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Book Reviewer Learns to Beware Spiritual Influences

While studying my way through a Ph.D program, I worked part time as the book review editor for a large website devoted to religion, spirituality, and morality. Beliefnet.com is multifaith. It has articles that would be of interest to evangelicals, Mormons, Reconstructionist Jews, Wiccans, Baha'is, Hindus, and just about everyone else on the planet.

I started this job with the naïve assumption that even though I'm a Christian, I could sally forth into this interfaith Web world unharmed. I'm capable of separating fact from fiction, truth from falsehood, I thought. I can do the interfaith thing and stick to my guns.

For the most part, I still think that's true—I think God does want me to participate in interfaith conversations, both because I can offer a little leaven to the loaf and because I have a few things about fidelity, charity, and devotion to learn from my devout Hindu and Jewish colleagues. But I have also learned that the spiritual world, even just a spiritual website, is a dangerous place.

For the better part of a year, I had been happily reading and reviewing books about all sorts of faith traditions: volumes of Rumi poetry, memoirs by Jack Spong and John Dominic Crossan, books with titles like Two Days to a More Spiritual You and If the Buddha Dated. One night at about 11, I was sitting at my desk reading a vegetarian Wiccan cookbook when I got it: I read and write about books because I think they are important. I believe the books we read form us, and as a lifelong bibliophile, I think especially that they form me. What am I doing? I thought frantically. I've been spending eight months forming my spiritual self on books about Gaia! I hit the floor. I had words with God. I left the office and didn't finish the cookbook review that night.

I don't think flipping through the occasional book about Gaia is going to lead me straight to hell. But I do think Screwtape gets cranky when he loses one to Christ, and that he uses whatever tools he's got to get her back, even innocent-looking, pop-spirituality books.

After my epiphany with the cookbook, I began praying for discernment before I went to work. I prayed to be surrounded by a battalion of angels. I prayed that Satan would be kept far behind me. I prayed before I opened a book, any book—even one published by a respectable evangelical publisher.

I prayed that God would make it clear if I was not supposed to read the book in question, and I prayed that if I was meant to read it, he would give me the right eyes with which to do it. If he told me not to read a book, I didn't read it; I found someone else to write the necessary review.

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