Saturday, 21 May 2016

God and Magic

God and magic. Did your eyes just catch fire with horror because I put those two words in one sentence?* That's why I'm writing this post.

*OK but you should probably go to the hospital. Not that you can read this any more because your eyes are on fire. So it's a pointless footnote. So I'll stop now.

Many Christians have many opinions on many topics, but honestly, the majority probably don't have strong opinions on magic in books. (I mean, who even reads fantasy, right? It's a weird genre.) But here within the world of the bookworm, it is a subject that raises hackles.


I've lost count of the number of people who've told me that this book or that book was banned from their house when they were a kid, because of magic. I've met Christians who've told me they've not read Harry Potter because their parents wouldn't let them. Heck, I actually once found a book (in a very weird secondhand bookshop in Singapore) written to defend Harry Potter from the attacks of Christian parents. It's a touchy topic! I'm not saying I know better than these parents -- I mean, they've raised a kid, what have I raised? Some very badly behaved dogs and a few cakes -- but I would like to explain my own position: that God and fantasy books can go together; that magic in fiction can glorify him.

The Bible has got a bit to say about magic, namely, don't do it.
[the pagans of Babylon] stand fast in your enchantments and your many sorceries, with which you have laboured from your youth ... Those who divide the heavens, who gaze at the stars, who at the new moons make known what shall come upon you. Behold, they are like stubble; the fire consumes them; they cannot deliver themselves from the power of the flame." (Isaiah 47:12-14)
These people put their trust in sorcery rather than in God, and it's pretty clear where that will end up. “The fire consumes them"; here God is making the point that magic is dangerous. You may be blinking slightly and muttering, “but Emily, you don't actually believe in magic, surely?" And no, I don't, not Harry Potter magic anyway (much as I wish it were real). But I do believe that the Devil has extensive and dark power. He, like God, is a supernatural being, and in the New Testament we see many examples of people infested by supernatural darkness. Jesus calls out various demons in the gospel. You may think that possession doesn't happen anymore -- if you're not a Christian, you probably don't believe it ever happened -- and it's true that messing around with ouija boards or dark magic" or whatever is probably a load of baloney and therefore harmless. But equally, we should be careful!


I think that this presence of dark power in the world is the reason Christian parents are nervous of magic in books. Let's take Harry Potter (my go-to example, apparently). The magic in that series is a neutral force, neither good nor evil, and Rowling clearly shows her characters using magic for good. But what if a kid reads those books and says, aha, I want to be a wizard like Harry, too!", and goes online and searches for spells and finds themselves in horrible dark parts of the internet, being encouraged to use ouija boards and speak to the dead, etc.? It isn't Harry Potter itself that is the problem, but rather the type of thinking and/or activity to which it could lead.

However, I have a quibble with this type of thinking, which is this. The basic argument there is that if a book is going to lead a reader to sin, they shouldn't read the book. But if you're going to say that, you need to ban pretty much every book ever. The Great Gatbsy is one of my favourites (“Emily, we know!" you cry. “Shut up about it for five seconds!"), but it is all about corruption, adultery, etc, etc. A book doesn't need magic to make it sinful. Any book about human beings is going to do that very well on its own.

I'm not saying that makes the sin in these books OK. Of course I'm not. And of course we need to be discerning about the books we read. I'm not saying that, if you know Fifty Shades of Grey is about sexual sin, that means you're OK to read it. The books we read do shape our thinking and if a book is pushing a particular worldly agenda that's going to infect our own minds. This is why as Christians we need to draw the line when it comes to certain books, films and TV shows. But equally, you have a brain. You know how to be discerning. In all honesty, it's probably far more damaging for you to read about teenagers having sex, than to read a kids' fantasy book with magic in it. But I have read and do read and have greatly enjoyed books of both those types, and that is because I've been taught to be discerning. I know that the sex outside of marriage is wrong, and I also know that I shouldn't dabble in magic.

