Jesus is Magic

by Luke Muehlhauser on November 22, 2009 in General Atheism

jesus_caricature

The vast majority of humans believe that magic is real, and even that they personally have some access to magic powers (either directly, or by way of a god or dead ancestor or spirit).

Some educated members of the magical thinking community do not like to admit that they believe in magic.

I think they are embarrassed by their own beliefs, but they do not want to actually give up believing in magic. And so when I say I don’t think it’s rational for them to believe in magic, they usually don’t even admit they believe in magic. Instead, they get all “offended” and avoid the issue, probably for the sake of their own ego. Their dance reminds me of Scientologist Tommy Davis’ act for getting out of the question, “Do you really believe in Xenu?”

But let’s face facts. Scientology doctrine affirms that Xenu was the dictator of a Galactic Confederacy. And Christian doctrine thoroughly affirms magic.

But, magical thinkers protest, they don’t really believe in magic. They believe in the supernatural.

*sigh*

Okay, let’s check the dictionary.

There are two major definitions for “magic.” One concerns magic as in religion and superstition. The other concerns magic as in entertainment: fun tricks of illusion. Obviously, I mean the former. So what is that definition of the word?

n.

  1. The art that purports to control or forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking the supernatural.
    1. The practice of using charms, spells, or rituals to attempt to produce supernatural effects or control events in nature.
    2. The charms, spells, and rituals so used.

So do Christians, Muslims, Hindus, other religious believers,1 new agers, indigenous believers, and shamans believe in magic?

Yes. Yes they do.

Next, believers might argue that I just shouldn’t point out that they believe in magic, because it’s disrespectful to call a spade a spade.

Well, I simply disagree.

Believers: Jesus is magic. Have the balls to admit it.

  1. Excepting some forms of Buddhism, Jainism, and other minority sects. []

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{ 117 comments… read them below or add one }

Roman November 22, 2009 at 7:23 am

I agree with you Luke. I think you argue for this convincingly. Thanks for making me realise this, I appreciate it.

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lukeprog November 22, 2009 at 7:31 am

Thanks for sharing, Roman.

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John H November 22, 2009 at 8:40 am

Actually, you have supported my position that Christianity is not based on magic – at least as it is understood theologically.

The art that purports to control or forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking the supernatural.

What example would you give of an art used to forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking the supernatural within orthodox Christianity – especially since it is explicitly warned against: see http://net.bible.org/search.php?search=magic&mode=&scope=

The core of the definition is about witchcraft, or neo-Paganism, and the idea that the natural world can be controlled by use of spirits in that world. The idea that spirits occupy the natural world, and that world can be controlled by controlling those spirits in pantheism and not theism. Certainly this is not part of any orthodox teaching — indeed it is warned against.

Even if you want to say that Christians believe that there are supernatural causes to natural events – then your definition would say those folks have to believe that they can forecast and/or control those events by invoking God and/or Jesus. That is expressly what is warned about in the passages linked above.

Generally speaking, if I invoke Jesus to control something (prayer) it is not to control a natural event, but to either give me supernatural power to control my actions — or asking for that power to protect me not from natural events but other supernatural “powers and principalities”. The latter is obviously not included in your definition (I am not attempting to invoke the supernatural to control something natural); and the former is based on the general Christian belief that humans were created separate from, and distinct from, the natural world. As CS Lewis said, when you look at a human being you are looking at an eternal creature – a physical being with a spiritual/eternal nature. Prayer to control my natural self is aimed at – again – the supernatural part of me and not the natural part. Again, outside the definition you have given of magic.

And, by your definition, even if a Christian out there invokes Jesus to control or predict natural events (I am sure some do) then Jesus isn’t magic by your definition – He is the supernatural force being invoked and not the person practicing the magic.

You are usually much better than this — these kind of silly word games do not become you. Perhaps you should have the cahones to >admit that you know that theism is not pantheism — and that you intentionally use the word magic to demean theists when you know it doesnt apply.

Or, if your balls are not really applicable – how about using your common sense and intelligence.

In any event, thank you for the opportunity to clarify for myself why Christianity is not magic.

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Thomas Reid November 22, 2009 at 8:53 am

So defined, yes anyone who believes in the supernatural believes in magic, particularly the first definition. This should be a pretty unremarkable claim. Of course, this has nothing to do with the connotations associated with bozo the clown performing “magic” tricks (sleight of hand, a fancy phrase for lying) at a child’s birthday party.

Are you making an argument here, or just clarifying terms? Your reference to the male anatomy makes me think you are claiming some kind of “win”. Am I misinterpreting you?

I’m also not sure “Jesus is magic” is supposed to mean. He is an immaterial substance, like human persons?

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Conor Gilliland November 22, 2009 at 9:02 am

“The art that purports to control or forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking the supernatural.”

If you’re talking about the Christian’s use of prayer, orthodoxy would maintain that God’s response to prayer is entirely according to his will. The petitioner has no more control over God’s response than she has control over gravity. Quite the opposite of magic, the Christian gives up control in prayer, where the magician takes control.

If you’re talking about Christ himself, the Christian doesn’t believe that Jesus “invoked” the supernatural as magic would require. The Christian believes that he WAS the supernatural. One of the main points of the Gospel was to show that Jesus came with the authority of the Father (the supernatural), and was in fact ONE with the Father (the supernatural). For Jesus to use magic he would have had to be totally distinct from the Father.

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Bill Maher November 22, 2009 at 9:15 am

I am taking Magic and Rites in the Ancient Near East right now. :-)

To those of you who are not historians, the following is not controversial, but widely accepted:
1. Judaism was polytheistic for a good amount of time and archaeologists have found numerous prayers mentioning other gods.
2. Jesus performs magic (exorcisms, walks on water, etc..)

Viewing Abrahamic traditions as a religion and not something above all the rest makes these things clear and it is dishonest to deny them.

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Evan November 22, 2009 at 9:22 am

Conor Gilliland: For Jesus to use magic he would have had to be totally distinct from the Father.

Then Jesus didn’t turn water into wine?

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VorJack November 22, 2009 at 9:52 am

john H: What example would you give of an art used to forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking the supernatural within orthodox Christianity – especially since it is explicitly warned against:

For what it’s worth, there’s a long history of using magic within the Christian & Jewish traditions. Most practices revolve around commanding angels and demons. Others seek to control esoteric forces using techniques revealed by God. The most popular figures in the traditions are Moses, who engaged in a magic duel with the Pharaoh’s magicians, Solomon, as the great repository of occult wisdom, and Jesus, who performed many magical acts and provided instructions for exorcisms.

Probably the most famous example is the Testament of Solomon, which perhaps dates to the early third century CE. In it, God grants Solomon the ability to bind and command demons who a hampering the construction of the Temple. Solomon interrogates the demons and provides instructions to the reader for dispelling them. He then forces the demons to complete the temple, which I believe is now against union regulations.

Anyway, this story is the origin of the “seal of Solomon,” which later readers interpreted as the pentagram. So the most identifiable symbol of “witchcraft” is actually a Jewish or Christian invention.

Anyway, I would recommend Owen Davies Grimoires: A History of Magic Books for a really excellent history of magic in western tradition.

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Haukur November 22, 2009 at 10:13 am

Well, my fellow neopagans are often quite explicit about believing in magic. Hey, they even put it on billboards:

http://hawkdancing.com/gdssigns.html

But there are more definitions of the word than the ones Luke gives above. Crowley’s was quite broad:

“Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will”

So when a pagan starts talking to you about magic, you might need to ask some questions to find out exactly what she means by the word.

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John H November 22, 2009 at 10:14 am

VorJack: For what it’s worth, there’s a long history of using magic within the Christian & Jewish traditions.

All the references are to the Judaic parts of the tradition (Christ changed everything):

Acts 19:9 Large numbers of those who had practiced magic collected their books and burned them up in the presence of everyone. When the value of the books was added up, it was found to total fifty thousand silver coins.

– and then to a Gnostic scripture (not Christian by any orthodox definition).

Then, you have to deal with

Conor Gilliland: If you’re talking about the Christian’s use of prayer, orthodoxy would maintain that God’s response to prayer is entirely according to his will. The petitioner has no more control over God’s response than she has control over gravity. Quite the opposite of magic, the Christian gives up control in prayer, where the magician takes control.

Again, I am not denying magic exists, I am denying that Christianity is a religion based on magic as Luke has defined it. Indeed, by opposing magic and pantheism/panentheism, it is quite the opposite.

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Lee A. P. November 22, 2009 at 10:27 am

Luke,

You are becoming adept at being one of the most even handed critics of the theism/atheism debate. Sure, point out fallicious thought and poor arguments. Give the theist kudos on their upper hand in certain philisophical minutia.

But never let them forget, that ultimately their position is absurd, retarded, laughable, cockamamie horse shit.

After all, does their side NOT claim to have virtually all the important answers about the nature of the universe and reality? They certainly do. They claim they have the game locked. And they absolutely rest this, ultimately, on the back of magical thinking — as you point out. Not only that, but they believe that all those who disagree will be tormented for eternity, or annihilated, in what amounts to some of the most grotesque hate doctrines in existence.

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John H November 22, 2009 at 11:04 am

Acts 19: Again, I am not denying magic exists, I am denying that Christianity is a religion based on magic as Luke has defined it. Indeed, by opposing magic and pantheism/panentheism, it is quite the opposite.

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Conor Gilliland November 22, 2009 at 11:17 am

Evan, He did turn water into wine. But he didn’t invoke the supernatural to do it (as magic is defined here). He was the supernatural. He didn’t go into a trance and call upon deities to give him the power to do it. He had all the power and authority he needed in himself.

John, I’m with you on that.

