By Tom M. Roberts
(During the first week of November, 1979, the Crescent Park church in Odessa, Texas, conducted their annual lectureship. On this occasion, the theme chosen was “Cultism.” Consideration was given to the various cults in the world and, in some instances, their influence in the church of our Lord. The subject of study assigned to me was “Astrology” and while there is a distinction to be made between “cults” and “the occult” (of which astrology is a part), there is enough similarity to justify an inclusion of astrology in such a study. A note of gratitude should be given to brethren of various churches (Crescent Park and other places) who plan and conduct efforts such as this lectureship which permit concentrated study of different topical and timely subjects. Enough requests were received by different ones for this material that it suggested the merit of putting it into print for general consumption.)
Astrology: Cult of the Occult
Some clarification is needed lest we improperly lump astrology with cults in general without a necessary distinction being made. It is readily seen that there is a similarity between cults and sects. The Jews of the first century considered the New Testament church a sect or, by modern definition, a cult. A cult is “a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also a minority religious group holding beliefs regarded as unorthodox or spurious” (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary). In this definition, emphasis must be placed upon the “orthodox or spurious” as regarding the mainline denominations from which most cults arise. Cultism is a religious difference accepted by theologians to distinguish between the major denominations and the “fringe groups” which spring from them. Anthony Hoekema (The Four Major Cults) says that “the cults are the unpaid bills of the church.” By this statement, he implies that a cult comes into existence because some within a denomination feel that there is something lacking in that fellowship. For example, the modern emphasis by many cults upon charismatic ecstasy is a reaction by them to the absence of such in the cold, formalistic churches from which they come. Since the main-line denomination of which they have been a part refuses to embrace the charismatic movement, a “fringe group” (cult) establishes a minority faction outside that church in which they emphasize this aspect of their belief. Notable cults of today which emphasize different things in their escape from a particular denomination include: Worldwide church of God (the Armstrongs) with their own brand of premillennialism; Seventh Day Adventists who elevate the Sabbath to a position denied by most denominations; Latter Day Saints who form a cult around the writings of Joseph Smith (denied as valid by other religious groups) and many others. Cults have proliferated so rapidly in this century in America alone that it is difficult, if not impossible, to adequately define all things which compose a cult. There are many aspects of cultism not considered in this definition, but this will suffice to make our comparison between them and “the occult.”
Above and beyond the realm of the main-line denominations and “fringe groups” that spin off from them, occultism includes an element completely distinct in that it composes the “outer fringe” that delves into the magical, mystical arts of divination, black magic, etc. A line has been crossed from spiritual considerations to those of mysticism. Any session that proposes to study cultism and includes astrology should make this distinction. Otherwise we fail to appreciate a vital difference.
The occult is “of, pertaining to, or designating those mystic arts involving magic, divination, astrology, alchemy, or the like. . .” (Funk and Wagnalls). “Beyond the range of ordinary knowledge; mysterious, secret; disclosed only to the initiated” (Random House Dictionary of English Usage, p. 996). “Belief in hidden and mysterious powers and the possibility of subjecting them to control. In occult terminology it is described as the science of perfected living, which explains the brotherhood of sentient (sense perception, tr) beings and the triumph of natural laws over human mismanagement” (Encyclopedia of Astrology, Nicholas Devore). “Occult science” is, according to Random House Dictionary, “of or pertaining to magic, astrology or other alleged sciences claiming use of knowledge of secret, mysterious or supernatural agencies.”
Thus, it can be clearly seen that “cultism” has a more restricted sense than we need to include in a study of “the occult.” With occultism, we have passed from a study of sectarianism into another, far broader realm. This “outer realm” includes such matters as para-psychology, ouija boards, seances, spiritualists, clairvoyants, witchcraft, demonology, reincarnation, Satanism, palmistry, numerology, Tarot cards, Scientology and Dianetics, Rosicrucians, and much more (to say nothing of the old crystal ball). Astrology falls directly into the category of these latter subjects since it has one thing in common with them all: a claim to be able to “divine” the future. “The desire to penetrate the future and influence its events has shown itself in all lands and ages” (ISBE, “Astrology,” p. 296). “But it is clear that a knowledge of the future does not lie within the scope of man’s natural powers; `divination’ therefore has always been an attempt to gain the help of beings possessing knowledge and power transcending those of men. The answer of the Chaldeans to King Nebuchadnezzar when he demanded that they should tell his dream was a reasonable one: `There is not a man born upon the earth that can show the king’s matter: there is no other that can show it before the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh’ (Dan. 2:10, 11). `Divination,’ therefore, in all its forms is but an aspect of polytheism” (ibid).
