Saturday, July 16, 2005

Harry Potter And The Half-Wit Fundamentalist

No, I'm not going to bash fundies. Well, maybe a little. There's times when I cringe, because I identify myself as a fundamentalist Christian. Or maybe an Evangelical. What makes me cringe the most is when a preacher starts talking about science. Since science guys have tended to bash bible thumpers, thumper preachers like to bash back. And when you're a science guy and a bible thumper... that's another story.

This essay is about Harry Potter. But before I go there, I'll recommend you go here to take this quiz. I took the quiz and my score most closely matched Harry Potter!

Well, if i'm Harry Potter, I'd better explain how one does magic. I figure there's two approaches you can take to do magic:

1) bargain with some powerful being who performs some magic task for you. Ferinstance, the Devil and Daniel Webster. This kind of magic is a very personal thing. You have to establish some relationship with some being with whom you become codependent. Sorry, Alladin. The Witch of Endor (not Endora, that was on TV) summoned the prophet Samuel and that was personal, too. The Bible is pretty clear that this is a Bad Thing and Not Approved. Though, I suppose you could count Moses and the Prophets in this category as they did miracles thru their personal relationship with God. And that explains why this sort of magic is disapproved. The First Commandment says to have no other gods before God.

2) the second way to do magic is impersonal. pretty much anybody who says the incantation and does the gestures right unlocks some magic-power that does something. Larry Niven's Magic Goes Away stories. And Wiz Zumwalt. And of course, Harry Potter.

Ok, i've been playing fast and loose with fact and fiction to this point. But think of what it must have been like to be Isaac Newton. You've just invented calculus and you've stuck knitting needles in your eyes to figure out optics. You're messing with maths and formulae. And the some guy on the other side of campus is trying to turn lead into gold and figuring out physical chemistry in the process.

Newton didn't have these neat categories we have today of science and magic and alchemy. They were all smashed together in his head. I imagine he could have looked at the alchemists and their dark arts and foul smells and felt a twinge of guilt that he was doing something Not Right. Indeed, Newton managed to make a muddle of alchemy and physics, never really untangling them.

Of course, alchemy has to become chemistry, chemistry has to figure out electron orbitals and physics has to elaborate the quantum mechanics of those orbitals. All this stuff is uniformly repeatable, but as it has been frequently said, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

Since I was trained in the sciences in the 20th century at a Christian college, I had the advantage of having all those cool things figured out by the science boys for me, and I had a Christian world-life-view that indicated this thing called science was really Natural Law. Francis Bacon's two-books, with one of them being nature that discloses organizing principles of itself that we can figure out and we can build technology upon. Thus, incantational magic begat alchemy, alchemy begat science, science begat Natural Law, a new way to appreciate deity.

I guess that makes me the half-wit fundamentalist, because I buy into that Natural Law stuff that came to us through the circuitous route described in the last paragraph. I cringe when CNN has various preachers on who say Harry Potter readers are going to hell. (Remind me to revisit hell.)

I'm not cringing about the pope's criticism of Harry Potter. But I figure that catholics are magic-users as I've described above. But they can get away with type #1 magic described above since they are appealing to God for that magic.

And I suppose I'm OK with that. I'll pray to God and trust him to do the miracles of redeeming me in a type #1 mode. And I'll continue to play with technology and science and that's the kind of #2 mode magic.

It's important not to mix up the two. You can't approach God impersonally. If God were the force, you could do the right thing 100% every time you'd get a predictable result. But if God's a person, then he'll grant favors and hear requests on his terms and on his schedule. And as a person, he may even give you what you need instead of what you ask for or want. If God were 100% predictable when you did things like pray the prayer of Jabez, it would be strong evidence that God is not a personal being.


Uncle Aron said...

Amen Brother!

Thanks for layin' it out straight!

superclosetnerd said...
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