March 10, 2008
TOUGH QUESTIONS: July 05, AU Edition
The death of a child
I suspect many people remember this song: ‘Would you know my name, if I saw you in Heaven? Would you be the same, if I saw you in Heaven? I must be strong, and carry on, because I know I don’t belong, here in
Heaven…’ When rocker Eric Clapton wrote those words, he was thinking not of the potential success of a hit record, he was writing from the heart. On March 20, 1991, just a week after my own son was born, Eric Clapton lost his four year old son Conor in a tragic, heart-rending accident. It happened on the 53rd storey of a New York apartment building. Conor, like all boys his age, was full of energy.
Unfortunately a cleaner had just finished wiping a large floor to ceiling window and left it open to dry. Conor was running and, before his mother could grab him, simply fell out the window, plunging 49 stories to the rooftop of an adjacent four storey building.
There are so many ‘if- only’ elements to this sad event, and Clapton took nine months off to grieve. As commentators noted, when he returned to performing his music was much more powerful and more reflective.
The other week, someone I know lost a child in an equally tragic accident in Auckland. Again, the ‘what-ifs’ and pain swirl in an endless cyclone of recriminations wishes by the parents that they could turn back time and do something – anything – differently.
Death comes to all of us, yet it is incredibly hard to deal with. The pain, the trauma and the emotional loss from an event like these is like a jagged blade in the heart, and the wounds take a long time to heal. So if religion is supposed to answer these “meaning of life” questions, if religion is supposed to help us deal with the ultimate question, how do the various religions stack up when it comes to death?
If you don’t believe in any kind of afterlife, I suspect coping with death is hardest for you. And indeed, medical and psychiatric studies have repeatedly found that a spiritual belief makes people cope with life better than those who don’t have one. For a non-believer who loses a child, there is no hope, just an aching hole in the heart where their baby used to be.
For Buddhists, Hindus or follower of New Age doctrines, life is a cycle of reincarnation, and the grieving parent at least is comforted by the idea that their child will return as someone else’s child. The downside to this is the loss of personal identity. In the Eastern faiths, you become one with the universe, recycled and then spat back down to Earth again where past identities and memories of those you loved are lost to you - a meaningless, cosmic Groundhog Day.
It is Christianity, I suggest, that offers the only tangible hope for non-Christians and Christians alike.
The central theme of Christianity is triumph over death. Death entered the world through the fall from Eden. Now imagine that sequence in reverse, where a kind of supernatural Earth (Eden) is poisoned,, in a massive universe-wide dimension shift that kicks humanity and the world it occupies out of the heavenly dimension into a dimension where death and decay exist. This was the first separation of humanity from God.
Jesus Christ came back to Earth to offer an invitation back for those who believed. In regard to children, it is widely believed from Christ’s comments that children who die are accepted into Heaven by God’s grace. For a grieving parent, Christian or not, God’s grace is equally available by invitation. Only Christianity and the example of Jesus’ resurrection, offers the hope of seeing a dead child alive again.
And yes, Eric, little Conor will know your name, if choose to join him, there in Heaven.
TOUGH QUESTIONS: Nov 05, AU Edition
We’re all fundamentalists now
They’re just another raving bunch of fundamentalists! Now there’s a phrase you’ll hear on talk radio if you listen hard enough. Fundamentalist. The very word, in its modern context, sounds kind of hick, kind of backwoods Kentucky. Kind of downtown Mecca. It is used, primarily, as a pejorative – an insult against those deserving of the label ‘fundamentalist’. Heck, I’ve even taken a liking to it myself as a means of describing diehard secular humanists: atheist fundamentalist fruitbats.
But what does ‘fundamentalist’ really mean? It means somebody with a strong worldview. Somebody who is confident that they understand the world and their place in it, and therefore somebody not likely to be swayed from that worldview easily. A fundamentalist is someone who believes in the reality of objective truth.
At a shallow level, every single one of us is actually a religious fundamentalist. That’s because whatever you believe about the universe and your own place in it, your belief is a faith-based one even if you are an atheist scientist. You may fervently believe that life is a product of random evolution and natural selection. But in a billion lifetimes you will never be able to absolutely prove it. You may believe that God created the earth in six days, but this too is ultimately a matter of faith. You may believe in reincarnation, karmic destiny and the alleged wisdom of Shirley Maclaine and whatever she’s channeling this month. This too is a matter of belief.
You may believe that ‘fundamentalism’ should be discouraged by the government, perhaps even banned, because it threatens your own ideals of tolerance and good vibes. But you too would be guilty of fundamentalism, of imposing your own desire not to be exposed to someone else’s beliefs above another person’s right to listen to free speech.
You see, there is no one in your home or office who, deep down, is not a religious fundamentalist of some kind. Once you scrape away the layers and the distractions, you are left with a person’s core beliefs about how the world is or how it should be. You might be a gay fundamentalist, or a green fundamentalist, or a New Age fundamentalist. Every time you stand up and venture an opinion on how things should be, you are vocalizing your fundamentalism.
So is that wrong? No. To deny our inherent rights to our fundamental beliefs is to deny that which makes us human, rather than slaves.
How then, do we tackle fundamentalism that manifests itself in a bad way, like Islamic fundamentalism? Only by recognizing that while everyone is fundamentalist, not all fundamental beliefs are right. Once upon a time, it was an established religious belief to conduct human sacrifice, even cannibalism. Should we shy away from confronting such evils just because we might offend a cannibal? Clearly not. Is the evil of cannibalism any less evil if we’re dealing with an army of 100,000 cannibals instead of 10? Does the fact that something evil is popular make it inherently right all of a sudden?
Evil triumphs when good men do nothing, the saying goes. The truth is, though, that if they did nothing then they were not truly good.
We are all fundamentalists. Nothing wrong with that. But not all fundamental beliefs are created equal.
Here’s a cold hard truth: the only hope for disarming Islamic fundamentalism lies in the advance of Christian fundamentalism. The Passion of the Christ was a huge hit in the Arab world, because it was the first time they’d seen forgiveness, instead of eye-for-an-eye. Mel Gibson struck a bigger blow for world peace in one movie, than all the Middle Eastern summits put together.
TOUGH QUESTIONS: June 05, AU Edition
Why God needs a rottweiler
The newspaper front pages said it all when Pope Benedict XVI ascended the throne in the Vatican late last month: “God’s Rottweiler”, “Panzerkardinal”. Here in New Zealand, Newstalk ZB’s Larry Williams tried to suggest to Bishop Pat Dunn that the Catholic Church had “missed its chance to enter the 21st century”. As if, somehow, the church has to reflect modern secular attitudes to stay relevant.
There’s news for many of the media commentators and fringe lobby groups who resent another conservative at the helm of the papacy, and that news is all bad: Christianity doesn’t have to stay relevant to survive in the modern age – instead, citizens of the modern age need to return to Christianity to survive.
