Seven Steps Toward Clarifying Atheist Vocabulary

People who stand in opposition to Christianity often have their own vocabulary for us Christians and our beliefs: magic, invisible friend, crutch, irrational, and the like.

If we have different meanings in mind, conversations are more likely to lead to confusion than conclusions. Therefore I offer these questions and thoughts, in hopes of clarifying atheist vocabulary.

  1. Magic. Do you mean illusionists’ or wizards’ little tricks? Or do you mean the eternal Creator God of the universe involving himself purposefully and lovingly in his creation? If the latter, is “magic” really an appropriate label?
  2. Invisible friend. Do you mean an imaginary boy, girl, or adult that we can “play with” as if he or she were a real human friend? Or do you mean the all-powerful, sovereign, loving, self-sacrificing, omniscient, omnipresent, majestic, and partially hidden God of the universe? If the latter, is “invisible friend” really an appropriate label?

  3. Crutch. Do you mean something by which people hobble along when they’ve been injured due to their own inherent frailty—a weakness that you’re too good to be subject to yourself? Or do you mean something that enables people to rise up and be more and do more than they could otherwise? (I speak as one who has had chronic injuries due to a congenital foot condition. I know what crutches are good for.)

  4. Irrational. Do you define “rational,” as most published New Atheists do (see True Reason ) in terms of agreeing with your conclusion that the world must always be interpreted on strictly empirical terms? Or do you define it in terms of the ability to process thoughts from evidence and premises through to a conclusion with valid reasoning? If the former, aren’t you begging the question quite irrationally?

  5. Intolerant. Do you mean unwilling to agree with relaxed standards of truth and morality? If so, we agree. Where’s the problem? And why are you so intolerant toward our position?

  6. Arrogant. Do you mean that we’re convinced that we know something that’s true for both you and us? If so, we agree. Where’s the problem? And why do you arrogantly propose that you know what’s true for both you and us?

  7. Judgmental. Do you mean we are willing to apply ethical and rational standards to beliefs and actions? If so, we agree. Where’s the problem? Are you judging us for this?

Now I must add this, since we’re not always as virtuous as we ought to be. In some situations it’s likely that atheists and skeptics mean the following:

4a. Irrational. Unable to process a thought with valid reasoning, from evidences and premises to conclusions.

5a. Intolerant: Ornery, unkind, unwilling to associate with people one disagrees with.

6a. Arrogant: Proud, contemptuous, holding an attitude of personal superiority.

7a. Judgmental: Condemning, smug, unaware of one’s own failings.

Sometimes those are valid descriptions. Sometimes we’re really like that. In those cases, the best thing we can say is “We agree, and we see the problem. We apologize and we’ll try to live in a more reasonable and loving way.”

It’s always a good idea to make sure we know what words really mean.

Comments

  1. John Moore

    Words don’t really mean anything in particular. Or do you think words have objective meanings out there in the cosmos?

    Maybe this is a fundamental difference between theists and atheists, because theists have this idea that God created words and gave them fixed meanings, whereas atheists think people created words and are free to give them various meanings depending on circumstances and utility.

  2. Victoria

    I think it is more accurate to say that theists (and Christian Theists in particular) maintain that God created personal beings with the ability to rationally comprehend concepts and ideas and communicate these things, and so He could communicate with us.

    Of course, in order for communication to serve its purpose, one has to have symbols with semantic content, and it has to be possible to distinguish the real signal from the background noise, and both the sender and receiver must agree on the symbols and the semantics, right?

  3. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    Good point, Victoria. No, John, we don’t think that words have eternal essential meanings; their meaning is found in convention and in context, and Man and Hut have different meanings in English than in German. The purpose of this post was to help clarify different usages so as to lead to communication rather than confusion.

    Tell me, do you think that communication is possible through words? Do you think it’s possible for two people, say, Sam and Charlie, to come to a mutual understanding of what they mean by some word like “crutch”? Do you think Sam could understand Charlie’s meaning, even if Sam normally uses “crutch” differently (and vice versa)? Do you think there’s value in their trying to accomplish that kind of understanding?

  4. SteveK

    Words don’t really mean anything in particular.

    Hey, Mike(#47).
    I’m doing well, and thank you for telling us so clearly what you believe. It’s good to know that Christians like you are in the world today. I mean that sincerely. Talk to you again soon.

  5. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    Thanks, Steve, I’ll take the one with the bucket seats and the high-efficiency air filter.

    Another question, John: do you think it’s possible for a person to understand words wrongly? Or does words’ lack of “any meaning in particular” mean that the listener/reader can put any meaning on them that he or she wishes?

  6. John Moore

    Certainly communication is possible through words. We agree on that point, thank goodness. I’m sure all atheists recognize the difference between a crutch and a ladder, even if we’re using those terms metaphorically to speak of psychology rather than simple physical circumstances.

    I also think you understand quite well when atheists claim that religion is like a crutch. The problem isn’t with a word-misunderstanding, but it’s a disagreement about reality. We’re getting right down to the issues.

    Personally, I wish you would not feel offended by the terms atheists use to characterize religion. Have a thicker skin, or maybe just laugh it off. And of course you can keep on asserting your different point of view. The important thing is for our discussion to continue.

  7. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    Sure, John, but, ummm…. can you actually point to something I wrote that indicates I was offended? Be specific, please, or else maybe you could just, for your own growth, own up to the fact that you read that in where it wasn’t.

    What I was trying to do—what indeed I said I was trying to do, and what I think I demonstrated I was trying to do, was to promote clarity of communication, which of course involved correcting some false impressions. I think you consider that good rather than necessarily neurotic, right?

    (And yes, you’ve just provided me another opportunity to do the same. Am I laughing it off? Well, I’m smiling, and I’m in fine humor, but I don’t think that’s inconsistent with correcting someone’s false impression of me or of the faith.)

  8. John Moore

    I guess I’m thinking back on the whole series about Boghossian. If you weren’t offended (or angry or whatever) then that’s good. I admit I can’t prove you felt any particular emotion. I don’t think you’re neurotic or anything.

    About word definitions, maybe it would be good to have some rules of thumb for what’s a good or a bad definition. I made a list for myself a while ago. You and others can critique it if you like.

  9. BillT

    ” Have a thicker skin, or maybe just laugh it off.”

    We do, just as I’m sure you would if accused of really believing in magic and speaking to an invisible friend and being incapable of existing without a crutch and being irrational, intolerant, arrogant and judgmental. I’m sure you’re sincere when you say “The important thing is for our discussion to continue.” I gather it’s your “definition” of a discussion to slander, insult and ridicule the people you are supposedly concerned the discussion continue with. That’s easy when “Words don’t really mean anything in particular.” (Except when applied to others.)

  10. Post
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  11. John Moore

    Actually, I don’t think BillT is adding anything to the discussion here. In fact, he sounds offended. He’s attributing to me a definition of discussion that is pretty uncharitable. Have I ever been rude when commenting on this site? Slanderous or insulting?

    Also, if you just say “words don’t really mean anything in particular,” that’s misleading since you’re taking the words out of context.

    Oh well. Sometimes we have good discussions, and other times not.

  12. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    Here’s the thing, John @11, and also here. Actually two things.

    1. We have history with people who really believe that words don’t mean anything in particular, and discussions with them have gone nowhere. In my experience it’s impossible for people with that opinion to add anything to a discussion. So I for one am wary of that attitude when I see it expressed.

    2. I think what BillT was attributing to you was this: that since the important thing is that the discussion continue, we ought to keep feeling free to express our different points of view; but meanwhile if Christians are characterized inaccurately, unfairly, rudely, discourteously, and so on, then we ought to have a thicker skin and laugh it off.

    Bill, if I mischaracterized your comment please let me know.

    John, if there’s some reason we ought not interpret your comments here (and here) in that manner, now would be a good time to clarify what you really meant.

  13. G. Rodrigues

    Faith is a concrete reality, lived and experienced by concrete, real people. The issue is not about words, redefinitions, official dictionary meanings, etc. but about the realities that these words serve as references for. To use the word “Faith” in another sense, as a reference for some other reality as that lived and experienced by concrete, real Christians, is not to engage in honest discussion, but to equivocate and straw-man.

  14. BillT

    Tom and John,

    I think Tom describes my position fairly. John, the description of Christians as really believing in magic, speaking to invisible friends, being incapable of existing without a crutch and being irrational, intolerant, arrogant and judgmental is very real. It’s slanderous, insulting and demeaning. For you to claim your concern is that “our discussion continue” and then to suggest that the solution for the above is to have a thicker skin, or maybe just laugh it off is just a bit disingenuous.

    Perhaps not surprisingly the perfect example of that is right here on this thread in your reply #11. Nothing I said in my #9 is in any way comparable to the list of insulting mischaracterizations in the OP yet your response to me is that I was being “pretty uncharitable” and that “Sometimes we have good discussions, and other times not.” What? You couldn’t just “Have a thicker skin, or maybe just laugh it off.”

  15. John Moore

    OK, I just want to emphasize again that I do think words have real meanings. It’s just that the meanings are made by people and can change. We actually agree about this. As Mr. Gilson said in comment #3:

    “No, John, we don’t think that words have eternal essential meanings; their meaning is found in convention and in context.”

    I enjoy and benefit from these discussions. Thanks for running this blog! I didn’t mean to suggest that having a thick skin means you don’t take the discussion seriously. We must all keep our emotions under control, right?

  16. Ray Ingles

    BillT –

    We do, just as I’m sure you would if accused of really believing in magic and speaking to an invisible friend and being incapable of existing without a crutch and being irrational, intolerant, arrogant and judgmental.

    Right, and atheists should just shrug off being called closed-minded, dishonest, selfish, immoral, irrational, intolerant, arrogant, and judgmental, too.

  17. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    What in the world is going on here, Ray? Does playing tit-for-tat make you feel that much better?

    My post was about clarifying terms. I noted in the latter part of it (using different language now, of course) that “if the shoe fits, then wear it” applies to Christians. I would say the same to you: if someone says these things to you and they’re wrong, go ahead and clarify and correct. Or if the shoe fits, then wear it.

    Just for the record, though, we don’t believe in magic or an invisible friend or a crutch, especially not in the pejorative sense by which those words are virtually always applied against us. Those terms pretty much never fit at all. Some negative terms do at times, but not those three. That shoe never fits, except perhaps on the most careless Christian thinkers.

    Sometimes, though, just as Christians can be guilty of the items on the latter part of my list, atheists are everything you mentioned on yours. It would behoove them at those times not to shrug it off and also not to get offended, but to listen and to learn. Just as I recommended for Christians at the end of the OP.

    Tit-for-tat might just be an indicator of a person being closed-minded and judgmental. You decide whether that’s true of you. Okay?

  18. Ray Ingles

    Magic. Do you mean illusionists’ or wizards’ little tricks, or do you mean the eternal Creator God of the universe involving himself purposefully and lovingly in his creation? If the latter, then is “magic” really an appropriate label?

    What’s the difference in practice?

    Invisible friend. Do you mean an imaginary boy, girl, or adult that we can “play with” as if he or she were a real human friend, or do you mean the powerful, sovereign, loving, self-sacrificing, omniscient, omnipresent, majestic, and partially hidden God of the universe? If the latter, then is “invisible friend” really an appropriate label?

    Again, rather frequently, there doesn’t seem to be a big difference.

    Crutch. Do you mean something by which people hobble along when they’ve been injured due to their own inherent frailty—one that you are too good to be subject to yourself

    Or, perhaps, just “fortunate not to require”? Crutches can also be a temporary accommodation or a permanent requirement. If the former, they also have to be used in the right ways so as not to delay or impede development.

  19. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    Ray, if you can’t read what I wrote the first time, and if you can’t interact with it thoughtfully, then I don’t feel much responsibility to rewrite it. There are differences and distinctions there if you would just think about them on your own. About all you’ve done here has been to poke at the blog post with a long stick.

  20. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    Do you want to continue participating as a commenter on this blog, Ray? Remember, this is a place for thinking, not a place for games like tit-for-tat and poking with sticks.

  21. Ray Ingles

    Tom Gilson –

    What in the world is going on here, Ray? Does playing tit-for-tat make you feel that much better? …if someone says these things to you and they’re wrong, go ahead and clarify and correct. Or if the shoe fits, then wear it.

