Sunday 22 January 2012

Disbelief in miracles, belief in divinity of miracles - both vulnerabilities


Modern public culture, and the majority of the intellectual ruling elite, have a total disbelief in miracles.

They will deploy all possible resources to argue-down any possible miracle, especially of course the miracles of Christ; from a basis that miracles are impossible, all phenomena have scientific explanations, and therefore any naturalistic explanation is infinitely more plausible than a miracle.


In other words, miracles are implicitly being taken as sufficient proof of divinity - especially the God of Christianity (and since God is supposed to have been proven not to exist, then neither can miracles).


This leaves modern culture wide-open to utter deception by anyone who can credibly prove a miracle. Such a person will be assumed to be a divine messenger, or even a divinity.

The 'miracle' may or may not be real, it may be real or a cunning simulation; but if it can be proven such as to convince enough people, then whoever practised it will be worshipped as a god - since that is the covert assumption behind the utter refusal to regard miracles as real.


Others who are vulnerable to deception by miracles (real, or indistinguishable from real) are Christians who disbelieve in 'unseen warfare'. This includes many who are prone to regard 'religion' as intrinsically 'good' and spiritual experience as intrinsically true, valid and divine in origin.

Even Charles Williams - a truly great theologian in many respects, whose work I study intensely - did not really believe in purposive evil, in 'the devil' (or found difficulty in doing so).

And this opened-him to the potential evils of magical practice (the quest for supernatural power; in his case poetic power) - at least to some extent and at some points in his life because he lacked sufficient awareness of the possibilities, the likelihood, of demonic deception.


So, we need a proper understanding of miracles. On the one hand, miracles are real and possible; on the other hand, even real miracles are not necessarily derived from the divine indeed in a time of hedonism, aspostasy and corruption then deceptive (evil tending) miracles (whether supernatural or cunningly faked) are most likely.




Wurmbrand said...

I have a question that, perhaps, no one will want to try to answer.

Will authentic God-wrought miracles become ever less common, or less noticeable, as the end approaches?

Here are a few thoughts about why I suspect this will be the case.

Clearly the converse is true, that signs and wonders that are faked and/or wrought by evil spirits will increase (2 Thessalonians 2:9, Revelation 16:14).

The materialistic "consensus" is breaking down. People are ready, and being readied, for this.

Though /some form/ of miracles may become more common, this development is apparently to be paralleled by a drastic decline in true Christian belief. When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the earth? (St. Luke 18:8) Rather, there is to be a great falling away from the Faith (2 Thes 2:3).

So times will come when the world is much more "spiritually oriented" than it appears to be now, when supernatural signs and wonders will be universal, but also when real Christian faith will apparently almost have vanished.

It may well be that an apparently rich and powerful supernaturalism will overshadow a seemingly feeble and numerically small Christian remnant.

Here's another question -- of Scripture interpretation. 1 Corinthians 13 speaks of "prophecies" and "tongues" (here apparently meaning authentically Holy Spirit-wrought "tongues"). St. Paul says that these things will cease. He contrasts them with faith, hope, and love, which will "abide."

Now I take it he must be referring to things occurring this side of eternity. Love, to be sure, will persist for all eternity. But "faith" and "hope" surely belong to the Christian life in this world, this life; I can't see that we will still be living in "hope" in eternity.

So doesn't this mean that "tongues" and "prophecy" must cease before the Second Coming, i.e. during a time when the Faithful are still living by faith and hope (and love)?

I ask this because it seems to me that some very dedicated Pentecostal Christians, such as an acquaintance of mine, believe that the present remarkable flourishing of tongues, prophecy, healings, exorcisms are signs of the imminent return of Christ, and unless I am mistaken, they often think these things will persist right up to then. But can that be what St. Paul is saying? Is he not rather relativizing tongues and prophecy, and saying that, whenever it happens, there will be a time in the world's history when these things will have ceased but faith and hope will still abide?

I'm a non-Pentecostal and non-charismatic Christian inclined to some sympathy with these people. Reading Craig Keener's 2-volume Miracles, I find innumerable accounts of miracles from these circles. It really does sound like "New Testament times" come again. But I wonder if, supposing these things are authentic, these Christians are prepared for a time when these things may cease. Is it possible that they will cease and that this will be associated with that dreadful great "falling away"?

So while I think the Holy Spirit may indeed be blessing people now with miracles, exorcisms etc. and fighting against satan that way... I am not sure that that is the whole story.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Dale - what you argue sounds plausible to me. Thanks for the clarifications.

