Searching for the Unknown Through Magic and Spiritism
1. What did Paul tell the Athenians on the Areopagus? Why?
“MEN of Athens, I behold that in all things you seem to be more given to the fear of the deities than others are.” (Acts 17:22) That was what the Christian apostle Paul told a crowd assembled on the Areopagus, or Mars’ Hill, in the ancient city of Athens, Greece. Paul made that remark because earlier he had seen that “the city was full of idols.” (Acts 17:16) What had he seen?
2. What demonstrated the Athenians’ fear of the deities?
2 Without a doubt, Paul had seen a variety of Greek and Roman gods in that cosmopolitan city, and it was obvious that the life of the people was wrapped up in their worship of the deities. For fear that by chance they might neglect to venerate any important or powerful deity who could thus become incensed, the Athenians even included “an Unknown God” in their worship. (Acts 17:23) That clearly demonstrated their fear of the deities.
3. Is the fear of deities limited to the Athenians?
3 Of course, fear of the deities, especially of unknown ones, is not limited to the Athenians of the first century. For thousands of years, it has dominated nearly all mankind. In many parts of the world, almost every aspect of the people’s life is directly or indirectly involved with some deity or with spirits. As we have seen in the previous chapter, the mythologies of the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Chinese, and others were deeply rooted in ideas about gods and spirits, which played an important role in personal and national affairs. During the Middle Ages, stories about alchemists, sorcerers, and witches were rampant throughout the realm of Christendom. And the situation is much the same today.
Rites and Superstitions Today
4. What are some popular customs that are apparently linked to deities or spirits?
4 Whether people are aware of it or not, many things that they do are linked with superstitious practices or beliefs, some having to do with deities or spirits. For example, did you know that birthday observance has its origin in astrology, which attaches great importance to one’s exact birth date? What about the birthday cake? It appears to be related to the Greek goddess Artemis, whose birthday was celebrated with moon-shaped honey cakes topped with candles. Or did you know that wearing black at funerals was originally a ruse to escape the attention of evil spirits said to be lurking on such occasions? Some black Africans paint themselves white, and mourners in other lands wear unusual colors so that the spirits will not recognize them.
5. What are some common superstitions that you know of?
5 Besides these popular customs, people everywhere have their superstitions and fears. In the West, breaking a mirror, seeing a black cat, walking under a ladder, and, depending on where you are, Tuesday or Friday the 13th are all viewed as omens foreboding something evil. In the East, the Japanese wear their kimono with the left side folded over the right, for the other way is reserved for corpses. Their houses are built with no windows or doors facing the northeast so that the demons, which are said to come from that direction, will not find the entrance. In the Philippines, people remove the shoes of the dead and place them beside the legs before the burial so that “Saint” Peter will welcome them. Old folks tell youngsters to behave by pointing out that the figure on the moon is “Saint” Michael, watching and writing down their deeds.
6. To what extent are people involved with spiritism today?
6 Belief in spirits and deities, however, is not limited to seemingly harmless customs and superstitions. In both primitive and modern societies, people have resorted to various means in order to control or appease the fearsome spirits and to gain the favor of the benevolent ones. Naturally, we may first think of people in remote jungles and mountains who consult spirit mediums, medicine men, and shamans (priests of magic) when sick or otherwise in dire straits. But people in cities large and small also go to astrologers, psychic readers, fortune-tellers, and soothsayers to inquire about the future or to obtain help in making important decisions. Some, even though nominally belonging to one religion or another, pursue such practices with enthusiasm. Many others have made spiritism, black magic, and the occult their religion.
7. What questions do we need to consider?
7 What is the source or origin of all these practices and superstitions? Are they just different ways of approach to God? And most important, what do they do for those who follow them? To find the answers to these questions, we must look back into the history of man and get a glimpse of his early ways of worship.
Reaching for the Unknown
8. What unique quality sets humans apart from lower creatures?
8 Contrary to what evolutionists may claim, a human possesses a spiritual dimension that makes him different from and superior to the lower creatures. He is born with the urge to search out the unknown. He is ever struggling with questions such as: What is the meaning of life? What happens after one dies? What is man’s relationship to the material world and, in fact, to the universe? He is also driven by the desire to reach out to something higher or more powerful than himself in order to gain some control over his environment and his life.—Psalm 8:3, 4; Ecclesiastes 3:11; Acts 17:26-28.
