Jesus is Not Magic

by Luke Muehlhauser on November 28, 2009 in Christian Theology

jesus sittingLast week I pissed off a lot of Christians by writing that Jesus is Magic. And in my debate with Tom Gilson, I asserted that according to Christian doctrine, Jesus is an “invisible, magical, wish-granting friend.”

Well, now I’m going to piss off some atheists. I’ve changed my mind. Jesus is not magic.

Definitions

Of course, in determining whether or not something is x, you’ve got to decide on a definition of x. According to some definitions of “magic,” Jesus is obviously magical.

Consider the phrase “magical thinking,” a term used in psychology and anthropology to refer to “non-scientific causal reasoning.” But if that is our definition of magic, then lots of things are magic. For example, many forms of moral realism would be considered magic. But that’s not what we usually mean by “magic.”

Growing up, my concept of magic was any process that could cause natural events by non-natural means, or by sheer will. Jesus is clearly magical according to this definition, too.

But let’s look at some dictionary definitions, which try to assimilate common uses for the term:

Microsoft Encarta: “a supposed supernatural power that makes impossible things happen or gives somebody control over the forces of nature.”

Merriam-Webster: “the use of means (as charms or spells) believed to have supernatural power over natural forces.”

Your Dictionary: “the use of spells, charms, and rituals in seeking or pretending to cause or control events or to govern certain natural or supernatural forces.”

Infoplease: “the art of producing a desired effect or result through the use of incantation or various other techniques that presumably assure human control of supernatural agencies or the forces of nature.”

Cambridge Dictionary: “the use of special powers to make things happen that would usually be impossible.”

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

Oxford English Dictionary: “the power of apparently influencing events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.”

So you see the problem. According to Microsoft Encarta, Cambridge Dictionary, and Oxford English Dictionary, Jesus is magic. But according to Merriam-Webster, Your Dictionary, Infoplease, and American Heritage Dictionary,1 Jesus is not magic.

So what are we to do?

I can think of one obvious solution: Use a word that is more precise, without such a confusion of meanings, and one that is already in wide use by believers and unbelievers alike. And it turns out we have such a word. It is: supernatural. Jesus is supernatural.

There’s another reason to avoid calling Jesus “magic.” If you click through to the full definitions, above, you’ll see that many of them have multiple definitions. Many of those definitions are more specific than what I’ve quoted above, and make specific reference to charms and spells and incantations and such. Of course, a great many Christians do believe in such things, but they do not seem to apply to the Jesus of the New Testament or mainstream Christian theology. So that’s another reason to avoid calling Jesus “magic.”

So according to some legitimate definitions of “magic”, including the one that was intuitive to me as I was growing up, Jesus is magic. But according to many – perhaps most – definitions, Jesus is not magic. A better word is “supernatural.”

Wish-granting

Let’s look at another adjective I applied to Jesus: “wish-granting.” For some time, I couldn’t get any Christians to explain how Jesus was not “wish-granting.” After all, he instructs his followers to submit their wishes to God, and God will grant them:

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives… (Matthew 7:7-8)

But Christian theology does not maintain that Jesus is like a genie, bound to grant all our wishes. Thomas Reid points out:

Well, if that is what you mean, then everyone who says “yes” to any request of them whatsoever is a wish-granter, and you’ve said nothing in particular about anyone. But then, [why should it be shocking that Jesus is wish-granting]? See, you can’t have it both ways here.

And he’s right. To say that Jesus is “wish-granting” is either false (in the genie sense) or devoid of meaning (in the “sometimes says ‘yes’ to requests” sense).

So there you have it. I’ve changed my mind. Jesus is not a magical wish-granter.

My apologies to the Christians I offended. Thanks for helping me to understand this better.

  1. The problem in applying the American Heritage Dictionary‘s definition to Jesus is, as several readers pointed out to me, is that Jesus does not “invoke” or “call upon” the supernatural. He is the supernatural power itself. So this definition would render Christians themselves practitioners of magic, but not Jesus/God himself. []

Previous post:

Next post:

{ 64 comments… read them below or add one }

Steven D. November 28, 2009 at 10:12 pm

Well played, sir.

