Countering Fundamentalist

Condemnation of Spiritualism

[article posted with the permission of the Noah's Ark Society]

At first glance an examination of the arguments that have been used against the Spiritualist use of mediumistic phenomena (mental or physical), by a wide variety of 'Christian' groups over the years may appear to be of questionable relevance within these pages.  After all, surely the primary function of the NAS Newsletter is to inform members of current developments within NAS affiliated circles and provide a forum for the discussion of all aspects of physical mediumship and uninformed criticism of the Spiritualist/Survivalist cause is something that we have already learned to live with and counter effectively.  Is there really any  need to drag the subject up at all?

I am sure no one would deny that, since its formation in 1990, the Noah's Ark Society has played a central role in re-establishing physical mediumship as a force to be reckoned with, to such an extent that it is now rare to find an issue of Psychic News that does not make some reference to the subject, whereas previously, the opposite was the case. All of a sudden, physical mediums, and people who have something to say on the subject, appear to be popping up all over the place and the major Spiritualist associations seem to be making some attempt to cater for increasing public interest. For example, as reported in Psychic News on December 9, 1995, the SAGB recently held a successful weekend workshop dedicated to physical phenomena including transfiguration and table tapping. We can be certain that, because of the spectacular and often contentious nature of physical mediumship, this trend is likely to continue and we can also be certain that public interest will increase further, especially as more physical mediums are discovered and begin to approach the more advanced stages of development...not necessarily within the aegis of the NAS.

Common sense should alert us to the probability that we are fast approaching the time (perhaps somewhere between five and ten years) when we will encounter many of the problems that arose to confront the earlier pioneers of the Spiritualist movement as far as physical mediumship is concerned. In times past many physical mediums such as Jack Webber, Helen Duncan and Leslie Flint travelled the length and breadth of the country to demonstrate their gifts in public and generated a great deal of publicity, both good and bad, in the process. Sooner or later, modern equivalents to these great mediums are likely to pursue the same option, as are many whose mediumistic credentials and motives are doubtful, and it is highly unlikely that this will escape the 'shock!...horror!...probe!' tactics of the tabloid press for long. More pertinently, increasing public and media interest in the 'boggle factor' engendered by physical mediumship is certain to attract the attention of the established Church and the members of some 5,500 evangelical churches that have sprung up in the UK in recent years, many of which boast congregations that dwarf those of the average Spiritualist equivalent.1

Indeed, we are currently witnessing a resurgence of fundamentalist, 'evangelical' Christianity. In Psychic News last year, Tim Haigh reported on the birth of the UK's first Christian TV channel...'The Christian Channel' on Sky TV which is owned by 'born again' media magnate Rupert Murdoch.2 This new evangelical fervour has also found its way into the Church of England to an extent, as evinced by the recent phenomena of the 'Toronto effect'...emotional hysteria interfacing with common or garden magnetic/psychic/ psychological phenomena to you and me...'divine' healing intervention in the affairs of humanity as a confirmation of 'faith' to those who do not know any better!

We should also consider a recent report by the Church of England Doctrine Commission which is chaired by the Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Rev Alec Graham. Entitled The Mystery of Salvation, the report affirms that Hell is a 'state of annihilation', rejects the idea that all people from all faiths can be saved, and reaffirms the Church's mission to convert non-Christians. The report also claims that 'salvation' can only be achieved by 'Christians'. The Rt Rev John Taylor, an evangelical who is on the Commission, has said of the report...'Anything less and I would have been unhappy.'3

The resurgence of this alarmingly 'fundamentalist' strain of Christianity is surely proof that a great many people, previously of no fixed faith, have been prepared to accept at face value the teachings and propaganda of evangelical groups with a worrying lack of circumspection, although I would not be so uncharitable, or arrogant, as to question their inalienable right to do so if they wish. However, the leaders of such groups, and many ministers of the C of E and the Catholic Church, have traditionally adopted an attitude of vitriolic hostility towards anything that does not conform to their somewhat creative interpretations of 'scripture', especially the use of any form of mediumship within a modern context. If, as seems likely, we are approaching a parallel resurgence of interest in Spiritualism, with the re-appearance of physical mediumship acting as a catalyst (it is, after all, difficult to see what other purpose the revival of the most direct and evidential form of spirit communication could serve), then we can expect quite a reaction from those whose interests are threatened, they will demand a part in any ensuing debate and if the past track record of the media is anything to go by then they will be granted one.

