When I shave in the morning, I usually spend my time listening to Christian radio. So it is that I often listen to Pastor Paul E. Sheppard preach on his program, Enduring Truth. Yesterday the pastor mentioned something about witchcraft that gave me a different perspective. In an effort to explain how we should not behave, Pastor Sheppard spoke briefly about witchcraft, and he referenced a verse in Galatians (Galatians 5:19-21). Witchcraft, the pastor said, is about manipulating people.
Based upon what our culture says about witchcraft, I found Pastor Sheppard’s assertion somewhat puzzling. So I decided to look into the matter. The term witchcraft appears in various parts of the Bible, and it is always associated with the worst practices of men. I guess that is why God prohibited witchcraft.
Deuteronomy 18:10-11 (Today’s New International Version)
Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.
Yet little is said in the Bible about what defines witchcraft. That leaves us with a question. What exactly, in the Biblical sense, is witchcraft? Here is an excerpt of explanation provided by the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.
Since the ideas we attach to “witch” and “witchcraft” were unknown in Bible times, the words have no right place in our English Bible, and this has been recognized to some extent but not completely by the Revisers of 1884. The word “witch” occurs twice in the King James Version, namely, (1) in Ex 22:18, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch (the Revised Version (British and American) “a sorceress”) to live”; (2) in Dt 18:10, “or a witch” (the Revised Version (British and American) “or a sorcerer”). The Hebrew word is in both cases the participle of the verb (kishsheph), denoting “to practice the magical article.” (from here)
A Catholic Church website provides a more lengthy explanation. Here is how their article begins.
It is not easy to draw a clear distinction between magic and witchcraft. Both are concerned with the producing of effects beyond the natural powers of man by agencies other than the Divine (cf. OCCULT ART, OCCULTISM). But in witchcraft, as commonly understood, there is involved the idea of a diabolical pact or at least an appeal to the intervention of the spirits of evil. In such cases this supernatural aid is usually invoked either to compass the death of some obnoxious person, or to awaken the passion of love in those who are the objects of desire, or to call up the dead, or to bring calamity or impotence upon enemies, rivals, and fancied oppressors. This is not an exhaustive enumeration, but these represent some of the principal purposes that witchcraft has been made to serve at nearly all periods of the world’s history. (continued here)
Is witchcraft real? The Bible strongly suggests it is. Yet if witchcraft is real, we certainly do not understand it. What is probably more relevant to us is what witchcraft reveals to us about its practitioners. Like some of the idol worshipers of ancient times, those who practice witchcraft lack the restraint that love brings. Even when they were commonly worshiped, some people understood that idols have no real power (see Jeremiah 10:1-16). Nonetheless, others sacrificed even their own children to idols, thus striving vainly to gain what they wanted from imaginary gods.
Has the practice of witchcraft survived into modern times? It is certain that there are still some who call themselves witches, but the vast majority of us usually associate witchcraft with childhood fantasies. What has survived wholly intact, unfortunately, is the desire that first inspired witchcraft, the desire for power, tools with which to manipulate others. We still have amongst us those who would sell their souls in return for their desires.
Therefore, I think Pastor Sheppard is right. Witchcraft is about manipulating others, but whether we still have witches with occult powers, I do not know. What is doubtless is that we have want-to-be witches and warlocks, people who seek to manipulate their fellow men.
Who are the witches and warlocks of our day? To some extent, we all are guilty, but our most ambitious and powerful witches and warlocks we call politicians. These people bewitch others with lies; they seek to entice us with our own dreams and desires. Mouthing the incantations we call campaign slogans, they suggest what we want to believe, raising within our minds visions of Paradise and Utopia.
Commonwealth, or an imaginary country whose inhabitants are supposed to exist under the most perfect conditions possible. Hence the terms Utopia and Utopian are also used to denote any visionary scheme of reform or social theory, especially those which fail to recognize defects inherent in human nature. (continued here)
How are we suppose to achieve the most perfect conditions possible? The tool for this purpose we call “social engineering.” Here Wikipedia endeavors to define the expression favorably.
Social engineering is a concept in political science that refers to efforts to influence popular attitudes and social behavior on a large scale, whether by governments or private groups. In the political arena the counterpart of social engineering is political engineering.
For various reasons, the term has been imbued with negative connotations. However, virtually all law and governance has the effect of changing behavior and can be considered “social engineering” to some extent. Prohibitions on murder, rape, suicide and littering are all policies aimed at discouraging undesirable behaviors. In British and Canadian jurisprudence, changing public attitudes about a behaviour is accepted as one of the key functions of laws prohibiting it. Governments also influence behavior more subtly through incentives and disincentives built into economic policy and tax policy, for instance, and have done so for centuries. (continued here)
What the above definition fails to fully consider is the distinction between enforcing existing societal values and actively trying to change (or engineer a change) in societal values. At what point does it become immoral to force our values (even our religious beliefs) upon others using the power of government?
In the United States, the people who most enthusiastically advocate social engineering call themselves Liberals (or Progressives). These people apparently see government as the ideal tool for achieving the most perfect conditions possible. Because of their Utopian attitude towards government, another pastor I listen to in the morning, J. Vernon McGee once defined Liberalism this way.
If you want to know what Liberal is — Liberalism is in a nutshell — here it is, to try to make a Utopia on this earth today. And they believe they can do it. They believe that human nature is such that it is like a flower bed — that if you just give it a chance, improve conditions of man and get rid of the poverty — and give him everything he needed — that man will just flower out. (heard on the November 4, 2009 broadcast).
McGee subsequently pointed out that such schemes have been tried before. Man’s environment, it seems, is not the problem. Our problem comes from defects inherent in human nature. The problem is what is in our hearts. The problem is religious in nature, not political.
We are a lost people. We cannot find our way by placing our trust in the powers and schemes of other lost souls. There is no government solution which will allow us back into Paradise. We each need to find our own way back to God. We each need to place our trust in Him and ask Him to be our guide. To find our way, we each need to learn to obey God and to love each other.