Reflection on Superstition in Christianity: Why Do Chinese Christians Believe “Outline of Jesus Shown in Flames of Notre Dame”?

By CCD contributor: Caleb Yan , May 09, 2019 09:05 AM

Early on the evening of April 15, 2019, the famous Notre Dame Cathedral caught fire.

An unexpected fire struck the 850-year-old Parisian Notre Dame Cathedral, breaking the hearts of many people. The incident drew the attention of and discussion between many Chinese Christians. Interpretations of "conspiracies" and "spirituality" were popular. 

A large percentage of Christians truly believed that the silhouette of Jesus Christ appeared in the flames that engulfed the historical cathedral. Many Christians forwarded articles with titles such as, "The Outline of Jesus Appeared in Flames of Notre Dame ? Netizens: We Saw It!" 

I found out that the rumor of Jesus' appearance in the fire was not groundless.

It came from a story reported on April 17 by England's newspaper The Daily Mail. A woman from Scotland named Lesley Rowan claimed she "saw" the outline of Jesus in the flames of Notre-Dame Cathedral. She "saw" in one of the pictures a figure in the billowing smoke that looked like Jesus. 

Lesley posted on her Facebook, "I may be letting my mind play tricks on me here. Folks, take a close look at this picture and see what you see." However, the report did not affirm the outline as Jesus and added, "Not everyone accepted Lesley's findings, with one Facebook user writing: 'Opposite of amazing,' and another insisted they only saw a 'statue'."

The news was edited and translated into Chinese on a We-media platform in China, and circulated as a curiosity. Yet, the article was repackaged by some nominal Christian WeChat accounts and transformed into a piece about the "Appearance of Jesus' Image in Flames at Notre Dame Cathedral".

Many Christians believed it without thinking and reposted it as blind as a bat. 

In the past, these kinds of low quality Christian platforms have aggressively publicized similar things, including the appearance of angels, heaven and hell. This category of "manifestation" articles were likely to get attention and gain notoriety.

I call this phenomenon superstition and "goblins, strength, disorder, or spirits" (an idiom from the Confucian Analects) in Christianity. 

Many Christians did believe in the manifestation of Jesus as the rumor became overheated by nominal Christian marketing accounts and a massive number of repostings on WeChat. "Manifestation" is a term associated with folk religion. Different from folk religion that emphasizes the appearance of "image", Christianity is a faith system that focuses on the holy word. God's word is not mystical, but can be grasped and therefore does not allow for enchantments such as these phenomenon. 

The challenge of the introduction of Christianity into China is the impact and dilution by folk religion. Whether some people pursue a manifestation of Jesus or angels or think that prayer can be fulfilled when they pray toward crosses or 40 days of fasting and prayer must be answered, they are the results of the influence of folk religion and go beyond what the Bible teaches. 

Popular enlightenment is needed to wipe out this type of Christian "superstition". There is much more work to be done.

"A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth."(John 4:23-24)

- Translated by Karen Luo

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