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Astrology and Christianity: an exchange of views

David Bell:

There are many things I love about the Bible. One facet that is little appreciated is Biblical astrology. Not surprisingly I have found that this particular subject can infuriate a lot of people, including both scientists and Biblical conservatives, a surprising alliance.

The conservative view is very strong. It utterly condemns astrology. Advocates usually have a Scriptural base for so doing. They quote Deuteronomy, Isaiah and Daniel, with scathing verses about astrologers.

The difficulty is that elsewhere in the Bible there are a lot more verses which seem to imply an acceptance of astrology. Such places include more verses in Daniel, not to mention Genesis, Job, Matthew, Luke, Acts and Revelation. Job at 38:31 is quite magnificent. He says,

Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades,
or loose the cords of Orion?
Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season,
or can you guide the Bear with its children?
Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?
Can you establish their rule on the earth?

That word Mazzaroth is most interesting. It means the zodiac. That is, the constellations or star signs by which horoscopes are cast. Horoscope itself means the scope or outline of your fate from the hour you were born.

The zodiac was known across the ancient world. It was science at its best. It combined very precise measurements of the sun, moon, wandering stars (later known as planets) and the fixed stars, along with some chillingly accurate understanding of psychic phenomena.

Of course scientists today dismiss astrology as nonsense. They think of it as a horror-scape! The idea that the stars in the zodiac could possibly exert any influence over human life and destiny is wildly improbable, even impossible, to the astronomical mind.

In fact, it is a mystery to most scientists and conservative Christians why astrology increases in popularity. Astrology persists, while both modern science and the church are treated with huge and ever-increasing suspicion. The Bible itself tells me why this is so.

Ancient astrology imparted meaning to human knowledge. It addressed the soul. The new sciences, however, only impart knowledge. It is knowledge without wisdom, which is most unsatisfactory.

It is no mere coincidence that as our science and technology have achieved dizzying almost magical heights, the most affluent societies have never been more violent, selfish, unhappy and directionless. The alleged neutrality of scientific knowledge is a myth. Knowledge which does not live within the dimensions of ethics and wisdom is flawed.

The stories of how science has ruthlessly suppressed scientists who fail to toe the party line of knowledge makes a far greater horror story than Galileo’s persecution by the Roman Catholic Church. No more so than the Gauquelins, French scientists, who in the 1950s set out to disprove astrology only to come up with the most astonishing reverse results. These results have withstood the most intense scrutiny over some 40 years but still the scientific establishment will not admit it has made a serious mistake. I should add the Gauquelins astrology does not fit into the ancient schemata, for their relevance lies in an altogether different direction.

The power of astrology is not to tell your fortune, but to constellate forces in the soul. Long after current science has become quaint theory, Biblical astrology will be pointing a royal path to wisdom. That is why in many medieval cathedrals you will find the Gospel in the Mazzaroth. It is seen through the shivelight of stained glass in sacred space. In Melissa Martyn’s image of an Aquarian-Christ for Pasifika, I find the same psychic energies unleashed for a new age combining knowledge and wisdom.

Peter Williamson replies:

David Bell suggests that astrology is something that infuriates the Biblical conservative and scientist alike, and sets out to show why astrology may have some meaning to be mined today. Of course the art of astrology talks to the spiritual hunger of humanity – but it talks in an Enya-like under-voice, giving a diet of yellow-arched fast food to satiate the real hunger of trying to make sense of the world we live in.

We all know – surely – that the daily news and Women’s Day supplements of ‘you shall meet a tall dark stranger with pots of money’ is a 12-minute scramble on the typewriter keys by a cynical journalist – or worse, by a deluded charlatan.

Even the scientists agree – the Guaquelins only just excepted. All their scientific essays disproved that astrology had even the faintest effect. With one exception, and there are always statistical exceptions it seems. The so-called Mars effect – that astrology could predict sports heroes by the location of the planet Mars – seemed to prove that the celestial orbs actually did affect us. Astrology could show who would be the stars – and at last, I had a perfectly valid reason for my tendency towards couch potato rather than All Black!

Except that Michel Guaquelin botched his sampling. When it was done again (the results published by C. Benski et al in 1993), no such Mars effect was found to predict elite athletes. The controversy goes on, however, because we want to believe. We want to believe, because we want to find meaning in our world and we want that meaning to be found with the minimum of effort, even if it means having a tame astrologer.

I may neither agree with the Biblical literalists for their condemning of astrology, because of a few proof-texts which go either way, nor agree with the scientists for that same condemnation, because there is no proof of any effect. But I surely disagree with astrology as a way towards spiritual enlightenment and the right way to live, if it is merely to replace a Biblical proof text, with an astrological one.

Neither is sufficient, unless one engages with other people in the struggle to make sense of life in all its fullness. And that’s where the one-dimensional nature of astrology is revealed. It provides the whole way and the only one way.

Our faith to follow the Way of Christ is much more complex and relational and that way of being, for me, necessarily includes both the resurrected Saviour of both Bible and today, and the Holy Spirit-filled way of relating to the world and its people. Thus far, that Way does not heed the call of a pseudo-scientific oracle of the stars.