But does that mean that magic is a sin that should be put on the Wrong List with all the other sins? That's not what I mean, either! Think about CS Lewis or JRR Tolkien. They were both Christians and they both wrote fantasy. How do we equate the two?


In Narnia, God's presence is very clear. Aslan = Jesus, and he speaks of “my father across the sea", that is, God the Father. We have no doubt that God created Narnia. That means that he also created magic, talking animals, dryads, the whole shebang, and that idea makes some Christians bristle. But this is what I think.

In our world, “all the trees of the fields will clap their hands" (Isaiah 55:12) is a metaphor. The trees are not going to clap their hands. (They don't have hands.) But in a book, you can, as it were, shift the balance of metaphor and reality. By doing this you bring metaphors into reality, so that the scene described here -- sentient trees -- really takes place. It's magic. But, in that world, magic is not an evil force, but rather part of creation. He is, after all, a supernatural God, with supernatural power. In our world he chose not to create magic -- maybe to draw a clearer line between our power and his power. (As a side note, it is important not to have magician characters playing God.) That's how we know that the supernatural in this world is part of Satan's power. But in the fantasy world of a book, why not? God is my creator, and since I'm the creator of my book and its fantasy world, he sort of created it, too. In my book there is a God, and he made everything, including magic. It is not something to fear, but a way of glorifying him.

~***~

24 comments:

  1. There are so many angles to this debate, but I like that you emphasize discernment. I notice that discernment varies from person to person, and I don't like the schisms that come out of it.
    Overall, you handled this subject well.

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    1. As readers, I guess discernment is one of the most important things. Books kind of teach of us how to think, but we then need to use that to think about the morals in the books and the agendas they're presenting.
      Thank you, Blue :)

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  2. You covered so many different angles. *claps*

    I do think people not being allowed to read books because of magic is a bit silly, especially if those kids are smart enough to realise to not go messing with magic because they did it in the book. I have friends who aren't allowed to read Artemis Fowl because there's magic in it. Seriously, Artemis Fowl. Like really? It'd inspire you to commit a crime before dabbling in magic.

    But I also agree that there's a line. Like if you're always reading books with swearing then you're more likely to swear (at least in my experience). There's just some stuff that you just don't need in your head, like senseless gore & violence, sexual sin, foul language, etc. and if you read/watch enough of it then it will stay in your head.

    So yeah, it's a touchy subject, but you handled it very well.

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    1. ~bows rapturously to applause~

      I've not read Artemis Fowl, as you know, but that's exactly how I feel about Harry Potter. Like, what?!!!! Especially when the magic is, as you say, not the #1 thing to worry about in the book. Like, worry that your daughter's reading of contemporary romances is giving her unrealistic expectations about men. Don't worry that she's going to try to contact the dead. Gosh.

      There is, and when it's about demons/summoning demons/generally more satanistic stuff than magic magic, that's when I get a bit nervy. But thank you, Victoria :)

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  3. Like the above commenters mentioned, you came at this from a really great angle. I enjoyed this post a lot!

    I don't have a problem with magic in books (insofar as it doesn't stray into real life dark spiritual territory), and I'm a bit baffled by those who object. I mean, take a look at Jesus. If you changed His name, it would look an awful lot like a fantasy character using magic of some sort. Healing? Multiplying food? Walking on water? Finding a coin in a fish's mouth to pay the temple tax? It's crazy stuff when you change the context.

    And I like what you said about metaphor. So true! That's how I see a lot of fantasy elements--they're just elaborate metaphors sustained over the course of a whole book.

    Anyway, great post with lots of food for thought! *claps*

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    1. Thank you, Tracey! (That is, Tray-tray.)

      I guess the objection to that is that Jesus is God and so if you give your characters powers like the ones of his you mentioned, you're kinda aligning them with God / giving them too much power, so that they become divine? Which is why it's important to have limits to your magic, so that your characters aren't running amok with it. For example, the multiplying food thing probably needs not to happen, because if a magic character can create food ... why are there still starving people? This is something I had to address in TCATT when I realised I'd set, like, no limits! XD

      EXACTLY. Because, hey, here's the thing, IT'S FANTASY. So when people are like “FANTASY WRITERS MAKING OUT MAGIC IS REAL!", I'm like, “do you realise that fantasy means not real?!"