That modern liberals seek a religion that reflects their own views and behaviour, rather than core values, is no surprise. That desire explains the massive rise in Eastern and New Age beliefs in the West, where people are soothingly reassured by spiritual snake-oil salesmen that “there are many paths to God, find what works for you”. For a generation that has trouble getting out of their armchairs to change a TV channel, such anything-goes religion is non-threatening, easy to comply with and really cool if you love mung beans.
Pope Benedict himself wasted no time declaring that Western secularism is the biggest threat to Christianity.
“We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognise anything as definitive and has as its highest value one’s own ego and one’s own desires,” the new Pope warned.
The idea that religion should change itself to reflect human trends, rather than God, is almost a given in some sectors of society these days – usually the sectors who would never darken a church doorway even at Easter. No longer having faith, they would prefer the Church join them by abandoning its faith as well, “lightening up a little”, and what’s wrong with abortion as a form of contraception anyway?
But the times they are a changing. Few could have failed to note that many of the mourners for Pope John Paul 2, and many of those who cheered at the news of Joseph Ratzinger’s election as the new pope, were young. Many of the cynics and critics are baby-boomers. There is not just a culture clash underway on religion, there is an intergenerational clash as well. The children of the baby boomers think their parents are immoral, inept and bereft of basic values. While mainstream liberal protestant churches in the West are dying a horrible death, Pentecostal protestant churches are booming, as Gen-Xers return to the faith their parents abandoned.
Pope Benedict knows this too. His choice of the name Benedict is significant for a number of reasons. The Benedictine order of monks were primarily responsible for the Christianisation of Europe during the dark ages. The original evangelists bringing light to the world. Many observers say this Benedictine papacy will be a battle for the hearts and minds of Europe again.
Yet it will be a battle without compromise. Pope Benedict staunchly resists the notion that Christianity should somehow be watered down to appeal to Western liberals. Better, says the Pope, to remain true to your core beliefs than set yourself adrift in the sea of relativism where truth is meaningless.
If that means the Catholic Church continues to shrink in Western Europe (it is exploding in Latin America and Africa), then so be it, as Britain’s Independent noted.
And there is another fascinating twist to Ratzinger’s choice of “Benedict”. Back in the year 1140, a monk known to history as St Malachi is said to have received visions from God of 112 future popes.
According to those visions, the man just elected will be the second to last pope:
“111. The Glory of the Olive. The Order of St. Benedict has said this Pope will come from their order. The Olive branch is a sign of peace and he may be a peacemaker or dark skinned. It is interesting that Jesus gave his apocalyptic prophecy about the end of time from the Mount of Olives. This Pope will reign during the beginning of the tribulation Jesus spoke of. The 111th prophesy is “Gloria Olivae” (The Glory of the Olive). The Order of Saint Benedict has claimed that this pope will come from their ranks. Saint Benedict himself prophesied that before the end of the world his Order, known also as the Olivetans, will triumphantly lead the Catholic Church in its fight against evil.”
According to Malachi’s prophecy, this pope will have a short reign, marking the start of the tribulation leading to Armageddon. At 78 years old, Pope Benedict XVI will not remain in power for long.
The liberal wing of the Catholic Church, which tried to mobilize against Ratzinger in the conclave of cardinals but failed, now has a few years to regroup and be better placed at the next conclave, perhaps within a decade, to give us a Pope of enlightenment and liberation from the shackles of the past.
Which brings us to the last of St Malachi’s prophetic visions.
“112. Peter the Roman – This final Pope will, it is argued now by theologians, likely be Satan, taking the form of a man named Peter who will gain a worldwide allegiance and adoration. He will be the final antiChrist which prophecy students have long foretold. If it were possible, even the very elect would be deceived. The 112th prophesy states: ‘In the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church there will reign Petrus Romanus, who will feed his flock amid many tribulations; after which the seven-hilled city will be destroyed and the dreadful Judge will judge the people. The End’.”
Regardless of what one thinks of Malachi’s visions and end-time theology, there’s no doubt the man now at the helm of the Catholic Church will be a defender of the faith from the erosion of postmodernism, in a Europe fast losing its Christianity and returning to paganism.
God needs a “rottweiler” for times such as these.
TOUGH QUESTIONS: May 05, AU Edition
Debating the Resurrection – is it important?
So that was Easter. You know, the time of year when we all jump in cars for a long weekend away, enjoying the rain and high winds, before coming back to a week of sunshine. You know, the time of year when the Good Friday movie on television is invariably something like Deep Throat or – as it was this year – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
In the midst of the stormy weather and the Bacchanalian dancing on the cross of Christ by hostile TV programming mavens, hundreds of thousands of people nevertheless turned out to Easter services nationwide where they would have also heard a wide range of opinions on the Resurrection of Christ.
If you’d gone to the liberal New Age Buddhist hang-out centre formerly known as St Matthew-in-the-City Anglican “church” in Auckland, you’d have heard a sermon telling you Easter has nothing to do with whether Jesus Christ was resurrected – because he probably wasn’t – it was all about the circle of life, and rebirth and other symbolic New Age concepts.
In other words, a sermon based entirely around the Easter Egg. Across town, at a genuine Christian church, you’d be more likely to hear a sermon on the real significance of the crucifixion and resurrection. In other words, a sermon based on hot cross buns.
Out of all that, the ordinary punter is expected – once a year, anyway – to try and make some sense out of Christian doctrine when it seems even the churches don’t know what they stand for or what they believe. Is the actual resurrection important? Yes it is, and here’s why.
Without the real death of Christ on the cross, and a real, bodily resurrection out of the tomb, there is no Christianity. Sure, Jesus was a wise man and a great teacher, but if he’s ultimately still in the grave then he cannot have been God and cannot have been telling the truth in that regard. He’s just another wild-eyed wannabe and whether you follow his principles of living or not is entirely up to how you feel.
But, if Christ was indeed resurrected such a feat would prove his claim to be God, to be someone far more powerful than mere mortal humans. In short, if Jesus really was resurrected then everything else he said must be true, because he is the only person in all human history to have not only claimed to be God, but given evidence to prove his claim and done so in front of witnesses.
Buddha, Muhammed, Confucius? They’re all still dead and buried. Of all the great religious leaders, only Jesus Christ actually claimed to be God the Creator and performed miracles to prove it.
Buddha said there were many paths to Nirvana, but offered no evidence of his authority to make the statement. Hinduism bases its religion on ancient legends, not demonstrable historical figures whose existence we can prove. Moreover, Hinduism is like a throwback to the ancient Greek and Roman gods. Hinduism believes in different classes of humans, that some people are scum just because of the social class they’re born into. Does that sound like a religion founded by the Creator of the Universe?
Muhammed claims God can only be attained through his teachings, but he never performed the miracles that Christ did to show his divine authority.