9. How does one scholar describe “spirituality”?
9 Ivar Lissner in his book Man, God and Magic put it this way: “One can only marvel at the perseverance with which man has striven, throughout his history, to reach outside himself. His energies were never directed solely toward the necessities of life. He was forever questing, groping his way further, aspiring to the unattainable. This strange and inherent urge in the human being is his spirituality.”
10. What shows that man has a natural urge to reach out to God?
10 Of course, those who do not believe in God do not view matters quite that way. They generally attribute this human tendency to man’s needs, psychological or otherwise, as we have seen in Chapter 2. However, is it not our common experience that when faced with danger or a desperate situation, most people’s first response is to appeal to God or some higher power for help? This is just as true today as it was in times past. Thus, Lissner went on to say: “No one who has carried out research among the oldest primitive peoples can fail to understand that they all conceive of God, that they possess a lively awareness of a supreme being.”
11. What is the result of man’s effort to reach out to the unknown? (Compare Romans 1:19-23.)
11 How they endeavored to satisfy that inborn desire to reach out to the unknown was quite another matter. Nomadic hunters and herdsmen trembled at the power of wild beasts. Farmers were particularly attuned to the changes in weather and seasons. Dwellers of the jungles reacted quite differently from people living in the deserts or mountains. In the face of these varied fears and needs, people developed a bewildering variety of religious practices through which they hoped to appeal to the benevolent gods and appease the fearsome ones.
12. What common features can be seen in the religious practices of people everywhere?
12 In spite of the great diversity, however, there are certain common features recognizable in these religious practices. Among them are reverence and fear of sacred spirits and supernatural powers, the use of magic, divining the future by signs and omens, astrology, and diverse methods of fortune-telling. As we examine these features, we will see that they have played a major role in shaping the religious thinking of people around the world and throughout the ages, even including people today.
Sacred Spirits and Supernatural Powers
13. What might have been puzzling to people in times past?
13 The life of people in early times seemed to be filled with mystery. They were surrounded by inexplicable and perplexing events. For example, they could not understand why a perfectly robust person should suddenly fall ill, or why the sky should fail to give rain at the usual season, or why a bare, seemingly lifeless, tree should turn green and appear full of life at a certain time of the year. Even one’s own shadow, heartbeat, and breath were mysteries.
14, 15. Because of lack of understanding and guidance, to what did man most likely attribute the unexplainable? (Compare 1 Samuel 28:3-7.)
14 With man’s inborn spiritual inclination, it was only natural that he attribute these mysterious things and happenings to some supernatural power. However, lacking proper guidance and understanding, his world soon came to be filled with souls, spirits, ghosts, and demons. For example, the Algonquian Indians of North America call a person’s soul otahchuk, meaning “his shadow,” and the Malays of Southeast Asia believe that when a man dies, his soul escapes through his nostrils. Today, belief in spirits and departed souls—and attempts to communicate with them in some fashion—is nearly universal.
15 In the same manner, other things in the natural environment—sun, moon, stars, oceans, rivers, mountains—seemed to be alive and to exert a direct influence on human activities. Since these things appeared to occupy a world of their own, they were personified as spirits and deities, some benevolent and helpful, others wicked and harmful. Worship of created things came to occupy a prominent place in almost all religions.
16. How was worship of spirits, deities, and sacred objects manifested?
16 We can find beliefs of this kind in the religions of practically every ancient civilization. The Babylonians and Egyptians worshiped their gods of the sun, moon, and constellations. Animals and wild beasts were also among their objects of veneration. The Hindus are noted for their pantheon of gods, numbering into the millions. The Chinese have always had their sacred mountains and their river gods, and they express their filial piety in ancestor worship. The ancient Druids of the British Isles held oak trees as sacred, and they gave special reverence to mistletoe growing on oak. Later, the Greeks and Romans contributed their share; and belief in spirits, deities, souls, demons, and sacred objects of all sorts became solidly entrenched.
17. How is worship of created things still in evidence today?
17 Though some people today may view all such beliefs as superstitions, these ideas are still to be found in the religious practices of many people around the world. Some still believe that certain mountains, rivers, strangely shaped rocks, old trees, and numerous other things are sacred, and they worship them as objects of devotion. They build altars, shrines, and temples at these places. For example, the Ganges River is sacred to the Hindus, whose fondest wish is to bathe in it while alive and have their ashes scattered on it after death. Buddhists consider it an extraordinary experience to worship at the shrine in Buddh Gaya, India, where the Buddha is said to have gained enlightenment under a bodhi tree. Catholics go on their knees to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico or bathe in the “sacred” waters at the shrine in Lourdes, France, in search of miraculous cures. Veneration of created things rather than of the Creator is still very much in evidence today.—Romans 1:25.
