I used to want to go to Burning Man

It's Burning Man week in Black Rock Desert.

Beckoned by the desert, Burning Man's burners return
Story highlights:
--Temporary city of about 70,000 sets up yearly near Gerlach, Nev.
--Weeklong event is about freedom, creative, self-expression

"The images of Burning Man that have come out of the Black Rock Desert during the past two decades have shocked and mesmerized people all over the world. The event has become widely known as something that involves barely clothed women and men, bicyclists decked out in fur, all-night dance parties and indescribable large-scale art installations. This year, the Man burns on Aug. 31 before some 70,000 in the temporary city. As Burning Man participants, known as "burners," trek through Reno to the Black Rock City decorating the community with colorful dreadlocks, out-of-town trailers and other-era attire, one might question: Who are these burners and why do they keep going to Burning Man?"

I can answer that. They keep going to Burning Man so as to indulge the flesh.

Burning man is a free-for all party in the remote and forbidding Black Rock desert of northern Nevada. For the last 24 years, folk who want to get away from it all, create some art, hang out far from the prying eyes of society or simply to party, have been attending this informal and rapidly growing libertine and eclectic gathering.

The top two tenets of Burning Man as stated are:

"Radical self-reliance—" Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources."

"Radical self-expression—" Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient. Participants at the Burning Man event in the Black Rock Desert are encouraged to express themselves in a number of ways through various art forms and projects. The event is clothing-optional and public nudity is common, though not practiced by the majority."

There is no plumbing, no running water, no structure and no societally normal limits on, well, anything. Participants return to regular society after the week-long party is over filthy, exhausted, sunburned and satiated.

The climax to the event is the torching of the effigy of the man, hence the name Burning Man. Each year the 'set' of and around the man gets bigger. This year's theme is Cargo Cult, after the Melanesian cult whose South Sea natives began worshiping the left-behind American detritus from WWII.

The roots of the festival were the brain child of Larry Harvey who attended a few solstice ceremonies on Baker Beach in San Francisco back in the 1980s The culmination of the solstice festival was a bonfire, where a wooden man was burned. When the original organizers stopped putting on the pagan festival, Harvey developed the idea and ran with it. Harvey says that the he was unaware that a wicker man was a large human-shaped wicker statue allegedly used in Celtic paganism for human sacrifice by burning it in effigy. Accordingly, rather than allow the name "Wicker Man" to become the name of the ritual, he started using the name "Burning Man". (Wikipedia)

So as these things always do, it has pagan idolatrous roots.

The penchant for man to collect around an object and idolize it goes far back. It goes back to the Tower of Babel. It even goes back to the Golden Calf of the Hebrews, just released from slavery.

Moses had gone up the mountain to speak with God. The people below waited. And waited. And waited. While congregated around Mr Sinai, they coalesced into an orgy of licentiousness and 'self-expression'. (Exodus 32:1-4). They waited only 40 days. Days, people, before their flesh could not be restrained. Their 'worship' became an orgy. (Exodus 32:6, Exodus 32:25)

Adoration of the Calf, by Nicholas Pouissin, 1633
"They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” (Exodus 32:8)

What they were really worshiping were themselves.

At two points in the early bible record, God wanted His people scattered, in Genesis 9:7 after the flood, which the people did not do. And secondly at the Tower of Babel, where they had collected together in the desert, erected a pagan monolith to worship. (Genesis 11:8). This time He confused the languages and they did scatter eventually.

People with their fleshly impulses, were not then nor are even now ready to live peacefully together in great, crowded cities. Why is crime higher in cities than in rural areas? More temptation, greater immoral models, and increased opportunities for envy and pride lead to crime, and of course, to sin. Would Burning Man be the same if only four people attended? No. Half-naked participants acting weird and crazy would simply be embarrassing. Someone in a fringe bikini, gladiator sandals, an orange wig and firecracker sparklers stuck in their hair walking down the streets of any town USA or even any city USA on a given weekday would receive stares and probably a police welfare check.


Burning man is said to be "the biggest party on the planet." I believe it. Left alone to seek self-expression, the unsaved flesh will always gravitate to sin. Always. And it is no different in the Black Rock Desert the last week of August.

