What’s the Harm? Part 2
For the overwhelming majority of time humans have been on this planet, magic has been an unquestioned fact of daily life. As real as the wind, rain, the sun in the morning and the moon at night. Practical and useful for healing, farming, hunting, and making the world safer and more predictable. But all that began to change when, for the first time in human history, magic was erased.
As you recall, last time we briefly explored the Catholic church’s campaign to convince the world that magic and the supernatural only exists within the bounds of the Catholic faith. This campaign has been so successful, that now “everyone knows” that magic, ghosts, and mysterious or paranormal phenomena are, at best, just stories, at worst, evil and demonic, and strictly taboo, as far as science is concerned.
Before we go on, I want to explore the terms “magic” and “paranormal.” Both come with a lot of baggage and misconceptions, so let’s find out what’s so. Let’s look at some definitions.
The dictionary definition of Magic is:
The use of means (such as charms or spells) believed to have supernatural power over natural forces---Merriam-Webster
The definition of Paranormal:
Not scientifically explainable--Merriam-Webster
A spoken word or form of words held to have magic power--Merriam-Webster
An address (such as a petition) to God or a god in word or thought--Merriam-Webster
Notice that you could say that a prayer is a spell to God, and the miracles are paranormal because they are, generally, not scientifically explainable. So, you could say that churches are full of people doing magic by casting spells and expecting paranormal results, like wine changing into the blood of Christ, faith healing, and eternal life. Lots of people don’t like that idea, because we all “know” that magic = bad, and miracle = good, thanks to what is probably the best-funded, and longest-running marketing campaign in history. Nonetheless, magic, by any other name, is still magic.
Scientific Materialism, the belief that nothing can exist that cannot be measurable with current scientific instruments, or predicted by current scientific theory, appeared in the late 18th century as a reaction against rigid church dogma. It slowly gained traction, as the value of using the scientific method to make money, put increasing financial and political pressure on the church to back off with the witch hunts and inquisitions: They were bad for business. Another significant factor was the rampant corruption within the church. This made any threats of “divine punishment” for not following church teachings ring extremely hollow, leading many to question the existence of God, entirely.
Fast forward to the dawn of the twentieth century. People are just highly evolved animals, with no spirit or soul, programed by evolution and our environment, and life is ultimately meaningless. If God exists at all, he shows it by making the rich, richer and the poor, poorer, and the white man is at the very top of the divine order because God wants it that way.
This is all very “rational” and “scientific” of course, giving both scientific, and divine, justification for white supremacy, male supremacy, racism and sexism in general, and slavery. Because people were just animals, they should be bred, and culled, to produce the “best stock,” with no more sentiment or consideration than you would have for cattle.
This led to the Eugenics movement, with its practices of forced sterilization of anyone deemed to have “defective and degenerate protoplasm.” Although it was practiced in many countries, including the US, it saw its ultimate expression to date in Nazi Germany, with The Holocaust, and lesser known “breeding” programs, whose goal was to produce a “master race,” through ruthless extermination of “lesser stock” and strong incentives for children among the “right” people. (As horrific and backwards as this sounds, it is quite clear, from social media, that these views are still widely held today: The Quiverfull movement, for example.)
Scientific Materialism would seem to be a bad thing for the church, but it actually provided a number of benefits with minimal downsides, at least at the beginning. Although it would seem that erasing magic should also erase God, that didn’t happen. In fact, didn’t seem to have any effect at all on religious faith. Yes, there were some high-profile, atheist scientists, but the vast majority of people, including scientists, kept going to church anyway, believing in God on Sunday, and materialism, the rest of the week. What materialism effectively did, was erase magic outside the church, while leaving magic inside alone. A win, as far as the church was concerned.
Next, because Materialism said that magic (the paranormal), doesn’t exist, there is no reason to ever investigate paranormal claims, except to disprove them, and serious scientists had better things to do. The whole subject became taboo for the scientific community, and scientists would police themselves to ensure that no paranormal research was done, if done, it wouldn’t be published, if published, it would be soundly trashed: Research discredited and reputations smeared, by any means necessary. Of course, they didn’t see it that way, they, like the inquisitors before them, felt they were protecting their faith from heresy. Yes, attacking evidence that conflicts with your beliefs is the action of a True Believer, not a scientist. Here we have scientists, turning on each other to stamp out challenges to the Christian monopoly on faith! Another win for the church!
There’s another benefit to the “no research” ban, it means that no one can investigate or debunk the church’s paranormal claims either. The church gets to make any claims it wants, with nary a debunker to be seen. And with “nearly 200 major Protestant denominations in the United States,” there are lots of them, many contradictory, and some real doozies. For instance, there’s the Prosperity Gospel, which says, essentially, the more you give [to god], the more you get back. This is extremely popular among many American Christians, but is considered “an insipid heresy” by others. Is there any hard proof this actually happens? Of course not, but millions of dollars flow into churches based on this belief.
Things are starting to go south now, for Christianity, especially in the US, possibly because we have no state religion. When Christianity was just one magic, one God, among many, they had to work together to be the best among the competition. That was the original reason for the Inquisition, to purge the church of dissenting beliefs and unifying it in the face of the rising tide of Islam. But then they got greedy, and went so far as to eliminate all other sources of magic. They felt so safe and secure in their monopoly, that their unity dissolved into infighting and bickering, and fragmenting into competing sects, over 200 major ones and likely thousands of minor ones. Each one with its own beliefs, styles of worship, and interpretations of holy scripture. Then, as scientific evidence of the paranormal mounted up, along with a theoretical basis for it in Quantum mechanics, the church found itself completely unequipped to deal with this challenge to its metaphysical monopoly from the hard sciences. Their primary weapons of denial and ridicule have seriously lost their edge, and their other claim of being the “one way” to God, falls flat in face of 200+ competing, and bickering “One True Faiths.” In the face of what could be an existential crisis, the response is pretty much a doubling down on fear and hate mongering, against blacks, the poor, immigrants, “liberals,” and pretty much anything to do with sex, sexuality and gender. I suspect that we are going to see a hollowing out of the American style of conservative Christianity, with its apparent obsession with worldly values such as money, status, sex and white supremacy. When magic is available to all, who needs a church and all that baggage?
Again, this has run a lot longer than I expected. In part three I examine the tremendous damage that the seemingly simple idea, that magic doesn’t exist, (except within a church) has done to us personally, to our society, to academia, science and technology and even religion itself. Stay tuned!
As always, tell me what you think! Respectful comments are welcome!