Books Read in 2012: No. 20 – From the Cauldron to the Cross

In this book, author Shari Hadley shares her journey from being a practitioner of Wicca to being a disciple of Jesus Christ. What immediately strikes the reader is Hadley’s honesty as she opens her heart and shares the abuse of her childhood and the tragedies she faced throughout her life. In fact, it is in the face of tragedy that Hadley realizes her Wiccan faith has little to offer and turns to God Almighty, almost against her will.

Her story then becomes an honest account of her attempt to decipher what impact her new found faith should have in her life. Every Christian can learn from Hadley’s journey and should examine their faith under the same light.

This book is touching because the faith Hadley sought and desperately needed wasn’t just an intellectual or emotional faith. It was the practical, living faith that could only be found in the Holy Trinity. The reader can hardly resist being drawn into her story and encouraged by the means God took to orchestrate her salvation in the midst of heartache.

I highly recommend this book for all Christians. It may be of special interest to those reader who practice, or have a history with, Wicca.

Is Exodus 22:18 a Command for Christians to Kill Witches?

h8s0pf2rcqs-aaron-burdenAs part of a writing project, I have been reviewing different world religions with a particular interest in what they teach concerning sin. During my examination of the Wiccan faith, I kept stumbling across Wiccans who refer to the following verse with a mixture of anger and resentment.

“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” – Exodus 22:18 (King James Translation)

When reading this verse, it is understandable why there may be hurt feelings. Taken out of context, Exodus 22:18 seems to give Christians blanket permission to kill witches. Considering this is a verse that could be used to justify hate and violence, an in-depth examination seems to be in order.

We must first recognize that while the King James translates the subject of this verse as “witch,” there are slight variances in other translations. Most commonly, I have seen it translated as “sorceress” (NIV, Holman Standard); however, it has also been occasionally translated as “poisoner” – although I feel this last translation is made from weaker manuscripts. Regardless of the translation, most experts believe Exodus 22:18 is addressing those who practiced occult activities such as séances, divination, and spell-casting while eliciting the help of powers outside the one, true God. It is also generally assumed that these magic practitioners were attempting to draw their power in part from Satan. With this in mind, the words “witch” or “sorceress” seem as apt a translation as any.

Although most Wiccans take offense to Scriptures’ use of the word witch, I believe it would be a stretch to compare these witches to the modern adherents to the Wiccan faith. For instance, since Wiccans deny the existence of Satan there seems to be a clear difference between them and witches referred to in this verse. I suspect we are comparing apples to oranges, but for the sake of this discussion, let’s assume that the witches of Exodus 22:18 and the witches of modern Wicca are one in the same. Is the Bible giving Christians blanket permission to hunt and kill witches?

The quick answer to this question is no; however, to truly understand why one must understand the context of the verse.

Exodus 22:18 is presented as part of the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20:19 through 23:33) and is intended as a guide to teach the Israelites how to incorporate the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20: 1-17) into their daily lives. These commands came at a time when God was attempting to preserve the Israelites as His chosen people in order to use them in His plan to save all of us. While the Ten Commandments are considered laws that transcend time and culture, the commands that are contained within the Book of the Covenant are specific for the Israelites who received them. Thus, to take any of these Israel-specific commands and argue that they apply directly to those of us in our modern, western culture is a misapplication that misses the point of the text; so if the verse was a direct order to kill all witches it was not a direct order from God to us, but rather from God to those particular Israelites living in that particular time and place.

Even with this said, it can be argued that God wasn’t giving those Israelites a direct order to kill all witches. A reoccurring theme of the Old Testament is Israel’s failure to remain faithful to God. Over and over again God’s chosen people were led astray by pagan religions that placed idols and sex ahead of God. The Ten Commandments begin with instructions that we should have no other Gods before the true God and that we shouldn’t make idols. These were the issues at stake concerning the “witches” that lived among the Israelites.

Because, the Israelites were continually being led astray and losing focus, God instructed them to not allow a witch to “live.” The word live in this case is translated from the Hebrew word châyâh (pronounced khaw-yaw’) and refers to both a literal and figurative life. Exodus 22:18 could have just as easily been translated as a command to not allow witches to live and thrive within the Israelite community. This is especially probable considering the rules against the exploitation and oppression of foreigners presented in Exodus 22:21.

