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More Than Vaguely Appalled...

So I was standing in the grocery store line yesterday afternoon and a very nice-seeming we-just-got-out-of-church mother and her two sons were standing behind me. On the checkout shelf, amongst the tabloids, was a copy of Harry Potter 6. I hear the younger of the two sons, who is maybe 11 or so, say (in a very dutiful-sounding voice) something like, "Oh, that's witchcraft. It's evil and I won't touch it, Mom." And the mother replied something like, "That's right, baby." All very serious and solemn, no hint of a joke or teasing intent.


Eeek!

I know there are real people out there who believe this, and they constitute a large number. But to actually see one in the flesh! To observe how thoroughly kind they are, and then hear this sort of thing! (And the mother was very, very courteous to all the other shoppers behind her. And she complimented me on my hair. And generally seemed like a nice, neighborly sort of woman.)

In my head, I think such people are backwoods cretins with permanent scowls from their fire and brimstones preachers. They do not, in any sense, look like Nice People (TM). I realize this is completely ridiculous but...well, yes. And hence my shock at running into one in the flesh yesterday afternoon.

After I left the store, I got to thinking about what witchcraft/magic means to people like this. Is it anything that someone can do to affect someone/something else that you don't understand the mechanism for? If so, all of science could well fall into this category. But that can't be right, because these people presumably drive their cars and get innoculations without really understanding the complete mechanisms behind it all. (They have vague ideas, certainly, enough to get a sense of what's going on - but then, wouldn't witchcraft also have that description for them? "I cause myself to get a job by believing/praying/whatever-ing really hard about it..." Vague idea = believe/pray/whatever to get desired effect.)

So then I thought it must be something like all witchcraft is devil-based, so any kind of magic, whether for good or evil purposes, has a bad source. Which would explain their revulsion towards it, but then you still have the same problem of what you classify as witchcraft/magic.

And what if, sometime in the future, there's some discovery made about the brain-workings that would cause "magic" to exist Harry Potter-style? So it's then not devil-based, but human physiology-derived. Because the workings are completely human, is it still "magic" or "witchcraft" and therefore evil no matter what the intent? (My guess is yes. But then you're back to defining what magic/witchcraft actually means.)

Comments

( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
arielstarshadow
Oct. 3rd, 2005 12:56 pm (UTC)
Now see, I would have asked her: Have you actually read any of the books at all? Because I bet the answer would have been "No" in which case, I would have at least tried to persuade her to at least read one of the books before passing judgment.
jalenstrix
Oct. 3rd, 2005 02:46 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I tend to be really passive about this sort of thing. Unless the person is attacking something about me personally, I usually choose not to get into it in a public place.
several_bees
Oct. 3rd, 2005 02:49 pm (UTC)
Eh, if you're the sort of person to believe that the books are Evil, then chances are you'll believe that based upon their actual content (which does, you know, involve magic) quite as easily as upon someone's summary of it. The issue with Harry Potter seems to be the whole magic-witchcraft-etc thing rather than the specific characteristics of the book - not many people who disapprove would go "ohh, the scar's on his *forehead*, I thought it was his shoulder. *Now* I can see that they're okay!"
larksdream
Oct. 3rd, 2005 12:58 pm (UTC)
In my head, I think such people are backwoods cretins with permanent scowls from their fire and brimstones preachers. They do not, in any sense, look like Nice People (TM)

I know what you mean. And the supreme irony is that they think the same thing about pagans / homosexuals / bisexuals / atheists / Democrats / whatever. Really, if most people actually spent some pleasant social time with the "other side" *before* realizing that's what they were, we all might develop a lot more tolerance. And / or be horrified a lot more often. :P

So it's then not devil-based, but human physiology-derived.

The two aren't mutually exclusive in their worldview.
jalenstrix
Oct. 3rd, 2005 02:49 pm (UTC)
The two aren't mutually exclusive in their worldview.

Good point. But then it gets really slippery about what it means to be devil-based, no? Suppose Harry Potter-style powers are shown to exist by being derived from human physiology, and someone uses their power to save a baby from a burning building by putting out the fire. Is that then okay to these people, do you think? No unknown power, end is good. Plus, it would be the magic-equivalent of a fire hose.
larksdream
Oct. 3rd, 2005 03:04 pm (UTC)
But then it gets really slippery about what it means to be devil-based, no?

I don't think so. Consider that murder, adultery, and the whole lot could also be considered to be physiologically based; the idea seems to be (and again, IANAC so I am happy to be corrected) that through faith and grace humans overcome their base and sinful nature. Which is exactly what many "enlightened" Christians believe about homosexuality-- that if the urges are inborn, it's because God intended you to overcome them, as he intended others to overcome urges to lie or steal or covet.

As for whether a sinful act can ever be excused by a good end, well, that's something you'll have to take up with someone who knows more about Christian theology than I do. :P
ozarque
Oct. 3rd, 2005 01:14 pm (UTC)
I enjoyed reading this -- thank you for posting it. Having started out in the backwoods myself, I guess I should mention that the source of the problem -- for fundamentalists and biblical "literalists" of any variety -- is that the Bible explicitly forbids witchcraft, divination, and any sort of attempt to contact anything supernatural other than the Almighty.