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ayer November 22, 2009 at 11:31 am

Luke,

I suggest you do some scholarly research on this topic, particularly by reading the article in the link below, and then rethink the post:

http://journalofbiblicalstudies.org/Issue10/Healing.pdf

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John H November 22, 2009 at 11:35 am

Conor Gilliland: If you’re talking about the Christian’s use of prayer, orthodoxy would maintain that God’s response to prayer is entirely according to his will. The petitioner has no more control over God’s response than she has control over gravity. Quite the opposite of magic, the Christian gives up control in prayer, where the magician takes control.
If you’re talking about Christ himself, the Christian doesn’t believe that Jesus “invoked” the supernatural as magic would require. The Christian believes that he WAS the supernatural. One of the main points of the Gospel was to show that Jesus came with the authority of the Father (the supernatural), and was in fact ONE with the Father (the supernatural). For Jesus to use magic he would have had to be totally distinct from the Father.

Conor: I loved this and quoted it in a comment attached to my post on this piece at my place

Let me know if you mind. If you do, I will delete the comment there

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Lee A. P. November 22, 2009 at 12:03 pm

John H:
Conor: I loved this and quoted it in a comment attached to my post on this piece at my placeLet me know if you mind. If you do, I will delete the comment there  

Is this not PRECISELY the title of the post? Jesus IS magic?

Weather he calls on magic or is THE magic himself, Christians still use magical thinking. One could argue he calls often on “the father” and that his seperation from the father is apparent in all the gospels but John, but –whatever.

ayer, the biggest Christian troll I have ever seen on any forum, suggests that we take a look at the “scholarly” work other believers in magic have done on magical thinking. Aint that rich!

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John H November 22, 2009 at 12:20 pm

Lee A. P.: Weather he calls on magic or is THE magic himself, Christians still use magical thinking. One could argue he calls often on “the father” and that his seperation from the father is apparent in all the gospels but John, but –whatever.

Whatever the title of the post, the definition applied is the use of the supernatural by a (implied) non-supernatural being as a tool to affect nature or predict it being affected.

Besides, again despite the title, Luke is not talking about Jesus Himself — he is talking about current followers of Christ.

Sorry, but Conor answered it directly and ably. Luke will have to find a different definition – or dance as ably as the Scientologist.

Folks who cannot understand the differences between theism, pantheism, and panentheism just shouldn’t discuss religion at all.

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Lee A. P. November 22, 2009 at 1:29 pm

Nope. Sorry. Christians believe in magic. Jesus IS the magic.

You are admitting to this and yet you are still claiming that people are misunderstanding you.

You believe in magical beings. You believe in magic. You rely on magical thinking. Just admit it. Stop pussyfooting around and deal with it.

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lukeprog November 22, 2009 at 1:45 pm

ayer,

Does someone really need to do scholarly research to learn that Christians believe in supernatural beings and supernatural powers? Isn’t that Christianity 101?

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Thomas Reid November 22, 2009 at 2:04 pm

lukeprog:
ayer,Does someone really need to do scholarly research to learn that Christians believe in supernatural beings and supernatural powers? Isn’t that Christianity 101?  

Yes, it is, which is what I acknowledged in my previous comment (I’m not speaking for ayer). I think a reasonable theistic response to you would be, what of it?

Are you:
1. Clarifying definitions (which is always helpful)
2. Trying to make an argument (I didn’t see one)
3. Relying on the somewhat ambiguous nature of the term in today’s culture (you had to clarify you didn’t mean the “fun tricks of illusion”) to establish a mockery of those who believe the supernatural exists?
4. Another option I’m missing?

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John H November 22, 2009 at 2:16 pm

lukeprog: Does someone really need to do scholarly research to learn that Christians believe in supernatural beings and supernatural powers? Isn’t that Christianity 101?

However, that is not magic by the definition you posted.

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ayer November 22, 2009 at 2:55 pm

John H: However, that is not magic by the definition you posted.

Exactly, John H. And that also the point made in the article I posted.

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Tengu November 22, 2009 at 3:15 pm

Some of you guys have totally missed the point of this article.

Luke was not claiming that Jews and Christians practice magic but that they believe in magic.

It matters not one bit how Jesus performed his acts. The fact is that Christians believe that he did and that those acts fit into the definition of magic, ergo Christians believe in magic.

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John H November 22, 2009 at 3:28 pm

Tengu: It matters not one bit how Jesus performed his acts. The fact is that Christians believe that he did and that those acts fit into the definition of magic, ergo Christians believe in magic.

Sorry, but

The art that purports to control or forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking the supernatural.is exactly about “how” something is done – and Jesus didn’t perform his acts by this method.

Again, folks who cannot distinguish between Christian theism and neo-Pagan’s use of magic should not discuss religion

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Hermes November 22, 2009 at 4:22 pm

John H:Folks who cannot understand the differences between theism _and_monotheism_, pantheism, _or_ panentheism just shouldn’t discuss religion at all.  

Corrected. :)

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Leon November 22, 2009 at 4:38 pm

I think you’re being a little unsubtle about different kinds of “magic”. Quoting from the Wikipedia artile you linked to on magical thinking:

In anthropology, psychology, and cognitive science, magical thinking is nonscientific causal reasoning that often includes such ideas as the ability of the mind to affect the physical world (see the philosophical problem of mental causation), and correlation mistaken for causation.

From this definition, there is a pretty big difference between e.g. praying to God to do something which he may or may not do, and ascribing some kind of power over the physical world to objects (crystals, plants, ‘nature’, etc.), acts of the will, mantras, etc.

Prayer and miracles rely on a belief in a being that believers do not claim to fully understand, who is not necessarily predictable or dependable. Magic spells, on the other hand, rely on belief in an alternative causal order.

Consider the dictionary definition you cited. I don’t think e.g. prayer (admittedly all I know about is Christian prayer) involves control or even an attempt to control the natural world, nor does it involve any kind of “power gain”. Same goes for most Christian rituals.

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Hermes November 22, 2009 at 5:12 pm

Prayer is faulty magic? In either case, the intent is there — yet even more important is the belief (passive or active); to invoke or at a minimum call upon the magical to do as it pleases. Success or not — requested or not — is really secondary.

That is, if I understand what Luke intended himself using normal un-magical words.

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lukeprog November 22, 2009 at 6:33 pm

John H,

I don’t understand what you mean when you say that Jesus didn’t use magic. Do you mean to say that he performed his miracles by natural means? Of course there are liberal theologians who have said so, but they are quite far outside mainstream Christian doctrine.

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akakiwibear November 22, 2009 at 7:34 pm

lukeprog: Does someone really need to do scholarly research to learn that Christians believe in supernatural beings and supernatural powers?

The flaw in your argument luke is that you have linked a belief in the supernatural (as in the spiritual realm) – which as you say is fundamental to any theistic belief with a commonly misused term ‘magic’. You have selected a definition of magic that is not universal, but is useful to you (e.g. Cambridge Dictionary present “the use of special powers to make things happen which would usually be impossible, such as in stories for children”).

Now I suggest that this is not an example of intellectual integrity or sound argument.

But if you insist that acceptance of the supernatural is the same as acceptance of magic then by your definition Christians believe in magic and so do I. Guess you have provied yourself right … not much of an achievement really.

Does your exercise in verbal slight of hand (oops that’s magic too) contribute to the a/theist debate …

sala kahle – peace

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Lee A. P. November 22, 2009 at 8:52 pm

Either Jesus and God use advanced science to achieve the seemingly miraculous or they use magic. Period. Semantic attempts to distinguish Jesus-magic from other kinds of magic are pathetic, stupid and vapidly dishonest.

You are simply labeling magic differently according to the Being performing it. In this case, if Jesus turns coke to pepsi it ain’t magic but if somebody else does, it is, and its probably caused by invoking demons (ironically, Christian theistic magic of the dark kind)

Stop being pussies and admit you believe in stupid magical shit. You sound no different than any other religious person making excuses for the stupid magical shit they believe in. Its really pathetic.

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John H November 22, 2009 at 8:58 pm

lukeprog: I don’t understand what you mean when you say that Jesus didn’t use magic. Do you mean to say that he performed his miracles by natural means? Of course there are liberal theologians who have said so, but they are quite far outside mainstream Christian doctrine.

Your definition implies the use calling (invoking) of a supernatural power/being in order to control nature. It really implies that the invoker has to use some sort of spell, incantation, process in order to accomplish that feat. It also implies that magician is in control of the process. Finally, it really implies a non-supernatural invoker. None of that describes Christ.

More importantly, you are accusing followers of Christ of believing in magic – whether Christ used magic is irrelevant. There are certainly disagreements within Christianity about whether Christ had direct supernatural powers while incarnated. That was 2000 years ago.

However, followers of Christ do not invoke the supernatural as a tool to control or predict natural events – and there are those in other belief systems that do exactly that or at least believe exactly that. Lack of nuanced understanding of differing spiritual beliefs only makes you look simplistic.

Frankly, I think you are attempting to give very thin cover to a prized atheist insult. As a salesman, and an apologist, I can tell you there is no mileage (vis a vis moving people’s opinions) in insulting people’s basic understanding of their beliefs. Unless, you are dealing with folks who are just weak theologically.

Finally, the definition of natural and supernatural shifts a bit. Three hundred years from now we might easily change water to wine at a party, or raise 3 day old dead people from the grave. We do not know what is natural for God – do we?

Your definition of supernatural is based on our current understanding of natural processes. I know you do not think that is complete.

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John H November 22, 2009 at 9:16 pm

Lee A. P.: Stop being pussies and admit you believe in stupid magical shit. You sound no different than any other religious person making excuses for the stupid magical shit they believe in. Its really pathetic.

You know you can keep repeating this like a mantra. Maybe you can affect effect natural events that way.

Hey, at least you changed sexual organs from balls to pussies. I would suggest you switch to brains or logic

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Sly November 22, 2009 at 10:00 pm

John said:
Finally, it really implies a non-supernatural invoker.

Me: Not true at all. In fact, supernatural beings are often conceived of as the users of Magic. Think for instance of a demon using magic to influence the physical world.

If not using magic to cause change the natural order… what else is being used?

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Leon November 22, 2009 at 10:51 pm

lukeprog: Do you mean to say that he performed his miracles by natural means?

I think this gets to the crux of the issue: “magic”, as most people define it, works like technology. It obeys dependable rules; it can be controlled by people; it is predictable. In a sense, it’s more like an alternative science than an anti-science. For example, crystal healers believe there’s some kind of energy that’s channeled by the crystals and that can be manipulated by arranging them in certain ways. I imagine some neopagans interpret their magickal rituals similarly.