      Thank you! ~bows~

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    2. XD

      That's a very good point. We can't very well have our magic-wielding characters playing God. I guess I meant it more as a defense of fantasy in general, rather than a defense of magic. (LIMITS, GAH. I have some worldbuilding to do in that regard for The Prophet's Key... *whimpers*)

      EXACTLY. Just because I write about another world in which dragons exist doesn't mean I actually think it's for real. Though let's be honest, that would be pretty cool. But fantasy is just that--a fantasy.

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    3. Worldbuilding can be tricky but also so much fun! I just got off Wikipedia where I was researching the British Army, so that I could give myself some parameters for military rankings in TCATT. (Because I've spent the past three years just throwing terms like “general" and “colonel" around without actually knowing what they mean. Now I have fixed it all though and made a master military ranking page in my notebook! Yay!)

      Dragons would be cool ... ~wistful look~ But yes. We don't actually believe our WIPs are real, gawsh! O.o

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  4. Wow! Brilliant post Emily! This topic had never crossed my mind and I am appalled that there are parents out there who banned their children from reading Harry Potter. To me it seems such a drastic thing to do, I mean its only a book and yet I do see their point a little bit. But like you said we'd have to ban the ENTIRE WORLD OF BOOKS if everything we read caused unethical or dubious thinkings.
    As a non-believer I feel unconnected to this topic as if my opinion would be very biased because it seems like nonsense that what you believe in could stop you from reading whatever you like. Just because you read a book about magic, fantasy, adultery etc. does not mean you're gonna stop believing in your own morals or faith.
    Very thought-provoking post. ^_^

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    1. Thank you! I knooow, I was trying not to slam parents who've done that but like SERIOUSLY?!! You're denying your child SO MUCH JOY! I really cannot get on board with HP banning. Ughhh.

      I know, I guess parents are trying to protect their children but also you need to trust that somebody is able to read something and tell the difference between good and bad. If you cocoon your child for ever, they won't learn to be discerning. Gosh, I should've just titled this post “BE DISCERNING, EVERYONE!!!!"

      Thank you <3

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  5. Great post, Emily! I think I'm one of those people who spurred this post when saying they couldn't read Harry Potter as a kid or Twilight either for that matter (Twilight I more understand). XD I was also surrounded by other mothers who wouldn't let their kids read/watch Narnia, Sleeping Beauty, and even Peter Pan because of magic. The reason being for Narnia is from the scripture "the devil is like a prowling lion" which I think is utterly ridiculous. When I think of magic at least in my stories or many other stories, I think of it as a natural force and a natural abilities. Like dogs can smell keenly, then talking trees can move. It's just what they can naturally do. A lot of natural animals have abilities that seem almost like magic such as the shark ampullae of lorenzini. This allows a shark to sense the electrical signals of other fish. Doesn't that sound like telepathy? A think a lot of magic can be whittled down to science we just don't understand. X-men does this with mutant abilities that could be defined as magic, but breaks them down to how exactly they work. Great discussion!

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    1. Thank you! I find that so bizarre, I mean, Sleeping Beauty?! As for the prowling lion thing, that IS utterly ridiculous, what about the Lion of Judah?!! And that's taking a verse completely out of context. It says in Isaiah, “our sins were scarlet". If sin is scarlet, does that mean red is a sinful colour? Should we throw away our red clothes? What?!!

      Love what you say about the natural abilities! I think the key to writing magic is to give it natural limits. If you don't, then you are playing God, and that is bad. But if it has limits within your world, then it's just a type of nature we don't have in our own world. I love the shark thing! XD

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  6. Loved this post!

