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A Christian understanding of idols, false gods and demons Login/Join 
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I'd like to start by stating outright that my intention here is not to offend practitioners of other faiths, be they Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic or anything else. My desire is to explore the biblical and theological teachings on the demonic and then ask how that might relate to the gods and godesses of other religions.

1) To begin I would like to reflect on the fact that the bible says Satan can appear as an angel of light to deceive us. I think we all know how those of us with serious concerns about non-Christian religions see this passage, but I'm more interested in how those of you who are less concerned understand this teaching.

2) In 1 Cor 8:4-6 Paul says the following about idols (i.e. the gods and godesses worshiped by the pagan Greeks, Romans and surrounding nations): "So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live' and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live."

At first it seems as though Paul is saying idols are nothing (this can be interpreted in different ways) but then goes on to acknowledge that they are gods and then subordinates them again by establishing God, the Father, and Jesus Christ over all things. But then in chapter 10 he once again opens the topic of idolatry and this time he condemns the idols as demons and the sacrifices made to them as unsuitable for Christians to share in.

So then, are idols (the gods and godesses worshiped in non-Christian religions) nothing, something, or demons?
 
Posts: 715 | Location: South Africa | Registered: 12 August 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Jacques,

In answer to point 1), I think if we're really living Christ we'll be able to see through the disguise.

As for point 2), well, the same really. A blanket dismissal of all foreign gods as demonic is irresponsible. Each deity and every idol or image devoted to that deity has to be discerned individually. Some may well be open to demonic influence, some may just make us feel uncomfortable, perhaps loaded with the energies of a foreign culture or worship, but ultimately harmless. Others may very well be manifestations of divine attributes. By their fruits... I for one am not too interested in exploring these deities, but am interested in learning from the spiritual dynamics associated with them, in particular from people of other faiths who have a loving heart.
 
Posts: 538 | Registered: 24 June 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Also from Paul:
quote:
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’[b] As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’[c]
- Acts 17

So the bold-face quote is basis for affirming why and how it is that other, non-Jewish religious traditions came to be.

Biblically, an idol is usually a symbolic representation of a non-Jewish deity who is worshiped. Still, it's a complicated topic:
quote:
Which images, ideas, and objects constitute idolatry is often a matter of considerable contention, and within all the Abrahamic religions the term may be used in a very wide sense, with no implication that the behaviour objected to actually consists of the religious worship of a physical object.

Behaviour considered idolatrous or potentially idolatrous may include the creation of any type of image of the deity, or of other figures of religious significance such as prophets, saints, and clergy, the creation of images of any person or animal at all, and the use of religious symbols, or secular ones. In addition, theologians have extended the concept to include giving undue importance to aspects of religion other than God, or to non-religious aspects of life in general, with no involvement of images specifically. For example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship. Man commits idolatry whenever he honours and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods, or demons (for example satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money etc."
- Wikipedia

The relationship between idols and demons is also complicated. To the extent that any symbolic representation turns one's attention to the true God, it cannot be considered an idol; to the extent that it turns one's attention away from God, it could be an idol. Curiously, this could even include the way some use statues of Saints, or Mary. It depends not so much on the symbolic representation per se, then, but of how it is used by a worshiper.

Obviously, there are symbolic representations giving expression of theological/metaphysical principles and entities at odds with Christian teaching, and to give attention to these in openness to such principles and entities could bring about contact with demonic entities. I do not believe that the representation per se has such power, however; e.g., an image of Baal thought to be a stylized angel by a Christian and used in Christian prayer would not bring one into contact with Baal. To give images such power is superstition, imo.

A few rambling thoughts . . .

This message has been edited. Last edited by: Phil,
 
Posts: 3570 | Location: Wichita, KS | Registered: 27 December 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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That quote from Acts was today's New Testament reading for Mass. It certainly appears to be saying that God set up the nations and then encouraged them to seek after Him. This they did in various ways...I liked what Paul was saying over on the other thread:
quote:
Every culture that has religion forms its own psychic "mold," so to speak, where the culture's ideas about God, mostly based on an idealized version of the cultural self, form a "place" - a little heaven of sorts - where whatever portion of God which resonates with those ideas may "dwell." If God is dwelling in ideas and ideals in one's consciousness, and that person brings those ideas into manifestation through putting them into action, he is in essence communing with God and co-acting on creation with God.


