Grassroots gullibility for spiritual counterfeits demonstrates a great hunger for things of the spirit.
Several well-publicized cases of Satan worship suggest an increase of this most ancient of spiritual atrocities. A murder investigation in rural Nebraska revealed Satan worship as the motive for the slaying. When a San Francisco day-care center worker was arrested for child abuse, reports of Satanic activity surrounded the case. In Dupage County, west of Chicago, a 14-year-old boy allegedly involved in satanic activities stabbed three fellow students. Other cases stud police blotters—urban, suburban, and rural alike—around the country.
The recent publicity given to Satan worship has set our spiritual gyroscopes wobbling. A nation founded on Christian values has reacted: Some law enforcement officials have been forced to become specialists in occult practices. The number of inquiries about Satanism received by the Chicago-based Cult Awareness Network has increased from 5 to 100 per month. And more people than have ever tuned in to a two-hour television documentary watched Geraldo Rivera’s lurid special on the growth of Satan worship.
Even if sensationalized and overdrawn, the satanism scare is one more sign of a surge of counterfeit spiritualities in our culture. Cult watchers suspect that more new religions are being formed today than ever before. Many of these show signs of increasingly aberrant behavior. Like all lusts of the flesh (which in the end any false spirituality is), the threshold of satisfaction keeps escalating. Because the teachings of the New Age movement, Satan worship, cults, or even fringe Christian imitations do not have an authentic gospel, they can never satisfy in any final, true sense.
Filling A Spiritual Vacuum
What has caused this upsurge of counterfeit spiritualities? One possible reason may lie in the secularization and perceived debunking of traditional Christian faith. While belief in God and church attendance remain relatively strong in the United States, the actual effect of those beliefs on our behavior is dwindling. The link between religious belief and behavior has become tenuous, in some cases severed. Can it be that people realize that and are looking for spirituality that really does make a difference in their lives? They are desperately looking for ways to fill the vacuum left by an inadequately articulated version of Christian faith.
There are signs that in at least some cases this may be the case. Take our youth as one example. Paul King, a Memphis psychiatrist who treats drug-addicted youth, says heavy metal rock music is becoming a religion for some teens: “Children who do not identify with the values with which they were raised must identify with something. All youngsters, whether they say so or not, believe in a higher power. Troubled youngsters believe the highest power is evil. Heavy metal affirms this theology.…”
Like sugar and salt substitutes, areas of life usually considered nonreligious have been used to fill the place of traditional religions, their roles expanding to fill the spiritual vacuum. For teens, the alternative may be music. For adults, the alternatives may be ethical societies and other humanistic endeavors, economic and political substitutes, or contemporary mail-order lonely hearts clubs that focus not only on friendship but sex. Federal prosecutors just exposed the Knights of Chonda-Za, a mail-order sexual fantasy club that bilked members of millions of dollars in exchange for letters of devotion from “priestesses.” When asked why he freely gave $25,000 to such a fantastic operation, one man said, “I never belonged to a group that gave me more for my money.”
Obviously, these counterfeit spiritualities do not work. But their persistent growth and appeal should teach us two important lessons. First, human beings created for fellowship with God abhor a spiritual vacuum. And second, only the real thing will effectively scratch the spiritual itch.
The “Failure” Of Christianity
It is natural to ask why Christian faith has not been able to fill the spiritual gap. The American landscape is covered with churches whose purpose is to fill that gap. We preach, teach, and counsel based on belief in an all-sufficient gospel. Why don’t more Americans see the completeness of that teaching instead of looking to the spiritual creations of marketing-minded charlatans?
The failure is not with our faith; the failure is with our faith in our faith. One well-known pastor recently told the story of a young church leader who came to him with this very question. Only he put it this way: How can I make the faith relevant to my congregation?
“Immediately I knew the problem—just by the way he asked the question,” he said. “We don’t need to make the faith relevant—it already is. What we need to do is reveal the relevance of faith to a world wanting to know how to apply it.”
Those of us charged with the task of proclamation stammer haltingly, like insurance salesmen not quite sure of the value of their policies. A proclaimer unsure of his proclamation sells only his hesitancy.
