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Religion Vs. Magic


GeorgeW
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If one does a word search for ‘magic’ on this site, there are four pages of posts in which this word occurs. As an example, today, the writer and theologian Philip Gulley is quoted as saying, “I have another friend who believes God is only present through the sacraments when administered by a priest. That sounds like magic to me—that if you say the right words and perform the right rituals, God will suddenly be present."

 

Scott Atran, an anthropologist, in In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion says, “I make no principled distinctions between magic and myth, between primitive and modern thought [. . .] (all) are complementary aspects of the imperfect causal community of ideas and behaviors that we dub religion.”

 

Another anthropologist, Malefijt in Religion and Culture says, “Anthropological literature abounds in attempts to make meaningful and clear-cut distinctions between magic and religion. None has been fully successful, partly because of the complexity of religious phenomena.”

 

In spite of the difficulty of scientists making the distinction, it is made on a regular basis by both believers and non-believers. Anti-theists seem to view any religious belief as ‘magic.’

 

The distinction, I suspect, is ‘my’ vs. ‘their’ practices. My practices and beliefs are clearly authentic where others are ‘magic’ (i.e. mystical and imaginary). I think we all use the word magic, but in reference to others. A traditional Christian might well say that a shaman doing incantations to heal someone is magic. Likewise, this same shaman might consider a Christian symbolically eating the flesh and drinking the blood of their God as ‘magic.’

 

What do you think is the distinction?

 

George

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I think it makes sense for an anthropologist or a sociologist to not make distinctions before the begin research. A given group will have various practices, and it's important to note which ones they think are spiritual vs. material, what are the various sub-categories of spiritual practices, how those practices interact with the material world, etc, etc, etc... "religion" and "magic" are not and should not be treated as scientifically defined categories, but rather as potential categories used by subjects.

 

I also agree you are correct that there is a larger negative connotation to believing in/practicing magic in our society than participating in religion.

 

But then, I'm not particularly into esoteric traditions such as hermeticism, etc. I suspect if there is anyone like that on these boards, they may have a different POV than I do.

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I think it makes sense for an anthropologist or a sociologist to not make distinctions before the begin research. A given group will have various practices, and it's important to note which ones they think are spiritual vs. material, what are the various sub-categories of spiritual practices, how those practices interact with the material world, etc, etc, etc... "religion" and "magic" are not and should not be treated as scientifically defined categories, but rather as potential categories used by subjects.

 

Nick, I think the anthropologists are trying to determine what features and ideologies differ between practices labeled as 'magic' versus practices labeled as 'religion.' Both involve a similar belief in supernatural intervention where, as an example, 'religion' versus 'politics' does differ in this respect.

 

George

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As the two anthropologists indicated, there is no useful distinction between religion and magic in observing the behaviors of individuals and groups. I don't think there is a useful distinction when religion is being accused of being magic. It is the outsider-insider dilemma. From the outside it doesn't make sense. The only useful critique of religion, in my opinion, is an ethical one.

 

Magic

International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences | 1968 |

 

In historical terms, there can be seen a development from attempts to single out isolated and exotic instances of belief or practice in order to buttress a highly abstract philosophical position (such as Frazer’s work) to an effort to place all magical acts in their proper context within the totality of moral and religious ideas, institutions, and practices of a culture.

 

For nineteenth-century thinkers like Tylor (1871), McLennan (1865–1876), Spencer (1876–1896), and Lang (1901), the question of greatest interest was the origins of magic as related to the origins of religion. Their works were attempts to understand how early man was led in the direction of superstition by faulty observation and reasoning. This line of inquiry led to Levy-Bruhl’s famous work on primitive mentality (1910). Frazer (1890) was also working on evolutionary premises.
Theories regarding the evolution of religion or science from magic are no longer in vogue,
but Frazer’s work will remain one of the most sustained efforts to penetrate the difficulties of the subject.
Frazer regarded magic as an earlier, primitive form of both religion and science
. He observed rightly that primitive practice is often based on excellent observation of natural phenomena and involves a theory of causality. He therefore felt that there was a basic similarity between magic and science. The only difference was that for a variety of reasons the mistaken assumptions and erroneous conclusions of magic were veiled from the observer and did not shake his beliefs.

That was 1968. Maybe these theories are in vogue now.

 

Historical investigation can help us understand that the biblical story was intimately tied up with political and social developments of the time.
It takes religious imagination, however, to go beyond the externals to the inner meaning
of the events that Israel proclaimed in the exalted language of worship.

Understanding the Old Testament, Anderson

--------------------------------------------------------

 

Sound had always been sacred to the Aryans and when they listened [to the hymns of the Rig-Veda] people felt invaded by a sacred presence. ...