So we’re left with a resurrected Jesus Christ saying “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me”.
So it all hinges on the resurrection. If it happened, then his comment immediately above affects every living human on this planet, regardless of what religion they think they follow. If the resurrection really happened, then Jesus’ call to the disciples to preach that fact to all nations is not just Christianity seeking “equal time” alongside other religious beliefs; it is Christianity saying every other belief system out there is wrong, and if you choose to follow them you’ll be committing spiritual suicide.
Did the resurrection happen?
The evidence clearly suggests it did. Firstly, we are struck with the fact of an empty tomb. It is abundantly clear both from the Gospel accounts and from Jewish writings that Jesus’ body was missing. The Jews accused the Christians of stealing it. So fact one: the tomb
Then there’s the role of women. In the Gospel accounts, women were the first to witness the empty tomb, and witness the risen, resurrected Jesus. So what? Well it may not seem a big deal in our modern world where men and women both get to vote, but in Middle Eastern countries of the time, as today, women were second-class citizens whose testimony was so worthless they couldn’t even be witnesses in court.
If the Gospel accounts were fiction, the authors would definitely have made men the first witnesses, to lend credibility to the accounts. They would not in a million years have dreamed of making women the first witnesses unless, of course, that’s what really happened and they regarded the facts as more important than the spin.
Fact two: with women being first to witness the risen Christ, this indicates the story is more likely to be factual because it is counter-cultural – it runs against what people of the day would have expected, yet tells the story straight despite the risk of alienating potential converts.
Which then brings us to the other witnesses. A resurrected Jesus Christ appeared to the women and the 11 surviving disciples and around 500 others during the six weeks after his death on the cross. Search the annals of Sigmund Freud’s cases, or search every library of every psychology department at every university in the world, and you will never find one case of a hallucination appearing to hundreds of people at different times, or 11 people in a room all reporting that a hallucination sat down and ate fish with them, or that they could touch the hallucination. So the only other possible option here is that all the witnesses were simply liars who constructed a fictional story to help sell their message.
Fact three, then: the resurrection appearances to hundreds of people were not hallucinations, and must either be true or the deliberate false creation of the early Christians.
So could the resurrection appearances have been deliberate lies to sell the Christian message? Let’s examine that for a moment. Such deceit stands in direct opposition to everything Jesus Christ stood for, and everything preached in the Gospels. In other words, if you truly believed Jesus was the way and the truth, how was inventing the mother of all fairy stories going to reflect that “truth”?
Secondly, after the crucifixion, the record shows the disciples were crushed men. They’d been expecting to see the man they followed as God be triumphant at the cross, perhaps smiting all the Roman soldiers and proving to all that he was God come to deliver justice and vengeance against those who had dared to harm him. Instead, whipped and scourged to within an inch of his life, they’d watched from the sidelines as the Romans taunted Jesus on the cross before he drifted away suddenly crying out that even God had forsaken him. Maybe, thought the disciples, he really was only a man after all. So their own visions and dreams of the Messiah died on the cross with Christ, and when the women first talked about a risen Jesus they thought the women were insane. It just wasn’t computing in their heads.
Let’s assume, for the sake of this, that Jesus only fainted on the cross and woke up in the tomb, still alive. A Roman crucifixion was not a smack on the hand with a wooden spoon. It was a bloody and brutal affair where death was guaranteed. On the remote offchance that Jesus was only a human who survived the cross, are we to believe that – after rolling away the two-tonne boulder – a half-dead Jesus, blood-encrusted, gaping nail wounds in hands and feet and a spear gash in his heart, crawled into the disciples’ meeting room triumphantly muttering, “see, I’ve beaten death, I’m Lord and master of the Universe”? Would such a spectacle have inspired the disciples, or would they assume, like you and I, that he must simply have survived and not died at all? Hardly a triumph over death.
But the Gospel accounts speak of a radiant resurrected Jesus. An inspiring figure. Could the disciples have invented the resurrection accounts? Obviously they could have, but it is extremely unlikely. First and foremost, virtually all the disciples were later executed by Rome for continuing to claim that Christ really was God and really had been resurrected. Roman documents in British and European museums show the Roman emperors gave instructions that Christians were to be shown mercy if they publicly renounced their faith, and executed if they did not.
It is highly significant that the disciples were fed to lions; dipped in tar and set alight as garden lanterns; and put to death by crucifixion because they refused to renounce their claims. It is one thing to die for something you believe to be true, but we’re not arguing here over whether the disciples “believed” it – critics say the disciples knowingly made the story up.
Question. Would you volunteer to be torn apart by starving lions to defend a story you’d made up, when you could go free just by admitting to the con? Why would the disciples die such horrible deaths for something they knew was fake? It doesn’t make sense. The only rational explanation for it is that the disciples genuinely believed they’d seen the resurrected Christ (which, for reasons covered above, must have been the genuine Jesus), and that fact gave them enough faith to endure a few moments of pain from lions, rather than give up an eternity in heaven.
And that, folks, is the ultimate power of the resurrection. It is Christianity saying to the world, in the words of a recent song: No matter what they tell you / No matter what they do / No matter what they teach you / What you believe is true.
A liberal, symbolic, Easter Egg, counterfeit construction of the resurrection may be non-threatening to followers of other religions, but it will never set them free like the Truth. If I was on a road to Hell, I’d want to be told. Wouldn’t you?
TOUGH QUESTIONS: Feb 05
An act of God? An answer to lightweight theorists
In these first dramatic days of the New Year, theodicy seems to be the favorite topic in salons and around kitchen tables. Theodicy is a term coined by German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz (1646-1716) for assorted attempts to “justify” belief in a good, omnipotent and omniscient God in the face of all the evil around us — natural calamities as well as the demonic acts of man.How can God allow the angry sea to swallow up hundreds of thousands of innocent people after a huge seaquake? Of course radical Islamic sages
fill Web sites with speculation that this was Allah’s punishment of non-believers, perverts among tourists and governments supporting “crusaders” — meaning, Christians — in their conquest of Muslim lands.
Never mind that most of the victims are Muslims and most of the help comes from the so-called crusaders, plus Japan.
Yet this still leaves the question: What about God’s goodness? To the horror of more fervent Christians, no lesser light than Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, opined in London’s Daily Telegraph “the disaster should have all Christians question God’s existence.”
“The question, ‘How can you believe in a God who permits suffering on this scale?’ is therefore very much around at the moment, and it would be surprising if it weren’t — indeed it would be wrong if it weren’t,” he wrote.
This triggered a spirited retort from C. FitzSimmons Allison, former Episcopal bishop of South Carolina.
“Natural disasters always provoke questions of God’s goodness in the face of excruciating tragedy,” he wrote in VirtueOnline, a feisty orthodox Anglican Web service. “It has always been so, and disasters will always continue. It has not been given to Christians to dispel the mystery of evil.”
