“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Mark 8:36 KJV
I am a child of the sixties. I was born in the early fifties, grew up in the sixties, and came of age in the seventies. The fifties were a time of innocence for us baby boomers. World War II was receding into the past and the Korean Conflict settled into an uneasy truce. America was ascendant, and all was good.
Well, maybe not, but it certainly seemed that way. Televisions were becoming ubiquitous, and my neighbor even had color! We had the Friday Night Fights, on Friday night of course, and Howdy Doody on Saturday morning. The Honeymooners never failed to draw a laugh and a tear, and of course there was Ed Sullivan, Topo Gigo, and Elvis.
Sure, there were many things wrong. There was the Soviet Union and the air raid drills in case of nuclear attack. There was Jim Crow and the backlash against the nascent civil rights movement. President Eisenhower warned us of something called the military-industrial complex. But we were too young to really know or care about these things. Things that in the end would define so much of our lives.
We started the Sixties with a young, vibrant, and idealistic president who asked us to give of ourselves: to our own, through Ameri-Corp, and to others through the Peace Corp. He said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” He told us we were going to the moon, he promised us Camelot, and he delivered. His idealism was infectious, and we were certainly infected by it. Then, reality came crashing down on us all one day in November, 1963.
John Kennedy’s assassination could have destroyed our idealism. We were in shock. We wondered why, we cried, and we mourned; and though we may have lost our innocence, the one thing we did not lose was the idealism he had imparted to us. This lived on, and if anything, it became stronger and more real then ever. But why?
A big part of the answer to that question, I believe, is that something else happened right around that same time that would also have a tremendous impact on my generation. That something was called The Beatles.
The Beatles debuted on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. They sang to us, and we loved them for it. Their music and antics didn’t just entertain us though; they helped us to refocus our minds on what was important. And what was important to us young boys and girls? Why, young boys and girls, of course.
A simple song about holding hands, or asking someone to dance, reminded us that the important things in life were still there and could be had simply by choosing to have them. But they didn’t stop there. As we grew, they did too, and their music grew with them and us. In their music they wove together, as if by some magic, the events of the day – the most fundamental experiences in life, and a spiritual journey.
Later, when the Beatles broke up, we were saddened by it, but we also soon realized that there were benefits to the break-up, as each Beatle was now free to pursue his own path.
John took a political one, certainly with a spiritual side, but distinctly political none the less. Paul remained most true to the Beatles origins with his ballads and love songs. And Ringo, well, despite his tremendous musical success, he was and is just Ringo, the “every-man,” and that is all he had to be.
But it was George, the spiritual one, seeking truth in meditation, music, and in the religious traditions of east and west, who may have had the most influence on me. This may be because as I grew older, the world around me was changing drastically. Our society was creating wealth at an unprecedented rate, and with it came materialism and the pursuit of wealth for wealth’s sake.
Traditional, community-based religion was being abandoned and was being replaced either by a personal spirituality, accountable to no-one, not even G-d, or by a social-club religion which left the Judaeo-Christian G-d completely behind. In either case, for many, G-d, if He was even deemed to exist at all, became an impersonal force that required nothing from us – a Cosmic Sugar Daddy who could be tapped just by saying the right words or thinking the right thoughts.
Politics grew uglier every day, where in the West, defeating your opponent turned into destroying your opponent. We were more civilized about it in the West than in the East, of course, where in places like the Soviet Union or Red China, political defeat often meant execution or lifelong imprisonment. No, we destroyed lives by destroying reputations and demonizing our opponents. This practice continues to this day. Our political opponents are not just wrong, they are evil.
And what about traditional love and marriage? There are still many that believe in these things, but they are certainly not the ones who predominate in our culture and society. The hedonists of the sixties became the Me Generation of the seventies, who became the jaded post-modern cynics of today.
And then there was George:
“We were talking about the love that’s gone so cold
And the people who gain the world and lose their soul
They don’t know, they can’t see, are you one of them?”
from Within You Without You by George Harrison
Even if he didn’t have the ultimate answers, he was asking the right questions, echoing the words of Jesus, spoken so many years ago.
I’ve been thinking more about George lately, and his spiritual quest. A quest that so many of us took up. What happened to it? For me, it slowly transformed back into the Christian faith I was raised in. But it is a more stable faith, a more informed faith, and a scripture based faith.
As mentioned previously, George drew on many faith traditions to inspire him and his music. In my own journey, I have also traveled many paths. This has led me to believe that there is no one, true religion, the practice of which will gain you salvation.
Don’t get me wrong here, I am not saying that some religions do not bring you closer to the truth than others, and in this sense, all religions are definitely not equal. Also, I am not saying that religion has no value; the right religion has tremendous value in that it does bring you closer to the truth. Now, if we must have a one, true religion, that is it.
It has also helped me to understand that “The Church” is not a particular group or religion or faith tradition; it is the living body of the Word, composed of all who believe in that Word and have put their faith in Him, regardless of the religion, if any, that they may practice.
I personify the Word here because scripture itself does. The idea of the living Word goes back to the very beginnings of time. Didn’t G-d, with his Word, bring all things into existence? In Genesis 15:1 Abram has a vision of the Word and the Word speaks to him saying, “Do not be afraid Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” Abraham believed in the Word and became the progenitor of nations and kings.
In fact, there are numerous places in scripture where the Word is seen as a person, speaking, and coming and going. This idea of the living Word is one of the subjects that Michael S. Heiser documents in great detail in his book, The Unseen Realm, for those who would like to know more.
So if the simple practice of religion can’t “get you into heaven,” what can? According to Judeo-Christian scripture itself, salvation comes by the grace of G-d, through faith in G-d and in His Word. This is what I mean, then, when I say that there is no “true” religion. Religion has been defined as man attempting to gain G-d’s good graces through works and the observance of rites and rituals and traditions. The way of faith, on the other hand, is about what G-d did and does for us, not what we do for Him.
Well, what about my idealism? I started off talking about how I thought the Beatles helped to restore the idealism of my generation. If you look around at the current state of affairs in the world, one might think that the baby boomers have completely lost it.
I can’t speak for my entire generation, but only for me. That idealism is still there and is as strong as ever, but it is different than the idealism of my youth. It has been tempered by my faith and my experience. By my faith because I understand that G-d is sovereign, and as scripture says, if G-d does not build a house, then the builders labor in vain. To put it differently, if what we do is not in accordance with G-d’s will and plan, and is simply our own undertaking, it will in the end come to nothing good.
It has been tempered by my experience because I have learned that if you want to change the world, it has to start with your own heart and head, and this is only something G-d can do. It then continues to your family, your home, and your own backyard; to your friends, your community and your job. My point, I’m sure, is obvious: If you want to change the world, you have the best chance of doing that in the world immediately around you.
This reminds me of the lyrics to another Beatles song, Revolution:
“You say you’ll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it’s the institution
Well, you know
You better free your mind instead.”