“Christian” Hoaxes and Urban Legends (I)

The work of a Christian apologist centres on combating cultic doctrines, theological, philosophical and moral errors which enslave and prevent many from believing and living out the truth of the gospel.

Every Christian dedicated to truth has a moral responsibility and obligation to “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 10:5). Many people trapped in dangerous religious groups have been cruelly deceived and they need the truth. This is one of the reasons we must uphold the banner of truth in what we present to them.

There’s a biblical standard of honesty, faithfulness and credibility to which we are expected to adhere. We are to “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse [us] of doing wrong, they may see [our] good deeds and glorify God” (1 Pet. 2:12). We are to “put off falsehood and speak truthfully” to people who listen to us (Eph. 4:25).

Unfortunately, when one examines some books, write-ups, videos, stories and personal testimonies being widely circulated among contemporary Christians – ostensibly to present the gospel to unbelievers and convey an apocalyptic message – they are found to be no more than cheap hoaxes, urban legends and fantasies all dressed up to look “Christian.”

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

Hoax: to trick (someone) into believing or accepting as genuine something false and often preposterous.

Urban legend: an often lurid story or anecdote that is based on hearsay and widely circulated as true.

“Christian” hoaxes and legends may well function as barometer of collective anxiety. They may ignite people’s emotions and even serve as props for their faith (or lack of it), but these do not make them any less false. In fact, such tales are often tools of exploitation, manipulation, slander and spreading doctrinal errors.

The rapidity with which such unfounded stories and claims circulate (especially via social media) and the fervency with which they are believed are quite alarming. This is why critical thinking is a vital tool in evaluating materials. Here are some examples of such hoaxes and urban legends:

Christian woman buried for 15 days

This was a story of a Muslim man in Egypt who killed his wife (according to a version, because she was reading a Bible) and buried her along with their infant baby and 8 year old daughter. He reported to the police that an uncle killed the kids. But 15 days later, another family member died and when he was about to be buried, they found the little girls under the sand – alive!

The older girl when allegedly interviewed on Egyptian national TV, by a veiled Muslim woman news anchor, said: “A man wearing shiny white clothes, with bleeding wounds in his hands, came every day to feed us. He woke up my mom so she could nurse my sister.” Then the Muslim woman exclaimed, “This was none other than Jesus, because no one else does things like this!”

The anonymous writer ends it by reminding us how Jesus is still turning the world upside down and appeals to the reader to share the story. I first read this story in December 2004, in a magazine called Christian Alive. Actually, the story started making its rounds on the Internet in April of that year.

But there is no news report from Egypt about this tale. It contains no dates, no name of persons, city or institutions to corroborate it. Its origin has been traced to an anonymous e-mail received by a woman and her pastor husband in the U.S. It’s a hoax!

Nigerian baby born with a message

The story says an infant was born at a General Hospital in Kubwa, Abuja with her hands clasped together as though in prayer. The doctors eventually conducted an operation to separate the fold of skin joining her hands. When her hands were separated, the message written therein was “Jesus is Coming Back!” Then she died.

This is a recurring hoax, because I’ve been hearing this story since 1998 with variations in location, details and gender, yet not a shred of authenticity has been provided to support it. It’s understandable why the baby in the tale had to die. It makes for easy burial of hard evidence.

The Corpus Christi movie

This came from an alarmist message that has trended online.

I can’t believe it,” says its opening line, “There is a movie that is coming out saying Jesus and his disciples were gay! … Maybe we can do something! Please send this to ALL your friends to sign to stop the movie from coming out. Already certain areas in Europe have started to ban it from coming to their country and we can stop it too! We just need a lot of signatures and you can help! … Show your faith and respect for our Lord and Savior.”

I first came across this rant in a letter by a reader to a newspaper editor in 2004. In fact, the rumour about a “gay Jesus film” has been on since 1984 in the United States – stirring many Christians to spill much ink writing protest letters. The fact is there is no Corpus Christi movie!

