Nobody likes to be viewed as out of step, uncool. So we tend to latch on to whatever is deemed trendy, even if it’s a tad vulgar (like words that Webster’s tags as “coarse”) or disrespectful of God (like “OMG”) or glamorizing something spiritually dangerous. In that last category…
A TV ad for the Popeye’s fast-food chain promoted a new menu item: Voodoo Tenders. I get it—the temptation to use that edgy concept to tie with the New Orleans vibe. And after all, it DID get this viewer’s attention!
A TV commercial for Papa John’s fold-over entree (the Papadia) says, “I bet you’ve never seen a sandwich do yoga before!” And near the end you hear the Hindu “om,” which is probably supposed to remind us of “yum.”
We can’t help what’s out there—people are free to create whatever kind of names/ads they want. But shouldn’t we be aware of the actual meanings behind certain spiritual terms so that we don’t casually adopt those ourselves? Consider these:
KARMA. Kashi brand cereal has a Dark Cocoa Karma offering. But karma is more than “do good and good comes back.” The doctrine of karma is that anything bad happening to you is your fault—payback for bad that you did in any number of previous lives. You can’t know what you did, how much it’s gonna cost you, when you might be paid up… Total opposite of grace. Knowing that, it’s hard for me to toss the term around. And I sure don’t want karma for breakfast.
MANTRA. A minister does a sermon series on “The Church’s Mantras.” In fairness, one definition of the word mantra is “watchword.” (Years ago, humorist Erma Bombeck said her mantra was then Hollywood heartthrob’s name: “Paul Newman, Paul Newman, Paul Newman…” Ha!) But the main definition is “a word/phrase repeated continuously in Eastern religious meditation.” Though the sermon series isn’t about that, I’d hesitate to use that word since actual mantra meditation is occult and I wouldn’t want to add my voices to those already promoting that among Christian circles.
NAMASTE. Very technically, that Hindu greeting means “I bow to the divine (or the god) in you” or “The god in me bows to the god in you.” I’m sure that in countries in which this word is the common language for “hello,” each person is not consciously thinking of that full meaning. (No more than someone in America is thinking of the origin of the “hello” they’re saying.) So if I lived in such a country, I might have to give in and use that greeting. But here in the States now, you’ll even hear a Christian friend in the church hallway greet someone with “Namaste!” Is that really a trend we want to get on board with?
NIRVANA. A free bottle of water at my hotel was labeled “Nirvana.” That word comes from the Sanskrit, meaning “extinction,” “disappearance.” In the Eastern religions, you as an individual will no longer exist (if you manage to reach enlightenment), as you merge into everything, like a drop in the ocean. Nirvana ain’t Heaven. That bottle of water wasn’t very appealing.
OM (AUM). One definition: “Hindus believe that the essence of the Vedas (ancient Indian scriptures) is enshrined in the word Aum.” Another source says, “It is sometimes chanted as three sounds, a-u-m, symbolic of the three major Hindu deities: Brahma Shakti (creation), Vishnu Shakti (preservation) and Shiva Shakti (liberation, and/or destruction).” But we jokingly say it to signify that we’re trying to relax, or that it brings relaxation. I’ve written more about this here.
ZEN. It’s a sect of Buddhism that emphasizes reaching enlightenment through meditation. One definition of the Zen practice: “It is a state of mind where the mind is not fixed on or occupied by any thought or emotion and is thus connected to the Cosmos.” The Bible does not teach that the way to contact the Lord is to eliminate all thoughts and emotions. But the Christian contemplative prayer promoters teach just that. That partly contributes to the use of the word Zen in a trendy way. It has become common slang to mean just feeling peaceful or relaxed or spiritual.
Back to the Voodoo Tenders. Oddly, around the same time I first saw that TV ad, there was a news spot about an unrelated event in New Orleans. The camera zoomed in on a sign that pictured a cartoony Satan who was saying, “God’s busy. Can I help you?” When I see us being snookered into normalizing and trivializing things from the enemy’s arsenal, I can almost hear him chuckle at how easily he’s manipulating us. Not cool.