The Rise of Magic
18. To what did the belief in spirits and deities lead?
18 Once the belief had been established that the inanimate world was full of spirits, good and bad, it led easily to the next step—attempts to communicate with the good ones for guidance and blessings and to appease the evil ones. The result was the practice of magic, which has flourished in practically every nation past and present.—Genesis 41:8; Exodus 7:11, 12; Deuteronomy 18:9-11, 14; Isaiah 47:12-15; Acts 8:5, 9-13; 13:6-11; 19:18, 19.
19. (a) What is magic? (b) Why does magic seem believable to many people?
19 In its most basic sense, magic is an effort to control or coerce the natural or supernatural forces to do man’s bidding. Not knowing the real cause of many everyday happenings, people in earlier societies believed that the repetition of certain magical words or incantations, or the performance of some ritual, could bring about certain desired effects. What lent credibility to this sort of magic was that some of the rituals actually worked. For example, the medicine men—essentially magicians or sorcerers—of the Mentawai Islands west of Sumatra were reported to be surprisingly effective in curing people suffering from diarrhea. Their magical formula was to have the sufferers lie face down near the edge of a cliff and lick the ground from time to time. What made it work? The soil on the cliffs contained kaolin, the white clay commonly used in some of today’s diarrhea medicines.
20. How did magic come to dominate people’s lives?
20 A few successes of this kind quickly negated all the failures and established the reputation of the practitioners. They soon became members held in awe and high esteem—priests, chiefs, shamans, medicine men, witch doctors, mediums. People went to them with their problems, such as the healing and the prevention of sickness, finding lost items, identifying thieves, warding off evil influences, and meting out vengeance. Eventually there came to be a large body of superstitious practices and rituals that dealt with these matters as well as other events in life, like birth, coming of age, betrothal, marriage, death, and burial. The power and mystery of magic soon dominated every aspect of the people’s lives.
Rain Dances and Spells
21, 22. What is meant by “imitative magic”? Illustrate.
21 In spite of the enormous variety in the magical practices of different peoples, the basic ideas behind them are remarkably similar. First, there is the idea that like produces like, that a desired effect can be produced by mimicking it. This is sometimes called imitative magic. For example, when shortage of rain threatened their crops, the Omaha Indians of North America danced around a vessel of water. Then one of them drank some of the water and spit it into the air in imitation of a sprinkle or shower. Or a man might roll on the ground like a wounded bear to ensure that he would be successful in his bear hunt.
22 Other people had more elaborate rituals, including chants and offerings. The Chinese would make a large paper or wooden dragon, their rain-god, and parade it around, or they would take the idol of their deity out of the temple and place it in the sun so that it could feel the heat and perhaps send rain. The ritual of the Ngoni people of East Africa includes pouring beer into a pot buried in the ground in a rain temple and then praying, “Master Chauta, you have hardened your heart towards us, what would you have us do? We must perish indeed. Give your children the rains, there is the beer we have given you.” Then they drink the remaining beer. This is followed by song and dance and the shaking of branches dipped in water.
23 Another idea behind magical practices is that objects that have belonged to a person continue to influence him even after they are separated from him. This led to the practice of casting a spell on someone by working on something that once belonged to that person. Even in 16th- and 17th-century Europe and England, people still believed in witches and wizards who could cause people harm with this kind of power. The techniques included such things as making a wax image of a person and sticking pins into it, writing his name on a piece of paper and then burning it, burying a piece of his clothing, or doing other things to his hair, fingernail cuttings, sweat, or even excrement. The extent of these and other practices can be seen by the fact that Acts of Parliament were enacted in England in 1542, 1563, and 1604 declaring witchcraft a capital offense. In one manner or another, this form of magic has been practiced by people in almost every nation throughout the ages.
The Future in Signs and Omens
24. (a) What is divination? (b) How did the Babylonians practice divination?
