Search This Blog

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Magic and Sorcery, Are They Evil?

My article on why I write fantasy as a Christian garnered some comments in a group I'm part of a few months ago when it was published at Residential Aliens. Part of the concern dealt with fear that such things as magic, wizards, and witches lent a sense of "it's okay to dabble in the occult" and that the Bible prohibits such practices as sorcery of any kind. I'd promised to address this Biblical issue more in depth at the time and have finally done it.

Magic and sorcery, are they evil? That in part depends what you're talking about. If you're talking about a magician who uses card tricks and such to entertain people, then I would say no. Such magic isn't inherently evil.

But what about "black magic" or the like? In real life, such things are usually understood from a Biblical perspective as evil. However, it is not the simple casting of a spell itself that is at issue. No, far from it. If that were the case, then such evil magic would appear to be no different than someone offering up a prayer for healing and having it happen.

This is clearly illustrated for us in Exodus 7 and 8. In those chapters, Moses performs what we would call miracles. He tosses his rod on the ground and it turns into a snake. He strikes the water of the Nile and it turns to blood. He calls out frogs to plague the land. The problem is, the magicians of Pharaoh's court do exactly the same thing. So what makes the magicians "evil magic" but Moses' "miracles"?

I make the point in my article on why I as a Christian write fantasy to show that the principle that all comes from God has to be upheld. That sin is a perversion, a corruption of God's intended use for anything. This is no different here.

To understand, we must go back to Genesis 1. God created man and woman on the sixth day, and on the seventh He rested and called it the Sabbath. The number "six" becomes associated with man. Now jump to Revelations, to the infamous passage that the number 666 will be placed upon the forehead and/or hand of every person, and it is called the "Number of the Beast." Many have gone through elaborate systems to attempt to determine who will be the anti-Christ based on this number. But there is a more basic meaning here that applies to all of us, whether or not we ever see a literal 666 stamped on our bodies.

For repeating 6, man's number, three times poetically indicates completeness. The number at its heart represents man as self-sufficient, as not needing God—secularism. The foundation of sin is man wanting to be like God, to eat the fruit, desiring to be in charge, to have the power. But all such desire does is corrupt the good that God has created into something destructive to us spiritually and physically. We bear the mark of 666 when our thinking (on our foreheads) and our actions (on our hands) are steeped in secular thinking. A belief that there is a reality and power apart from God.

This illustrates why Moses and the magicians did the same feats, but one we call magic and sorcery, while with Moses we call them miracles from God. Indeed, when the magicians finally cannot match what Moses accomplishes, they conclude that his God is too powerful.

This shows us that the ability itself to do something supernatural is not evil. Rather, it is whether one acknowledges that such a supernatural ability comes from God or not. It just so happens in everyday life and in the Bible, rarely is the word "magic" and "wizard" used to speak of a prophet who makes axe heads float on water. Those words are reserved for those who believe their power comes from another god, or from themselves.

In other words, the magicians were using the same power as Moses did, but they failed to acknowledge its source. They wanted to claim the power as being under their control, not God's. And for that blaspheming of the Holy Spirit by not acknowledging Him as the source, they have corrupted God's power and are using it in an evil way.

So when you see passages in the Bible condemning sorcery, wizards, witches, and the like, it is referring to someone who accesses God's power but claims it as their own or another god's. In Scripture, such words refer to the corruption of God's power.

It is with that understanding as a foundation that we can now move into the realm of fiction. There are those Christians who cannot look beyond a surface level understanding of what a word means, and when it is used in a different context, fail to understand it properly in that world created by the author. For instance, in the Harry Potter series, much maligned on this point, magic is understood as a force you can learn to control. Good people will use it for good, evil people will use it for evil. The word "wizard" in that world doesn't mean what it does in ours. It is someone who has learned how to control what is there in creation even if by means of a gift at birth. A wizard in that world is not the equivalent of a wizard in our world.

Rather, one must understand what an allegory is, and the limits of allegory. There is never a one-to-one correspondence on all points with "reality," but often such allegory illustrates the truth. It is a fictional world created to tell a fictional story. Therefore, to make assumptions that it is identical to its equivalent in this world is foolish. It's called fiction for a reason, because it's not reality.

