That Old Black Magic

It seems to me that the religious do not think of themselves as dealing in magic. And yet, magic is what religion is all about. There seems to be a false dichotomy that religion is religion and magic is magic. But Jesus, for example, has been portrayed by some as a magician.

And, after all, Jesus is quite famous for his magic tricks. Oddly, his tricks were nothing new to the superstitious world of that time. Changing water to wine was old hat, and Dionysian priests didn’t even need the water. Walking on water would have been an unusual act in those days for a human, but Poseidon or Neptune would have been adept at all things wet.

In Christian practices, magic is so commonplace that it’s taken as just another form of religious practice. Catholics are supposed to believe without question that the wafer and the wine are the actual body and blood of Jesus and only look as if they’re bread and wine. Christians may laugh at the idea of a thousand-pound horse with wings carrying Mohammed to heaven, and yet the myth is rife with characters who “ascended” into Heaven. I once knew a young fellow who we in those days referred to as a “macrobiotics nut,” who was convinced that a particular yogi had developed the ability to levitate. For the elect, gravity is just an illusion, apparently. 

The laying on of hands is yet another strange practice that can only be called magic. It is the belief that one can somehow cause healing by the proximity of the hands of a believer. When you think how this could be true, you must wonder why hands might serve as some kind of antennae or just what sort of force or power is transmitted from, well, somewhere to the body of the ill person. One might discriminate between the demon hypothesis of disease and the other sorts such as humors or the life force. 

To Catholics, it is a mortal sin to miss Mass on Sunday. Shouldn’t one ask themselves why a set period of time between doses makes a difference? Why does this set inoculation need to occur? There are a great many such rules in Catholicism and one can only guess that they arose as the result of a concerted effort to keep the sheep in line. Other Christian sects don’t always feel the need to be so obvious in their authoritarianism.

The very idea that the sacrifice of Jesus can save us from well-deserved punishment for either our own bad deeds or those of our ancestors is a confusing sort of sympathetic magic that obviously makes no sense to a non-believer and yet is the basis for the most important part of Christianity, that we do not deserve any eternal reward but because of one person’s suffering we will all have it if only we accept the gift. Even if one accepts that Jesus was truly a god why should his brief suffering be more important than the suffering of any other? There was plenty of suffering to go around in the Roman milieu.

The scapegoat paradigm is obvious sympathetic magic – that badness can be transferred from an entire village onto a goat which is then left to certain destruction in the desert – is not so different from poking pins in a doll to cause pain in another. Expanding that idea to a human-as-goat and putting all the sins of the world on him in a mind-boggling transfer of evil is, to the non-believer, like magicking all the high-rise buildings on Earth to a new location on Mars. First, one must believe that such things are even conceivable, then one must posit some sort of mechanism by which it can be done. Shades of Siegfried and Roy! The tiger disappeared! Hesto presto and ala kazam! Oh, ho, ho, it’s magic.


About herkblog

I'm an atheist. Although that's just a part of my life, I consider it to be important enough to me to be the main theme of this personal screed. I am self-employed in a service business and I live in Idaho, a place not known for its liberal qualities.
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