Source UK Daily Mail

Last year, one man named his Burning Man camp "Papa Legba," after the figure in Haitian voodoo who serves as the mediator between the seen and unseen worlds. The Cult Cargo theme hearkens back to Quetzalcoatl and Osiris, two pagan 'deities'. The former is from South America and is a feathered serpent of fertility, the latter is from cultures of Egypt and was said to be the god of the underworld.

The horrifically sinful roots of Burning Man are incontrovertible. And before I was saved, I wanted to go there in the worst way.


New Orleans Mardi Gras, Wikipedia photo

I wasn't saved until I was 43 years old. That left a lot of adulthood to play around and let the flesh have its day. Yet I was a study in contrasts. My flesh would seek freedom and licentiousness (which is what 'self-expression' is all about) but whenever I'd encounter it or have an opportunity to indulge its worst excesses, my conscience would be shocked and I'd back away.

Burning Man was too difficult and too remote for a Mainer to attend, but my husband and I did explore other undercurrents of off-the-grid living. We traveled across country in a VW camper van, two older hippies at heart, looking for whatever it was that wanna-be hippies looked for. We attended New Year's Eve celebrations at sexy South Beach Miami, but were pretty tired after our late supper at Grillfish, so we took a short walk and then went to bed to escape the noise of the parties up and down Ocean Drive. We attended sunset drinking parties on Key West's southernmost beach on Halloween, but the revelry and costumes of the drunken participants grossed us out and we went back to the camper. We were at New Orleans the day before Mardi Gras was to begin, but all we could manage as far as the revelry goes was walk up Bourbon Street in the rain and conclude this wasn't for us. We escaped to a nearby bayou park and enjoyed hearing the growls of the alligators all night. We went to the freakishly bizarre place known as the Salton Sea and were so spooked we couldn't sleep, and turned on the camper and drove off at 3am.

Halloween parties, beach parties, New Year's parties, cruising parties on yachts ... all sound like fun but in the end, they weren't. Yet the flesh will not be denied, and thinking the reason I failed to really have fun was simply the location, or the style of party, or the type of people attending. We searched constantly for the change of venue and tried another party the next time.

For a long while I was jealous of Burning Man, thinking THAT was the place to be. I wanted to see the art. I wanted to look at the large-scale installations. Yet, saying you're going to Burning Man for the art is the same as saying you read Playboy for the articles. If you want art, go to MoMA, or any public park in the United States to see large scale art installations. What you are really wanting to see is the spectacle of unrestrained flesh, and the unpredictability of how far the unbridled ones with a seared conscience will go.

Solomon knew the flesh, once indulged, leaves a person feeling guilty, hollow, and a little sick and embarrassed. Indeed, I read that recent Burning Man parties have had some contention among participants, because cell phone coverage has become more and more available. Participants don't like thinking that people can snap a photo of them in all their "free self-expression" and upload it to the world to see. Sin always likes the private dark.

Kevin Rolly is a photographer from Los Angeles who has attended the festival every year since 1996. Of the fight to have cell phone availability verses the tenet of absolute freedom & privacy out there in the desert, "Rolly also feels that because most phones can upload pictures or video to the Internet instantly, "That has put more of a damper on people's freedom."

"And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. (John 3:19)

Sure it 'puts a damper' on people's freedom. Freedom as I said above, is simply another word for sin. They want self-expression, but are embarrassed at the expression that comes out. If your self-expression is legitimate, should your 'message' change the more people who might see it? If it does, there is something wrong with your 'expression.' Because, if you're a pharmaceutical executive, is this what you want your customers to remember your message as?

photo credit: brentbat via photopin cc

Because if you're a schoolteacher, is this what you want your students and parents to see?

photo credit: john curley via photopin cc
Of course not. The inhibition the conscience naturally levels makes a person intuitively understand that it is NOT about freedom and self-expression. It is about indulging wanton passions which are frowned upon by society, and for good reason. They are sins against God and there is nothing new under the sun. Not even the sun of the Black Rock desert. Solomon said of the vanity of self-indulgence, in Ecclesiastes 2:1, & 10-11,

"I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. ... And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun."