Allison continued, “The cynic in us is tempted to resolve the issue by removing God from all consideration and doing what Job refused to do: curse (consign to oblivion) his own hope. Yet this choice saves no one from the terrible waves of water and leaves us with no hope or meaning beyond the devastation.”
“Jesus does not attempt to explain why the tower of Siloam (Luke 13) fell on those 18 people, but he carefully and adamantly denies that it was because they were worse sinners than others in Jerusalem. He acknowledges therefore, that there is innocent suffering, but he goes on to say what seems at first un-pastoral: “... but unless you repent you shall likewise perish.”
On the other side of the Atlantic, Munich University’s Wolfhart Pannenberg, one of the world’s leading systematic theologians, also referred to the book of Job. In Biblical times, he said, people seemed to have a much sounder approach to what we today call theodicy.
“Even in terrible situations such as Job’s, they have never ceased praising God. For when you stop doing that, you destroy hope. But hope is when despite everything one puts oneself in God’s hands,” Pannenberg told United Press International.
We do not live in paradise - not anymore, and not yet, if you affirm Scripture. Leibnitz’ theodicy stated that while God created a world with evil in it, it is still the best of all possible worlds.
“God has created the laws of nature, and we experience them in one way or another,” added Pannenberg. “God runs this world with as little supernatural interference as possible,” agreed Orthodox Rabbi Daniel Lapin, president of Toward Tradition, an organization defending Judeo-Christian values.
But whether evil occurs in humans or in nature, ultimately God will ultimately turn the worst evil into good, Christian theology teaches. Hope and an outpouring of love are already visible results of the tsunami catastrophe, as they have been after the war caused by Hitler.
No, for all its beauty this universe is no Paradise. But it is, as Leibnitz argued, the best of all worlds God could have chosen to create.
TOUGH QUESTIONS: Mar 05
A Viennese waltz on whether you can believe the Bible
Hans (“Vox Populi”, p16) takes me to task over my suggestion that the Old Testament has not been found to contain any errors. My response is this: Why do you keep missing the basic points I’m making? The Old Testament is without error. Philosophically, to believe that it has error is to believe that we worship a God who cannot communicate accurately with humankind. I am familiar with the (mostly 19th century Austro Hungarian) argument that the OT was myth and allegory, but their views were based on invalid philosophical presuppositions – such as Hume’s denial of miracles – that have now been shown to be flawed.
So philosophical argument that the OT is faulty doesn’t stack up.
Which leaves us with the alternative – is there any objective evidence that the OT does contain errors – any errors?
None. That is the point I was making, no more, no less. After two thousand years of criticism and discovery, not one actual error has been found in the OT amongst what is still capable of verification four thousand years after the events. However, time and again historians have found that what they assumed to be erroneous references in the OT are in fact true (e.g., the discovery of the Hittite civilisation only last century).
Reason to disbelieve them could come from the natural world around us, but again (and I’m not attempting to be personal here because it applies to many) there is widespread ignorance about what the OT actually says. You, for example, suggest there’s no evidence of a worldwide flood 4000 years ago. Great. Now tell me where in the OT it says there was a worldwide flood “4000 years” ago?
This sort of strawman rubbish would be laughed out of most theological colleges but it survives in the pages of Skeptic Journals as if it is some kind of silver bullet.
Your bottom line premise is that there is no reason to take the OT as a true and accurate record of history. That’s your philosophical position, now provide me with some real instances where the Bible is wrong to support your premise with evidence.
You suggest all life is related. Perhaps it is, perhaps it isn’t. There is no direct scientific evidence of this, only speculation based on the circumstantial evidence. And the circumstantial evidence is effectively confined to the structure of cellular organisms and the fact that every living thing contains DNA. But I and others could equally look at the same evidence and speculate that it points to the existence of a common Intelligent Designer who used a blueprint to create life. Just as roads the world over are made of asphalt, because it works as a roading surface, so too does all life contain DNA, because that is the computer programme God designed to run life with. The mere fact that Brick “A” was found in the Victoria Park Market chimney, and Brick “B” forms part of the Sistine Chapel, does not imply that VPM and the Sistine Chapel are related. They are, but only to the extent they were designed by humans using a common design ingredient.
So here are a couple of biological posers for you: if random evolutionary change, driven by the engine of natural selection, is the reason for the wide variety of lifeforms on this planet, perhaps you can explain to me why it was only DNA-based organisms that formed life? Why do we not have a range of unconnected lifeforms if evolution was as simple and common an occurrence as you imply?
More intriguingly why is it, if evolutionists are correct, that all lifeforms would track back to one common ancestor? Why only one? Why not 500 different original species each giving rise to their own lineage?
Either God is powerful enough to raise Christ from the grave and defeat Evil, or he’s not. Either God by definition is a perfect being and the epitome of truth, or he is not. Either God can inspire his disciples to write his truth in the Old Testament, or he can’t. And if he can’t ensure that the OT is correct, why should we believe the NT?
TOUGH QUESTIONS: Sep 05, AU Edition
Child abuse and the nature of evil
Surveys show around 90% of Australians and New Zealanders have a spiritual belief. Many people as part of that belief acknowledge the existence of spiritual evil, whether in the new agey “bad karma” sense or in the traditional Christian, Islamic or Jewish view of evil personified in satanic form. In Europe, however, belief in God is dropping away rapidly as Europeans see themselves as enlightened social liberals. In France, in particular, belief in the existence of the Devil is held by only 17% of the population, compared with 65% in the US.
Is it possible that by abandoning belief in God, people can leave themselves wide open to genuine spiritual evil? That is the question ultimately thrown up by last month’s convictions of 62 people in a French village for “raping, prostituting, molesting or failing to protect 45 children as young as six months old,” as the Belfast Telegraph succinctly summed it up.
The accused villagers, aged between 27 and 73, including 26 women. These people were the parents and grandparents of 45 children from 23 families. As the newspaper notes: “They took part in the sexual assaults themselves or accepted small payments, including cigarettes, drink and food, for the use of their children.”
Some people would have us believe that sexual orientation is something we’re born with. What are we to make of the news that the inhabitants of an entire village were born paedophiles? Do we believe this is a random fluke of nature, or is the cause of this infestation more likely to be a direct result of the culture and belief systems our generation is creating in the West? Like the eagerness of Germans to round up “subhuman” Jews for the final solution, or the speed with which otherwise civilised Los Angelenos descended into brutal bloodlust, rape and riot, burning their central city in 1991; I’m far more inclined to believe that evil is not a “natural” genetic flaw, it is a path we choose. Remember those cartoons with the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other? What happens when the person in the middle no longer believes in angels – where then does their advice come from?
The answer can be seen in the French town of Angers.
The mastermind of the Village of Paedophilia was a 37 year old with previous convictions, and four children of his own were repeatedly raped and abused by strangers. One 12 year old girl was said to have been raped 45 times.