In 1998, Terrence McNally did a promotional stage play by the name Corpus Christi. Though it played in some theatres, it was never released as a movie.

The vanishing hitchhiker

The story goes that a couple on their way home from a crusade gave a stranger a free ride. As they drove on, he declares: “Rapture would have taken place some minutes ago. I am an angel and I just came here to warn you” (another version: “Only 12 people in that crusade would have made heaven”) and when the couple turned to look at him, he had disappeared.

There are different versions of this Vanishing Hitchhiker legend: the American versions and Nigerian versions. The words of this angelic hitchhiker also seem to change each time the story is narrated, but no one knows (and will ever know) the identity of the couple to whom he appears.

Originally, this was an old legend about a stranger foretelling war, death and pestilence to some folks. Now, it has become a “sanctified” legend wielded on some pulpits. The story dates back to 1948 and be rest assured, it’s not going away any time soon.

They dug into Hell

This was a story about a team of geologists in Siberia who were drilling a hole in the ground, but they went too deep and ended up punching a hole through to hell.

Their drill began to rotate wildly and the geologists measured a temperature of 2000⁰C in the deep hole. So they lowered super sensitive microphones to the bottom of the well and they heard the sounds of thousands, perhaps millions of suffering souls screaming.

I read this story for the first time in year 2000 in a Christian bulletin about hell. It made a lasting impression on me. I now believe the intent of the “well to hell” tale (which is curiously similar to the pit to Purgatory tale in the medieval era) was to paint a scenario of atheistic scientists screaming from a digging site in terror when they found the proof of hell and mass conversion to Christianity taking place as a result.

Actually, the tale was an embellished account of a 1984 experiment in Russia’s Kola Peninsula (published in Scientific American). The Kola well reached 12km into the ground, where scientists encountered rare rock formations, flows of gas and water, and temperatures up to 180⁰C. There was neither a digging into hell nor screams recorded.

But somehow the story of “scientists digging to hell” in Russia aired on TBN and it reached Norway and from there gained a life of its own. There are even some websites with audio clips purportedly of screams of the damned. A friend in Lagos informed me that his pastor played this clip for them during a church service.

You may be wondering why some folks would resort to myth-making to convey a Christian message. The reason: there is power in storytelling. Stories have the abilities to shape minds and act as vehicles for ideas – whether true or false. Those knowingly spreading such urban legends believe they are justified since they have benign intents, but they are wrong.

People make up legends because they want the world in their own form rather than what is reality. This is the root of deception. Many Christians believe such hoaxes and legends without double checking to see whether there’s any validity to them mainly because they fit with their worldview.

Actually, there is nothing wrong in believing credible stories and testimonies, but just because a thing is possible doesn’t always mean it is true. Fiction should be termed fiction. Legends shouldn’t be called true stories and hoaxes shouldn’t be presented as reality.

Continue in part 2

Gehenna and “the Society’s” Dark Lenses

In 2015, the Watchtower Society published a simplified edition of What Does the Bible Really Teach? named What Can the Bible Teach Us? In one of its end notes on Gehenna, it says:

Gehenna is the name of a valley near Jerusalem where garbage was burned and destroyed. There is no evidence that in Jesus’ time animals or humans were tortured or burned alive in this valley. So Gehenna does not symbolize an invisible place where people who have died are tortured and burned forever. When Jesus spoke of those who are thrown into Gehenna, he was talking about complete destruction. – Matthew 5:22; 10:28. (Chap. 6, par. 5; Chap. 15; 1: 17)

JWs believe Gehenna is a figurative place where the wicked dead who won’t be resurrected back to paradise earth would go. This seems hard to sustain, that someone will be “in a place” and still be non-existent. This is pure nonsense. But to a JW it makes perfect sense.

According to Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Gehenna is the Greek translation of the Valley of Hinnom which was used as garbage dump for the city of Jerusalem. Refuse, waste materials, and dead animals were burned here. Fires continually smoldered, and smoke from its burning debris rose day and night. Hinnom thus became a graphic symbol of woe and judgement and of the place of eternal punishment called Hell.

There is no need for living animals or humans be thrown into a literal site for it to be used to symbolize hell fire. Jesus used a physical place the people were familiar with to give them an idea of what hell is like, particularly its unquenchable fire. There is no human expression or description that can accurately explain how terrible hell is.

The two Bible texts cited are:

Matthew 5:22 “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Matthew 10:28 “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Both verses refer to eternal judgement and are not “symbolic”. Now, there are different Greek words rendered as “hell” in the New Testament and the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament), but I will discuss only two which are germane to this topic: Gehenna and Hades.

Gehenna is a place of punishment, torment and destruction. It is associated with fire (Mt. 18:9, Mark 9:43; James 3:6) and from the verses cited by the Watchtower Society, it’s clear that those that will be there will have bodies. It is a place of eternal punishment after the general resurrection of the damned and their judgement at the Great White throne (John 5:28-29; Rev. 20:11-12).

From the way the lake of fire is described in Revelation (19:20; 20:10, 14, 15 etc.) it suggests it’s one and the same with Gehenna. This is different from Hades (hell), the current abode of the wicked after death (Luke 10:15).

Those that are currently in hell are disembodied so to speak, but in Gehenna they will be in their immortal bodies, and the punishment will be far, far worse than hell, because hell will be thrown into the lake of fire. So we can say hell – as terrible as it is – is like jail where the damned are held until the judgement, while the lake of fire/Gehenna is the prison – their final destination.

It should also be pointed out that it is in Gehenna that Satan, the antichrist and his demons will be tormented as well. The Bible calls it “the second death,” a death which is the final outcome of a life of sin and unbelief resulting in a place of torment (Rev. 21:8).

The Bible also used the term “destruction” to describe it. The Greek word here is apoleia which actively refers to utter destruction of vessels (as in Romans 9:22) and passively refers to perishing, ruin, loss of eternal life, eternal misery and perdition (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, Electronic Database, 2011).

The term “destruction” does not mean it ceases to be, but that it is so ruined that it no longer serve the use for which it was designed. The Greek word apoleia is also used in Luke 19:10, 2 Peter 3:7,16 and Philippians 3:19 and not once does it mean becoming non existent or annihilation. For example, old bottles are said to be destroyed in Matthew 9:17, yet no one would say they ceased to exist.

In Revelation 17: 8, 11, we read: “The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and yet will come up out of the Abyss and go to its destruction … The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction

The Bible later defines what it means by this destruction:

“But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur (Rev. 19:20)

“And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” (Rev. 20:10).

The Watchtower leaders have horribly deceived Jehovah’s Witnesses in the most crucial area they ought to be seriously concerned about: their eternal destination. This is a tragedy.

A “Teaching Office” or Broken Cisterns?

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“An unexamined faith is not worth believing.” This maxim rings true considering how many Catholics give a blind allegiance to the “infallible” and “indefectible” Church of Rome.

The institutional certainty of  Roman Catholicism boils down to a single code: “We are infallible and indefectible because we say so!” But such nostrums fly in the face of reality.

For one, almost every speech from Pope Francis elicits a litany of articles by Rome’s apologists who struggle to “clean up” the mess he creates. It’s like trying to dress up a monkey as a dove while its ugly face and hairy tail keep popping out. Like Merida’s efforts in Brave, to prevent others from seeing that the Queen had changed to a beast.

The Israelites were in a similar condition in Jeremiah’s time. Their prophets were mediums of Baal and the people had replaced God with idols. They had forsaken God, the Living Water and had dug for themselves “broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jer. 2:13).

They only had fig leaves to cover their spiritual nakedness. It appealed to the physical senses and human wisdom, but it was an empty religious system lacking divine approval and spiritual refreshment.