We need to reveal confidently the relevance of our faith, sure in our own teaching and answers to the world’s problems. Only then will we begin to fill the spiritual vacuum left by a tentative Christianity unsure of its role in modern life.
A Hunger For Spirituality
What are we to do? We can look at all the current spiritual counterfeits as great evils of the day and wring our hands. Truth be told, a little despair would be a great improvement over the smug blandness that infects many churches.
But such an attitude will only help if it is seen as a way of putting us in a better position to act positively. A more fruitful way of looking at the situation is to see this spiritual quest as a tremendous opportunity for spreading the Good News. Grassroots gullibility for spiritual counterfeits demonstrates a great hunger for things of the spirit. Thus, instead of sham we must give substance. Instead of the sensational, we must offer sober truth. People have never been more hungry for spiritual help.
The needs of modern man really are met in the teachings of the Galilean. Evidence of this pops up in the most unlikely places. Syndicated columnist Jack Mabley noted recently that in Hollywood, perhaps the most atheistic and drug-obsessed society in the country, 2,000 weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meetings devote a lot of time praising God for lifting the curse of addiction. He quotes Hollywood lawyer Benjamin Stein: “A specter is haunting Hollywood. The specter is God, borne down Sunset Boulevard on the wings of Alcoholics Anonymous.”
Unless we provide God as the answer to today’s specific problems, man will continue to search for answers in the dregs of a whiskey glass, the burned ashes of a joint, or the thrill-seeking power trip of an occult ritual. All these end in death.
It is a shame when we have life at our very fingertips and only need dispense it to a spiritually hungry world.
By Terry C. Muck.
In today’s relativistic climate, “safe” has become the only acceptable moral norm (as in “good sex is safe sex”). Yet a recent episode highlighted just how shortsighted—and politically selective—the “safety” rubric is.
It seems the National Rifle Association (NRA) has developed a coloring book designed to teach gun safety to elementary-aged students. On one page, for example, the venerable Dick and Jane find a gun on a table. Instead of picking it up, they dutifully run to tell a parent. The lesson: When you find a weapon, “Stop. Don’t Touch. Leave the area. Tell an adult.”
That is not exactly the stuff controversy is made of. But then again, this is 1989. And the specter of the NRA gun lobby in America’s classrooms has antigun advocates up in arms.
Local school boards are marching double time away from using the coloring book. And as of this writing, only one school, a Christian academy in Illinois, has seen fit to use it—drawing the fire of educators, police chiefs, even the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. “We are not dealing with the ownership of guns or whether they are good or bad,” argued the school’s besieged superintendent. “We’re just telling them what to do if they come upon a gun.”
Deja vu. It is the safe sex debate all over again. There is no sense of good or bad, right or wrong; just straightforward talk about safety—with coloring books replacing condoms.
While the public-relations aspect of this NRA effort concerns us, we are concerned more that common sense has again fallen victim to a social agenda. Depending on your perspective, you are either acting responsibly (that is, “safely”) when you hand out condoms or NRA coloring books in the classroom, or you are showing yourself to be a moral barbarian.
As long as our society refuses to look beyond “safety” for its pre-eminent moral guideline, as long as we avoid judging “good” from “bad,” the concept of a consensus social ethic will increasingly become a thing of the past. Morality will remain relative, individualistic, and, consequently, societally unworkable. Thus, if public schools are going to play by the rules of relativism and excuse themselves from talking about the morals of sex, they should also avoid moral language when it comes to firearms—or even apartheid.
The Christian academy could have struck a blow for moral thinking (and against the rules of relativism) if, in its use of the controversial coloring book, it had addressed firearm use and abuse in moral terminology. It could have inculcated an attitude toward firearms that goes beyond mere respect for the physical dangers they can pose. Young people could have come to regard guns with moral caution, learning to use them only in circumstances where their use can be reasonably justified (police or military training, perhaps).
Moral caution. Now there’s something “new” for safe sexers—or safe anythingers—to think about.
By Harold B. Smith.
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