These constructs, idols, philosophies, spiritual disciplines etc.etc. may hold parts/aspects of God. As Christians we may look for the parts that represent the True God and even learn from the ways in which other cultures have come to know the infinite and unattainable God.

I suppose though when an image or idol is only capable of holding a certain aspect of God because of it's natural inability to be the full image of the Father (the way Jesus is), then the idol or image is open for abuse by the demonic realm.

If John of the Cross can warn people that their Christian contemplation is open to attack by the demonic then it is equally true that non-Christian approaches to the divine are going to be equally and probably more easily open to the same kinds of attack.

Stephen, I hear your confidence that if we are truly in Christ we will see through the schemes of the devil...but my sense is that a little pride may go a long way to stop us from discovering his ploys...humility and holy caution are also great virtues to be wielded in the fight against the devil.
 
Posts: 715 | Location: South Africa | Registered: 12 August 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by Jacques:

I suppose though when an image or idol is only capable of holding a certain aspect of God because of it's natural inability to be the full image of the Father (the way Jesus is), then the idol or image is open for abuse by the demonic realm.

If John of the Cross can warn people that their Christian contemplation is open to attack by the demonic then it is equally true that non-Christian approaches to the divine are going to be equally and probably more easily open to the same kinds of attack.

Stephen, I hear your confidence that if we are truly in Christ we will see through the schemes of the devil...but my sense is that a little pride may go a long way to stop us from discovering his ploys...humility and holy caution are also great virtues to be wielded in the fight against the devil.


Jaques, the question then, I would think, is, what do these demonic attacks look like, and how do we spot them? I believe the answer is fairly simple. The Church gives us a system of virtue and vice (several systems, actually) to help us conform our character to the image of Christ.

The sense I get from folks who are concerned about demonic attack is that we might somehow receive or build actual virtue - faith, hope, love, prudence, justice, fortitude, temperence - from a non-Christian religion, but that these virtues are actually just there to trick us into worshipping a demon. This, essentially, is impossible. What IS possible is for us to believe that we are building virtue when in fact we are filling ourselves with pride, greed, lust, etc. The "angel of light" phenomenon, if you will. But that is possible with every religion and frankly, it is so rampant in Christianity that I find it hard to believe that any non-Christian religion could hold MORE danger than Christianity itself. In fact, since it is so easy to mentally and culturally disregard the truth(s) and self-critique which act as safeguards against this type of vice, that it seems to be much more a product of the human condition than it does any particular religion or cultural idea.

What I'm saying is, no matter what god or God a person may claim as their own, we as humans are naturally inclined to distort the image we hold of that God until it suits our own whims and desires. This happens everywhere, and the cure is always the same - Build virtue. Be humble. Have faith. Put your hope on God. Control your passions. Seek justice. Love sacrificially. Love God, love your neighbor, ACT on that love and thereby manifest it. When you DO these things, you bring God into the world, and when you bring God into the world, demons flee. That's just how it is, and it happens with the same certainty that shadows will disappear when they're struck by light.


Paul
 
Posts: 119 | Registered: 08 April 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I like what you say here Paul. And I'm basically in agreement with most of your points. I especially like the way you put the "angel of light" phenomenon.

Obviously discernment is key here, and the advent of the internet generation has not made this any easier.

When we meet people in real life and spend time with them in some sort of community it is easy to assess whether or not they are operating out of virtue or vice...even then it can be difficult because people project the best possible image of themselves.

Online however people are free to spout cushy love poems and prose on the wonders of unity and god-consciousness, when in fact they are completely deluded and caught in the kind of self-righteous self-worship that you describe in the "angel of light" scenario.

Just because somebody can talk the talk, doesn't mean they walk the walk. This is why Jesus calls the Pharisees children of the devil, because they went on about worshiping God but inwardly they were hollow and sinful.
 
Posts: 715 | Location: South Africa | Registered: 12 August 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by Jacques:
I like what you say here Paul. And I'm basically in agreement with most of your points. I especially like the way you put the "angel of light" phenomenon.

Obviously discernment is key here, and the advent of the internet generation has not made this any easier.

