Aladdin’s Lamp version of the bible

aladdin's lamp version of the bible cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward
“Aladdin’s Lamp Version” by nakedpastor David Hayward

Why do so many encourage magical thinking? Because then you need a magician. Authority and power tends to prefer the people be spellbound than rational. It is better for the masses to be mystified than discerning.

I’ve seen it so many times. It’s dangerous, but it works! All a person has to do is say, “I hear from God, and he has something he wants me to say to you!” and the person is hooked! Most anyway. I’ve seen it. Actually, I’ve been it! People are so hungry for proof of the spirit that the hook doesn’t even need bait, it just needs to be shiny. The hook is “There is a god” and the shine is, “He has something to say to you personally”. There’s money in that.

I’m not against spirit, but I am against its misuse. I’m not against mystery or the unexplainable, but I am opposed to it being marketed like snake oil.

Discernment of spirits. Where’s that gift when you need it?

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  • Fascinating. Did you ever claim, or have you ever believed, that God has revealed something specific to you? If so, have you ever written about precisely what you meant? (A voice / vision / bible verse that “jumped” at you / gut feeling, etc).

  • yes i have had those times.

  • I’m interested in the cognitive science of religion and would like to study purported divine-revelations, however it’s quite difficult to pin people (especially pastors!) down about what exactly they mean when they make these kind of claims. Do you think you could say something about what you experienced?

  • oh my goodness that’s too great a task right now. that’s something discussed over coffee or wine. and i’m not prone to talk about it anyway.

  • In college we used to joke about a guy going up to a girl and telling her that God wanted them to get married; because you’re right “God told me so” is like the ultimate trump card. How can you respond to that line when people use it; it’s like throwing the gauntlet down, ou either have to say “ok” and go with them on whatever they want; or you have to say “No, I don’t think God actually told you that.” which is the ultimate call out.

    We found out later that some guy actually did try to use that line on a girl; it was funny at the time.

  • Pat

    And the sad part is, many Christians talk about discernment, but they live as though it’s not needed within their own circles.

  • I was fortunate in having a gifted pastor who knew to caution people against sharing such visions without someone gifted in interpreting it. He led the most intelligent and progressive charismatic ministry I’ve ever known. Predictably, he got pushed out by the church.

  • Carol

    Actually, magical thinking takes the mystery out of religion and puts the believer back in control–“if I do this, then God will do that.”

    Since God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor God’s ways our ways, when the Spirit moves among us the affects are almost always something that surpasses our expectations and that we never could have imagined and yet quite natural and sensible in hindsight. Nothing that would provide definitive proof of God’s existence or power. Ever try to separate the yeast from a rising batch of dough or salt out of a stew once it has been added?

    Now, the “hard sayings” or experiences that challenge our presuppositions or narcissistic fantasies–those are often “promptings” from the Spirit. It doesn’t take much spiritual discernment to spot the faults and failings of others, its recognizing our own that requires a little help from the Divine Counselor.

    “Some people want to see God with their eyes as they see a cow, and to love Him as they love their cow–for the milk and cheese and profit it brings them. This is how it is with people who love God for the sake of outward wealth or inward comfort.”– Meister Eckhart

    The doctrine of the material efficacy of prayer reduces the Creator to a cosmic bellhop of a not very bright or reliable kind.–Herbert J. Muller, educator, historian, and author (1905-1980)

    The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays. –Soren Kierkegaard


    I asked God for strength, that I might achieve…
    I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.

    I asked for health, that I might do greater things…
    I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.

    I asked for riches, that I might be happy…
    I was given poverty, that I might be wise.

    I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men…
    I was given weakness, that I might feel the need for God.

    I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life…
    I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.

    I got nothing that I asked for…
    But everything that I had hoped for.

    Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
    I am among men, most richly blessed!

    –Author Unknown

    Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    Call on him while he is near.
    Let the wicked forsake his way
    And the evil man his thoughts.
    Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him,
    And to our God, for he will freely pardon.

    “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    Neither are your ways my ways,”
    Declares the Lord.

    As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    So are my ways higher than your ways
    And my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:6-9)

  • Ok. I’m a bit taken aback — especially after your posts on Sophia — and am not sure how to respond, so I’ll just say that it’s been a while since I commented on your blog and it’s great to see that you’re still going strong!

  • Carol

    “The world is by no means averse to religion. In fact, it is devoted to it with a passion. It will buy any recipe for salvation as long as that formula leaves the responsibility for cooking up salvation firmly in human hands. The world is drowning in religion. But it is scared out of its wits by any mention of the grace that takes the world home gratis.” –Robert Farrer Capon

    “The underlying foundation of all religion is performance – whether it’s a tribal dance around a campfire to satisfy the fire god, or a dead religious activity performed week after week by an evangelical Christian with the intent of impressing his God. It’s all religious performance, and God isn’t impressed by our performance. What impresses Him is faith.” ~ Steve McVey

    “Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservations.” –Elton Trueblood

    “Belief is reassuring. People who live in the world of belief feel safe. On the contrary, faith is forever placing us on the razor’s edge”. –Jacques Ellul

    Christians have always tended to transform the Christian Revelation into a Christian religion. Christianity is said to be a religion like any other or, conversely, some Christians try to show that it is a better religion than the others. People attempt to take possession of God. Theology claims to explain everything, including the being of God. People tend to transform Christianity into a religion because the Christian faith obviously places people in an extremely uncomfortable position that of freedom guided only by love and all in the context of God’s radical demand that we be holy.”
    –Jacques Ellul

    Faith is a journey. Too often, especially when it has been institutionalized, it becomes the task of building and defending a fortress.

