Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Witchcraft and Paranoia

Few things seem to promote a knee-jerk reaction in the evangelical church today more than witchcraft or Satan  worship. There is a violent response to anything perceived to be associated with them, like the Harry Potter series. They are associated with hidden conspiracies bent on corrupting our society. This is nothing new.

In the old pagan times, witchcraft was seen as a dangerous reality that helped explain why things went wrong. When someone was sick or there was a destructive storm, perhaps a witch had cast a spell on you and you needed to counteract the spell. While there were undoubtedly some people who dabbled in evil magic, it was more commonly used as a scapegoat. Christianity originally  minimized such things, claiming that the powers of demonic forces, though real, were limited and that God was more powerful. Therefore, those accused of such practices were condemned, but not generally severely punished or excessively feared. But many of the old pagan beliefs continued underground and, over time, came to influence nominal Christianity. Satan was perceived as more powerful, but his methods as more crude and those who followed him as more blatantly evil. A key person who helped make accusations for witchcraft a common practice was Philip IV of France (1268-1314). While his motives might be debated, he appears to have used it as a method to smear his enemies by accusing them of various magical and unChristian practices. From there the condemnation of individuals for witchcraft, with all the overtones of paranoia and conspiracy theory, developed into the notorious witch-hunts. Later, in reaction, people jumped to the simplistic theory that there are no witches.

Now whenever you tell people they can obtain great power by doing something, even something regarded as highly objectionable, there is the danger some people will take you up on it. The present sects of witches and Satan worshipers are examples of this. (Note that witches and Satan worshipers are two different groups, but they reflect two differing interpretations of Medieval witchcraft.) But we need to be careful of reading into them the historic fears connected with witchcraft. Therefore, we must remember that God is all- powerful and in control of the world (Ephesians 1:11; Romans 8:28; Isaiah 43:13). Also, while I am sure it flatters Satan to have people actually worship him, any belief which people embrace other then the truth of God  is following Satan (Ephesians 2:1-3; 2 Corinthians 4:3,4; Hebrews 2:14,15). All idolatry is the worship of demons (1 Corinthians 10:20), and the putting of the things of this earth before God is idolatry (Colossians 3:5). Therefore, while witchcraft cannot be condoned from a Christian point of view, neither should it be regarded as more evil than the multitude of other non-Christian choices available in our culture. While we must stand for the truth, we must do it with gentleness and love and not be carried away by fear (1 Peter 3:15; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; Colossians 4:5,6).         

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