...They already may have begun to develop techniques of concentration that enabled them to
penetrate the subconscious
.

The Great Transformation, Armstrong
.

 

I think an appropriate response to an accusation that religion is magic is, "Is that what you think? Okay. Do you want fries with that? :lol: "

 

Take Care

 

Dutch

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Belief

There is no reason to doubt the effectiveness of certain magical practices. But how does this apparently occult effectiveness fit with the rationalization of the savage mind that Levi-Strauss has elevated to the status of a principle? For the anthropologist cannot accept that there are supernatural forces capable of healing. The explanation must lie elsewhere, and so Levi- Strauss transforms the sorcerer into a sort of psychoanalyst.

 

Magic, he says, presupposes belief. For magic to work, for it to be effective, one must believe in it. In other words it could be said that one must penetrate a world of meaning. Belief entails three aspects: the sorcerer’s belief in the effectiveness of his techniques; the patient’s or victim’s belief in the sorcerer’s power; and lastly, the belief of the group.

Lévi-Strauss today: an introduction to structural anthropology, Robert Deliège, Nora Scott, google books

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As the two anthropologists indicated, there is no useful distinction between religion and magic in observing the behaviors of individuals and groups. I don't think there is a useful distinction when religion is being accused of being magic. It is the outsider-insider dilemma. From the outside it doesn't make sense. The only useful critique of religion, in my opinion, is an ethical one.

Dutch

 

Dutch,

 

Thanks for your comments and information.

 

I am suggesting that the term 'magic' is essentially a statement of disbelief in someone else's beliefs (and sometimes disrespectful). An atheist might label all religion as magic. A theologian might so label someone else's beliefs as such while for both their own beliefs are quite real and are equally valid.

 

When anthropologists (at least some) study the question, it is not so much an issue of what is authentic versus imaginary but what it is that people believe and why they believe it. It is not a search for 'truth' as we might engage in. I am certain that they realize that there is no objective truth or falsehood in these questions.

 

George

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I am suggesting that the term 'magic' is essentially a statement of disbelief in someone else's beliefs (and sometimes disrespectful).

For thousands of years the pejorative word was "atheist." ;). I think we should reject engagement with the word "magic.". The argument should be on our terms not theirs.

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In spite of the difficulty of scientists making the distinction, it is made on a regular basis by both believers and non-believers. Anti-theists seem to view any religious belief as 'magic.'

 

The distinction, I suspect, is 'my' vs. 'their' practices. My practices and beliefs are clearly authentic where others are 'magic' (i.e. mystical and imaginary). I think we all use the word magic, but in reference to others. A traditional Christian might well say that a shaman doing incantations to heal someone is magic. Likewise, this same shaman might consider a Christian symbolically eating the flesh and drinking the blood of their God as 'magic.'

 

What do you think is the distinction?

 

George

 

I don't think it's that cut and dried.

 

For example, I don't believe in magic because I've never witnessed real magic being performed, not because of any preconceived notions about magic.

 

By magic, I mean altering physical reality like making someone disappear, turning a human into a toad or instantly healing a broken bone.

 

I am privy to some investigations conducted by Ole Anthony of The Door Magazine who investigated the claims of Benny Hinn, a so-called "faith healer." He was able to document the fraudulent nature of his business. In another instance, a fellow parishioner told of a faith-healing instance where a man's deformed leg straightened and grew 12" before his very eyes. At the time, I was a rather young Christian believer, and took his story at face value - I believed him because he was a man of faith who I never thought would lie about something like that. After a while, I began to start questioning things and I asked for some verification of the story. The man who told the story said he didn't know the name of the person who was allegedly healed. But, he told me where it happened. I tracked that down, and it turned out the whole story was completely bogus. After that, I began investigating similar claims of supernatural occurrence all of which turned out to be false. Of over 150 instances of so-called "miracles" or what I would call magical or supernatural happenings that I personally investigated, not ONE turned out to be verifiable.

 

By the Law of Large Numbers, I had to conclude that magic does not happen.

 

Things I view as magic would include the following:

 

1. A virgin birth.

2. The dead coming back to life

3. Angels

4. Demons

5. People levitating to heaven

6. A literal place in the sky called heaven

7. A literal place in the bowels of the earth called hell

8. Turning bread and wine into flesh and blood.

9. Walking through walls

10. Drinking a fatal dose of poison and living to tell about it.

 

But maybe it's like in the story Peter Pan. All I have to do is believe, and I will see the magic. The problem with that theory is that once upon a time, I DID believe. And I still didn't see the magic.

 

NORM

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Things I view as magic would include the following:

 

1. A virgin birth.

2. The dead coming back to life

3. Angels

4. Demons

5. People levitating to heaven

6. A literal place in the sky called heaven

7. A literal place in the bowels of the earth called hell

8. Turning bread and wine into flesh and blood.

9. Walking through walls

10. Drinking a fatal dose of poison and living to tell about it.

 

But maybe it's like in the story Peter Pan. All I have to do is believe, and I will see the magic. The problem with that theory is that once upon a time, I DID believe. And I still didn't see the magic.

 

NORM

 

I think this supports my point. Your are expressing a subjective view of a set of beliefs that billions of intelligent people do believe (at least some of). To you, it is imaginary and therefore 'magic.' To them, it is authentic. Neither can be objectively proven or falsified.

 

George

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Neither can be objectively proven or falsified.

 

George

 

Uh, I disagree. I'm pretty sure that medical science can factually state that dead people remain dead. And if you analyze the elements of the Eucharist, you will find that they are indeed bread and wine.

 

These two CAN be objectively proven. So can everything else on my list.

 

Do you have evidence to the contrary? I would change my mind in a heartbeat were I to see real evidence of the supernatural. As I've said before, I've been disappointed over 150 times (158 to be exact).

 

NORM

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a set of beliefs that billions of intelligent people do believe (at least some of)... To them, it is authentic.

 

George

 

I disagree with this statement too. I don't think most people REALLY believe in the virgin birth, the resurrection, heaven and hell, faith healing, etc... Deep down inside, they know the stories in the Bible - just as similar stories in other books of the time - are just that; stories.

 

The belief in an afterlife of some kind, I think, many people - including myself - HOPE is true.

 

What people "believe in" is the philosophy of Jesus. That pure love conquers evil. To me, and many others, I'm sure; that is all the supernatural you need.

 

NORM

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Uh, I disagree. I'm pretty sure that medical science can factually state that dead people remain dead. And if you analyze the elements of the Eucharist, you will find that they are indeed bread and wine.

 

These two CAN be objectively proven. So can everything else on my list.

 

Do you have evidence to the contrary? I would change my mind in a heartbeat were I to see real evidence of the supernatural. As I've said before, I've been disappointed over 150 times (158 to be exact).

 

NORM

 

I can neither prove nor falsify eternal life of the soul.

 

George

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I disagree with this statement too. I don't think most people REALLY believe in the virgin birth, the resurrection, heaven and hell, faith healing, etc... Deep down inside, they know the stories in the Bible - just as similar stories in other books of the time - are just that; stories.

 

NORM

 

I am not able to say what people "REALLY believe." I suspect that some have doubts about various things, such as the virgin birth, but I don't know what is "Deep down inside." So, unless I have evidence to the contrary, I will take them at their word.

 

George

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I disagree with this statement too. I don't think most people REALLY believe in the virgin birth, the resurrection, heaven and hell, faith healing, etc... Deep down inside, they know the stories in the Bible - just as similar stories in other books of the time - are just that; stories.

 

The belief in an afterlife of some kind, I think, many people - including myself - HOPE is true.

 

What people "believe in" is the philosophy of Jesus. That pure love conquers evil. To me, and many others, I'm sure; that is all the supernatural you need.

 

NORM

 

Norm,

 

Just for the record.... from http://www.environme...-birth-possible

 

"We are all aware of the term parthenogenesis, a form of asexual reproduction, found in females, where they can reproduce themselves without getting fertilized by a male. This form of reproduction has been seen mostly in the invertebrate animal species such as water fleas, aphids, nematodes and some bees. Talking about vertebrates, very few reptiles, fish, rare birds and sharks have this type of reproductive system. Recently, scientists discovered an all-female species that reproduces by self-cloning. Scientifically named as Leiolepis ngovantrii, this is a smallish agamid lizard, native to Southeast Asia and definitely a peculiar critter."

 

While I neither believe nor disbelieve in the virgin birth spoken of in the Bible, ( i feel no real compulsion to hold an opinion either way) I personally do believe a virgin birth is scientifically possible.

While I do not share in the teachings or understanding of the conventional Christian church concerning heaven and hell, i personally have experienced both.

While i have never personally witnessed nor can confirm any miracle healing by biblical characters, i have both personally witnessed and experienced faith healing.

While i may not share the typical understanding of the resurrection as taught by the church, i have experienced resurrection in my life.

