I recall a thought that I had in Mrs. Day’s freshman English class. I had Mrs. Day for both English and Latin, so we read a lot of ancient mythology together, both Greek and Roman. Works like The Iliad, The Odyssey, and the Aeneid. Sitting in her class, near the back, as a fourteen year old kid, I remember distinctly having this thought after reading one particular myth:
“These ancient Greeks were so stupid! That’s why they made up these myths and these gods, because they didn’t know anything! They didn’t have science, yet! So they made up these gods in order to EXPLAIN everything, like: rain, the sunrise, the origins of life, the constellations, and on and on. They weren’t smart—not like me!”
So I made up my mind, then and there, that “ignorant,” ancient humans made up the existence of God or the gods, just so they could explain things in life, because humans weren’t “smart” yet.
What an insult! To say that ancient people were stupid, but we are smart! As a fourteen year old kid? That doesn’t even make any sense!
But now I realize that it had nothing to do with intelligence and the need to explain the world. Rather, and this is my theory, the ancients didn’t believe in the gods and religion in order to explain the world, but to control the world.
Control is the issue, not intelligence, not the desire to explain.
And we do the same thing today. They used gods and myths, but we use something else.
Before I tell you what that “something else” is, let’s take a moment to understand how the ancients used gods to control the world. If you can manipulate the gods, then you could exert control over the world, indirectly through them. You could have better crops, more fertility, military victory, success at sea, knowledge, beauty, and love. All you had to do was feed the gods through sacrifices and you’d be able to keep them happy.
And a happy god would change life to suit your needs. This is how you would be able to manipulate these deities into doing your bidding; this was the way you controlled your world.
Crops, fertility, war, sea, knowledge, beauty, love, and so forth—these were their gods. These were the things they wanted to be able to control, not explain. They didn’t worship the gods to explain but to change.
They weren’t stupid, at least, not any more than we are. We find in ourselves similar behavior; we seek to control the world as well. But how?
Through materialism! Materialism says that there is nothing more to life than the material. It says that everything is under our control. It keeps life small, manageable, and predictable. You don’t have to worry about spiritual forces or divine beings that are outside of your control. There is nothing else out there that is more powerful or meaningful than you are.
Think about this: there’s a materialistic atmosphere in both science and faith. The real fight is not between science and faith—they are not mortal enemies. The real fight is between…
science and materialism AND faith and materialism.
The real enemy is materialism.
Materialism seeks to control the world. Modern day materialism has replaced the ancient gods. It’s just another form of paganism. We do just what the ancient Greeks and Romans did. We think we’re more sophisticated, but we’re not! We both, ancients and moderns, seek to control the world, so that we can have…better crops, better fertility, better militaries, better knowledge and love and beauty, etc.
Science can be done out of faith OR out of a materialistic mindset. What happens when materialism infects science? Then we think…
We can control the world.
We can reverse nature.
We can bundle it up, and exercise power over it.
We can manipulate the environment.
We can exploit nature.
We can determine the boundaries.
The opposite of materialistic science is science that seeks to explore natural creation and understand it, in order to discover its magnificence, so that we can better care for it.
BUT THE SAME IS TRUE IN THE ARENA OF FAITH! Materialism can infect our faith, too, and when this happens, then we think…
We can control God.
We can use God.
We can exploit God.
We can manipulate God.
We can predict his ways.
We can determine what God should be like.
So the opposite of materialistic faith is faith that seeks to explore God in order to discover his magnificence—who he really is—to better serve God and help his world.
We constantly need to fight against materialism, which seeks to control and manipulate our world. Materialism looks a lot like ancient forms of paganism, which did not necessarily seek to explain life, but to control life.
Materialism is the new paganism. It’s ruining our faith, it’s ruining our science, and it’s ruining our lives. You and I might not consider ourselves to be too “religious,” but, we’d better take a second look at whether we’re too pagan.
Materialism leaves no room for what our souls truly crave: wonder and awe in the living God.
Just as the true God was not manipulated by the ancients, neither will he be manipulated by us moderns.
Sam is a husband, father, and pastor