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Tornadoes cut wide swath across nation's midsection (6/22/03)

Accountability partners provide human feedback that filters don't (6/15/03)

Checking out your horoscope? God advises you to skip it (6/8/03)

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Checking out your horoscope? God advises you to skip it

By John W. Kennedy (6/8/03)

As an impressionable teenager in the late 1960s, Lindi Johnson had an aunt who wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning until she consulted a daily horoscope from a monthly publication purchased from a supermarket’s magazine rack. Johnson, seeing the confidence her aunt placed in the forecasts, began reading from the periodical about the characteristics found in people born under her zodiac sign.

The ritual insidiously altered Johnson’s daily life. She began to stay away from people born under certain signs because the horoscope characterized those people as incompatible. A prediction regarding people born under her sign from one horoscope proclaimed they couldn’t finish projects they started. Sure enough, Johnson found herself unable to complete any sewing or crocheting projects she began.

When Johnson became a Christian at 16, she stopped reading horoscopes after learning of numerous biblical prohibitions against consultations predicting the future. But in her late 20s, one day at the break table at work, Johnson read her horoscope in a newspaper for laughs. That moment fascinated her and renewed an eager anticipation for daily advice dispensed from a horoscope magazine.

Astrology is a pseudoscience in which practitioners claim that stars and planets influence personalities and activities, with the position of celestial bodies at specific times purportedly foretelling a person’s future. Horoscopes are popular because so many people are searching for the right career move or the perfect romance.

Daily horoscopes — or other related products by clairvoyants, tarot card readers and palm readers — pervade American society. Since the end of World War II, hundreds of daily newspapers have carried them. Now entertainment-related magazines include them. They are on numerous Web sites, with “certified psychics” offering “personal service” 24 hours a day to those willing to shell out up to $4.99 a minute. “Psychic reader” commercials frequent late-night television. Disclaimers (“For entertainment purposes only”) protect “psychics” from facing liability when their predictions create problems for readers.

Researcher J. Gordon Melton, head of the Institute for the Study of American Religion in Santa Barbara, Calif., says as much as 20 percent of the population read horoscope columns in daily newspapers. A much smaller clientele, between 1 and 2 percent, seek personalized horoscope information. “There is a big gap between those who have adopted astrology as a language to use in a secular, pluralistic culture and those who seriously follow it as something that affects their lives,” says Melton, 60.

Nevertheless, a 2001 Gallup poll reported 28 percent of Americans believe astrology can affect people’s lives.

Randy Walls, 46, director of continuing education at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Mo., says those who give credence to horoscopes display a lack of allegiance to God.

“Divination ultimately is about trying to manipulate your own destiny and not placing trust in God,” says Walls. “Astrology essentially says I want to manipulate the results of my life for my best interests.”

“It can become a significant faith issue because it shows a lack of confidence in God,” says Los Angeles-based author Bill Myers, whose books include The Dark Side of the Supernatural.

Myers says Isaiah 47:13,14 likens stargazers to stubble that is burned. Christians shouldn’t be duped, Myers says, because it’s difficult to find two astrologers who give the same advice on the same day to the same group. “It’s really fortunetelling — turning to sources other than God for our hope, future and well-being,” says Myers, 49.

Most part-time astrologers are in the business for a quick buck. But a minority believe planet alignments carry supernatural meaning essential for harmonious daily living. Some religious groups, such as Wiccans, use astrology as a major faith component. The Church of Light in Los Angeles is a training ground for astrologers through correspondence courses.

Those who do take astrological stargazing seriously (not to be confused with the legitimate science and hobby of astronomy) often join a local astrological club, which are present in nearly all major metro regions, according to Melton. There are between 1,000 and 2,000 full-time astrologers in the nation, Melton estimates, with several thousand more doing it on the side as weekend and evening jobs.

Myers says horoscope readers risk losing their free will because they put their trust in astrologers. “People feel they are no longer responsible for their decisions. ‘It was in the stars,’ they say. ‘What else could I do?’ ”

The tenuous times in which Americans find themselves could lead to an increased interest in astrology, according to Myers, as non-Christians look to supernatural counterfeits as a way to fill a spiritual vacuum.

The proliferation of horoscope information has furthered a sense among many Americans that astrology is a harmless activity. Even some Christians glance at the daily forecasts, viewing the activity as innocent curiosity. They may even see it as an innocuous way of dabbling in fortunetelling without visiting a sorcerer.

“The Word of God should be more important than the sign of Leo,” Walls says.

Lindi Johnson put away horoscopes for good at age 30, when she believes God warned her of astrology’s ensnarement in a dream. In the dream she sank in mud up to her thighs at the bottom of a lake. Although she never reached the point of having an astrologer chart her future, Johnson, now 49 and a member of First Assembly of God in Bentonville, Ark., says reading the daily horoscope influenced her in subtle ways. “It was a chain that was binding me,” she says. Now free of astrology’s influence, she also has no problems finishing tasks. “Now if anybody asks me my sign, I say it’s the sign of the Cross.”

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