A mother, Patricia, was found guilty of raping her own daughter, and prostituting 11 neighbourhood children.
The abuse took place in properties owned by the local council, and 21 of the 23 families were under the “supervision” of social workers. In fact, fifteen social workers had been rostered to look after Patricia’s family. Several witnesses testified they saw Patricia’s husband Frank raping his own children, even though one was yelling out, “stop daddy, you’re hurting me”.
One factor that researchers have long known is that people who are sexually abused as children are more likely to become abusers as adults. Patricia and her husband had both been molested as children.
In Christian theology, there is a reason for this: demonic transference. Several times in the New Testament, Christ talks about people possessed by demons, and how unless a person changes their bad habits, the spiritual baggage they cast out will come back: “It goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go and live in there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.”
In the book of Matthew, 8:31, Jesus comes across a possessed man and casts demonic spirits out of him: “The demons begged Jesus, ‘If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs’.” And
Christ treated demons, or dark angels, as real creatures, albeit invisible to the eye. If they left a place, they had to go somewhere else. And they had the capacity to invite their mates around for a few cold ones and blue movies.
There have been several Hollywood movies on the premise of demons leaping from victim to victim, and the spiritual sickness in the French village of Angers is stark testimony. Is there a better explanation for why 62 residents of a village should suddenly take up child molestation on masse, passing their own kids around to other villagers and watching six month old babies being sexually violated?
A random fluke of nature or genetics just doesn’t explain it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not exculpating these scum by suggesting they’re not really guilty because “the devil made me do it”. The devil planted the idea, but they chose to act on it.
Which brings me to Graham Capill and other men of the cloth, Protestant or Catholic, who have turned out to be child molestors. While it is true that there are infinitely more cases of child abuse outside the church, it is those within the clergy who gain the most media attention.
The reason is simple, in my view. If personal evil exists in the world, and I am convinced it does, then it is entirely logical to expect that Evil to attack those professing to follow the good. Look at the accusations of hypocrisy leveled at Capill by New Zealand’s atheists and secular humanists as a general tarnish against Christianity. Sure – Capill was a personal hypocrite. But what he said publicly about the dangers of pornography and social liberalism is correct. Clearly his message was not hypocritical, unless atheists would now have us believe that child abuse must be alright (some, in fact, do argue this) and Capill was a hypocrite for arguing the contrary. For all I know, Capill’s journey began with pornography or abuse as a child. Maybe in offering the warnings he was in fact speaking from personal knowledge, from what was left of his conscience while he let the darkness consume him.
Whatever, the media frenzy around Capill, whilst justified on one level, was equally hypocritical – given the media’s role in selling sex, liberalism, violence and other nasties to the wider community. There was an element of spiritual cannibalism going on here. Or Pot calling the Kettle black.
If Christ could spend his days on earth being shadowed by Satan, indeed, having the devil offer him every worldly pleasure possible in a bid to tempt him off course, is it any less likely that Satan is doing the same thing to otherwise good people worldwide, every day?
If life, as Omar Khayyam proffered, “is but a chequerboard of nights and days, where Destiny [the final outcome of the battle between good and evil] with Men for pieces plays”, is it really a surprise that some fall by the wayside, taken out of the game because they’ve compromised themselves or their team?
In the West, we’ve been far too quick to abandon belief in not just spirituality, but specifically the Light and the Dark. Even many Christians now believe only in the Light, and don’t think the Dark is real.
Explain that to the 45 abused children in Angers. Tell them that they were mere victims of coincidence, that their parents didn’t really succumb to the darkness. Then click the heels of your nice red shoes and take a trip to Kansas.
Tough Questions, Mar 05, AU Edition
Been sucked in by The Da Vinci Code yet?
Along time ago, in a lifetime far, far away, I bought a book called The Holy Blood & The Holy Grail. Hundreds of people queued at my city’s biggest bookshop to obtain the first copies of what was billed as the biggest blow to Christianity in 2000 years.
That book made its authors millions. It took off around the world, all because of its highly controversial allegations – that Jesus Christ did not die on the Cross, but slipped away and secretly married Mary Magdalene before escaping to France and having babies. The essence of the story was that the “Holy Grail” of ancient repute was not, in fact, the chalice from which Christ gave the disciples Communion, but that the real “Grail” was in fact “Sang Real”, or Sang Royale – the royal bloodline of Christ as the authors perceived the story.
According to their “exposé”, a vast network of co-conspirators had worked through the ages to protect the descendants of Jesus – still living in France – and that protection included the Knights Templar and a mysterious monastic organisation named the Priory of Zion which allegedly continues to this day.
Except, as all good adventure story readers know, ripping good yarns like this one are generally a crock, and this one in particular was the Mother of all Crocks. Seems poor old Dan Brown, the author of the bestselling Da Vinci Code, fell for it though.
Brown’s book has spent more than a year sucking people’s money from
their own pockets and into his like a Hoovermatic vacuum cleaner. Brown himself has earned somewhere in the region of $30 million from it to date. So what are his central claims?
Well, he draws heavily on The Holy Blood for inspiration, and has one of his central characters, fictional historian Leigh Teabing, fire a supposed bullseye shot at Christianity in this exchange:
Teabing says to an eager young acolyte, “The Bible is a product of man, my dear. Not of God. The Bible did not fall magically from the clouds. Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book…
“More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few were chosen for inclusion – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John among them.”
“Who chose which gospels to include?” Sophie asked.
“Aha!” Teabing burst in with enthusiasm. “The fundamental irony of Christianity! The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the Pagan Roman emperor, Constantine the Great!”
First rule of pulp fiction: never let the facts get in the way of a good story. Let’s examine the illustrious Teabing’s assertion.
What he’s really saying is that by way of some grand Roman political conspiracy, the New Testament Gospels we have today are the ones that suited the Roman Empire’s purposes, and that the vast bulk of “gospels” about Jesus were deliberately left out. Ergo, every poor deluded creature who’s ever entered a church and sung a hymn through the ages has been the victim of a Roman hoax, kept alive through the centuries by church and governmental authorities desirous of retaining power over the peasantry by giving them some spiritual opium. Karl Marx had pretty much the same view. If true, then Christians everywhere have good reason to be concerned about the rationality of their faith. But it’s not true.
Firstly, many of the references to so-called ancient records in The Da Vinci Code are false. Author Dan Brown’s direct claim, via the mouth of his character Teabing, about there being “eighty” suppressed gospels is simply a blatant untruth.
You’d be hard pressed to find eighty bits of paper from 2,000 years ago, let alone eighty gospels. Quite simply, as any recognised university professor can confirm, there were never “eighty” alternative gospels in existence. At most, there were perhaps a dozen or two, ranked in a sliding scale of 1 to 10 in terms of authenticity and credibility.