Conservative Christians, on the other hand, believe Jesus was God, and that God can simply do stuff that is impossible besides. Even though they believe in the supernatural, they (usually) don’t believe that by saying some magic words and doing a pirouette that one can reliably influence the natural world. In this sense, praying is quite different from casting a spell — and common use of the word “magic” reflects this.

To get back to the dictionary definitions:

1. There is no art in the miraculous, and miracles aren’t performed by humans.
2. Jesus/God don’t use charms or spells.

The (very limited) point I’m trying to make is that to call miracles “magic” is not the normal, everyday use of that word — even if one thinks miracles are bullshit. Perhaps everything magical is supernatural, but not everything supernatural is magical, even if everything supernatural is bullshit.

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John H November 22, 2009 at 11:05 pm

Sly: Not true at all. In fact, supernatural beings are often conceived of as the users of Magic. Think for instance of a demon using magic to influence the physical world.

No not really. There is a difference between the direct use of power, and the invoking of the power of others. Magic in every connotative meaning (and I think denotative) is about using charms, spells, etc. to control the powers of others for our purposes.

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John H November 22, 2009 at 11:29 pm

Sly: Think for instance of a demon using magic to influence the physical world.

I do not think of the demon’s power to influence the world as magic – it is the direct use of power.

However, I could think of the person summoning and directing the power of that demon to influence the natural world as a magician

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Haukur November 23, 2009 at 1:44 am

John H: It really implies that the invoker has to use some sort of spell, incantation, process in order to accomplish that feat. … None of that describes Christ.

I actually think you Christians are holding your own better than usual in this argument – the atheists seem to be stretching a point just so they can use a particular word, a word you Christians don’t like for some reason. But if the above description of Christ is true, then why all this tomfoolery with the spittle?

“And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. … he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam … He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.”

This looks to me like a ‘process’ used to achieve a supernatural effect rather than a direct use of power.

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Leon November 23, 2009 at 3:16 am

Haukur: This looks to me like a ‘process’ used to achieve a supernatural effect rather than a direct use of power.

Mmm. Good one Haukur. Perhaps this is more magical in one sense, because there seems to be some kind of “vector” for the power. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem to be magic sand or magic spittle or magic water in the story — on my reading it seems more like a one-off event rather than a spittle-plus-dust-plus-Siloam-water spell for curing blindness.

Haukur: [...] the atheists seem to be stretching a point just so they can use a particular word, a word you Christians don’t like for some reason.

I suspect this is because of the belief in a more-or-less comprehensible universe of inanimate objects with an incomprehensible/supernatural creator/sustainer existing separately, as opposed to a “spiritually charged” universe where one can draw on inanimate objects for power/energy/whatever (see: the Hebrew bible on idolatry). Also, the focus of a lot of magic seems to be making oneself powerful in some way, whereas the Bible seems to emphasise the weakness of God’s messengers/prophets/etc.

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lukeprog November 23, 2009 at 3:17 am

akakiwibear,

I think you’ll have to look hard for a superstition-related (not illusionist-related) definition of “magic” that does not also apply to Christianity. Your definition from the Cambridge dictionary certainly applies to Christianity.

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lukeprog November 23, 2009 at 3:23 am

I know there are narrower definitions of magic that might exclude Christian supernaturalism – for example definitions insisting on magic as a predictable process. But even these can be applied to Christianity because of the example provided by Haukur, and the one linked to by ayer.

But more importantly, that is not the usual definition of magic. The usual definition is a bit broader, like the one I presented. I think we all would consider wizards and sorcerers – real or fictional – to be “magical.” But they do not necessarily use processes to achieve their effects. Sometimes they just have supernatural powers to cause things from beyond the natural order. That’s magic, folks, and that’s precisely what Christianity is steeped in. Stop pretending it’s not magic.

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UNRR November 23, 2009 at 3:26 am

This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 11/23/2009, at The Unreligious Right

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Haukur November 23, 2009 at 4:47 am

Leon: On the other hand, it doesn’t seem to be magic sand or magic spittle or magic water in the story — on my reading it seems more like a one-off event rather than a spittle-plus-dust-plus-Siloam-water spell for curing blindness.

You make good points but note that this event isn’t totally unique. There’s also another story where Jesus uses his spittle to heal:

“And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him. And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue; And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.”

What do we conclude from this? And what do we conclude from this story about Vespasian:

“A man of the people who was blind, and another who was lame, came to him together as he sat on the tribunal, begging for the help for their disorders which Serapis had promised in a dream; for the god declared that Vespasian would restore the eyes, if he would spit upon them, and give strength to the leg, if he would deign to touch it with his heel. Though he had hardly any faith that this could possibly succeed, and therefore shrank even from making the attempt, he was at last prevailed upon by his friends and tried both things in public before a large crowd; and with success.”

Is magic involved in this story about a pagan emperor?

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drj November 23, 2009 at 5:44 am

Exorcisms, the transubstantiation, relics, faith healing, speaking in tongues, etc, etc…. if these things can’t be called “magic”, then nothing can.

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John H November 23, 2009 at 8:16 am

lukeprog: But more importantly, that is not the usual definition of magic. The usual definition is a bit broader, like the one I presented. I think we all would consider wizards and sorcerers – real or fictional – to be “magical.” But they do not necessarily use processes to achieve their effects. Sometimes they just have supernatural powers to cause things from beyond the natural order. That’s magic, folks, and that’s precisely what Christianity is steeped in. Stop pretending it’s not magic.

Actually Luke, I think you are attempting to stretch the historic definition – and even the current one. This “broader” meaning is one atheists are attempting to create and popularize.

Certainly, we live in the Christian west – and performance of magic (since the book of Acts) has been outside of Christian supernaturalism. There have been witchcraft trials etc. Even popular culture around magic has never been related to Christianity. It is all the Pagan use of charms, spells, etc. to invoke the supernatural to impact the world for the benefit of the user.

I really think you know it as well – it really is a favorite perjorative for atheists in order to downgrade the power of the Christian God and Christ to the level of Samantha on Bewitched or the Three on whatever that popular witch show was.

You simply cannot separate the meaning of the term from 1500 years of western Christian tradition.

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John H November 23, 2009 at 9:02 am

Leon: I suspect this is because of the belief in a more-or-less comprehensible universe of inanimate objects with an incomprehensible/supernatural creator/sustainer existing separately, as opposed to a “spiritually charged” universe where one can draw on inanimate objects for power/energy/whatever (see: the Hebrew bible on idolatry). Also, the focus of a lot of magic seems to be making oneself powerful in some way, whereas the Bible seems to emphasise the weakness of God’s messengers/prophets/etc.

Darn, I wish I had said that :-)

Haukur: “And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him. . .

You might as well mention the story of the woman who was bleeding as well. In all three, the power to heal was in Christ’s person (assuming the spit, or touching him, was part of the process). His physical being had healing powers. Again, this is not the use of spells, etc by a person to draw power from outside of themselves

drj: Exorcisms, the transubstantiation, relics, faith healing, speaking in tongues, etc, etc…. if these things can’t be called “magic”, then nothing can.

Exorcisms: calling on a supernatural power to fight another supernatural power; and not to affect the natural world.

Transubstantiation: I may give you this one – at least depending on why someone thinks it happens. Is it the Priest calling on God with a certain ritual to turn wine and bread into blood and flesh. Definitely magic by Luke’s definition (and mine BTW – one of those reasons I am not a Catholic).

Relics: Again, if a Christian believes there is supernatural power imbued in an inanimate object – Magic. Again, reason I am not a Catholic.

Faith Healing: In scripture it was the power of Christ Himself, or the Holy Spirit in the Apostles, coupled with the faith of the healed. The healer (other than Christ) was not a party to the process. As demonstrated by Benny Hinn – basically magic because he makes himself the power wielder.

Speaking in tongues: this is a power of the Holy Spirit in someone – and not something the person calls on. At least in scripture – now my particular corner of Christianity would not think it was actually real after the Apostolic age. Indeed, Paul was already downplaying it during the Apostolic age. After all, the power of Christians to speak other (real) languages was God-given at the Pentacost so that the church could fulfill the Great Commission. it was not uninteligible gibberish.

My question in the post at my place was:

what should we orthodox Christian theists think when Christians invoke God to control or predict natural events? Is that indeed magic? If it works, do you think God is the supernatural being that makes it work? Is this what is warned about in the scriptural admonitions against magic?

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Lorkas November 23, 2009 at 9:06 am

John H,
So am I to take it that you would prefer to use the definition “any act or ritual other than those approved of by Christianity which that purports to control or forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking the supernatural”?

It seems to me that adding this artificial clause is the only way that you can successfully argue for a definition that includes all of the “witches” killed by the church but excludes the (broken) magic of prayer and the magical feats performed by Jesus.

Jesus, his dad, and many other biblical characters have powers that would be described as “magical” by you if they appeared in any other context. Are you just arguing that “magical” implies a supernatural being other than Yahweh or his kid is the source of the power? I can’t see how this definition is useful to anyone who is not already committed to the truth of Christianity, so I’m afraid I can’t accept it and will go on considering the feats of Jesus, Elisha, etc. as feats of magic (until, that is, you can provide a specific definition that includes other types of magic and excludes judeochristian magic without assuming your conclusion).

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Haukur November 23, 2009 at 9:49 am

John H: Again, this is not the use of spells, etc by a person to draw power from outside of themselves

Note that many witches believe that they are working with a power that is within themselves. Indeed, pagans typically believe that the divine nature is within every living being. One articulate pagan blogger puts it like this:

“Because Paganism is a religion of connection it is inherently Magical. The interconnectedness of all things is a Great Mystery, but one which is not closed to us. Through study leading to knowledge and prayer leading to inspiration we can learn how to pull on the threads of Indra’s Net in one place in order to create the intended effect somewhere else. Because Paganism is a religion of connection, there is no part of me that is not of the Gods. Nor is there anything of the Gods to which I cannot aspire.”