This aptly fits Roman Catholicism. Its theological landscape is a strange one – full of unexpected detours, inconsistencies and surprisingly contradictory backwaters. Let’s look at some examples:

1. The ecumenical and “infallible” Council of Florence decreed:

It firmly believes, professes and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart ‘into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels’ [Matt. 25:41], unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock … no one … even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church” (Denzinger, 714).

Yet, another “infallible” Council says the opposite:

Those who can attain to salvation [are those] who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God” (Vatican II, Sec. 16)

Then the Catholic Catechism says:

Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth is necessary for salvation...” (# 846).

But in his message on the feast of St. Cajetan, Pope Francis was asked “Do you need to convince the other to become Catholic?” He answered “No, no, no” (Catholic News, August 7, 2013).

But this view flies against that of Pope Pius XII who said:

For those who do not belong to the visible Church … none can be assured of eternal salvation” (Mistici Corporis, June, 29, 1943).

2. “Retired” Pope Benedict XVI said:

“Whoever seeks peace and the good of the community with a pure conscience, and keeps the desire for the transcendent, will be saved even if he lacks biblical faith” (November 30, 2005).

Pope Francis echoes this during this year’s Feast of Epiphany:

Many think differently, feel differently, seeking God or meeting God in different ways. In this crowd, in this range of religions, there is only once certainty that we have for all: we are all children of God” (Catholic News Agency, Jan. 7, 2016).

But six months later, Francis tweeted:

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Now, if everyone is God’s children, then no one really needs the Gospel.

Yet this same Francis appointed Shellen Huber, an atheist, to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and was chosen by him to present his encyclical on the environment in May 2015.

If we go by his tweets, we can infer that Francis is not following the Lord and doesn’t have His presence in his life.

3. Pope Eugene IV declared that “there is hope that very many from the abominable sect of Mahomet [Muhammad] will be converted to the Catholic faith” (Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, 1:479).

But the Catechism now says: “The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims...” (Sec. 841)

On May 14, 1999, Pope John Paul II bowed and kissed a Quran presented to him. He later said: “May Saint John the Baptist protect Islam” (Vatican News Mar. 21, 2000).

In contrast, Pope Benedict XVI in his Regensberg lecture quoted Byzantine Emperor Manuel Paleologus who said:

Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword of the faith he preached” (Faith, Reason and the University, Sept. 12, 2006).

This statement blew the turbans off the heads of several Muslim leaders in different countries. But that same month, Benedict XVI publicly received a Quran and said:

My personal view of the Qur’an for which I have the respect due to the holy book of a great religion.”

Since his installation, Francis has called for Islamic prayers and Quranic readings at the Vatican and has visited the Blue Mosque in Turkey to pray to the god of Islam.

The views of Catholics opposed to Islam notwithstanding, it’s no more an “abominable sect” to Rome.

4. The Catechism says:

The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death, the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire‘” (1035, 615).

But in 1998, Pope John Paul II says hell is figuratively “the complete frustration and emptiness of life without God … Rather than a physical place, hell is the state of those who freely and definitely separate themselves from God, the source of life and joy … [It is] a condition resulting from attitudes and actions which people adopt in this life … The thought of hell and even less the improper use of biblical images must not create anxiety or despair” (Vatican News, July 28).

The Catechism says:

Jesus often speaks of ‘Gehenna’ of ‘the unquenchable fire’ reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost” (1034, 612).

But the Vatican-approved La Civilta Cattolica quenched hell’s flames:

Hell exists, not as a place but as a state, a way of being of the person who suffers the pain of the deprivation of God” (Los Angeles Times July, 31, 1999).

5. The Catechism defines sin as “an offense against reason, truth and right conscience … It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as ‘an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law” (1849, 121).

But Pope Francis wrote in his biography:

I often say that the only glory we have, as Saint Paul says, is that of being sinners … That’s why, for me, sin is not a stain I need to clean” (Conversations, 2014, 120, 121).