How often have we witnessed TV programmes of the 'topical discussion' variety where anyone who tries to give a balanced, rational account of the validity of mediumship is shouted down by fundamentalist fanatics who are included in the studio audience. Similarly, we often hear of rowdy protests against demonstrations of mental mediumship, as in April of last year when an estimated one thousand fundamentalist protesters screamed intimidating abuse, and tried to physically prevent people from attending a demonstration of mediumship by Billy Roberts. The result of this outrageous behaviour was that some members of the audience returned home in tears.4

There have even been attempts by local 'Christian' worthies to ban psychic fairs etc. If these people can get so worked up by the New Age crowd trying to flog a few crystals, then what do you seriously imagine that their reaction will be to the prospect of the so-called dead 'materialising', telling us face to face that they have survived perfectly adequately without recourse to religious dogma, and that the only thing that can ensure happiness in the next world is a high standard of ethical/spiritual behaviour in this one, human religious beliefs and traditions being of no importance whatsoever if they do not engender this.

We can rest assured that the same old objections to mediumship will be wheeled out in time honoured tradition to be paraded in front of a public (members of the media included) that has little or no knowledge of biblical history or mediumship. These will be used as justification for every act of disruption and misinformation. And, as an increasingly large number of people appear to be embracing the general ethos of evangelicalism in the absence of anything more rational that is easily within reach, who is to say that this propaganda will not be believed by many. Whilst we do not have the right to try and turn anyone away from their chosen 'faith', we do have a responsibility to make sure that the uninformed are not misled!

I would contend that Spiritualism has never had an adequately focused, ready reply to the bigoted condemnations of fundamentalists...a response that is as easy to wield as the accusation itself. This can be conveyed incredibly simply...'the Law of God forbids talking to spirits' for example. There is no easy way around this problem. However, we must try to formulate a response that is easy for the uninformed to understand. It must, nevertheless, still be capable of removing the foundation stone of the fundamentalist argument so that the whole edifice is brought crashing to the ground.

This foundation stone is the Old Testament which contains most of the so called 'injunctions' against practices that fundamentalists, in their ignorance, identify with modern mediumship. In the New Testament there is no mention of such a ban; Jesus does not mention one, perhaps because of his own alleged (and illegal) conversation with Elijah and Moses, both of whom were eminently deceased! (Matt 17:1-13). In fact, Paul refers to the ability to 'discern' between spirits (1 Cor 12:10) which hardly implies that he considered communication to be prohibited. And, the condemnation of 'sorcerers' (Rev 21:8) that is sometimes cited cannot be identified with modern mediumship because the original Greek translates as 'pharmakuin' or 'one who prepares or administers medicines or poisons'.5

Neither does Paul's exorcism of a 'spirit of divination' (sometimes translated as 'python') constitute a ban (Acts 16: 16-19). This is because it is obvious that he talked to it, and 'divination' (foretelling the future) is regarded by Spiritualists as an abuse of mediumship anyway! Furthermore, the word 'python' and its association with divination is derived from Greek mythology...Apollo killing a snake in the Pytho region close to Delphi where the priestess of the oracle was known as the 'Pythian', hence the association with divination.6 The term has nothing to do with the serpent from the garden of Eden or Satan!

In any case, none of this matters when we consider the fact that all Christian groups (with the possible exception of Seventh day Adventists, who still observe the original Sabbath) consider the laws of Moses to be no longer valid! Why else could it be that Christians do not observe the Jewish Sabbath, eat pork, and do not (except in the most extreme cases...I have met such an individual), demand the death penalty for those who criticise their parents (Ex 21:17), a new bride who is found not to be a virgin (Deut 22:13-21), and other offences that are too numerous to mention. Indeed, if they truly consider the Old Testament law against what they deem to be 'mediumship' forever binding, then surely all of the others must still be so...why is it that male Christians are not circumcised? The answer to this question can be found in Galatians (3:13)...'Christ brought us freedom from the curse of the Law'. The whole seething mass of contradictions that constitutes the fundamentalist position against Spiritualism is exposed as being completely untenable by the rules of its own system of logic, or at least to anyone that is not trapped inside of it!