Anonymous said...

Peter S. said…

You are certainly correct that the collapse of ontological distinctions into materialism tends to lead to extreme naiveté on the part of secular moderns toward any phenomenon not reducible to the material. In brief, the modern, if forced to admit that there is more than a single ontological level, tends – in a fit of ontological parsimony – to thereby assume that there are only two levels. There are, however, at least three ontological levels – that of matter, that of the soul and that of God, or the material, the imaginal and the spiritual. It is this intermediate level – the imaginal, subtle or soul level, what Henri Corbin termed the ‘mundus imaginalis’ – which is variegated, problematic and morally variable – just as is the soul.

With that said, even if I assume your presuppositions regarding pervasive demonic activity, why would demonic forces be interested in faking either miracles or mystical experiences – particularly in the present age? Let me offer a countervailing opinion, courtesy of C.S. Lewis. From Screwtape’s seventh letter:

“My Dear Wormwood,

I wonder you should ask me whether it is essential to keep the patient in ignorance of your own existence. That question, at least for the present phase of the struggle, has been answered for us by the High Command. Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves. Of course this has not always been so. We are really faced with a cruel dilemma. When the humans disbelieve in our existence we lose all he pleasing results of direct terrorism and we make no magicians. On the other hand, when they believe in us, we cannot make them materialists and skeptics.”

Wurmbrand said...

Peter S. asks, "why would demonic forces be interested in faking either miracles or mystical experiences – particularly in the present age?"

1.It is in fact the norm for human beings to worship false gods, to be anxious to propitiate demons and the dead, etc. The "natural man" /loves/ religion. He just doesn't love or trust Jesus. The evil one will work along lines that have become "natural" to humans since the Fall, which is to say with depraved sensuality, ever-increasing concentration of power in the hands of a few, and so on. Cf. Dostoevsky's "Grand Inquisitor" and Solovyov's "Tale of the Antichrist."

2.Materialism worked for a couple of centuries and the evil one used it for all it was worth. People thought mankind's problems could be solved by application of materialist theories, for the sake of which Christianity was to be marginalized. That latter end of the evil one has been achieved, to a considerable degree, in much of the world. When a tool has been used, it is put aside. (I'm not saying that the materialists were conscious adherents of satan, although there is an interesting small book by Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, of whom Seraphim Rose was an admirer, called Was Karl Marx a Satanist?, that is actually more worth looking into than its sensationalist-sounding title suggests.) It's all to the purposes of the evil one if humankind can be excited by commerce with the supernatural, just so long as this leaves out Christ. We have arrived at a time when it is easy to be "spiritual" while dismissing orthodox Christianity. Baue says we have entered or shortly will enter a "Therian Age" with a "spiritual society" that has jettisoned all the Christian distinctives. The Grand Inquisitor hates and fears Christ and true Christianity, but is a friend of signs and wonders and "good works."

Incidentally, Seraphim Rose encountered the "Traditional School" or "Perennialists" (Guenon et al.). He found things there that helped him on the journey towards Christian faith. But for many, their writings will encourage a movement in the opposite direction, i.e. away from orthodox Christianity towards a pan-religious sensibility. The case of the composer John Tavener appears to be in point.

Just a few quick thoughts.

Alan Roebuck said...

Peter S. asks “Why would demonic forces be interested in faking either miracles or mystical experiences – particularly in the present age?”

To deceive. More specifically, to deceive people into not trusting in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins.

For example, Protestant pastor Bob DeWaay tells of his experiences in the Protestant exorcism movement [they would call their enterprise “spiritual warfare”] before he realized the errors of his ways. The leaders of this movement teach that the spiritual world is governed by a sort of legal Constitution that even God Himself must follow. And if you do something—even inadvertently—that gives the demons a “legal right” to torment you, then your only hope is to engage in the right sort of religious mumbo-jumbo that will take away Satan’s “right” to torment you.

And how did these exorcists learn about these spiritual rules? Why, from the demons themselves. It never seemed to occur to them that demons might not tell the truth.

Pastor DeWaay’s evaluation of the situation is that Satan is running a sort of demonic protection racket. If you pay him protection money in the form of engaging in the religious rituals that allegedly take away Satan’s right to torment you, he tells his unholy minions to lay off. In the process, you come to believe that it is your engaging in religious rituals, rather than your trust in Jesus Christ, that can save you. And without a saving faith in Christ, you go to Hell.

This is explained in more detail at

Bruce Charlton said...

Thanks very much to Dale, Alan and Peter for making a discussion which I have found extremely clarifying.

