarely used before the publication of Watergate conspirator Chuck Colson’s remarkable 1976 book Born Again, and then-Presidential candidate Jimmy Carter’s public statement that he was “born again” a few months later. For an interesting discussion of the former, and the “conversion” phenomenon more generally, see Charles Griffin’s The Rhetoric of Form in Conversion Narratives. I suspect that the dualist countercultural understanding of the conversion experience leaned heavily on Romantic sources, but I haven’t traced this in detail.
  • 23. Smith and Denton, Soul Searching.
  • 24. As a Tantric Buddhist, I think this was a very wise move.
  • 25. This block quote is a mash-up of bits of text from several places in Countercultural Conservatives, edited for concision and clarity.


This page is in the section Countercultures: modernity’s last gasp,
      which is in The history of meaningness,
      which is in Meaningness and Time: past, present, future.

The next page in this section is The personal is political.

The previous page is Renegotiating self and society.

This page’s topics are Countercultures, Rationalism, Religiosity, and Self.

General explanation: Meaningness is a hypertext book (in progress), plus a “metablog” that comments on it. The book begins with an appetizer. Alternatively, you might like to look at its table of contents, or some other starting points. Classification of pages by topics supplements the book and metablog structures. Terms with dotted underlining (example: meaningness) show a definition if you click on them. Pages marked with ⚒ are still under construction. Copyright ©2010–2017 David Chapman.