The top four are the Gospels we have today, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The reason they are at the top of the list is that they were written as early as ten years after the death of Christ. Liberal scholar Dr John A. T. Robinson – no friend of fundamentalists – believes the old view that the Gospels were written up to a hundred years after Jesus died is utterly false, and that the earliest of the Gospels was written and circulating as early as 40 AD.
Those four gospels, and Paul’s letters, had already been meticulously copied dozens of times by hand and sent to Christian communities around the Mediterranean by the end of the first century, and by the end of the second century AD there were hundreds of copies of our New Testament in existence and daily use.
Archaeologists and historians have found numerous letters and sermons, dating from as early as 90 AD, quoting the Gospels and other New Testament books. Those same documents also show the rival alternative “gospels”, such as the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Philip, didn’t appear on the scene until around 140 AD and were not accepted by Christians at the time as genuine. Early Christians regarded those “gospels” as frauds, and so should we.
For The Da Vinci Code to claim that the Catholic Church and a Roman Emperor had any power, by the time they met in 325 AD, to suddenly reinvent the Bible without anyone knowing is so ludicrous it makes the Moon Landing Conspiracy Theory look
The 325 AD meeting with Constantine was no more than a rubber-stamping exercise that formally recognised what hundreds of thousands of Christians already knew – the four Gospels, Acts and the Epistles were the true and inspired New Testament given to Christians by God. The first Christians – those people who had seen Jesus alive, watched his crucifixion and witnessed the Resurrection – welcomed the four Gospels as authentic and truthful. The reason the four Gospels were revered by the first Christians is because they were written either directly by Jesus’ apostles (Matthew and John), or by assistants to the apostles (Mark and Luke).
Unlike the much later alternative “gospels”, the top four read like historical narratives with acute attention to detail. Contrast Luke’s writing with later fictitious gospels featuring such additions as a “talking cross” that walked out of the tomb behind Jesus on the morning of his resurrection before, presumably, both he and the talking cross dashed off for coffee somewhere.
As a point of fact, nearly every one of the alternative “gospels” was created by followers of the religion “Gnosticism” which maintains that real spiritual truth can only be obtained by secret knowledge passed from Master to Initiate. Gnosticism was working frantically to counter the rapidly growing Christian faith, and it tried to do so by hijacking orthodox Christian gospels and re-writing them in accordance with its own beliefs.
Gnosticism is at the heart of the New Age movement today, and both The Holy Blood & The Holy Grail, and The Da Vinci Code are nothing more than extended advertisements for Gnosticism.
Which brings me to Big Claim No. 2 in The Da Vinci Code:
The character Teabing refers to the Council of Nicea, which was that aforementioned gathering of bishops in the year 325, and he claims: “At this gathering…many aspects of Christianity were debated and voted upon – the date of Easter, the role of the bishops, the administration of the sacraments, and of course, the divinity of Jesus”
“I don’t follow. His divinity?”
“My dear,” Teabing declared, “until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by his followers as a mortal prophet…a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal.”
“Not the Son of God?”
“Right,” Teabing said, “Jesus’ establishment as the Son of God was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicea.”
“Hold on. You’re saying that Jesus’ divinity was the result of a vote?”
“A relatively close vote at that,” Teabing added.
While the above passage would certainly find some supporters out there in I-read-Dan-Brown land, you truly would have to be extremely gullible to believe it. It is, again, a blatant fiction.
Did Jesus Christ claim to be God in the Gospels? Repeatedly. Take John 10:25-33:
“Jesus answered... ‘I and my Father are one’,” at which point a Jewish crowd tried to stone him to death for blasphemy.
At John 8:58, “Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM’.”
Think about that statement for a moment. Worded very strangely, isn’t it? Unless of course you are indeed the immortal God who created Time and exists outside Time in an eternal Now. Under those circumstances, it makes perfect sense for Jesus to refer to himself existing before Abraham two thousand years earlier, and to refer to himself in the eternal present tense as “I AM”.
Makes even more sense when you go back to Exodus 3:14 and discover that God introduced himself to Moses as “I AM”.
And while Exodus records the first commandment as “Thou shalt have no other Gods but me” on pain of death, the New Testament shows Jesus clearly saying he is God, using God’s divine name for himself and, at Matthew 8:2, John 9:35-39 and elsewhere, accepting worship from people – something only God was permitted to do. Now of course anyone can claim to be God. Our psych units are full of delusional people who claim to be God. And Jesus was confronted with skeptics as the Bible records in Mark 2:9-12 when Jesus met a man paralysed from birth. He tells the man his sins are forgiven, prompting a gasp from the crowd who remind him only God has the power to forgive sins. So Jesus then asks the crowd which is the easier – to say “your sins are forgiven” or to say “rise and walk”? According to one biblical scholar commenting on this little dilemma, it is “an unanswerable question. The statements are equally simple to pronounce; but to say either, with accompanying performance, requires divine power.
“An imposter, of course, in seeking to avoid detection, would find the former easier. Jesus proceeded to heal the illness that men might know he had authority to deal with its cause.”
So it is abundantly clear all through the New Testament that Jesus both claimed to be God, and performed miracles to prove his claim. He accepted worship as if he were God. And writings from Roman imperial records around 100 AD show people “singing hymns to Christ, as if to a God”.
For Dan Brown and The Da Vinci Code to claim that Jesus was never regarded as God before 325 AD is just an outright crock.
Yes, it’ll sell books. But then again a fool and their money are soon parted.
TOUGH QUESTIONS: Apr 05, AU Edition
Going head-to-head with a reader over the Da Vinci Code fraud
Dear Mr Wishart: In reply to your article regarding Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, it would seem to me that Mr Brown has hit a nerve with you. I’m not sure I can put my religious beliefs into a box and label them nicely as one particular religion. I do, however, have a deep-seated interest in the Bible and all the people it talks about, especially Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
I say it hit a nerve because you were unable to support your views with scholarly investigative methods. In fact the only points raised in reply were from the very ‘book’ in question (and a few vague references to academics).
I’d like to comment on the two points you have issues with.
1) You have to remember that Mr Brown’s book is fiction with a few facts thrown in. “More than eighty gospels” is probably a bit of an exaggeration, but not for the reasons you stated. How then can you
explain the omission of the Gospel of Mary written by Mary Magdalene? She was there too! How is her Gospel any less credible or authentic than the others? You say in your article, “the first Christians - those who had seen Jesus alive, watched his crucifixion and witnessed the Resurrection...” This includes Mary Magdalene. I think it was because she was a woman and because although she was with Jesus throughout his ministry she has always been portrayed as the fallen woman, the repentant whore. I ask you to show me where in the Bible it says this. It doesn’t.
2) Jesus’ divinity. Perhaps another reason many gospels were not included in the Bible was that they showed Jesus as a real man, with needs and wants like any other man. There is no doubt in my mind that
he really did walk this Earth, as a mortal man, not a God. He ate, slept, and defecated, like we do. He loved and hated and cried and laughed, like we do. He bled when cut, like we do. He had human needs and human desires. How is it so inconceivable that he married too? That maybe he had a family? Funny how Mary Magdalene figures in this too.
