Magical Thinking & Religion

I received the following admonition, somewhat typical, in an anxious email. To make a point, I altered the doctrines involved to highlight the glaring lapses in both the logic and reasoning:

Listen carefully. I realize this is something you don't want to hear but unless you surrender your life to Hocus-Pocus, you're going to spend eternity in Blazes! It's true! How do I know? Because the Book of Abracadabra says so! How do I know the Book of Abracadabra is the "correct" book? Because the Book of Abracadabra says so! Despite the fact that the Book of Abracadabra advocates magic, spells, levitation, love potions, flying dragons and talking animals—none of which actually occur in the real world—if you doubt the veracity of Book of Abracadabra and instead embrace reason, rational analysis, and scientific inquiry, then you're a doomed reprobate headed straight to Blazes! But remember this, until you come to your senses and embrace supernatural magic, I'll be praying for you. Until you give up your foolish notions about rationality and reason and empirical evidence and the like, the Great Wizard in the Sky will be waiting patiently for you to have a change of heart and take up the righteous cause of Supernaturalism and Superstition (I realize the reason you don't believe in magic is because you're egotistical, selfish, and proud, an immoral person blinded by stubborn denial and self-serving sin).


Abracadabra ChurchIf you're like me—a colleged educated infidel who has honestly and rigorously inferred no sane or rational reason to believe in anything magical or mystical or metaphysical or supernatural—then I imagine that you, also like me, sometimes feel like Valentine Michael Smith and a Stranger in a Strange Land.

Sometimes it feels like there's a church on every street corner all preaching the same absurd things: magic, hocus-pocus, and hoo-doo, and based on what? On things experienced anywhere in the real world? On scientific proofs and empirical evidence? On basic, down-to-earth, reach-out-and-touch-it reality? On flesh and breath and bone and blood? No. On what then? Only words in books that presuppose other-worldliness, necromancy, and the easy violation of the laws of physics. And not just any books, but millennia-old copies of copies of books written and compiled by...whom? By anonymous authors and editors that pieced together their third-person writings over hundreds of years, at a time when science was barely in its infancy, when most people were uneducated, superstition the status quo, and every region heralding its own flavor of god or gods.

pointing to AbracadabraWhat all the churches have in common, all the many religious books, all the disparate religions themselves, is language. The assumption they all make is that the "abracadabra" of religious language somehow translates to reality—but of course it does not. Without language, without the ability to point to and quote words from so-called "sacred" books, where else does religion exist? Isn't it obvious that "God" is only a word, or "Heaven" or "Hell" or "Soul" or "Life-After-Death" since without these words—and all the words used to define and defend them—they're no where to be found. Where is "God" beyond the word 'God'? Where is "Heaven" beyond the word 'Heaven'? Or 'Soul'? Or 'Angel'? Or 'Miracle'? This is the primary reason that religious groups are all fired-up to defend their particular religious books as being "God's Word" or 'Inerrant" or "Inspired" because without their books they have nothing else to point to. They need to point to their "abracadabra" over and over again, quote scripture, tirelessly argue and defend the "truth" of their Bibles or Korans or Books of Mormon, sometimes even to the death, because without these they have nowhere else to point. Simply put, if all words and language were to suddenly vanish, the natural world, the real world, wouldn't change one iota, but all religion would suddenly become impossible. Religion exists inside of language, because of language, and when language is removed from the equation so is religion. None of us would have had any reason to believe in any religious claim or doctrine if we hadn't heard or read or been told about it first. Religion is not a natural occurrence. It is word-based and artificial, therefore man-made.

Of course, this doesn't only apply to religion but to all the foundational cornerstones of human culture. All culture is based on art and artifice, a disjunctive and abstract separation from nature, kept alive and empowered by words in books. We think we know what the world is all about because we can reference these words, but words in books are products of the mind, mental constructs, and exist nowhere in nature.

Abracadrabra, or Else!Every sabbath, all over the world, ministers and priests and clergymen will open their so-called "sacred" books and make fierce exhortations. They will peer down into their books, invite their congregations to open the books sitting dutifully in their laps, and they will quote "holy writ." They will use this "holy writ" to explain precisely what God wants, demands, expects, and needs. They will interpret expected behavior, call some things "sin" and other things moral "surrender." They will assume that all these things they're saying to be good and righteous and true. Why? Not because of anything found in the real world, not because that's the way the real world actually works, not because they've personally encountered anything at all supernatural or magical or transmundane or miraculous, but simply because of their ability to quote. In religion, the ability to quote trumps common sense, rational inquiry, practical reasoning, and the laws of physics. In religion, words have been given more importance and power than the natural world unfolding all around us. In religion, words become "abracadabra," more important than lifelong experience itself, a cognitive pathology that rejects the demythologized notion that the world isn't magical simply because of our ability to say the word 'magic'.

AbracadabraReligious apologists will argue that their particular brand of "abracadabra" outguns reason, science, and personal experience. It makes no difference that entities like 'angels' and 'devils' or places like 'Heaven' and 'Hell' will never be encountered by anyone anywhere on the earthly path from cradle to the grave. No matter that notions like the 'Soul' or 'Life-After-Death' or 'Divine Retribution' or 'Divine Reward' can never be supported by physics of this planet. As long as apologists can quote a very narrow grouping of words, and interpret these words as they most see fit, then reason and science and common science be damned!

Words trump reality. Abracadabra trumps reason. The ability to quote is one heapum powerful juju.

Abracadabra Trumps Reason

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Copyright © 2009 by Craig Lee Duckett. All rights reserved
LAST UPDATED: April 10, 2009
April 10, 2009