24 Often magic is employed to uncover hidden information or to peer into the future by signs and omens. This is known as divination, and the Babylonians were noted for it. According to the book Magic, Supernaturalism, and Religion, “they were masters in the arts of prescience, predicting the future from the livers and intestines of slaughtered animals, from fire and smoke, and from the brilliancy of precious stones; they foretold events from the murmuring of springs and from the shape of plants. . . . Atmospheric signs, rain, clouds, wind, and lightning were interpreted as forebodings; the cracking of furniture and wooden panels foretold future events. . . . Flies and other insects, as well as dogs, were the carriers of occult messages.”
25. How did Ezekiel and Daniel refer to the practice of divination in ancient Babylon?
25 The Bible book of Ezekiel reports that on one military campaign, “the king of Babylon stood still at the crossways, at the head of the two ways, in order to resort to divination. He has shaken the arrows. He has asked by means of the teraphim; he has looked into the liver.” (Ezekiel 21:21) Conjurers, sorcerers, and magic-practicing priests were also a regular part of the Babylonian court.—Daniel 2:1-3, 27, 28.
26. What was one form of divination popular among the Greeks?
26 People of other nations, both Oriental and Occidental, also dabbled in many forms of divination. The Greeks consulted their oracles regarding great political events as well as mundane private affairs such as marriage, travel, and children. The most famous of these was the oracle of Delphi. Answers, thought to be from the god Apollo, were provided through the priestess, or Pythia, in unintelligible sounds and were interpreted by the priests to create ambiguous verses. A classic example was the answer given to Croesus, king of Lydia, which said: “If Croesus crosses the Halys, he will destroy a mighty empire.” It turned out that the mighty empire destroyed was his own. Croesus met defeat at the hands of Cyrus the Persian when he crossed the Halys to invade Cappadocia.
27. To what extent did the Romans engage in divination?
27 In the West the craft of divination reached a peak with the Romans, who were preoccupied with omens and portents in nearly everything they did. People of every social class believed in astrology, witchcraft, talismans, fortune-telling, and many other forms of divination. And according to an authority on Roman history, Edward Gibbon, “the various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true.” The famous statesman and orator Cicero was an expert in looking for omens in the flight of birds. The Roman historian Petronius observed that judging by the multitude of religions and cults in some Roman towns, there must have been more gods than people in them.
28. How did the Chinese practice divination in ancient times?
28 In China, more than 100,000 pieces of oracle bones and shells dating from the second millennium B.C.E. (the Shang dynasty) have been unearthed. They were used by the Shang priests in seeking divine guidance for everything from weather to the movement of troops. The priests wrote questions in an ancient script on these bones. Then they heated the bones and examined the cracks that appeared and wrote down the answers right on the same bones. Some scholars believe that from this ancient script, Chinese writing developed.
29. What principle of divination is set forth in I Ching?
29 The most well-known ancient Chinese treatise on divination is the I Ching (Canon of Changes; pronounced Yee-Jing), said to be written by the first two Chou emperors, Wen Wang and Chou Kung, in the 12th century B.C.E. It contains detailed explanations of the interplay of the two opposing forces yin and yang (dark-bright, negative-positive, female-male, moon-sun, earth-heaven, and so on), which many Chinese still believe to be the controlling principles behind all life’s affairs. It presents the picture that everything is ever changing and nothing is permanent. To succeed in any undertaking, one must be aware of and act in harmony with all the changes of the moment. Thus, people ask questions and cast lots and then turn to the I Ching for answers. Through the centuries, the I Ching has been the basis for all manner of fortune-telling, geomancy, and other forms of divination in China.
From Astronomy to Astrology
30. Describe the development of early astronomy.
30 The orderliness of the sun, moon, stars, and planets has long been a source of fascination for people on earth. Star catalogs dating back to 1800 B.C.E. have been discovered in Mesopotamia. Based on such information, the Babylonians were able to predict many astronomical events, such as lunar eclipses, the rising and setting of constellations, and certain movements of the planets. The Egyptians, Assyrians, Chinese, Indians, Greeks, Romans, and other ancient people likewise observed the sky and kept detailed records of astronomical events. From these records they built their calendars and ordered their yearly activities.
