Friday, February 22, 2013

Heralds of New Age Past: Dave Hunt's Seduction Construction


From the December 2009 E-Block.

***

Dave Hunt has been writing books on cults and eschatology for well over 25 years now, and there's at least one book for each of those years. The Seduction of Christianity, it so happens, was one of the first dozen books I read when I first became interested in apologetics; the fact that Hunt was one of the few authors who strove for extended documentation of his claims was something I found quite impressive, and in a certain sense it is not unfair to say that Hunt thereby was one of several writers who influenced me. 

It has been well over 20 years, though, since I last read anything by Hunt. Time and experience led me to far more qualified authors. But now, as we return to Hunt for the Heralds of the New Age Past series, we will ask the same questions we asked of Constance Cumbey in Part 1 of this series: In his highlighting of persons of influence in the New Age Movement, are these really important people with the power and influence to make drastic changes in our society? Or was Hunt simply too anxious to see in some of these people "signs of the end times" and so did he give them more credence and power than they really deserved and had? 

The question is already answered in part, inasmuch as Hunt chose to give space to Benjamin Creme and David Spangler -- two persons we also visited in our response to Cumbey (October 2009 E-Block). But there is more to say in qualification first. 

I am pleased to say that I find very little in Hunt's methodology that warrants significant criticism (at least in Seduction). He did not go the extremes of Cumbey in terms of hysteria; his tone throughout is even, if perhaps a little too pedantic and preachy. (There's nothing wrong in principle with repeated doses of, "The Bible says..." but one would hope for something less fideistic for the sake of cognitive clarity.) Nevertheless there are times when we see a lesser version of Cumbey's mistake of giving too much credence where it was not warranted. 

For example, Hunt cites Georgi Lozanov [13] as a figure offering New Age teachings. Well and good, but by itself this gives little indication of the depth of accomplishment or influence Lozanov had. It is well to know and be warned of Lozanov's "suggestology," but it would be nice to know whether it is widely respected (and therefore be of any impact in the future) or whether it is regarded as crackpot science by the mainstream. So far as I can determine, the present assessment of Lozanov is that almost no one cares enough about his methods to make a serious evaluation. 

Other persons highlighted by Hunt turned out to be more bust than boom. Andrija Puharich [41] lived up further to the nuttiness of claiming to be in contact with aliens from "Hoova" as Hunt reports, as he associated himself with the fraudulent Uri Geller. Having died in 1995, his memory is preserved only by the good fortune of living into the age of the Internet. Brian Josephson [110], although a credible physicist, is regarded as seriously deluded by his peers with respect to his interest in psychic phenomena. Others cited by Hunt, such as pseudo-Christian teachers Rodney R. Romney, Ralph Wilkerson, and Casey Treat, remain relatively obscure/fringe figures, or have else been overstepped by more prominent personalities, or have even (like Robert Tilton) descended into disgrace. 

It must be conceded that hindsight is 20/20, but Hunt probably should have been more intent on laying out just how influential these persons were in that time decades ago, rather than allowing readers to reach their own conclusions. One might wonder if that would have really been necessary, but indeed, if Hunt wished to argue that such teachers were paving the way for an Antichrist figure, it would indeed have been necessary: If such a figure were to emerge, it seems unhelpful to be told that our grocery store's local produce manager is in charge of the Antichrist's election campaign. Change that from "produce manager" to "senator" and we may have something to be concerned about. 

The good news is, however, that Hunt avoided some of Cumbey's more spectacular conclusions, choosing to focus less on personalities and their specific activities and more on the overarching New Age philosophy that drove them, and many others as well. For example, Hunt did not make Cumbey's overstated attempt to see a broad New Age conspiracy; rather he spoke in terms of a "broad coalition of networking groups" motivated by the same mystical philosophy. [7] On the other hand, his attempt to identify the New Age movement with the "great delusion" foretold in Scripture has something of the bearing of Mormon Barry Bickmore's attempt to read modern orthodoxy into the same passages; there simply isn't enough specificity about the "delusion" to offer anything but a premature judgment, if one is a dispensationalist. Hunt also, like Phillips in our last article, seemed too ready to give credence to claims of genuine psychic phenomena, which he in turn attributed to Satanic power. [eg, 39, 44] 

The heart of Hunt's warnings, however, were ways in which New Age thinking had infiltrated certain quarters of the church, and here, Hunt was in step with warnings issued by other credible ministries about "Word Faith" teachers like Copeland and Capps, as well as "positive confession" teachers like Schuller and Peale. He was certainly on target (if not fully congnizant of why) in his criticisms of emphasis on "self-esteem". Perhaps Hunt's only lack in this regard is overwhelming the reader with material even after the point has long since been proven. 

On the other hand, his critique of psychology deserved its own book, rather than a single chapter. I am not qualified to assess the veracity of his criticisms, but it was rather amusing to see Hunt cite an early study confirming the existence of Dunning's Syndrome. [198-99] 

So what of Hunt's clarion call in retrospect? Hunt could certainly not have anticipated that indifference and intellectual laziness would have resulted in Schullers and Peales being replaced with shallow teachers like Osteen and Meyer whose teachings offer so little substance as to barely be dangerous, in an eschatological sense. Where Hunt anticipated that New Age thought in the church would usher in the Antichrist, we ended up with nothing but vapid television personalities. The irony of "progress" in this regard is well illustrated by the criticism offered of Peale (rightly) for acknowledging a Mormon leader as a "great man of God and a true prophet". [68] We have moved today to the point that someone like Osteen, asked about Mormonism, doesn't even know what it teaches. Still and all, Hunt did well in blowing the horn even if it turned out that the oncoming vehicle was the size of an ant.

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