Sadly, there is another aspect to fundamentalist propaganda which is deliberately calculated to induce irrational fear by playing on very ancient superstitions. For this reason it deserves separate consideration. The accusation that spirit communicators are, in reality, demons that impersonate the deceased in order to persuade us against accepting the Bible, or the fundamentalist interpretation of it, is usually a central theme of anti-Spiritualist leaflets that are often handed out to members of the public. Such literature usually steers clear of using the word 'Spiritualism', preferring 'Spiritism', this is possibly to avoid legal action from the SNU or, more likely, to imply that Spiritualism is unspiritual. One leaflet of this type published by Jehovah's Witnesses...'Who Really Rules The World?' which claims that 'Spiritists' and world leaders are controlled by Satan and his demons, contains the following statement:

'Thus, a wicked spirit, imitating the voice of one who died, may talk with that one's living relatives or is actually a demon!'

I need hardly point out that the traditional Spiritualist response of citing examples of the apparent use of mediumship by the Old Testament prophets, Jesus and the apostles, is about as much use a chocolate fireguard when trying to counter this sort of puerile nonsense. Imagine how you would feel if you knew little of mediumship, or the Bible, and had just received an evidential communication via physical or mental mediumship from a recently departed loved one, only to have something like the above thrust into your hand! Fortunately, the 'demonic impersonator' theory has no basis in fact...certainly no 'fact' that is contained in the Bible. The passages from the Bible, particularly those from the Old Testament, that are used to support this idea, do nothing of the sort and the practises referred to bear no resemblance to mediumship as we know it.

The many Christian fundamentalist cults that attack Spiritualism all differ slightly in their interpretations as to what constitutes true 'Christian' faith. However, they all default to using the same Biblical passages to support the theory that the Bible forbids mediumship and that 'spirit' communicators are really 'demons' that impersonate our deceased loved ones in order to trap us into breaking God's 'laws'! The latter part of this theory is not supported anywhere in the Old or New Testament, nowhere will we find any statement to the effect that spirit communicators have such powers, so where does this idea come from?

Almost all biblical statements that are used against mediumship are taken from the books of the Old Testament that constitute Hebrew Law or the Law of God as revealed to Moses (Torah). The extracts that are most frequently used in anti-Spiritualist literature are taken from Leviticus and Deuteronomy...for instance: 'The soul that turneth after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards, to go a whoring after them, I will even set my face against that soul, and will cut him off from among his people.' (Levit 20:6) 'There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.' (Deut 18:10,11)

Both of the above are extracts from an anti-Spiritualist propaganda leaflet distributed free of charge by the Trinitarian Bible Society.7 They are taken from the Authorised Version of the Bible and both use the term 'familiar spirit/spirits' which, according to the Oxford Dictionary, means...'a demon serving a witch'. In medieval times these 'familiars' were believed to be capable of imitating animals,8 and I have never seen any account as to the origins of this term which state that such demons were thought to impersonate humans. Nevertheless, as 'familiar spirits' are obviously taken by fundamentalists to be the same thing as the spirit communicators who provide survival evidence via modern mediumship, you could be forgiven for thinking that a simple translation back into the original Hebrew (this, after all, must surely be the purest expression of the Law), would provide the final damning evidence against the Modern Spiritualist Movement.

Unfortunately for the fundamentalist case against Spiritualism, 'a consulter with familiar spirits' (the second example given above) would appear to be a botched translation of the original Hebrew text, as is every other instance where 'familiar spirit' or 'spirits' is used. According to Rev. Donald J. Bretherton, B.D., in Life, Death and Psychical Research, this whole phrase is represented in the original Hebrew by only two words...'Shoel Ob'.9 The word 'Shoel' is derived from 'Sha'al' which means 'consult' or 'ask' and so the whole passage translates as 'one who asketh an Ob'. 'Ob' itself cannot possibly be translated as 'familiar spirit' as the root idea of the word is 'something hollow', its original usage was in referring to any inanimate object of this nature such as an empty bottle, or even a hole in the ground. Therefore, it should go without saying, that when fundamentalists substitute the words 'familiar spirit' with 'spirit medium' etc, as they often do, then they are merely extending the original mistranslation to further fantastic lengths.

