Friday 30 December 2016

Religious *and* spiritual: Prejudicial hostility to non-normal states of consciousness, mysticism, magic, 'the occult' etc among (real) Christians

Many modern Christians, including real Christians, have a reflexive and inflexible hostility to 'Religious Experience' - that is, to anything like mysticism, magic or what they term the occult.

Such attitudes come-out, for example, in the visceral hostility to JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, and Harry Potter as being demonically-inspired and/ or tending to lead people into evil preoccupations and practices - such as conjuring spirits.

This particular mind set is associated with Low Church, Charismatic type Protestants (especially in the USA). Such people claim to be able to draw a sharp line between Religious Experience (such as speaking in tongues or faith healings: good) and Magic (bad), usually defined on the presence of key words or practices such as wizard, witch, divination and spells. 

Similar - albeit 'less extreme' attitudes are also prevalent in a mind-set to be found among Western and Eastern Catholics of a Traditionalist type, and the more traditionalist, scriptural Protestant churches.

What this amounts-to is the belief that normal everyday consciousness is the only 'safe' way to be - and any form of altered consciousness - such as is associated with mystical, magical and occult experiences or knowledge - is to be avoided, absolutely (or rejected if it happens) as being likely to be of demonic origin.

In a nutshell, such people are real Christians - and yet they are solidly against Religious Experiences, in the modern world; because these may be evil in origin or effect. 

Such traditionalists will acknowledge that in theory Religious and mystical experiences may also be of divine or angelic origin (as is amply attested in The Bible, the early church, among Christian Saints of the past etc.). This might be taken to imply a middle path - of approving mystical experience but with caution; and indeed that is my own view of things.

But in practice, Traditionalists are prejudiced against Religious Experiences - by which I mean they pre-judge all claims of mysticism to be fraudulent or deluded unless-proven-otherwise; and in practice there never-can-be objective, public proof otherwise.

Such people will never actually be convinced of any proof of or evidence for the validity of mystical experience - at least not when mystical claims are made by people or groups they dislike - which amounts to people outwith their own denomination +/- a shortlist of other approved churches.

(Part of this is that they typically have an unexamined assumption that true Religious Experiences only happen to those of exceptional sanctity; and such people are extremely rare, especially in the modern world. Where they get this assumption, given the vast number of Biblical and real-life counter-examples - and the fact that Jesus came, and Christianity was founded, explicity for sinners - I can't imagine: but they clearly do assume it.)   

I am sure that the Fundamentalist or Traditionalist prejudices against Religious Experience/ magic and mysticism is a very major error of modern Christianity; because Christianity is essentially a mystical religion, and if mystical aspects (whether they are labelled magic, occult or whatever) are excluded; then the faith is dead - becomes a mere matter of obedience to a bureaucracy or set or rules.

(Obedience to legitimate authority is a virtue - true; but I see not the slightest sign that Jesus regarded it as the primary virtue!)

Particularly damaging is that this prejudice against Religious Experiences implicitly consigns modern Christianity to operate within Modern Consciousness - which is of its nature materialist, reductionist and positivist. Indeed Modern Consciousness is a truly horrible thing; which drains contemporary life of felt meaning and purpose; so that the Christian who lives within it can have a faith only 'in theory' - because any validating mystical experiences will be rejected as demonic.

If ever there was a playing into Satan's hands, and doing just exactly what he wants: then this is it! - A Christianity which (from a secular perspective) has all the disadvantages of an absurdly magical foundation; yet vehemently rejects all possible experiential advantages of a magical consciousness!

So we get the weird spectacle of the adherents of a magical religion, with a magically validated organisation (i.e. a church), who spend their time reading and discussing magical events (in the Bible, lives of Saints etc), and performing magical rituals such as the Eucharist and Prayer... yet living within a distinctively modern and rootedly anti-magical discourse which expends great energy in distancing itself from any people who actually experience magic in the here and now and strive to live in a more expanded and sensitive consciousness than that of a modern bureaucracy!

In sum Christianity need to be spiritual as well as religious; and must not be squeamish or prejudiced against mysticism, magic, the occult.

Yes, this is a risk; but Life is a risk: intrinsically (Christianity takes a middle-way about pretty much everything except Love, Repentance and Forgiveness) - and the opposite risk of promoting a dry, legalistic, merely doctrinal Christianity is to advocate a mere corpse of Christianity.

Mysticism is, simply, a risk we have to take.


William Wildblood said...

I can see why this prejudice began in that occult and psychic phenomena were common in ancient paganism and much of it clearly was either demonically inspired or else coming from a low level of consciousness. Christianity had to protect itself from this kind of thing to establish a real spirituality. Even today much that calls itself mystical is confused, illusionary and has the potential to lead astray. There's no doubt about that. On the other hand, we have here a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bath water. It's a big bath full of fairly grubby water but there is a baby in there too. I think we refuse mysticism at our peril, or maybe not peril but potential loss and with the risk of falling into spiritual literalism and close-mindedness.

But if we approach these things with humility and discrimination on the one hand and without allowing ourselves to be swept away by them on the other, and while wearing,as it were, the armour of Christ, we will find much good and help in them.

Kirk Forlatt said...

Very well put, sir. As usual, you articulated something I've only "gotten" in an instinctive sort of way before reading this.

I have long found it grimly fascinating the "magical, mystical" way in which the stodgiest, most moss-backed Christians approach reading the Bible and preaching. Mr. Jones goes about his daily business, but when he sits down and opens up the KJV and rakes his eyes across the page....voila! He is being spoken to by the Holy Spirit.

Likewise, Reverend Smith climbs into the pulpit with his stack of index cards from the week's labors, reads his text and presto! He is magically speaking the words of God/Christ to the gathered people.

Christians will deny and bristle at the use of the words "magic" and "magically" here, but this is exactly what they claim is taking place. Very curious.

Desert Rat said...

I have been reading your blog for a couple of years now and this may be the most insightful and important posting so far.

I have used the standard of "the tree is known by its fruit" in determining what is true or false with regards to revelation and it has so far served me well. This requires patience but the truth always comes out.

You have been a roll lately, especially in your postings about what the Christian West is up against and how demonic influence is distorting and destroying what used to be known as "Christendom". I hope people are taking these seriously.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Sean - Thanks! I sometimes feel that some blog posts ask to be written for the reason that some particular person 'out there' would be helped by just that thing, at just this time - perhaps this was one of those examples.

The blog is getting more page views than ever before - more than three thousand a day on average, which is double what was the case for this time last year.

It doesn't have any apparent influence beyond the specific readership - but that is as things should be. I don't want to be part of the mass media.

TheDoctorofOdoIsland said...

Worth pointing out is how modern proponents of magical or mystical belief systems are generally anti-Christian movements derived from neo-pagan reconstructionism or popular mangling of Eastern religion. Systems which generally act as enthusiastic propagandaists for moral relativism, the sexual revolution, and other leftist creeds.

It's understandable that when so much that calls itself 'magic' is packaged and promulgated by groups who Christians would regard as enemies that they would be hesitant to open themselves to such influences.

Of course most New Age thought systems are actually derived from Medieval Jewish and Christian philosophy that have only been dressed up in neo-pagan trappings- and could easily be reappropriated by Christians to suit their present spiritual needs. Likewise there is much of Christian mysticism in all three of the major traditions that hasn't been appropriated by anti-Christian philosophers for the believer to resort to. They only have to be educated on the subject.

Mormonism of course has much of its own magical tradition (I would prefer to say miraculous) in the Temple and in the workings of the priesthood. Joseph Smith's use of Seer stones (the Biblical Urim and Thummim) to communicate with God was the most obviously magical element of his practice, but people tend to get distracted by things like that when they should be looking for magic in more ordinary places. What is the hymnal but a book of spells? Or the liturgies of other churches, are they not magic? The starting point for greater openness to the miraculous is simply to acknowledge how much it is already 'owned' by Christians.

- Carter Craft

Bruce Charlton said...

@Carter - CS Lewis got it right when he said that (real) paganism was partial truth, and (historically) Christianity was built upon it.

There isn't really much of a conflict; it is more a matter of how far a person is prepared to go (paganism being, in essence, natural spontaneous religion - innate religion sans divine revelation.)

Pretty much all pagans were keen to become Christian IF they believed it was *true* (i.e. they recognised Christianity was better than paganism, held far greater hope of happiness - and the only cherent reason not to become Christian was if Christianity was regarded as being untrue).

If the attempt was made to delete paganism from Christianity, what is left would not be viable - any actual, strong, thriving, sustainable Christianity has been full of magic and mysticism where it mattered.

pyrrhus said...

This hostility to actual spiritual/religious experience is endemic to our secular society. Which is why the Sufis are closer to original Christianity than most western Christian churches.

JMSmith said...

This post may have been inspired by some of the comments to my recent Orthosphere note on William Wildblood. If not, you might want to glance over these for more evidence of what you say here (as if more evidence were needed).

Bruce Charlton said...

@JM - It was indeed! (Although I have often previously made the same point using different words.)

Unfortunately your warm-hearted and generous post brought out of the woodwork an example of something I find repellant about some of the Orthosphere commenters.