31. How did astronomy give birth to astrology?
31 From the astronomical observations, it became noticeable that certain events on earth seemed to synchronize with certain celestial events. For example, the change of the seasons followed closely the movement of the sun, the tides ebbed and flowed in phase with the moon, the annual flooding of the Nile always followed the appearance of Sirius, the brightest star. The natural conclusion was that the heavenly bodies played a significant role in causing these and other events on earth. In fact, the Egyptians called Sirius the Bringer of the Nile. The notion that the stars influenced events on earth quickly led to the idea that the heavenly bodies could be counted on to foretell the future. Thus astronomy gave birth to astrology. Soon, kings and emperors kept official astrologers in their courts to consult the stars concerning important national affairs. But the common people likewise looked to the stars regarding their personal fortunes.
32. In what ways did the Babylonians practice astrology?
32 The Babylonians, once again, come into the picture. They viewed the stars as the heavenly abodes of the gods, just as the temples were their earthly abodes. This gave rise to the concept of grouping the stars into constellations as well as the belief that disturbances in the heavens, such as eclipses or appearances of certain bright stars or comets, foreboded sorrow and war on earth. Hundreds of reports by astrologers to the kings were found among the artifacts unearthed in Mesopotamia. Some of these stated, for instance, that an impending lunar eclipse was a sign that a certain enemy would suffer defeat or that the appearance of a certain planet in a certain constellation would spell “great wrath” on earth.
33. What did Isaiah say about the Babylonian “lookers at the stars”?
33 The extent to which the Babylonians relied on this form of divination can further be seen in the taunting words of the prophet Isaiah against them when foretelling Babylon’s destruction: “Stand still, now, with your spells and with the abundance of your sorceries, in which you have toiled from your youth . . . Let them stand up, now, and save you, the worshipers of the heavens, the lookers at the stars, those giving out knowledge at the new moons concerning the things that will come upon you.”—Isaiah 47:12, 13.
34. Who were the “Magi” that came to the infant Jesus?
34 From Babylon, astrology was exported to Egypt, Assyria, Persia, Greece, Rome, and Arabia. In the East, the Hindus and Chinese also had their elaborate systems of astrology. The “Magi” that the evangelizer Matthew reported came to the infant Jesus were “astrologers from eastern parts.” (Matthew 2:1, 2) Some scholars believe that these astrologers might have been of the Chaldean and Medo-Persian school of astrology from Parthia, which had been a province of Persia and later became the independent Parthian Empire.
35. What developed in astrology from the time of the Greeks?
35 It was the Greeks, however, who developed astrology into the form that is practiced today. In the second century C.E., Claudius Ptolemy, a Greek astronomer in Alexandria, Egypt, gathered all the existing astrological information into four books, called the Tetrabiblos, that have served as the basic text for astrology until now. From this, developed what is commonly called natal astrology, that is, a system for predicting a person’s future by studying his birth chart, or horoscope—a chart showing the positions of the sun, the moon, and various planets among the constellations as seen from a person’s birthplace at the moment of his birth.
36. What is the evidence that astrology became respectable?
36 By the 14th and 15th centuries, astrology had gained wide acceptance in the West. Universities taught it as a discipline, which required working knowledge of languages and mathematics. Astrologers were viewed as scholars. The writings of Shakespeare are full of allusions to astrological influences on human affairs. Every royal court and many noblemen retained private astrologers for ready consultation. Hardly any project—be it war, building, business, or travel—was undertaken without the stars’ being consulted first. Astrology had become respectable.
37. How has advancement of science affected astrology?
37 Even though the work of astronomers like Copernicus and Galileo, along with the advance of scientific inquiry, has greatly discredited astrology as a legitimate science, it has survived until this day. (See box, page 85.) To heads of State as well as to the man on the street, whether from technologically advanced nations or remote villages in developing countries, this mysterious craft, initiated by the Babylonians, developed by the Greeks, and further expanded by the Arabs, still wields wide influence today.
Destiny Written in the Face and the Palm
38. What led to further forms of divination related to the human hand and face?
38 If looking to the heavens for signs and omens about the future seems intangible, there are other more immediate and easily accessible ways available to those who dabble in the art of divination. The Zohar, or Sefer ha-zohar (Hebrew, Book of Splendor), a 13th-century text of Jewish mysticism, declared: “On the firmament which envelops the universe, we see many figures formed by the stars and planets. They reveal hidden things and profound mysteries. Similarly, upon our skin which encircles the human being there exist forms and traits that are the stars of our bodies.” This philosophy led to further ways of divination, or foretelling the future, by examining the face and the palm of the hand for prophetic signs. Both in the East and in the West, such practices are still widespread. But it is clear that their origins are rooted in astrology and magic.