  (Quote)

Kutuzov November 28, 2009 at 10:19 pm

Supernatural or magic, it still seems absurd unless you’ve been unfortunate enough to have been indoctrinated as a child.

I find it quite amusing that so many Christians are dismissive about the beliefs of Scientologists. “That’s just science fiction”; well sure, but a magical wish-giving zombie Santa Claus? That’s EASY to believe.

  (Quote)

lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 10:25 pm

Kutuzov,

Yeah, the real problem is not that Jesus is magic, as I’ve said all along, but that the evidence for the supernatural is awful. :)

  (Quote)

Bill Maher November 28, 2009 at 11:02 pm

I am taking ancient near east history and I would say that Jesus is not magic, just supernatural. Christ is in a long tradition of mythical saviors from the area that did miracle work. He was not even the only Jewish savior. Excluding this, the evidence for historic Jesus is just terrible.

I am a historian and turned to studying the evidence for Jesus and arguments for God throughout history to help re-convince me and I quickly realized there wasn’t any.

If I wanted to worship a Jew, it would be Larry David, not Jesus.

  (Quote)

Kutuzov November 28, 2009 at 11:12 pm

Fair enough; theological discussions for me are becoming something of a script. At this point I’m usually asked “haven’t you ever taken a leap of faith” at which point I respond by stating I have no reason to arbitrarily choose one god over another to fill in gaps within science that have not yet been satisfactorily answered. In response I’m often given a withering, pitying and dismissive response, which I find condescending to say the least. If only it were possible to properly portray the sense of awe and beauty one can have when religion is taken out of the equation. Life is “magical” enough without the supernatural!

The default position for a child is to not believe in any god. I admit it’s very difficult for an indoctrinated theist – brought up to value their far-fetched beliefs as sacred and untouchable – to see their religion in the same light they see competing religions. I appreciate your attempts to point this out.

  (Quote)

lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 11:18 pm

Bill Maher,

Interesting. So your faith was waning and you turned to study the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection to recover you faith, but instead found the evidence just isn’t there?

  (Quote)

lukeprog November 28, 2009 at 11:19 pm

Kutuzov,

I know what you’re talking about! I attempted to explain the “magic” of naturalism in my post “The Enchanted Naturalist’s Guide to Reality.”

  (Quote)

John H November 28, 2009 at 11:26 pm

Thank you – that takes class

  (Quote)

Haukur November 29, 2009 at 3:47 am

Kudos to you, Luke.

  (Quote)

Thomas Reid November 29, 2009 at 3:59 am

Well done.

WELL.

DONE.

  (Quote)

Walter November 29, 2009 at 5:00 am

Supernatural or magical — not much difference really. I guess we need to be “politically correct” with our theological buzzwords.

  (Quote)

brgulker November 29, 2009 at 5:55 am

Luke,

I have been following your discussion over at Discussion Grounds with quite a bit of interest.

I posted over at Thinking Christian that I thought your “magical wish granting” comments were little more than straw men (which I still think if that argument is actually employed by a skeptic, but that’s beside the point).

The point I wanted to make to you is this — it takes a lot of courage to change one’s mind, and even more to admit it publicly. It is so uncommon in a debate like this for anyone from either side to change one’s mind at all, much less less to apologize if the incorrect belief/presupposition/argument was flawed in the first place. So thanks for your honesty. And kudos to you for doing what very few are willing to do.

  (Quote)

Chuck November 29, 2009 at 6:17 am

Luke,

I’m a writer of fantasy so I think about these things a lot.

The dictionary is what we call a lagging indicator. Words aren’t static. Like us, they evolve, and dictionaries play a never-ending game of catch-up. They merely represent the majority view at a snapshot of time. However, I do think some dictionaries are better than others at getting to the most general meaning.

In my work, I use the New Oxford American. The NOA lists several definitions for magic. Here is the one most relevant to us.

magic |ˈmajik|
noun
the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces

So, according to this popular, well-respected dictionary, the difference between “magical” and “supernatural” is slim-to-none.

