Thinking Faith blogs
It isn't only Romanian witches and politicians who live in pagan stories.
English poets are very fascinated by pagan and gnostic worldviews.
Ted Hughes was one of the most gifted British poets of the last century. He was also fascinated by the occult. At Cambridge he experimented heavily in the dark arts. He and the American poetess Sylvia Plath got married in 1956 and they spent many hours playing with the Ouija board. Ted Hughes once asked the 'spirits' if he and Sylvia Plath would become famous. "Fame will come", the Ouija board answered, "but at an enormous cost". In 1963 his American wife Sylvia Plath committed suicide. Tragically in 1969 Ted's new partner Assia Wevill killed their four year old daughter and then also committed suicide. In 2009 Sylvia and Ted's son Nicholas committed suicide after battling depression.
Ted Hughes was a Gnostic. Gnosticism is a complicated worldview but it contrasts strikingly with both materialism and Christianity. Gnostics are often intrigued by non-Christian forms of spirituality. Indeed Hughes was very influenced by early animist and pagan religions. In these religions there is a strong sense of unseen forces and spiritual powers that can be contacted and befriended. This can help us to understand Hughes' fascination with the occult.
We need to understand both secularism (consumerism, materialism etc) and paganism (gnosticism, rat worship etc) if we are to understand how people live and how to engage intelligently with them about the Christian faith.
A few years ago a group of Romanian witches warned former Chelsea player, Adrian Mutu, that his career might suffer because of curses put on him by a former girlfriend.
"No problem", replied Mutu, revealing an unusual Romanian superstition. "Curses can't touch me because I wear my underwear inside out".
Many western people find this story perplexing and bizarre. Secular people do not just ignore God but they also ignore the spirits, the gods and the superstitious behaviour that paganism brings.
Secular man does not fear God or the gods. He/she revels in autonomy and often trusts in science and technology to bring the good life. A 'rational' as opposed to an 'irrational' kind of faith.
Today's Daily Telegraph is running an article about Romanian witches who are refusing to pay their taxes!
For more on this see The Independent article.
Queen witch Bratara Buzea, 63, who was imprisoned in 1977 for witchcraft under Ceausescu's regime, is furious about the new law which will force her to pay income tax. Sitting cross-legged in her villa in the lake resort of Mogosoaia, just north of Bucharest, she said she planned to cast a spell on the Taxman using a particularly effective concoction of cat excrement and dead dog, accompanied by a chorus of witches.
How will Romanian politicians and civil servants respond to this magical cursing a la Balak and Balaam (Numbers 20)?
Romanian president Traian Basescu and his aides are known to wear purple on certain days, supposedly to ward off evil. As committed pagans they are 'ready' for the magical attack.
And this raises a vital question – Will increasing numbers of western people turn their backs on the gods of science, technology and economic growth and imitate these Romanian folk? Will paganism replace secularism?
Vickie Lynn Marshall (1967 – 2007) was better known under the stage name of Anna Nicole Smith. She was an American model, actress and television celebrity. She first gained fame by appearing in the magazine Playboy when she became the 1993 Playmate of the Year. In 1994 she became notorious when, at the age of 26, she married the 89 year old billionaire J. Howard Marshall. This union led to numerous allegations that she was a cynical and opportunistic gold digger. In 1995, Marshall died and Smith began a lengthy legal battle over a share of his huge estate. She died at the age of 39, apparently as a result of an overdose of prescription drugs.
Smith stated that she was a Christian in a television interview, saying: "Jesus Christ is my lord and savior, and will always be, and I pray every day."
Some people believe that marriage is merely a contract. They enter marriage in order to increase their bank balance or enhance their status. For some marriage is all about personal profit and gain. On this view marriage is a means to an end. If the spouse doesn't deliver the goods – you leave the marriage. We could say that this is a consumerist approach to marriage. We consume a marriage in much the same way that we consume popcorn or chocolate. It's there, it gives pleasure and then suddenly it's gone. An original feature of the consumerist worldview is its uncanny ability to transform every relationship into a business proposition.
Tragically there are many stories of consumerists who believe they are Christians!
Our good friend from Australia Bruce Wearne has sent us this prayer from 'down under'.
A Christmas Prayer
Father in Heaven, As we celebrate the birth of Jesus,
Grant us a happy celebration that refreshes us and brings us together in glad thankfulness for the birth of Your Son, for the new start for the human race, for the life you have given us, here and now, of what is now past and what we now enjoy.