With these definitions before us, we conclude that astrology may be considered a cult, not of the main-line denominations to be sure, but a cult (sect) of the occult. After extensive reading of material in preparation for the lectures and, in describing my assessment of astrology, I feel somewhat like Robert Turner who suggested that he was teaching a class in “psycho-ceramics” – cracked pots! A true believer in astrology must become something of a “lunar-tic” to seriously accept all the claims and abilities it proposes.
Astrology also Distinct from Astronomy
While we are on definitions we should emphasize that one should not be led into false respect for astrology by the claims that astrology is the father of astronomy. Astronomy is a branch of true science (“the science that treats of the heavenly bodies, their motions, magnitudes, distances and physical constitution,” Funk & Wagnalls, p. 90). Astrology is a form of divination of foretelling the future, filled with superstition and unprovable assertions and assumptions. Yet we read, “The history of astronomy is really only the history of astrology from a slightly different viewpoint” (History of Astrology, Zolar, preface, p. vii). One might as well say that the history of the New Testament church is just the history of Roman Catholicism, but “from a slightly different viewpoint.” Astrologists are never over-endowed with humility and do not hesitate to make such unwarranted claims. In reading such statements, one is reminded of the flea that rode an elephant’s back across a swinging bridge and, on reaching the other side, remarked, “We really shook that bridge, didn’t wel” Astrologists would like to achieve a measure of respectability by riding on the prestige properly extended to astronomers. This should be clearly exposed as presumptuous and false.
Man has been interested in the heavens and the movement of the heavenly bodies since recorded history, but man has not always connected such a study of the planets (astronomy) to foretelling the future (astrology). In fact, until men gave up the knowledge of God (Romans 1:18-21) and their hearts were darkened, God’s revelation of Himself took care of questions about the future. Paul asserts (and history will bear him out) that man “became vain in his reasonings,” “changed the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man,” and failed to realize that the knowledge of “the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made.” The everlasting power and divinity of God may be comprehended by the existence of the planets. David said the “heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps. 19:1) and that the “heavens praise him” (Ps. 148). But this should never be construed to be the same as the pantheistic view of astrology that the planets are embued intrinsically with a life-force of their own which exerts an influence on the destiny of men born under a certain configuration of these planets. The existence of the universe may well be “Exhibit A” in the evidence that there is a God who created all things and science may well be interested in the motions and magnitudes of these heavenly bodies as a science, whether they believe in God or not. But it does not follow that “Exhibit A” can be allowed into evidence to sustain another proposition, i.e., that one may tell the future by watching the planets.
One may readily agree that astrology is an ancient practice. Josephus claimed to trace astrology to Seth and claimed to have visited two famous pillars reported to have survived the flood on which the rules of astrology were engraved (History of Astrology, Zolar, p. 110). Some claim Enoch was the founder (ibid., p. 106). The “Book of Enoch” was an early work that fantasized about the historical Enoch and, without basis in fact, attributed to him much superstition about stars, angels, inter-marriage between angels and women and (through their off-spring) access to knowledge of magic and the occult. With such speculation as a foundation for astrology, it is difficult to pinpoint an exact beginning for it. Perhaps it is parallel to pinpointing the origin of the Roman Catholic Church. While one may identify an attitude that existed (with Diotrephes, 3 John 9) that “loved to have the preeminence” which ultimately resulted in the hierarchy system, one cannot point to an actual date or individual who can be said to have originated Roman Catholicism. Likewise, while one may identify an attitude which turned from the knowledge of God to superstition and polytheism (Romans 1); it is impossible to identify any one individual as the originator of astrology. “Man has always wanted to know and understand the world about him. That world affected him in many ways and invariably left strong, emotional, and indelible imprints on his mind – some because they determined his fate or well-being, such as fire, flood, defeat, crop failure, disease, or misfortune; others because they impressed him and he believed they were vital to his life and welfare, as for example, comets, eclipses, or planetary conjunctions. All these aspects of Nature he set out to observe and study and to devise theories for the coordination and interpretation of the date” (ibid.). Surely, none may forbid a natural and innocent interest in the universe and its physical influence on our existence. But when one makes that fatal step from a scientific consideration of influence to one which concludes that nature is pantheistically independent of God and that Nature (note the capital “N” and what it signifies) so rules as to influence the destiny of men, one has passed from the astronomy into astrology, from observation to occultism, from science to superstition. Let us not be so naive as to fail to note that difference and reject the attempt by astrologists to blur the distinction.
Guardian of Truth XXV: 2, pp. 23-24
January 8, 1981