In all fairness, a “witch” or sorceress who refused to leave and continued to lead the Israelites astray would have no doubt faced capital punishment on the command of Exodus 22:18, but I tend to believe this would have only been used as a last resort.

Regardless, those who take this verse out of context and use it as a vehicle for violence are just as guilty of academic laziness as those who read the verse and claim it as evidence that Christianity teaches hate. As always, this verse needs to be placed in its proper context before it can be understood.

Book Review of Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue

Title: Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue
Authors: Philip Johnson and Gus diZerega
Publisher: Lion UK, 2009

Review: This book was actually loaned to me by a Wiccan friend who knew I would enjoy it. The subject matter of the book echoed many of the debates and discussions my friend and I have had and the authors were obviously well informed and knowledgeable regarding their faiths. The book strives to create an atmosphere of “dialogue” rather than “debate,” and achieves that goal well. I thought Johnson represented the Christian viewpoints with love and respect towards his counterpart and that diZerega presented his [Wiccan] thoughts with a great deal of intelligence despite my disagreement with his views.

My biggest complaint regarding this book was in its layout. Each chapter covers a different topic and gives the floor first to diZerega to present the Wiccan vantage point and then to Johnson for a Christian response. In each chapter, Johnson was given the advantage of reading diZerega’s essay before writing while diZerega was never given the same opportunity. In my opinion, this gave Johnson an unfair advantage. However, even with this advantage, Johnson never really blows diZerega out of the water … even though he was given ample opportunity (and ammunition) to do so. Given the polite forum of this discussion, I suppose neither author’s goal was to destroy his counterpart; however,  I still think Johnson played it a little too nice. diZerega seemed far more pointed than Johnson in his critique of Christianity and it is my opinion that Johnson missed several opportunities to point out weaknesses in diZerega’s views.

I did find it interesting that, once again, the Wiccan in question seems to have formulated his opinions of Christianity as a result of a bad experience with Christianity in his younger years. I often find myself wondering if Christians who represent their faith poorly aren’t the chief cause of Wicca’s current popularity.

I recommend this book highly for anyone interested in the subject matter. Due to the flaws in the layout of the book, I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who is on the cusp of making a decision between the two faiths, but it is interesting and informative.

Thoughts on Pantheism and Wicca

I find it interesting that the most read post on this site remains to be a review I wrote on a book about Wicca. Of all the google search terms that have led people to this site, terms that include the word ‘wicca’ are the most prevalent. I have no doubt that this post will be widely read since its title includes the word wicca. It all seems oddly ironic to me considering the nature of this blog. Naturally, I’ve been asking myself why there is such an interest in Wicca lately and, as with most questions I ask myself, I decided to see what someone that is smarter than I am had to say on the topic … so I asked C.S. Lewis.

Lewis is one of the smartest people I have ever read. He was a writer and modern day philosopher who also happened to be a Christian.  In his book on Miracles, he talks extensively on Pantheism. While Lewis doesn’t speak directly about Wicca, I feel comfortable making the connection as Wicca is a form of Pantheism.

Lewis writes that Pantheism is the base form of religion that most humans are drawn to because it is congenial to the human mind. He compares it to a comfortable pair of shoes that fit well but fail to keep the feet dry. Basically, Lewis asserts that pantheism is popular because it is easy. On the surface, it seems the most fair and logical form of faith. Lewis argues that pantheism is the “natural bent of the human mind” and that humans have a tendency to naturally “sink” to its level. Lewis argues that when devoid of higher thought, the human mind will always settle on pantheism because of its congeniality. Lewis asserts that pantheism is as popular today as it was in ancient India and ancient Rome because it is our base-level of faith.

Christianity, on the other hand, is not nearly as congenial to the human mind. It requires higher thinking and work. Lewis points out that most pantheists will claim the opposite is true. It has certainly been my experience that pantheists claim Christianity is too simple and empty of thought to be true, so I have to agree with what Lewis is saying. Lewis presents a fantastic analogy to illustrate his point. He compares religion to physics. For years, scientists knew that atoms existed before there was any proof. Lewis claims that it is apparently natural for humans to believe in atoms. The problem with this old atomic theory is that the atoms science imagined were hard little pellets like a grain of sand or salt. Scientist imagined atoms in this way because of their past experience. They just couldn’t conceive of an atom as it truly is.  The true nature of the atom was so alien to scientist’s natural mode of thought that they couldn’t even fathom it. Lewis claims that pantheism is to religion what the old atomic theory was to science. Christianity it so alien to our natural mode of thought that most people can’t even fathom it. It is easier, and more natural, to believe in pantheism.