  (Quote)

Leon November 29, 2009 at 6:18 am

Cheers Luke.

Bill Maher:If I wanted to worship a Jew, it would be Larry David, not Jesus.  

A better choice than Jerry Seinfeld — or Bill Maher, for that matter. :)

Kutuzov: The default position for a child is to not believe in any god. I admit it’s very difficult for an indoctrinated theist – brought up to value their far-fetched beliefs as sacred and untouchable – to see their religion in the same light they see competing religions. I appreciate your attempts to point this out.

Mmm. I think it is difficult to see one’s own religion from an outsider’s point of view, but disagree about the child’s default position. The impression one gets from evolutionary psychology of religion (and common sense) is that children “by default” have plenty of cognitive biases which, unchecked, can lead towards magical and religious interpretations of things. Some of them are probably useful for abstract scientific thinking too. I strongly doubt that children live in the world of concrete objects to a greater extent than adults do.

  (Quote)

Jeff H November 29, 2009 at 8:32 am

So Luke, what you’re really saying is that David Blaine and Criss Angel are….supernatural? Ahh, now it makes so much sense!

  (Quote)

Ari November 29, 2009 at 9:08 am

So Jesus is just an invisible friend, then.

  (Quote)

ColonelFazackerley November 29, 2009 at 9:20 am

I do not see how your definitions do not fit with magic jesus.

Spells and incantations: erm, prayers. Christian ritual also involves special ingredients, just like other spells. Like the eucharist, for example.

Probably just me being thick, but I do not see it.

  (Quote)

Bill Maher November 29, 2009 at 9:31 am

lukeprog: Bill Maher,Interesting. So your faith was waning and you turned to study the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection to recover you faith, but instead found the evidence just isn’t there?  

I was married to an evangelist and trying to make my views closer to hers, so I started to study Jesus. Not only did I find that there is no good evidence for Christ, but I quickly caught on to Judaism coming from its neighboring Syria-Canaan religions. As a historian it would be wrong of me to shut off my intellectual honesty while dealing with the Bible and the history of Abrahamic faith.

  (Quote)

Robert Gressis November 29, 2009 at 9:38 am

Good on you, I think. Having said that (yes, I watch Curb Your Enthusiasm), your discussions of Jesus as a magical, invisible, wish-granting friend certainly made me think hard about whether or not that description was accurate.

On another note, are you going to resume your debate with Tom? If you said so already, I missed it.

  (Quote)

Sharkey November 29, 2009 at 10:27 am

Luke, I find your argument to be incorrect; “Jesus is magic” is a true statement given the definitions you provide, even the ones that you claim don’t hold. Specifically, the counterexample of Mark 7:31-37 for (at least) the Merriam-Webster and the YourDictionary definitions. Jesus uses a spell (“Ephphatha!”) and a charm (“Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue”) to cure a natural disease via supernatural means.

  (Quote)

Steven November 29, 2009 at 10:32 am

I’ve often thought that “magic” is still too structured of a word to correspond with “supernatural.” Magic (although fictitious) usually has to obey certain rules – a kind of parallel to naturalism (turn around 3 times in the magic circle, say “Sasquatch” and your hair will grow back)

Supernatural is more like the power a computer programmer has over his/her program. There are no rules. Once we open up that can of worms anything can happen. The world and all its history could have actually been created 10 minutes ago, etc. Any rules we attempt to put on the alleged supernatural are based in our naturalistic thought, so they are arbitrary.

Anyway, great series of posts. I appreciate the developing journey of your (and our) thoughts.

  (Quote)

Royce November 29, 2009 at 10:44 am

Does anyone remember the old “Purple People Eater” rock song from the 60′s? Was he a Purple-People Eater? Or a Purple People-Eater?

Perhaps you should rephrase your accusation as “Jesus is a magical-wish granting friend”. Jesus, himself, is not magical, but the wishes he grants are magical. This differentiates him from everyday humans, who can only grant non-magical wishes. And here, I am using “magical” and “supernatural” nearly interchangeably with the slight concession that the rephrasing does not require Jesus to be magical. Only the wishes.