When we meet people in real life and spend time with them in some sort of community it is easy to assess whether or not they are operating out of virtue or vice...even then it can be difficult because people project the best possible image of themselves.

Online however people are free to spout cushy love poems and prose on the wonders of unity and god-consciousness, when in fact they are completely deluded and caught in the kind of self-righteous self-worship that you describe in the "angel of light" scenario.

Just because somebody can talk the talk, doesn't mean they walk the walk. This is why Jesus calls the Pharisees children of the devil, because they went on about worshiping God but inwardly they were hollow and sinful.


Frankly I think this misses the point. If you're spending your time worrying about the virtuous state of other people then you're on the wrong track. THAT is what the Pharisees were doing. The standard of whether or not acting out a teaching builds virtue should be applied to one's self, not everyone else. Unless you're Jesus, I mean.

This message has been edited. Last edited by: myfutureself,
 
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Online however people are free to spout cushy love poems and prose on the wonders of unity and god-consciousness, when in fact they are completely deluded and caught in the kind of self-righteous self-worship that you describe in the "angel of light" scenario.


I'm not sure where this is coming from, Jacques, or where all the recent demon anxiety stems from.

What I'm seeing so much of in Christianity these days is this anxious need to believe the right thing. Ok it's good to have a firm doctrinal basis, but as soon as someone introduces teaching from another religion or talks about enlightenment, a wave of panic breaks out and a self-righteous need to correct. To me the neurotic attachment to believe the right thing reinforces a false punishment/reward relationship with God. If we only realised the depth of love in our souls we'd see that God gives quite a bit of leeway, and we might perhaps realise that proper belief and practise is only a framework to help us, not the end in itself. And we'd certainly stop worrying so much about demons.
 
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If John of the Cross can warn people that their Christian contemplation is open to attack by the demonic then it is equally true that non-Christian approaches to the divine are going to be equally and probably more easily open to the same kinds of attack.

Jacques et al, SJOC was clear in his teaching that we are never more shielded from diabolical influence than when we are in contemplation. John is much more concerned about the devil making use of one's imagination in prayer, or any active engagement of consciousness, for that matter.

I think we can already see the difficulty about assigning labels like "idols, false gods and demons" to certain people or things. Paul's point on building virtue, spiritual practices, etc. is good innoculation. For further discernment, we can use Jesus's teaching from Mt. 7 as our guide:
quote:
True and False Prophets

15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

Elaboration on these fruits is from Galatians 5:
quote:
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Whenever we see good fruits such as those listed above (including in our own lives), we can be sure the Spirit is at work. Whenever we see the fruits of self-indulgence listed in an individual or group (including religious groups, even Christian ones), watch out!
 
Posts: 3570 | Location: Wichita, KS | Registered: 27 December 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Frankly I think this misses the point. If you're spending your time worrying about the virtuous state of other people then you're on the wrong track. THAT is what the Pharisees were doing. The standard of whether or not acting out a teaching builds virtue should be applied to one's self, not everyone else. Unless you're Jesus, I mean.


I hear you and agree that the point of discernment is first and foremost about your own life and how a teaching builds virtue in yourself.

But, as Phil's quote points out, Paul is warning the people about False Prophets, using the words, "Watch Out". This seems to be about others, even while it is about ourselves...wouldn't you say?
 
Posts: 715 | Location: South Africa | Registered: 12 August 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I'm not sure where this is coming from, Jacques, or where all the recent demon anxiety stems from.

What I'm seeing so much of in Christianity these days is this anxious need to believe the right thing. Ok it's good to have a firm doctrinal basis, but as soon as someone introduces teaching from another religion or talks about enlightenment, a wave of panic breaks out and a self-righteous need to correct. To me the neurotic attachment to believe the right thing reinforces a false punishment/reward relationship with God. If we only realised the depth of love in our souls we'd see that God gives quite a bit of leeway, and we might perhaps realise that proper belief and practise is only a framework to help us, not the end in itself. And we'd certainly stop worrying so much about demons.


Stephen, I've been a cautious person most of my life. I through a bit of that caution to the wind during my drug years and it bit me in the butt, hard. Since then caution has been my constant companion and so I wouldn't say that this anxiety over demons is a recent development for me...it may seem like it's a sudden focus here as SP, but that is only because the topic has come up and I for one have been happy to chat about it. Not because I want to warn everybody and be a fear-monger, but because spiritually and psychologically it affects me and I gain much insight from discussing this here, both from those who share my fears AND from those who don't. I'm trying to come to a deeper understanding of my own issues with the demonic and hear how others view/experience the subject.

