Zeitgeist is one of those terms that is fairly commonly used but not commonly understood. The word “zeitgeist” is composed of two German words. Zeit means time in German. Geist means ghost or spirit in German. So Zeitgeist basically means “spirit of the times.” One way to look at it is that over time social trends dictate changes in popular attitudes that are generally shared by many people. The Zeitgeist idea allows for change in things like automobile styling. What is considered good taste in automobiles today may be considered archaic in a relatively short period of time. Things like fads and fashions are examples of public attitudes that change very quickly. Such things are not usually considered under the heading of zeitgeist, but they might be. On the other hand, the use of seat belts took a very long time to become popular – become a part of the zeitgeist. What I mean is that the definition of zeitgeist is a bit ambiguous. It has generally been used to refer to social or political movements and the like. But it might be used just to refer to trending ideas, particularly those that are talked about fairly regularly.
Particularly in modern times, new ideas can become popular topics of conversation in a really short time. Furthermore, in cultures which are drifting rapidly in terms of values, there are no real brakes on the adoption of new ideas. It seems that often new ideas are adopted simply because they are new, not because of their intrinsic value. Once adopted, “new” ideas and values become part of the zeitgeist, until they are, in turn, replaced by others.
New elements of the zeitgeist can find their way quickly into the general expressions of culture such as media and entertainment. Once there, they can become matters of rigorous enforcement to make sure they permeate the general population. Great energy can be expended in this process of “helping” people fully adapt to the new cultural element. There would usually be two main fronts to the process of promoting the new zeitgeist element. One front is to encourage the new cultural component, and the other is to discourage any older elements that might conflict with it. Both things must happen for a successful transition.
I’m not saying there is no debate or give-and-take during these processes. There typically is. However, in some cases, the proponents of change are capable of crafting strategies that can move along the change more rapidly. For example, the proponents may use the courts or even legislative processes to “force” the point-of-view they wish the entire population to adopt. When this approach is taken, tolerance for older points of view can disappear almost overnight. Typically, the older elements cannot marshal an effective defense to the new idea and may be trampled in the change process.
There are three questions that seem to emerge from this phenomenon. First, is the zeitgeist a tool used by God to promote His agenda? Second, does God monitor the zeitgeist for ideas concerning His agenda? Third, should the sons of God adapt themselves to the zeitgeist and its morphing behavior? There are changes underway in the world today that make these questions important. I suggest we think about them.
Really, the questions are essentially equivalent. If God “uses” the zeitgeist in any manner, then the sons of God would be wise to adapt fully to its ideas. But does He use the zeitgeist? Sometimes it looks like people of God want Him to change to adapt to the new way of thinking. In other words, they might be more interested in the whims of the zeitgeist than in the will of God.
You’ll have to decide what you think. As, and if, you consider such things, I would like to call your attention to some passages of scripture.
1 Corinthians 1:18-21
2 Corinthians 4:3-4
We are not charged with being contentious. In fact, we should live quietly when that is possible. Paul goes so far as to instruct us to be as peaceable with everyone as we can (Romans 12:18). Things that would take peace from us can be found in the world and its zeitgeist. This is reality. Jesus warned that we will be hated because of Him (Luke 21:17).
Screaming at the zeitgeist is not likely to be your task. But you might be wise to be aware and to teach those under your care concerning the various conflicts with truth that might arise within the zeitgeist. We should be both shrewd and innocent (Matthew 10:16) in our interactions with the world. Don’t worry about taking on the zeitgeist. After all, the zeitgeist might be preparing to come after you if you disagree with it.