Well, that’s my lame attempt at humor. Not quite Larry David.

  (Quote)

drj November 29, 2009 at 11:48 am

I think you’ve kept your mind a little “too open” on this one Luke, and you’ve reversed your position to a wrong one. Sheer stubbornness of will and endless redefinitions of simple terms (not reason or good sense) have thoroughly confused matters, over what is a simple, true, claim – that Jesus is magic.

In any case, I look forward to more interesting discussions.

  (Quote)

drj November 29, 2009 at 11:55 am

Tell you what though… if I ever get into serious legal trouble, I don’t think I’ll hire a lawyer. If I need some serious reality distortion, I’ll go straight for the apologists!

  (Quote)

Kip November 29, 2009 at 12:25 pm

Something can be supernatural, but not affect the natural, and therefore, not be “magical”. Jesus affects the natural world, so would be considered “magical”. Because he uses his magical powers at the bequest of his followers, I think “wish-granter” is also a fitting description.

I look forward to the retraction of your retraction. :)

  (Quote)

lukeprog November 29, 2009 at 1:07 pm

Jeff H,

Well, at least there is much better evidence for David Blaine and Criss Angel having supernatural powers than there is for JESUS having supernatural powers.

  (Quote)

lukeprog November 29, 2009 at 1:09 pm

ColonelFazackrley,

I agree that many kinds of Christianity, especially in Africa and Latin America, are thoroughly magical. All I said above was that it’s probably not best to call the Jesus of the New Testament magical.

  (Quote)

lukeprog November 29, 2009 at 1:10 pm

Robert,

I’m glad it made you think about those questions. That was my intention.

Some more food for thought: even if the NT Jesus is not magical according to a slight majority of dictionary definitions, a great many popular Christian practices certainly fit the bill as being blatantly magical.

  (Quote)

lukeprog November 29, 2009 at 1:12 pm

Sharkey,

I think the difference is that magic is typically a practice of summoning external supernatural powers to bend them to your own will. Christians may be like that, but Jesus himself is not like that because Jesus IS the supernatural power. He doesn’t have to “summon” it. But you’re right, the major counterexample to the claim that Jesus is not magical is Mark 7:31-37.

  (Quote)

lukeprog November 29, 2009 at 1:16 pm

Kip,

Well, I already gave my reasons in the above post…

  (Quote)

Silver Bullet November 29, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Like Kip and others, I also think that you have made a mistake in changing your mind Luke.

The terms “magic” and “wish-granter” are accurate to describe Jesus, and they are, in fact, words that non-believers ought to use to describe him because they highlight the double standard of belief.

If I say that my son’s cancer was cured by “magic”, no reasonable person, Christian or otherwise, would believe me.

If I say that my son’s cancer was cured by my grandfather, who has the power to grants wishes if he chooses, again, no reasonable person, Christian or otherwise, would believe me.

But if I say that my son’s cancer was cured because my grandfather prayed to Jesus and Jesus healed him, millions of mainstream Christians buy it, celebrate it, and revere it. Jesus is the ultimate genie-in-a-bottle, even if he is picky about what wishes he grants in this world, because he can provide for Christians any wish, including the ultimate wish: immortality.

You should not have changed your mind Luke. The tension created by these terms arises from the double standard that Christians employ to sustain their belief, and as you have pointed out, that form of tension can provide an important “jolt”. Using terms that help to set Christian beliefs apart in some special category (“supernatural, but not magical”, “prayer-answerer, but not wish-granter” – nonsense on both accounts) is, in my opinion, and in the light of your personal experience, not the way to go.

  (Quote)

Mark November 29, 2009 at 3:47 pm

Hey gullible Christians! Your Jesus guy is a magical genie and you’re all superstitious fools!

Errr wait a second, maybe I ought to check some definitions. Hmmm let’s see here. Eureka! I found seven definitions and according to those definitions Jesus is NOT in fact a magical genie. Well look at that. Who knew. Must communicate immediately.

