A friend of mine ate dog food one evening. No, he wasn't at a fraternity initiation or a hobo party . . . he was actually at an elegant student reception in a physician's home near Miami. The dog food was served on delicate little crackers with a wedge of imported cheese, bacon chips, an olive, and a sliver of pimiento on top. That's right, friends and neighbors, it was hors d'oeuvres a la Alpo.
The hostess is a first-class nut! You gotta know her to appreciate the story. She had just graduated from a gourmet cooking course, and so she decided it was time to put her skill to the ultimate test. Did she ever! After doctoring up those miserable morsels and putting them on a couple of silver trays, with a sly grin she watched them disappear. One guy (my friend) couldn't get enough. He kept coming back for more. I don't recall how they broke the news to him . . . but when he found out the truth, he probably barked and bit her on the leg! He certainly must have gagged a little.
Ever since hearing that story—it is actually the truth—I've thought about how perfectly it illustrates something that transpires daily in another realm. I'm referring to religious fakes . . . professional charlatans . . . frauds . . . counterfeit Christians who market their wares on shiny platters decorated with tasty persuasion and impressive appearance. Being masters of deceit, they serve up delectable dishes camouflaged by logical-sounding phrases.
Hey, that's smart! If you want to make a counterfeit dollar bill, you don't use yellow construction paper, cut it in the shape of a triangle, put the Lone Ranger's picture in the center, and stamp "3" on each corner. That deceives nobody. Deception comes in convincing fashion, wearing the garb of authenticity, supported by the credentials of intelligence, popularity, and even a touch of class. By the millions, gullible gluttons are duped into swallowing lies, thinking all the while they are digesting the truth. In reality they are underscoring the well-worn words of Phineas Taylor Barnum: "There's a sucker born every minute."
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. (2 Corinthians 11:13–15)
A glance at the silver platter and everything looks delicious: "apostles of Christ . . . angels of light . . . servants of righteousness." Through the genius of disguise, they not only look good, they feel good, they smell good! The media serves them under your nose.
Testimonies abound! Listen to some:
"This is new . . . it has changed my life!"
Others say, "I did what he said . . . and now God speaks to me directly. I see visions. I can feel God."
Over two million freely shout, "Eternity is now . . . materialism is godly. Getting rich is a sign of spirituality."
A larger band of followers claim, "We own nothing. Everything goes to the guru."
You find them everywhere. On street corners with little magazines, looking ever so dedicated to God. Staring up at the stars, discovering the future. Sitting in small groups on hillsides, eating canary mix, refusing to shave or bathe lest they interrupt their "communion with God." The platter is filled with variety! You find some attending religious pep rallies led by flamboyant cheerleaders in $800 orange suits and diamond-studded shoes. On the opposite extreme are mystical dreamers who prefer seclusion as they squat in silence.
They may have a "new" look—feel and taste like the real thing—but they are not. As Screwtape once quoted to Wormwood their father's couplet:
Old error in new dress is ever error nonetheless.1
Which is another way of saying, "Dog food is dog food, no matter how you decorate it." Or, as Paul put it so pointedly, "They are false . . . deceitful . . . disguising themselves as apostles of Christ." They may not look like it, but they are as phony as a yellow three-dollar-bill.
Unfortunately, as long as there are hands to pick from the platter, there will be good-looking, sweet-smelling tidbits available. But some day, some dreadful day, the final Judge will determine and declare the truth from error. There will be a lot of gagging and choking . . . and it will no longer taste good.
Nothing tastes good in hell.
Walter Martin, Screwtape Writes Again (Santa Ana, Calif.; Vision House Publishers, 1975), 16.