The Satanists, too, say similar things. Thus the Prayer of acknowledgment of Satan’s rulership comes with the caveat that “one of the main points of the prayer is to become truer to YOURSELF. It is NOT about surrender to an entity who is perceived as being entirely separate from yourself. Satan is acknowledged as existing both inside us and outside us.”

So, be careful about using too restrictive a definition of ‘magic’, you probably don’t want to exclude all this pagan stuff.

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John H November 23, 2009 at 10:03 am

Lorkas: until, that is, you can provide a specific definition that includes other types of magic and excludes judeochristian magic without assuming your conclusion

I have actually already done that and hate repeating myself.

In brief, Biblical orthodoxy held that besides God there are other “principalities and powers” with supernatural powers. God is outside of His creation and separate from it: He is not imbued into rocks and trees, volcanos and such. That is not true of the other “principalities and powers”.

No one has been taught that they can use God or Christ as a tool to

to control or forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking the supernatural

People who did that were accused of doing “magic” and branded as witches, etc.

This has been the definition of magic in the west since there has been civilization in the west – because the definition of magic in the west is rooted in the Christian definition. That definition was aimed at Paganism (pantheism and panentheism) and it really still is. The invoking of supernatural forces to influence the natural world is a Pagan gig – not a (generally) Christian one.

You may try to re-define the word “magic” to include all supernatural acts – but I can frankly stand on the historic definition without need for warrant.

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John H November 23, 2009 at 10:13 am

Haukur: “Because Paganism is a religion of connection it is inherently Magical. The interconnectedness of all things is a Great Mystery, but one which is not closed to us. Through study leading to knowledge and prayer leading to inspiration we can learn how to pull on the threads of Indra’s Net in one place in order to create the intended effect somewhere else. Because Paganism is a religion of connection, there is no part of me that is not of the Gods. Nor is there anything of the Gods to which I cannot aspire.”

I wish I had noticed this before I responded to Lorkas – it is more more nuanced than what I said.

This idea of “gaia” is definitely at the root of “magic” – and pretty inimical to Christianity where we are indeed entirely separated from God. Magic is rooted in pantheism or panentheism (the supernatural imbuing the natural world).

I actually wouldn’t call the Satanic one magic as written. I am not familiar enough with their thing to know whether they think they have control over the supernatural to wield for their ends – but I think they believe Satan and his demons are discrete supernatural beings and not imbued into “all that there is” like the Pagans

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drj November 23, 2009 at 10:36 am

John H: You may try to re-define the word “magic” to include all supernatural acts – but I can frankly stand on the historic definition without need for warrant.

If the only significant way to differentiate Christian ritual/belief from other forms of magic is that the Christian majority chose to define it so historically, then I have to say the force of the argument behind the OP stands just as strong as ever.

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John H November 23, 2009 at 11:19 am

drj: If the only significant way to differentiate Christian ritual/belief from other forms of magic is that the Christian majority chose to define it so historically, then I have to say the force of the argument behind the OP stands just as strong as ever.

Hey, then you might as well just drop all those real words with real meanings to real people and say “Jesus is Blurpquat”

Unless, of course, real communication is important.

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Rules For November 23, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Magic is not real.
Jesus is real.
Therefore Jesus is not magic.
QED

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akakiwibear November 23, 2009 at 12:33 pm

lukeprog: Sometimes they just have supernatural powers to cause things from beyond the natural order. That’s magic, folks

Of course its is supernatural – if you want to call it magic I think you are playing semantic games, but call it that if you will.

Without a supernatural realm there is no theism, I would have thought that was a given, For example, when the Catholics recognise a miracle they have a team of experts (e.g. medical specialists for a healing – usually including an atheist) investigate and confirm that the event could not be explained by the natural order.

It this is really just a matter of semantics.

Sala kahle – peace

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Sly November 23, 2009 at 12:49 pm

John H:
I do not think of the demon’s power to influence the world as magic – it is the direct use of power.However, I could think of the person summoning and directing the power of that demon to influence the natural world as a magician  

You and others keep making this distinction, so again: what does a direct use of power even *mean*?

What is this power? It surely is not raw energy. Thus it is magic, is it not?

To add some more explanation: let us imagine a somewhat generic fantasy world. You would try and say that a wizard is channeling magic from some other source and part of this distinction is why he is using magic.

I do not buy this, as the very source itself is considered magic! Mana and things like that are often seen as pure magical energy, thus any usage of that energy is magic.

If you want to say that Jesus is just using pure god power or something, then the simple response is merely that godstuff is magic. What else could it be? Is is the raw power (whatever that means) that is the magic.

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Leon November 23, 2009 at 1:07 pm

Haukur: Indeed, pagans typically believe that the divine nature is within every living being. [...] “Because Paganism is a religion of connection it is inherently Magical” [...] “one of the main points of the prayer is to become truer to YOURSELF. It is NOT about surrender to an entity who is perceived as being entirely separate from yourself. Satan is acknowledged as existing both inside us and outside us.”

This is exactly the point. Jews and Christians and (I think) Muslims believe that the divine nature is (very) separate from living and nonliving beings — in other words, that “stuff” is just “stuff”. The pagan and Satanist you cited are themselves explicitly distancing what they do from miracles worked by God — and the only point I’m trying to make is that their definition of “magic” is the common one.

————————

Rules For: Magic is not real.
Jesus is real.
Therefore Jesus is not magic.
QED  

The opposite wrong argument is also a trap:

Jesus is not real.
Magic is not real.
Therefore Jesus is magic.

Of course, what we should be debating is:

If Jesus is real, magic is real.

Or equivalently:

If magic is not real, Jesus is not real.

————————

drj: If the only significant way to differentiate Christian ritual/belief from other forms of magic is that the Christian majority chose to define it so historically, then I have to say the force of the argument behind the OP stands just as strong as ever.

That’s true. However, as per my first point above re: paganism, I’m arguing that there’s a conceptual distinction there as well — a distinction that it seems self-identified believers in magic are keen to stress as much as believers in the supernatural without magic. Also, I’m arguing that many Buddhists, Jews, and Muslims don’t necessarily believe in magic.

Luke — for the importance of being careful about definitions, I’d suggest Richard Carrier’s Defining the Supernatural. In the same way that it’s important to distinguish the supernatural from pseudoscience and the paranormal, I think it’s important to distinguish magical things from other supernatural things. I’ll quote an extract:

The same thing could be said about ESP or crystal healing or Big Foot and so on. These are definitely paranormal claims, at least at present (there is no scientific reason to consider them plausible). But each could still be explained either naturally or supernaturally. For example [...] Crystal healing could be the operation of unknown physics or chemistry, or it could be a supernatural power.

Check out the rest of the essay if you haven’t read it already.

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John H November 23, 2009 at 1:12 pm

Sly: If you want to say that Jesus is just using pure god power or something, then the simple response is merely that godstuff is magic. What else could it be? Is is the raw power (whatever that means) that is the magic

Not by any definition that existed much prior to modern atheist snark.

If supernatural and magic were the same words we wouldn’t have two

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jesusfreak574 November 23, 2009 at 2:08 pm

Okay, I have a question. Let’s say I’m a Christian, and the question is “Do I believe in magic, according to the given definition: magic is ‘the art that purports to control or forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking the supernatural’?”

If I answer to the affirmative, does that mean that I believe that I can control or forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking the supernatural? Because then, as a Christian, I don’t believe in magic. Coincidentally, that’s what I originally read this definition to mean.

If answering to the affirmative means that I believe there is a supernatural being that controls and forecasts natural events, effects and forces, then yes, I do believe in ‘magic,’ but not any to which I have direct access. Isn’t that more clearly communicated by simply stating that I believe in the supernatural?

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Haukur November 23, 2009 at 2:54 pm

I’m reminded of that neat Dar Williams song: “you find magic from your god and we find magic everywhere”. That seemed to me like a pretty reasonable description of the difference between the Christian and Wiccan worldviews. But if you guys don’t want to have anything to do with magic whatsoever then I guess that won’t work. But isn’t there *something* that Christians think is present only in Christ and that most pagans and Hindus think is present everywhere? What can we call it if ‘magic’ is off the table? The divine presence?

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Sly November 23, 2009 at 4:33 pm

John H:
Not by any definition that existed much prior to modern atheist snark.If supernatural and magic were the same words we wouldn’t have two  

I would be fine with that if you can tell me what that power is. I keep asking it, and no one answers it. If not magic then it has to be something!

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Sabio November 23, 2009 at 5:47 pm

To understand the “Magic” conversations, I think it is important to recognize that some people have a greater propensity to magic perception than others. I think it is possible to perceive what appears to be magic and yet realize it is not the case. People who do not have these perceptions will have trouble dialoging with those that do.

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Leon November 23, 2009 at 7:02 pm

Sly:
I would be fine with that if you can tell me what that power is. I keep asking it, and no one answers it. If not magic then it has to be something!

Haukur: [...] But isn’t there *something* that Christians think is present only in Christ and that most pagans and Hindus think is present everywhere? What can we call it if ‘magic’ is off the table? The divine presence?  

Good question! I don’t know the answer. However, I think most Christians would be agnostic about whether Jesus had anything present “in him” that somehow enabled the miraculous feats — you know, some kind of “divine energy”. Sly, I think the power you’re referring to is just God’s power, which presumably can’t be channeled predictably by any human process, “artfully” used to achieve our ends, or whatever — cf. the Spirit in John 3:8. In this way, I think it differs from what most people call magical energies, forces, etc. — e.g. The Force in Star Wars.

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Hermes November 23, 2009 at 7:18 pm

John H: No one has been taught that they can use God or Christ as a tool to

” to control or forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking the supernatural”

People who did that were accused of doing “magic” and branded as witches, etc.

Now, that’s interesting.

So, when people pray for gas prices to change, or the weather to turn, in Jesus’ name. That’s not magic?

When a hurricane, an earthquake, a typhoon, or a tsunami wipes out an area that a priest vocally considers to be some modern Sodom or Gomorrah, or is harboring people who live in sin, that’s not a magical event?

