Thursday, November 17, 2011

Moneybags Superstition

My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about superstition:

Q:  On many occasions this year, I have received emails or seen social networking posts that the way days of the week fall within a month or the way numbers align in the date have the potential to bring wealth, luck, or other benefits if I take certain action.  First, is this legitimate?  Second, is it acceptable for a Christian to trust in such things to receive the promised benefits?

I have seen these posts myself.  One of them claimed that the circumstance that there were five Fridays, five Saturdays, and five Sundays occurring during July 2011, was called “moneybags” and only happened every 823 years.  It claimed that if a person re-posted or forwarded the message, they would receive money, but if they did not, the message warned, they would be without money. 

Another message attached special significance to four particular dates:  1/1/11, 1/11/11, 11/1/11, and 11/11/11 with similar promises and warnings that the recipient’s actions, which must occur at or before 11:11 on 11/11/11, would bring them either a blessing or a curse. 

To begin with, claims such as the “moneybags” myth mentioned in the first example are factually inaccurate.  The phenomenon described actually occurs once every 5-11 years, depending on where the leap years fall.  Secondly, even if the events described were as rare as they are claimed to be, there is no observable evidence that the benefits described have occurred in the past. 

For Christians, 1 Timothy 4:7 gives perspective on practices such as those described above.  In that verse, Paul says, “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths.  Rather train yourself for godliness. 

In the Old Testament, God had forbidden all types of divination, which was the practice of seeking guidance or knowledge of the future through manipulating or observing elements of nature unrelated to the events in question.  So, for example, kings of unbelieving nations might ask a priest of their religion to slaughter a sheep or goat and study its organs to find out how an upcoming battle would go, or they might observe the pattern in which a flock of birds fly to discern which strategy to use.  Horoscopes are an example of how this ideology continues even to this day. 

God clearly commanded His people that they were not to engage in such practices, and connected this command to the First and Second Commandments, which forbid idolatry, and the misuse of God’s name.  As such, these prohibitions continue into the New Testament era for Christians.  Because all of the above actions describe trust in some other force than the Triune God for blessing, they are a form of idolatry to be avoided by Christians. 

The Bible does at times speak positively about discerning the signs found in nature, but these are always observed natural correlations between an event and the result which follows, such as the color of the sky relating to weather which might follow, or the color of leaves indicating the change of seasons. 

Regarding the alignments of days in a month or dates in a year, we must also note that our modern calendar is not a divinely-given system, but rather a humanly-devised method or organizing time.  So, as such, it would bear no correlation to divine promises for blessing. 

Finally, assumptions such as those above are opposed to a Christian worldview.  In the religion from which these superstitions arise, it is assumed that the god/gods/universe are against us and inclined to do us harm, and it is only if we act in the specified ways that they will be forced to bless us. 

Christianity, on the other hand, proposes that God, in fact, desires to act on our behalf and takes the initiative Himself to bring us blessing.  He does this by providing for our obvious needs of food, clothing, shelter, etc. but more importantly by forgiving sins because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus for all who trust in Him. 

Even though it might appear that we need to appease the deities and forces of the universe by our own action, the God who created them has already acted, both through creation and through His Son, to provide us with all of our needs of body and soul, not based on our own worthiness or ability, but because of His own kindness and righteousness. 

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