    I always thought it sad that sometimes parents ban good books because they want their kids to remain ignorant about certain things in the story. People so often equate innocence with ignorance which is such a huge misconception it makes me angry. Because ignorance could lead to learning about something the wrong way, while knowledgeable innocence, or discerning innocence will lead to a guarded heart instead of a completely open to everything outlook. A round about way to say, I wonder why parents don't use books or films as a teaching tool? To actually engage their kids in conversation and ask them what was wrong in the book, what was right, what happened as a consequence, what does the Bible have to say about the situations and choices made, etc. I understand if they want to keep their kids away from it when they are a very young age, but as they grow older it's a good way to teach discernment and maturity.

    That was mildly related.

    I like what you say about magic representing God's power in a fantasy setting. I remember listening to this radio broadcast once on magic and God. The speaker was saying there were three kinds of magic. The neutral magic we find in literature, like what you were saying about Harry Potter. Then there is Satan's power, which is a very real magic that we ought to be wary of, yet not fear because our God is bigger than that. Lastly, he said there was God's magic. He basically meant, God's supernatural power. His power to heal. His power to create by speaking things into exists. The power of His love. The beauty of His creation. To us, it all seems like magic. We can't do these amazing things, and we can't fathom the depths of His power and greatness. It is as wondrous to us as a magical world is to children.

    "I mean, they've raised a kid, what have I raised?" -- A cast of characters? And the resulting mayhem. *cries in locked closet*

    Great post! I love how you put it. And it made me laugh. :)

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    1. I'm so glad!

      YES YES YES! TEACHING TOOL! And obviously there are limits within that, but surely it's better to have spoken to your kids about certain things, than for them to just learn about them at school or whatever and therefore get completely the wrong idea. Like if parents don't talk to their kids properly about sex. If you don't, who is going to?! Their friends at school?? NOT A GOOD IDEA.

      I think DISCERNMENT is definitely our keyword here.

      I guess we just need to be really careful about differentiating between good and bad magic, and between magic that characters can wield, and God's power, which they cannot wield. When your characters are playing God, that's bad. But as long as you make the distinction ...

      Ha, well, that's true! But don't lock yourself away, IT'S ALL GONNA BE FINE. (I'm sensing nervy Oddball vibes from you these past few weeks?)

      Thank you :D

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    2. Exactly. There are just some things that you need to learn from your parents and not the random person in the grocery line, or even your well meaning friend.

      Haha! So Oddball and I are a wreck. But I promise we won't strangle each other.

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    3. Don't strangle each other! YOU'RE GONNA MAKE IT. ~plays motivational film montage style music~

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  7. Great post and very well put - you talked about the issue from so many different angles. I've never been quite able to figure out parents who won't let their kids read Harry Potter because of the magic, but then LOTR is perfectly fine. Usually the arguments revolve around how Gandalf does magic (like a prayer) or how the magic is just there (he doesn't have to learn it)...anyway this is always a good topic to keep in mind, especially when working in a public library.

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    1. Thank you. I knooow, that kind of inconsistency really does get my goat. Did you read Victoria Grace's comment? I MEAN REALLY. Especially when the parents haven't even read the books. Ugghhh.

      But yes, I hadn't thought about that, but it must be pertinent for you! You wouldn't want an angry parent rocking up demanding why you let little Jessica read an EVIL MAGIC BOOK!

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    2. Yes, that's what really gets me!

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  8. I have been thinking about this a lot lately, and I agree magic can glorify God. I think it's how you handle it, and I think it's also sad to blame a book for causing someone to sin.

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    1. Sin is so complex and often has so many causes, it seems a bit too linear to blame a particular book! Obviously books do affect us, probably more than we know, but to blame magic in a book just seems silly.

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  9. Yep yep yep! My mom used to be one of those parents that didn't let my sister and I read HP. My sister eventually rebelled and now we've both read HP and love it! We even got my mom to watch the movies, haha.

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that you have to be discerning. Maybe a book isn't appropriate for a younger child who is still learning discernment and how to interact with books critically, but it doesn't mean the book is bad itself.

    Great post!

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    1. That's great that you got to read them! I'm glad you enjoyed the post, as always thank you for reading :)

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Thanks for commenting! :)