Please. Clarifications are welcome. I’m all ears, waiting attentively to hear your blade cleave the shaft of yet another wispy strand from someone’s head. Or, maybe a conditioner to slow or halt the split?

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VorJack November 23, 2009 at 7:44 pm

Sheesh. Go away for a few days…

John H: All the references are to the Judaic parts of the tradition (Christ changed everything):

I won’t comment on your faith in Christ, but your faith in early Christians is misplaced. If the commands of Jesus were always followed, then – for example – there would have been no wealthy Christians for Diocletian to target at the beginning of his persecution. Certainly, some turned away from the practice of magic, but others probably reveled in it simply because it was now forbidden.

As for the people who were the supposed sources of magical knowledge – Moses, Solomon, etc. – it should be noted that in western magical traditions, practitioners always claim to have exotic ancient sources. For the Greeks and Romans it was figures like Zoroaster. For the Christians, it was Moses and Solomon. And so the work I mentioned – the Testament of Moses – is either a Christian work or a Jewish text that was modified by Christians, since it contains Christian material: “And I said to him: “By what angel art thou frustrated?” And he answered: “By the only-ruling God, that hath authority over me even to be heard. He that is to be born of a virgin and crucified by the Jews on a cross.” (Sec. 122)

The same can be said of other popular magic texts, like The Sixth and Seventh Book of Moses, a very popular work in parts of colonial America. Some traditions treated the Bible itself as a magic text, like Hoodoo (not to be confused with voodoo), the folk magic of Christian slaves in America.

Bottom line: there is extensive evidence that Christians in the ancient world and up to modern times have practiced magic of one sort or another.

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drj November 23, 2009 at 8:57 pm

Seriously folk… the pedantic way people are debating about the term magic is really besides the point, and very silly. The term has been widely used to describe nearly every kind phenomena in the world which lacks an easy material explanation.

If you accuse someone of having magical beliefs, that person will likely assume you are claiming their are fanciful, childish, absent of any logic, supernatural, etc. They get the point – no silly debate about various lores of magic is necessary, for goodness sake. The label does its job.

Despite the fact that many religious beliefs share so many similar qualities with magical sorts of beliefs, people simply don’t think of them that way. This is so, mostly because we have been immersed in religious culture since birth – one point of labeling religious belief as “magical” is to jostle free this cultural bias. The widely held consensus is that magic is not something sane people believe in, yet religious belief is of the same essence, and somehow escapes such a harsh judgment.

The strategy is obvious, effective, and powerful. It is to re-characterize religious belief in the hearts and minds of the people, so that it is associated properly with the category in which it belongs – unreasonable, childish, silly, fanciful… magical stuff.

The fact is, the practices of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are no less strange, mysterious, or magical than the practices of Voodoo, Astrology, the Tarot, or even someone like Aleister Crowley.

Its understandable that theists don’t like this.. but those are the breaks. Theists do the same – in nearly every conversation or argument about naturalism, you can be sure the theist will be using every piece of deflationary rhetoric as his disposal (ie, we’re just sacks of atoms, gears in a watch, etc etc)… thats the same type of strategy in play.

(FYI: In Dungeons and Dragons, prayers, rites, and spells powered by the intercession of gods, etc are considered apart of the divine school of magic – if anyone has credibility on the subject of magic, its D&D nerds.)

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John Quincy Public November 23, 2009 at 9:01 pm

Morality is magic. Have the balls to deny physics.

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John H November 23, 2009 at 9:08 pm

Hermes: So, when people pray for gas prices to change, or the weather to turn, in Jesus’ name. That’s not magic?

If it worked it would qualify – but the point above about God not being our “beck and call” problem solver is the issue here. We may ask, and he will answer – but the answer is as likely (in these cases) to say no. He is not a tool under our control

Hermes: When a hurricane, an earthquake, a typhoon, or a tsunami wipes out an area that a priest vocally considers to be some modern Sodom or Gomorrah, or is harboring people who live in sin, that’s not a magical event?

I do not think it even happened – magical or not. The fact that some televangelist ascribed a natural disaster to God doesn’t mean God did it (Paul would say that is not how God’s wraith is expressed in this day). Even if it was God’s wraith, no one claimed to have invoked it.

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John H November 23, 2009 at 9:12 pm

drj: Despite the fact that many religious beliefs share so many similar qualities with magical sorts of beliefs, people simply don’t think of them that way. This is so, mostly because we have been immersed in religious culture since birth – one point of labeling religious belief as “magical” is to jostle free this cultural bias. The widely held consensus is that magic is not something sane people believe in, yet religious belief is of the same essence, and somehow escapes such a harsh judgment.

Thank you. At least someone is honest that this is simply an antagonistic rhetorical tactic – and not based on any sort of rational analyis

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drj November 23, 2009 at 9:14 pm

John Quincy Public: Morality is magic.Have the balls to deny physics.  

Who says a coherent definition of morality requires defying physics? If it does, the definition one is working from, is probably not coherent.

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John H November 23, 2009 at 9:16 pm

jesusfreak574: If I answer to the affirmative, does that mean that I believe that I can control or forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking the supernatural? Because then, as a Christian, I don’t believe in magic. Coincidentally, that’s what I originally read this definition to mean.
If answering to the affirmative means that I believe there is a supernatural being that controls and forecasts natural events, effects and forces, then yes, I do believe in ‘magic,’ but not any to which I have direct access. Isn’t that more clearly communicated by simply stating that I believe in the supernatural?

Good job

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drj November 23, 2009 at 9:16 pm

John H:
Thank you. At least someone is honest that this is simply an antagonistic rhetorical tactic – and not based on any sort of rational analyis  

Well no.. its to bring perceptions back ’round to the rational. As they are now… they are irrational and inconsistent.

Its simply matter of fact speaking. If I describe the sun as a ball of hydrogen to one who believes it is a God, he might feel its antagonistic – but it really isnt.

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Hermes November 23, 2009 at 9:27 pm

John H: If it worked it would qualify – but the point above about God not being our “beck and call” problem solver is the issue here. We may ask, and he will answer – but the answer is as likely (in these cases) to say no. He is not a tool under our control

That’s not Luke’s point (as I understand it). He’s saying (corrections appreciated) that there is magical thinking and summoning of magic, not that magic actually happens and bends reality to the will of the summoner.

John H:
I do not think it even happened – magical or not. The fact that some televangelist ascribed a natural disaster to God doesn’t mean God did it (Paul would say that is not how God’s wraith is expressed in this day). Even if it was God’s wraith, no one claimed to have invoked it.

The reality doesn’t matter in this case. That they cited it as something indistinguishable from a shaman yelling “See! You disrespect the ancestors, and they have humbled you!” is the point.

In this second example, unlike the first, there is no explicit magical curse or demand or summoning, just a claim that the magical force struck out at those it disapproved of.

Surely you don’t need me to dig up explicit examples of both the first example or the second, do you? You’ve seen them yourself from Christians even if you disagreed with them each and every time they said such things.

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Leon November 23, 2009 at 9:40 pm

The fact is, the practices of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are no less strange, mysterious, or magical than the practices of Voodoo, Astrology, the Tarot, or even someone like Aleister Crowley.

The point I’m trying to make — a very, very limited point — is that although belief in Jesus may be childish, silly, unreasonable, mysterious, and strange, it is not magical.

Despite the fact that many religious beliefs share so many similar qualities with magical sorts of beliefs, people simply don’t think of them that way. This is so, mostly because we have been immersed in religious culture since birth – one point of labeling religious belief as “magical” is to jostle free this cultural bias.

Again, there are structural differences between magical sorts of beliefs and many other supernatural beliefs. It is not just cultural bias; both believers in magic and believers in nonmagical religions are keen to stress the distinction (see above).

It would be fine if the use of the term “magic” was just a playful rhetorical slur as you claim. But the post seems to me to be explicitly saying that belief in Jesus is in fact belief in magic. You may not see it as being of any value to distinguish between different varieties of nonscientific bullshit — that’s fine. But there are important distinctions there. Whether one believes in magic or miracles makes a big difference to how one understands the natural world.

If the post was only going for the slur — well, it’s then more or less content-free.

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John H November 23, 2009 at 10:32 pm

Hermes: that there is magical thinking and summoning of magic, not that magic actually happens and bends reality to the will of the summoner.

Two answers: Are you saying any Christian that invokes God to alter the natural world (attempted magic) – even if there is no theological reason for believing it will work – makes Christianity as a religion magic based? I will grant you can find all sorts of Christians who do all sorts of stupid things.

Hermes: The reality doesn’t matter in this case. That they cited it as something indistinguishable from a shaman yelling “See! You disrespect the ancestors, and they have humbled you!” is the point.

Last comment squared.

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Mark November 23, 2009 at 11:50 pm

If love is magic, does that mean my wife is also magic?

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Sly November 24, 2009 at 12:27 am

Mark: If love is magic, does that mean my wife is also magic?  

I can bite that bullet in a heartbeat. If love was indeed some kind of magic, then those who loved would be magic users.

(Luckily I do not think Love is magic =p)

Anyway Leon said:

Good question! I don’t know the answer. However, I think most Christians would be agnostic about whether Jesus had anything present “in him” that somehow enabled the miraculous feats — you know, some kind of “divine energy”. Sly, I think the power you’re referring to is just God’s power, which presumably can’t be channeled predictably by any human process, “artfully” used to achieve our ends, or whatever — cf. the Spirit in John 3:8. In this way, I think it differs from what most people call magical energies, forces, etc. — e.g. The Force in Star Wars.

This is what I am getting at. This *God Energy* sure seems indistinguishable from say the old DnD god of Magic using her magic in the world. As a dnd player and a MtG player, God energy sure looks a lot like magic to me. =)

The channeling distinction seems trivial, surely when someone derides magic it is the supernatural aspect, not the channeling of it that draws the derision.

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Mark November 24, 2009 at 12:33 am

I told my wife earlier “Baby you are magic” and she smiled. So thanks for the tip. :)

“The idea that things can pop into being without a cause is worse than magic” -Dr. William Lane Craig

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Mark November 24, 2009 at 12:39 am

Here is some pure magic for you guys, right from the mind of your favorite guy, Luke..