Hear ye hear ye, the great Luke has reversed course. Jesus is not magic. My apologies to all those Christians who were angry at me for my snap judgment about their little invisible friend guy.

The interminable quest for truth continues in earnest!

Yours in truth and subject-to-change mockery,

Luke

  (Quote)

Michael Thackray November 29, 2009 at 5:15 pm

your bitter Mark.

shush now.

  (Quote)

Rev. Dawkins November 29, 2009 at 8:01 pm

I’ve been watching this dialogue and I want to caution my fellow atheists. Too many of our arguments about the existence of god depend on the assumptions of theists. This argument about the magical or supernatural nature of Jesus is such an argument. If god does exist, then his actions, and thus the actions of Jesus, would not be necessarily supernatural or magical from HIS perspective. They would only be supernatural from the perspective of first century or even 21st century followers. One could imagine a conversation with god in which god would say “these actions are as natural as gravity. They only appear magical because you lack the vocabulary and understanding to make sense of them” Lately, I’ve been trying to discipline myself to stretch beyond trying to prove that “this” god does not exist or worse yet that their image of this god could not exist.

  (Quote)

Kip November 29, 2009 at 8:33 pm

If god does exist, then his actions, and thus the actions of Jesus, would not be necessarily supernatural or magical from HIS perspective.

Actually, if god exists outside of nature (which is what “supernatural” means), and acts in such a way to affect the natural world, then, by definition, his actions are “supernatural” (and “magical”).

Certainly, there is a relative perspective, here, in that a being outside of nature (whatever that means) would not seem “supernatural” to itself, but it would realize that it was supernatural relative to the natural perspective in which it was acting.

Similarly, Michael Jordan is not “tall” relative to himself, and probably wouldn’t even think of himself as “tall” if not for the relation he has with all of us “short” people. But, the truth is, relative to us, Michael Jordan is tall, and relative to the natural world, Jesus is magical.

  (Quote)

Rev. Dawkins November 29, 2009 at 9:02 pm

but that’s exactly my point, Kip. I believe we get lazy when we begin with the assumption that if a god existed, it would have to be outside of nature. It might look that way to those with a limited understanding of nature, but that’s not the same thing. If string theorists are right about the nature of reality, would the 6th dimension be considered to be outside of nature? It would simply mean that our understanding of “natural” needed to expand. The idea that god exists outside of nature is a construct of theists. It’s a construct that only holds together if you were socialized into it. But disproving the construct is not the same thing as disproving the existence of any god.

To concede that saying that “Jesus is magical” means only that he is magical in relation to the rest of us, seems to render the claim meaningless. It would not be irrational to believe in a being that only “seemed” to be magical in relation to me.

  (Quote)

Kip November 29, 2009 at 9:06 pm

Rev. Dawkins: I have no idea what could possibly exist outside of nature, but I also have no idea what sort of “god” could exist inside of nature, either. Anyway, you may be a “fellow atheist”, as you say, but you are sounding a bit woo-woo.

  (Quote)

Rev. Dawkins November 29, 2009 at 9:27 pm

That’s a fascinating response. “nothing can exist outside of nature and no god could exist inside of nature, therefore no god can exist”

That should take care of it :)

  (Quote)

lukeprog November 29, 2009 at 9:42 pm

Rev. Dawkins,

I don’t understand. Wouldn’t a freakin’ wizard be “only magical in relation to the rest of us”?

  (Quote)

Tom Gilson November 30, 2009 at 3:53 am

Luke, you’ve made some excellent distinctions between “magic” and “supernatural” in your OP and in subsequent comments, even though your many of your commenters don’t see it the same way. I applaud you for that.

It’s interesting that what you said in the OP about “wish-granting” hasn’t brought forth much discussion. I don’t have any conclusions in particular to draw from that; it’s just interesting to me and I thought I’d point it out.

  (Quote)

Haukur November 30, 2009 at 5:17 am

Rev. Dawkins: That’s a fascinating response. “nothing can exist outside of nature and no god could exist inside of nature, therefore no god can exist”

That should take care of it :)

The only possibility remaining is that nature *is* a god. That’s a venerable view and it has a number of adherents today. Not just Taoists, Hindus and assorted pagans but also some other people.

