Back-Masking Didn't Die

Once upon a time it was the early nineties. It was a time when roaming evangelists occupied the pulpits of Evangelical churches on weekday revival nights, grasping the rapt attention of paranoid parents and pessimistic blue-haired ladies with tales of back-masking, secret satanic incantations hidden in popular music melodies, and CD’s blessed by witches.
Despite the hold that such goose bump raising, hair tingling sensationalism once had upon me, with time and maturity, I realized with some chagrin that these were just religious ghost stories, the evangelical Christian version of a cautionary fairy tale of witches and werewolves designed to control behavior with superstitious fear.
If I had hoped that the church has matured beyond these sorts of melodramatic schemes, I was reminded by way of a blog post warning of the dangers of certain adult coloring books, that every generation has its back-masking.
A Mandala - Quick! Look Away!
In an all too familiar form, the author adopts the posture of a wise and caring friend cautioning fellow believers about some hidden satanic aspect to a seemingly harmless popular new fad. The fad is certain adult coloring books which make use of a floral pattern that is supposedly connected to the practice of certain eastern religions. I won’t delve into whether or not the author accurately represents these religions (though I do have some doubts about that, since one of the symbols shown in the article is immediately recognizable as a rose window from a Christian Cathedral.), but I would like to challenge the Christians reading this to think critically about the idea that objects can somehow bring a person under demonic influence.
Consider for instance, this statement:
“Focusing on mandalas is a spiritual practice where you merge with ‘deities’–this practice opens the door to demons. The thing is, how is the devil going to get Christians to meditate on mandalas? No Christian would put one in their house and sit and stare at it for an hour, chanting the sacred word! But if the enemy can get a Christian to stare at a mandala because they are coloring it, he can have them absentmindedly focus their attention on the image and they will unknowingly open up their subconscious to this image in almost the same way.”
This person is claiming that spreading colored wax over a floral pattern created from ordinary ink and paper gives demons the power to covertly invade the life of a Christian who has committed himself to Christ, turned over his life to serve the Lord of the Universe, and is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Is that really a Biblical stance? How weak must our God be in our minds to believe it?
Then there is this:
“When you think about how our brains zone out when we color anyways, this makes it even more interesting… The mandala itself is a receptacle for ‘deities’ and ‘universal forces.’ It is not just opening a door to the spiritual realm, it is knocking on the door of a false temple.”
Who is speaking here? A Christian, or a pagan? Both seem to agree that an empty ritual combined with an ordinary piece of matter (that God created) has the intrinsic power to connect with the spiritual world. Is that a Biblical position?
Interestingly enough we don’t have to speculate on the Biblical stance, because we have Paul’s treatment of the controversy around eating food sacrificed to idols in I Corinthians 8. Paul begins the passage by clearly stating that food that had been sacrificed to the false gods (idols) was not intrinsically different from ordinary food, because false gods are just that – false. Unreal. Without existence. Interestingly, Paul points out that it is the weak, not the pious who have trouble with this issue, because they treat the sacrifice as though it were something real. (verse 7) He cautions against consuming the idol meat to protect those who were too weak to treat the pagan rituals as what they actually are – empty and powerless.
If Paul had been a 21st century evangelical, he would have made a sensational post about how this devil meat was being sneaked into supermarkets across the country and exposing innocent Christians to demonic influence. Instead, in 10:23, he says to paraphrase, don’t ask whether the food was sacrificed to idols, and what you don’t know won’t hurt you.