Lewis argues that the sublime and mysterious nature attributed to pantheism is just a sham. In reality, it is just an archaic, base-level religion that is continually being repackaged as something new and exciting. Christianity is the only true alternative to such thought because of the claims of Christ. Jesus said that He was “…  the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). If we agree with C.S. Lewis, we would expect that Christ’s claims would be difficult for people to understand because they go against our natural tendency to cling to an easier form of faith that requires less “work.”

Basically, Lewis is saying that the fact we have such a hard time comprehending the claims of Christ lends to Jesus’ credibility. We should expect that if Christ’s claims are true, they should be troublesome to our natural mode of thought:

“This troublesomeness does not of course prove it [Christianity] to be true, but if it were true it would be bound to have this troublesomeness. The real musician is similarly troublesome to a man who wishes to indulge in in untaught ‘musical appreciation’; the real historian is similarly a nuisance when we want to romance about ‘the good old days’ or ‘the ancient Greeks or Romans’. The ascertained nature of any real thing is always at first a nuisance to our natural fantasies – a wretched, pedantic, logic-chopping intruder upon a conversation which was getting on famously without it.”  Miracles, page 137.

Lewis’ writing on pantheism presents a pretty clear answer to my question regarding the appeal of Wicca. Basically, people are drawn to Wicca for the same reasons they are drawn to any pantheistic faith  … it is their natural tendency to do so. It seems plausible to me. I certainly agree with Lewis’ assertion that Christ requires us to raise our level of thought. Christ forces us to consider questions that may seem difficult at first to answer. I know from personal experience that it was easier for me to write Christians and Christ Himself off (although it is painful for me to admit) as lunatics. It was my natural tendency to impose my own version and impressions of God on the creator. It  is much harder to learn what God has to say about Himself than it is to envision Him the way I wanted Him to be. I will add that as I learn more about God, He is far greater and more powerful than anything my mind could of envisioned.


Book Review: What's the Deal with Wicca? by Steve Russo

Book Review: What’s the Deal with Wicca by Steve Russo
Bethany House, 2005
: 6.5 out of 10

Over the past couple of years, I have witnessed a numerous number of people become involved with the religion of Wicca. In many case, there seems to be more interest in witchcraft than Christianity. I have always wondered what it is that attracts people to Wicca, so I snatched this book up when I saw it at the local library. What’s the Deal with Wicca is written for a teen-aged audience as teens (especially teen girls) are especially attracted to this religion. Russo does a fair job of explaining the practices of Wicca (which is kind of like nailing jello to the wall) and then presenting clearer Christian alternatives.

I did not learn much more about Wicca from this book than I did from engaging a good friend of mine who practices the religion. There were moments when I felt the author could have gone into a little more depth than he did, but I’m sure someone with little knowledge of the subject would find Russo’s treatment informative. I plan on writing about these subjects in a little more depth later on, but it is worth noting that Russo seems to agree with a conclusion I had made previous to reading this book. Much of the appeal to Wicca (and other new age faiths) seem to be based more on a rejection of Christianity rather than an acceptance of some of the far reaching claims these “faiths” make. This rejection of Christianity is based on several misunderstandings of Jesus’ teaching. Practitioners of Wicca seem to think they have found a better alternative to Christianity when it comes to several subjects, including; the status of women, the environment, and the enjoyment of sexual relations. It is my opinion that these assumptions are based in a misunderstanding of the Christian faith. I would also assert that, in many cases, Christians and the Church are to blame for these misconceptions. Again, I’ll try to write more on this later.

As far as What’s the Deal with Wicca is concerned, I would recommend it for someone with an interest in the subject. Specifically, if one is feeling drawn towards witchcraft (or has a child they suspect is involved with Wicca), they should read this book before any decisions are made. I would also recommend this book for any spiritually-seeking teens who are exploring different faiths.