commentary: Its All the Rage
Spirit and Zeitgeist
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 13-Apr-13; 14 minutes
When I was a good bit younger, one would frequently hear the phrase, "It's all the rage." When it was said, it was usually heard within the context of a conversation about some sort of fashion. Often it was a hairdo, or maybe an item of clothing, or maybe a kind of a dance or a song. It usually indicated that "everybody's doing it," whatever "it" was. Whatever was fashionable at that time, everybody just kind of joined in and got in the groove with it. Usually it was a passing fancy that would come and go fairly quickly.
There is something that is all the rage today in some circles, and I wish it would just pass ever so quickly. I mean, before tonight is over. And this is the droopy jeans kids wear these days that deliberately do not hang on the hips but slide all the way down to the crack area and hang barely on the butt. That "rage" is deliberately disrespectful. It is more like an insignia, a sign of their prideful, contemptuous pride.
But the term "rage," as used in my commentary, is derived from a more serious setting. It has a loose connection to the German word zeitgeist. There is no direct tie between the words except in their general usage in popular society. Zeitgeist first appeared in print in 1835 and is attributed to the philosopher George Hegel. However, Hegel used the term only one time in his writings, and he did use it somewhat close to the manner in which it is commonly used today. He wrote, "geist seiner zeit."
Geist is the German word for "spirit." You might be able to identify the similarity with the English word "ghost," as in "spirit being." But geist is also used in German in the sense of "temperament" or "attitude," in much the same way that we do in English with the term "spirit," such as saying, "Those cheerleaders have a lot of spirit."
The other part of the word, zeit, is the German word for time. Thus, zeitgeist translates into "spirit of the time" or "spirit of the age." The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as "the general intellectual, moral and cultural climate of an era." However, the English- and the German-speaking peoples are not the only ones who have a term like this, and it appears that other peoples spread around the Earth have a term similar in meaning. In other words, the concept contained within the meaning of the word zeitgeist arose simply from observation by many people in many nations.
All of us know that our individual spirit, our attitudes, are anything but stable. They go up and they go down. Sometimes they are up and other times they are down. One of the arguments discussed is a sort of, "Which came first: the chicken or the egg?" Was it the spirit or the circumstance? Does the attitude create the circumstance, or does the circumstance create the attitude? In the research that I did, it was never resolved. I personally believe that each contributes depending upon the issues at hand.
The point of this commentary is that even as we as individuals have variable spirits, so do institutions and nations, and we are affected by them unless we are aware. We will conduct our life involuntarily according to them. They become so much a part of it, we act and react, not even realizing that this spirit has been picked up from the world. Or, we might say, the company we keep, or even the institution that we are a part of. It is from this that national characteristics are displayed and they are done in voluntarily.
Everybody is aware of the Roaring Twenties. It got that title because of the national spirit that was prevalent at the time. And then there was the Depression. Not only was the economy depressed, so were the people. Their spirits were depressed. And then during the war, there was a defiant, patriotic spirit: "Let's get to this and win this thing."
In 2007, a movie—a documentary—was produced and marketed that demonstrated, using data from three large cultural elements (religion, politics and economy), that showed that, artfully used—catch this—through communication, spirit (and thus people) can be manipulated to greatly enhance an institution's goals. This is potentially in very dangerous hands if the people who are operating the company are as carnal was most people.
At least we know that human nature is self-centered to its very core, and thus an institution driven by it is, at the very least, going to be motivated by its own profit motive and not by God's standards.
The documentary, in order to make the connection, concentrated solely on the spirit's effects, not on the quality of the product that a company or institution was putting out. I do not really know how effective the movie was toward convincing the viewers to be aware, because I did not see it. But I am going to give you an illustration. It did not come from the movie, but I'm going to give you an illustration of a way that spirit can be used detrimentally.
When the Klu Klux Klan was formed, the media, in conjunction with the Democratic Party, continually associated its membership with the Republican Party and with wealth. Later research showed that the reality was the opposite: The membership was overwhelmingly Democratic, common folks. The KKK was not a political organization. It was an anti-black, racial organization, but largely because the spirit toward it was anti-Republican and anti-wealth, it misled Southerners, and they voted overwhelmingly Democratic for generations. The Southeast became known as the "Solid South" to the Democratic Party. They were in the Democratic Party's pocket do to a spirit, an attitude. These voters were manipulated by an attitude into believing something that simply was not true!
Spirit is very prominent in biblical teaching, and the most prominent of all is God's Holy Spirit. That spirit is the spirit of love, joy, peace, goodness, longsuffering, etcetera. God has clearly indicated to us that its influence is pushing—if I can put it that way—influencing toward that direction to those who possess that spirit. Because this is in God's word, I know that that influence—that attitude—is potentially very great.
But there is another spirit that Paul, in Ephesians 2:2, calls "the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience." That spirit manipulates one toward evil, toward believing lies. It moves one in the direction of following one's carnal inclinations toward self-centeredness and its fruit. Do you know what that fruit is? It would be hatred instead of love, depression instead of joy, hopelessness instead of peace, anxiety rather than perseverance, and on and on it goes—all by something that is invisible but influential and creates attitudes.
Ultimately, what is reached? Listen carefully to this. I am going to tell you where society is headed in the United States. What is reached is a fearful rage that one might expect to see from a caged animal. People are slowly learning they are being lied to. They are slowly becoming more and more frightened about where this is headed. They become, eventually, like caged animals that are ready to fight to the death. Our culture is beginning to show the fruit. Rage is erupting on the streets of our cities and in the malls.
If you are reading, you understand what I mean. Groups of men are attacking individuals and beating them to a pulp because they are of a different color. That has happened in Philadelphia. It has happened in Detroit. It has happened in Los Angeles. It has happened in Jacksonville, Florida. It has happened in Greenville, South Carolina. It is getting close. Rage is erupting because of the disappointment and discouragements and whatever that these people feel. This is because people are feeling as though they are pitted against one another.
The results are beginning to show up in other areas as well. Are you aware how rapidly suicide is increasing in the United States of America? How bad is it? In the United States—hang onto your hats—suicide has surpassed automobile crashes as the leading cause of injury death in the United States of America. And last year, more American soldiers committed suicide than were killed in combat. The American spirit is not only drooping; it is cracking.