    Well, it’s not a requirement of atheist dogma that believers must be self-deluded immoral fools (Romans 1:20-24, Psalm 14:1). Do you think it possible that someone could be honestly atheist for sufficient reasons based on their experience?

  22. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    I think that atheism involves a rejection of the truth and a severe, self-oriented violation of relationship with our loving creator God. Can’t help that, it’s just a fact. I don’t claim to understand the psychology of atheism, though, and in case you hadn’t noticed, I never bring it up.

    As for requirements of “atheist dogma,” you and I both know that atheists reject that kind of characterization, but that atheism’s more vocal spokespersons believe that believers are self-deluded immoral fools anyway.

    So if someone says something to you that you think is wrong, then go ahead and clarify, seek effective communication, and correct what you think is wrong. Note, however, that I didn’t say to you what you just brought up, so it was rather out of context; you chose to poke at me with it for reasons of your own.

  23. Ray Ingles

    Tom, I’m trying to draw further distinctions. I’ve already put forth before that the key distinction between “magic” and “science” is whether the phenomenon is knowable. (And other atheists have noted the distinction here, too.)

    From a human perspective, one ‘unknowable’ phenomenon looks a lot like another. In practice, it’s kinda hard for humans to tell the difference between ‘acts of God’ and ‘sufficiently advanced aliens’.

    So there’s a consistent way that atheists can regard Christians as believing in ‘magic’ that isn’t either of the alternatives you put forth.

  24. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    Thank you for actually speaking in words and thoughts, Ray. It’s an improvement over poking with sticks.

    So now you tell me that the distinction to be drawn is between magic and science. You don’t see a distinction between magic tricks performed by illusionists or wizards, and the purposeful involvement of a sovereign Creator in his creation.

    Let me just make it clear: Christians don’t believe in magic, as magic is typically understood. We believe that God involves himself purposefully and rightly in his own creation, and that sometimes he does so in ways that are not in the usual course of nature. There is a distinction there.

    So if atheists regard Christians as believing in magic, they have two choices:

    1) They can make the careful terminological distinction I’ve made here, or
    2) They can be wrong. Probably (usually) wrong in a tendentious manner.

    Funny… I can’t remember any atheist ever making that careful distinction in terminology.

  25. Ray Ingles

    Tom Gilson –

    You don’t see a distinction between magic as little tricks performed by illusionists or wizards, and the purposeful involvement of a sovereign Creator in his creation.

    If it’s a ‘trick’ – if it’s not actually supernatural – then it’s just that, a trick, an illusion. “Stage magic” isn’t magic, it’s showmanship and misdirection.

    On the other hand, if someone does something that’s supernatural, then it’s magic in the sense I’m talking about.

    Let me just make it clear: Christians don’t believe in magic, as magic is typically understood.

    Huh. “[T]he power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces”, “having or apparently having supernatural powers”? That’s not part of Christianity?

    So far as I can see, you make the distinction that it’s not a human that’s doing the magic, it’s God. Atheists, on the other hand, are concerned with whether something supernatural happens at all.

  26. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    If you don’t make the distinction that Christianity makes, and yet you say Christians believe in it, then you are saying something false about what Christians believe.

    How hard is that to understand?

  27. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    Oh, and by the way, for about the hundredth time, the dictionary is not the sole, final, and exhaustive authority on the use of terms. That’s not its purpose.

  28. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    I’m not saying that the question of “whether something supernatural happens at all” is a bad question. It’s a fine and relevant one—but it doesn’t give license to use words like “magic” to misrepresent Christian beliefs.

    There isn’t anything keeping you from using accurate terminology, is there?

  29. Ray Ingles

    Tom – I know that the dictionary is not the final arbiter, but… why does Christianity get to be the final arbiter? Why isn’t the atheist usage that I’ve outlined here a valid use of the term, also? Atheists could (and often do) say that Christians believe in magic without meaning that Christians believe Chris Angel is a prophet.

    It does require clarifying terms when we converse – which is what I thought I was trying to do here – but it’s not automatically ‘bad faith’ or anything.

  30. MJA

    God is just another name or word for everything including a rose. But then, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet;”
    =

  31. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    Why does Christianity get to be the final arbiter of what Christianity actually believes?

    Why should atheists use caution in describing Christian beliefs using terms that typically connote things Christians don’t believe?

    Gee, I don’t know, Ray… What do you think?

    That’s really what you’re asking, you know.

    I have a why question for you, too: why is this so hard for you to get?

  32. BillT

    “Right, and atheists should just shrug off being called closed-minded, dishonest, selfish, immoral, irrational, intolerant, arrogant, and judgmental, too.”

    Ray,

    Isn’t there an important distinction here. It has been a central tactic of the New Atheists to call Christians the laundry list of insults that has been described here. It has been a central tactic of the New Atheists to mis-define terms to cast Christians in a bad light. I don’t think that you can say your above is central to the response of the Christian community (say at Thinking Christian). Sure things are said in the heat of discussion but that’s different than using these things as a tactic.

  33. Post
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  34. Ray Ingles

    Tom Gilson –

    Why does Christianity get to be the final arbiter of what Christianity actually believes? … I have a why question for you, too: why is this so hard for you to get?

    Let’s step back for a minute. Can you give me a definition of ‘magic’ as you are using the term (or, alternatively, how it’s defined in Christianity if that’s different)?

    Apparently it doesn’t match – or at least, doesn’t precisely match – the dictionary definition I gave. So what does ‘magic’ mean by your lights? That might clarify a lot.

  35. Post
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  36. SteveK

    why does Christianity get to be the final arbiter?

    Unbelievable.

    Why does the author of a message get to define the terms and concepts used in his message? Gee, that’s a tough one.

  37. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    The point is, Ray, I’m not trying to establish a technical definition of “magic,” and for my purposes here there’s no reason I should. My purpose is to point out that in typical usage “magic” connotes things that aren’t true of Christianity, so therefore people who say “Christianity believes in magic” should clarify that they don’t mean anything like the typical wizardry and/or illusion form of magic. Or better yet, they should use drop the word entirely and use terms that don’t connote false things the way that does.

  38. BillT

    And may I add this Ray. Saying that someone “believes in magic” is a phrase understood by most everyone in the world, past the 5th grade, as meaning the person in question is a gullible rube. Using “belief in magic” in any way when connected to Christian beliefs is a slanderous lie based on that common understanding that no amount of “redefinition” of the terms erases. Does that help you understand why we are so vehemently opposed to it.

  39. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    Ray, let me ask you to step back a moment and consider these questions:

    Do you believe Christianity involves a belief in magic?

    Do you recognize that “magic” often connotes wizardry and/or illusion practiced by humans?

    Do you recognize that the supernatural elements in Christianity have nothing to do with those typical connotations?

    Do you think it’s a good idea to describe someone else’s beliefs using pejorative terms whose typical connotations include beliefs that person does not hold?

    And to repeat an earlier question:

    Why is it so hard for you to get this?

  40. SteveK

    Me: I’m feeling tired today and don’t want to do much.
    You: So you’re telling me that you’re lazy?
    Me: No, just feeling tired today.
    You: Well, lazy people don’t want to do much, so you’re lazy.
    Me: ‘Lazy’ has a certain connotation that doesn’t fit my situation and personality. You’re going to have to trust me, ‘tired’ is a more accurate description.
    You: Why do you get to define the terms?
    Me: *sigh*

  41. Billy Squibs

    I’ve seen this “magic” argument before. It seems to be that some Christians don’t like the comparison because

    A) It carries certain negative connotations;
    B) It isn’t a concept that is applicable to God.

    Whereas some atheists love the word because

    A) It carries certain negative connotations;
    b) They genuinely can see the difference between a wizard and God.

  42. Billy Squibs

    That should have read, “b) They genuinely can’t see the difference between a wizard and God.”

    There may, of course, but other reasons.

  43. Post
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  44. Ray Ingles

    Tom Gilson –

    Do you believe Christianity involves a belief in magic?

    In the sense of ‘supernatural’, definitely. In the sense of ‘wizardry’… it’s not unheard of.

    Do you recognize that “magic” often connotes wizardry and/or illusion practiced by humans?

    Often, yes – though far from always. Places, objects, and other non-human phenomena are frequently held to be ‘magic’, too.

    Do you recognize that the supernatural elements in Christianity have nothing to do with those typical connotations?

    Many forms of Christianity, yes, though not all as the above link shows. And then there’s this stuff

    Do you think it’s a good idea to describe someone else’s beliefs using pejorative terms whose typical connotations include beliefs that person does not hold?

    Certainly not. But a rather large subset of Christians do in fact believe in ‘magic’, even by your definition of the term.

  45. Jeff Lewis

    SteveK hit the nail on the head in comment 40 (though I think he was trying to make a different point). Words have a meaning as generally used by most people, even if somebody doesn’t like it when the term is applied to them (I’m not lazy, just tired. I’m not overweight, just big boned.) I can understand why Christians may not like the term magic being applied to their beliefs, but as Ray Ingles pointed out in comment 25, magic seems an appropriate term from an outsider’s perspective. It’s a supernatural power influencing the course of events.

  46. SteveK

    I can understand why Christians may not like the term magic being applied to their beliefs, but as Ray Ingles pointed out in comment 25, magic seems an appropriate term from an outsider’s perspective.

    Suppose what you’re saying here is true. What good comes from using a term that another person (most people) thinks is derogatory? I can’t think of any good that comes from that so I hope you can help me out.

    Ray seems more interested in escalating conflict and tearing down relationships rather than promoting goodwill and improving/strengthening relationships.

  47. Jeff Lewis

    “What good comes from using a term that another person (most people) thinks is derogatory?”

    Maybe I’m one of the few people with this view, but I don’t see it as inherently derogatory. So, just keep that in mind when a non-Christian uses the term magic. Some people may mean it in a demeaning way, but other people are just using it as a shorthand for the definition I gave in my previous comment. i.e. Don’t take offense when none is meant. For my part, I do try to avoid it out of politeness, but sometimes I slip (again, not trying to be demeaning, but simply because that’s the appropriate term in my mind and it takes a conscious effort to avoid it). Really, I use magic to refer to Zeus or Tlaloc or Thor, as well, so I’m not just singling out Yahweh.

  48. Ray Ingles

    SteveK –

    Ray seems more interested in escalating conflict and tearing down relationships rather than promoting goodwill and improving/strengthening relationships.

    Rather the opposite. I’m trying to explain why the term ‘magic’ is applied, in the interest of better understanding.

    I linked to the discussion we had before – I explained why I thought the phrase ‘militant atheist’ is cliche at best, and usually unwarranted. Tom and others got busy explaining why it still applies sometimes.

    I’m doing the same here – y’all don’t like the term ‘magic’, but it’s nevertheless warranted sometimes, even when talking about Christians. As noted, there are plenty of Christians in Africa who believe in witchcraft (surely ‘magic’ even by the most restrictive definition posted here) enough to burn people to death over it.

    We can argue about how often it applies, but it’s not like the terms never apply, unless one or both of us were willing to jump into ‘no true Scotsman’ territory. I don’t think anybody here is that defensive, though.

  49. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    I’ve never heard it used non-pejoratively.

    I’ve never heard it used in a manner that didn’t support the confusion of thinking that God is a magician after the manner of Zeus or Thor or Dumbledore.

    The Christian view of God is nothing at all like that. (Maybe I need to write a blog post explaining that.)

    So between the universal (in my experience) pejorative use of the term, and the unavoidable confusion it introduces, I think that’s plenty of reason for me to respond with the question I asked in the OP:

    1. Magic. Do you mean illusionists’ or wizards’ little tricks, or do you mean the eternal Creator God of the universe involving himself purposefully and lovingly in his creation? If the latter, then is “magic” really an appropriate label?

    Suppose someone says “neither.” Suppose at the end of the conversation the terminology is clarified, and everyone knows exactly what everyone else means with the words they use. That’s a good outcome. It’s even better if they decide in the course of conversation to completely avoid using words like “magic” whose connotations are so likely to distort persons’ understanding of the God of Christianity.

  50. BillT

    Ray,

    What does the “name it and claim it” description in your first link have to do with magic (magic is never mentioned) or using the word magic to describe Christian practices.

    What does witch burning in Papua New Guinea in your second link have to do with Christianity (Christianity is never mentioned) or using magic to describe Christian practices.

