As a caveat: I believe in supernatural events, and there are mysterious happenings in this world. My objection is specifically against “godless myths and old wives’ tales” being narrated as truths to further an agenda (1 Tim. 4:7).
“Christian” hoaxes and legends come in different forms. Whether as news reports, stories or testimonials, they are all aimed at evoking an emotional response in the hearers or readers – ranging from fear to excitement.
As Christ’s ambassadors, we can’t afford to the look the other way when our credibility is at stake before the world. We can’t be fighting lies with lies.
We can’t be taking a stand against the myths and delusions of false religions while closing our eyes to the ones being disseminated in our midst.
How can we evaluate if a widely circulated report is a hoax, fantasy or legend?
(1) First determine if the source of the story is credible. If it’s a non-fiction Christian work, you need to check if the main figure of the story is someone whose credibility and honesty are well-known and tested.
There are some Christian materials authored by individuals claiming to be ex-Catholics, ex-witches or ex-Satanists etc. who wouldn’t know honesty even if it hits them in the face.
Much of what they present as their past sojourn in cults and the occult are personal myths which they conjugate into a narrative to make sense of now and control the future.
For example, Ergun and Emir Caners who wrote the book Unveiling Islam, claim to be former Muslims, yet their work is filled with factual errors, spurious citations and questionable sources – blunders that even a Christian who knows about Islam shouldn’t make.
For one, what can we make of their citations like “Hadith 2.541”? That’s as ridiculous as someone citing “Bible 2.541.”
(2) Does it have names, dates, locations and facts that can be checked? When a sensational story or testimony omits such vital details, it’s a red flag.
One major problem I had with the books, He Came to Set the Captives Free and Prepare for War (by Rebecca Brown) was how its stories lacked the markers of time and locations making it quite difficult for one to place the events described in them within a geographical and chronological sequence.
Albert James Dager in his review aptly stated:
“Without wishing to belittle the idea of genuine spiritual warfare, no one I have ever known in all my years of ministry has ever experienced satanic attack to the degree that Rebecca and Elaine say they have. If their testimonies are true, they are aberrations with which most Christians cannot identify” (Rebecca & Elaine Questionable Testimonies, Media Spotlight, 1992, 1).
As I said earlier, if the story of the Egyptian Christian woman buried for 15 days was true and it was aired on national TV, it wouldn’t have stopped there. Its details (including police reports) would have been everywhere on the Internet.
(3) Do the major statements made in the story have documentation? Can the claims made in the material be supported by several authentic sources or reference works? If no, then it’s a hoax or legend.
Take for example, the claim that Islam was founded by the Roman Catholic Church through the instrumentality of Muhammad’s wife, Khadija.
According to the tale, Khadija was a Catholic nun who had given her wealth to the Roman Church and joined a convent, but her superiors sent her back to the world and look for a young man who would be an Arabian hero and help destroy the Jews, then she found Muhammad.
She had him groomed and with the help of the Vatican, Catholic priests came from Rome to Arabia to help him write the Quran and establish Islam. Eventually, he turned against them.
Where did this story originate? Wait for it – a comic book titled “The Prophet,” containing the testimony of an alleged ex-Jesuit priest, Alberto Rivera! No footnote, no documentation nor any source in the comic indicated where he got this fantastic story from, yet many zealots have lapped it up.
Rivera claimed he learnt these “secret teachings” at the Vatican yet there is not a shred of evidence to corroborate his claims.
And if those peddling this legend knew a little bit of church history, they would have known there was no such thing as the Vatican in the 6th century. The writer resorted to historical compression to sell his conspiracy drivel.
(4) Does the storyteller seem to aggrandize his/her role in the story? Does he/she artificially inflate his/her importance, power, or victimization in the account?
In 1999 or so, I saw a poster of an alleged ex-Satanist, a Nigerian, who was to share his testimony at a Christian crusade. His past credentials in the ad read: “Formerly married to the queen of river Niger; formerly third-in-command to Satan himself.” That’s a smoking gun.
When a person embellishes his testimony to present himself as a superman or super martyr, even if he claims to be doing it for Christ, it’s all about self.
Some of these people suffer from delusions of grandeur or paranoia and are unable to distinguish between their own fantasies and reality.
Like Doc Marquis who claims to be initiated into the Illuminati at the age of 4 and was made a high priest at 13 and by 17, he was controlling towns in Lawrence and Methuen in Salem and Massachusetts, without being famous.
So a teenager could have the skills and sophistication required to run a coven of adults and control towns without being detected by friends, teachers or parents? Quite impressive.
(5) Are there factual, realistic and reliable data supporting the major claims made in the story? Or do they contradict well-established facts?
In the book Unbroken Curses, Daniel Yoder claims he was sent to a Jewish Kabbala boarding school in Europe at the age of 6 where he was ritualistically abused.
The problem is that, the Ashkenazi Kabbala (the European Jewish tradition) is rarely, if ever, taught outside a strict setting and definitely not in a school. It’s never taught to anyone who is not first a seasoned Jewish Rabbi, 40 years of age, married, and has at least 4 children.
Christian legends may intrigue or entertain but they always contradict facts. Like I noted elsewhere, both Rebecca Brown and her husband, Daniel Yoder, live in their own la-la land of legends and lies and it’s from that detached world that they write.
(6) Watch out for phantom documentations and flagrant inconsistencies.
Phantom documentations are proofs that exist only in the abstract and usually blamed on a conspiracy. Like when someone says, “There are historical proofs for what I’m saying but you can’t find them anywhere because they have been erased from history books by the enemy.”
I used to read a church’s weekly bulletins but at a point, they lost me. After reading dozens of them and their books, I observed a disturbing pattern of the pastor presenting different versions of the same “testimony.” At times he would borrow a story from, say Derek Prince, but in his sermons he would lace it with his own imaginative details – all in a bid to be sensational.
(7) Does the content fits Biblical worldview or does it contradict what the Bible teaches?
There was one “evangelist” Funmi Adebayo who released some tapes years ago titled “990 years in the Kingdom of Darkness,” in which she claimed to have been reincarnated on earth for centuries.
The part that amused me was when she said she was a very beautiful Indian woman in her previous life, and then one day she met Jesus on the astral plane, who then “forced” her to accept him but didn’t remember to fix her raspy, masculine voice.
That a number of Nigerian Christians would open their minds to this woman’s ravings and some pastors would open their church doors to her reflects a shocking demise of Biblical discernment.
There are several fake pages on social media named after famous pastors where someone posts a fake story or a picture of dollars, luxury cars or some other markers of prosperity and then adds a message like: “Type ‘Amen’ and share/send it to 20 people within 30 minutes and you will receive this miracle in 72 hours time.”
When many Christian folks see such posts, their eyes water at the raffle draw and they promptly obey. But a Biblically trained mind can see through such hoaxes; a Christian who understands the Bible knows that God is not a heavenly slot machine, a wishing well or a cosmic lottery.
Our God is indeed a miracle-working God, but He is not amenable to rituals and formulas. Works of fiction may be good in conveying our ideas, but we must not be implicated in presenting them to others as factual truths.