In this short address—the latest installment in our new TGC Talks series—Jeremy Treat, pastor at Reality LA in Los Angeles, observes how our longing for God does not disappear in a secular society. It just reappears in different forms: sports, politics, sexuality, and more. Treat describes how secular people today seek power, purity, and peace—traditionally sought in religion—in things like witchcraft, wellness, and mindfulness apps. Yet our deepest longings, Treat says, will not be found in any spiritual system or clean diet, but in a person: Jesus Christ.
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Jeremy Treat: I was recently sitting in a coffee shop in Los Angeles where I live when I overheard the conversation of two women next to me. And what caught my ear was when they shifted from small talk to a deeper conversation about prayer. And honestly, it just warmed my heart. Following Jesus in LA is not easy. And hearing these two women talking about prayer brought encouragement to my soul and a feeling that I’m not alone in this. But as I was basking in joy, then I heard one of the women say, Oh, no, I forgot my crystals. I quickly realized that they hadn’t been talking about praying to God, but rather praying to crystals.
There’s something that emerges from this story that I believe is incredibly important for understanding our culture today. And it’s this in a secular society, our longing for God does not merely disappear, it reappears in different forms. That’s why sports are pursued with a religious obsession. It’s why politics has grown to biblical proportions. It’s why sexuality is the sacred source of identity. See, the perception is that people in America are becoming less religious. But the reality is that they’ve just redirected their religious longings elsewhere. It’s as if we’ve tried to suppress our longings for transcendence, but it just keeps pushing them through and popping up as if it’s an undeniable part of who we are, whether we acknowledge it or not. So I want to explore how our innate longings for power, purity, and peace, all of which have traditionally been found in religion, are now being sought after in new and creative ways. So first, let’s talk about the secular longing for power. We long for something outside of us and greater than us to intervene and bring change within us. And in our country, people have historically sought such power in God. But in a secular society, people are looking elsewhere. And we could talk about how almost a third of Americans are looking to the stars via astrology. We could talk about how many look not to God, but to the universe beyond or divine energy within. But let’s talk about something a bit more drastic, the rise of witchcraft in our country. Check this out. In the year 1990. There were 8000 self identified Wiccans in America 8000. By 2001, there were 134,000. By 2014, there were over a million and today, there are over 1.5 million Wiccans in our country. That means there are more practicing witches in the United States than there are mainline Presbyterians. And this isn’t just the extreme situation here, there know it, it’s gone mainstream. Just type in wicker on Amazon. And you’ll see books like this. Wicca for beginners, which has over 2300 reviews, almost all of them five stars. Compare that to Tim Keller’s making sense of God, which has around a fourth of many positive reviews. And if you’re not convinced by Amazon, you could just go to urban outfitters where you can buy the latest book, a modern day witches guide.
Tara Isabella Burton has written much on religious longings cropping up in secularism. And she says this, the language of witches and demons of spells and sage of cleansing and bad energy of star and signs has become the de facto religion of millennial progressives. The metaphysical symbol set threaded through the worldly ethos were lost longing for transcendence, a power beyond us, that can bring change within us. But not only is there a secular longing for power, we’re also seeing a secular longing for purity. See, guilt and shame are universal realities experienced in every culture, and we longed to be cleansed, to be made whole to be pure. While this has traditionally been sought out in Divine forgiveness, the secular longing for purity has morphed into something different altogether. And one way to search for purity has emerged in our society is through food culture. Have you noticed how we use religious language to talk about food and health You can cleanse your body through juice, you can purify your body through water, you can be whole through whole 30 where I live in Los Angeles, people care more about the purity of their food than the purity of their soul. Seriously, people will sleep around sharing their body with people they hardly know. But when it comes to food, is that non-GMO? Is that organic grass-fed pasture-raised? If not, no, thank you. We want something sacred in our day to day lives. We want our food to be pure because we ultimately want our bodies and souls to be pure. and wellness has become an entire industry, a $4.2 trillion industry that markets self care and self-improvement as a quasi-spiritual experience. We’re not just talking about trendy diets. This is an attempt to re-enchant the world with self-centered spirituality. Take, for example, Gwyneth Paltrow is a wellness empire that she calls goop. If you go to their website, which is incredibly popular, you’ll find articles like this, using astrology to release shame, or a practice and a spell to find meaning in your dreams. So we’ve talked about power and purity.
Now let’s talk about peace. Everybody yearns for peace. But why look to God for peace, when you can download a mindfulness app, or meditate at the beach, or go to yoga. Yoga in particular, is an example of how people today are seeking peace in holistic ways that involve body and soul. We longed for spirituality that touches every aspect of our being. But it’s not just yoga. You don’t go to SoulCycle just to get in shape, you go to find your soul. People go to CrossFit not just for exercise, they go to find community and rituals and accountability things people want to look for in the church. I read an article recently in the Atlantic called the church of CrossFit. And the author says this gyms and other secular communities are starting to fit are starting to fill spiritual and social needs. For many non-religious people. We’re all striving for peace. So in a secular society, our sacred longings are not simply removed, they’re replaced. And I think back to those two women at the coffee shop, like all of us, they’re longing for power, purity, and peace. But like so many people in our society, they’re looking in the wrong place. People are trying to buy it on Amazon, they’re attempting to earn it through accomplishments. They’re trying to manufacture it in their own lives. But what they need to know is that power, and purity and peace are available in Christ. I think of a story in the scriptures of a woman who had an illness, an issue of blood for 12 years, can only imagine her suffering and her pain. She had looked for power. she’d gone to every physician, she could find she spent all the money that she had. She had longed for purity. Because of this illness and this issue with blood, she would have been considered unclean and ostracized from the religious community. She yearned for peace not only in her body, but in her soul. And then she heard of a Savior named Jesus. And she thought, if I could just touch the hem of His garment, I could be made well. So she sought this savior out, she worked through the crowds and came to Jesus and touch the hem of His garment. And then Jesus turned and looked at her with compassion, and said, Your faith has made you well. And the word that’s used in the original language of Greek therefore maid well is a word that’s often translated as saved or for salvation. But this saving grace to not only impact her spirit, she experienced a power that could change her heart and her life. She experienced purity. For her spiritual and social shame, she found peace in her body and her soul. See for Christianity, our hope is not ultimately in a system of beliefs, or a code of ethics, but in a person and His name is Jesus. Jesus is our power Jesus Is our purity Jesus is our peace and in him our deepest longings are satisfied