At Burning Man in the remote desert, revelers, there is nothing new under your sun, except guilt and shame.

Thanks the gracious Lord that he gave us the Holy Spirit to indwell us. After we repent unto salvation, He helps us restrain this hot wind of l-ust and revelry. He instills in us good desires. He helps us re-orient our heart to the things above and not the things of the flesh. Our Lord eternally satisfies. In Jesus, there is no need to drive a camper van from city to city in and out of holiday after holiday, looking for what will be sure, this time, to satisfy. Jesus always satisfies the eternal longing that sends people to Burning Man. After the Man is burned and the people return to life as normal...they will feel the desert wind leaking from their hands, evaporating even as they begin dreaming of the next time. Come to Jesus and be satiated with Him.

"The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil." (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)


  1. Fantastic! Finally, someone calling it what it is. Decent people in Nevada are embarrassed by this event.

    1. Thanks, Anonymous. I had not thought about the effect on the neighbors and what you all nearby thought about it.

      Yes, there is no other word for it. It is a sin-fest, ungodly, and as you said, embarrassing for those participants.

  2. I'm glad you wrote about this. One of my co-workers told me about this for the first time last week. I did some basic searches on it and right away I saw the parallels to the Golden Calf of the Israelites while Moses was on the mountain.

    -Brad, Birmingham, AL

  3. Elizabeth: Thank you for your perspective on Burning Man.
    I would like to share why I attended last year and if the Lord guides, I will next year as well.
    I was unable to attend this year.

    Last year I attended with a team of Godly Believers. As a team we took advantage of opportunities to share the Love of our Creator and Lord God, His Son Jesus. Why Jesus died for us.

    Your perspective seems to communicate that Christians should not attend BM, as BM is just a sinful place Jesus isn't there.
    However, I know from experience that He does attend Burning Man. His Spirit is there, contending for the hearts of those that don't know Him. I know that there are those that do attend, seeking something to believe in, the "Truth". As a believer in Jesus and sharing His Love, presenting the Truth of Jesus, I saw the Spirit of the Living God move and touch individuals.

    I can understand why for some, attending BM may not be appropriate. For me it was appropriate to go and to share His Love. To meet individuals through "divine appointments" while walking the streets of Black Rock City or out in the playa.
    Am I a "Burner" Yes. I'm a Burner who Burns for Christ.


  4. Hi Jim,

    Thanks for making Burning Man a mission field. I'm glad to know that you're out there preaching, with tracts, your bible, sharing the Gospel. Of course BM could be a mission field!

    For the purposes of my post, I wanted to call BM what it is: a carnal orgy of lusts and the flesh. Secular liberty at its most unrestrained.

    I think there is a difference in attending and going with intent that it IS a mission field with purpose to witness.

    I still think most Christians should be cautious and likely they should not go. Much of the event is clothing optional and public sex is frequently exhibited. Never mind public urination and defecation. Never mind the drugs. Most men can't preach at an orgy and remain pure. If you feel strong enough to go and not be tempted by the carnal exhibitions of scantily clad young ladies put before you, so that you do not l-ust then great, of course you have the liberty to go!!

    But in speaking of liberty, 1 Cor 8:9-10 says

    "But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eatingc in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged,d if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols?"

    GotQuestions answers the question "Should Christians go to parties?"

    The problem with the question “should Christians go to parties?” is that the “parties” being asked about are almost always not “fellowship parties.” There is no reason to even ask the question regarding parties that are focused on Christian fellowship. No, this question is almost always in regards to parties that involve alcohol, drugs, and/or sex. Certainly, there are non-Christians who can party innocently, but a party that involves things that are immoral and/or illegal must be avoided. As believers, we are to guard ourselves against temptation, remembering that “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33). Further, attending parties where sinful activities occur—even if we don’t participate in them—weakens our witness and brings reproach on the name of Christ (Romans 2:24)."Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness" (2 Timothy 2:19).

    Read more: http://www.gotquestions.org/Christian-parties.html#ixzz2eSEvOMdf

    What about making a mission field at Reno or Redding or Elko? Seekers traveling to Black Rock City camp for Burning Man have to pass thru there and you could set that up as a mission field... Just a thought.