  (Quote)

Kip November 30, 2009 at 6:25 am

According to typical Christian theology, Jesus performed miracles (used supernatural forces that defied natural laws) when he was on Earth in the form of a natural man. He was by any definition in the OP, “magic”, at that time.

The problem with only using the word “supernatural”, is that you lose the “miracle” connotation of the word — the part where the supernatural force is used to invoke change in the natural world. A deist, for example, would believe in the “supernatural”, but not in “magic”.

  (Quote)

Rev. Dawkins November 30, 2009 at 6:47 am

Luke,
That’s a good question but i don’t think it’s the same thing. I don’t believe in gods and I don’t believe in wizards but not for the same reasons. I know of many mythical worlds that contain more than three dimensions but that does not prove that I don’t live in such a world. Simply placing god in the category of silly magical beings is not enough to disprove existence. Can I say that all beings that act beyond my understanding cannot exist? as an old atheist, I’ve been watching this for decades now. we keep picking at the god construct of christians and they keep evolving in their construct. lately, a new view of god is emerging. intelligent design is just the first step. this new construct dates back to thinkers like Bonhoeffer who warned that the god of the gaps model could not be sustained. instead, he offered that we must understand god within the framework of what we DO know. In other words, the new god construct that is emerging is one in which god acts and creates through nature. god creates through evolution and is no more magical than I am. god is simply more powerful and has a far superior understanding of all that is “natural” In this model, god does not exist outside of the natural and act on a whim but instead is as natural as the world itself and is revealed but not fully comprehended in the order and complexity of nature.

my point is that while we believe that we are in a discussion about the existence of god, we seem to be only in a discussion about a specific understanding of god. our identity is tied to the identity of a specific group of theists. And every time we demonstrate that a particular theistic view is irrational, someone comes along and offers an adjusted view. This has been happening for centuries and is, in my opinion, the actual story of the bible. it presents an account of the evolution of a specific god construct. god goes from being a being that orders his people to commit genocide to a loving friend in just a few short years.

i guess i’m just tired of being a part of the game. I’d like to be a part of a dialogue that is more than just reactive.

  (Quote)

lukeprog November 30, 2009 at 8:29 am

Tom,

What is “OP”? Original post? You mean the post you’re commenting on just now?

  (Quote)

Chuck November 30, 2009 at 9:40 am

Luke,

OP depends on context. Sometimes it means “original post” (in a forum, the first post of the thread). Other times it means “original poster”. I’ve never seen it used in the context of a blog, but I’m guessing he means your blog entry.

  (Quote)

Silver Bullet November 30, 2009 at 11:49 am

Tom Gilson:It’s interesting that what you said in the OP about “wish-granting” hasn’t brought forth much discussion. I don’t have any conclusions in particular to draw from that; it’s just interesting to me and I thought I’d point it out.  

Here are my thoughts on this:

If I want my cancer cured immediately, I don’t say it that way. I say that I “wish” it was gone. If I really would have preferred the Roughriders to win the Grey Cup, I don’t say it that way. I say that I “wish” they had won. If I want you to have a good future, I don’t tell you that. I offer you best “wishes”.

The word “wish” can certainly be used to convey an ordinary desire, but in those cases, one could replace it with the word “want” or “desire”.

The word wish has its unique meaning when referring to desires for situations or outcomes that we can’t control or influence easily or at all under ordinary or present circumstances.

A genie is one very narrow example of a mythical entity that can grant wishes, but I don’t see why one would have to only consider genies when considering wish-granters, or the apparent necessity of a genie to grant one’s every wish.

Jesus absolutely is a wish granter, even if he doesn’t grant every wish. He apparently cures people’s cancers, and saves them in plane crashes, and helps them secure a Grey Cup win (as the victor’s acceptance speech attests to). He also apparently grants people the ultimate wish: everlasting life in heaven.

