The endless vistas and awe-inspiring silence of the desert has produced many visionaries, mystics, and prophets. Yet for some - the lost - the desert brings the most fearful of deaths.
Heat torments the body, draining it of water, until the skin is scorched, and the tongue is cracked and bleeding. The sun assails the eye at every turn, blinding the victim, causing him to stagger onward until the final collapse. As life slowly departs the body, all is silence, except the mournful wind, which echoes through the bleak and empty wilderness.
Such was the end of Bishop James Pike, after a minor roadside accident left Pike and his second wife stranded in the heat of the Negev Desert. Pike had gained worldwide notoriety in the sixties as the leading spokesman for America's burgeoning interest in the occult.
After leaving the Episcopal church due to charges of heresy, Pike embarked on a search for truth which included a televised seance with America's foremost psychic. During the seance, Pike reportedly made contact with the spirits of his departed son, and his former lover, with whom he was having an affair during his second marriage. Both Pike's son and his former lover committed suicide during the period of Pike's apostasy and involvement in the occult.
Pike brought impeccable credentials to the New Age movement. In addition to being an Episcopal bishop, Pike was lawyer who held a Ph.D. from Yale and headed the Department of Religion at Columbia University. More than anyone else, Bishop Pike validated and gave impetus to the New Age movement.
It is an irony of history, that the failed attempt to rescue Bishop Pike - a theologian who strenuously denied the Virgin Birth and the doctrine of the Trinity - was organized and mounted out of Bethlehem.
Evangelicals believe that any involvement in the occult leads to personal misfortune, and that a complete surrender to the occult results in the greatest of all calamities, the loss of one's immortal soul. Nonetheless, one need not argue against involvement in the occult on religious or theological grounds.
Nations as well as individuals suffer harm when they become involved in the occult. Magic and superstition have always hindered progress; and those societies which are the most retrogressive are also the most mired in the occult.
The opposite holds true as well. Those nations which are the most enlightened and progressive are those which have the least faith in magic and superstition.
Faith in reason is not a threat to Christianity. Evangelicals believe that the Bible is consistent with science, and that the Bible and science compliment one another by providing answers to questions on which the other is silent.
Science cannot explain the purpose of life, just as the Bible cannot tell us the composition of water. The fruit of this cooperation between faith and science is the prosperity and freedom we enjoy as members of Christian civilization.
In contrast, magic and superstition offer only confusion, and ultimately, despair.
America's growing interest in the occult - as exemplified by the popularity of the Harry Potter series - is not a hopeful sign. America's surrender to the irrational, of which the Harry Potter phenomenon is very much a part, challenges the most basic belief of Western civilization, which is that God and the universe can be known through reason.
The West's denial of reason dethrones man from his rightful place as steward over creation; and in man's place, nature is exalted, to be controlled not by reason, but by empathy, positive energy, and magic. The ideologies which result from such a belief - radical environmentalism, the animal rights movement, and the like - represent a challenge to the truly progressive spirit of science, innovation, and industry.
In contrast, a belief in magic and the occult is fundamentally anti-Western and retrogressive, and ultimately, barren and fruitless. No nation can profit from teaching its young to search for truth in the shadow world of the occult.
It is with good reason that Liberty holds aloft a torch, since it is the light of reason which opens man's path to freedom. As the life of Bishop Pike so eloquently testifies, to search for truth in the realm of darkness leads at best to bewilderment and confusion, and at worst, to barrenness, sterility, and death.
Mike Heath is the Executive Director of the Christian Civic League of Maine.