Philip, an evangelist in the earliest times of the church of Christ, went to Samaria to preach Jesus (Acts 8:5). It so happened that there was a popular religion already firmly entrenched among the population there. We might call it “Simonism,” and Acts 8:9-11 describes it: “There was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, ‘This man is the power of God that is called Great.’ And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic.”
Let us emphasize that this was a false religion. False religion continues to be a weapon in Satan’s hands until today. Why is it so effective for him? Let’s use the Samaritans’ attitudes to note some reasons that people today also continue to believe in false religious ideas.
Bad Reason to Believe #1: Bold Claims
Simon insisted “that he himself was somebody great.” Today, we can easily be deceived by a false message just because somebody makes a bold claim with great conviction.
Bad Reason to Believe #2: Universal Acceptance
We have a strong instinct to conform to the majority. The Samaritans felt this: “they all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest.” However, the majority can be wrong –and often are. What is popular in a given place or generation has no value in defining truth.
Bad Reason to Believe #3: The Great Among Us Believe It
The fact that the “greatest” among the Samaritans believed in Simon as “the power of God that is called Great” must have been quite convincing to the “least” among them. Never more than today has society exalted human knowledge, so that we assume as truth whatever university professors, scientists, civil leaders, celebrities, etc. proclaim. It seems evident to me that these “great ones” among us are generally carrying us far from God’s truth in our generation!
Bad Reason to Believe #4: Tradition
“They paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic,” verse 11 tells us. Many today also persist in their false religion simply because they have been in it for many years, or because their parents, their grandparents, their great-grandparents, and for however much longer their family practiced it. The tradition may be firmly ensconced in their culture. God calls us to break with tradition if it is wrong.
Bad Reason to Believe #5: Amazing “Experiences”
Simon amazed the citizens of Samaria, indeed. But his works were tricks! Likewise, today people are moved by charlatans manipulating their emotions. At the worst, tricksters practice similar magic to what Simon did, or promote “miracles” that in reality bear no resemblance to the miracles recorded in Scripture. We might even place in this category organizations and messages that play to emotions instead of preaching truth, or people’s personal “experiences” –visions, dreams, signs– that are so convincing to them, and yet are subject to their own interpretation.
Let us reflect carefully and honestly what our reasons are for continuing in our religious beliefs. The only acceptable motivation is a sincere search for truth!