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Outer Spirits

Pagan superstitions are always threatening to crowd in.  Either Christ reigns or malign spirits will.

It was the gospel that supplanted pagan superstition in Europe.  Through the spread of Christ's word freedom was offered from a bondage to enslaving beliefs.  The world was awash with gods, demigods, and other spiritual forces.  Fatalism ruled and the best you could hope for was some kind of propitiation of these spiritual slave-masters.

But as the gospel comes into this context, people are confronted with a good Lord who has shown Himself to be utterly for us.  He has provided the propitiation.  He has ransomed us from the devil's power.  And He has brought us to the Most High God who reigns over (not within) this world with Fatherly power.

It was the gospel that enabled the West to be secular.  The gospel drove out the spirits from this world and freed a people to become more prosperous than any who have lived before.  It freed us to love the world and explore it.  To experience some of that dominion which the Bible speaks of.

Yet, having rejected this gospel, the gods are flooding back in.  The new priests are telling new myths, but these ones are like the pagan ones: bleak and bloody and utterly tragic.  Impersonal, immoral and fatalistic to the bitter end.

Of course we scoff at superstitions regarding earth.  We feel as though science has dispelled the mysteries of this planet.  Yet our latent paganism shows itself in our views of outer space.   Go onto Youtube and search for any of the hundreds of videos offering a journey through the universe.  Here's one, almost at random:

Notice the soundtrack.  All the soundtracks are virtually identical:  blasts of slow, austere, rhythm-less synth-brass.  If you subtract the synthesizers it's precisely the kind of music that, in bygone days, made lowly subjects bow in fear to their king.  But our new masters are the giants and supergiants.  And this video literally does command us to bow to our lords.

It is a naked power-play.  The heavenly bodies are presented purely in terms of their strength, blinding brilliance and sheer immensity.  And as we listen to the music, how are we meant to feel about these monstrous powers?  Small, insignificant, uneasy, fearful.  They are the impersonal, uncaring forces and many of them are malign (black holes for instance).  Ultimately, so the story goes, the powerful will win the day.  Our fate is to be swallowed up by the strong and, in the meantime, all we can do is cower in their presence.  The best we can hope for is to get on in our own corner of the universe with our insignificant little lives and await the inevitable.

It's the old paganism, this time with CGI.

In the Bible, "the morning stars sing together and the sons of God shout for joy" (Job 38:7).  When the LORD asks us to consider the heavens He doesn't play Mahler's 5th.  It's more like the Hallelujah Chorus.  Joyous, personal, harmonious, rapturous.

Or consider how David viewed the sun: "Like a Bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a Champion rejoicing to run his course." (Psalm 19:5)  The sun speaks of the Light of the world who makes the journey from east (God's absence) to west (God's presence).  And He does so not as a display of His own power, but as our rejoicing Champion and our loving Bridegroom.  His power is for us.  You see, when David looked up He saw love.  He saw a Bridegroom who runs the race as our Champion, and joyfully so.  What soundtrack is appropriate for that?  Jean-Michel Jarre on morphine?  I think not.

But I wonder how much this latent paganism affects Christians.  I wonder whether documentaries like the one above shape our reading of Psalm 19 and not the other way around.  In fact on Youtube I've found Christian videos of Psalm 19 that use the same barren soundtracks.  It's as though we think the "glory of God" is like the old pagan deities but with the trumpets turned up to eleven.

Surely not.

0 thoughts on “Outer Spirits

  1. Dave K

    Insightful.

    It's interesting how music reveals the lie that there are 'bare facts without interpretation'. We were thinking and feeling these things when we heard the 'bare facts' and the music we pick just reflects that.

    If the one who flung the stars into space died and rose again for us then the music has got to change.

  2. pgjackson

    Coupla thoughts:

    I loved this - 'It's the old paganism, this time with CGI.' And I loved the 'Jean-Michel Jarre on morphine' line too.

    Also interesting that you point out the fact that it is the gospel which liberated us from fear of the spirits and fear of creation, whereas the 'narrative' being woven around us is that it is materialistic scientific naturalism and the enlightenment which have liberated us from such superstition. It all feels a little like a 'behold your gods, who brought you out of Egypt' moment. And of course, the reality is that these gods neither delivered us in the past, nor offer us anything but a new version of the same old slavery in the present.

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