On this day as our feasting celebrates the coming of the Redeemer, help us to remember that soon after the shepherds gave their devotion and the foreign visitors gave their exotic gifts, the young family had to flee and become asylum seekers in a foreign land. So in being grateful for the coming of Jesus, give us also a taste for the bitter lives so many face who do not have enough bread, whose peace is shattered by war and violence, whose lives are ruined by flood or famine, who wait in detention seeking a new home.
When we sip soups prepared for our celebration, remind us again of who we are, and grant we may find good ways to serve the dispossessed and the lonely, the shut-in and the immobile.
When we taste sweat sauces, on our salad, meat and sweets, give us thankful hearts that can humbly resolve to keep on working for good, for justice and peace wherever you place us.
And when we clear away this table and stack the dishes, make us joyful in the soapsuds, knowing that our life of service, nourished by a firm hope in your promises in Christ Jesus, may blossom and flourish in a nurture that loves our neighbours as ourselves,
A guest post from David Hanson, with some wonderful thoughts about God's kingdom and the creation.
"Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible" avowed the learned Christian physicist Lord Kelvin in 1895. It seems he was mistaken. What, though, did God think about this faith-founded proclamation? May we surmise that there was amusement in the heavenly courts that day?
Then, when Kelvin was proved wrong eight years later, was Screwtape pleased or provoked? Did he gloat over vast new opportunities for destruction, terror, waste and self-indulgence lying before Adam's race? The benefits were surely not beyond even his imagination. Did he congratulate himself on holding back this earthling achievement for so many millenia? The 'Enemy' (his language, of course) had, for goodness' sake, provided all the wherewithal from before the foundation of the earth. Already then, the aeroplane was scheduled. It sat in the inventory of treasure that the nations would some day bring to the new Jerusalem, where its beauty and usefulness would be carried forward.
Imagination! Humour! Invention! God's gifts all! But this true story includes God, humans, the aeroplane and the parasite, Satan. Don't forget the land of Havilah (Genesis 2) and its gold (good gold!) or the "promised land" which didn't only offer milk and honey, wine and oil, but whose "…rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills" (Deuteronomy 8 ). Our generations aren't called merely to survive or to be whisked off to heaven, but to add value to what God entrusted us with in creation's story. Yes, the story is tortuous. Sin cannot be wished away: neither can our everlasting calling to exercise dominion in stewardly (imaginative, technically exciting) ways. New things come (watch grandma with your iPhone). Others go (who's turned the handle of a mangle?). They are intrinsic to creation's on-going story. We didn't create them. At most we fashioned them (just like hybrid roses, race-horses and livestock) under God's forgiving delight.
Out of it all, sin included (remember Rahab?), God perfects the inheritance he has promised the meek. God isn't bored with this work. Why should he be? And why should we? At the head of the meek walks his Son in his titles: "Heir of All Things" and "Second Adam".
Aeroplanes, iPhones, gold, copper, oil and wine are and remain creatures, susceptible of change. Using them we marvel at the "works of the Lord". Conforming them to God's will is our task; they are among the "all things… on earth" that Christ has reconciled to the Father. That's how we preach the gospel to every creature.
In Bosnia, Victor Malarek, the Canadian journalist met a 15-year-old girl who had been trafficked to Bosnia. "She was the 21st birthday present for a soldier in a United Nations platoon and was raped in turn by men with American, Canadian, British, Russian and French accents – so many she stopped counting," he writes. Malarek describes the traffickers' recruitment methods. An orphanage in Romania might receive a visit from "social workers" offering "apprentice programmes" for adolescent girls. The girls are taken away and forced into prostitution. Trafficking in human beings is now the third-largest moneymaking venture in the world after illegal weapons and drugs. In fact the United Nations estimates that the trade nets organized crime more than £12 billion a year.
For some western people today everything is up for sale. This includes normal birthday presents like watches and mobile phones. It can also include young girls and boys who have become objects of consumption. Hardened consumerists obey a simple commandment. Love things and use people.
This is the gospel of consumerism. The good news of secularism.
One of the most striking and disturbing consequences of rejecting the biblical teaching of the Image of God is provided by the chilling story of General Lothar von Trotha (1848-1920). In 1904 he ordered the total extermination of the Herero tribe in South-West Africa. This was the first genocide of the 20th century.
