From Sitcom to Spiritual Guru

Norman Lear's current sitcom is about what we would expect from him. "The Powers That Be" features a U.S. Senator who sleeps with his mistress, a vicious wife who beats the maid, an adult daughter who is anorexic and nags her suicidal husband. Yes, the producer who gave us "All in the Family" is still using television to break down social conventions and mock moral traditions. So it came as a bit of a jolt to read a newspaper article by the same Normal Lear entitled "A Call for Spiritual Renewal," urging Americans to a dialogue over "our common spiritual life in this desolate modern age." These are surprising words from a man whose television programs have contributed so much to the very desolation he laments. And Norman Lear is not the only voice crying in the Hollywood wilderness. Actress Shirley Maclaine recently published an article in the Wall Street Journal urging what she called "an open recognition of the spiritual dimension." Even Hillary Clinton has joined the chorus. In speeches and interviews she says we must find ways to become "part of an ethically based spiritual community that links us to a higher purpose." Well, this is certainly a change from the old secularism Christians have been fighting against for so long. Phrases like "higher purpose" and "spiritual dimension" may seem like streams of water in a barren land to Christians who have battled against the pervasive secularism of modern society. But today we're facing a post-modern society, and it promises to present a whole new set of challenges for Christians. The "spirituality" we are hearing so much about has little to do with biblical religion. If you read carefully what Norman Lear says, he talks a lot about vague things like searching for "ultimate meaning" and honoring "the unquantifiable and eternal." But there's nothing there about Jesus, sin, or salvation. And Hillary Clinton never gets much more specific than general phrases like "the crisis of meaning" and becoming "part of something bigger than ourselves." Nothing there about becoming part of the body of Christ. Shirley Maclaine is more specific about what her version of spirituality is-but, alas, it is completely New Age: channeling, reincarnation, crystals, you name it. Clearly Christians need to be more discerning today than ever. Secularism has been tried and found wanting. Americans are groping for something more, some sense of transcendent meaning to life. But many of them are settling for empty religious-sounding phrases in the place of solid, biblically based religion. Norman Lear describes our spiritual poverty as a "hole in America's heart." That's a good description. In fact, centuries ago the great French scientist Blaise Pascal wrote that there is a God-shaped vacuum in every human heart, which can only be filled by God Himself. Today more and more people are becoming aware of that vacuum in their hearts. But look at what they're filling it with! You and I need to be ready to challenge their fuzzy, false notions of spirituality with a clear, compelling statement of the Good News. Norman Lear has correctly diagnosed the hole in America's heart. But only the Gospel prescribes the heart surgery that will mend it.


Chuck Colson



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