Feature Interview: Richard Abanes
By Donald James Parker
Richard, who was known as Richie Abanes during his days as a professional singer, dancer, and actor, is an American writer. He is an award-winning author/journalist specializing in the area of cults, the occult, world religions, pop culture, and the entertainment industry. Since 1994 he has authored/co-authored nineteen books (as of 2008) covering a broad range of topics. He also has written for most major Christian magazines including: Christianity Today, New Man Magazine, Christian Retailing, CBA Marketplace, Charisma and Christian Life, Moody Magazine, and the Christian Research Journal.
In 1997, Abanes won the Evangelical Press Association's "Higher Goals In Christian Journalism Award" for his article on various non-Christian faiths that appeared in Moody Magazine. Also in 1997, he was awarded "The Myers Center Award for the Study of Human Rights in North America" for his "outstanding work on intolerance in North America" (for his book American Militias: Rebellion, Racism, and Religion). His bestselling books, according to Christian Bookseller's Association listings, include Harry Potter and the Bible and The Truth Behind the DaVinci Code.
As an experienced lecturer on many religious topics, he has been a guest speaker at various events across America including those hosted by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Cal-Tech University/Skeptic Society, Mensa, California Baptist University, Biola University, and numerous churches. As a widely recognized authority on cults/religion, pop culture, music, and the entertainment industry, Abanes also has been interviewed on hundreds of radio/TV programs including California's KCAL News 9, Extra!, MSNBC, CNN, Hard Copy, The 700 Club, Fox-News (San Diego), The Bible Answer Man, and BBC Network.
TCP: You have been involved in so many varied types of activity such as acting, singing, journalism, and authoring books. Most people would love to succeed in one venue. How did you manage to get involved and succeed in all of these areas?
Richard: I have no idea. LOL. And I really mean that. God has led me down some twisty paths, and usually without me having any idea where I was going (although at times I thought I did). It's been an interesting ride, but in many ways a rough one, too. I love control, but as I get older I am seeing more clearly every day that I actually have no control whatsoever over anything. It's all God. He's the one in control.
I suppose from a personal standpoint, God has created me to be the kind of person that I am—i.e., I enjoy new projects, I like a challenge, I desire work alone over working with others, and I must have a strong creative outlet 24/7. So, you kind of put that all together and you can see how I've at least wanted to do the things that I have done.
But insofar as any success goes, I really do, in all humility, have to say it's been God's doing 100%. There are a lot of people in this world who are talented and gifted in similar ways, and in other ways, and yet they haven't been blessed as much success as me. On the flip side, you have others who might have less talents and gifts, and yet God has blessed them more than anyone! And sometimes people succeed who are not only not very talented/gifted, but also not very nice, and certainly not very godly.
I don't know how God decides. I wish I did know. But he has a plan—for all of us. I just try to remember that I might wake up to tomorrow and never be able to write again. Or sing again. Or, maybe even walk or talk again. I am working on appreciating today, being thankful for now. Because, in truth, that's all any of us really have. I am learning this lesson daily. And that keeps me from looking back (which would make me prideful), and from looking forward (which would make me fearful).
TCP: Many of your non fiction books expose things that are sacred cows to some people. Mormonism, Harry Potter, video games, Dan Brown, etcetera have been your targets. What led you down this path?
Richard: I am a religion journalist specializing in controversial issues. Truth is a very, very, very big deal to me. It pains me to see someone—whether they are Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Mormon, Atheist, whatever—not getting truth about an issue, especially when that person is trying to make a good decision about something which will affect their own lives and the lives of the people they love. So, my goal is to not necessarily pass a judgment (which I have certainly done), but instead, to make sure that I am telling people the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. What they do with it, is up to them. And if they are Christians, then that is something very much between them and God.
I'm not perfect. Like everyone, I have my flaws, weaknesses, shortcomings, sins, you name it—and yes, even a bias. But I do strive with everything that is in me to be fair, look at things from all possible angles, and gather as much documented evidence as possible when dealing with a subject. Sometimes, to be honest, it is utterly exhausting.
TCP: Your books seem to search for truth. Why is truth vital in our world? Isn't it enough to just believe in Jesus?
Richard: Wow, I answered that last question without even looking at this one. How coincidental. Or shall I say Providential. As previously mentioned, yes, truth is supremely important to me. Besides the Holy Spirit, if I am speaking on a more intellectual/emotional/psychological level, truth is the only thing that can keep us sane in this insane world. I mean, we are surrounded by lies, lies, lies. Think about it. So many people lie to us everyday. From fad-diet pushers, to used car salesmen, to politicians, to pharmaceutical manufacturers, to insurance companies, to …… well, you get the picture. It's terrible, especially in America where greed seems to have replaced goodness; where selfishness has replaced kindness; where might makes right. It grieves me to tears.