    Luther wrote “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” not “A Mighty Fortress Is Our Church.”

    When reading the Bible and participating in the Sacraments and other means of Grace become ends in themselves and objects of faith then the Church is teaching bibliolatry and ecclesiolatry and comes an impediment, not an inducement to true faith. writes:

    Experience Trumping Any Scripture or Tradition Meditation 56 of 57

    Kingdom people are history makers. They break through the small kingdoms of this world to an alternative and much larger world, God’s full creation. People who are still living in the false self are history stoppers. They use God and religion to protect their own status and the status quo of the world that sustains them. They are often fearful people, the nice, proper folks of every age who think like everybody else thinks and have no power to break through, or as Jesus’ opening words state, “to change” (Mark 1:15, Matthew 4:17) and move beyond their small agenda. Courage is certainly the foundational virtue. Without it, faith, love, and hope do not happen. It takes immense courage to trust your own experience, and to be willing to pay the price if you are wrong. And you might just be!

    Yet why do we piously admire kingdom people like Mary and Joseph, and then not imitate their faith journeys, their courage, their non-reassurance by any religious system? These were two uneducated laypeople who totally trusted their inner experience of God (angels and stars) and who followed these to Bethlehem and beyond. Mary and Joseph walked in courage and blind faith that their own experience was true—with no one to reassure them they were right. Their only safety net was God’s love and mercy, a safety net they must have tried out many times or else they would never have been able to fall into it so gracefully.

    Adapted from Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr

    “Your life is a sacred journey. It is about change, growth, discovery, movement, transformation, continuously expanding your vision of what is possible, stretching your soul, learning to see clearly and deeply, listening to your intuition, taking courageous challenges at every step along the way. You are on the path . . .exactly where you are meant to be right now . . . And from here, you can only go forward, shaping your life story into a magnificent tale of triumph, of healing, of courage, of beauty, of wisdom, of power, of dignity, and of love.” ~ Caroline Adams

    The two most essential components that define Authentic people are self-awareness and courage. So the emotional equation becomes AUTHENTICITY = SELF-AWARENESS x COURAGE. Notice that it’s a multiplication sign as opposed to a plus since there’s a positive combustibility of combining these two.
    Authenticity relates to who we are “being.” We’re all familiar with “to-do” lists (and most of us have LONG ones), but when was the last time you created a “to-be” list? Most people in their work focus on what they’re “getting” from it, but those living an authentic life focus on what they’re “becoming” as a result of the work. ~Chip Conley

    “It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.” ~Alan Cohen

    …for Paul faith is always faith in a person. Faith is not the intellectual acceptance of a body of doctrine; faith is faith in a person. –William Barclay

    “The institutions of Churchianity are not Christianity. An institution is a good thing if it is second; immediately an institution recognizes itself it becomes the dominating factor.”
    — Oswald Chambers

    The whole world seems to crave what Jesus has to give, and when Jesus is presented to them people can’t get enough. They don’t want to learn about the teachings of a church or an institution. They want to meet the real Jesus [Girzone speaks from experience] and learn what He is really like…. If we try to substitute the doctrines of an institution we are then teaching them the medium of the message and not the message. –Rev. Joseph E. Girzone

    One of the biggest challenges of spiritual evolution is the cultivation of humility and courage. We need to have enough humility to enable us to recognize those who have genuinely reached a higher stage of development than our own, and then we need to have enough courage to aspire to meet them where they are. If a spiritual teacher is authentic, he or she will never finally be satisfied until the student either equals or surpasses the teacher’s attainment. A true teacher is someone who doesn’t want followers but rather wants authentic partners in this great task of evolutionary transformation. —Andrew Cohen

    Clericalism is difficult to define, but it certainly involves an inequality of responsibility and status in the church. I would describe it as a kind of unspoken contract whereby ordained clergy take leadership responsibility, and lay people defer to that arrangement, too often in a childlike way. ~Sean O’Conaill, Voice of the Faithful [Ireland affiliate] organizer

    The Institutional Church (ecclesia) has killed only two kinds of people: Those who do not believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ, and those who do. — Will Durant

  • I can’t believe how many Christians will try to deny their magical thinking. I see it all the time.
    But we all have magical thinking — many Christians just try to make a virtue out of it and cover it in sanctimony.

  • I like what you said here Carol “Actually, magical thinking takes the mystery out of religion and puts the believer back in control”. perfect!

  • Yes, this is why magic of any kind has no place in Christianity; the difficulty is in helping people to understand the true nature of magic. Magic is any act in which the practitioner is trying to control God. Whether that be through feathers and pigs blood, or a carefully worded prayer; or a votive candle, or an astrologer; it’s all the same: an attempt to control God. We must recognize that Christianity is about a relationship with GOd; and just as in any other relationship, it is wrong to attempt to control and manipulate our partner, no matter the means by which we try to do so.