The Council of Nicea decided what would be included in the Bible. This is fact. Research it. It was pointed out recently to me that all the gospels in the Bible tell the story while the ones which were omitted tell of the message. Which do you think is the more important? Have you actually read any of the other gospels? Doesn’t sound like it.
Is it fair to comment on something you have not investigated yourself?
Given your strong stance on the Bible and Jesus I was hoping you could explain a few things to me:
One story in the Bible which has always intrigued me is the story of when Jesus, Peter and Mary Magdalene go to the temple. Jesus and Mary go inside while Peter has to wait outside. Why? Why does Mary go inside and Peter stay outside? The only reason a woman would enter a temple is if she was a priestess herself. (Whoa! Another out-there theory to upset Mr Wishart). Think about it: she saw Jesus after his crucifixion. Why her, and how could she see a dead person? The only logical answer is that she was clairvoyant and she saw his spirit. Jesus could have been the most famous clairvoyant and healer we have ever seen. He was definitely an enlightened man. Whyis this such an impossible scenario?
It is never disputed that Jesus was of the House of David. How can he have a lineage from a mortal father (Joseph) and yet be divine with God as his father. How does this work? And if Mary was a virgin how come Jesus had brothers and sisters. He mentions them repeatedly throughout the Bible. Symbolic meanings, maybe? If so, does it not follow that other things may be symbolic also, like Jesus’ divinity, a virgin birth, miracles? No? Too many contradictions for me!
Dear Jane: I’m not sure after that whose nerve was hit hardest. You dismiss with a mere wave of the hand my assertion that the other gospels came from “dubious sources”. I was actually much stronger than that, stating they were frauds written by followers of a rival religion, Gnosticism. Nor were they written within the lifetime of anyone who witnessed the crucifixion or resurrection of Jesus: the Gnostic “gospels”, including the Gospel of Mary you refer to, were written from about 140AD onwards. The Gospels of Thomas, Mary, Peter and a range of others could not have been written by the real Thomas, Mary, Peter, etc., because those disciples died at least 60 years before the Gnostics wrote books in their name.
Karen King’s book on the Gospel of Mary is interesting but utterly worthless. It sheds no light on the real Jesus Christ or the real Mary Magdalene, and is no more biblically authentic than a Taiwanese Rolex.
To illustrate the pointlessness of treating the Gnostic “gospels” as authentic, consider this little dilemma. The Gospel of Peter purports to have been written by the Apostle Peter, except of course that he was actually executed by the Romans nearly 100 years earlier, and that his real gospel is the one written by Mark, who was Peter’s assistant in Rome. Mark’s Gospel was published and in circulation as early as only a decade after the crucifixion.
Regarding Mary Magdalene, you are entirely right that nowhere in the Bible does it say she was a “fallen woman”. Nor do I say it. This is a tradition of the Catholic Church, not founded in Scripture.
Regarding your second point on the divinity of Jesus: while Jesus was both human and divine, he was also sinless. Nowhere in either the Bible, or in contemporaneous extrabiblical accounts, is there a suggestion otherwise. You can be absolutely certain that if Jesus had a wife the real Gospels would have recorded it, because they would have regarded it as a relevant witness to the world. They certainly would not have covered it up, because that would indicate that the Gospel writers themselves were ashamed of Jesus, in which case why would they write the Gospels and why would they be willing to be executed in his name? Doesn’t make sense. Just another daft conspiracy theory from people like Dan Brown.
A wife would also have detracted from Jesus’ stated mission: he was not here to found an earthly kingdom or a divine royal lineage, he was here to sacrifice himself for humanity.
You also wrote: “The Council of Nicea decided what would be included in the Bible. This is fact. Research it.”
I’m sorry, but whomever you’re talking to knows nothing of early church history. And I have researched it. Again, the Council of Nicea was a mere rubber-stamp on what Christians since 50AD had already decided were the authentic Gospels and Epistles. It was no more within the power of the bishops at Nicea to suddenly reinvent Christianity in their own image than it is within my power to prevent a tide coming in. Copies of the New Testament pre-dating Nicea contain the same books and words as copies of the New Testament produced afterwards. As a further sign that the early church regarded only the real Gospels as authentic, you’ll find if you study the writings of the first Christians more than 200 years before the Council of Nicea, that between them they quoted almost the entire New Testament in their letters, and it matches what we have today.
In contrast, one of the early “fathers” of Gnosticism, Marcion, wrote a list of what he regarded as the authentic New Testament in 140AD, the so-called Marcionite Canon, which included the Gospel of Luke and ten of Paul’s Epistles. His list contained none of the Gnostic books, indicating they had not yet been crafted.
The Gnostic gospels were, and are, a crock. A religious flat-earth theory. They suffered their final defeat at Nicea along with their main promoter, a wayward bishop named Arius (much like Lloyd Geering or John Shelby Spong today). Their reappearance today says more about the state of denial some people are prepared to live in than anything about their actual worth.
The primary message of Jesus Christ, and attested to by the genuine Gospels, is that God took on human form, walked the earth in Galilee and gave his life that those who believed in that Act and its significance might repent of their sins and be saved to a resurrection life after death. First and foremost, the message of Christ was spiritual, not social. Good works follow faith, they do not precede it or supersede it.
Concerning Mary Magdalene, it may be my eyes, but I’m unable to find a reference to Jesus, Mary and Peter going to the Temple and Peter having to remain outside. However, the main thrust of your point is that Mary was only allowed in because she was a Priestess/Clairvoyant, because other women were not permitted.
With respect, you are mistaken. There are numerous references in the Gospels to ordinary women entering the Temple to pray and worship. There is no suggestion in the authentic Gospels that Magdalene was a clairvoyant, but assuming that she was for the sake of your argument, I can only presume that the 11 surviving male disciples and around 500 others who witnessed the resurrection appearances were all clairvoyants as well? Even Peter, whom you say had to remain outside?
On to your other questions:
How was Jesus directly descended from David when Joseph was only his adoptive father?
Through his mother, Mary. The genealogy in Luke 3 is via Mary’s father, Heli, back to Nathan, a son of King David and his wife Bathsheba. Jesus was doubly blessed however because under Jewish inheritance rules Joseph was “of the House of David” and so too was his adopted son Jesus.
If Mary was a virgin, how did Jesus have brothers and sisters?
The “brothers and sisters” of Jesus followed later as the full biological children of Mary and Joseph. The idea that Mary was an eternal virgin is, again, a tradition of the Catholic Church not supported by the Bible itself.
Divinity, virgin birth, miracles? No!
