“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils.”
C.S. Lewis’ brilliant work, The Screwtape Letters, a fictitious correspondence between two demons, begins with these now famous words found in the introduction,
“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”
If you haven’t noticed it yet, there has been a new social media fad filling up your feed: its called the “Charlie Charlie Challenge“. The “challenge”, teeters at the top of Twitter today with over 450K tweets about it. The challenge is similar to an ouija board, encouraging kids to allegedly summon a Mexican demon named “Charlie”, asking him “yes” or “no” questions. Two pencils laid in the form of a cross are placed on a piece of paper with four boxes of “yes” and “no” before “Charlie” is summoned. A handful of videos show teenagers repeating this chant, and you can visibly see the pencil swivel around to the “yes” box, which then consequently causes the kids to lose their minds and freak out.
Teenagers, after “summoning” Charlie, then proceed to use him like a Magic 8-Ball, asking him questions about the future. Many have posted silly videos, giggling as they ask when their favorite band will release their newest album, what outfit they should wear tomorrow, whether or not they will marry their celebrity crush, etc.
Most likely this is just a hoax, or a funny prank to pull on a friend. It would be pretty easy to fake something like that with magnets, fishing line, or just blowing on the pen or pencil, and with how desperate everyone is to have their five seconds of fame on Twitter, it is pretty likely that this isn’t real. However, since it is just personal videos being uploaded, it is hard to verify, and for those who believe the Bible, they know that demons are not simply imaginary. The Bible does prohibit Christians from partaking in any kind of witchcraft, sorcery or participating in demonic encounters.
Is Charlie Charlie Dangerous?
Absolutely. No Christian should participate in this fad, fake or not – Scripture explicitly forbids it.
But there are more reasons than just the naked assertion that the Bible says not to. The Charlie Charlie challenge is a trojan horse for a much more insidious kind of danger.
The danger of this particular challenge: being bored with spiritual things.
“Charlie” is shaving the sharp edges off the reality of the demonic; making it palatable, dismissible, familiarized and laughable – just another thing you scroll through on your news feed. As soon as something becomes a meme on the internet, it loses all weight and credibility of being anything taken seriously. Even if this whole thing is fake, (which it most likely is), it teaches us that when we encounter something dreadful, something “other” than us, rather than trembling in fear or crying out to God, we whip out our phones, tag it with emojis, and get ready to post it to Instagram.
Being aware of the spiritual world forces us to move past pure materialism – we become terrifyingly cognizant that there is a world that exists beyond our five senses, and have little control over it. And while a fascination with the demonic is often unhealthy, I think a demonic encounter can be used like a bucket of cold water to wake sleepy people up. I have had conversations with people who have strayed from the faith, but had a terrifying dream or saw something they couldn’t explain and the sheer scariness of it made them realize that there is a spiritual reality they have been ignoring, and cannot do so any longer. One of my closest friends will tell you that the catalyst that got him thinking about God when he was an atheist was watching one of the Exorcist movies.
I am not advocating that we should be employing scare tactics to convert people to Christ, not at all. Fear will not drive someone to saving faith. But I am aware that God is sovereign, even over demonic forces, which means that God only allows demons to exist to serve God’s ultimate purposes in the end (Job 1:6-12; 1 Kings 22:22; Romans 8:28). So God can use a frightful or puzzling encounter as the initial nudge that leads to the ultimate end of someone coming to know and love God.
And therein lies the real danger of the Charlie Charlie challenge: it baptizes spiritual encounters in the triviality of the internet culture, rendering it useless.
It is a dangerous thing seeing dozens and dozens of videos of pencils inexplicably moving (allegedly) under the power of demons, and countless people laughing hysterically at it. It is a kind of “McDonald-ization” of the spiritual, giving people a “Oh, I’ve seen this before” experience. It turns the whole thing into a “gummy bear”, albeit a scary one, but harmless nonetheless. I fear these trends will further dull and deaden our generation’s capacity for something transcendent and “other” than us. Everything is mundane and good for some cheap laughs and “likes”, but that’s about it.
Screwtape’s Great Hope
In Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, a senior demon, Screwtape, writes instructional letters to his nephew, a younger demon named Wormwood on the methods of tempting and controlling humans. In one letter, Screwtape responds to Wormwood’s question of whether or not he should reveal himself to his “patient”.
“I wonder you should ask me whether it is essential to keep the patient in ignorance of your own existence. That question, at least for the present phase of the struggle, has been answered for us by the High Command. Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves. Of course this has not always been so. We are really faced with a cruel dilemma. When the humans disbelieve in our existence we lose all he pleasing results of direct terrorism and we make no magicians. On the other hand, when they believe in us, we cannot make them materialists and sceptics.”
Screwtape alludes that the current “policy” of Hell is to keep mankind in ignorance to their personal tempters, fearing this will drive them from the clutches of skepticism and materialism. But, Screwtape his high hopes for a day when there can be a synthesis of the materialist and the magician.
At least, not yet. I have great hopes that we shall learn in due time how to emotionalise and mythologise their science to such an extent that what is, in effect, belief in us, (though not under that name) will creep in while the human mind remains closed to belief in the Enemy. The “Life Force”, the worship of sex, and some aspects of Psychoanalysis, may here prove useful. If once we can produce our perfect work – the Materialist Magician, the man, not using, but veritably worshipping, what he vaguely calls “Forces” while denying the existence of “spirits” – then the end of the war will be in sight.
If you have ever heard the way any of the modern leading physicists (Neil deGrasse Tyson, Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, etc.) have spoken about the vastness of the galaxies, or how modern day self-help guru’s (Oprah, Deepak Chopra, etc.) speak about our inner-self, you will see Screwtape’s “Materialist Magician”. These are people who have pushed their materialism into a transcendent realm, speaking of the awe and mystery of our cosmos, or the depth and purity of our inner soul, “veritably worshipping what they vaguely call ‘Forces'”, while denying the existence of God.
Charlie Charlie and other things similar to it, on the other hand, is a step towards the exact same destination, but just reversed in order. It creates Magic Materialists. People who have become so familiar, though in a distant way, to the spiritual, that it has neutered it of any real spiritual impact. “Spiritual” experiences have the same effect as material experiences, and our generation subtly slips into a spiritual slumber.
Whether we are Magicians, Materialists, or some sort of synthesis of the two – Satan is pleased. Remember, the Enemy’s goal is not simply to make us afraid of him, but to keep us from knowing, loving and following God – he will surrender his fearfulness and be laughed at if it drags us down to the murky depths with him. Whatever he can do to keep our gaze focused downward, and never upward – whether that be accomplished through fear, familiarity or skepticism, he is greedily pleased.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us stay alert, not being ignorant of his schemes. One thing is certain, our culture is fascinated with spiritual things – why not use this as an opportunity to engage them with real spirituality? Why not use this as an opportunity to ask questions you might never be able to ask before, do you believe in demons? Do you believe in Heaven and Hell? What happens when we die?
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