“First, When the laws of nature are expressed as mathematical equations, they contain certain constants, such as the gravitational constant. The mathematical values of these constants are not determined by the laws of nature. Second, there are certain arbitrary quantities that are just part of the initial conditions of the universe—for example, the amount of entropy.

“These constants and quantities fall into an extraordinarily narrow range of life-permitting values. Were these constants and quantities to be altered by less than a hair’s breadth, the life-permitting balance would be destroyed, and life would not exist.”

Talk about magic. To what great magical force of science shall we attribute such a feat?

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Haukur November 24, 2009 at 3:01 am

It’s worth noting that while the term ‘magic’ makes the Christians queasy and they insist on ‘the supernatural’ instead, almost exactly the reverse is true for many pagans. Here’s Michael York explaining his view:

“Personally, I do not like [the term 'supernatural'] and tend to avoid using it as much as is feasible. The supernatural as we know it is largely a Christian-derived expression from the idea that its ‘God’ is over and ‘above’ nature – material/empirical reality. … Instead, rather than ‘supernatural’, I turn instead to the ‘preternatural’ that expresses the non-causal otherness of nature – one that comprehends the magical, miraculous, numinous, mysterious yet non-empirical quality of the sublime.”

Nature is pretty super already.

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Leon November 24, 2009 at 3:38 am

Sly: This *God Energy* sure seems indistinguishable from say the old DnD god of Magic using her magic in the world. As a dnd player and a MtG player, God energy sure looks a lot like magic to me. =)The channeling distinction seems trivial, surely when someone derides magic it is the supernatural aspect, not the channeling of it that draws the derision.  

I think you’re right about when naturalists use the term “magic” to deride. And it would be cool if Luke had just mentioned “God-magic” or “magic Jesus” or something like that in passing — it would have been nothing more than a jibe.

But the thrust of the post is: “Jesus is magic, and all you who believe in him should just admit it”. I think believers have a right to say “no” and explain themselves — especially given that those who actually proclaim a belief in magic are careful to explain how theirs is different from Jesus-style “magic”. Even though the channeling and predictability and “artfulness” and “power” associations are irrelevant to skeptics deriding the supernatural in general, they are super important to believers of many stripes in explaining what it is they do and don’t believe about the natural world.

To expand on one of the implications just a little: the magic believer is likely to say that science doesn’t fully explain natural things; the non-magic supernatural believer is likely to say that science can completely explain natural things, but that there exist non-natural things. I think secularists who care about science should care about this distinction. There’s a reason why many skeptic organizations address magic and pseudoscience but not religion (beyond mere cultural sensitivity).

I’m not surprised that there’s non-magical supernaturalism in D’n'D (esp. if there are gods involved — though I don’t know the background). Many fantasy worlds include both magic and non-magical supernatural happenings. Picking up on what I said before — the way I think about it (this could be wrong), magic corresponds to technology in the real world.

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Leon November 24, 2009 at 4:05 am

Haukur — I think you hit the nail on the head there, thanks.

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Haukur November 24, 2009 at 7:21 am

Thank you too, Leon, I think this was a surprisingly illuminating discussion. If Christians and pagans agree in distinguishing between ‘magic’ (pagan stuff) and ‘the supernatural’ (Christian stuff) then it would be convenient if atheists could play ball and make the same distinction. It would certainly be helpful for an atheist who strives to be fair and to understand religious people.

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lukeprog November 24, 2009 at 7:28 am

Who said love is magic?

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oliver November 24, 2009 at 8:13 am

Mark: Here is some pure magic for you guys, right from the mind of your favorite guy, Luke..
“First, When the laws of nature are expressed as mathematical equations, they contain certain constants, such as the gravitational constant. The mathematical values of these constants are not determined by the laws of nature. Second, there are certain arbitrary quantities that are just part of the initial conditions of the universe—for example, the amount of entropy.
“These constants and quantities fall into an extraordinarily narrow range of life-permitting values. Were these constants and quantities to be altered by less than a hair’s breadth, the life-permitting balance would be destroyed, and life would not exist.”
Talk about magic. To what great magical force of science shall we attribute such a feat? 

The fine tuning argument is the ULTIMATE argument from ignorance. It remains a mystery as to why theists still see any value in it. It’s even a bigger mystery as to why they don’t recognize the fallacy it commits.

Perhaps the biggest mystery is why Mark thought he was being funny.

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Lee A. P. November 24, 2009 at 8:57 am

I think a point missed here and a reason Christians do not consider their supernaturalism “magic” goes part and parcel with the fact that they think that they have all the answers and are “right” about virtually all the big questions in and of the universe.

To them, OTHER religions and beliefs use magic — generally Satanic magic. But since they (Christians) are the one true religion(tm) and one true path to all reality, then their sky magician is, by definition, BEYOND magic.

Any other attempt to tap into powers by any means outside of Christianity is magic, either parlor tricks, fake bullshit, or actual black magic invoking Satan and demons.

Since Christians assume they are right about virtually all the big questions, Christian supernaturalism is genuine but all other forms are not and therefore “magic”.

Sure, its hocus-pocus bullshit, all they mean is that their God is the only true magician, but whatever.

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Jeff H November 24, 2009 at 9:17 am

Alright, I’ve been following along but haven’t said anything because I tend to think that ultimately this distinction is meaningless. Magic, not magic…who cares? Either way, I don’t believe it. But anyway, I might as well throw my arguments in here.

John H, you made the distinction that Jesus was the supernatural – he didn’t invoke it. I see this as fairly trivial. If a shaman performs some ritual to make it rain, does it matter whether the spirits have bestowed power on him, whether he’s attained a higher power through training, or invoked the power of the spirits? In other words, does it really matter where the power is coming from? Either way, magical power is being used to effect change. Whether Jesus used magic or was magic seems a pretty useless distinction to make.

Second, you also brought up the fact that Christianity largely defined the term “magic”, and they didn’t include Christian beliefs into the term. But that’s just circular (or self-referential, perhaps would be more accurate). You’re essentially saying, “Christianity isn’t magic, because Christianity defines itself as not magic.” Similarly, many cults don’t define themselves as “cults”, but that doesn’t mean they’re not cults. Ultimately, I think if the “exception” put into the definition seems arbitrary, we are justified in removing it.

Finally, you mention that Christians don’t claim to have control over these supernatural powers. I think it’s safe to say that they would, however, claim to at least be able to “influence” God – otherwise, what’s the point in praying? If God’s going to do what he’s going to do anyway, why ask him for things? Keep in mind that even if there is no theological basis for thinking that they can influence God, many Christians likely still believe it. The point in question is whether Christians believe in magic, not whether they can justify their beliefs.

Similarly, there doesn’t need to be an actual, demonstrable effect from the magical beliefs. Rain dances might not always produce rain, but confirmation bias helps people continue to believe it works anyway. Christians may not ever be able to influence God, but as long as they believe they can, we could be justified in saying that they believe in magic. The point in question is not whether magic actually exists, but whether people believe in it.

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Derrida November 24, 2009 at 10:16 am

Ah, definitions definitions.

There may be some technical definition of magic that exempts Christians believing in it, but can we all agree that Christianity is the product of magical thinking?

In a just world, the concept of the supernatural would be acknowledged to be just as absurd, just as unfounded, just as silly as the concept of magic, even if the two don’t mean the exact same thing!

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ayer November 24, 2009 at 11:01 am

Derrida: In a just world, the concept of the supernatural would be acknowledged to be just as absurd, just as unfounded, just as silly as the concept of magic, even if the two don’t mean the exact same thing!

That goal makes sense from the atheist point of view, but it doesn’t justify blurring the distinction between magic and the supernatural to accomplish that goal. To do so is just to engage in spin and propaganda, not reason. The ends do not justify any and all means.

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lukeprog November 24, 2009 at 11:27 am

For the record, I don’t think any Christians on this thread have yet admitted that according to Christian doctrine, Jesus “purported to control or forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking the supernatural.”

And yet nothing can be more blindingly obvious in the gospels or Christian theology.

Christianity is more self-deception than others-deception.

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Leon November 24, 2009 at 12:49 pm

lukeprog: For the record, I don’t think any Christians on this thread have yet admitted that according to Christian doctrine, Jesus “purported to control or forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking the supernatural.”

And yet nothing can be more blindingly obvious in the gospels or Christian theology.

Luke, you crucially ignored the “art” part of the definition. Just as importantly, Jesus didn’t “invoke” the supernatural (in the “calling up” sense of that term).

To quote myself a few posts ago:

Even though the channeling and predictability and “artfulness” and “power” associations are irrelevant to skeptics deriding the supernatural in general, they are super important to believers of many stripes in explaining what it is they do and don’t believe about the natural world.

If it pleases you, a reasonable description of what most Christians believe could be: “Jesus supernaturally controlled natural events/forces”.

This is not necessarily magic to many Christians, neopagans, and everyday English language users. The only point being made is that Christians are justified in not calling their own beliefs “magical”.

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Haukur November 24, 2009 at 4:34 pm

lukeprog: Christianity is more self-deception than others-deception.

Well, I don’t know, they kind of sold me on this ‘magic’ distinction. What they believe is wrong but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong about what they believe.

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ayer November 24, 2009 at 6:57 pm

Leon: If it pleases you, a reasonable description of what most Christians believe could be: “Jesus supernaturally controlled natural events/forces”.

Yes, that is an excellent description which clarifies the distinction. I’m not sure why Luke is pounding on this issue when I would think that “the supernatural” and “magic” are equally ridiculous concepts to the atheist–why not just pound Christians on the one they freely admit to believing in? Christians have specific theological problems with the concept of “magic”; they don’t avoid subscribing to it because it sounds embarrassing, etc. We already subscribe to beliefs considered ridiculous by the atheist (e.g., the physical resurrection) and have been laughed at by nonbelievers since Paul preached at the Areopagus.

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lukeprog November 24, 2009 at 8:53 pm

ayer,

I think it’s clear that Christians believe in magic by any dictionary definition I have seen. And yet I cannot get a Christian to read the dictionary and then admit that he believes in magic. You don’t think that’s because it’s embarrassing for them to admit they believe in magic?