Writing in 1904, he stated:
I know enough tribes in Africa. They all have the same mentality insofar as they yield only to force. It was and remains my policy to apply this force by absolute terrorism and even cruelty. I shall destroy the rebellious tribes by shedding rivers of blood and money.
In his diary von Trotha described the Herero as Unmenschen – non-humans! Von Trotha's tactics were in marked distinction to that of the Herero leaders, who were, in the main, committed Christians and very careful to ensure that only soldiers were attacked.
German soldiers burned Herero women and children to death whereas the Herero troops protected German women and children during the war! We could say that the Herero troops waged warfare in a way that honoured the biblical teaching that all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. The German soldiers radically rejected this teaching and referred to the Herero people as 'cattle', 'monkeys' and 'stock'.
Von Trotha's methods caused a public outcry which led the German government to relieve von Trotha of his command. This, however, was too late to help the Herero, as the few survivors had been herded into camps and used as labour for German businesses, where many died of overwork, malnutrition or disease. Prior to the uprisings, there were estimated to be 80,000 Herero. The 1911 census records 15,000.
There is something very liberating about the Image of God teaching we find in the Bible. Nobody is an Unmensch, a nobody or sub-human.
A few months ago I was speaking to a group of teachers on a retreat. One of the women present got very cross with me when I dared to suggest that Katie Price (aka Jordan) wasn't a very good role model.
Indeed I would go further than this. Jordan is the living embodiment of a pagan consumerist religion. Listen to what she said recently in an interview with the Daily Telegraph:
No one can live without money. Money and religion are the big things, and that's it, and I stay away from religion. We love to earn money, who doesn't? It gets you things and it's security.
It's vital that we realise that Jordan is deeply mistaken about herself. She is profoundly into religion – the religion of the powerful money god. Jordan is quite literally willing to do anything to make a coin. She is now worth more than 40 million pounds sterling and she has commodified everything about herself – her chest, her marriages, her memories etc.
We should also notice that Jordan disciples many people into her 'religion'. Consider this story about Shell Short a young woman who is blinded by the celebrity circus.
My obsession with looking like Jordan has left me £30,000 in debt but I won't stop having surgery! I break down in tears worrying about my debts, but when I look in the mirror and can almost see Jordan staring back, I know its worth it.
For more on this tragic story, read the story on Closer Magazine.
Many women are being renewed in the image of Katie and her ilk (See Colossians 3:10). Becoming more and more like the false gods they follow. Many will sacrifice everything to become like their 'idols'. (Look at Psalm 115). Tragically few have the resources of Katie and her friends.
James Chalmers was born in Scotland in 1841. He spent his life telling cannibals the good news about Jesus. In 1877 he went to Papua New Guinea, located across from the northern tip of Australia.
What did the locals look like? Many of them were committed cannibals. Some of the more depraved tribes would capture their enemies alive and would then proceed to hack off pieces of flesh while the prisoners were kept in giant larders.
Sometimes the unfortunate victims would be kept alive for six or seven days!
Many dwellings were built in the tops of trees and entire villages were often perched on stilts over the ocean water. There was a constant and unrelenting fear of enemy attack, butchery and frenzied guzzling of human flesh.
Chalmers was fearless as he told the cannibals about Jesus and the kingdom of God. His message boiled down to this – "Love your enemies! Don't eat them!" And many began to follow Jesus. They stopped eating each other and began 'eating' Jesus as they took communion together.
In 1901 while he was visiting a new region, Chalmers was surrounded by practising cannibals, clubbed, beheaded and finally eaten. His body was cooked with sago and served as the main course of a celebratory feast.
There are still cannibals living in remote parts of Papua New Guinea. Some of them assert that Japanese people are much tastier than Europeans. Apparently white people are too salty!
Cannibal stories are a great way to get people thinking about the Bible and Jesus. Most people find these stories fascinating. The detail is truly shocking. The reality of cannibalism should alert us to the biblical teaching about sin and idolatry. When people turn away from God they can do some truly appalling things. Instead of loving our neighbours, we exploit them and use them. Instead of loving our enemies, some people have them for lunch. Talk to your friends about cannibalism. Tell them the story of James Chalmers. Tell them that when we come to God in repentance and faith in Jesus Christ we can eat the Lord (communion) instead of eating/hurting/exploiting each other!