Bretherton goes on to postulate that as an Ob was a thing rather than a person, or spirit of any description, then it was most likely to have been some object that was fashioned as a talisman to be used in ceremonies that were connected with ostensibly consulting the dead for the purposes of divination. The ancient Hebrews believed that the dead had the power to foretell the future and that they could be 'conjured up' for this purpose by someone who possessed an object that had such powers, such as a bone, or some other part of a corpse.10 However, this hardly supports the theory that spirit communicators are demons who impersonate the deceased, this is exposed as being completely groundless.

In fact, we find that when King Saul sought out 'a woman that hath a familiar spirit' (1 Sam 28:7-20), or a woman who has an Ob, asking her to 'divine unto me by the familiar spirit' of the 'dead' prophet Samuel, it was indeed Samuel that appeared. The relevant passages state quite unequivocally that it was Samuel, and there is no mention at all of any demonic impersonator. But incredibly, Jehovah's Witnesses cite this as an example of demons imitating the deceased. Contained in a Witness publication...Knowledge, in a chapter entitled 'Resist Wicked Spirit Forces', this extract from the first book of Samuel is used to support the demonic impersonator theory.11 However, what is not mentioned is that Witnesses have contrived their own translation of the Bible...The New World Translation that is deliberately and creatively edited to remove many internal inconsistencies and also so that it appears to confirm Witness teachings. So we find that, perhaps out of desperation, Witness 'translators' have resorted to placing quotation marks around the name 'Samuel' to make it appear as if the biblical text is stating that this 'spirit' was not really him.

Fundamentalist writers from other groups, such as evangelical Protestant Walter R. Martin, have to resort to claiming that God decided to make an exception in Samuel's case...allowing him to appear in person, even though this is not supported by the text at all!12 It would appear, that upon finding the accusation barrel left empty by the Witnesses, Mr Martin has had to scrape his way right through the bottom! So, there is no biblical foundation for fundamentalist claims that spirit communicators are really demonic Rory Bremners. Neither is there any Old Testament prohibition against practices that in any way resemble the mediumship of Spiritualism (physical or mental). When did you last encounter a medium who needed to use an Ob. or any thing else in order to work. And, I need hardly add, that anyone who thought that they could 'conjure up' spirit communicators would be inviting laughter or pity if they were to announce this belief at any Spiritualist church.

So, what of the other banned practices that fundamentalists use in their condemnations of Spiritualism? 'Necromancy' was the disgusting practice of divination by examining corpses or their internal organs, usually the entrails or liver; 'passing through the fire'...the sacrifice of children to the Moabite deity burning them alive; the meaning of the Hebrew word 'yiddeoni' which is translated as 'wizard' in the Authorised Version, has been lost but may have meant 'knowing ones' or 'the scrutiny of omens'; 'witch' comes from the Hebrew root word that means 'to cut'...possibly herbs for potions or casting spells; the term 'observer of times' comes from the Hebrew root word meaning 'cloud' and refers to divination by watching the clouds; a 'charmer' was someone who cast spells to kill people; and 'enchanter'...?13

I could go on, but I think that the point has been made. Fundamentalist Christians cannot seriously believe that Spiritualists indulge in any of the above. After all, if children were being burnt alive in Spiritualist churches, then you would have expected at least one arrest to have been made by now. It is clear that those who condemn Spiritualism in this way do not have the slightest clue as to the true meaning of any of these terms that are contained in the narrative of the Bible. A fact that does not exactly inspire confidence in their ability or qualifications to preach from it.

As most of the Christian fundamentalist groups have a literalist attitude towards the Bible, believing that every word and concept contained within its pages is historically proven to be correct, and that it contains no internal contradictions, then we could also cite some of these; such as when we are told that God incited David to number the people (2 Sam 24:1-3), and then in 1 Chronicles (21:1) that David was incited to do this by Satan. And, we do not have to make references to lengthy works by respected biblical scholars to illustrate the implausibility of many of the Gospel stories, such as Jesus exorcising a man and sending the unclean spirits into a herd of two thousand a country where eating pork was forbidden!(Mark 5:11-13). Again, this is in contrast to Matthew's account of the same incident where the number of men exorcised is given as being two (Matt 8:28-32).