For a woman who is prepared to accept, with a lot less evidence, clairvoyancy and ghosts, you then grapple with supernatural themes in the Bible and find them too hard to believe? Sorry Jane, you contradict yourself here. Once you accept any possibility of a supernatural realm you are forced to accept all of its potential, just like you can’t be just a little bit pregnant.
If you wish to read a well-researched book on the authenticity and accuracy of the Gospels in order to get a balanced view, I can recommend Craig Blomberg’s The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, Gary Habermas’ The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence For The Life Of Christ, or Josh McDowell’s New Evidence That Demands A Verdict, which should all be available at your local library.
TOUGH QUESTIONS: Dec 05, AU Edition
Exorcism – when belief becomes reality
Hollywood has a long history of milking the religious and/or supernatural veins of our culture for material, and usually it’s a blockbuster. Last season Mel Gibson’s The Passion became a worldwide hit, even in Muslim countries. Thirty years ago who can forget little Damien, his Dobermans, and a bunch of powerless priests in The Omen and its sequels? This summer’s offering to moviegoers is no different: The Exorcism of Emily Rose.
The movie tells the story of a Catholic priest facing negligent homicide charges after his exorcism of a young woman goes fatally wrong.
In the 21st century, is belief in demonic possession something we threw out with the Dark Ages, or is it part and parcel of a global spiritual ‘quickening’ that’s manifesting itself in everything from terror attacks, to the battle over Intelligent Design, or who should sit on the US Supreme Court?
I’m arguing strongly that it’s the latter. The battle over religion may appear at first blush to be a battle of ideas. At a deeper level, however, it’s a battle for the soul of every living human on the planet.
The liberal latte set in Balmain or Ponsonby may have trouble with that particular concept, and they’ll sit there making loud scoffing noises over a panini, but those same people will then go home, read their horoscope, do a little yoga, make sure their city abodes have appropriate feng shui, and probably swap dinner party stories about things that went bump in the night at the last inner city villa they inhabited.
Intriguingly, a survey just out in Britain shows more people believe in ghosts (68%) than believe in God (55%). What that tells me is that a substantial portion of the British population are cretins. The moment one accepts the possibility of any supernatural, by definition one would have to accept the possibility of the existence of God.
Otherwise, what created the spirits? The survey goes on to reveal that more than a quarter of Britons believe in UFOs, and almost as many in reincarnation.
The UFO bit is interesting, because it leads directly back to the exorcism issue. I remember reading about a decade ago how the head of a UFO research group in the States suddenly twigged to the fact that what we think we’re seeing in the night sky may not be what we assume, Spielberg-like, a UFO or alien actually is. This particular researcher began praying to Jesus Christ when he and his team encountered apparent UFO visitations, and the apparitions vanished. Exorcised as it were.
Think about it for a moment. Back in the Dark Ages, people, even respectable people, saw monsters. Literature and historic accounts, even from ancient historians whose work we value, abounds with tales of monsters being seen here, there and everywhere.
Culturally, we encountered demonic spirits in monster form because that was what was relevant in the day. In modern times, we’ve explored the world, we know there are no monsters, but we’re culturally prepared to see spacecraft and aliens. There is a growing body of people who now suspect the UFO phenomenon is nothing more than the monsters of the past reappearing in modern form.
Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald about The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Linda Morris notes “the idea that people could be possessed by spirits predates Christianity and is found in many other religions.” Indeed it is, but only Christianity actually cures the problem. And if you go to the heart of Africa, and the spiritual battleground between Christianity, Islam and Animism (primitive spirit/witchdoctor religion), you’ll find demonic possession is not scoffed at but accepted as part of life. They don’t see UFOs, they see spirits and weird creatures.
In Mexico, recently, Indians in remote parts of the Yucatan have being going crazy over “the Wolfwoman”, a werewolf type creature they reckon has been stalking villagers and killing livestock, while in remote parts of Chile it is the “Chupacabra” they’re talking about:
“It had the body of a kangaroo…deep set red eyes…and two large fangs protruding from its upper jaw,” recounted a Chilean news report quoted on a paranormal website in the US.
Only in South America, perhaps. Apart from Warren Zevon, the rest of us don’t generally see werewolves in London anymore, walking through the streets of Soho in the rain.
Then, from the same paranormal website, the report of the human sacrifice of a one year old baby boy in Peru, apparently in a renewal of ancient Indian religion. The child had been beheaded, and his heart torn out on the peak of Torre Torrni in the southern Andes.
Do we really dismiss child sacrifice as just a manifestation of normal religious belief, or do we harbour a nagging suspicion that perhaps primitive religions truly were started by satanic entities, and that this evil is on the move once more?
Why does Christian prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ and with the power of the Holy Spirit, break those strangleholds? I can tell you now that Christianity hasn’t become the fastest-growing religion in the world this decade because a whole bunch of liberal Unitarian ministers have convinced Africans and Asians that going to church is a good thing and George Bush is a bad person. No. Hundreds of thousands of Africans and Asians are converting to Christianity every week because they’re seeing supernatural miracles performed in front of their very eyes, just like Christ did in the New Testament. Exorcisms are not rare, they’re routine. And let’s face it, if your religious baggage includes worshiping half man/half beast gods, chances are you’re going to need deliverance.
In the West, our demons are not so much things that go bump in the night as things that make us hurt others, or harm ourselves. We have a growing disbelief in the supernatural, and with it a disbelief in Jesus Christ. And if you were Satan and your job description was to keep people away from Christianity, you’d look at Western culture and say you’d done a pretty good job. You don’t actually need a Carnivorous Skippy bounding down Pitt St in search of a soul-tie. In fact, such a supernatural occurrence might actually be counterproductive in the West.
Even so, truth is, in Sydney or Auckland, far more deliverance and even exorcisms are performed than either the Herald or the Catholic Church is aware of. Mothers whose daughters cut themselves because “the blood releases my pain” have found psychiatrists a waste of time. Christian prayer, on the other hand, coupled with a conversion to Christianity, often works where the best of western medicine and psych study draws a blank. There are diseases of the body that need medicine, and there are afflictions of the spirit and the soul that ultimately only God can heal, not man.
None of which negates the fact that in Christianity you can still get quacks like the rogue Korean pastor who killed a young Auckland woman during an exorcism four years ago by throttling her, and a similar case in the US, where those concerned felt they needed to fatally beat the proverbial out of a child during ‘deliverance’. But those cases are so rare that’s precisely why they do make headlines. You don’t see Jesus in the Bible strapping on a Ghostbuster-style vacuum cleaner, using a gun with a silver bullet or slinging some garlic around his neck, much less going 15 rounds with a possessed man. He simply ordered the spirit to leave its victim, by the authority of his name.
If you feel you need deliverance, or you’d just like someone to pray for you, ask at your local church and experience it first hand. Your head won’t swivel, you probably won’t hit the ceiling, but you might feel a weight lift off your shoulders.