Anonymous said...

Peter S. said…

This is a bit late off the mark, given other time demands, but, while I find this whole discussion regarding demonic influence to be rather overcooked, let me nevertheless suggest for perusal a relevant passage in Robin Amis’s book, “A Different Christianity: Early Christian Esotericism and Modern Thought”. This is an extremely valuable work, although expressing a certain influence from Gurdjieff and Mouravieff that is somewhat questionable. The passage comes in Ch.9, in the context of the spiritual instruction of Evagrius Ponticus (pp.198-9):

“Evagrius describes the many fragmented beings or partial “I”s as demons in the following passage:

‘We must take care to recognize the different types of demons and take note of the circumstances of their coming. We shall know these from our thoughts which we shall know from the objects we ought to consider which of the demons are less frequent in their assaults, which are the more vexatious, which are the ones which yield the field more readily and which the more resistant. Finally, we should note which are the ones which make sudden raids and snatch off the spirit to blasphemy. Now it is essential to understand these matters so that when these various evil thoughts set their own proper forces to work we are in a position to address effective words against them, that is to say, those words which correctly characterize the one present. And we must do this before they drive us out of our own state of mind. In this manner we shall make ready progress by the grace of God. We shall pack them off chafing with chagrin and marveling at our perspicacity. When the demons achieve nothing in their struggles against a monk they withdraw a bit and observe to see which of the virtues he neglects in the meantime. Then all of a sudden they attack him from this point and ravage the poor fellow.’

To recognize types of demons comes from having seen them many times before. Recognition is not formed from a single glimpse, nor does theory become recognition until we experience what it describes on a number of different occasions. When we begin to recognize the demons we can see why they are called demons: the name must have been given originally much as pilots in aerial warfare refer to hostile planes as ‘bandits.’ In practice, demons are recognizable, recurrent forms of influence that have become embodied in our thoughts. They are familiar and too often welcome faces.”

As a final parenthetical note, in reply to Dale’s final parenthetical note above, the point he has raised has been discussed in some detail in the comments here: James Cutsinger’s comment here is also of value in addressing this issue: It is worth observing that the second edition of Fr. Seraphim Rose’s biography, titled “Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works”, elided most of the handful of critical comments regarding Guenon to be found in the first edition of that work, titled “Not of This World: the Life and Teaching of Fr. Seraphim Rose”; presumably, they were found to be unbalanced and were consequently corrected.

Columnist said...

Yes. Many people do not understand some 'miracles' are demonic.

Gabe Ruth said...

Your mention of Fr. Rose's familiarity with Guenon intrigued me, as I've been poking around in that direction some lately. (So far I've been appalled at the juvenile power lust and schadenfreude at the coming collapse that those thinkers seem to generate.)

Second result on a search brought this up:

A little over my head, but a very interesting data point for further investigation.

Gabe Ruth said...

Wow, Peter S. beat me to it. It seems to me that there is a very clear attitude of condescension towards Christianity in most perennialist/traditionalist writers. This is only my impression from a very short acquaintance with people who talk about these ideas and only reading excerpts of primary sources. That Out of Sleep post pretty much cuts to the heart of my reservations about these types. If Christ is Lord, then that's that and these guys are making the exact mistake Dr. Charlton is talking about here. The preoccupation with power and "initiation" definitely sets off alarms for me.

Gabe Ruth said...

Latest post. He is responding to an unseen challenge, but it's one I've often felt inclined to make towards the perennialists. I will acknowledge again that this is over my head, but if I understand anything about what he is saying, I think his claim that the standing of Eckhart or Dionysios the Areopagite (not familiar with the other two) is the issue is way off.

Anonymous said...

I have a question for bgc: assuming you're familiar with research done by Ian Stevenson and Jim B. Tucker, do you regard the proofs for reincarnation as a demonic conspiracy? It makes me doubtful about the truth of Christian belief, because the evidence seems genuine.

Wurmbrand said...

Anonymous, if I may intrude -- I realize your question is to Dr. Charlton -- but I'd like to make one quick comment about the topic of Christianity and reincarnation. Advocates of reincarnation will suggest there's a hint of it in the Gospel references to Elijah and St. John the Baptist. What's forgotten is that Elijah /never died/ -- he was assumed alive into heaven, according to the Old Testament. Hence he can't possibly be invoked as evidence for the idea of someone dying and then reincarnating. There are other evidences that reincarnation is irreconcilable with Christian faith, but I thought I'd mention one point that seems to be overlooked quite often.