Luke

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Leon November 24, 2009 at 9:14 pm

Luke, I feel you’ve repeated your point without addressing the arguments.

In (most) Christian belief, Jesus supernaturally controlled natural events/forces.

He did not use any “art that purports to control or forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking the supernatural”. He did not use the “practice of using charms, spells, or rituals to attempt to produce supernatural effects or control events in nature”.

It’s hard to know what else to say.

Use of the term “magic” to describe Jesus is embarrassing to Christians because they don’t believe in it. It’s also apparently embarrassing to some neopagans who do believe in it.

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oliver November 24, 2009 at 9:23 pm

ayer: Leon: If it pleases you, a reasonable description of what most Christians believe could be: “Jesus supernaturally controlled natural events/forces”.

Yes, that is an excellent description which clarifies the distinction.

What distinction, Ayer?

“The village shaman supernaturally levitated into the air”

“The village shaman magically levitated into the air”

Arguing for a distinction between these 2 statements is nothing more than a childish game of semantics. Sure, the mechanics might differ – one can summon his inner ‘chi’, one can cast spells, or one can appeal to higher powers from the 7th dimension… The similarity being recognised in all these scenarios has to do with the belief, in all cases, that laws of nature can be suspended (by whatever means)to yield a certain outcome.. and that’s what they call magic.

Christians, you believe in magic. No amount of sophistry (and special pleading) can rescue your beliefs from this categorisation.

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Leon November 24, 2009 at 9:48 pm

I’ll ignore the rude bits.

oliver: Sure, the mechanics might differ – one can summon his inner ‘chi’, one can cast spells, or one can appeal to higher powers from the 7th dimension… The similarity being recognised in all these scenarios has to do with the belief, in all cases, that laws of nature can be suspended (by whatever means)to yield a certain outcome.. and that’s what they call magic.

The mechanics might be irrelevant to you, but they’re relevant to both Christians and neopagans. As most Christians understand it, Jesus didn’t summon his inner anything, cast anything, or appeal to any higher powers. He was the higher power.

Your point about the laws of nature is a good one: most Christians do indeed believe they were suspended. Magic-believers, on the other hand, believe that there is no need to suspend them, since scientific laws don’t properly capture reality — instead, they believe that there are higher, magical laws and forces (qi, spell mechanics, life-force, etc.) that one can tap into which run in parallel, as it were. Neopagans believe in a “living” universe; Christians, on the other hand, believe in a “dead” material universe and then some.

oliver: Christians, you believe in magic. No amount of sophistry (and special pleading) can rescue your beliefs from this categorisation.

I think the objection is less to being called a magic-believer than being taunted for not admitting to it. I’m just trying to explain why Christians don’t confess to something false. I’ve already said that Christians do believe in the supernatural and suspensions of the laws of nature. Surely that’s enough for your sensitive BS-o-meters.

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ayer November 24, 2009 at 10:03 pm

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lukeprog: I think it’s clear that Christians believe in magic by any dictionary definition I have seen. And yet I cannot get a Christian to read the dictionary and then admit that he believes in magic. You don’t think that’s because it’s embarrassing for them to admit they believe in magic?

I am a Christian, and the very definition you cite, as pointed out by others, defines magic as an “art.” Are you saying the Bible teaches that Jesus performed miracles by studying this “art” (perhaps under the tutelage of another “magician”?) That’s one issue. The biblical record is clear on that and the term “magic” (under your own definition) does not apply. The bible portrays Jesus as performing miracles under his own authority as the Son of God, not because he has learned to manipulate a magical realm by studying the techniques of the “magical arts.”

A separate issue is how to characterize those who the bible describes who are not followers of God (e.g., the “magicians” in Pharoah’s court or Simon Magus “the sorceror” in the Book of Acts). As I recall, it’s not clear from the biblical record whether they are frauds or whether demonic powers are somehow working through them. Perhaps someone who has looked into this can help me out here. But even in the latter case, the biblical portrayal would not support any form of “art” that would allow a human to invoke the supernatural based on his own abilities. The bible does portray a world where the supernatural exists, and can intervene in the natural world in a discretionary way. Humans can make a request, but cannot force such intervention through the techniques of some sort of “art.”

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Bradm November 24, 2009 at 10:55 pm

There are a lot of Christians who believe in magic. Luke is correct about that. Luke admits he did when he was a Christian and there are plenty of other Christians who do the same thing. But – and this is a big but – these Christians are seriously mistaken about the nature of God. The God of the Bible is not one that can be invoked by magic. Christ defeated the very idea of magical thinking. The Christian God is not an instrumental god. The Christian God is not a god whom we can learn to control for our own purposes through ritual, “arts”, sacrifices, spells, etc. The third commandment is God’s command against magical thinking. God’s refusal to be named (at the burning bush) is also an instance where we can see the resistance of the God of the Bible to conjuring.

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From November 25, 2009 at 1:43 am

Christians who don’t believe in magic have never read the Bible.

An exemple among others in Ezekiel:

17 “Now, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people who prophesy out of their own imagination. Prophesy against them 18 and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the women who sew magic charms on all their wrists and make veils of various lengths for their heads in order to ensnare people. Will you ensnare the lives of my people but preserve your own? 19 You have profaned me among my people for a few handfuls of barley and scraps of bread. By lying to my people, who listen to lies, you have killed those who should not have died and have spared those who should not live.
20 ” ‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against your magic charms with which you ensnare people like birds and I will tear them from your arms; I will set free the people that you ensnare like birds. 21 I will tear off your veils and save my people from your hands, and they will no longer fall prey to your power. Then you will know that I am the LORD.

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oliver November 25, 2009 at 2:05 am

Leon: The mechanics might be irrelevant to you, but they’re relevant to both Christians and neopagans. As most Christians understand it, Jesus didn’t summon his inner anything, cast anything, or appeal to any higher powers. He was the higher power.

Your point about the laws of nature is a good one: most Christians do indeed believe they were suspended. Magic-believers, on the other hand, believe that there is no need to suspend them, since scientific laws don’t properly capture reality — instead, they believe that there are higher, magical laws and forces (qi, spell mechanics, life-force, etc.) that one can tap into which run in parallel, as it were. Neopagans believe in a “living” universe; Christians, on the other hand, believe in a “dead” material universe and then some.

According to the dictionary definition of ‘magic’ that Luke presented, ‘magic’ is:

n.

1. The art that purports to control or forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking the supernatural.

2. The practice of using charms, spells, or rituals to attempt to produce supernatural effects or control events in nature.
The charms, spells, and rituals so used.

According to the dictionary, attempts to produce supernatural effects through the use of rituals IS considered magic. Christians have many rituals (e.g. holy communion, tithing, baptism, prayer, etc) and also utter incantations i.e. pray. (According to wikipedia, incantations are “the words spoken during a ritual, either a hymn or PRAYER invoking or praising a deity” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incantation)

Therefore anytime someone prays to Jesus (who, according to you, is “supernatural”)to influence an outcome (supernaturally), then that person IS practicing magic, as per the dictionary definition of the term.

Jeff H nailed it when he said, responding to John H, that:

Jeff H: You’re essentially saying, “Christianity isn’t magic, because Christianity defines itself as not magic.” Similarly, many cults don’t define themselves as “cults”, but that doesn’t mean they’re not cults.

Exactly.

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Haukur November 25, 2009 at 3:35 am

Jeff H: You’re essentially saying, “Christianity isn’t magic, because Christianity defines itself as not magic.” Similarly, many cults don’t define themselves as “cults”, but that doesn’t mean they’re not cults.

Okay, an atheist can say this:

“Scientologists don’t believe Scientology is a cult, but in fact it is a cult”

and the analogous statement in this debate would be something like:

“Christians don’t believe Jesus used magic, but in fact he did use magic”

But most atheists aren’t going to say that because they themselves don’t believe Jesus used magic. Instead the claim being made is something much more convoluted, something like:

“Christians don’t believe they believe Jesus used magic but in fact, going by the definition of magic in dictionary X and my understanding of what a Christian should believe based on my understanding of Christianity and its holy texts it is clear that actually Christians do believe that Jesus used magic even if they believe they believe they don’t.”

So the analogy doesn’t really hold.

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drj November 25, 2009 at 7:10 am

Haukur: “Christians don’t believe they believe Jesus used magic but in fact, going by the definition of magic in dictionary X and my understanding of what a Christian should believe based on my understanding of Christianity and its holy texts it is clear that actually Christians do believe that Jesus used magic even if they believe they believe they don’t.”

I think there is a sublte equivocation floating around with the word “believe”, and it confuses things a little. I think when one says “believe in magic”, in the context of the original argument, it means something closer to “practices magic”, or “what Christians believe IS the same as magic”.

Here is my revision:

“Christians don’t believe that they practice magic but in fact, going by the definition of magic in dictionary X, my understanding of what a Christian practices, and based on my understanding of Christianity and its holy texts, it is clear that actually Christians do practice magic even if they believe that they don’t.”

This brings it back to agreement with the cult analogy. To avoid the confusion in the future, we can simply change the argument to: “Christians practice magic!”.

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lukeprog November 25, 2009 at 7:41 am

Leon,

You said: “Jesus supernaturally controlled natural events/forces.” Exactly. That’s magic. And if you’re getting stuck on the word “invoke,” then no matter: Jesus regularly invoked (called upon a higher power for assistance) God’s supernatural power. And Christians are encouraged to call upon the power of God to control natural events.

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ayer November 25, 2009 at 7:56 am

lukeprog: Leon,You said: “Jesus supernaturally controlled natural events/forces.” Exactly. That’s magic. And if you’re getting stuck on the word “invoke,” then no matter: Jesus regularly invoked (called upon a higher power for assistance) God’s supernatural power. And Christians are encouraged to call upon the power of God to control natural events.  

I’m getting stuck on the word “art.” Please explain how that word applies to Jesus.