    Can you actually back up your assertion that “…a rather large subset of Christians do in fact believe in ‘magic’, even by your definition of the term.” with something besides the above non sequiturs?

  51. SteveK

    Whatever it has to do with ‘magic’, just note that the term ‘name it and claim it’ is pejorative according to that page. So here again we have an example of what Tom said above in #49, if indeed the connection can be made.

    A derisive nickname for the *prosperity gospel (also known as *positive confession).

  52. Jeff Lewis

    Correct me if I’m mistaken, but I think Tom’s opposition to the use of ‘magic’ in regards to Christianity is in applying it to Yahweh’s powers (though for some reason, not Zeus’s powers). But even with that caveat in mind, there are a substantial number of Christians who believe in magic in the more conventional sense.

    Just in the Bible, there are rules specifically condemning what would be traditionally called magic, such as Deuteronomy 18:10-11 (No one shall be found among you who makes a son or daughter pass through fire, or who practises divination, or is a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, or one who casts spells, or who consults ghosts or spirits, or who seeks oracles from the dead.) or and Exodus 22:18 (You shall not permit a female sorcerer to live.). There are also examples of people practicing what would be traditionally called magic, from Pharaoh’s magicians in Exodus, to Jacob’s trick with the streaked sticks in Genesis 30:37, to the medium who called Samuel back from the dead in 1 Samuel 28.

    For examples of Christians believing in magic, here’s an article on ChristianAnswers.net, Is the “Harry Potter…” series truly harmless?, or a much more heartbreaking article from The Guardian, Children are targets of Nigerian witch hunt.

    So, there are several examples of Christians believing in magic.

  53. Post
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  54. Jeff Lewis

    Mistaken about what, that some Christians believe in magic? If so, here’s a direct quote from that ChristianAnswers.net article, written by a Christian, “Yet God is clear in Scripture that any practice of magic is an “abomination” to him. God doesn’t distinguish between “white” and “dark” magic since they both originate from the same source.” That seems to be rather matter of fact writing about magic if the author doesn’t really believe in it.

    If I’m mistaken in some other way, then I await your upcoming explanation.

  55. BillT

    Jeff,

    I believe you are missing the point completely. The question isn’t “do Christians believe in magic” the question is “is magic a correct description for Christian practices and beliefs.” The things you describe above aren’t Christian practices and beliefs they’re Christian reactions to non-Christian practices and beliefs.

  56. Jeff Lewis

    “is magic a correct description for Christian practices and beliefs.”

    Yes, depending on the definition of ‘magic’ you want to use. See my responses in comments 45 & 47.

    “I believe you are missing the point completely.”

    I thought my preface to comment 52 made it clear that I accepted that many Christians don’t think the term ‘magic’ applies to their god’s powers. Rather, I was replying specifically to your request, “Can you actually back up your assertion that ‘…a rather large subset of Christians do in fact believe in ‘magic’, even by your definition of the term.’ with something besides the above non sequiturs?”

    [note: made an edit to quote the appropriate portion of BillT’s comment]

  57. BillT

    “is magic a correct description for Christian practices and beliefs.”

    “Yes, depending on the definition of ‘magic’ you want to use.”

    Or in other words, no.

    And with the points you made in #52 you (with your caveat) were answering a question not relevant to the general discussion. Ok. Got it.

  58. Mats Olsson

    It is with great interest I have been reading both the initial post and all the comments and would like to post my thoughts (for what they are worth)

    If you are having a discussion with someone with the intent of learning or understanding you should try and avoid words that have different meanings to different people. ‘Magic’ seem to be such a word. If Christians are offended being compared with someone believing in magic then don’t use that word. Is it really that hard?

    I am a Christian and 100% of the times I have been told I believe in magic I have understood it as my beliefs are ungrounded and irrational, that I believe in God because I can’t explain it. EVEN if that wasn’t the intention, that is how it came across.

    Isn’t it a good practice in all honest discussions to avoid misunderstandings? Instead of telling me I believe in magic why not say that I believe in the supernatural?

    [ edited a few typos, this isn’t my native language 🙂 ]

  59. Ray Ingles

    BillT –

    What does the “name it and claim it” description in your first link have to do with magic (magic is never mentioned) or using the word magic to describe Christian practices.

    Specific sayings and rituals to bring about effects supernaturally. Yes, the term is pejorative but it’s describing a real phenomenon. Or things like this, or this, or the use of relics in general.

    Even if you want to argue that these things just appear to be like magic, it’s not exactly hard to understand the impression.

    What does witch burning in Papua New Guinea in your second link have to do with Christianity

    http://www.theinternational.org/articles/167-witch-hunts-in-papua-new-guinea-and-niger
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/22/us/22beliefs.html?_r=0
    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/dec/09/tracymcveigh.theobserver

    This doesn’t establish that Christian practices are understood by Christians as being magic, but it’s hard to argue that these Christians (and others, such as Jeff Lewis pointed out) don’t believe in magic! They just don’t practice what they perceive as magic, and kill people they think do.

  60. BillT

    Ray,

    Your “name it and claim it”, the use or relics or the offering of specific prayers and blessings have absolutely nothing to do with magic. Christians believe that God can and does answer prayer. That’s not magic. Prayer is not a monolithic term, has different methodologies and your examples are simply examples of that.

    Like Jeff, your references to the articles on witchcraft also miss the point and the question at hand. The question is “is magic a correct description for Christian practices and beliefs.” The things you describe above aren’t Christian practices and beliefs they’re Christian’s (and non-Christian’s) reactions to non-Christian practices and beliefs. The belief in witchcraft in Africa comes from tribal and pagan influences, not Christianity. That Christian beliefs have not eradicated it in all Christians in all parts of Africa (as they eventually did in Europe in the Middle Ages) is to be expected and says nothing about whether magic a correct description for Christian practices and beliefs .

  61. Istvan

    The belief in witchcraft in Africa comes from tribal and pagan influences, not Christianity. That Christian beliefs have not eradicated it in all Christians in all parts of Africa (as they eventually did in Europe in the Middle Ages) is to be expected and says nothing about whether magic a correct description for Christian practices and beliefs .

    But it’s not like the New Testament doesn’t contain a lot of references to, well, anomalous events like people rising from the dead, the sick being healed, water becoming wine, people walking on water, and so on. I’m sure this was effective in gaining converts for a young faith when Christianity was first competing in the Mediterranean marketplace of ideas. Christianity didn’t so much eradicate indigenous beliefs in magic as co-opt them: the Virgin of Guadalupe story is an interesting lesson in how colonizers grafted Christian myth onto indigenous belief.

    But is the legacy of miracles literal, or metaphor? Are we supposed to believe faith can literally move mountains? If not, where is the dividing line between miracles and magic?

  62. BillT

    Istvan,

    Miracles are not magic. That’s been explained here dozens of times. Your musings on the effect of miracle descriptions on the adoption of Christianity as a faith are just that musings. The people who have actually studied and written on the subject of the spread of Christianity would find your opinion facinating, I’m sure.

    As yes Ray for the thousandth time, we know magic has multiple definitions. The discussion was about using the appropriate one considering the subject at hand.

  63. BillT

    Istvan,

    I know you are new here so let me explain further. A micacle is the act of a sovereign God upon His own creation. As we understand this, if there is a God who created the universe ex nihilo then His ability to perform a miracle is nothing more than a routine exercise of His sovereignty, omnipotence and will. Such an act, of the creator on His own creation, has absolutely nothing to do with magic in any way shape or form as the term magic is commonly understood.

  64. Ray Ingles

    BillT – Hold up. What is “magic” as “commonly understood”? Seriously, I always understood it as pretty much what was in the dictionary definition I quoted: “[T]he power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces”, “having or apparently having supernatural powers”. Is God not supernatural? From an A-T point of view, as I understand it God is the only thing that could be ‘supernatural’.

    I asked Tom for a definition of ‘magic’ and he demurred. Can you give one? With maybe some evidence that it really is the way “magic” is “commonly understood”?

  65. BillT

    Ray,

    Perhaps you didn’t read my post #38 (Since you didn’t reply to it). There I said:

    And may I add this Ray. Saying that someone “believes in magic” is a phrase understood by most everyone in the world, past the 5th grade, as meaning the person in question is a gullible rube. Using “belief in magic” in any way when connected to Christian beliefs is a slanderous lie based on that common understanding that no amount of “redefinition” of the terms erases. Does that help you understand why we are so vehemently opposed to it.

    Your continued insistence in making this discussion about “definitions” instead of the painfully obvious implications of the use of that word when connected with Christian beliefs is pitiful.

    And describing Tom’s replies to you as demurring is equally pitiful.

  66. Ray Ingles

    BillT – To quote Tom: “I would say the same to you: if someone says these things to you and they’re wrong, go ahead and clarify and correct. Or if the shoe fits, then wear it.”

    With apologies to Cinderella, does the “magic” shoe fit?

    The common definition of “magic” – as I’ve seen it “commonly understood” – seems to include Christian beliefs. I’ve explained why repeatedly.

    And let’s say you do end up presenting a definition of magic, that’s “commonly understood”, and excludes Christianity. (No one so far has, but let’s assume you will.) As I have repeatedly pointed out, “a rather large subset of Christians do in fact believe in ‘magic’”; i.e. witchcraft/sorcery. Nor are they heretical – counting just the New Testament, we have Acts 8:9 and 13:6, Galatians 5:20, as well as Revelation 21:8 and 22:15.

    So, yeah, it really does seem reasonable to say that Christians “believe in magic”. To quote Tom, “Can’t help that, it’s just a fact.”

  67. BillT

    Ignoring the content of my post for the second time I see. Why am I not surprised. And again referencing Christian reaction to non-Christians and non-Christian practices instead of whether magic a correct description for Christian practices and beliefs (which ignores my previous two posts). And, of course, the continued insistence that this is about “definitions”. But then you’ve show yourself to be quite adept at prevarication in the past. Glad to see you haven’t lost your touch.

  68. Victoria

    Oh brother! There goes Ray, taking NT passages completely out of context, again

    Ray, you need to take a course in remedial reading comprehension!
    How you can possibly read these passages and come away with the idea that a practice like sorcery is anything but condemned by the NT boggles the mind for its lack of common sense!.

    Dear readers, here is the full story.

    (1) – 1st century Christians lived in a culture where occult practices, such as sorcery, were not uncommon. No doubt many Gentiles who became Christians used to practice these things themselves

    Simon the magician (Acts 8:9 was one such person – for the full context, see Acts 8:9-25)

    see Acts 19:11-20

    God was performing extraordinary miracles by Paul’s hands, 19:12 so that when even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his body were brought to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them. 19:13 But some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were possessed by evil spirits, saying, “I sternly warn you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.” 19:14 (Now seven sons of a man named Sceva, a Jewish high priest, were doing this.) 19:15 But the evil spirit replied to them, “I know about Jesus and I am acquainted with Paul, but who are you?” 19:16 Then the man who was possessed by the evil spirit jumped on them and beat them all into submission. He prevailed against them so that they fled from that house naked and wounded. 19:17 This became known to all who lived in Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks; fear came over them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was praised. 19:18 Many of those who had believed came forward, confessing and making their deeds known. 19:19 Large numbers of those who had practiced magic collected their books and burned them up in the presence of everyone. When the value of the books was added up, it was found to total fifty thousand silver coins. 19:20 In this way the word of the Lord continued to grow in power and to prevail.

    The full context of Galatians 5:20 is Galatians 5:13-25:

    For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another. 5:14 For the whole law can be summed up in a single commandment, namely, “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” 5:15 However, if you continually bite and devour one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another. 5:16 But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. 5:17 For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want. 5:18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 5:19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, 5:20 idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, 5:21 envying, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God!

    5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 5:23 gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 5:24 Now those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 5:25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also behave in accordance with the Spirit. 5:26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, being jealous of one another.

    The two passages in Revelation make it clear that those who practice sorcery will be cast into the lake of fire, and will not be welcomed in the kingdom of heaven, just as the full context of Galatians 5 tells us.

    So, yes, Christians acknowledge that there are occult supernatural powers – these are derived from demons and Satan himself. Christians do NOT practice these things.

    The Christian worldview includes the supernatural, but we make a distinction between Almighty God’s legitimate supernatural power and the demonic supernatural power that sorcery and the occult and idolatry represent. Occult practices like this are expressly forbidden in the OT and the NT.