To say that Jesus is a prayer-answerer but not a wish-granter because he doesn’t grant every wish is just nonsense, because its not the frequency with which he grants wishes that is the issue. Rather, it is the nature of the desire. To mainstream Christians, prayers are wishes all the time, even though they don’t want to consider their prayers that way. If they weren’t “wishes”, they’d take care of those desires themselves.

While the idea of a wish-granter seems preposterous, the idea of a prayer-answerer doesn’t get a second thought. That double standard is exactly what must be challenged, so the use of terms like “wish-granter” is the appropriate term for a non-believer to employ.

  (Quote)

Kip November 30, 2009 at 12:04 pm

Silver Bullet: Well said; I agree. I think Luke, in attempts to be open minded and accommodating, has temporarily lost sight of the bigger picture, here.

  (Quote)

Silver Bullet November 30, 2009 at 12:34 pm

Kip: Silver Bullet:Well said; I agree.I think Luke, in attempts to be open minded and accommodating, has temporarily lost sight of the bigger picture, here.  

I continue to have unending admiration and respect for Luke’s patience and open mind, and I “wish” him the best on the anniversary of his terrific (my favourite) free thinking blog.

  (Quote)

Chris November 30, 2009 at 4:52 pm

I appreciate your demonstration of intellectual integrity and moral character.

  (Quote)

lukeprog November 30, 2009 at 8:53 pm

Chris,

Thanks.

  (Quote)

Kip December 4, 2009 at 7:26 am

Google has a new dictionary service (http://www.google.com/dictionary)

It defines magic as (http://www.google.com/dictionary?langpair=en|en&q=magic):

Magic is the power to use supernatural forces to make impossible things happen, such as making people disappear or controlling events in nature.

There is no qualification that the supernatural force can’t be your own. The only reason that would normally be the case is because most people aren’t supernatural.

  (Quote)

lukeprog December 4, 2009 at 7:39 am

Kip,

I’ve already acknowledged that “magic” describes Jesus perfectly according to several legitimate definitions of the word. That doesn’t change what I’ve written above.

  (Quote)

Kip December 4, 2009 at 8:37 am

Luke -

I disagree with this: “But according to many – perhaps most – definitions, Jesus is not magic.”(*)

I also disagree with this: “But according to Merriam-Webster, Your Dictionary, Infoplease, and American Heritage Dictionary, Jesus is not magic.”

A “spell” just means verbal magic. The Bible says that Jesus uses verbal magic. Also, the Merriam-Webster definition has that part in parens, followed by “as”, which I read to be examples, but not exclusive forms of magic.

My comment was to offer another definition to your set. Either way, even the set you site, in my view, does not lead to your conclusion.

Also, according to “YourDictionary”, the adjective “magic” means “producing extraordinary results, as if by magic or supernatural means”. That certain fits Jesus.

Wikipedia defines it as: Magic (paranormal): the use of supernatural methods to manipulate natural forces

Here’s another definition (http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=magic):

“possessing or using or characteristic of or appropriate to supernatural powers”

I don’t see how you conclude that most (applicable) definitions of “magic” would not apply to Jesus.

(*) Assuming you are limiting the set of definitions that are applicable. Otherwise, this statement could disqualify any number of things from being labeled as they normally are, since words can have multiple meanings. For example, “spell” couldn’t mean “verbal magic”, since most definitions of “spell” wouldn’t apply. In this context, “magic” is referring to supernatural magic, not the art of prestidigitation, so “Jesus is magic”, would be true.

  (Quote)

lukeprog December 4, 2009 at 7:31 pm

Kip,

I agree that according to many definitions, Jesus is magic. According to others, he is not. It’s a confusing word. But there’s no doubt that he’s supernatural. And I certainly have no problem saying that Jesus is an obviously mythical figure as presented in the gospels.

  (Quote)

Kip December 5, 2009 at 12:46 am

lukeprog: Kip,I agree that according to many definitions, Jesus is magic. According to others, he is not. It’s a confusing word. But there’s no doubt that he’s supernatural. And I certainly have no problem saying that Jesus is an obviously mythical figure as presented in the gospels.  

