Friday, May 29, 2015

Charlie Charlie should challenge us to take the supernatural more seriously

This week the Internet's love of viral crazes stumbled into supernatural territory when the 'Charlie Charlie' Challenge became massively popular among young people. The game involves crossing two pens or pencils on top of a piece of paper, creating four quadrants with either 'yes' or 'no' written in them. Players then ask questions of a Mexican 'spirit' named Charlie, and wait for him to answer the questions by moving the pens.

Exorcists are warning that teenagers are messing around with forces way beyond their understanding, with one telling the Catholic News Agency that players are 'calling on spirits' which 'will stay around for a while' after the game is played. They suggest it's just a simplified version of the notorious Ouija, which has seen young people dabble in the occult for generations.

For many, this is all harmless – if morbid – fun. Their line would be that evil spirits aren't real and the resulting phenomena can be explained away scientifically. But if that's true, why is the trend quite so fascinating? For years now, researchers have argued that while young people are largely no longer religious, they are spiritual, and they don't struggle to believe in a world beyond the visible. So when the #CharlieCharlieChallenge trend enticed thousands of teenage social media users this week, its spread can be partly attributed to the belief that it might actually be real.

As Christians, we believe this is serious. Actually asking an evil spirit, or a demon as he's variously referred to, to engage with us directly is playing with supernatural fire. The Bible talks about demonic forces often: Jesus casts them out of people; Paul warns not to 'participate' with them (1 Corinthians 10:20); and James says they believe in God – and shudder (James 2:19). In the Old Testament, God and his prophets are frequently warning Israel not to get involved with those who practice the occult, from Deuteronomy 18's list of 'abominable practices' to the grisly description of demonic sacrifice in Psalm 106.

That's not why young people are interested however. They're intrigued because they've seen one of those pencils move on a YouTube video, or heard a story about a demon who might be real, and can prove his existence. When they 'play' however, they're entering the world described in all those verses.

For some, like those Catholic exorcists, who report that "the number of disturbances of extraordinary demonic activity is on the rise," this is tantamount to a pastoral emergency.

Whatever your view on that, there are some interesting reflections to be drawn from this week's bizarre craze. As a youth worker, I'm fascinated that while teenagers seem to be interested in the idea of talking to an invisible spiritual figure who can give them some kind of guidance, they're choosing a Mexican demon over the Son of God. Why is that? Why when young people are so naturally intrigued by the supernatural, do they default to a magical way of supposedly contacting the dead, rather than wanting to contact a spiritual force who's very much alive? Keep reading

Photo credit: YouTube

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