Magic and wizards in most of these stories bear little resemblance to one called such in real life. If you're curious, research real pagan rituals and see if it looks anything like what you saw in Harry Potter. Nope, not the same. So much so that real-world witches and wizards despise the books because they feel it promotes stereotypes of who they are.

Rather, allegorical stories can highlight the issues in our reality in unconventional ways, making them easier to swallow, not just for the Christian, but the non-Christian as well. In my own story, I have an evil wizard, a good wizard who derives his power from God and knows it, and a prophet. They all do supernatural things. But it illustrates the fact in our real life that we are all given gifts by God to use, and how we use them determines whether we use them in an evil way, not the term we chose to label them with.

Am I, or any other author who uses wizards and such in their stories saying, "Hey, this is the occult and it's fine to use it?" Not hardly. Do we suspect Poe is saying we should be psychos simply because his stories have some in there? Does one really think CS Lewis using the term "Deep Magic" to refer to God's power mean that he thinks God's power is occultic? No, it's an allegory illustrating the power of God and the gospel message. What is occultic about God's power? Just because he labels it "Deep Magic" doesn't make it occultic in his world anymore than calling an orange an apple turns it into an apple.

In reality, using such terms within a fictional story in a way not often used in real life highlights the fakery of real-life occult practices. They are nothing more than perversions of God's power and creation being used for selfish purposes.

I should add that there may indeed be cases where someone who has converted to Christianity from an occult group may find such things too tempting. If that is true, then I would suggest that person stay away from fantasy stories, Christian or otherwise, or be very selective in what they read, just as I would recommend an alcoholic stay away from bars.

However, for any who have come from that religion they would be hard-pressed to equate what happens in most fantasy stories with what they experienced from that world. For most of them, it won't be a temptation to return to paganism—in which case there's more at issue than reading a fantasy story going on—but a realization that this fantasy world is indeed made-up and not real.

The Biblical injunction against sorcery in the Bible is specifically referring to those people who use God's power for selfish purposes, believing the source of the power derives from somewhere other than God. It's forbidden because it's a lie.

But if a character in a fictional story is labeled as a wizard but believes and understands his power comes from God, then he is really no different than a prophet in the Bible. He asks God via a "spell" that is the same as a "prayer" and God does it. The label doesn't change the reality presented in the story to equate to the Biblical prohibition against wizards because they do not treat God's power the same. The former believes God ultimately does it, the later that they or their "god" does it. And that is what underlies the Biblical prohibition against wizards and witches. Not merely the label that is used.

So, why use the label? Why not just call that wizard a prophet?

Simple. If you are wanting to reach a certain audience, you use terms and concepts they are used to seeing. By so doing, and establishing a different underlying basis for why one is bad and the other is good, you aid in helping to change their perspective. It's a form of evangelism, subtle but effective.

When St. Paul stood before the philosophers of Athens, and claimed to tell them about the "Unknown God" they had an idol to, guess what current day Christians would say about that? They would lambaste St. Paul for equating our God with an idol. Why, he can't do that! That's totally unbiblical! There are countless prohibitions even in the famous Ten Commandments against it. Yet, there's St. Paul telling the Athenians that their idol is really talking about his God. Why? He used their language, their point of reference to help them see something beyond what they currently understood.

We are not going to reach many in the world by speaking Christianese all the time. They'll turn it off faster than a televised Billy Graham crusade. Sure, sometimes you can reach someone that way, but many more never even give a thought to Christianity because they assume it is like what they experienced as a child, or what their annoying "Ted Flanders" neighbor is like, or how it has been portrayed so often in movies and TV. So the first mention of anything Christian and their ears plug up. If you want to reach them, you use their terms as a starting point.

As a fantasy author, I can guarantee you that my wizards are nothing like their real-life counterparts. They are fantasy, not real. They are creations of my own mind to serve specific purposes. I know it can be a little work, but don't assume labels point to the same things in a fantasy world as they do in the real world. That's the point of fantasy, is that they don't. It is an un-real world even if it illustrates for us some real world issues and conflicts that we all face.

Real-life sorcery is to be avoided. That doesn't mean I shouldn't use their concepts and turn them on their heads to show what God's reality is really like in ways they'll be able to see and relate to. If I can do that in an entertaining way that will make the pill easy to swallow, I've accomplished my purpose.

Enjoy the journey!

No comments:

Post a Comment