There is nothing new about saying, “I am God.” . . . However, in the Judeo-Christian-Moslem world, God is usually not popularly understood as a universal presence, the ground of all being.1 —New Age leader David Spangler (emphasis added)
God, who is the ground of all being, dwells in, around, and through all things [a universal presence]2—The Shack’s “Jesus” defining “Papa” as a universal New Age God (emphasis added)
“I‘m not who you think I am, Mackenzie.”3—Papa, The Shack (emphasis added)
Shared Universal Presence
Ask certain indigenous peoples of the South Pacific Islands who Papa is, and they will tell you she is a female goddess4—just like The Shack’s female Papa. Ask certain Haitians, New Orleanians, and Wiccans who are into Voodoo, and they will tell you that Papa is a shapeshifting “trickster” who can appear as either a male or female deity—just like The Shack’s Papa.5 And if you ask, they will all tell you that their Papas are universal Papas who dwell “in, around, and through all things”—just like The Shack’s Papa.
Papa as Earth Mother
Shack enthusiasts should take note that “Papa” is also the name of a Polynesian Earth goddess who is part of a pantheon of gods and goddesses found in the South Sea Islands. On the “Journeying to Goddess” website, under the heading “Goddess Papa,” we read that Papa is “the Earth Mother who gave birth to all things” and that “Polynesians summon Papa to help in all earthly matters.”6
In his book Unshackled, Pastor Larry DeBruyn describes how William P. Young’s “Papa” bears a striking resemblance to “the name, nature, and nurturing potential” of this Polynesian Earth goddess Papa.7 Quoting from a source on Hawaiian gods and goddesses, DeBruyn cites the references they make to the “comfort,” “care,” “guidance,” and “unconditional love,” that are given to people “in times of crisis and grief” by this Hawaiian Papa and how her “intervention instills calming reassurance and healing.”8 Young seems to parallel the same script as The Shack story wholly revolves around the comfort, care, guidance, and unconditional love that is given by Papa to his main character, Mack, during his time of crisis and grief—how Papa’s intervention instills calming reassurance and the ultimate healing of Mack’s “Great Sadness.”9
Another website elaborates on how the female Polynesian Papa “worshiped by Native Hawaiians” is regarded as “a primordial force of creation who has the power to give life and to heal.”10 A pagan site informs us that a Papa goddess is especially prevalent amongst the Maoris of New Zealand,11 while another site references a South Seas Papa as part of the mythology of the Southern Cook Islands group.12 While Young obviously put a lot of thought into the naming of his Shack characters, and even though he spent his early childhood living on the South Pacific Island of Papua New Guinea,13 he claims to have had no knowledge of this South Seas Papa goddess prior to his writing of The Shack.14
Papa as Trickster
Certain Haitian, New Orleanian, and Wiccan Voodoo practitioners are devoted to a spiritual “Papa” who can appear as both “male and female” and is known as the “trickster.”15 By simply googling “Papa” and “trickster,” a variety of websites emerge to describe this Papa Legba spirit that stands at the gateway to the spirit world. One of these sites—“Exemplore”—states that Papa Legba “is one of the most widely served African deities” and “is always the first and last spirit invoked in any ceremony” because “he opens and closes the doorway to the spirit world.” 16 The site explains that in Voodoo, “Papa” is “the intermediary” who “stands at a spiritual crossroads and grants or denies permission to speak with the spirits of Guinee.”17
On the same Exemplore site, in a special section for witches, Papa is described as a “master shape shifter” who “can help you transform on the astral realm, master dream powers, and advanced magics.”18 But in regards to Papa, it states that “in his shapeshifter form he tends to change genders and forms to delight himself. So don’t be surprised if a woman shows up to help you.”19 And just as Young’s female Papa and the South Seas islands female Papa can be summoned for help, comfort, and healing, this Voodoo trickster Papa can be similarly called upon. One of the posted comments on this witches part of the site states—“Anyone can summon Papa!”20 But sometimes this Voodoo Papa comes when he is not summoned. In another comment, a perplexed woman wrote—“I did not know about Papa at all until he presented his self to me as my spirit guide. Is this normal?”21 A posted reply assured her that “Papa does his own thing his own way, so if he presented himself to you, you can be sure it is him.”22 Another site expressed the confusion that can result from a female ”God” named Papa—“It’s so confusing because Papa is a Mama.”23 But Scripture assures us that the one true God is “not the author of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33). He is not a Papa who is a Mama which art in a shack—He is “our Father which art in heaven” (Matthew 6:9).
Praying to Which Papa?
So what Papa are people invoking when they are inspired to pray to Papa after reading The Shack? Is Young presenting Shack readers with the true God of the Bible or with a generic Papa “God” that overlaps with all the other mamas and papas and gods and goddesses around the world? The Shack’s “Jesus” answers that question loud and clear for any Shack reader who has a heart for the truth. With words purposefully put in his mouth by Young—a self-described universalist24—The Shack’s “Jesus” proclaims that his Papa “God” is “the ground of all being” because he “dwells in, around, and through all things.”25 In other words, The Shack’s Jesus says that the Shack’s Papa indwells everyone and everything. This is the same universal God that David Spangler describes in the beginning quote of this article. But this is panentheism, and this is a lie. This is the foundational teaching of the New Age/New Spirituality/New Worldview that has been rapidly emerging both in the world and in the church. All of this is to say—The Shack’s Papa is a universal Papa and The Shack’s “God” is a counterfeit “God” who has cunningly wormed his way into an unsuspecting church.
As seen with the Voodoo Papa, some of these mama and papa gods and goddesses are also “tricksters.” And they are definitely doing their trickster thing—which often entails cleverly undermining existing societal rules and established religious beliefs as they offer their unique brand of spiritual healing in the name of a more universal alternative spirituality. What can be especially deceptive is that much of their rebellious spiritual activity is cloaked in half-truths, clever remarks, playful humor—and even Christian language. And what seems all too apparent is that The Shack—and particularly The Shack’s Papa—fall into this trickster category. The novel grabs people’s hearts and minds even as biblical Christianity is being dismantled in front of them as they read the book. And only a trickster book can convince people they are reading about Jesus Christ when the name of Christ is never mentioned—not even once—in the entire story. A generic universal Jesus and a generic universal Papa and not a single mention of Christ, or the Devil for that matter—yet The Shack has already become one of the most popular Christian books ever written!
Trickster books for the church will use Christian language to pull the wool over your eyes so they mess with your mind—it’s all part of “messing around” and being a trickster. Toward the end of The Shack’s story, when the female Papa shapeshifts into being a male Papa, Mack asks if Papa is “still messing” with him. Papa’s immediate answer is—“Always.”26 At this point, sincere readers of The Shack need ask themselves a reasonable question—“Is the one true God of the Bible always “messing” with us, or is this what you would expect from a universal gender-bending trickster Papa “God” who bears more of a resemblance to the trickster god of this world than the one true God of the Bible.
But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)
Endnotes (Caution: Some of the endnotes in this article are from occultic websites.)
1. David Spangler and William Irwin Thompson, Reimagination of the World: A Critique of the New Age, Science, and Popular Culture (Sante Fe, NM: Bear & Company Publishing, 1991), p. 148.
2. William P. Young, The Shack (Newbury Park, CA: Windblown Media, 2007), p. 112.
3. Ibid., p. 96.
4. Part Three: The Chiefs xx Papa and Wakea, http://www.sacred-texts.com/pac/hm/hm22.htm | Godchecker website: http://www.godchecker.com/pantheon/oceanic-mythology.php?list-gods-names.
5. “Papa Legba and Other Spirits of the Crossroads” (Who is Papa Legba?, Images of Legba, https://exemplore.com/magic/papalegba).
6. https://journeyingtothegoddess.wordpress.com/2012/09/19/goddess-papa/, “Goddess Papa” September 19, 2012.
7. Larry DeBruyn, Unshackled: Breaking Away From Seductive Spirituality (Indianapolis, IN: Franklin Road Baptist Church, 2009), pp. 27-28. Author’s reference pertains to the now archived Wahine’o Wanana Institute’s “Hawaiian Goddesses” website: https://web-beta.archive.org/web /20110410205614/http://www.powersthatbe.com /goddess/papa.html.
9. William P. Young, op. cit., pp. 43-66, p. 92, pp. 96-98, pp. 101-102.
11. The Goddess Papa, http://www.holladaypaganism.com/goddesses/cyclopedia/p/PAPA.HTM.
12. Wikipedia: Papa (mythology)— https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papa_(mythology).
13. Wm. Paul Young—About (http://wmpaulyoung.com/wm-paul-young-about).
14. Eric Barger, “Why The Shack Must be Rejected” (Lamp & Lion Ministries, Lamplighter, May 2017, http://christinprophecyblog.org/2017/04/why-the-shack-must-be-rejected), pp. 13-14.
15. “Papa Legba and Other Spirits of the Crossroads” (Exemplore blog, Images of Legba, Who is Papa Legba?, https://exemplore.com/magic/papalegba).
18. “Papa Legba for Witches,” How Legba Can Help You (https://exemplore.com/wicca-witchcraft/papa-legba-for-witches)
20. Ibid., Posted Comments (Nitecat response to babygirl1414)
21. Ibid., Posted Comments (jacynnavarro)
22. Ibid., Posted Comments (Nitecat response to jacynnavarro)
24. Wm. Paul Young, Lies We Believe About God (New York, NY: Atria Books, 2017), pp. 118-119 (Young states that he believes in universal salvation.)
25. William P. Young, The Shack, op. cit., p. 218.
26. merriam-webster.com and encyclopedia.com (ousia)
Warren B. Smith (B.A. University of Pennsylvania; M.S.W. Tulane University)—A free lance writer and community social worker who was formerly involved in the New Age movement. He has served as a program coordinator for people with special needs, directed several homeless programs, and has worked as a Hospice social worker in New Orleans and on the California coast. He has written extensively on the subject of spiritual deception and has spoken on radio, television, and at seminars and conferences.