I agree, God does give a lot of lee way. I'm not too bothered by talk of enlightenment since I've gained a good Christian understanding of it here at SP, something I hope to do with regards to the demonic as well. I do wonder why everybody gets so upset with those of us who want to talk about it. It's as though bringing up the D word is a sin, but talking about our enlightenment experiences and union with a godess is perfectly okay. I'm not trying to be confrontational, I just wonder why this subject gets everybody so riled up, as though it's the one sin we shouldn't commit. It reminds me of the way pro-choicers and left winger will be open and accepting of everything EXCEPT those darn Catholics and Right Wingers who say abortion is a sin.
 
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Re. wolves in sheep's clothing: Shasha and others have raised the point, at times, of how opening oneself to certain gurus or spiritual leaders can link one's consciousness to them in destructive ways. It gets even more complicated when these leaders themselves are disciples of others, who might turn out to be idolaters in the true sense of the word. There are enough stories of abusive yogis and gurus to justify this caution, and it could well be that what one first encounters does seem virtuous and commendable. The contamination comes with shaktipat or related practices which do allow for a deep bonding between the consciousness of the leader and the disciple (interestingly, we make use of this as well in Christianity, trusting that the influence of Christ and his Spirit will be positive). As Swami Muktananda once wrote, "the energy of the guru is the energy of his consciousness." So you get what you get -- an impure vessel mediating energy/consciousness in a somewhat distorted manner.

I'm a firm believer as well that one should take full responsibility for what goes on in one's consciousness, but what if what's going on doesn't originate in one's consciousness? This was addressed in another thread on kundalini issues, and it seemed the group was saying that we can only deal with what presents to our own awareness, and set a boundary with regard to other via love and forgiveness. I know that's not always easy, however.

The take-away from this is that one should, indeed, do quite a bit of research about a leader or group before opening oneself to their energetic influence, especially via shaktipat, darshan, or related practices.
 
Posts: 3570 | Location: Wichita, KS | Registered: 27 December 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
For further discernment, we can use Jesus's teaching from Mt. 7 as our guide:
quote:
True and False Prophets

15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.


I agree that Jesus' words here are very important and generally speaking they are easy to apply. A question that I have regarding inter-faith dialogue and certain forms of enlightenment is this: If your spiritual path leads you to the conclusion/fruit that you are God, is that automatically bad fruit, or do we nuance that to be culturally sensitive to the person because their tradition teaches pantheism or monism. Is the idea that You are God automatically bad fruit and is it bad enough to be demonic?

quote:
Genesis 1:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” 2The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” 4The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! 5“For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
 
Posts: 715 | Location: South Africa | Registered: 12 August 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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We cross posted Phil, but thanks for bringing up the points that you did regarding gurus and shaktipat. All of your points speak to my concerns and help flesh out some of the areas that I am cautious about.
 
Posts: 715 | Location: South Africa | Registered: 12 August 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.


The two elements above that most concern me regarding this current discussion are idolatry and witchcraft.

Idolatry has already been discussed and I do realise that it is much harder to discern idolatry in a Non-Christian than it is to discern it in a Christian. If a Christian worships an idol or foreign god it is obviously idolatry. I hear you guys when you say we need to be more sensitive or nuanced when applying this same standard to Non-Christian, and I understand what you are saying, but I also have to admit that part of me find this difficult. I'm not saying I disagree, only that a part of me finds it hard to give full consent to this idea.

Now for witchcraft. In my South African context we have a lot of animism in the African community and often spirits are called up and sometimes the magic/rituals associated with these practices result in demonic oppression or possession. The same can be said for the large Hindu population (largest outside of India itself) and my (Indian) wife personally experienced exorcisms during her childhood (her dad is a pastor) where Indian Christians had become involved with Hindu magic and become possessed.

