Heather Goodman offers a patient and charitable, but satisfyingly thorough, evisceration of a bit of outright flim-flammery that’s circulating in charismatic Christian circles: “Epigenetics and ‘Generational Curses.’”
If that bit about “generational curses” sounds to you more like spell-casting than like Christian theology, then you’re grasping the basic idea. Goodman offers a helpful nut-shell summary of the superstition in question:
Now I know many of my readers are not part of the charismatic movement and as far as I know, most versions of Christianity outside of the charismatic church do not teach such a concept even exists, but to give a quick primer version of what this belief is about, I’ll just simply say that some Charismatic churches teach that if one’s great-grandparents, grandparents, or parents indulged in any of a variety of sins in their lives that one can inherit a curse in their family line for these actions. This belief is based on verses such as this one:
“The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Numbers 14:18 ESV, see also Exodus 20:5, 34:7, and Deut. 5:9-10)
Now, I must disclose that I personally am somewhat undecided about what I think about this (even though I am a card-carrying charismatic myself) as I also consider the contrasting view presented in Ezekiel 18 on this very topic. … But as the goal of this post is not to debate the validity of “generational curses” in and of themselves, none of that is really what I wish to discuss here …
Her topic, instead, is a particularly mendacious video that purports to show “epigenetic” science proves this notion of “generational curses.” Goodman does a fine job of showing that the science does no such thing and that this video is full of dishonest fabrications. She gives that video all the attention it deserves, and then some, and I have nothing to add directly to her assessment of it. Click on over to her fine blog if you want to watch the video and see it dismantled, point-by-point.
Like Goodman, I do not want “to debate the validity of ‘generational curses’ in and of themselves.” I see no need for any debate about that whatsoever. “Generational curses” are not valid. They are a con game, a grift, a fraud. And they have nothing at all to do with Christianity, or the Bible, or with decent people anywhere of any religious persuasion.
Let me be clear: I’m not anti-charismatic. The Pentecostal/charismatic tradition isn’t my thing, but I don’t think they’re all heretical or that the whole thing is a bunch of hooey. I’m not opposed to the practice of glossolalia or other ecstatic forms of worship. (I’ve seen Springsteen and the Ramones live.) I absolutely believe that revelation and inspiration are ongoing and that the word of the Lord is still being spoken to and through prophets. (Some few of those prophets may even occasionally be found in churches.) I am open to the possibility of “miraculous” or unlikely spontaneous healing (albeit while remaining highly skeptical of every particular claim — pics or it didn’t happen). And I genuinely admire the way the charismatic and Pentecostal churches have done so much better than most evangelical churches when it comes to women’s equality and to ethnic inclusiveness. The charismatic tradition has borne some good fruit.
But while it’s wrong to say the whole thing is a bunch of hooey, honesty also requires us to note that the tradition is dismayingly credulous and tainted throughout with huge, steaming piles of hooey and hokum. (The link there is to Charismanews.com. I did not link to any specific articles there as specific examples of such hooey and hokum because no matter when you click on that link, the front page of Charismanews.com will always offer multiple such examples.)And one of the most toxic, obnoxious, predatory and just-plain dumb forms of that hooey is this business about “generational curses.” This isn’t a doctrine, it’s a trick. And it’s older than the oldest trick in the book. It predates the book — any book. For thousands of years, this idea of “generational curses” has served one and only one function: As a lie employed to separate the fearful from their money.
But while this generational curse scam dates back to the Neolithic, we know it’s not the oldest trick, because it’s a gloss on an earlier, simpler version of the con. That was just simple extortion based on the threat of a curse: “Give me what I want or I will put a curse on you and Something Bad will happen.” That was effective. Sooner or later, Something Bad was bound to happen, thereby proving the effectiveness of the curse and the necessity of paying off the grifter to get the curse lifted.
The problem with that simpler version of the con, though, was that it identified the con-artist as the source of all misfortunes and woes. That, in turn, created a powerful incentive for people to, you know, kill the con artist. Why keep paying off the shaman/philosopher/witch/prophet/priest/magi when you could just get rid of them instead?
So crude extortion evolved into divination — a much safer, and potentially more lucrative, form of the same con. Divination meant that the scammer was no longer the source of the curse, but rather the source of the cure. Now instead of trying to kill you, everyone is giving you presents, thanks, and honor.
Here’s how it works:
Step 1: Wait for Something Bad to happen. (In the unlikely circumstance that Something Bad doesn’t happen soon, you can always shift the focus to next year’s harvest. The quality of next year’s harvest is always an open question.)
Step 2: The grifter comes forward to claim that they may be able to discern the curse that is causing such misfortune. This process of discernment, of course, may involve some expensive ingredients, and it may take some time (during which the grifter will need to be housed and fed, of course).
Step 3: The grifter identifies the source of the curse — something someone’s great-grandfather, or their great-grandfather’s enemy did. It’s easiest to locate the source of the curse in the past, because if the cause of the misfortune is identified as some present-day person’s actions, the marks may decide to take action against that person on their own rather than proceeding along to Step 4.
Step 4: The grifter says they can lift the curse, for a reasonable fee. This process of lifting the curse, of course, may involve some expensive ingredients, and it may take some time (during which the grifter will need to be housed and fed).
Step 5: Repeat Steps 1 through 4.
People have been pulling this scam for almost as long as there have been people. It has been adapted and retooled to work in just about every culture, refashioning itself as needed with the jargon and flourishes of whatever the local religion might be. And they’re still doing it.
Just because some contemporary con-artists are running this ancient scam using Christian-ish language and mangled proof-texting doesn’t make those people good, trustworthy Christians. If they’re running this scam, they’re probably not Christians, but they’re certainly neither good nor trustworthy.
If anyone ever tells you that you may have inherited a generational curse, you can be sure that this information will be followed shortly thereafter by a request for money. Don’t give it to them.