Question: I was told that the Church frowns upon tarot cards, palm reading, astrology readings, Ouija boards, etc., and that these are derivatives of Satanism. I think they can be OK or at least harmless. Is there a teaching on this?
— G. Reiss, Laverock, Pennsylvania
Answer: Most of the things you mention are not foremost “derivatives of Satanism,” but they can tend toward it. Fundamentally, they are sins against faith and violate the First Commandment wherein God forbids us (for our own sake) to “have any other gods beside me” (Ex 20:2-5).
Regarding such things, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to ‘unveil’ the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect and loving fear that we owe to God alone” (No. 2116).
So we are not to consult or partake of such things. While one might argue that reading a horoscope is just harmless fun, it is still imprudent to make light of things that edge toward darkness. To set aside our trust in God is to implicitly summon other forces, powers or demons to take God’s place. It is simply never a good idea to invoke the occult. Exorcists consistently warn against such practices and know by experience that most people who end up possessed have had some history of dabbling in occult practices. Such things open the door to demons and signal some form of permission for them to deepen their stronghold in the lives of those who invoke their powers.
The First Commandment is given us by God to protect us from entrusting ourselves to anything less than him. He alone can save us. Trusting in lesser things like wealth, power or, even worse, occult practices and demons, brings great harm along with sorrow and dissatisfaction. Only God can heal us and be a true source for our trust and hope.
Question: I find it helpful to envision God the Father as a wise old man with a beard. But does this detract from the honor due God?
— Robert Bonsignore, Brooklyn, New York
Answer: As pure spirit, God has no physical attributes. That said, Scripture does not hesitate to attribute physical attributes to him by way of analogy and metaphor. For example, “The Lord’s right hand is raised” (Ps 118:16) does not refer to a physical hand, but to God’s strength and justice.
God makes use of these descriptions for our sake, speaking in terms we can understand. In this light, it is permissible for us to imagine God in the humanlike terms you describe. He reveals himself as Father, and that evokes images for us.
The Catechism, acknowledging our need for images, also counsels: “In speaking about God like this, our language is using human modes of expression. ... We must recall that ‘between Creator and creature no similitude can be expressed without implying an even greater dissimilitude’; and that ‘concerning God, we cannot grasp what he is, but only what he is not’” (No. 43).
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archidocese fo Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed but anonymity may be requested.