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Adult Coloring Books as New Age Evangelism?

mandala-1Adult coloring books are a thing. Some have even called it The Hottest Trend in Publishing.

Nine of the 20 books on Amazon’s current bestseller list contain few words and belong to a genre that didn’t exist two years ago. Welcome to the biggest publishing craze of the year: coloring books for adults.

More than 2,000 have hit stands since 2013 and the genre’s two biggest bestsellers, “Secret Garden” and “Enchanted Forest,” have sold a combined 13.5 million copies in 50 countries.

Apparently, the practice is viewed more as a way to relieve stress than anything.

Some liken coloring to yoga or meditation.

“It’s kind of a way of being creative without the stress of too much creativity. You’re not stressing yourself out as much as you would if you were to draw from scratch, but you’re still getting some of the relaxing qualities of creating,” says Peter Gray, professor of psychology at Boston College.

And herein lies the problem for many Christians.

In Adult Coloring Books and Mandalas, a Warning for Christians the author (someone named The Last Hiker) frames the adult coloring book craze as less of an innocuous stress reliever as it is a “door to demons” and “New Age evangelism.” The argument is laid out this way:

I have no problem with coloring books. I have kids. We color.

I do have problems with Mandalas though, which happen to be a part of most of these adult coloring books.

So, I just want to give a warning to my sweet Christian friends to stay away from mandalas and I will let you know why.

A mandala is that beautiful circle pattern that looks like it would be impossible to draw free hand. It is also a “spiritual and ritual symbol in Indian religions, representing the universe.  In common use, mandala has become a generic term for any diagram, chart or geometric pattern that represents the cosmos metaphysically or symbolically; a microcosm of the universe.” (Wikipedia).

It is a concentric energy circle.

A mandala is used in tantric Buddhism as an aid to meditation. They meditate on the image until they are saturated by it. They believe that you can merge with the deity by meditating on the mandala. “A mandala is also visualized (dhyana) by the yogin whose aim it is to merge with the deity.”

Focusing on mandalas is a spiritual practice where you merge with “deities”–this practice opens the door to demons.

According to this author, the mandala’s connection to Eastern religious thought and practice is not the only problem. Apparently, Carl Jung employed the symbols in psychotherapy. “Carl Jung brought the Eastern spiritual ritual of drawing mandalas to Western culture in a ‘scientific’ context.” Thus, this occult symbol has been covertly imported into Western culture under the guise of therapeutic healing. The author summarizes:

“No Christian would put one [a mandala] in their house and sit and stare at it for an hour, chanting the sacred word!

But if the enemy can get a Christian to stare at a mandala because they are coloring it, he can have them absentmindedly focus their attention on the image and they will unknowingly open up their subconscious to this image in almost the same way.”

The discussion of symbology is important for Christians. It’s not trivial or unimportant. I also would sympathize with the author’s concern that Eastern and New Age thought is uncritically being imported into Christian thought and practice. Sadly, however, many Christians tend to approach this discussion with a “touch not, taste not” ethos. In other words,

  1. They demonize THINGS and then
  2. Condemn the handling, adherence to, practice of those THINGS

This discussion treads upon two important issues for Christians — personal liberty and superstition.

Perhaps the most lengthy address in Scripture which broaches these involves “meat sacrificed to idols.” Some first century Christians were concerned that meat they purchased at the market may have been sacrificed to idols. Apparently, their fear was that they might somehow be corrupted by meat that had been sacrificed to such idols. Notice how the Apostle Paul tackles this:

So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. — I Cor. 8:4-7 NIV

First, Paul disarms the notion that the idols which may have been sacrificed to are any THING. “An idol is nothing at all in the world,” he writes. He even dismisses them as “so-called gods.” Now, we know that Paul believed that demonic powers were real (Eph. 6, for example). But here he seems unconcerned with any demon’s actual influence upon said meat. So here he addresses superstition — the belief that some THING (in this case meat sacrificed to idols) is actually tainted by its previous handler’s usage, ritual, and intent. Which he then follows up by discussing personal liberty, and being sensitive to the conscience of a weaker brother (I Cor. 8:7-13). In other words, while Paul believes meat sacrificed to idols is not inherently evil, he recognizes that it still might be an issue for the less mature and cautions those with personal liberty to exercise caution about how they partake of such meat.

This theme of superstition and personal liberty is taken up again in the Book of Romans. In that instance, Paul addressed the problematic issues of dietary laws and “holy days.” While some believed that abiding by the Old Testament’s dietary laws was more holy, others did not. While some still recognized sabbath laws and ceremonial celebrations, others viewed them as inconsequential. The apostle Paul’s argument was,

“One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind,” (Rom. 14:5) [and] “I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean” (Rom. 14:14).

