Is That You, Uncle Bob?

More than 3,000 fans packed San Francisco's Masonic Auditorium. Many had driven for hundreds of miles to see their idol. Others held up signs reading, "We Love You John!" Then the man they came to see strode onto the stage - - an unlikely superstar, to say the least. As the Washington Post put it, his New York accent makes him sound more like a cab driver. And the only artistic activity listed on his résumé is his affinity for ballroom dancing. But John Edward is a superstar -- one uniquely suited for our credulous age. John Edward is America's most famous medium. His nightly television show, Crossing Over, is a staple of the Sci-Fi channel's prime-time programming. Every night, more 600,000 American households tune in to watch Edward and his "guests" -- by which he means spirits -- minister to the loved ones left behind. The show is such a success that in August it will be syndicated nationwide. Then, even those without cable will be to watch Edward comfort the living by speaking with the dead. But it's not only television. Edward's autobiography made the bestseller lists. His live appearances, like the one at the Masonic Auditorium, are sell-outs, and there's a two-year waiting list for personal consultations. Edward isn't the only medium doing a brisk business these days. Belief in mediums and spiritualism has grown markedly in the past decade. Half of all Americans believe that it's possible to communicate with the dead. A third claim to have done so. Just look at the yellow pages or your newspaper for advertisements for psychics. This isn't the first surge of interest in mediums and spiritualism in the English-speaking world. The first few decades of the twentieth century saw a comparable enthusiasm for séances and psychics. People who wouldn't have been caught dead in a Christian church sat around tables holding hands with their eyes closed, waiting for something to happen. That surge as well as the present one followed periods in which faith in the biblical God was declared to be untenable. Science, in the form of Darwinism or positivism, promised substitutes for the old beliefs. What happened in both instances was a rise in superstition. Then as now, occult practice and beliefs began to flourish, even among the most educated members of society. People who dismissed the Resurrection and the Virgin Birth toured the country lecturing about communicating with the dead. There's no contradiction here. Rejecting the biblical God doesn't change the fact that, as humans, we are incorrigibly religious and need to believe in something. Nor does it mean that questions such as "Is there life after death?" cease being important. It simply means we've been cut off from the real answers to these questions. And that makes us vulnerable to superstition and irrationality. Paul says, professing to be wise, we become fools instead. C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton, who lived during the earlier age of mediums, understood this well. Our age is, if anything, even more credulous and needy than theirs. So, we need to help people understand that the answers they seek are not to be found through cable television mediums. Instead, they're to be found through faith in the One who really did cross over -- from death back to life. For further reference: "Hot Medium: Prime-Time Spirit Guy John Edward." Washington Post, 30 June 2001.


Chuck Colson


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