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lukeprog November 25, 2009 at 9:29 am

“art” is pretty vague there. I’m just interpreting it as “practice.” And apparently there is a particular way to invoke the divine. Jesus taught people how to do this.

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ayer November 25, 2009 at 10:09 am

lukeprog: “art” is pretty vague there. I’m just interpreting it as “practice.” And apparently there is a particular way to invoke the divine. Jesus taught people how to do this.

Have you looked at the wikipedia entry on “magic”; see especially under “Theories of Magic, Science, and Religion”. The overwhelming consensus of experts who have studied this is that “magic, science and religion” are three separate categories with some surface similarities but fundamental differences. See,e.g., Marcel Mauss:

“The distinction Mauss draws between religion and magic is both of sentiment and practice. He portrays magic as an element of pre-modern societies and in many respects an antithesis of religion. Magic is secretive and isolated, and rarely performed publicly in order to protect and to preserve occult knowledge. Religion is predictable and proscribed and is usually performed openly in order to impart knowledge to the community. While these two phenomena do share many ritual forms, Mauss concludes that “a magical rite is any rite that does not play a part in organized cults. It is private, secret, mysterious and approaches the limit of prohibited rite.”[4] In practice, magic differs from religion in desired outcome. Religion seeks to satisfy moral and metaphysical ends, while magic is a functional art which often seeks to accomplish tangible results. In this respect magic resembles technology and science. Belief in each is diffuse, universal, and removed from the origin of the practice. Yet, the similarity between these social phenomena is limited, as science is based in experimentation and development, while magic is an “a priori belief.”[5] Mauss concludes that though magical beliefs and rites are most analogous to religion, magic remains a social phenomenon distinct from religion and science with its own characteristic rules, acts and aims.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_%28paranormal%29

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lukeprog November 25, 2009 at 10:24 am

ayer,

As I said, experts can propose stipulative definitions of magic that separate it from religion, but it remains true that Christians have a thoroughly magical worldview, steeped in supernaturalism and ancient magical rites and invoking the supernatural to affect the natural world in your own favor.

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ayer November 25, 2009 at 10:31 am

lukeprog: ayer,As I said, experts can propose stipulative definitions of magic that separate it from religion, but it remains true that Christians have a thoroughly magical worldview, steeped in supernaturalism and ancient magical rites and invoking the supernatural to affect the natural world in your own favor.  

Ok, but if all you are doing is proposing your own idiosyncratic definition of magic, intentionally oblivious to all the distinctions made by the experts, then it takes all the force out of the point you are trying to make. After all, why should believers “have the balls to admit” your definition instead of sticking to the experts’ definition?

It may “remain true” in your own mind, but that is a personal issue for you.

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Bradm November 25, 2009 at 1:43 pm

Shorter Luke: “Experts may say that religion and magic are different things, but because I’m in a mocking mood I’m going to ignore them and say the opposite.”

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Thomas Reid November 25, 2009 at 2:00 pm

lukeprog:
ayer, As I said, experts can propose stipulative definitions of magic that separate it from religion, but it remains true that Christians have a thoroughly magical worldview, steeped in supernaturalism and ancient magical rites and invoking the supernatural to affect the natural world in your own favor.  

A tenet of Christian orthodoxy is that there is a supernatural realm with beings that can and do control events in the physical realm. If that meets the minimum criteria for the belief in magic from a particular atheist’s viewpoint, then the theist should readily accept that he believes in “magic”, so defined. If I understand Luke correctly, he would consider this belief a belief in magic.

It appears no amount of tangential conversation, and indeed this conversation has followed many tangents, will change this.

But again, as I’ve said before, this is an unremarkable claim. This is not an argument for atheism. This is an idiosyncratic definition of “magic” by an atheist who is not interested in using the definition of “magic” that is used commonly in Christian orthodoxy and as is commonly understood by probably the majority of people in the Western Hemisphere. As ayer pointed out, this is an issue for the atheist, but if that’s how he wants to define it, theists can communicate with him on those terms. If the atheist tries to smuggle in other connotations that everyone else understands is associated with this word, well then call him on it then.

This doesn’t require any part of the anatomy, saves perhaps the brain, to accept. Now can we go back to discussing actual arguments like the incompatibility of morality and naturalism please? :)

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Gabriel November 25, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Luke, I don’t think you’ve said anything of substance here. Of course if God exists there would be some sort of “magic”, right? This post just seems like a mockery of theism, which doesn’t at all advance debate. I agree with you that believes in Jesus shouldn’t deny there are believing in magic. They should simply say that the “magic” label is meaningless, because it is. I don’t see how this advances any religious debate.

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lukeprog November 25, 2009 at 3:37 pm

Bradm,

Shorter Christian consensus: “Jesus is magic by every ordinary use of the word, but that shows how ridiculous our beliefs are, so we will find some specific use of the word buried in some particular academic setting by which we can get Jesus off the hook for being our invisible magical friend.”

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lukeprog November 25, 2009 at 3:39 pm

Gabriel,

No. It doesn’t advance the debate. But it could still accomplish some good. Please see Is It Okay to Mock Religion?

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Fortuna November 25, 2009 at 5:36 pm

“Theories of Magic, Science, and Religion”‘

Religion seeks to satisfy moral and metaphysical ends, while magic is a functional art which often seeks to accomplish tangible results.

Faith healing, imprecatory prayer, speaking in tongues, biblical prophecy, exorcism, “pray away the gay”, 12 step programs and anything else attributed to divine providence/intervention, from a successful surgery to finding your lost car keys…all magic, then.

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ayer November 25, 2009 at 6:08 pm

lukeprog: Gabriel,No. It doesn’t advance the debate. But it could still accomplish some good. Please see Is It Okay to Mock Religion?  

If you take that view, then you have no leg to stand on when it comes to objecting to Vox Day’s mockery. And by your standard, his accusations that atheists are disproportionately “socially autistic” is fine because it is accords with the “ordinary sense of the word” (and with a survey result on an atheist web site) and we shouldn’t bother with “expert” definitions of autism when throwing the term around. And who knows, calling some geeky science-infatuated atheist “autistic” might shock him into giving up his atheism?

I hope you can see why no one should go down that road. Vigorous, even tough, debate–yes. Mockery, distortion and spin–no.

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Leon November 25, 2009 at 6:08 pm

lukeprog: Shorter Christian consensus: “Jesus is magic by every ordinary use of the word, but that shows how ridiculous our beliefs are, so we will find some specific use of the word buried in some particular academic setting by which we can get Jesus off the hook for being our invisible magical friend.”

In ordinary use, people don’t call prayer magic (not just Christian prayer — Hindu prayer, Buddhist prayer, praying to Zeus, whatever). In ordinary use, people don’t call what Jesus is said to have done magic (nor do they call much of what Zeus is said to have done magic). Whether out of cultural sensitivity or due to a conceptual distinction, ordinary use is certainly not on your side. I’m just arguing the latter reason is more important than the former.

I don’t especially care if you mock Christian beliefs by calling them magical, superstitious, etc. It’s just annoying that you claim Christians lack balls for not confessing to something they’ve got good reason not to confess to — especially when other who do confess to a belief in magic explicitly distance themselves from what Christians believe. If Christians were to confess a belief in magic, people would get the wrong idea about what they actually believe.

I feel like your strategy is analogous to that of the Christian who says: “you atheists should have the balls to admit that you believe there is no purpose to anything and no right and wrong”. There are some atheists who believe this, just like there are religious people who believe in magic. But calling all atheists lacking in balls for not fessing up to something they don’t believe — even if you think it’s ridiculous (and I don’t; I think naturalism and moral realism are not totally incompatible) — is asking them to lie. It’s more than well-meaning mockery.

Christians have many rituals (e.g. holy communion, tithing, baptism, prayer, etc) and also utter incantations i.e. pray.

As I understand the theology, God is meant to be aware of these things, but they don’t do anything supernatural or affect the natural world in any way in and of themselves (except perhaps in the Catholic understanding of communion and baptism). It’s not an act of magic to simply talk to a supernatural being, particularly if you’re not in a magically-charged world.

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Hermes November 25, 2009 at 9:31 pm

John H: Two answers: Are you saying any Christian that invokes God to alter the natural world (attempted magic) – even if there is no theological reason for believing it will work – makes Christianity as a religion magic based? I will grant you can find all sorts of Christians who do all sorts of stupid things.

Their intent actually doesn’t matter. It’s the belief. The miracles supposed by various Catholic saints — required to have granted them sainthood — are not different from other miracle claims made by other religious individuals and groups. If the saints are given a pass on the issue of magic, then the same must be granted of all other miracle claims; that they also are not examples of magical thinking.

To me that is incoherent, yet you may see some difference between the miracles supposed by Catholic saints and those of other religious groups or that neither is magical. Regardless of your position, I’d like a clarification so I know what you think and why you think it. Also, I’d like to know where and how you can determine where that line is; on one side magic (unsubstantiated or not) and the other not (regardless of the actual events that are asserted to have transpired and the driving force that caused them to happen as they did).

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KoraKaos February 8, 2011 at 11:12 pm

Your post works only against false, hypocritical self-labeled “Christians”, and does not serve as any reason why one should not be a true Christ-ian and follower of the Christ. God does express magic. Why would the true, living God not exist as such?

“When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

Hypocrites would dismiss “other” gods. I believe in YHWH and Zdeus and Allah. These names are just labels, pointing to the true “God” (also a label) but never encapsulating Him. The gods are One, united in Being with Us. I also believe in magic. Who says a good Christian wouldn’t? Christ himself was sometimes depicted with a magic wand. I believe you are using a different definition of God than I am, though. You are saying “Old Beard Daddy in the Sky” does not exist, and you would be right about that. And those who worship said false god are idolaters. I love only the true, living God- the Way, the Truth, the Light, the Life, the Universe.

There are many definitions of magic. Here I describe a somewhat older definition: http://korakaos.wordpress.com/2010/01/22/hello-world/

You can read it right in Liddell, too:
http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0057%3Aentry%3Dgohtei%2Fa

Or, you could use a definition of magic I think Crowley and I might be inclined to use: That of expressing will through spacetime.

Love you, Luke, have a good day =D

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