Scents and Nonsense

  Buying candles used to be a lot simpler. They had one basic purpose, lighting. And since there wasn't much at stake, it didn't matter which kind you bought. But that's all changed now, in this age in which people will believe in almost anything. A walk down the aisle of a grocery store, especially the upscale kind, will tell you that candles aren't about light anymore. They're about achieving tranquility and a sense of well-being. How? Through smell, of course. They come in scents like balsam, lavender, sandalwood, and jasmine, to name but a few. Practitioners of what's called "aromatherapy" maintain that each of these scents can produce a distinct emotional state. Aromatherapy has its roots in New Age practices. Enthusiasts call it a "complementary medicine." They tout it as a treatment for everything from impotence, insomnia, and infections to liver and heart disease and even cancer. Well, to put it mildly, scientists are skeptical of these claims. Researchers have concluded that that any benefits from the scents are a matter of wishful thinking. Well, apparently a lot of people are wishing these days. The growth of the market has prompted major cosmetic and houseware companies to jump onto the aromatherapy bandwagon. You've seen aromatherapy stores in supermarkets and airports. What keeps fads like this going is the increasing willingness of many Americans to believe almost anything, especially if it promises some of the benefits that are traditionally associated with religion. If it promises inner peace or a way to make sense of the world, then rest assured, it attracts followers. More than half of all Americans not only believe in astrology, they believe there's a scientific basis for it. A smaller but still substantial number say they believe in alien abductions and think there's really a lost continent of Atlantis. Others wear special bracelets that promise protection, healing powers, or wealth. The word that describes all this phony faith is "credulity," which means to give unreflective credence to claims that are dubious if not ridiculous. The credulity I'm talking about is unconcerned with the reasonableness of the claim, because it's not really concerned with truth. What credulous people are interested in are the personal benefits that are being promised. If one promise turns out to be empty, just move on to the next one. By contrast, biblical faith begins with the question "Is this true?" Christians aren't out simply to satisfy our desires but rather to see whether what's being claimed conforms to reality -- whether it accurately describes us and the context in which we live our lives. Stated another way, faith doesn't believe for belief's sake. It believes because it knows that some things are true and that it is our duty to know what they are, and to live accordingly. This belief in truth is why Christianity is seen as an oasis of reason in a desert of credulity and superstition. The distinction between true faith and "belief in anything" is something we must make clear to our neighbors. We must gently disabuse them of the idea that believing in scents or stars or crystals or UFOs is in any way comparable to faith in Christ. And they need to know that true faith is the difference between wishful thinking and the real thing.


Chuck Colson


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