It’s a similar two-pronged argument to the one used in Corinthians. First he addresses superstition — noTHING is inherently unclean and no day is inherently more sacred than another. We do not believe that objects and symbols contain inherent power for good or evil. Their “power” lies in the human association with them. Likewise, mandalas do not contain inherent power. Yes, some may use them as a tool for evil. But the symbol itself is not inherently “unclean.” (As a sidenote, the author of the above post has included several mandalas in their actual post. If these symbols are inherently evil or, at least, powerfully tempting, I find it odd for someone so concerned with the symbol’s evil to have included them.) So Paul brings the argument back to personal liberty saying that if someone views something as unclean, “then FOR THAT PERSON it is unclean.” To relate this to the mandala debate, Unless one is prepared argue that the actual patterns used to create the mandala can actually guide one’s subconscious mind to darkness, mandalas are not inherently evil. However, the person who is stumbled by them should definitely avoid them.

Articles like the one above follow a rather kneejerk response: Because they see the mandala as tainted by its origins and previous handlers, they seek to demonize the symbol for everyone and impose abstinence across the board.

Yes. There is a time to destroy occult artifacts. We find one such account in the Book of Acts:

A number of them who had been practicing sorcery brought their incantation books and burned them at a public bonfire. The value of the books was several million dollars. (Acts 19:19 NLT)

This is an important verse for a couple reasons. It clearly shows that repentance should involve an actual breaking from practices, habits, and rituals, that tie someone to an occult, sinful lifestyle. However, it does not suggest that “incantation books” contain inherent power. Their power lied in the sorcerer’s relation to them. Thus, burning the scrolls broke any physical connection between the two (and eliminated temptation to return to their previous practice). Which means in some cases, the Christian who has used mandalas to summon deities or channel psychic power should burn those symbols immediately. The person who has no similar relation to said symbols, and does not employ them for occult purposes, should feel free to color away.

So are adult coloring books a doorway to demons and a gateway to New Age religion? In some cases, perhaps. But for the most part, I think they fall into the category of wonderfully fancy designs for leisurely creative enjoyment.

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{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Steve February 29, 2016, 10:11 AM

    I hate when Christians make these foolish arguments against the latest boogieman du jour. Is your faith so small that you find coloring a pattern a threat? (Would it be safer if I wrote scripture verses on my crayons?) Our battle is with principalities and powers not the latest trends in adult coloring books. This is stupid.

    • AT May 15, 2016, 7:57 AM

      Assuming you are right and this is inconsequential, your attitude about it is certainly wrong.
      1 Corinthians 8King James Version (KJV)

      8 Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.

      2 And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.

      3 But if any man love God, the same is known of him.

      4 As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.

      5 For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)

      6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.

      7 Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.

      8 But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.

      9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak.

      10 For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols;

      11 And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?

      12 But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.

      13 Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.

  • Pam Halter February 29, 2016, 12:32 PM

    I read that blog post about the mandalas … I also read the post about Essential Oils and how mixing the oils are potions, which is witchcraft. I understand a little of where she’s coming from, but she’s projecting her calling on others. I think Christians need to ask for wisdom about stuff like this. And we shouldn’t freak out if others do things we haven’t been given leave to do, ie: the kind of books (fantasy? gasp!!) we read, or movies (rated R???) we watch, or if we choose to have a glass of wine with dinner.

    I remember a co-worker from years ago who used to see the devil in pretty much everything she came across. I finally got so sick of hearing her demonize things, one day I said, “I wish people would stop looking for the devil and look for God instead!” She stared at me a moment then said, “You know what? You’re right.”

  • imladrisnine February 29, 2016, 12:51 PM

    You hit the nail squarely on the head, Mike. The other thing I would add is that it is not what goes into that makes us unclean but what comes out of us. Our actions, thoughts and attitudes, what we *do* is what is sinful or righteous… not a geometric shape. This thinking gives power to things that hold absolutely no power whatsoever, which is *exactly* what the Hindus are doing with the image.

  • Carradee February 29, 2016, 2:22 PM

    I’m Christian and have been since childhood. The demonizing of things really is a problem—and it’s used to deny personal responsibility for choices and actions, which is another.

    The demonizing of things is also troubling, because what’s your measuring stick? It’s my personal experience that folks define things to support their personal bias rather than letting things be themselves and accepting that things can have different forms or different definitions depending on your point of reference.

