The radio was on in our family room as I was gathering my uni gear today. It was the back end of the midday news, and I can’t recall all but one news item.
It was a story about elderly members of the Asian community at Cabramatta being the victims of a spate of scams. Police were suggesting that it was likely to be a more widespread occurrence, in other predominantly Asian areas – they named Chatswood and Haymarket as suspected target areas.
The scam involved taking advantage of, to quote the police officer, a “superstitious element” among these ethnic groups. Elderly people were being approached, and threatened with curses and subjection to malevolent spirits if they did not forfeit property or wealth. Whether this was merely a ploy to get whatever was in the pockets of the victims or it was a more sustained fear campaign, it is a despicable thing.
A family member of mine quipped – after commenting on how disgusting this was, to take advantage of people’s beliefs for material gain – that the easiest way to prevent theft out of spiritual fear would be to remove the religious fear. In other words; nobody who thinks there is no occult, divine, or spiritual realm cannot be threatened by its manipulation.
It seems a comical sort of idea; if you stop believing, then the crime will stop. It’s certainly not a viable option for someone with a authentic personal conviction and faith. Yet it is also, upon reflection, not something new.
I have been reading through the Old Testament in chronological order this year, and I am currently in Ezekiel. Over the last couple of books (particularly in Jeremiah), there have been numerous cases in which the people decide not to listen to God, because they dislike what he says. I blogged about this, what I called “Itchy-ear syndrome” over HERE. This news story seems to resonate with a slight variation on such a theme, also prominent in the Old Testament; the idea of not believing because of the consequences. In Ezekiel, the meretricious nature of Israel is really laid bare. They have abandoned their monotheism, and see God as merely another source of divination. When called to repent, they condemn their prophets (this happens to Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and many others).
Because the nations seem threatening, Israel capitulates, and panders to them. They give up their functional belief (that is, their faith) in the sovereign God. When someone threatens them with hardship, they prefer to abandon their faith than to deal with the consequences.
Ironically, the consequences of folding under the pressure of the nations solves nothing. There is a really powerful passage in Ezekiel 8 where the gold and wealth that the people amass is seen to be painful to them. They cannot eat it, it does not satisfy. That’s something that the victims of this scam realised. They may have a very warped concept of spirituality, but there is something in their conviction that we could learn from. They would rather lose the money than come down badly in the Spiritual realm.
It makes you wonder – do we have it right? When the pressure mounts, would we turn away from God to retain something else that we hold dear?
The easiest way to prevent persecution and victimisation for your faith is to back down from your faith. But there are dire consequences.
“So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
(Matthew 10:32-33 ESV)