  69. Victoria

    There are even a couple of OT incidents where people were even misusing what God had given them:

    The bronze serpent of Numbers 21:4-9

    On the borders of Edom, rebellious Israel suffered deadly snakebite as a punishment and begged Moses to intercede with God for them, to save them from the serpents. God then commanded Moses to make a bronze figure of a serpent and set it up on a pole, so that anyone bitten by a serpent need only look at the bronze serpent-figure and he would live (Nu. 21:4–9; 1 Cor. 10:9, 11). By this means God granted the people deliverance and enforced the lesson of dependence upon himself both for that deliverance and as a general principle. Centuries later, during his purge of idolatrous objects and customs, King Hezekiah of Judah destroyed the bronze serpent because the people had turned it into an idol, burning incense to it (2 Ki. 18:4). The following phrase wayyiqrā’ lô neḥuštān may mean either ‘he (= Hezekiah) called it Nehushtan’ (i.e. ‘only a bit of bronze’), or ‘it was called Nehushtan’ (i.e. by the people from of old). In either case it is a pun on the phrase neḥaš-neḥošeṯ, ‘serpent of bronze’, two very similar-sounding words in Heb. The significance of serpents in surrounding paganism made Hezekiah’s action especially imperative (cf. *SERPENT, end of section II. d; see also H. H. Rowley, ‘Zadok and Nehushtan’, JBL 58, 1939, pp. 113ff.). A bronze serpent was found at Gezer (see R. A. S. Macalister, The Excavation of Gezer, 2, 1912, pp. 398–399 and fig.; or I. Benzinger, Hebräische Archäologie3, 1927, p. 327, fig. 418), a serpent standard at Hazor, and a gilded copper snake from a shrine at Timna (B. Rothenberg, Timna, Valley of the Biblical Copper Mines, 1972, pp. 152, 183–184, pls. XIX-XX).
    When speaking of his coming crucifixion, Jesus Christ used the incident of the serpent, which was lifted up that man might look in faith and live, in order to illustrate the significance of that impending event. Those who put faith in him, uplifted on the cross for their sins, would have life eternal (Jn. 3:14).

    Kitchen, K. A. (1996). Serpent, Bronze. In D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer & D. J. Wiseman (Eds.), New Bible dictionary (D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer & D. J. Wiseman, Ed.) (3rd ed.) (1081). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

    The Ark of the Covenant: 1 Samuel 4:1-3
    This occurs at the tail-end of the sad, idolatrous period of the Judges in Israel, where, during a battle with the Philistines, the Israelites wanted to use the Ark as though it had the power to defeat their enemies and grant them victory in the battle. It did not, for the Philistines captured it. Eventually the Ark was lost ( either when Shishak of Egypt plundered the temple in Jerusalem – 1 Kings 14:25-28 or, more likely – see Jeremiah 3:16-17 for a reference to those days yet future when the ark (as a symbol of God’s presence among His people, would be replaced by His real presence) – the Babylonians captured or destroyed it. Even Hebrews 9:1-10 talks about the ark being a symbol of the Old Covenant, no longer in force because Jesus Christ, Son of God, brought in the New Covenant and the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God in the hearts of His redeemed children. [Indiana Jones notwithstanding 🙂 ]

    Even though God gave these two objects for good purposes, their superstitious and / or idolatrous use of them was not in accordance with God’s intentions for them.

  70. Istvan

    The Christian worldview includes the supernatural, but we make a distinction between Almighty God’s legitimate supernatural power and the demonic supernatural power that sorcery and the occult and idolatry represent.

    You’ve made a distinction, sure. But have you described a relevant difference?

  71. BillT

    You’ve made a distinction, sure. But have you described a relevant difference?”

    Istvan,

    Was my post #64 to you inadequate as well?

  72. Victoria

    @Istvan
    What part of “those who practice such things (sorcery, idolatry, etc) will not inherit the kingdom of God” did you not understand? Use a little common sense, okay?

    From the Christian point of view, ‘magic’ refers to demonic occult involvement and practices by human beings for the purpose of gaining or using supernatural powers in ways and for purposes not sanctioned by God. Demons give can forbidden supernatural powers to enslave those who invite them into their lives, God gives spiritual gifts for the benefit of the Body of Christ (all Christian believers, everywhere) to redeem people and free them from captivity to sin and those demonic powers

  73. Ray Ingles

    BillT –

    Ignoring the content of my post for the second time I see. Why am I not surprised.

    You don’t like or agree with the connotations of “magic”, I get that. I’m on record here as not liking or agreeing with the connotations of “militant”. (It’s applied inconsistently, lazily, and disproportionately.

    As soon as I pointed all that out, Tom immediately brought out the dictionary. I think I’m well within the dictionary definitions I’ve pointed to, and I’ve explained why. You don’t like the rhetorical implications, I get that. That’s not the same thing as arguing the word doesn’t ever fit.

    Victoria –

    How you can possibly read these passages and come away with the idea that a practice like sorcery is anything but condemned by the NT boggles the mind for its lack of common sense!.

    Speaking of remedial reading comprehension… not only did I not claim that “sorcery is anything but condemned by the NT”, I already, in this very thread, said that Christians “don’t practice what they perceive as magic, and kill people they think do.” (Note: the ‘killing’ part is a subset, not the whole of Christianity. But boy, do they take magic seriously…)

    Maybe if I draw a Biblical analogy? James 2:19, “Even the demons believe [in God] – and shudder”. Whether someone believes in something is orthogonal to whether they approve of it or not. I didn’t say that Christians endorse ‘sorcery’ or ‘magic’ – but a whole pack of ’em – very probably the majority – believe in it. Can you deny that?

  74. Ray Ingles

    Victoria –

    From the Christian point of view, ‘magic’ refers to demonic occult involvement and practices by human beings for the purpose of gaining or using supernatural powers in ways and for purposes not sanctioned by God.

    And that’s the only sense that anyone, even non-Christians, could legitimately use the term ‘magic’?

  75. Istvan

    What part of “those who practice such things (sorcery, idolatry, etc) will not inherit the kingdom of God” did you not understand? Use a little common sense, okay?

    If it’s common sense you’re after, then let me put it this way. I could say that if Victoria runs someone over in her car, she should go to jail; however, if Istvan runs someone over, it’s okay. There’s no relevant difference between the two instances, but in Istvan’s woldview it’s an important distinction. This describes the fallacy of special pleading.

    In my first post in this discussion, I mentioned that Christianity has tried to monopolize “anomalous” events by defining all such phenomena as sorcery or magic except those which supposedly came about in the name of God. That still doesn’t tell me anything about magic except that Christians conveniently legitimize it when it’s done by Christians.

  76. Victoria

    @Istvan
    Well, when you become the sovereign King of Creation, the legitimate ruler of the universe, then come back and talk to us 🙂 It’s not special pleading when The King Himself establishes His rules.

    @Ray
    Magic as in illusion, misdirection, sleight-of-hand, by purely natural means? Fine, that’s OK by me. Personally, I prefer to use the term occult practices for things like idolatry and sorcery that are truly demonic in nature rather than magic, for the obvious reason that the word ‘magic’ has a variety of meanings today, from the harmless parlor trick to the demonic. I’ve already stated that the existence and influence of a demonic supernatural realm is part of Christian doctrine, so why do I need to keep repeating that?

    You used the phrase “not heretical” in your post that I responded to, and that is what I responded to, just to make it clear. You pulled passages out of the NT without explaining their contexts – an attempt at misdirection? 😉

  77. Istvan

    It’s not special pleading when The King Himself establishes His rules.

    Actually, no matter what Elvis says, it is.

  78. BillT

    Ray,

    That you have an issue with the usage of some other term is irrelevant to the question at hand. You still are trying to change the subject from whether magic is a correct description for Christian practices and beliefs to are there Christians who believe in magic. There two things have nothing to do with one another. As an example, you do realize that there are atheists who believe in magic. Is it fair therefor to say the atheism entails a belief in magic. Or maybe we can even say that because there are atheists who believe in magic and Ray is an atheist therefor Ray believes in magic.

    Your contention that there are dictionary definitions that you believe fit Christian beliefs is also misleading. Certainly, the examples you’ve given here “name it and claim it”, the use or relics, the offering of specific prayers and blessings and belief in magic are either not magic or irrelevant to the question at hand.

    How about you deal with basic Christian beliefs that are relevant. Perhaps you might answer these questions directly.

    -Is the Christian belief that there is a God who created the universe ex nihilo a belief in magic.

    -Is the Christian belief that Christ performed miracles a belief in magic.

    -Is the Christian belief that Jesus was raised from the dead a belief in magic.

    Would you be so kind as to explain your position on these questions.

  79. Ray Ingles

    Victoria –

    Magic as in illusion, misdirection, sleight-of-hand, by purely natural means? Fine, that’s OK by me.

    No, I’m talking about the bog standard dictionary definition I already quoted. See also this comment, and this one too.

    You used the phrase “not heretical” in your post that I responded to, and that is what I responded to, just to make it clear.

    Also, I said it wasn’t heretical to believe in sorcery, not to practice it. Since – as I just pointed out – I’d already said it wasn’t Christian to practice magic in that sense, I didn’t think further clarification was needed.

  80. Victoria

    @Ray

    Also, I said it wasn’t heretical to believe in sorcery, not to practice it. Since – as I just pointed out – I’d already said it wasn’t Christian to practice magic in that sense, I didn’t think further clarification was needed.

    Ah, well on that we agree, then 🙂

    [T]he power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces”, “having or apparently having supernatural powers”? That’s not part of Christianity?

    That is one reason why I want to make the distinction between legitimate, God-sanctioned contact with the supernatural, that is, Himself and His appointed agents for His purposes, not ours, and the illegitimate involvement in the demonic supernatural realm.

  81. Ray Ingles

    BillT –

    You still are trying to change the subject from whether magic is a correct description for Christian practices and beliefs to are there Christians who believe in magic.

    Actually, no. See the list of comments that I’ve pointed out to Victoria. I’ve made a case that Christianity fits the common, dictionary definition of “magic” pretty darn well. Let’s quote that definition again – “[T]he power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces”, “having or apparently having supernatural powers”.

    Then I also pointed out that the beliefs of Christianity include belief in ‘magic’, even by the more restrictive definition of ‘magic’ that’s been put forth here.

    Is the Christian belief that there is a God who created the universe ex nihilo a belief in magic.

    Supernatural powers influencing (indeed, initiating) the course of events. Check.

    -Is the Christian belief that Christ performed miracles a belief in magic.

    Supernatural powers influencing the course of events. Check.

    -Is the Christian belief that Jesus was raised from the dead a belief in magic.

    Supernatural powers influencing the course of events. Check.

    I honestly don’t see how to get around it. I mean, is God not supposed to be supernatural? Is God not supposed to have acted in these cases, and specifically to have exercised supernatural power doing so?

    Even if you want to argue that it’s a special case of ‘supernatural power influencing the course of events’, exactly how is it not ‘supernatural power influencing the course of events’? Not ‘supernatural’? Not ‘power’? Not ‘influencing the course of events’? All three conditions seem to obtain…

  82. Victoria

    @Istvan

    I was thinking about your analogy while driving into work, and avoiding running over pedestrians while doing so 🙂

    Your analogy is flawed, because it does not represent the Christian’s viewpoint. It is flawed, because you and I are both ordinary civilians in this context, subject to the same traffic laws, especially in regards to vehicular manslaughter or worse (I presume you meant that we both intentionally ran over someone).

    A better analogy would be the comparison between an ordinary civilian breaking the traffic laws (such as driving through a red light) and a police officer or firefighter doing the same thing in an emergency response situation. Because they are empowered by the legitimate governing authorities, they can, in an emergency situation, bypass some of the traffic laws in the legitimate performance of their duties (provided they do so safely, of course).

  83. BillT

    Magic = supernatural (or supernatural powers). God is supernatural (or uses supernatural powers). Christian belief is belief in God. Thus Christian belief is belief in magic. Thanks Ray. Just wanted to see how far you would go.

  84. Victoria

    @Ray
    If you mean ‘magic’ simply as any involvement with the supernatural, then, yes.

    It would simply be better to be clear and say
    1. Christians believe in the supernatural.
    2. It is part of Christian belief and practice to be connected to the sovereign King of Creation, the Triune God of the Bible – Father, Son (Who is Jesus Christ) and Holy Spirit – in fact, God encourages us to be in a relationship with Him in this way, to be redeemed and adopted into His family.
    3. It is part of Christian belief that there are other entities inhabiting this supernatural realm who are opposed to everything God stands for and does – involvement in any way with these demons is expressly forbidden by the King, and at the end of this age, both these demons and their human followers will be subject to God’s sovereign judgement and condemnation.

    What is the point of this rabbit trail anyway?

  85. Istvan

    A better analogy would be the comparison between an ordinary civilian breaking the traffic laws (such as driving through a red light) and a police officer or firefighter doing the same thing in an emergency response situation. Because they are empowered by the legitimate governing authorities, they can, in an emergency situation, bypass some of the traffic laws in the legitimate performance of their duties (provided they do so safely, of course).

    Okay. But this analogy still doesn’t tell us what’s different between Christian miracles and acts of black magic except that the Christian is allowed to perform them. We’ve already been told that the Bible forbids sorcery. This is still a case of Istvan saying he’s allowed to run people over, not because there’s any relevant difference between why he drives recklessly and why Victoria does, but because his worldview declares that it’s permissible when he does it.

    Let me give an example of a relevant difference. A stage magician doesn’t perform miracles, he’s just engaging in slight-of-hand. There’s a relevant difference between the way we describe what the magician does as “magic,” and the way we use the word to describe the miraculous healing of the sick, people rising from the dead, or water turning into wine.

    And maybe I’m missing the point, because I consider the stories of all these miracles symbolic, not literal. That’s why I’m puzzled as to why the literal belief in these sorts of anomalous events shouldn’t be described as “magic.” But if you believe faith can move mountains, do you believe that literally, or is it only supposed to be taken in a symbolic way?

  86. BillT

    “That’s why I’m puzzled as to why the literal belief in these sorts of anomalous events shouldn’t be described as “magic.”

    Istvan,

    You seemed to skip over my explanation above so I though I’d repost.

    A miracle is the act of a sovereign God upon His own creation. As we understand this, if there is a God who created the universe ex nihilo then His ability to perform a miracle is nothing more than a routine exercise of His sovereignty, omnipotence and will. Such an act, of the creator on His own creation, has absolutely nothing to do with magic in any way shape or form as the term magic is commonly understood.

    I think we can fairly say the above is not an illusion, misdirection, sleight-of-hand, by purely natural means? Right? The above is not occult practices like idolatry and sorcery that are truly demonic in nature rather than magic. Now, if you want to use Ray’s very slender definition of the above as magic as a supernatural act, fine but that’s not the common connotation even if “technically” correct.

  87. Victoria

    @Istvan

    Because the Christian worldview does NOT permit the use of demonic / occult powers at all – in your terms, it is absolutely illegal for anyone to run people over – the difference is between the legitimate, safe operation of a motor vehicle, and the non-legitimate or unsafe operation of one. The legitimate governing authorities have set up the traffic laws and definitions of what constitutes safe operation of motor vehicles for the benefit of its citizens and for their protection as well.

    Similarly, Jesus, on His authority as the Son of God, commissioned His disciples to go out and preach the Kingdom of God, and He gave them authority to perform miracles to benefit His people and authority over the demons (see Matthew 10:1-15).

    You are missing the point, because the supernatural events that took place and are recorded in the Bible actually happened – they are not symbolic, least of all Jesus’ supernatural resurrection.

    If you want to claim otherwise, then by all means, show us how your alternate interpretation is justified.

    Try this resource, if you are interested in learning about a Biblical view of miracles. https://bible.org/topics/412/Miracles

  88. Istvan

    You are missing the point, because the supernatural events that took place and are recorded in the Bible actually happened – they are not symbolic, least of all Jesus’ supernatural resurrection.

    Really? So during the Transfiguration, the disciples literally saw Jesus shining on a mountaintop while he talked with Moses and Elijah? It would seem like a symbolic way of creating an event in Christ’s biography that both resonated in the Hebrew liturgical calendar (the celebration of the return of light to the Temple) and linked Jesus with important Jewish figures.

    What’s a more likely interpretation of this Bible story?

  89. Victoria

    Peter refers to this event in 2 Peter 1:16-21 as being an eyewitness to this transfiguration.

    If you are going to tell us how to read and understand the Bible, you had better be prepared to defend your claims with solid scholarship. Positing hypothetical alternatives is not an argument.

    You are a priori assuming that a supernatural interpretation is not allowed – you have brought your presuppositions to the Biblical text and decided in advance what it means.

  90. Istvan

    If you are going to tell us how to read and understand the Bible, you had better be prepared to defend your claims with solid scholarship. Positing hypothetical alternatives is not an argument.

    Read and understand the Bible any way you want. But your main argument for reading it as a series of journalistic accounts of actual, literal events isn’t that the events are plausible, it’s that the events are recorded in the Bible. Is that an argument?

    And I’m not playing nasty-atheist here, because I accuse nonbelievers of the same unimaginative literalism. I’m not religious, but I can at least recognize a symbolic construct when I see it. I love ancient mythology and I consider it a testament to human creativity. Talking about the impossibilities or contradictions in the Bible is beside the point. The Gospels developed to create a belief narrative for the young Christian faith, not to record events literally. Maybe Spong’s Liberating the Gospels would be of interest to you in this regard.

  91. BillT

    Istvan,

    So you’re really going to come on this site and offer what you think is the “likely interpretation” of Bible stories. That you don’t believe these as literal stories is one thing. You’re entitled to your opinion. However, it’s hard to see how you missed that the Christians on this site believe in (for the most part) the literal interpretation of the Bible, especially the NT stories involving Christ. Seems this goes along with your musings about the spread of Christianity I addressed before. However, if you can back up your position with solid evidence and reasoning we’d be fascinated to hear.

  92. Ray Ingles

    BillT –

    Magic = supernatural (or supernatural powers). God is supernatural (or uses supernatural powers). Christian belief is belief in God. Thus Christian belief is belief in magic. Thanks Ray. Just wanted to see how far you would go.

    As far as the dictionary, yes. If any of those sentences are false, you haven’t shown it.

    Victoria –

    If you mean ‘magic’ simply as any involvement with the supernatural, then, yes.

    My point is, that – “involvement with the supernatural” – really is a very common understanding of the term ‘magic’. I’m not kidding, I’m not being provocative, I’m pointing out that common usage of ‘magic’ is not limited to the Christian theological understanding of the term ‘magic’.

    Again, is God (a) not supernatural, (b) not powerful, or (c) not influencing the course of events? If all of those conditions are met, it meets the common definition of ‘magic’. Again, one might argue it’s an extra special case of ‘magic’, but people who call it ‘magic’ are not ipso facto being insulting or ignorant.

    When atheists say ‘Christians believe in magic’ they usually don’t mean ‘Christians practice sorcery’. They mean, ‘Christians believe supernatural powers influence the course of events’.

  93. BillT

    ‘The Gospels developed to create a belief narrative for the young Christian faith, not to record events literally.”

    The fact is this idea runs absolutely contrary to the weight if Christian scholarship on this issue and the beliefs of Christians worldwide. BTW, Spong’s Liberating the Gospels is hardly considered good scholarship if even considered scholarship at all. Oh, and the idea that the NT is myth has been show to be nonsense by dozens and dozens of theologians.

  94. BillT

    “As far as the dictionary, yes. If any of those sentences are false, you haven’t shown it.”

    Ray, I wasn’t contradicting it. However as Victoria said “What is the point of this rabbit trail anyway?”

    “I’m pointing out that common usage of ‘magic’ is not limited to the Christian theological understanding of the term ‘magic’.”

    Duh! Yes, Ray we all knew that before the OP was even written. But, we are having a discussion about Christian theological understandings. That was Tom’s point. That in this context, the term magic is inappropriate, confusing and pejorative!

  95. Victoria

    @Istvan

    Read and understand the Bible any way you want. But your main argument for reading it as a series of journalistic accounts of actual, literal events isn’t that the events are plausible, it’s that the events are recorded in the Bible. Is that an argument?

    Not at all. It is that we have solid reasons to take the Biblical documents as primary historical sources. There are good, historical and manuscript reasons for recognizing and accepting the historicity and reliability of the Biblical documents, and those reasons are the same as those used by historians to accept the historicity of ancient documents in general.

  96. Ray Ingles

    BillT –

    That was Tom’s point. That in this context, the term magic is inappropriate, confusing and pejorative!

    What Tom said was, “Magic. Do you mean illusionists’ or wizards’ little tricks, or do you mean the eternal Creator God of the universe involving himself purposefully and lovingly in his creation?”

    And I’ve been pointing out a response – ‘Neither, or both. We just mean supernatural powers influencing the course of events.’

    As I said before, “So far as I can see, you make the distinction that it’s not a human that’s doing the magic, it’s God. Atheists, on the other hand, are concerned with whether something supernatural happens at all.”

    Even in this conversation, we’re talking past each other. You’re concerned about distinguishing between ‘sovereign’ miracles, and sorcery. But if you’re interpreting the statements of atheists – which is what Tom’s referring to – well, as I said already, we “don’t mean ‘Christians practice sorcery’”. We mean ‘Christians believe in the supernatural’.

    If you care about clear communication, then trying to understand what people mean is important. I’m trying to explain what’s actually meant, and why. And it’s important – if you want to convince someone there’s a difference between sheep and cows, you’d probably better start with convincing them that farm animals exist at all.

    Now, I agree that Christians don’t like the term ‘magic’. And note, I avoid using it – haven’t actually called it that before here. I haven’t even referred to “magical thinking”. That’s just politeness – but that doesn’t mean I find the term ‘magic’ inaccurate.

    Again, c.f. ‘militant’… even if you think it’s accurate, how often is it polite or useful?

  97. SteveB

    The point of the OP was that, in order to have a meaningful dialogue, we must clarify our vocabulary. Tom did so when he stated that Christians don’t believe in ‘magic,’ per say, but in “the eternal Creator God of the universe involving himself purposefully and lovingly in his creation.”
    Ignoring this clarification and diverting the discussion, much purposeless argument ensued ‘proving’ that, by definition, Christians do believe in magic. So much for dialogue.
    What is truly revealing is, why anyone would be so hell-bent (look up the definition) on denying someone else the opportunity to clarify their position.

  98. BillT

    Fair enough Ray but if you really mean “supernatural powers influencing the course of events” then the term magic isn’t going to get you there either. Magic isn’t a good term for Christian beliefs nor is it a good term for atheists questioning whether supernatural powers influence the course of events.

  99. Istvan

    Victoria,

    I just wanted to point out that there may be more than one way to read & interpret the Gospels. But you’d rather assert that the events described in the Gsopel accounts actually, literally happened.

    So the Transfiguration could be interpreted symbolically as Jesus being linked with the Jewish tradition; the light that has always been a symbol of revealed wisdom and spiritual guidance; and on a mountaintop that symbolized the way Jesus linked the human and the divine.

    But in your reading, Jesus was literally standing on a mountain somewhere. Jesus was literally bathed in light from some unknown light source. He was literally talking with Moses and Elijah, who were not only still alive to be talking with Jesus but also totally recognizable to the disciples who witnessed the meeting from afar.

    Which of these interpretations, I ask you, gives the Gospel authors more credit for their sophistication, their imagination, their creativity in making an allegory that placed Jesus in the Jewish religious tradition, and their knowledge of symbolism that would resonate in the community of believers?

  100. BillT

    “Which of these interpretations, I ask you, gives the Gospel authors more credit for their sophistication, their imagination, their creativity in making an allegory that placed Jesus in the Jewish religious tradition, and their knowledge of symbolism that would resonate in the community of believers?”

    And which of these interpretations makes the Gospel authors, who claimed they were writing the truth about what they had seen, out to be phonies and liars?

  101. Istvan

    BillT,

    How unsophisticated is your approach to ancient myth that you think the Gospel writers were “phonies and liars” unless they were intentionally recording journalistic accounts of events as they actually happened? I think the ancients had a much more nuanced conception of myth than you seem to: these accounts weren’t reportage, they were narratives that were meant to resonate on many different levels with their audience, who could best understand history through symbols, not facts and evidence.

  102. Victoria

    @Istvan
    Read 2 Peter 1:16-21. Is your interpretation consistent with Peter’s statements here?

    Why do you prefer a symbolic interpretation or allegorical one? What reason is there for not accepting the NT documents at face value? For what reason should we not accept that the Gospels are written in the manner of 1st century Greco-Roman historiography? Why would 1st century Jews ‘make up’ Christianity?

    Perhaps you should read more of Craig Evans, Michael Kruger, Darrell Bock, Daniel Wallace, Mark Roberts, Richard Bauckham, N. T. Wright, etc than Spong. (If you go to http://www.apologetics315.com you can find links to these NT scholars/historians).

    We are getting away from the OP here. The essential historicity of the Bible has been discussed elsewhere on this blog, as have the principles of sound Biblical exegesis. I categorically reject your allegorical, mythological and patently un-historical approach to understanding the Bible and its significance.

    Where do you derive the idea from the NT documents that the authors and their audience were not interested in facts and evidence, despite the fact that Peter and John and Luke and Paul explicitly refer to facts and evidence?

  103. BillT

    Istvan,

    Well, you certainly trump me on the sophistication scale. However, the Gospel writers themselves said they were writing the truth about what they had seen. Thus, if there weren’t, that would by their own account make them phonies and liars.

    The second problem in your narrative is your quite unsophisticated understanding of mythology. The NT manuscript evidence alone makes the possibility of the Gospels being mythology essentially zero. There simply isn’t enough time for the history to become myth (which takes hundreds and hundreds of years) given that the eyewitnesses to the events were alive when the Gospels were written. Further, it is known, really without doubt, that the NT we read today is the same one written during the 50/60 years after Christ’s ministry. And that’s not to mention the literary evidence. You really need to spend some time becoming informed about this subject. The “Gospels as myth” scenario has been show to be without merit.

  104. Istvan

    Why do you prefer a symbolic interpretation or allegorical one?

    Because of the reasons I told you. It’s not a matter of being “true” or “false,” these stories were written with a liturgical aim in mind. They are meant to be full of symbolism that the community recognized; certain events of the life of Jesus were truly meant to echo events in the Jewish scriptures.

    Scholars are pretty hard pressed to figure out the birth narrative of Christ in literal terms, which tells us the stories weren’t meant to be taken literally. When and where did it happen? Jesus was always called the Nazarean or Galilean, so why would his family be in Bethlehem? Herod’s massacre of the innocents isn’t considered historical; Herod’s life ended long before the census of Quirinius anyway, and the census wouldn’t have required people to travel like we’re told Jesus’s family did. The only way the slew of inconsistent stories makes sense is if the effort was being made to link Jesus with Moses (who escaped death as an infant in Egypt) and David (who was born in Bethlehem).

  105. Istvan

    So why was Jesus’s family in Bethlehem? Was it a census, or the massacre of the innocents? If the Gospels are supposedly the “literal truth,” at least one of these is wrong.

    And I say it’s irrelevant. These are just narrative devices to get Jesus to the town of King David. The Gospel writers weren’t trying to present an eyewitness account of history. They were weaving the biography of Jesus in the fabric of Jewish mythology.

  106. BillT

    Istvan,

    Your understanding of the historicity of the NT is lacking. Your belief that the NT is full of inconsistencies is equally mistaken. Your laundry list of supposed errors has been addressed by theologians. In short, there is more here than can be handled in a bog post. You’d be well served to read something like Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. The kind of criticism you bring and your personal proclamations of its veracity hold little weight compared libraries full of careful NT textual, historical and archeological scholarship.

  107. Istvan

    Your understanding of the historicity of the NT is lacking.

    Right back atcha, Bill.

    You don’t seem able to understand that I’m not calling the Gospels “false” or the Jesus story “fiction.” What I’m pointing out is that the wildly divergent Gospels can only be reconciled if we understand them as symbolic narratives, not as accounts of history. If your imagination is so inflexible that you can’t deal with ambiguity except by lashing out with insults, maybe you need to take a break.

  108. Jeff Lewis

    “There simply isn’t enough time for the history to become myth (which takes hundreds and hundreds of years) given that the eyewitnesses to the events were alive when the Gospels were written.”

    Have you ever been to Snopes? Seen the 9-11 truthers’ arguments, or the birthers’, or any of the JFK death conspiracy theories, or the moon hoax guys? Have you ever heard of Joseph Smith or L. Ron Hubbard? It doesn’t seem like myths that are believed by large groups of people take centuries to form.

  109. BillT

    “What I’m pointing out is that the wildly divergent Gospels can only be reconciled if we understand them as symbolic narratives, not as accounts of history.”,

    And this simply isn’t true. The Gospel narratives have been successfully reconciled. Really, only the Jesus Seminar types are still touting this old chestnut. And my comment wasn’t an insult. You demonstrated your lack of an understanding of NT historicity in your comments about the Gospels as myths which I replied to in detail.

    Jeff,

    There is a difference between conspiracy theories, false prophets and myths. A myth is a specific literary form and has specific literary indications and historicity.

  110. Jeff Lewis

    I don’t want to start another semantic discussion, but I was taking myth in the Mythbusters or urban legend sense.

    Anyway, I’m curious, what’s your take on the historicity of the Old Testament. Because I’m reading that right now, along with the commentary in the New Oxford Annotated Bible, as well as a few websites here and there as I go, and I think it’s pretty clear that there’s a lot in those stories that didn’t happen literally as presented. In fact, I was even warned by one of the regulars here (Melissa) in another comment thread against reading the Bible too literally:

    I may be way off base here and this may not apply to you but often we get people who have been brought up in a church where an extremely literal reading of the text is pushed. It is never acknowledged that the genre (even when it’s histiorograhy) is not what we think of as history. They fail to acknowledge that it history written for a theological purpose.

    Do you think OT events happened largely as depicted?

  111. Istvan

    The Gospel narratives have been successfully reconciled.

    Maybe to the way of thinking of a Biblical literalist whose faith depends on seeing things in black and white. Anyone who looks at the Gospels with a critical eye sees four very different narratives.

    But please, bestow on us the benefit of your erudition: where and when was Jesus born? If he was born in Bethlehem, why was his family there? Why did only one Gospel writer mention the Massacre of the Innocents, which even the historian Josephus didn’t deign to mention when he was enumerating Herod’s atrocities?

    I await your response.

  112. BillT

    “Anyone who looks at the Gospels with a critical eye sees four very different narratives.”

    Yes, of course they do. That’s why they have different names because they’re different Gospels. They were written by different people with different perspectives and for different audiences. If the four Gospels were identical they wouldn’t be four different Gospels they’d be one. Have you never read different histories of the same event. Are they identical in every respect? No, of course not. Different histories have different facts from different sources and different perspectives. That’s the strength of having four Gospel accounts not a weakness.

    Victoria already gave you a source on the census/Bethlehem question. You can read it for yourself I’m sure. And though there isn’t currently historical verification for the murder of the innocents there is nothing that contradicts the story either. Josephus’ histories are hardly considered complete in every respect.

  113. BillT

    “…what’s your take on the historicity of the Old Testament.”

    It’s not my expertise (if I have such a thing). I’m better at the NT which I think can be confidently said to be the best confirmed ancient texts in existence and by multiple order of magnitude over other similarly dated historical texts.

    As far as there being different hermeneutical standards for reading different texts and books of the Bible, yes of course there are. The Bible as a whole addresses different topics with different types of narratives, different types of language (poetry, historical narrative, parable) and it’s hugely important to ascertain the context of any passage before trying to understand it.

    As far as the OT events happening largely as depicted? Yes, largely. Certainly, there are nuances in reading them as I said above so there is that caveat. And remember a large amount of the criticism of the Bible come from people who don’t believe in miracles so they discount all those accounts. As a Christian I understand the descriptions miracles to be perfectly reasonable and that deals with a lot of the issues.

  114. Istvan

    If the four Gospels were identical they wouldn’t be four different Gospels they’d be one.

    There just aren’t enough facepalms in cyberspace.

  115. Post
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  116. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    The reason no one mentioned the slaughter of the innocents, Istvan, is because in context of Herod’s atrocities it was small potatoes. It was in a very small town, it involved perhaps a dozen babies.

    Why didn’t Marco Polo mention the Great Wall of China? Because it wasn’t there?

    Why didn’t Pliny the Younger, when he described the eruption of Vesuvius, mention that it destroyed two cities?

    What’s going on here, Istvan, is that an argument from silence is no argument at all.

  117. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    Jeff, the myths that you refer to as not taking centuries to form are of a completely different character than the Gospel accounts. The Gospels refer to acts that happened

    1. Publicly
    2. Recently
    3. In time and space rather than in some “spiritual” arena
    4. Where eyewitnesses could be questioned
    5. Where eyewitnesses’ motivations were confirmed by their willingness to suffer for their beliefs, as opposed to the typical conspiracy (Watergate, for example) where eyewitnesses were motivated by saving their own hides.
    6. And where their beliefs have stood up to incredibly serious challenge for centuries.

    If you could find a more parallel case to use as an analogy, that would be interesting to talk about.

  118. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Istvan @3:12 pm yesterday.

    Wow.

    BillT said your knowledge of NT historicity is lacking, and you called that an insult. That was an observation, Istvan, not a character attack. But your response that BillT was motivated by inflexibility of imagination and the inability to deal with ambiguity–that was an inference about his character. That’s what qualifies as an insult.

    And as far as I can tell from your responses so far, you have a bare assertion (the Gospels cannot be reconciled) whereas BillT has a source for you to look at for detailed answers (Bauckham).

    What do we call it when someone makes strong, final, absolute assertions like “the Gospels can only be reconciled if we understand them as symbolic narratives,” and maintaining his absolutism while refusing to consider contrary evidence? Isn’t there a name for that kind of behavior?

  119. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    If you haven’t guessed, Istvan, I’m working backwards here.

    The biography of Jesus had very little to do with Jewish mythology (see your 2:27 pm comment). NT Wright makes that quite clear in The Challenge of Jesus.

    Speaking of your willingness to look at evidences, by the way (see my last comment) did you ever come through with scholarly references as Victoria requested?

  120. Istvan

    My point is that the view of the Gospels as a journalistic recording of events ignores their symbolic substance. We’re imposing our modern mindset onto these texts instead of seeing them for what they were to the early Christians: narratives for liturgical use, to link Jesus with the Jewish tradition after the upheaval of the destruction of the Temple. The inconsistencies among the Gospels can only be “reconciled” by realizing that they’re symbolic, not literal.

    I guess this goes back to the discussion about magic. Believers seem to think they have to profess that the Gospels are “literal truth,” and that the magical events described therein literally happened. But that’s ignoring the deeper meaning of these stories and what they were intended to convey to their audience. We don’t talk about symbols being “true” or “false.” They’re supposed to resonate in the imaginations of the community of believers.

  121. Istvan

    I’m not the one being “absolutist” here, though. I’m calling for a little more nuanced, more sophisticated, and less rigid approach to talking about the Gospels. I realize that atheists probably come here a lot and argue that the Bible is “all lies,” but that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that stories like the Transfiguration weren’t meant to be read as cold, rational, objective accounts of actual events. They were full of symbolism that the authors knew would resonate in the imaginations of their audience.

  122. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    Istvan, you write,

    My point is that the view of the Gospels as a journalistic recording of events ignores their symbolic substance.

    No, it doesn’t.

    You’re committing one of two errors here; I’m not sure which.

    Either you are saying that a historical (not journalistic, no one ever said that) view stands in contrast to one that takes that Gospels as substantially symbolic, i.e., that they are symbolic in their substance, their nature, their intent, and purpose. If that was what you were saying, then you’re simply wrong: we’re not ignoring that, we’re disagreeing with it.

    If on the other hand you’re saying that we’re ignoring the fact that the Gospels have great symbolic importance, then you’re guilty of a false dichotomy. If that’s what you’re doing, it’s rather ironic in view of your complaint in 114 toward people you thought could only see in black and white. You set yourself up with an either-or here: that the Gospels are either historical or they have symbolic importance. Actually both are the case.

    I hope you’ll exercise some intellectual integrity and back off your claim that there’s only one way to reconcile the Gospels until you’ve investigated the evidence that there are two. If you don’t know what the other proposed way of reconciliation is, then you’re in no position to say it doesn’t work.

  123. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    No, Istvan @6:35 am, you are being quite absolutist. You insist that your way of interpreting the Gospels is the only one, and you’re not even paying attention to others.

  124. Istvan

    The biography of Jesus had very little to do with Jewish mythology (see your 2:27 pm comment). NT Wright makes that quite clear in The Challenge of Jesus.

    Well, then, why did Jesus chat with Moses and Elijah during the Transfiguration? Why did the Gospel authors give questionable and contradictory accounts for Jesus having to be born in King David’s hometown? Why did he stay in the grave for exactly as long as Jonah was in the belly of the whale? Sounds like his biography had a lot to do with Jewish history and mythology.

    Who’s being absolutist now?

  125. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    Right. There were significant points of overlap between Jesus’ life and the foreshadowings and prophecies in the OT. I wasn’t meaning to contradict that. What I meant to say was that Jesus’ overall mission and purpose were very unlike what the Jews expected of a Messiah. His biography in that sense would not have been concocted by Jews.

  126. BillT

    Istvan,

    I’d have been glad to respond to your comments on my post to you
    if you’d had the courtesy to post something of substance (cyber facepalms notwithstanding).

  127. Istvan

    I hope you’ll exercise some intellectual integrity and back off your claim that there’s only one way to reconcile the Gospels

    Okay, I will. In fact, reading the Gospels as symbolic narratives doesn’t “reconcile” them anyway. It just (in my opinion) better explains the difficulty in reading them as literal descriptions of actual historical events: they were never meant to be taken literally.

  128. Billy Squibs

    Tom Wright has been mentioned before, Istavan. If you are interested in investigating these matters further it would be worth listing to his talks (http://ntwrightpage.com/) or reading his popular level books. Simply Christian and Simply Jesus are both good places to start.

    Frankly your opinion on the absolute or near absolute symbolic nature of the Gospels is trumped by those with better historical research into the Gospels as historical documents and better cultural understanding of the beliefs, practices and expectations inherent in Second Temple Judaism and the wider pagan culture.

    Opinions are great, but everyone has them. If you are to convince us that your opinions are correct then you’ll have to put some flesh on them.

  129. Ray Ingles

    BillT –

    Magic isn’t a good term for Christian beliefs nor is it a good term for atheists questioning whether supernatural powers influence the course of events.

    I understand that’s your opinion. Just like it’s my opinion that ‘militant’ isn’t a good or useful term for describing atheists. I doubt we’ll agree on either, I’m afraid.

  130. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    Which atheists, Ray? and which Christian beliefs?

    I think it’s possible to find a true atheist who is truly militant, in the usual and normal senses of both terms. I think you would agree with me on that.

    I think that if you were honest (something I keep pressing you on, intentionally) you would also admit that we never described atheists or atheism as universally militant. We have never said (as you imply here that we have) that “atheists are militant,” as if it were true for all atheists.

    In contrast to that, I don’t think it’s possible to find a true description of a true Christian belief that uses the term “magic” in it, except if one is extremely careful to define “magic” as something other than what it usually connotes.

  131. Victoria

    @Istvan
    you keep asserting, without substantiation that the Gospels accounts were not meant to be taken literally, that they do not describe actual historical events.

    You keep harping on the Transfiguration event – why could this not be a real historical event, as Peter says in 2 Peter 1:16-21?

    1. You have not yet addressed the fact that the NT authors themselves state clearly in a number of places that they are writing about events that actually took place, and that they had either actually witnessed, participated in, or that their sources had witnessed or participated in.

    2. The Gospels are not journalistic biographical accounts in the modern, Western sense, no Christian scholar or literate Christian would make that claim today. The authors wrote for a theological, instructive purpose, to be sure – both Luke (Luke 1:1-4) and John ( John 20:30-31 ) state that explicitly. Theology and history are not mutually exclusive categories (and please spare us your protestations here) . They wrote about their history and explained to their readers why that history is theologically and spiritually significant.

    3. You assert, with substantiation, that Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth and Luke’s account are contradictory.
    Prove it! Show us that these two accounts cannot be dovetailed, that they are truly mutually exclusive, and that the reconstruction of the combined accounts (namely that Matthew’s account includes events that happened later than the events in Luke) is not historically plausible.

    4. You keep harping on the difficulties in fitting Luke’s account of the census into the framework of what is known from external sources, and thus conclude that, what, Luke is not a good historian?? Have you taken into account the fact that solid historical and archaeological studies have shown that the Gospels and Acts get the details right ( http://www.biblearchaeology.org/research.aspx is a good compendium of a lot of details. I’d also recommend getting hold of http://www.amazon.com/Book-Acts-Setting-Hellenistic-History/dp/0931464587/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1383924321&sr=8-1&keywords=colin+hemer for a scholarly study of Acts in its historical setting. Biblical Archaeology Review http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/library/ has some really interesting material – check out the Pool of Siloam, for example).

    Are you assuming that the events in the NT that overlap with and resonate with parallels in the Old Testament are merely symbolic and ‘mythological’ because you think the Old Testament is itself a collection of non-historical mythological stories? I suspect that this is the case – correct me if I’m wrong, and if it is the case, please substantiate this claim with solid historical and Biblical scholarship, examining both sides of the debate over this and refuting the arguments of those of us who hold to a high view of the Bible. Provide references so that we can go and check them out for ourselves.

  132. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    Oh, come on, Victoria. He doesn’t have to supply scholarship to back up his claims! He’s taking the default view, that everything of any substance in the Bible is historically false or irrelevant. Because he has taken up the default position, that means it’s up to us, not him, to show reasons for our positions.

    The fact that you have directed him to several sources that do exactly that is of no consequence. It’s up to us to prove it to him to his satisfaction, and it’s up to us to do it without him having to look up any credible research sources! Until we can do that for him, none of these questions you’re asking him here make any difference, because he’s adopted the default position. He’s just right because, well, we haven’t proven he isn’t, at least not without putting him in a place where he has to consider the possibility that he might not be right.

    Now Istvan: I’ve stated that provocatively. I’ve done so intentionally. I’ve done so because you’re not demonstrating the slightest interest in reading any sources contrary to your own prior beliefs, which I think reflects intellectual laziness or dishonesty on your part.

    Am I wrong? I’d be very happy to have you prove that I am. I like being wrong about things like this.

  133. Istvan

    please substantiate this claim with solid historical and Biblical scholarship, examining both sides of the debate over this and refuting the arguments of those of us who hold to a high view of the Bible. Provide references so that we can go and check them out for ourselves.

    I’m just engaging in a discussion here, not writing a scholarly dissertation.

    And I’m not claiming to be a Bible scholar, either. The work of Bishop Spong and Michael Goulder is what influenced my view that the Gospels were meant to be read symbolically. I’m sure their research is not new, and probably not particularly highly regarded in fundamentalist circles.

    It might surprise you that there are a lot of atheists who are fascinated by the subject of religion. After all, it’s something that encompasses history, philosophy, and psychology. I’m particularly interested in the development of the Christ story and the milieu of early Christianity. Maybe if you stop treating me like an adversary, we might find some common ground.

  134. Post
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    Tom Gilson

    Istvan, this is false:

    I’m just engaging in a discussion here, not writing a scholarly dissertation.

    If you keep asserting that you’re right and we’re wrong, and if you won’t demonstrate any interest in information we give you that conflicts with your prejudice, then you’re not engaging in a discussion.

    This is a blog for thinking people. When thinking person A tells thinking person B that they believe B is wrong, A (being a thinking person, and understanding that B is one too) explains why.

    That’s what we’re asking for.

    Anything less is just parroting your prejudices; it’s just throwing words at us. Don’t expect us to pay it the slightest heed—unless you give us some reason to do so.

  135. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    And who’s treating whom as an adversary? We’re asking you to explain why you believe what you believe. Is that like shooting at you? Isn’t it more like treating you with respect?

    You’re the one who’s created the history/symbolism dichotomy, and who’s making it a black/white pair of polar opposites. Why would you point at us as the ones who are creating an adversarial position? I think the NT is highly symbolic. I think it’s also historically accurate. You keep disagreeing with that, and now you’re accusing us of being disagreeable!

    I think you could use a mirror, my friend.

  136. Victoria

    Why the use of the term ‘fundamentalist circles’? We are none of us ‘fundamentalist’ in the perjorative sense that this term has come to mean, in this blog.

    We have a high view of the Bible as God’s written revelation of Himself and His plan of redemption, as it has taken place in real history.

    Are you going to substantiate your assertions at all? For example, how do you reconcile your symbolic view of the NT with what its authors say about what they were writing? Let’s start with that issue.

    Spong and others like him represent only one side of the debate – have you heard the other side?
    http://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2011/04/22/william-lane-craig-vs-episcopal-bishop-spong-on-the-resurrection-of-jesus/

  137. Post
    Author
  138. Billy Squibs

    Istvan,

    I would point you to this good (but ever so slightly dry) talk by Richard Bauckham. When you mentioned “journalistic accounts” I couldn’t help but think of this talk and that your anachronistic terminology was ironic given your accusations of “unimaginative literalism”.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSwu-kiMSp8

    He discusses the Gospels as history biography and compares them to both contemporary and modern works. In short, he lays a case for the Gospels as documents that were written to be understood as accurate accounts of actual events, not metaphorical events that they invented. Bauckham has done his homework. I’m not convinced that the same can be said of Spong.

    You can continue to assert your position, which is fine and all, but eventually you are going to have to give us something solid to go on.

  139. Ray Ingles

    Tom Gilson –

    We have never said (as you imply here that we have) that “atheists are militant,” as if it were true for all atheists.

    Actually, what I said was that it is overused, not that it’s used universally. Indeed, I explicitly characterized you in particular as saying it applied “sometimes”. I concede we’ve had some questions about how words are defined on this thread, but I genuinely never expected the word ‘sometimes’ to be confused for ‘always’.

    It’s the go-to adjective, when usually a better fit would be ‘outspoken’, or ‘aggressive’, or ‘activist’, or even ‘strident’. Mostly it’s used the way ‘fundamentalist’ frequently is, just as a cliché slur that means something like ‘unashamed (when they should be ashamed)’.

    In contrast to that, I don’t think it’s possible to find a true description of a true Christian belief that uses the term “magic” in it, except if one is extremely careful to define “magic” as something other than what it usually connotes.

    What does magic ‘usually connote’? Again, some kind of definition would be awesomely helpful. I’ve presented mine several times, with sources, and explained why it applies.

  140. Istvan

    you keep asserting that you’re right and we’re wrong

    But I don’t. I even said Read and understand the Bible any way you want, and I said I just wanted to point out that there may be more than one way to read & interpret the Gospels.

    You’re the one who’s created the history/symbolism dichotomy, and who’s making it a black/white pair of polar opposites.

    No, I’m not. The black-and-white thinking says that either everything in the Gospels is accurate, historical truth, or it’s completely lies. I’m not the one claiming that. I think there are a lot of events, like the Transfiguration, that deserve a more nuanced approach.

    I think the NT is highly symbolic. I think it’s also historically accurate.

    Okay. I’m impressed with the symbolic nature of these texts, and I don’t expect them to be historically accurate.

  141. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Ray, you asked,

    What does magic ‘usually connote’?

    Is this an intentional strategy? Is this a conversation or a debate of attrition — keep ignoring what people say and asking them to repeat themselves until they get sick of it and leave?

    You’re welcome to look at what we wrote already in the OP, in #24, #31, #37, #39, #40, #41/42, #49, #78, #88. You can keep pretending we haven’t addressed your questions such as those in #23 and #29.

    But for the sake of my sanity and especially your own, would you please quit asking us to tell you again what we’ve already told you over and over and over again?

    Unless, that is, you don’t give a hoot about anything but winning a war of attrition.

  142. Billy Squibs

    But I don’t. I even said Read and understand the Bible any way you want, and I said I just wanted to point out that there may be more than one way to read & interpret the Gospels

    Of course. But the issue here isn’t about how many ways there are to interpret the meaning of a text. Rather, we are talking about how we best understand what the author meant when he wrote the text. Broadly, this would be eisegesis versus exegesis.

    Your personal incredulity that Jesus really was having a chat with Moses and Elijah is neither here nor there when it comes to understanding the authors intention behind writing these words. Show us how it is you came to hold such opinions. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you haven’t done this yet. Links to arguments are most acceptable.

  143. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Istvan at #143, you quote and then answer,

    you keep asserting that you’re right and we’re wrong

    But I don’t. I even said Read and understand the Bible any way you want, and I said I just wanted to point out that there may be more than one way to read & interpret the Gospels.

