Sunday, July 17, 2005

Concerning Magic and Technology.... and Harry Potter

I read once, that there is no accepted definition for magic that distinguishes between religion, science, medicine and superstition. And what has been called magic has by no means remained constant throughout the ages. While I do not intend to write a lengthy discourse on the history of magic, I did think that this was a good time to get some of my notes online. A very good time considering the recent release of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”.

Now, many zealous people have opposed Harry Potter because of a scriptural prohibition against magic. I have no intention to force meaning onto the scriptures. First, I want to understand what they actually do say, and then I want to put things in context.

To begin with, anciently, magic was not separate from religion. If you wished to have magic powers, you had to get them somewhere. Spells would involve prayers to such deities as Eros, Pan, Hekate, or Aphrodite. These are of course Greek deities. In Old Testament times, they would have used others, such as Baal, Molech, or Ashtoreth. Many of these were grossly immoral and downright sick, but nothing that does not happen today under one guise or another. Thus, a prohibition against magic was really a warning against idolatry.

So what was the real problem with it? Many of their practices led people into sin. One of the main ‘sacraments’ of the Philistines involved sex with a priestess. This was tempting. The prophet Isaiah condemned the people for “the oaks ye have desired” - ie, they desired to perform adulterous pagan rituals, which were done in groves or next to an oak tree.

And off equal or greater significance was that they suggested that they could live without the true and living God.

Not only did they think to receive blessings by by-passing God the Father, they sought to do it by sin. The Lord said, by the prophet Jeremiah said, My people have committed two evils, they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water. Jer. 2:13

They thought to have success and salvation, both earthly and eternal, independently of God, without exercising faith or righteousness. The sin was idolatry.

There are a number of examples in the Old Testament period, but two in particular stick out. The last of these was King Saul. He desired revelation from God desperately, though not desperately enough to repent. And so, instead of seeking for revelation from legitimate sources, he consulted the witch of En-dor. 1 Sam. 28 He was not helped by it.

Earlier in his life, he had been commanded to perform a certain military action and bring nothing back. Saul thought it a shame to just destroy all this perfectly good wealth, and disobeyed, in order to do sacrifice to the Lord. Samuel the prophet was furious and spoke some thing never to be forgotten. But the one that catches my attention best was “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness as iniquity and idolatry.” 1 Sam. 15:23 In case you are not familiar with it, this literary form is called parallelism and the second part essentially restates the first part in different words. The result was a peculiar kind of poetic clarity. Also of note, while Saul was here condemned to lose his crown, yet far earlier in history Jacob was not condemned for what we would consider a simple silly superstition, in deed, he was blessed. Gen. 30

My point in all of this, is that the central sin of magic and witchcraft anciently was idolatry, neither more nor less. Jacob had a simple superstition concerning cattle. And it was a moot point with God. How many simple meaningless false beliefs do we have? Those little errors we have are of little import to God if they do not affect our salvation.

Well, other than a few oddballs, we would NEVER fall in that same trap.... right? Maybe and maybe not. Let’s talk about Harry for a minute. In the strange world that Harry has found himself in. If potatoes need to be peeled, they would usually use a wand instead of a peeler. If they are in a darkened room, they would likely say, “Lumos!”, as opposed to use a flashlight. For them it is a matter of technology. Does this make for a perfect utopia? Not any more than our modern conveniences have. On one hand you have the wicked and wealthy Malfoy’s and the poor and humble Weasley family. For them it is a matter of technology.

Technology... Science... Surely those are entirely different from magic, aren’t they? Well, we need not pray to pagan gods, but we rely on science and technology just as much as any pagan did to their gods. Many people feel like we don’t really need god at all. We are self-sufficient, or so we feel. If we need protection from foreign nations, we build missiles, in stead of seeking the Lord. If we need better crops, we use fertilizer. Surely, there is nothing wrong with technology itself.

Remember the words of Samuel, rebellion is the sin of witchcraft. That sin is also sometimes a sin of technology. For instance, look at StarTrek. You have a perfect utopian society in the Federation, except at the edges where the Enterprise tends to stay. Many references have been made to not needing religion, or treating it as inferior to science. The scene I remember best was one of the last movies made. The Enterprise had gone back in time, and ended up being on Earth when the Vulcans first arrived. The Vulcans made the point that they recognized the warp signature of our first space ship and therefore realized that because we had this technology that we must be mature enough as a society.

For most people, technology is magic anyway. How many people can really tell you how a transistor works? Or a whole computer? I can’t entirely, and I have a degree in Physics. For all most people know, all of our electronics could work on magic smoke. (Let the smoke out and it stops working!)

In summary, because a thing is mysterious or even wrong, does not make it sinful necessarily. What does, is sin itself, and rebellion against God. Therefore, if we condemn Harry Potter, we condemn much of modern society and media. That, and you can’t use a computer until you can properly explain how a transistor works.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think all your comments are quite insightful. You need to get your site out there in public so a few people can read it. You are also very handsome!!!