    Socks can be made with cotton or wool or both, and the result will still be a sock—and the “best” sock will depend on the wearer. Wool makes me itch (and I do mean “wool”, not traces of hay that are often what folks actually react to in wool), so anything with wool can’t touch my skin, which means a sock with wool cannot be my sock, but that doesn’t keep it from objectively being a sock.

    I have been told I can’t possibly have the gift of celibacy because I’m attractive. I can’t possibly have a gift for discernment or teaching or anything in that family because I’m female (and unmarried and childless and without seminary training!). I can’t possibly have the gift of healing because… Um, suffice to say that I understand the “laying on of hands” thing better than I used to, because I’m still too unnerved to say more than that publicly.

    My definitions for those gifts are based on my own experience, particularly for the gift of healing, and I have further definitions built on observation. But many people would dismiss my definitions as illegitimate for not fitting their personal experience—because they don’t have (or wittingly know anyone who has) X defined that way, that can’t possibly be the case.

    Some folks are so careful to avoid idols that they create idols. Might adult coloring books be a problem for some folks? Duh. Anything can be a problem to a person. But that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily a problem for everyone.

  • Karen P. February 29, 2016, 3:10 PM

    Great article, Mike. As a former New Ager, I can attest to the creeping of occult symbols into Western culture. Someone can wear a crystal around their neck or hang a dreamcatcher and merely think they’re cool, trendy decorations. As you pointed out, it comes down to what we humans “empower” such things to do. I could tout till I’m blue in the face the reasons I think Christians shouldn’t read Harry Potter, but in the end, it’s due to my own weakness in that area because I lived that in real life. Most people haven’t, thanks be to God! They can enjoy the books and movies as fantasy, but for me it opens a dark door to my past. In the same vein, some Christians say that any form of martial art or yoga should be avoided because of the inherent “evil energies” being awoken, but for me it’s just enjoyable exercise. There is no temptation to make it into more that what it is. As for the rest, I trust the Holy Spirit to guide me and give me discernment. And that guardianship is tailor-made for me.

    As believers in Christ, while we should always be aware what message we are sending that might be misconstrued, this case is to the point of absurdity. What’s next? Banning Spirograph? Seriously.

    You know, I’m getting alittle sick and tired of this dismissive attitude. Yes, I understand we are in the world and not of the world, but why not embrace the opportunity to learn about it and use it as a starting point for a conversation with an unbeliever caught in the snare of false beliefs? With discernment of course. If we are sealed with Christ then what are we so afraid of?

  • Erica March 1, 2016, 11:41 AM

    Thanks for this post, Mike!

    I just bought an adult coloring book sometime last week. What drew me to the book was 1) customers at my job was buying them and 2) I was looking for another hobby besides just reading(I read all the time already), and 3) relaxation and nostalgia.

    If coloring is taking the stress out of this already stressed out world, then I give two thumbs up for it. Besides turning on the news and seeing violence or watching people argue all day long and discuss bills, I could be coloring and adding amazing brilliant glitter to the pages. And I have- and will showcase them on my Pinterest and Facebook pages.

    I say all this to remind us that whatever is noble and good, let us focus on that(Phil. 4:8). I am a Believer in the Lord Jesus Christ as well, but for some Christians, this “fad” seems more about the mandalas. Ok, so don’t color the mandalas then if you feel you are giving it power.

  • Iola March 1, 2016, 8:26 PM

    There are some colouring books from Christian illustrators, featuring Bible verses etc. If it bothers people.

    Personally, the mandalas appeal to me because of the patterns. I like patterns. There are a lot of patterns in nature, so maybe God likes patterns too. And I loved Spirograph as a child – although I never thought of colouring in those patterns.

  • Michael Dahl March 2, 2016, 12:03 PM

    Very refreshing. I started reading knowing this was to be another, “the Devil is out to get you again, ’cause the Devil is more cunning than us” post. Too often our belief systems are filled with ideas held by scared children who grew into scared adults.

    Once again, I really enjoyed your post!

  • D.M.Dutcher March 3, 2016, 9:47 AM

    I had a lady at work recently who was convinced that you dont put apps on your phone because they email your payment info to China. I would have explained to her that no, they don’t do that as long as you don’t jailbreak your phone and download really sketchy apps from third party app stores. App stores generally are good at curating their apps to avoid that

    Now? You’re just stupid. I won’t tell you that to your face, but yeah, you’re dumb.

    Same with these Christians. I’m tired of explaining. People like that blogger are just dumb, and have dumb ideas about how the devil can get you all the time if you just look at stuff. Christian pop culture is dominated by dumb, and they want it that way. I give up.

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