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Science, Magick and Faith in Hollywood
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by Richard Abanes
Religions of the Stars (Minneapolis, Minnesota:  Bethany House, 2009.  223p.)

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Abanes provides a serious and helpful introduction and overview of the various religions, east and west, old and modern, that Hollywood personalities belong to.  He provides a good social setting for the rise of religious fervor among the Hollywood crowd, negating the common popular view that Hollywood and the entertainment are irreligious or antireligious.

Abanes covers the main religions found among the acting and entertainment community.  The most dominant by far is Scientology, and Abanes allots the largest portion of his book to this phenomenon that will strike most readers as science fiction.  the well- documented coverage of Scientology amounts to a low-key, reasoned exposé.  Readers will learn much detail and objective information about the other faiths of the stars.

Also covered are Mormonism, as well as Wicca and other neo-pagan religions, "Oprah's New Spirituality" mixing aspects of several religious concepts and practices with Christian associations, and Kabbala, especially the cultic variation developed by Philip Berg decried by orthodox Kabballists.

One more is covered in good stead.  In his discussion of Buddhism in California, Abanes, as expected, provides a good historical perspective on how Buddhism migrated into California in the 1800s with Chinese workers and immigrants.  He outlines the general sects now found in two broad categories.

Abanes provides clear information distinguishing the major varieties of Buddhism and explains difference in character between Asian and American attitudes and practices in modern western Buddhism.  One key difference is that Asians have an obvious ethnic tie to their form of Buddhism.  For westerners, it is more individualistic and less life-integrating.

He closes each section with a good comparison of the similarities and differences between the religion in focus and traditional or mainline Christianity, with the evangelical color he seems to favor.  I appreciated Abanes' even tone, even in describing areas he greatly disagreed with, as an evangelical Christian.  He attempts to fairly represent the faith in focus, but is not stinting in presenting what he finds negative or destructive.

His comparison with Christianity is generally enlightening and helpful, though he tends to the reductionist rationalism that plagues evangelical quarters with what is often termed fundamentalism.  He takes a scholarly approach, and he maintained a tone of reason and fairness.  In fact he expressly attempts to address common misconceptions and misunderstandings of these new religions of which the majority of Americans are ignorant.

Weak Magick
I found his last section, the conclusion of his discussion of Magick, to be the weakest.   Here he attempts to draw a concluding perspective of warning for Christians.  He expressed this tone of warning in his criticisms of the esoterism of the Kabbala movement.  But summarizing his opposition to occultism in Wicca and related "Magick" paganism, Abanes becomes even stronger in tone.

Abanes sounds a little high-strung here, at the end of his polemic against paganism.  He seems unaware that he himself speaks primarily out of a modern scientific perspective more than a traditional biblical perspective.  His defenses of God's opposition to Magick emphasize the point of view of modern empiricism and the preference to "facts" and information over personal religious experience.

Here he seems to confuse reasons why God is "so opposed to occult spirituality" with the modern commitments to scientific reductionism about empirical and materialistic knowledge.  He refers here to the "faulty information about the world, our lives, other people and the future" that is promulgated by Astrology and such.

Shifts to Science
So far so good, though this is a modern-culture (not traditional Christian) information-oriented focus.  But the problem is, he provides this as the first reason why GOD is opposed to occult spirituality.  This reason could conceivably be accepted as the polemic it is meant to be.  But he then goes on to cite as a support that "no scientific evidence exists to prove that magick works."

I actually agree with this, but wonder why he references scientific evidence as a reason why God is (or should be) opposed to occultism.  What does God care about the modern rationalist point of view?  (He projects the western scientific worldview on God.  God may not be opposed to it, but this viewpoint that arose only recently within western culture certainly is not the perspective we see in the biblical texts!)

Materialist Argument
Surely God has better perspectives than modern western materialistic "science" and its attendant rationalist reduction as a way of thinking!  Especially about morality and the meaning of life!  What he provides, on the other hand, are good solid rational reasons why a modern reflective person of the scientific, empirical mindset might rightly reject occultism.

But let's not confuse empirical reductionist concepts of truth with God's objective truth of the Absolute reality and Truth of the universe.  What Abanes provides here is a very helpful, positive corrective for willy-nilly acceptance of any new thing that comes along, and especially the me-oriented power manipulation approach of Magick and occultism.

Knowledge versus Truth
Abanes' language here, however, seems to counter the premise of faith in God, when he shifts gears to primarily use secular information- oriented concepts of Truth and knowledge.  He is likely unaware of the actual concrete-relational context of the biblical base that still today most cultures of the world feel comfortable with:  a focus on relational knowledge, reconciliation and covenant faithfulness.

Despite the weak ending, this book is a positive contribution to understanding some of the confusing mish-mash that is offered to troubled souls in our time.  Readers will learn a lot about the stars and about religions being practiced in the United States.  They will gain a more positive and fair assessment, also, of these misunderstood faiths.

See related reviews and articles on this site:
[review] Spirit World in Cultural Comparisons
[review] Sympathetic Insights towards Traditional Worldviews
[reviews] Umbanda, Spirits and Demons and Christianity
[review] Why Wicca is So Attractive
[reviews] Yoruba Religion in the Americas

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Draft review written 21 July 2010
Final review posted on Amazon and OJTR 30 July 2010
Last edited 28 February 2022

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2010, 2022 Orville Boyd Jenkins
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