Now, I am assuming that most people reading this are not converts from pagan religions where you might have a weakness regarding this topic, nor do you have people over to your house who just two years ago were invoking a coloring book for power to connect to pagan Gods. If that is not the case, then you might fall into the “weaker brother” area, and maybe you should ditch the coloring books.
However, for the rest of us, here are some points that we need to consider:
Spiritual influence comes through the heart and mind, not through objects. Do you believe that an Ouija board hidden in your attic unbeknownst to you could by itself have any effect upon you and your family? How about a pentagram, or a Satanic book, or a book of Wiccan spells? I hope not, because that is pagan superstition. None of these things have any power by themselves. They are nothing but specific arrangements of matter. Scripture clearly teaches us that Spiritual oppression comes as a result of changes within our own hearts when we yield to temptation, or believe a falsehood. The idol meat was a problem because people actually believed and behaved as if a stone idol had power. Ouija boards are a problem when people believe that sleight of hand and trickery is real and can actually connect a person to some supernatural being. Certainly, Satan can use objects as a means of deception, but only to the degree which a person has believed his lies. Thus, if I believe that my toaster is an instrument of divination, then that is precisely what Satan would use that to entrap me in superstition and lies.
The power that symbols have comes only from what we give them. Religious people have a tendency to assign way too much power to symbols. Christianity is no different. It’s why some people believe that wearing a cross will somehow affect their life for good. It’s the reason that the symbolic act of Communion morphed with time into the belief that communion bread turns into the actual body of Christ. However, symbols only hold what power we can assign to them and nothing more. Getting back to the article, the author makes this point:
“I don’t think my friends know that mandalas are wicked sacred objects. You wouldn’t color pentagrams would you? Upside down crosses? Swastikas? No–Because you KNOW what they are. I just want to help get the word out.”
There is one key distinction that needs to be made here. The reason that people wouldn’t color a swastika or a pentagram is because of the commonly known history of the two, not because they have some power to harm by themselves. In fact, the swastika was a common, and completely innocent symbol before Hitler adopted it. We avoid the symbol because of our own internal revulsion towards the ideology that the symbol represents. It’s the ideology that we are responding to, not the symbol. On the other hand, I would venture a guess that the vast majority of people that see the particular floral pattern in question would not associate it with any particular ideology. In fact, there are many symbols around us that have been used for non-Christian religious purposes (the cross being one of them) in the past and we don’t bat an eye, because they haven’t gained universal notoriety as representations of a particular belief system. That brings us to the next question.
Can this idea be applied consistently? If we were to apply this principle consistently, are we obligated to avoid any item that is used in pagan religions? If so, my house cat (ancient Egyptian religions), and a farmer’s cows (Hinduism), have to go. Might I accidentally worship the false gods of Egypt as I absentmindedly stroke Mittens’ fur?
We must dispense with the notion that a person can accidentally subject himself to satanic influence. Satan is the Father of Lies. His power lies primarily in deception and temptation. Whatever supernatural powers that he has are cheap parlor tricks in comparison to the infinite power of God Almighty. Satan doesn’t have the power to curse an object, he can’t get you to worship him on accident in some absentminded moment. If that were the case, he could have just put a spell on any apple in the Garden of Eden, like Queen Grimhilde in Snow White, and handed to Eve. The fall of man did not come about due to the power of a cursed tree or a fruit, but because man believed Satan’s lie and disobeyed God.
These types of things inflate Satan’s power and create needless fear and anxiety. That is precisely the danger of these types of superstitions. When we start attributing power to Satan that does not belong to him, we are making ourselves weaker, not stronger. We are creating people who go around hand wringing, fearful that some cursed piece of matter might be bringing demonic influence into their lives. So, now you have taken a non-issue like a silly adult coloring book that is mundane and powerless by itself, and caused people to believe that it might be dragging down their walk with God or causing them spiritual harm. I have seen firsthand how similar things can weigh heavily upon weaker Christians and cause them much distress, knowing full well that if the foolish person who had introduced them to that idea had just kept his mouth shut, it would have been a non-issue. Satan can curse whatever he wants, and as long as I follow Christ’s will for my life he is powerless to make inroads into my spiritual life.
It’s a distraction on the road to holiness. I have no doubt that the person who wrote this post, and many of the people that come up with similar things believe that they are somehow contributing to themselves or another’s spiritual well-being, but in point of fact, they are actually distracting from the true path to individual holiness. Becoming deeper disciples of Christ does not consist in rooting out objects that we can blame for our spiritual shortcomings, but in developing our minds and hearts, and choosing to act out in our lives those things that we know to be true from Scripture. It is not more pious or Spiritual to make a contest of how many innocent things we can find to decry as Satanic: it is simply another flavor of legalism.
Finally, these sorts of religious superstitions become points of ridicule leveled at Christianity and the Church, and this issue is no exception, as the this page shows. They provide excuses to paint Christians as gullible fools who have simply Christianized the superstitions of previous generations. We know that the preaching of the Cross seems like foolishness to those who live in rebellion to God. Let us not muddy the water with our own genuine foolishness.
It is time to put these things behind us. As I tell my children, we are too old for it. We are supposed to be more mature than this. We know better than to float from one sensational moral panic to another. The greatest threat to our spiritual lives comes not from cursed objects, but from hearts that are unfocused. The solution is to refocus on what really matters, choosing to live every moment as Scripture teaches us, consistently for the glory of God.

Comments

  1. I loved this post, and I was just going to go make some toast!

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment