Though Authoritative, the Bible Can't Be Worshiped

A wooden cross stands in front of an opened bible on the rocks.
A wooden cross stands in front of an opened bible on the rocks. (photo:
By Li DaonanJanuary 25th, 2024

Some believers say that the Bible has magical effects and can function as a talisman in life. They consider it to be the divine word with magical powers, and as a record of God's words, it possesses magical abilities. Therefore, in some zombie movies, scenes depict the Bible alongside Buddhist and Taoist artifacts during the exorcism of zombies. However, this is not only a scene seen in TV dramas but also occurs in real life.

A few years ago, I received a complaint from a believer. Her husband was working in Shanghai and was hospitalized due to an illness. She brought ten thousand yuan to the hospital for her husband, but her money was stolen at the train station. The reason she called me was that she wondered why it was still stolen, though she had placed the money in the Bible. She doubted that God's power was insufficient to deter thieves and protect her money.

During my university years, I had a roommate who was also a Christian. He liked placing the Bible by his pillow when sleeping. Once, jokingly, I said to him, "You're devout enough to read the Bible even when sleeping." He smiled and said that placing the Bible by his pillow could ward off demons to ensure a nightmare-free sleep. More surprisingly, he also liked putting money in the Bible. Of course, no one stole money from the dorm, but the psychological aspect of placing money in the Bible was to treat the Bible as a protective deity.

In the history of religions, how did Buddhist scriptures and statues acquire supreme magical powers and become objects of worship for many? When Buddhism entered China during the early Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to 220 A.D), it did not face severe suppression. On one hand, this was because Buddhism had a limited initial influence, and on the other hand, Buddhism initially aligned itself with Confucianism and traditional Chinese culture. However, after the social disorder caused by the large-scale plagues in the late Eastern Han Period and the Wei-Jin period, local folk religions and Confucianism declined. Buddhism became the best alternative to the prevailing difficulties, gradually gaining influence and even affecting the entire elite class. The philosophical concepts of "advocating existence" and "valuing nothing" in the Wei-Jin Period, the ideas of hell and retribution, and all the traditional beliefs we have today were shaped under the influence of Buddhism during that era. In a period when Buddhism had a significant impact, the local cultural elites began to react, and during that time, both worship and opposition to Buddhism coexisted. 

In the Southern and Northern Dynasties period (420–589), cultural debates were gradually replaced by political force in the form of military suppression. Faced with the destruction of Buddhist temples and statues, Buddhism introduced its protective measures. This involved creating diverse miraculous stories and attributing magical powers to Buddha statues and Buddhist artifacts. The book In Search of the Supernatural recorded many stories where local officials suffered reprisals after destroying Buddha statues. Another book Forest of Gems in the Garden of the Dharma documented a story about a person named Song Liuling who believed the words of a Taoist to burn Buddhist scriptures and statues. That night, he fell to the ground and could not get up, as if he had been beaten. He lay unconscious with only a faint breath. The Taoist who told him to destroy the Buddha also developed ulcers in his body and died.

It was during the process of Daoism and imperial force suppressing Buddhism that Buddhism, for its safety, fabricated stories to increase the magical abilities of Buddha statues and other idols. Over time, these Buddha statues, as well as Buddhist beads and scriptures, “acquired” magical powers and became objects of worship. Initially, it was a self-protective measure to intimidate those who destroyed Buddha statues; this cultural psychology eventually evolved into a cultural tradition.

In such a cultural background, when Christianity was introduced, it similarly followed suit. The Bible and other things related to Christianity also acquired magical effects. In some rural areas, churches are considered places with divine powers. When someone is ill or has mental problems and traditional healers in the village are ineffective, they may be taken to the church. People believe that the church is God's dwelling place, and the demons attached to them will be afraid and leave after entering the church. Holding the Bible, some individuals in the village shout at demons to drive them away as a method of healing.

In the history of Christianity, people regarded the Bible verses as sanctified, but the theology of Christianity itself rejects the worship of the Bible. Because once the Bible is worshipped as a magical idol, there is no need to engage in theological reflection on its content.

Therefore, if a person worships the Bible as a magical idol, his mind will stagnate, and he will not actively witness God's actions, with theology being unnecessary. Christianity contributed to Western civilization, while witchcraft and superstition cannot, as they can only lead to the stagnation of a civilization.

Jesus said, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of God's mouth." God created the world and history through the words written in the Bible, which is not a dead book treated as an idol.

- Translated by Abigail Wu

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