39. What is physiognomy, and how has it been applied?
39 Physiognomy is fortune-telling by examining the features of the face, such as the shape of the eyes, nose, teeth, and ears. In Strasbourg in 1531, one John of Indagine published a book on the subject in which he provided vivid engravings of faces with a variety of shapes of eyes, nose, ears, and so on, along with his interpretations. Interestingly, he quoted the words of Jesus Christ at Matthew 6:22, “If, then, your eye is simple, your whole body will be bright,” as the basis for saying that large, bright, and round eyes signified integrity and good health, whereas sunken and small eyes were signs of envy, malice, and suspicion. However, in a similar book, Compendium of Physiognomy, published in 1533, the author Bartolommeo Cocle claimed that large and round eyes signified a fickle and lazy person.
40. (a) What is chiromancy? (b) How was the Bible appealed to for support of chiromancy?
40 According to diviners, next to the head, the hand reflects the forces from above more than any other part of the body. Thus, reading the lines of the hand to determine one’s character and destiny is another popular form of divination—chiromancy, commonly referred to simply as palmistry. Chiromancers of the Middle Ages searched the Bible for support of their craft. They came up with verses such as “He sealeth up the hand of every man; that all men may know his work” and “Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour.” (Job 37:7; Proverbs 3:16, KJ) The bumps, or mounts, of the hand were also considered because it was thought they represented the planets and thus revealed something about the individual and his future.
41. How do people in the Orient practice divination?
41 Fortune-telling by studying the features of the face and of the hand is immensely popular in the Orient. Besides the professional readers and advisers offering their services, amateurs and do-it-yourselfers abound because books and publications of every level are widely available. People often dabble in palm reading as a source of amusement, but many take such matters seriously. In general, however, people are seldom content with employing just one means of divination. When they are faced with serious problems or important decisions, they will go to their temple, be it Buddhist, Taoist, Shinto, or other, to inquire of the gods, then to the astrologer to consult the stars, to the fortune-teller to read their palm and look at their face, and, after all of that, come home and inquire of their departed ancestors. Somewhere they hope to find an answer that seems appropriate to them.
Just Innocent Fun?
42. To what has people’s natural desire to know the future led them?
42 It is natural that everyone should want to know what the future holds. The desire to secure good fortune and to avert what may be harmful is also universal. That is why people throughout the ages have looked to spirits and deities for guidance. In so doing, they became involved in spiritism, magic, astrology, and other superstitious practices. People in the past wore amulets and talismans to protect themselves, and they turned to medicine men and shamans for cures. People today still carry “Saint” Christopher medals or wear “good luck” charms, and they have their séances, Ouija boards, crystal balls, horoscopes, and tarot cards. Where spiritism and superstition are concerned, mankind seems to have changed little.
43. (a) How do many feel about spiritism, magic, and divination? (b) What questions about superstitious practices need answering?
43 Many people, of course, realize that these are nothing but superstitions and that there is no real basis to them. And they might add that they do it just for fun. Others even argue that magic and divination are actually beneficial because they provide psychological assurance to people who might otherwise be too intimidated by the obstacles they face in life. But is all of this just innocent fun or a psychological boost? What really is the source of the spiritistic and magical practices that we have considered in this chapter as well as the many others that we have not mentioned?
44. Fundamentally, what can be said about the basis for all such practices?
44 In the course of examining the various aspects of spiritism, magic, and divination, we have noted that they are closely tied to beliefs in departed souls and the existence of spirits, good and evil. Thus, fundamentally, belief in spirits, magic, and divination is based on a form of polytheism rooted in the doctrine of the immortality of the human soul. Is this a sound basis on which to build one’s religion? Would you consider worship based on such a foundation acceptable?
45. What question about food offered to idols confronted the first-century Christians?
45 The Christians in the first century were confronted with the same questions. They were surrounded by the Greeks and Romans, with their many gods and deities as well as their superstitious rituals. One ritual was the practice of offering food to idols and then sharing in eating the food. Should anyone who loved the true God and was interested in pleasing him participate in such rituals? Note how the apostle Paul answered that question.