My question here relates to definitions of witchcraft and how this relates to idols and false gods. My understanding has been that witchcraft is the invocation of demons/spirits/false gods to achieve a desired outcome for the person doing the magic or on behalf of somebody paying the warlock/witch. Using this definition (which you are all welcome to critique and give me a better definition) how is invoking an actual demon different from invoking a false god if we cannot know before hand whether the god is actually a demon or not. Also, surely most witches do not believe the spirits or gods they are invoking are demons, surely they believe they are benevolent beings/spirits?

Not sure if I have been clear here, typing in a bit of a hurry to go to Mass...hope you get my concern/question.
 
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I'm sorry if I've been insensitive to your concerns, Jacques. Of course you've every right to discuss these things. I apologise.

Here's a quote from one of Phil's books, lifted from another thread:

quote:
Enlightenment is not love, nor is it mystical contemplation, for these are experienced in relationship. But enlightenment is the perfect context for relationship since self-centered projections and demands are out of the way. Love flowers most beautifully in the good soils of an enlightened soul!


I'm thinking here that God must be quite gentle with those who think enlightenment is the goal, or those who, through enlightenment or other spiritualities, come to the conclusion that they are God. It's simply a mistaken conclusion. But surely the fruit of their lives can still be good, just as an atheist can still live a morally upright and psychologically healthy life. As I said, it need not be about proper belief, but love and goodness too.
 
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Peace Stephen, no worries, I've appreciated your interaction here.

I like that quote about enlightenment and I agree that God is gentle with all of us...and as we've been saying, ultimately the fruit is the indicator. Sometimes fruit takes a while to mature and we need to be gentle and patient with people too. Equally, sometimes good fruit can go bad when exposed to unsavory elements for too long, or just as a result of not being grafted onto the vine.

I found Tara's discussion on the Tibetan Buddhist thread interesting. It certainly resonates with some of my own concerns here. I was discussing it with my wife this morning and saying that it reminds me of the final book in the Narnia series. A worshiper of Tash is battling with the realization that he had been worshiping a false-god instead of Aslan. But this Tash-worshiper is welcomed into heaven by Aslan. When the man objects, because he worshiped Tash, Aslan explains that Tash is the exact opposite of all that Aslan is and that regardless of the name used, if the attributes fit Aslan, then Aslan receives the worship, whereas the opposite is just as true (as most of you have pointed out above) that simply calling on the name of Christ but attributing all manner of vice to His worship will not result in authentic union with God or spiritual transformation.

Lewis wrote:
quote:
“Son, thou art welcome,” . Emeth (the Tash-server) protests, “I am no son of Thine but a servant of Tash.” But Aslan insists, “All the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me."

"Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted."

And at another time Lewis writes:

There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by Him that they are His in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand. There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it. For example, a Buddhist of good will may be led to concentrate more and more on the Buddhist teaching about mercy and to leave in the background (though he might still say he believed) the Buddhist teaching on certain other points. Many of the good Pagans long before Christ’s birth may have been in this position.
 
Posts: 715 | Location: South Africa | Registered: 12 August 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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That's a great quote by C.S. Lewis, Jacques - and Jesus' teaching on sheep and goats in Mt. 25 probably helped inspire this.

I don't know what to say in response to your questions about animists, witches and so forth. Obviously, if one is seeking them for selfish gain, then that can't be in accord with God's will. One problem is that for many people, those kinds of options are all they know as it's what their culture holds out to them. There is obvious risk to the people of these cultures, but even there I have to believe that the Spirit of God is at work, influencing individuals at the level of conscience.
 
Posts: 3570 | Location: Wichita, KS | Registered: 27 December 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Catholic Answers Magazine deals with some interesting topics this month. There is even an interview with a Catholic exorcist - don't have money to buy it myself, but if anybody else does let me know if the interview reveals anything interesting.

In this issue:

Did Jesus Exist? by Trent Horn – Internet evidence is rampant that many people think Jesus was only a myth. But you have to ignore the historical record to believe this.

Angels And Aliens by Father Dwight Longenecker – Fallen angels are at work in our world, and the proper Catholic response to the paranormal is to recognize the battle and what's at stake.

"It May Interest You To Know..." by Mark Shea – An awful lot of supercilious people think they know things about Catholic belief that simply aren't true.

Debunking The Mithras Myth by Jon Sorensen – In which our author provides the antidote to another dose of silliness: the claim that Christianity was based on a contemporary Roman cult.
 
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