So, the Bible literalist asks us to believe that God, who in the fundamentalist mind is ultimately the author of the Bible, cannot tell the difference between himself and Satan, and this must cast doubt on the ability of those who take the literalist stance to do the same. Not only that, fundamentalists are also claiming that the creator of the DNA molecule has also forgotten that he told his chosen people to have little or nothing to do with pigs, and cannot even count. Surely it is reasonable to suppose, that if fundamentalists knew that points such as this would be raised every time that they opened their mouths, or put pen to paper, in condemnation of Spiritualism, then they would do so less often for fear of ridicule!

At the time of writing however, there is evidence that at least some fundamentalist groups are starting to attack Spiritualism with an alarming degree of confidence that has hitherto been absent. The latest anti-Spiritualist leaflet that has come to my attention does not shy away from naming Spiritualism...far from it! Spiritualism....The Truth Behind It, which is published by a group called the 'Upper Room Tracts', describes the Spiritualist movement in the following manner:14

'This modern day Bride of Satan has produced many off-spring since her inception in 1848 and is a tremendous threat to the Christian church today...'
And, if this were not bad enough, all of the Seven Principles are listed with comments such as this:

'7. ETERNAL PROGRESS OPEN TO EVERY SOUL (without Jesus, the only eternal progress available, is from hell to the lake of fire!, see Rev. 20:14-15).'
Do you not find a deliberate campaign of misinformation such as this just a little bit worrying?

I do not wish to suggest that we should give the impression that Spiritualism rejects the finer moral aspects of what Jesus is reputed to have taught, although none of these are historically unique to Christianity. On the contrary, we should point out that Spiritualism embraces these, no one with any moral sense would reject them. But, we should ask ourselves, with an eye on the future, whether Spiritualism has been at all successful in defending itself from fundamentalist attacks, as these are likely to increase and become more virulent.

The purpose of this article has been to suggest one or two arguments that may be more successful towards this end than merely pointing people towards lengthy works by Spiritualist authors that were written, with laudable intentions, many years ago. Spiritualism must adopt an initial response that is direct enough to be effective immediately, so that the finer points of the argument have some chance of being understood...these are of little use on their own! We should point out that one hundred and fifty years of experience in 'discerning' between spirits gives Spiritualism considerable qualifications in the subject, in contrast to fundamentalist accusers who, in displaying the ignorance inherent in their vile allegations and baseless theories, are admitting that they have no experience in the matter whatsoever.

Faced with the prospect of having their scare tactics exposed as having no more validity than the story of Wee Willie Winky, then fundamentalists might be persuaded to shut up, and get on with their chosen spiritual path in private, as is their right. The media, if suitably educated in this way, would probably realise that inviting these people to comment on Spiritualism/mediumship (or anything else for that matter) is akin to inviting the Flat Earth Society to speak on 'The Sky At Night'. Unfortunately however, I fear that such a united and focused approach is unlikely. There is probably more chance of the Pope applying to attend the next NAS seminar!

1 Psychic News, 27/5/95.
2 Psychic News, 27/5/95.
3 Daily Telegraph, 11/1/96.
4 Psychic News, 29/4/95.
5 Bullinger's Lexicon.
6 Dictionary of the Bible, 2nd edn (T and T Clark, Edinburgh).
7 Trinitarian Bible Society, Believe Not Every Spirit (Gospel Press).
8 Encyclopaedia Britannica.
9 Canon J.D. Pearce-Higgins and Rev. G. Stanley Whitby (Eds), Life Death and Psychical Research (Rider and Co., 1973), p.115.
10 Pearce-Higgins/Whitby, Ibid., p.115,116.
11 Knowledge (Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania), p.112. 12 Walter R. Martin, Kingdom of the Cults (London: Marshal Morgan and Scott, 1967), p.200.
13 All definitions taken from Pearce-Higgins/Whitby, Ibid., p.112-114, p.119-123. See also Dictionary of the Bible, Ibid (T and T Clark, Edinburgh).
14 Spiritualism, The Truth Behind It (Upper Room Tracts, Great Yarmouth).

This article appeared in a NAS Newsletter during 1996.