46. What did Paul and the early Christians believe about God?
46 “Now concerning the eating of foods offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no God but one. For even though there are those who are called ‘gods,’ whether in heaven or on earth, just as there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords,’ there is actually to us one God the Father, out of whom all things are, and we for him.” (1 Corinthians 8:4-6) To Paul and the first-century Christians, true religion was not the worship of many gods, not polytheism, but was devotion to only “one God the Father,” whose name the Bible reveals when it says: “That people may know that you, whose name is Jehovah, you alone are the Most High over all the earth.”—Psalm 83:18.
47. How did Paul reveal the true identity of the ‘gods and lords in heaven or on earth’?
47 We should note, however, that although the apostle Paul said “an idol is nothing,” he did not say that the “gods” and “lords” to whom people turned with their magic, divination, and sacrifices were nonexistent. What, then, is the point? Paul made it clear later in the same letter when he wrote: “But I say that the things which the nations sacrifice they sacrifice to demons, and not to God.” (1 Corinthians 10:20) Yes, through their gods and lords, the nations were actually worshiping the demons—angelic, or spirit, creatures who rebelled against the true God and joined forces with their leader, Satan the Devil.—2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6; Revelation 12:7-9.
48. What danger from the occult still exists today, and how can it be avoided?
48 Often people take pity on the so-called primitive people who were enslaved by their superstitions and fears. They say they are repulsed by the bloody sacrifices and savage rites. And rightly so. Yet, to this day we still hear about voodoo, satanic cults, even human sacrifices. Though these may be extreme cases, they nonetheless demonstrate that interest in the occult is still very much alive. It might begin with ‘innocent fun’ and curiosity, but the result is often tragedy and death. How wise it is to heed the Bible’s warning: “Keep your senses, be watchful. Your adversary, the Devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone.”—1 Peter 5:8; Isaiah 8:19, 20.
49. What will be the object of the investigation in the subsequent chapters of this book?
49 Having considered how religion began, the diversity in ancient mythologies, and the various forms of spiritism, magic, and superstition, we will now turn our attention to the more formal major religions of the world—Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Shinto, Judaism, the churches of Christendom, and Islām. How did they get started? What do they teach? What influence do they have on their believers? These and other questions will be considered in the following chapters.
[Blurb on page 76]
Some magic seemed to work
[Box on page 85]
Is Astrology Scientific?
Astrology claims that the sun, moon, stars, and planets can influence affairs on earth and that the configuration of these heavenly bodies at the moment of one’s birth plays a role in one’s life. However, scientific discoveries present formidable challenges:
▪ The work of astronomers like Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler has clearly demonstrated that the earth is not the center of the universe. It is also known now that often the stars that appear to be in a constellation are not really bound in a group. Some of them may be deep in space, while others may be relatively near. Thus, the zodiacal properties of the various constellations are purely imaginary.
▪ The planets Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto were unknown to early astrologers because they were not discovered until the invention of the telescope. How, then, were their “influences” accounted for by the astrological charts drawn up centuries earlier? Furthermore, why should the “influence” of one planet be “good” and another “evil,” when science knows now that basically they are all masses of lifeless rock or gases, hurtling in space?
▪ The science of genetics tells us that the basis of our personality traits is formed, not at birth, but at conception, when one of the millions of sperm cells from the father unites with a single egg cell from the mother. Yet, astrology fixes one’s horoscope by the moment of birth. This difference of about nine months should give one a completely different personality profile in astrological terms.
▪ The timing of the sun’s journey among the constellations as seen by an earthbound observer is today about one month behind what it was 2,000 years ago when the astrology charts and tables were drawn up. Thus, astrology would cast a person born in late June or early July as a Cancer (highly sensitive, moody, reserved). Actually, however, the sun is in the constellation Gemini at that time, which should make the person communicative, witty, chatty.
Clearly, astrology has no rational or scientific ground on which to stand.
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Broken mirrors, black cats, and some numbers are a basis for superstitions. The Chinese character for “four” sounds like “death” in Chinese and Japanese
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Left, Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico, where Catholics pray for miraculous cures.
Right, Stonehenge, England, where ancient Druids are said to have worshiped the sun
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Some people consult shamans and witch doctors
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Others have their séances, Ouija boards, crystal balls, tarot cards, and fortune-tellers
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Divination in the Orient, using inscriptions on tortoiseshells and the yin-yang symbol, has a long history
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Many people consult horoscopes, believing that the position of the sun, moon, planets, and stars at the moment of birth affects their lives
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By shaking a fortune stick out of the container, the devotee gets a message and an interpretation