The Bible also forbids a long list of things that fundamentalists and biblical literalists pay no attention to at all, of course. How the choices are made among the various forbidden items I have no idea.
jalenstrix
Oct. 3rd, 2005 02:45 pm (UTC)
the Bible explicitly forbids witchcraft, divination, and any sort of attempt to contact anything supernatural other than the Almighty.

[nodnod] This makes very good sense, but it makes them define what all the terms means again, I think. (Divination, for instance - to these people, would it be bad for one of them to use tarot cards if that person believes that they're really just tapping into some subconscious/unconscious processes of their own that science hasn't found a way to classify yet? I guess they probably wouldn't get into this bind in the first place, since they wouldn't believe this about using tarot cards...)

I'm curious about the things the fundamentalists and biblical literalists choose to ignore, though - do you know where I could find an example?
larksdream
Oct. 3rd, 2005 03:33 pm (UTC)
I have a fabulous example regarding Mormons-- they're all supposed to be vegetarians!

In the Word of Wisdom, which is the source for the prohibition against wine and hot drinks, a restriction which IS widely followed, there is the following:

And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man—

Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving.

Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly;

And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.

ozarque
Oct. 3rd, 2005 03:43 pm (UTC)
things ignored...
Sure -- try Exodus and Leviticus. There's Leviticus 20:9, for example: "For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death...". It doesn't happen. There's the part about forgiving all debts every seven years, and the part about not charging interest. In the New Testament, there's the statement by Jesus of Nazareth that adultery is the only cause for which divorce is allowed.

And I'm not being sarcastic, by the way, when I say that I don't understand how a biblical literalist decides which items can be ignored. I really don't understand. I think it must be very difficult.
underwatercolor
Oct. 3rd, 2005 03:30 pm (UTC)
I feel your approach very much gives you away. I think that many people who believe in "witchcraft" et al do so without [what I would call] a strict definition. One might say it's is all about the ability to believe in something without knowing what it is. More specifically, Harry Potter could be witchcraft because such-and-such a minister said so, and that is proof, in their view. It's a step beyond trusting someone's opinion.

As for the later question, I doubt they'd have any trouble pronouncing it as evil once it turned out to be real, even if it turned out to be wonderful. If it's evil, neither of those change it.. in a way, they might strengthen the belief that it is sinful.
semper_augustus
Oct. 3rd, 2005 08:53 pm (UTC)
YAY Heinlein!
There are three schools of magic.
One: State a tautology, then ring the changes on its corollaries; that's philosophy.
Two: Record many facts. Try to find a pattern. Then make a wrong guess at the next fact; that's science.
Three: Be aware that you live in a malevolent Universe controlled by Murphy's Law, sometimes offset by Brewster's Factor; that's engineering.

--Robert A. Heinlein, The Number of the Beast
heptadecagram
Oct. 3rd, 2005 08:54 pm (UTC)

Ex-fundamentalist weighing in!

I used to be the sort that was very brimstoney, to the point where I burned all of my parents' original Star Wars memorabilia, as science fiction was very much Satanic stuff to be gotten rid of. They were proud of me, too, as they hadn't thought to get rid of it.

So, witchcraft by my remembered definition goes thusly: "Any sort of non-scientific power (though scientific powers can be subverted for Satanic purposes, so be careful) that does not explicitly come from Jesus is considered Satanic, as any divine power has no reason to obscure its origin." Note the binary attitude: Anything not expressly permitted is considered forbidden, since there's only one source for evil.

Now, as you mention, the interesting point is to define any given instance as devil-magic or not. The solution here is that institutionalized religions (especially Christianity) are based upon obeying authority, and the people in them respond well to that. I knew that Dr. Seuss was evil because my seminary stepbrother told me, and I accepted that readily. This woman was told that Harry Potter was witchcraft, and accepted that readily. These two models of thought (rule by edict and rule by concensus) are very polar, and the two types are very poor at even comprehending how the other can exist.

Now, if psychohistory were to suddenly become available? We have historical examples! Just as mental illnesses and many diseases were once thought to be paranormal in nature, they were found to have scientific explanations. The central authority, often more progressive on the whole than its more-distant members, would disseminate the new information, and rural areas would be the last to accept these new teachings.

However, we also have the new addition of mass media. Now, a rural community's ignorant belief (witness Fred Phelps) can become a major voice in the debate, thus limiting religions' progressive stances.

fallen_tigress
Oct. 4th, 2005 06:05 pm (UTC)
I was raised like that too... my younger brother (19), is hugely like that... anything magic is 'bad'. It's really kind of scary, how far they take things like that. If you don't believe in their god, you're wrong, and going to hell... as for you question:
And what if, sometime in the future, there's some discovery made about the brain-workings that would cause "magic" to exist Harry Potter-style? So it's then not devil-based, but human physiology-derived. Because the workings are completely human, is it still "magic" or "witchcraft" and therefore evil no matter what the intent?
I think that answer is yes, it would still be evil.
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