    1. Wow you really read into my comments.

      1. "I'm glad to know that you're out there preaching, with tracts, your bible.
      with Bible? Yes, with Tracts?"
      Street corner style "soap box, you all going to hell!! fire and brimstone " no..
      It's not my job to bring judgement. It's my job to share the LOVE the of Abba Father God.
      One on one. Ministry tent style.

      2. Much of the event is clothing optional and public sex is frequently exhibited. Never mind public urination and defecation.
      I wouldn't classify burning man like that at all. At least not what I saw.
      Clothing optional, sure. Public sex / orgys? no didn't see that.

      3. Drugs? ok ... so... I can walk down the street in most cities and find that.

      4. Scantily clad young ladies .. I live in southern CA ... Beach cities. Big Deal...
      God Loves them regardless of what they wear.
      The first time I looked away I heard the Holy Spirit say in my heart, "that's you looking away not Me"

      5. Reno or Redding or Elko?
      I wasn't called to go there. That's all I can say.
      I know I was called to go to BM. He taught me a lot about myself. That I needed to function outside of my own personal comfort zone, listening and hearing the still voice of the Holy Spirit.
      Raised in the church.
      2 Kids.
      Attending BM was a paradigm changer.

      I found that Black Rock city is a microcosm of where I live.
      look for drugs you will find it.
      Look for Orgies, you will find it.
      look for the move of the Holy Spirit. you will find him.
      What are you looking for.. it's there. Good and bad.
      Show them the Love of Jesus, some will receive.

    2. If you don’t use tracts or share the word from a bible with people, on the street or in a tent, I’m wondering about how you evangelize in your called mission field while you are walking around the place? In making my comment I was making an assumption that people who are called to a mission field in some way or at various times, use a bible, tracts, or other usual methods like Paul’s speech at the Areopagus or Peter’s speech at Pentecost, to show people the Good News and tell them they are sinners.

      I'm not sure what you mean “It's not my job to bring judgement”? Speaking of judgment is the integral part of missions...so ... how do you share the Good News?

      When I hear people saying “I am not a fire and brimsone person, I just share the LOVE of Jesus” that is almost always code for, “I don’t tell people they are sinners or talk about God's wrath on them.” Sorry if I’m wrong about that with you. Am I?

      You said, “Scantily clad young ladies .. I live in southern CA ... Beach cities. Big Deal...
      God Loves them regardless of what they wear.
      The first time I looked away I heard the Holy Spirit say in my heart, "that's you looking away not Me"

      Even lust in the you're immersed in a situation where lust is the order of the day, is silly. There are many statues of naked people at Burning Man that are put up for the art display. Everywhere. And naked people. Everywhere. If Burning Man is a microcosm of where you live, then where you must live is Babylon :)

      We can't compare where you live to Black Rock camp because Black Rock is unusual--it is not a city but an LLC, springing from the camp where carnal-seekers would stop and sleep for the festival. It’s a corporation with a stated ideal of fleshly indulgence apart from normal society- it’s not a municipality with laws.

      So, women running around half naked kissing men with legs wrapped around their groin (as the pic above shows, one of the more ‘modest’ ones I COULD post on this blog is an issue.

      The Holy Spirit talks to you? You know that private revelation is aberrant and does not exist outside of the bible, right?

      As for the drugs, yes they exist in every city but at Black Rock they are legal (in the sense of the majority indulge, indulging is expected or at least overlooked, and arrests for possession are rarely if ever made). In regular cities the laws are expected to be followed. Not at Burning Man, its existence is a place where rules and laws are expected to be broken. So we can’t really compare where you live to Black Rock camp. In regular cities there are standards for morality and propriety, at BM the entire point is that there aren’t.

      I’m glad you and your team were called to Burning Man, I truly am. I am concerned that you downplay the very real temptations and diminish the issue of Christian liberty. And, I’m curious, what’s your evangelizing method if “fire and brimstone” (sin) is not part of the message? What does it mean to you, “to share the love of Jesus?”

      Tony Miano at Wimbledon

      The Effectiveness of street preaching