Jesus is Magic

Út 09 května 2006

(I really don’t know anything about the movie, I just saw its poster in the window store and the title looks barely OK for what I want to write about.)

It is about magical thinking. One of the most interesting people I met in the last couple of months was Mario Bergner, episcopal priest whos ministry is in the inner healing. He had a talk to us about magical thinking and about persistence and staying in pain of unresolved suffering. He explained his thoughts on Romans 5:

3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.

The point of this is, how do we live with present suffering. And I am not talking about high-level stuff, like being in the concentration camp or things like that. No, he was talking about everyday suffering caused by unfulfilled desires and hopes—what is the God’s calling for my life, how to finish my PhD thesis, and so forth. We have two major bad ways how to deal with this issue. One is obvious and well known—just ignore or try to persuade the problem that it doesn’t exist. When it is possible, great! But most of the time, it is not possible. Or variant of the same, we can decide, that acutally we don’t care about the resolution of this problem that much—“whatever”. Unfortunately, the problem is real and so we cannot just avoid the resolution.

The other possible solution could be, what he calls “magical thinking”. The problem is very well known, but the pain of being in the unresolved situation is mitigated by the unfounded hope, that the solution will somehow “resolv itself”. A boy looking for accquintance with a girl, may just hope that somehow a girl will find him without any of his effort (and just to emphasize, I do not mean effort to find a girl by his own means; just an effort to live in the place, where God can bless him with her). Mario Bergner mentioned that he has a number of friends who are in their fourties coming through a mid-life crisis and dreaming about being a priests themselves. His answer is simple—“just go and apply for the study in seminary.” But that is for most people not enough. They want solution now and hopefully without any of their effort. So they don’t do anything and they get nothing.

However, this need to act on the basis of God’s calling for something, doesn’t mean legalism and dependency on our own effort. There is a third pitfall to avoid (mentioned by other of my pastor-friends). He called it “Christian unbelief in God”. The problem is that although most of the full and healthy solutions for these problems is in the God’s power only, and it cannot be replaced by our efforts, it looks plausible, that we could at least make our pain more bearable. Unfortuantely, it doesn’t work this way. Once we decide to resolve the pain and suffering on our own and “as if God was not alive”, we shut-down his ability to heal us. Moreover, practically, our own solution where we ourselves found today is absolutely from the situation we will find ourselves couple of months, or maybe a year or two. Therefore, the solutions we create today, may not be applicable or may be outright misleading us from the way the God has prepared for us in some time in the future.

You ask, my dear reader, why is this rant in the category research and not faith? I believe that this problem on the personal level can be very well transformed to the similar problem which plagues most of social sciences and political practice on the level of whole society. There is something in our environment, which is not what we like it to be—for example, people are killing each other and we want to persuade them not to do it. Or they have other people as slaves.

There are in my opinion many bad reactions to these realities. The most important problem with most of them is that we focus on this problem (I am now using thoughts of Dorothy Sayers in “The Mind of the Maker”). And instead of really understanding of what’s going on we use any methods and tools to get rid of the presentation of the problem as fast and as easily as possible. And the problem is not presenting anymore in the appearance we defined as the problem, we claim that we have managed to resolve the underlying causes of the problem. So, when the fastest way how to eliminate slavery in the United States is to raise a very blood Civil War with subsequent long history of racial hatred and segregation, be it—Lincoln could claim that he had removed a problem of slavery (accepting for a sake of this example, that removal of slavery was among reasons for waging the war). And, to get finally to the topic of my research, when the murder rate of the Boston youth (or especially of the Boston youth) has decreased dramatically, everybody congratulated themselves how much they removed the problem of the crime wave.

My point is that all such “problems” are usually just very shallow presentation of the real problems in the structure of human society (or maybe they are not problems at all—if James Fox is right and crime rate in Boston could be largely predicted by the changes in demographic variables, then they are mostly natural events as hurricane waves; “hurricane prevention” anyone?). And if we wanted to help black Americans in slavery or another set of black Americans killing each other in our times, we need to get much deeper and develop much long-time oriented strategy and then persist to keep it running until real problems in the society are resolved, even when it could take fifty years of continuous effort (and spending of taxpayers money).

Category: research Tagged: Bible desertStream