    I just love the way people of a postmodernish bent think they can get away with the intellectual trick of telling other people they’re wrong while claiming they’re doing nothing of the kind. In my book it’s deception.

    Look at the direct contradiction you made in #79.

    Look at #92, where you tell us, “The Gospels developed to create a belief narrative for the young Christian faith, not to record events literally.”

    Look at #101, where you challenge Victoria directly on her belief that the events actually happened.

    Look at #103, where you directly contradict BillT, saying, “I think the ancients had a much more nuanced conception of myth than you seem to: these accounts weren’t reportage, they were narratives that were meant to resonate on many different levels with their audience, who could best understand history through symbols, not facts and evidence.”

    Look at #106 where you contradict us all: “Because of the reasons I told you. It’s not a matter of being ‘true’ or ‘false,’ these stories were written with a liturgical aim in mind.”

    That same comment is also where you begin to tell us, in direct contradiction of what we affirmed several times, that there’s no way to reconcile the Gospel accounts except symbolically. You continue that theme in #108, #110 (where you point to our position as a failure of imagination or the ability to handle ambiguity!), #114, #123,

    Look at #124 where once again you contradict our position that the Gospels are meant to be read as reporting things that actually happened.

    If you don’t think that counts as a long set of assertions that we’re wrong and that you’re right on these matters, then you’re deceiving yourself. You’re fooling yourself. You’re not fooling us.

  144. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Continuing:

    You’re the one who’s created the history/symbolism dichotomy, and who’s making it a black/white pair of polar opposites.

    No, I’m not. The black-and-white thinking says that either everything in the Gospels is accurate, historical truth, or it’s completely lies.

    Let me read that back to you in another form.

    Tom: You are creating a history/symbolism dichotomy.
    Istvan: No, I’m not: there’s another kind of black-white thinking, and I’m not guilty of that other black-white error.

    That would be like the prosecutor saying “He killed John,” and the defense attorney answering, “No he didn’t, clearly: because we know that someone else killed Adam.”

    Just a tad fallacious, wouldn’t you agree?

    By the way: has anyone here yet actually said what you attributed to us there?

  145. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    But please: don’t let my response in #147 keep you from looking at your self-deception described in #146. That’s considerably more germane, in my opinion.

  146. Istvan

    Tom, since you’ve been sifting through my posts so carefully, I’m surprised you missed this comment I made. I’m not being nasty or sarcastic when I say it:

    It might surprise you that there are a lot of atheists who are fascinated by the subject of religion. After all, it’s something that encompasses history, philosophy, and psychology. I’m particularly interested in the development of the Christ story and the milieu of early Christianity. Maybe if you stop treating me like an adversary, we might find some common ground.

    That is, if you’re interested in finding common ground.

  147. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Actually, Istvan, there’s no need for you to be surprised. I didn’t miss that. I answered it twice, in #138 and #140.

    Further, if you contradict us on points a through m, your interest in finding common ground on points n through p (or even a through p) does not change the fact that you contradict us on points a through m. That means it’s still impossible to take you seriously where you deny you’re saying you are right and we are wrong.

    Further: if I point out that you are disagreeing with us, does that make me adversarial?

    I’m not the only one disagreeing here, my friend. You are, too.

    Finding common ground is one very, very desirable goal. I’m all in favor of it.

    It’s not the only goal, however. Clear communication is another, and for you to say you’re not contradicting when you are is to confuse the lines of communication very badly.

    Another good goal is discovering what’s true. If you think that the Gospels cannot be reconciled except by treating them as predominantly symbolic, and if we think they can be reconciled as accounts of what happened (taking context, genre, etc. into consideration), then you are wrong, or we are wrong, or both of us are wrong.

    It’s one thing to find common ground with each other. It’s another thing to find common ground with reality.

  148. Istvan

    If you’re interested in the development of the Christ story….

    That was an interesting post.

    Like I said, I’m very interested in the milieu of early Christianity, the way it developed in the apocalyptic context of the aftermath of the destruction of the Temple. That link to N.T. Wright led to a fascinating essay about the historical context of the Jesus narratives. Unlike a lot of nonbelievers, I don’t characterize the early Christians as hoaxers. Obviously they had a very transformative experience of the divine through Jesus, one which rent the veil in the Temple separating human life from the transcendent.

  149. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Are you ducking the issues, Istvan?

    I’m glad you found that post interesting. I’m glad you were fascinated by the N.T. Wright essay.

    Meanwhile, though, as long as the questions I raised in #146 are hanging, I don’t have good reason to trust you.

    That may sound offensive, but trust is not earned just by showing up on a blog and telling people you find their links interesting and that you’re not contradicting them or disagreeing with them. If you claim you aren’t contradicting or disagreeing when in fact you are, then you’re not telling the truth. I have a policy of not trusting people who don’t tell the truth. At this point, Istvan, I don’t know whether to believe what you say about yourself or your beliefs, and for that reason, I don’t have reason yet to trust you.

    We are ostensibly carrying on a discussion, right? And I think you probably believe you’re pursuing peace and common ground by avoiding conflict. The fact is, htough you’re really hiding yourself, making yourself hard to understand, making yourself hard to believe, and in the process hindering any chance at real connection and communication.

    Don’t fool yourself about that, okay? I respect you too much to let you gloss over these things as if they were unimportant.

  150. Ray Ingles

    Tom Gilson –

    Is this a conversation or a debate of attrition

    No. Y’all keep telling me that what I’m putting forth isn’t the “common connotation” (though it’s not hard to find examples of my contention). Telling me it’s not something isn’t an explicit definition of what it is.

    Terminology seems to be being used in a very slippery way. For example, you call Zeus and Thor ‘wizards’ like Dumbledore, but I have a hard time seeing this as anything but a deliberate confusion – no one ever proposed Dumbledore, even in the fictional universe of Harry Potter, as an object of worship.

    What I’m asking for is something like:

    mag·ic (ˈmajik/): noun __________________________ (fill in the blank). Y’know, a constructive definition, not just examples.

    Now, Victoria’s proposed a Christian definition of ‘magic’ as something like ‘consorting and communicating with demons’. The problem is, I can’t find a definition like that from anywhere but Christian sources. Why is that the ‘common definition’? Can anyone back it up with common sources?

  151. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Ray, you scoundrel, where in any of those definitions do you find anything that makes “magic” applicable to God? Be specific.

    Second, where (you conniving rascal) have we said this? “Y’all keep telling me that what I’m putting forth isn’t the ‘common connotation.'”?

    Third, where do you get off with this rank idiocy of saying your connotation is the common connotation, as if you could brush aside other common connotations, including the one we’ve brought before you, lo, these many times?

    Fourth, duh, the reason you won’t find Victoria’s definition from non-Christian sources is because most other people don’t recognize the existence of demons or demonic activity. Meanwhile however, the rest of her definition, which you conveniently overlooked, is pretty blame common: manipulating powers. It’s in the list you gave us.

    Do you think you can get away with this foolishness here?

  152. Ray Ingles

    (Zeroth: Still no constructive definition.)

    First: “Of, relating to, or invoking the supernatural” “an extraordinary power or influence seemingly from a supernatural source” “possessing or considered to possess mysterious powers” “possessing or using or characteristic of or appropriate to supernatural powers” Etc.

    Second: “fine but that’s not the common connotation even if “technically” correct.”

    Third: I don’t deny that there can be other connotations. But I’m pointing out the central – essential – elements of ‘magic’: supernatural powers affecting the world. Many, many things are called ‘magical’ without anyone implying a wizard enchanted them!

    Fourth: God doesn’t manipulate supernatural powers? (Check the last paragraph in particular.)

  153. BillT

    Ray,

    Given that I’ve agreed with you on your “Of, relating to, or invoking the supernatural” definition of magic perhaps you’d address the specifics of what I posted a couple of times in response to you. I said:

    Saying that someone “believes in magic” is a phrase understood by most everyone in the world, past the 5th grade, as meaning the person in question is a gullible rube.

    Now, since I think we’d all agree that definitions of words can differ from their connotations, which best captures “magic” as it’s commonly used. Your definition or my connotation.

    In other words, if you met someone who said “I believe in magic” would you think they were someone who believes in the supernatural or would you think they were a gullible rube.

  154. Chris

    I think this “magic” business is very simple.

    For those that are true “outsiders”, who have never been brought up in a religion or faith, looking at the claims of Christianity and other religions looks very much like what one would consider “magic”.

    Magic is Gandalf, thrusting his staff into the bridge in Moria, uttering “you shall not pass!”, and tossing the “demon” Balrog into the Abyss.

    The claims of many religions seem to me to be similar. Raising the dead, water to wine, etc. It really is difficult to differentiate when you don’t have all of that religious upbringing and background to fall back on.

    In other words, it all looks the same from here!

  155. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    I really need to find time to write on what distinguishes Christianity from all that!

    In the meantime, I caution you against viewing things as all very simple. Christianity would not have become the world-changing movement it is if it were “simple” in that way.

  156. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    What does “manipulate supernatural powers” mean, Ray? How does it apply to God? Do you suppose his powers are something external to himself, to be reached out to, handled, ordered around, managed, etc.?

  157. SteveK

    In other words, it all looks the same from here!

    It only looks the same if you gloss over and ignore the relevant details of the comparison. It’s the relevant details that provide us with the meaningful differences. That fact is true no matter what kind of comparison you are attempting to make.

    Baseball looks the same as cricket, skiing looks the same as snowboarding, wolves look the same as dogs and knitting looks the same as crocheting – that is until you get into the relevant details of each. When you do that, you find out there are meaningful differences – which is why we use different words for each one.

  158. AEB

    Wow. That [the OP] was incredibly patronizing and condescending. If that’s an example of how Christians should respond to athiests, then they have every right to consider them arrogant, intolerant, and judgmental.

    In my experience, it is often the athiest who has given the most thought to what they believe and why, and who is the most willing to engage in genuinely curious conversation about why. Christians, on the other hand, answer with trite, dismissive remarks like, “Well, if what you mean by invisible friend is an Almighty God who can send you to hell like that!” which contribute about as much to the conversation as “Yo mama so fat,” without the punchline. Maybe one should drop the condescension and ask the one using the word what they mean by it (if they actually used it at all!) … and not commandeer the definition of the word that THEY chose to use with your own and then use your definition to make theirs look ridiculous.

    God calls us to excellence. And to meekness. And to “test the spirits,” be peacemakers, have a ready answer … I don’t see any of that exemplified here.

  159. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Thanks for sharing, AEB.

    I’m surprised you used such absolutist and condemnatory language, in view of the way I ended the OP. But that’s how you read it, so I’ll take your thoughts under consideration.

    I’m curious whether you’ve ever been in a conversation as a Christian where someone said these things about your beliefs.

  160. The original Mr. X

    @ Ray/AEB:

    Out of interest, how would you react if somebody having a debate about gay rights said “Homosexuals are abnormal”? I mean, given that heterosexuality is statistically more common, and therefore the “norm”, does that mean that calling gay people “abnormal” is perfectly fine? Or, if a gay person hears that and, on the basis that “abnormal” is almost always used as an insult, concludes that the speaker is a raging homophobe and starts to feel quite insulted, would that gay person be acting over-sensitively and/or irrationally?

  161. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    I would certainly call for clarification: “what do you mean by ‘abnormal,’ and why do you say so?” And then I would tell them that normality is not the point, and terms like “abnormal” are of no help whatever.

    I don’t think a gay person would be justified in saying someone is “a raging homophobe” just for using that term, though—not unless it’s accompanied by rage, fear, or unjustified aversion towards gays. I could imagine someone using the word “abnormal” in a sort of innocent naivete: wrong, but not maliciously so.

  162. Ray Ingles

    BillT –

    Saying that someone “believes in magic” is a phrase understood by most everyone in the world, past the 5th grade, as meaning the person in question is a gullible rube.

    We should probably move this to the new thread. See the last section of this comment.

  163. The original Mr. X

    Well, maybe “raging homophobe” is putting it a bit strongly. But I don’t think that it would be unreasonable to feel upset at this terminology; and, if you repeatedly explain to somebody that you don’t like it and they keep using it nevertheless, it’s probably the case that your interlocutor isn’t really interested in having a proper conversation.

  164. Post
    Author

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