You didn’t reply to my direct disagreements, Luke. I do not think that your statements I replied to are true. “Many” is not “most”. I think according to most definitions, and more importantly, most common usage of the term magic, Jesus is magic.

This last reply of yours is like saying: According to many definitions, Obama is black. According to others, he is not. But, there’s no doubt he’s melanin-ful. (So, you conclude that he is not black, and just say he is melanin-ful instead.)

It misses the point. This point:
http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=4972

And this point:
http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=108

And this very important point:
http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=5187#footnote_0_5187

And I think it misses several of these points:
http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=1855

If you are talking to a Christian with no hope of deconversion, then you might as well drop the word “magic”. But, if you are talking to the average Christian, who hasn’t really examined their beliefs, the word “magic” (along with “wish-granting” and “invisible friend”) are good tools in support of your goal. And they are not dishonest. They are powerful words that promote honest examination of the beliefs. The word “supernatural” will not have that effect on the average Christian.

  (Quote)

Kip December 5, 2009 at 1:36 am

Luke, it appears to me that several Christians have convinced you to respect their beliefs by not using words that offend or caricature them. I find this most unfortunate, and would hope that you would find that you can still use these words, wisely, when the time is suitable (e.g. probably not at the beginning of a detailed theological debate).

  (Quote)

lukeprog December 5, 2009 at 6:26 am

Kip,

My problem is that I really don’t know what the most common usage of the term magic is. Growing up, I thought the common usage was basically the Google definition. But a check through some dictionaries reveals that apparently it often has very strong connotations of spells and potions and stuff. So when I use the word magic, people might be unsure whether I just mean supernatural (in which case, why not just say “supernatural”?) or spells and potions (in which case, it seems to misrepresent many Christian theologies).

None of that changes the truth that Christian theology is ridiculous and I am going to bash it. I’m still going to try to use strong rhetoric at the right times to supplement strong arguments. I still think it can be useful to jolt believers as I was jolted. And I still want to plant seeds of doubt and critical thinking.

  (Quote)

Kip December 5, 2009 at 10:01 am

Just came across this quote from Richard Carrier:

By and large the minds of the ridiculous can’t be changed. It’s their flock we’re talking to. But even the ridiculous change under ridicule–as I said, some respond by getting more ridiculous (and those are the ones who could never be swayed even by the politest methods), but others accumulate shame until they see the error of their ways (I’ve met many ex-evangelicals who have told me exactly that). Thus, ridicule converts the convertible and marginalizes the untouchable. There is no more effective strategy in a culture war.

http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2009/12/richard-carrier-on-use-of-ridicule-via.html

  (Quote)

lukeprog December 5, 2009 at 2:47 pm

Kip,

Yeah, I liked that too!

  (Quote)

Anonymous December 19, 2009 at 2:21 pm

@Bill Maher

So how did your marriage to the evangelist go? How did she take it?

  (Quote)

shackleman January 4, 2010 at 9:58 pm

kip quotes: “By and large the minds of the ridiculous can’t be changed. It’s their flock we’re talking to. But even the ridiculous change under ridicule–as I said, some respond by getting more ridiculous (and those are the ones who could never be swayed even by the politest methods), but others accumulate shame until they see the error of their ways (I’ve met many ex-evangelicals who have told me exactly that). Thus, ridicule converts the convertible and marginalizes the untouchable. There is no more effective strategy in a culture war.”

Which is true?

A) Jerry Falwell used this same tactic against atheists, shaming them into realizing how sinful they were and getting them to repent and convert as a result.

B) This quote is nothing more than rabble-rousing for the already committed, especially appreciated by ones who have a tendency toward being rude internet bullies.

C) Both.

  (Quote)

Lauren Stewart August 30, 2010 at 8:07 am

David Blaine is not the best magician but he surely amazes me with his old tricks:,,

  (Quote)

Aimee Chapman October 11, 2010 at 2:03 am

both David Blaine and Chris Angel have great showmanship when it comes to magic tricks~;-

  (Quote)

Todd December 13, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Jesus is not magic; he just does it.

  (Quote)

Leave a Comment