So in my little corner of the world where God has placed me, with the limited resources I have, and the circle of influence that is mine, I can at least tell the truth. And that's all God requires of me. If I do that, He will be pleased, and I can rest at night, knowing that maybe I have helped a person here or there get a few honest/true bits of info that might make their lives a little better and bring them closer in some way to God.
It IS enough to believe in Jesus—for salvation and for a lot of other things, too. No doubt about that. We also have the Bible—THANK GOD. But there are an awful lot of decisions we need to make before heading through those Pearly Gates. We have to know what's going on in the world around us today so we can talk to Jesus intelligently about our dilemmas, know how to apply that Bible to our everyday lives, and bring both Christ and scripture into the everyday decisions we need to make. Hopefully, my work will be of help.
TCP: Can you share with us the emotional reaction of people like Harry Potter fans to the accusation that the spectacled wonder boy might not be so harmless after all?
Richard: My main point regarding Harry Potter books has remained consistent over the years: Like them. Love them. Hate them. Whatever. But know what they contain, not only from a spiritual perspective (pro & con), but also from an ethical/moral perspective (pro & con). Then, make an appropriate decision for yourselves and your children based on the possible effects of such content, especially on the malleable minds of young, impressionable kids.
The HP series should be approached like any other stack of books. They must be judged according to their content, neither overly condemned, nor overly accepted. Take them for what they are, not for what one may want them to be, either out of fear of them, or out of some misguided sense that because culture as a whole accepts them, we also must accept them wholeheartedly or look foolish. I see both of those extremes being displayed within the Christian community. And it's unfortunate.
I've looked at the subject, or at least I've tried to look at it, very even-handedly. When it comes to HP, it's really a fairly simple issue, at least to me. But the waters have become muddied by people on both sides of the fence who have their own agenda (especially within the Christian community, where everyone should be showing more restraint, love, and a willingness to look at the facts with an eye toward finding the truth).
You have the true Harry-haters on one hand who want to ban/burn the books because they contain occult imagery and mythological references. They are not recognizing the literary merit in the volumes, nor are they seeing some of the valuable lessons in the story or the positive character traits in several of the characters. On the other hand, you have the Harry-worshipers who refuse to hear anything negative about the volumes, and have gone so far as to twist and pervert the books into what they want them to be—i.e., a blatant Christian allegory (despite words to the contrary by J.K. Rowling, whom they claim to admire so much).
And as an aside, I have to say, that I fail to see, even after all of these years, why people have gotten so emotionally caught up in the HP series. I suppose it is indeed somewhat like radical sports fans who will actually come to blows against another person who doesn't like their team, or who says something bad about their favorite quarterback. I never really got that caught up in sports—maybe that's my problem.
TCP: You worked in ministry with Rick Warren. One of your books defends Rick from criticism. Can you speak a little about the war that seems to be going on in the Christian world over Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Paul Washer, etcetera? Is there a splintering of Evangelical Christianity?
Richard: Well, I can only speak for the issue I've been dealing with: Rick Warren. As I see it, what we have going on is a terribly unbiblical, hurtful, and ungodly trend among so-called "discernment" ministries. These groups claim to be "watchmen" called by God to defend the faith (Jude 3), expose error, and confront false teachers/teachings in the Body of Christ and also outside the church. The only problem is that a vast number of these so-called "ministries" have lost there way.
Far too many people are in that field of ministry who have no business being there. They are not spiritually, mentally, emotionally, or biblically equipped to be doing what they are trying to do. The result has been damage to the entire apologetic field and also to many individuals. Although I cannot say this for certain, I am beginning to doubt the biblical validity of even having such groups dedicated to apologetics and/or so-called "discernment." Mostly because there seems to be very little discernment going on. It has become a self-righteous heresy-hunting crusade, much to my anguish of spirit.
A lot of these individuals are NOT dealing with truth at all. They are dealing in a realm of what they WANT to be true. From there, they set out to find virtually ANYTHING that would then "prove" the truth as they see it—despite evidence to the contrary. Their truth usually ends up being the worst possible "truth" that might be concocted. The goal for these people is to find the heresy/heretic—period That, in and of itself, becomes the point of it all. And rest assured, they do find heresy—even when there is no heresy to be found. They will, if need be, create the "heresy" using half-truths, misinformation, disinformation, innuendo, and even blatant lies, and all of it under the guise of serving God! Can you imagine how grieved our Lord must be over so much sin being done in His name?
