Marcia Montenegro is a former astrologer and “New Age” practitioner. And she has a warning for parents: Beware the seductive power and dangers of the paranormal. In her 2006 book Spellbound: The Paranormal Seduction of Today’s Kids, Montenegro defines the paranormal as “efforts to access or use supernatural power or attempts to gain secret or hidden information outside the use of the natural senses.” These efforts or attempts, which can include astrology, divination, psychics, incantation, communication with the dead, and more, are “occult” type practices. To Montenegro, who has personal experience with the occult, these practices are to be avoided and not celebrated –not even in movies or literature.
Those of you who reject the reality of the supernatural will of course find Montenegro’s book (and probably this review) laughable. If the natural, material world is all that there is, then all religions or supernatural belief systems are nothing more than man-made fantasy. And if that is the case, it is ludicrous to raise objections to “the paranormal,” because no such thing exists. Stories, games, or movies about witches, wizards, zombies, and so forth are just harmless science fiction and fantasy fare. Therefore, if you don’t believe in God, I would encourage you to skip this article and instead watch philosopher William Lane Craig sketch out reasons why we should believe in God.
For those of you, however, who do believe in God, I hope you will read on. After all, if God is real, it obviously follows that there is a supernatural realm beyond our senses. And that realm is the subject of Montenegro’s Spellbound. It’s also a realm with which the author has personal experience.
Now the president of Christian Answers for the New Age (CANA), Montenegro warns that our society has embraced paranormal phenomena as “harmless,” “imaginary,” or (in some cases) “useful,” and that occult practices are now “more accessible and appealing to children and teens.” Indeed, our society is inundated with movies, television programs, books, games, and recreational activities which feature ghosts, witches, wizards, spells, demons, and gods. From Bewitched to I Dream of Jeannie and from Star Wars to Harry Potter and from World of Warcraft to Magic: The Gathering, we continue to be dazzled and entertained by representations (albeit, in virtually all cases, fictional) of sorcery and the occult. While most view these games, books, movies, and TV shows as harmless entertainment, Montenegro warns that they, at the very least, desensitize us to practices that are, in reality, troubling and even potentially dangerous. She points out that, in some cases, fictional portrayals of the paranormal have led children and teens (and some adults) to further explore actual witchcraft and the occult.
So what? One might ask. Why concern ourselves with the paranormal and the occult? What’s the harm of kids checking out books on Wicca after reading Harry Potter? Because, writes Montenegro: “I believe the mere engagement in such practices and the use of occult tools can and does engage the demonic, whether or not there is a belief or desire for supernatural contact.”
The Law of Moses expressly forbids dabbling in the paranormal. Here’s the relevant portion of Deuteronomy 8 (as translated in the KJV):
10 There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch.
11 Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.
12 For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord: and because of these abominations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee.
13 Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord thy God.
14 For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the Lord thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.
On the surface, this passage indicts many of the more popular characters in fiction. This includes sitcoms like Bewitched, movies like Star Wars, games like World of Warcraft, and novels penned by authors like Raymond Feist, Robert Jordan, and Brandon Sanderson. But is there a difference between reality and fiction? In other words, can a Christian read about sorcerers and zombies without violating Deuteronomy 8? As someone who grew up loving Star Wars, laughed while watching I Dream of Jeannie reruns, dabbled in MMOs like Star Wars: Galaxies and World of Warcraft, and has read numerous sci-fi and fantasy novels, I have to express my hope that the Bible’s denunciation of occult practices does not include fiction.
“Does reading books or watching television shows with occult or paranormal content have the same effect as participating in these activities?” asks Montenegro in her book. She gives this answer: “It probably doesn’t have the same effect, but it can add to the desensitization.” I agree with this answer, and it leads me to the Apostle Paul’s teachings on purchasing and eating meat that had been offered to idols.
In the first century A.D., it was common in the Greco-Roman world for meat sold in the marketplace to have been set aside as a sacrifice to false gods prior to its sale. Jewish converts to Christ would have nothing to do with this meat. They were steeped in the Law of Moses, including the Deuteronomy passage cited above. To them, no Christian should ever eat meat that had been offered to or dedicated to false gods. It was unthinkable. This became a source of contention when more Gentiles joined the church. They saw no problem with buying and eating such meat. To them, the gods to whom the meat was offered weren’t real. They were fictional. The meat, however, was real. And they needed meat to feed themselves and their families. So, as long as they weren’t directly participating in idol worship, they saw no problem with eating said meat. The debate became so contentious that the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) had to address the matter. And they sided with the Jewish concerns. They asked all Christians NOT to eat meat offered to idols.
But the Apostle Paul dissented. In his writings, he took a much more permissive and nuanced approach, and it’s instructive (at least in my opinion) for our purposes as well. We see Paul’s teachings on this subject in I Corinthians 8:
1 Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.
2 And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know.
3 But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him.
4 Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one.
5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords),
6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.
7 However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.
8 But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse.
9 But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak.
10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols?
11 And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?
12 But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.
13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
Now go back and re-read, only this time, replace the references to eating meat offered to idols with references to reading fiction or watching movies or TV programs with fantasy or paranormal elements. I believe that’s what Paul would say on this subject today. And that is…
It’s not necessarily wrong to read fantasy or paranormal fiction or watch movies and TV programs with fantasy or supernatural elements, but it IS wrong to pursue or practice the paranormal or the occult and/or to cause others to stumble into doing so.
To put it in personal terms: If you read Star Wars and enjoy the Jedi with their paranormal abilities with “the Force,” and then move on with your life, that’s one thing. But if you allow your fascination with the Jedi in Star Wars to lead you into studying or practicing the occult or witchcraft, a line has definitely been crossed. What’s more, if your public celebration of Star Wars causes others (in your circle of influence) to explore the occult, you’ve likewise crossed into “Sin” territory. This is how, I believe, thoughtful Christians should approach the issue of fantasy movies, TV shows, and games.
It is important to note that Montenegro makes an important distinction between fantasy super powers and occult-based elements in fiction. There’s nothing in the Bible that forbids people from flight. Therefore, there aren’t any moral issues with kids imagining themselves flying through the air like Superman. There’s nothing wrong with Batman and the Batmobile or Captain America with his super strength. Those aren’t paranormal elements – at least not the kind addressed in the Bible. Harry Potter and his friends learning magic spells at Hogwarts, however, does fall into the category of things the Law of Moses forbids and what Spellbound addresses.
Yes, Harry Potter is fiction. Hogwarts is not real. Montenegro knows this. Her point is that fictional portrayals of occult practices either desensitizes us to things the Bible regards as sin OR encourages some people (including kids and teens) to learn more about and perhaps practice these things in real life.
Spellbound doesn’t limit itself, however, to the portrayals of the paranormal in literature and entertainment. Montenegro spends time talking about horoscopes, astrological charts, psychics, and more. And she is at her strongest, in my opinion, when warning readers to steer clear of such things. We are to rely on prayer and God’s guidance for making decisions — not horoscopes or palm readers!
Once again, those of you who reject the existence of God or who don’t believe in angels or demons will find this entire review and discussion ridiculous. It’s of course your choice as to whether you believe in God. But for those of us who do believe in God and who accept the reality of the supernatural realm, Montenegro raises some important questions that should be considered. Accordingly, I recommend you pick up a copy of Spellbound.
As for myself, I will continue to enjoy the science fiction and fantasy genre, while practicing discernment and laying out some personal boundaries in prayer. Indeed, I think Christians can actually bring a lot to this genre. Not only literary greats like Tolkein and C.S. Lewis, but also more recent pop fiction writers like James Somers and James Byron Huggins. And it’s my hope that I too will add to the genre with my own fiction projects. Stay tuned on that.
For now…it’s good advice that we should all be discerning about what we read and what we watch. And Marcia Montenegro adds much to that discussion.