Monday, March 1, 2010

Eek, a Witch!

On this day in 1692, the leaders of Salem, Massachusetts began their investigation of Sarah Osborne, Sarah Good and Tituba, a Native American woman, who were suspected of performing witchcraft in their community. Finally, 150 people were tried for "Certaine Detestable Arts called Witchcrafts & Sorceryes."

Nineteen of these were hung from the neck until dead.

The people were probably guilty of using native medicine to cure disease. Even if one believes in witchcraft as the bible defines it, the Salem suspects were not witches. And, they probably did a lot less damage to the human family than the leaders of Bear Stern and the other robber barons of our time. But this is not a political blog and so I – with great forbearance and discipline – now turn my attention back to the matter at hand!

In my last blog, I talked about why the Bible condemns wizards, witches and soothsayers. Their practices create a system in which the material world becomes less valued than the spiritual world. God doesn’t want that. Even though many theologically impoverished gospel songs and fiery sermons make the same mistake, that doesn’t make it right. God is the creator and sustainer of the material world. He wants us to appreciate that world. He doesn’t want us to disdain it or try to escape it.

In fact, God himself became a man!

Now that’s making a real statement! What more could we ask?

Obviously, the belief in the incarnation separates Christianity from all the other religions of the world. In my last blog I mentioned that even Judaism rejects our belief in the incarnation.

Judaism teaches that because God is a Spirit, He cannot be either imagined or represented in any material way.

Most of the great Eastern religions believe that a god might from time to time assume a human shape... but to actually become a man? To them the visible, material world is a “veil of illusions,” something a religious seeker must seek to overcome. Why would a god put himself into the very situation that his followers are encouraged to escape?

In contrast to all other religions, Christians believe that human beings are both material and spiritual.In fact, we believe that reality itself is both material and spiritual!

There are only three basic ways to view reality.

Either reality is material or spiritual, or both material and spiritual.

If reality is material, then all abstract and invisible categories must be viewed as being at best just useful metaphors or recreational figments of our imagination. In this view, things like love and thoughts are products of brain matter; little hiccups of neuropeptides; eruptions of endorphins.

If reality is spiritual, then all material, visible things are mere manifestations of thought. In this view, things like viruses and the taste of vanilla are simply “printouts” of either human or superhuman thoughts.

The third view is the incarnational one, that belief that reality is both material and spiritual and that each sphere impacts the other.

That is the Christian view. It separates us from New Agers on one hand. It separates us from secular humanists on the other.

The Nicene Creed asserts that “we believe in God, the creator of all things, visible and invisible.” This means that Christians believe in a single Creator. Thus, we believe that everything in creation was formed according to a common plan. We believe that this creation and everything in it – whether belonging to the visible or invisible part of the universe – is, or ought to be, subject to a single government: the kingdom of God..

Thomas Aquinas, reflecting on this incarnational view of reality, said that God made three orders of creatures: material creatures called animals, spiritual creatures called angels, and incarnational creatures called human beings. This means that when God became a man, He crossed the line from being purely a spiritual creature to becoming an incarnational creature. He became like “one of us, just a stranger on a bus.”

So the doctrine of the incarnation forces Christians into a solitary position among world religions.

On one hand, Hindu, New Age, and other types of Pantheistic faiths deny – at least to some extent – our materiality.

On the other hand, materialists (the intellectuals of Western society for the last two hundred years) deny our spirituality.

One side claims, in effect, that our spirituality is an illusion. The other claims that our materiality is an illusion. In contrast to all of these, Christianity claims that human beings are incarnational, that they consist of both matter and spirit. We believe this will always be the case, even in eternity. For “we believe in the resurrection of the body.” This explains why the belief in God’s incarnation is so important to us. We believe that our God came to us incarnated as a man because He wanted to suffer with us, identify with us, and relate to us.

This doctrine has inescapable consequences. For example, how can we disdain our bodies, while we worship a God who has taken a body like ours for Himself? For that matter, how can we disdain the world or any material thing in it, since we now know that our God is capable of clothing Himself in matter? Or how does this belief, that we are not just spiritual beings, impact worship? Should we really aim for a worship that is wholly “spiritual?” Or should our worship have something of the material about it?

Believing in the incarnation as we do, what should we expect worship to look like?

Here we are again, talking about worship! As we have been saying, all genuine theology leads us to worship. For Christians, worship involves a declaration that the “stranger on the bus,” is no less than God in a human form.

As for the Salem witches, it is one more example of power overpowering compassion and so-called spirituality defying common sense.

Add Salem officials to history’s dance of dunces; ignorance posing as piety, dragging defenseless people to their deaths who were only trying to survive a plague by asking Indians how to cure their illness. Add to their number the likes of Freud, the old fraud, with his penis envy and Oedipus complex. Add Ann Rayn, who still hypnotizes millions into various forms of respected heartlessness. Add Howard Stern, Hugh Hefner and Jerry Springer – all rich from cynically exploiting the weaknesses of common men and women.

“My people are destroyed because of their lack of knowledge,” the prophet cried.

That’s why they sometimes cause such enormous harm.

It's nothing that worship would not cure; if only they could taste of the powers of the world to come. There are thin places in that curtain that separates matter from spirit and the God-Man, Jesus the Christ, has come to lead us there.

It’s a lot better than witch-hunting -- or stealing billions of dollars because you have powerful friends in high places, for that matter.

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