Monday, December 06, 2010

Fear not the devil, especially when he's not there

A woman I know, raised Catholic but spending a lot of time (too much, in my opinion, but that's a story for another time) in an Evangelical prayer group, has been becoming sympathetic to some of their views on spiritual combat.  This is not all bad, since she just wasn't getting much of it at her home parish or in her own search for spiritual reading material, but it's also not all good, because in her pursuit for a more down to Earth (so to speak) Christianity, the line between orthodoxy and heresy is getting blurred.

I don't want to dwell on her condition much at the moment; suffice to say one needs to test all spirits and hold fast to what is good, not just take a sampling and swallow all of what has given a positive impression. I just need a stepping stone to make a few points because I apparently am a lazy writer, after all.

She's mentioned on a few occasions how she used to think the Harry Potter novels were harmless, but now she fears they can be a gateway to occult forces, since the fact of magic being portrayed in the book can open a door to demonic influence.

My philosophy is that the books themselves pose no threat.  They contain nothing essentially satanic, the magic that is described within is basically an obscure natural force that can be harnessed only by certain individuals, and if kids are interested in playing at Harry Potter, well, they've always been interested in playing at Hobbits, Superman, Voltron, the Lone Ranger, and every other [super]hero you can think of; nothing has changed, and nothing is going to stop it.  There's a disordered hunger for power and there's a desire to pretend at adventure, and these things do not perfectly overlap. Could a child, reading Harry Potter, look at the magic portrayed within and develop an unhealthy desire for special powers?  Sure, but the same could be said of anything.  Tarot decks are just archaic playing cards, and divination can be practiced with modern four-suit, 52-card decks.  Schoolkids who are warned not to play Pokemon on the playground will play Digimon instead.  The spiritual risk of any particular book, film, activity, or idea is a question of temperament, the availability of grist for temptation (a child from a home with no TV will not think much of troublesome cartoons), and the aesthetic preferences of the child.  Not a question of Harry Potter, inexplicably unlike any other, being some escapist fantasy about how a boy with a great destiny thrust upon him grows to be worthy of the challenges he faces book after book.

But this woman is still skeptical of the more radical caution her prayer group exercises in other areas.  Naturally they're opposed to practices of divination like ouija boards and tarot cards, but many of them also find magic tricks--as in illusionism, slight of hand card tricks and such--to be demonic.

As an aside, I think situations like this are where the cohesiveness and coherence of Catholicism can really shine.  The objective and subjective risks of the vast majority of these cases have already been sussed out, and we don't have (at least, we have far less often) people who disagree arguing indefinitely, because they come from or choose to follow different schools of thought on such things, or they move forward agreeing to disagree over an issue that has a healthy and balanced solution.  In this case, it's "fantasy fiction is not inherently evil because literature is not evil; divination is evil; things are not evil just for resembling other things that are evil; it may be prudent to avoid some of these things anyway in the interest of not confusing people, but it can also be a learning opportunity for the same confused people."  It's not rushing headlong into hell with the conviction that baptismal immunity buttressed by good intentions has no exceptions, and it's not calling a good thing bad and cutting it out of your life just in case someone somewhere fears or abuses it.

Remind me sometime to get back to the subject of schismatics--either the Protestant or the secular type--rejecting Catholic teaching, then revisiting old moral problems as if for the first time, and casting about everywhere except Rome for possible sources of help and wisdom in solving said problems.  I may have touched on it before but I haven't done the subject the modest amount of justice that I'm capable of.

Anyway, since this woman has come to respect these people in other ways, she's been more circumspect in her disbelief, but to my discredit I could hardly contain my incredulity when she told me.  I'm no stage magician but I know a couple card tricks.  They're entirely about directing attention away from the cards the mark thinks he is focusing on.  As best I can figure, misdirection is being equated with infernal magnitudes of confusion and deception, or the tongue in cheek showmanship that some modern magicians still like to employ, in the vein of old-school illusionists claiming to have studied mystical arts in obscure lands is being conflated with actual demonic augmentation to the natural senses.

Okay, you know what?  Pretending to be in league with mystical forces might not be the smartest thing, especially since the only ones likely to help with cheap parlor tricks are going to demand much greater sacrifices in exchange, but it's like blaming a doctor for causing a disease that he just couldn't cure.  It puts the emphasis on the wrong thing.  Messing with demons is evil; playing with cards is not, no matter how many people ruin their lives gambling and no matter how many people think it's something to do with the little paper rectangles with numbers and faces on them that can rub off on you however you use them.

It reminds me of the fear of some teetotalers that alcohol should be banned because everyone who is not a practicing or recovering alcoholic is simply a latent one.  Kind of like the old feminist (second wave?) saw about all men being latent rapists, now that I think about it.

Simply put, this is an attitude of superstition.  It's harboring an inordinate fear of normal objects because of the possibility of their abuse, because some such objects have been misused in the past for deliberate or inadvertent harm.  It's virtually giving demons power in your life that they don't, or shouldn't, have; and then just trying to flee from them.  If that's not a backhanded sort of glory being given to them, I don't know what is.

Do you have a personal problem with gambling?  Okay, stay away from cards for that reason.  Do you think it is imprudent to spend much time or attention on demonic activity?  Great, you're right, so try not to put any more interest into the subject than you need in order to be able to avoid it.

If we're going to go that far in avoiding the devil, then no activity is safe from abuse and everything should be avoided.  If people will kill others and themselves for the glory of God, there's no reason to think any lesser motivation will remain uncorrupted.

No comments: