Magical Thinking vs. the Mind of Christ

Here’s a bit of a piece I wrote for Mere Christian Fellowship. I wrote it well before the Jericho March and the fixation of the Qhristian gnostic cult on the imaginary Trump 2020 victory cult that has arisen, but it perfectly describes the working of that Cult because all cult of magical thinking work the same. Read it and understand the diabolical parody of Christian thought that dominate all such magical thinkers:

The essence of magical thinking is not preternatural power from demonic or occult forces (though it may or may not sometimes involve that). It is, rather, the desire to be able to create reality apart from God. In other words, it is a diabolical parody of the doctrine of creation.

In Christian understanding, the Triune God speaks reality into existence by the power of the Word. As John says:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.(John 1:1-3)

The creative Word is God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, incarnate in Jesus Christ. It is by his power that Reality exists.

In contrast, the claim of all magical thinkers is that they can, by the power of their merely human words, make things that are not so to be so by the mere triumph of their will.

That’s why Jesus warned, “And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7-8). You cannot jaw God into loving you by your eloquence, nor can you force him to obey you. He already loves us. Our task is to receive and cooperate with his love, not generate it or overrule it.

Similarly, you cannot talk God into loving you by being a good boy or girl. God loves you freely already. The effort to make him love you is, in fact, one more attempt to gain power over him, to say, “If I am good, then God owes it to me to do the things I demand he do.” This “transactional” view of buying and selling the love of God is at the heart of Simon Magus’ thinking. With it often goes the corollary that those who suffer “must have had it coming”—something that can lead to poisonous pride in those who have comparatively easy lives.

But as the completely innocent Jesus shows, terrible things can happen to good people: things which can, in the end, be understood not as a sign of God’s anger at them, but of his mercy and blessing as they heroically bear the sins of others. Our Lord is the archetype and model for every innocent martyr: God didn’t kill Jesus; we did. But God took what we meant for evil and exalted Jesus, making his passion and death the means by which he saved the world.

In short, we can no more increase God’s love by our word and will than we can make the sun shine brighter. Nor can our sins dim his love for us. They only make it harder for us to see it.

Simon claimed to be “that power of God which is called Great” (Acts 8:10). In short, he was a liar like Satan, who is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). For in the end, the claim of both was the same: they both rebelled against God and attempted to usurp his place through power, not love.

Magical thinking’s link to the lust for power is evident whenever we see great liars whether human or demonic. So, for instance, Stalin had meteorologists shot for counter-revolutionary weather forecasts because he willed that nothing stand in the way of his Five Year Plans for the Soviet economy. Instead of addressing the actual created world that God made—which included the actual weather–he tried to create an alternative reality with wilful lies and violence. The weather, however, did what it did anyway despite Stalin’s word of command that reality be otherwise. Because Stalin was not God.

Similarly, Hitler moved imaginary armies around on maps in his bunker as the Soviets closed in on Berlin, trying to lie out of existence his gigantic failure as a world conqueror. Like the father of lies, he lied himself into believing in the triumph of his will, only to learn at last that he could not lie Steiner’s non-existent army into being with his human word. He famously raged at his generals for trying to tell him the truth, but no matter how loud he screamed, he could not create armies ex nihilo. Because Hitler was not God.

Nor, of course, are we God. We cannot will into being what God has not allowed to exist, nor destroy what God wills to be. So we can ask for things—even miracles—within certain limits. But we cannot pray in direct contradiction of God’s revealed will, for God is God and not our personal genie.

This is why we cannot pray that JFK not be assassinated, that the Vietnam War not happen, nor that God permit us to murder somebody we dislike. In all these cases, we know what God has willed either because he has told us (“You shall not murder” – Exodus 20: 13) or because the course of human events tells us that this thing occurred and God is not a time machine who allows us to change the past.

Recent events in American electoral politics are also a demonstration of this. When somebody clearly wins fair and square and the Department of Homeland Security tells us the election was “the most secure in American history”, it’s over. Prayers that it not be so have left the realm of cooperating with God and entered into the magical notion that we can overturn the revealed will of God by pure will and magical incantations. God has revealed his will through the course of human events. Our task is now to cooperate with God, not try to muscle him with magic.

Read the whole thing here.


7 Responses

  1. I suspect many of those at the Prayers and Pillows March are atheists at heart, or confuse Jesus with Nietzsche, Rand, or someone else who preached a gospel of self-fulfillment.

  2. Hmmm… Second of Mark’s posts that, when I make my usual ‘jj’ comment, and tick the ‘Notify me of new comments via email’ box – I no longer get any confirmation e-mail from WordPress. Whether this means that now they no longer ask for confirmation, but just accept I will only know once some more comments are made.

  3. Somewhat off topic, but I just came across a report that accuses the Trump administration of actively and deliberately fomenting the spread of the virus:

    I’m sorry, but people need to go to jail for this, If this report is true, this simply cannot stand.

  4. Rod Dreher, curmudgeonly and pre-modern though he is, refuses to bend the knee before the orange kool-aid:
    Eric Metaxas, on the other hand – whom I first came across years ago when he recorded the funniest ever audio of CS Lewis’ Screwtape (even funnier than John Cleese’s) decides he’d rather be Ioannis Metaxas:
    Sad. (Without an exclamation mark).

    1. More from the Lesser Eric:
      ‘… “Is there anyone like unto him?” tweeted evangelical radio host Eric Metaxas, echoing Moses’ post-Exodus awe at the wonder-working powers of the Lord God himself (Exodus 15:11)….’
      Uh, there’s another Biblical context for marvelling “Wow! Who is like unto [name]?” and it’s one you would think – would think – the translator of “Screwtape” would be less tin-eared about evoking.

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