When asked if he approves of homosexuality, Francis, like a good Jesuit, toe-dances the question:

Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of the person with love or reject and condemn this person? We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being” (The American Magazine, September 30, 2013).

6. The Catechism declares that Satan is real and “may cause grave injuries – of a spiritual nature and indirectly, even of a physical nature – to each man and to society” and is “permitted by divine providence which with strength and gentleness guides human and cosmic history” (No. 395).

But in his book, In the Beginning, Benedict XVI dismisses the existence of demons from which human may protect themselves from because eternal Reason underlies all of creation (1995, p. 9).

In 2006, he exhorted Catholics “to say ‘yes’ to Christ, who destroys the power of evil with the omnipotence of Love. We know that only hearts converted to Love which is God, can build a better future for all” (Immaculate Conception Anniversary).

Then in 2012, it was reported in the news that this same Benedict XVI “exorcised two men in the Vatican” – with what, sweet love?

Conversely, Francis his successor talks about demons so much that some Catholics are now having goose pimples.

7. Pope John Paul II told a large Hindu audience in India:

“Indeed, India’s greatest contribution to the world can be to offer it a spiritual vision of man. And the world does well to attend willingly to this ancient wisdom and in it to find enrichment for living” (L’Osservatore, Feb. 10, 1986).

But in his encyclical Dominus Iesus he says:

“The Church’s constant missionary proclamation is endangered today by relativistic theories which seek to justify religious pluralism, not only de factor but also de iure (or in principle). As a consequence, it is held that certain truths have been super-ceded … For this reason, the distinction between theological faith and belief in other religions, must be firmly held” (par. 4-5).

Now, Papa Francis says:

“I am respectful of all new spiritual proposals … Surviving the passage of time is the major test of spiritual purity” (On Heaven and Earth, p. 236).

Using this logic, witchcraft would also be “spiritually pure” since it has survived the passage of time.

Recounting his visit to a Buddhist temple in Columbo, Sri Lanka, in January 2015, the Vatican News reports Francis saying:

“In this temple there were relics of two disciples of the Buddha that for them are very important. These relics were in England and they managed to get them there, and they took them out so we could look at them.”

Try to imagine apostle Paul praising the “ancient wisdom” of Greek paganism “to find enrichment for living” or apostle Peter on a surprise visit to the Temple of Diana in Ephesus to view their special relics.

8. When Francis became pope in April 2013, he was praised by the Grand Masters of the Grand Orient Freemasonic Lodges of Italy and Argentina who had publicly supported his election. An interesting twist, considering how Masonry is publicly denounced by Rome.

In the picture, Francis gives what looks like a sign of the master of the second veil in Masonry. Indeed, some of Francis’ statements are in tune with Masonic/pagan beliefs.

In an address, he declared: “Muslims, Jews, Orthodox, Catholics and others. We are all brothers and sisters! We all adore the One God! Never ever let there be separation among you” (L’Osservatore, May, 22, 2015).

Similarly, his tweet on June 20, 2016 says: “We are all on a journey to the common house of heaven…” These are closer to Masonic beliefs. Not everyone is serving God or on the path to a “common heaven.”

In his speech at the United Nations, he said:

“[T]he Earth never forgives. Protect our sister Earth, our Mother Earth, so that she does not respond with destruction” (L’Osservatore, Nov. 28, 2014, 16). This is rooted in a Pagan/New Age concept of earth as a living goddess.

Catholics generally avoid questioning whatever Rome says. Even when compelling evidence are stacked against the Magisterium, they still put their trust in it. “The Catholic Church was founded by Jesus and He won’t allow it to fail,” they argue. This is self-deceit.

If the “living teaching office” that is supposed to safeguard you from heresies has become a purveyor of spiritual confusion and death, your reliance on it is misplaced. “God is not the author of confusion” (1Cor. 14:33). Discard the broken cisterns and place your faith solely in Jesus, the Living Fountain and follow His Word.