experimental theology

The Magician, The Priest, The Conjurer & The Lawyer: Law, Mysticism, Magic, and the Occult

I begin with my own personal definition of magic: magic is the explanation of last resort. I am, among other things, an amateur magician; or to put it another way, don't play cards with me for money. I use this concept of magic, tho, because it encompasses not only legerdemaine and conjuring as entertainment, but also magic as a subject of anthropological study: the practice of various believers in magic that exist and have always existed in human society. It also encompasses practices that, I think, the people who engage in them would hesitate to describe as magic. I'm thinking here of the sacraments of various christian churches, marriage rites, funeral rites and the like that are more generally thought of as religious rather than magical. My thinking about magic is intentionally wider than what I think most people would accept for various reasons, but most fundamentally it is to encompass in a single concept the resonant similarities I feel in my encounters within four cultural institutions that I see as making use of magic to accomplish their ends.

Confession: Dogmata, Faith, Science, and Belief

I am a natural atheist. I was not raised in any particular faith tradition, and my earliest questions about religion and what it meant were often met by my parents with further questions rather than any answers. I came in the end to reject religion and belief in God in general because I could see no way to determine which of the conflicting views presented by the religions I knew about was correct. All of them seemed to claim that they were correct and the claims they made were incommensurable. I came to this understanding of the world at a very early age, and it seemed like a very natural and correct position to me. So much so that I recall very specifically being shocked a couple of times in my childhood that other kids hadn't come to the same conclusions. As early as the first grade I remember being taken aback when I was at friends houses and they said grace before a meal, or when someone that I thought was smart reacted strongly against some offhand remark I made about the stupidity of belief in God.

The God-Machine: A Modest Proposal

Suppose you have a black box. It has two openings, one labeled "Questions" the other labeled "Answers."

No matter what you put into the "Questions" slot, something will come out of of the "Answers" slot. Whatever the "Answers" output is, it is a complete answer to the "Questions" input question.

This is true even if the "Questions" input is not a question. To be clear, anything can be put into the "Questions" slot and will produce a complete answer from the "Answers" slot.

This means that even output from the "Answers" slot could be input into the "Questions" slot, and thereby produce it's own answer.

Again the truth of these answers will always be as reliable as the truth of the answer to the question "If I have one apple and someone else gives me an apple, how many apples will I have?" is "Two apples."

This is even true of questions that are unanswerable, like the halting problem or something of that nature. The black box will never the less produce an answer. The black box is not a computer and is not limited by the limits of computation.

Now, imagine that you do not have access to the "Answers" slot. The answers are being produced to whatever question you are feeding into it, but you cannot see them or know what they are.

That would be frustrating, but you would know for certain that there was an answer, even if you could not see it.

Suppose now, that for some questions, you can figure out the answer yourself. Without observing what the output of the black box is, you can still know what the box will output anyway. This empirical or grammatical fact. Things that can be known through observation or reason.

We have access to these facts, although the black box will not confirm them.

There are other questions that we cannot figure out the answers on our own. Any number of answers could be correct, all of them could be, or none of them could be. We just can't tell because we can't see what the output is.

A Brief Excursion Into Panentheism

From time to time I delve into the nonsense of religious speculation.

I have been thinking lately about a particular occult philosophy that belief is a tool to be used to effect change in oneself and in the world. In particular, I have been thinking about this in connection with John 8, the woman caught in adultery. I believe that the evangelicals and catholics, and to a lesser extent all mainline christians, have fundamentally misunderstood the meaning of this myth.

Throughout his preaching, The Nazarene repeatedly returns to the notion of hypocrisy, and generally speaking I think that this has carried over into the improper, in my view, exegesis of John 8 as yet another condemnation of hypocrites. And I think that there is an element of that. But I also think it's important to note that John 8 is without parallels in the other gospels. The story is not sourced from anywhere but the Johannine community and their traditions. As such, I think it is a bit more revealing than yet another condemnation of hypocrisy.

Of all the gospels, John is the most in keeping with the Gnostic Christians like Marcion. It is also the most in line with the philosophy of stoicism, and the mysticism of gnostics from whom the notion that Jesus was always a part of the godhead and had come to redeem a world that was imperfect, is blended in John with the notions of the stoics that the ultimate truth is the knowledge of logos, The Word, through a disciplined quest for personal improvement in controlling ones passions and transforming them into a state of inner calm. The Word for the stoics was the reasonableness inherent in all things, and it was through this pursuit of reason that stoics believed the good was instituted in the soul. John identifies The Word, the logos, the reason of all things, with The Nazarene.