Myth and Magic

Magic and religion are difficult to tell apart.  Scholars have known this for some time, but don’t often say anything about it for fear of offending.  A few days ago Religion News Service ran a story headlined “How the ‘Harry Potter’ books are replacing the Bible as millennials’ foundational text.”  While many reacted with shock, to me the fact that a foundational text can be identified at all is a relief.  You see, reading is good for you.  Really, really good for you.  One of the most hopeful things I observed as a parent was the increased quality and volume of young adult literature available.  Of course it’s produced to make a profit, but the fact is it showed that reading is alive and thriving.  If the young make a habit of it, well, let’s hope that habit’s hard to kick.

My own reading doesn’t always keep pace with my desire to do more of it.  I go for a couple of weeks sometimes without finishing a book.  I begin to feel depleted.  There’s something spiritual about reading, and fiction can reach parts of your soul that are on guard when non-fiction’s your subject.  And that’s like magic.  It took a couple years for me to catch on to the Harry Potter craze.  Eventually my wife and I broke down and bought book one and read it together.  As millions of readers can attest, that first book was a fishhook.  We all really hope the world does contain some magic.  Many people find that solace met with religion.  Either way, fiction can enhance the experience.  We read the original series, hanging tensely until the final volume came out.

Many of those who believe in a magical religion protested the sale of magical fiction.  We were still in Wisconsin at the time, but we saw the protestors outside a local bookstore the release day for one of the later volumes.  Like Death-Eaters the protestors opposed Harry Potter.  The root of the problem seems to have been unique truth claims.  Whenever a religion declares itself the sole harbinger of “the” truth, every other way of looking at things becomes evil.  Even if it expressly declares itself to be fantasy fiction for young adults.  Years have passed, and Harry Potter, like other forms of pop culture, has grown to the status of a religion.  Even Nones want to believe in something.  Magic and religion are, after all, very difficult to tell apart.

Tea Party Science

I sometimes jog in the morning before the sun begins his course across the sky. Funny thing is, sometimes I beat him. I know the sun is a guy because the Bible says so. When I startle a bunny from its hiding place along my path, I am amazed that those little creatures chew the cud just like bovines. It is the word of God. Occasionally a suicidal insect tries to fly into my mouth, and unless they go about on all fours, with legs above their feet, I spit them back out. If they do meet Leviticus 11’s strict standards and I accidentally swallow, I try not to think of Deuteronomy 14.19. I am surprised that the Tea Partiers haven’t tried to correct science on this point: the Bible is clear that insects (technically “flying creeping things”) have four legs, not six. Open your eyes people! Six legs? All those sixes seem to be from the antichrist. That’s why I feel comfortable with the potential of handing our nation over to the Tea Party. Certainty is better than scientific orthodoxy, hands down.

“I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?’” The words are those of Michele Bachmann. Those of us who were taught that hurricanes result from the heating of Atlantic waters, swirled by the rotation of the earth (it does not move, according to the only proven source of science, the Bible) have egg on our faces. Do I ever feel silly! Empirical evidence suggests that the earth’s crust consists of tectonic plates that sometimes bump and rub and pull apart. Earthquakes result. Last week’s earthquake creates a problem for me, however, since North America is not mentioned in the Bible. I now live in a country that can’t possibly exist. We had better elect leaders who know how all this really works.

According to a Religion News Service poll this year, 40 percent (that’s more than half, in Tea Party mathematics) of Americans believe natural disasters are signs from God. I am relieved that this clearly shows science to be wrong—surely that many individuals must be correct. That’s the way math works. I sometimes imagine the United States as the Titanic (movies are another good source of science). Ismay, the Tea Party, declares, “But this ship can’t sink!” Thomas Andrews, the engineer (representing science) replies, “She’s made of iron, sir! I assure you, she can… and she will. It is a mathematical certainty.” Ismay, believing the rich are too wealthy to die tragically, refutes the findings of science. When the colossal ship slips into the icy Atlantic, however, he’s nowhere on board. Like the rest of his party, he’s already secured himself one of the rare seats on the lifeboats inadequate to save those of us in steerage. Since the ship can’t sink anyway, why are we even worried about this?

Full speed ahead and damn the icebergs...