 

Just to add a different perspective,

 

Joseph

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fraud (Bennie and Bernie)

magic (David Copperfield)

story (virgin Birth)

 

The story of the virgin birth is neither an intentional deception to gain a benefit nor an illusion of a skilled craftsman. It was an element added to the story because, under Greek influence, Jesus began to have Absolute attributes. When people didn't see Jesus as having absolute attributes then the virgin birth is not needed as part of the story. There are people who are sure it is literally true and those who are sure it is not literally true. I think they are chewing on the same bone. But a bone, I think, that is not part of the body of the story.

 

Looking back on my life I see that at 10 I had different beliefs than I do now. Later, when I had a visitation from Jesus, that was a different me. I could, from a mature perspective, denounce those ideas and experiences as childish and mentally disordered. If I take away the childish notions I could not have developed into a man. If I speak no more of the visitation I would not be able to speak to my motivation for adopting my daughter. What would I be left with? A story that started a minute ago. Humans love stories; rabbis say that God loves stories. We are our stories. Husbands and wives interrupt each other to correct the story. What I learned is that most of the time - unless there is a toddler in the street - who tells it correctly doesn't matter.

 

You want fries with that?

 

Take care

 

Dutch

 

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I personally do believe a virgin birth is scientifically possible.

 

I'm pretty sure the virgin birth described in the Bible is human, not a smallish agamid lizard. Find me a documented example of a HUMAN virgin birth and I will join you in your belief that a virgin birth is scientifically possible.

 

While I do not share in the teachings or understanding of the convention Christian church concerning heaven and hell...

 

Question: why do you feel the need to qualify your statements?

 

 

 

 

... i have both personally witnessed and experienced faith healing... i have experienced resurrection in my life.

 

 

Joseph, I am not speaking of metaphors. I'm not stupid.

 

Show me proof of real faith healing and real resurrection (revivification of a corpse). Unless you can do that, then you have no argument.Those things are what we call magic or the supernatural. Those claiming such things bear the burden of proof.

 

NORM

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Please explain. Are you saying you were personally visited by Jesus?

Yes I did.

 

In the atmosphere of this conversation I do not want to share more.

 

Joseph, I am not speaking of metaphors. I'm not stupid.

In this discussion about the stories of the resurrection metaphors are precisely the point. They are an element of the story. Literalness is not.

 

Do you want fries with that?

 

Dutch

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Question: why do you feel the need to qualify your statements?

 

Perhaps so that my statements may be better understood?

 

Show me proof of real faith healing and real resurrection (revivification of a corpse). Unless you can do that, then you have no argument.Those things are what we call magic or the supernatural. Those claiming such things bear the burden of proof.

 

NORM

 

Norm,

 

 

I didn't realize i was having an argument. I thought i was just sharing a personal testimony and different perspective in my post. I offer no scientific proof (only stating the possibility of things that appear impossible) nor do i feel the need to do so of any personal testimony. So, If it pleases you, i concede and declare you the winner of the perceived argument. :)

 

Peace,

 

Joseph

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To me spiritual experience and magic are similar.The fierce pursuit of crude active pleasure is the chief purpose of life for the ego-dominated slave that is why the magical pure sensations of the 'pure I’ are not experienced. In the statements 'I am talking', 'I am drinking', 'I am smoking', if one removes all the verbs one comes to the 'pure I' feeling. "I am". In my experience this 'pure I' is the indwelling fountain of happiness where spontaneity and clarity originate. This is not a feverish pleasure, but a peaceful experience that one must continually fight for because innumerable annoyances try to spoil it, but in the secret art of being nonresistant one fights and endures for happiness. This mystical awareness is bliss for me because in the immediate consciousness I derive joy. A person not aware of the experience might call this magic and person who has had the experience might call it spiritual experience. I guess it depends on the angle of vision.

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This mystical awareness is bliss for me because in the immediate consciousness I derive joy. A person not aware of the experience might call this magic and person who has had the experience might call it spiritual experience. I guess it depends on the angle of vision.

 

That is what I have concluded (tentatively) is the distinction between 'religion' and 'magic.' It is a semantic way to express a different point of view about the same phenomena. To the experiencer, it is very real and religious. To the sceptical (and perhaps pejorative) observer, it is 'magic.'

 

George

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Perhaps so that my statements may be better understood?

 

Just so you know; it isn't making you better understood. You appear to be taking two sides of the issue. That's confusing.

 

I didn't realize i was having an argument. I thought i was just sharing a personal testimony and different perspective in my post. I offer no scientific proof (only stating the possibility of things that appear impossible) nor do i feel the need to do so of any personal testimony. So, If it pleases you, i concede and declare you the winner of the perceived argument. :)

 

I understand. It's difficult to come to grips with the fact that much of our faith is built on mythology and superstition.

 

Cheers!

 

NORM

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