Discernment is supposed to be about much more than just rooting out heresy. The very term discernment means to discern, to understand, to see the different angles that might exist in someone's words, or beliefs, or actions, and to determine whether or not there is any error present, and if so, to what degree. But with these people there are no degrees. Their target of ire is either "IN" or "OUT"—and for some reason the target is invariably stamped "HERETIC," no matter what the facts show.
Rick Warren is a perfect example. I have about two dozen articles on my website (see http://abanes.com/myarticles.html) that show how this Southern Baptist pastor has been unfairly maligned, called a heretic, labeled an apostate, and misrepresented in more ways than I can count. And yet he holds to all of the essentials of the Christianity (see my article here – http://abanes.com/warrenessentials.html) and preaches salvation by grace alone through faith alone in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross (see my article here – http://abanes.com/cross_sin_hell.html) It's sad.
This all must stop. And I am calling for pastors, lay apologists, professional apologists, church leaders, and all members of the Body of Christ worldwide to help put it to a stop.
TCP: Despite all of your successes, you're a very humble guy.
Richard: Arrghhh. You're killing me here. And it's sooooo amusing. Now I am in a pickle. If I disagree with you, then I am admitting I am prideful. If I agree with you, then I am showing I am prideful. Oh dear, oh me. So, let me say, that I appreciate your observation, and will consider it thoroughly as to whether it be true or not, while in the meantime seeking to live up to it as best I can. I hope that works.
TCP: Have you struggled at all with trying to maintain the proper attitude toward your own persona and of others? How do you win that battle?
Richard: Well, first of all, I don't even think the word struggle comes nearly close enough to describe how hard I have to fight against the wretchedness in my heart. The older I get, and the more I see of "me," the less I like what I see. It is so desperately true that we are nothing but sinners saved by grace. I battle everyday to maintain a proper attitude, and by that I mean, a godly attitude. Scripture tells us, "Let this mind be in you, that was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:5). That is so very hard. And it's only possible by God's grace. Even then, we all work so easily and naturally against having the mind of Christ. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose.
I suppose I win when I take the time to win. When I slow down, turn to God, quiet my mind on Him. I usually lose when I get afraid—of people, of circumstances, and of my own weaknesses. I fail, I suppose, when I look at myself. I win when I keep looking at him.
We must continually EXPERIENCE God. The successful daily walk is not a matter of how many Bible verses we know, or how many times we go to church weekly, or how much we've given financially to the work of the ministry. It's not even about how many times we've witnessed, or how often we "win" a doctrinal debate with a Mormon, or volunteer for some ministry. It's about knowing God. Jesus said, "Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent" (John 17:3).
Sometimes I think we all just need to stop. Sit alone in a coffee shop, take a walk on the beach, go for a drive. And just stay quiet and listen for God to speak. Just shut up. Don't pray in the traditional sense. Don't try to wrestle with some issue. Just be there. And contemplate God. Who he is. What he means to you. Quiet your soul and listen. Sometimes we're talking so much to God, he doesn't have room to get in a word edgewise. Have you ever meet a person like that? I think God is often waiting for us to just stop and listen.
TCP: Your latest book is called Homeland Insecurity, which is your first novel. Why did you choose to write this one as fiction?
Richard: I decided to write that story because it deals with some very important issues in this country that surround homeland defense, domestic terrorism, and our government. I wanted to talk about these issues in a fictional way so that I could say some things which I'd probably never say in a work of non-fiction. Also, the book contains a fair amount of Christianity and my thoughts about various other religious beliefs. I wanted to see if I could discuss such issues in a fictional way—i.e., present truth in a way different from the usual non-fiction, textbook exploration of doctrine and Christianity. So, I used this fictional tale to raise all kinds of doctrinal themes including, faith, forgiveness, loyalty, truth, courage, repentance, guilt, and even a bit of good old theology. It's all in an action-packed, fast-paced, political thriller. Think of maybe The Da Vinci Code, or some John Grisham novel, but with Christian underpinnings.
TCP: With all you have accomplished in your past, what do you have planned for the future?
Richard: I don't know. I just don't know. Probably more books. I have more ideas, but nothing concrete so far. I am currently blogging A LOT!!! And also working to build my website—finally. I LOVE the Internet. I plan to have a lot of articles up, plus interviews, and even most of the music tracks from my first to CDs of original, contemporary, inspirational Christian music. And hey, it'll all be free!
Other than that, I would like to go on a vacation some day. I don't think my wife and I have had one for many, many, many years. That would be nice. Maybe Disney's Epcot Center in Florida. That's always been a dream of ours—to go there someday. Take a picture with Mickey Mouse and stay in that Wild Kingdom animal lodge place.
About the interviewer: Donald James Parker is a novelist and computer programmer who resides in Puyallup, Washington. You can check out his website at www.donaldjamesparker.com?tcp