Conversations on Magic: ‘Learned Larry’

Conversations on Magic: ‘Learned Larry’
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‘Learned Larry’

This conversation on magic centers on a very popular argument, not only used for the promotion of magic and paganism in Christian books and movies, but for many other venues as well. You will likely hear it used in some form over the years of your Christian walk. I hope therefore that it will be beneficial to the reader to understand it more fully in light of scripture.

‘Learned Larry’ came to our booth and purchased the Peleg Chronicles along with a talk I gave called the ‘Devolution of a Boy’. The CD is a trumpet call to the Christian to discern and align with God’s will concerning literature, and seek to understand what pleases and displeases Him. Much of the presentation concerned paganism, of which a small proportion was magic.

Shortly thereafter ‘Learned Larry’ wrote a response to my talk which he called a brief defense of fictional magic. It was apparent from his writings that he is in agreement with the premise that all books and movies are teaching something, whether we are aware of it or not.

Following is a statement he made that I would like to further delve into:

“Good authors will put Biblical bounds around how magic is used in their worlds. Using the word magic to teach children the moral law embedded in the universe, is like Paul using the statue to the unknown god to point to the known God. You start with what they know and move to the truth.”

Okay, let’s start with the last point first. ‘You start with what they know and move to the truth.” Think hard on this logic. There are basically two categories of readers, unbelievers and believers. Let’s apply this argument to the believer first:

The Athenians worshipped false gods. That is what they ‘knew’. Paul endeavored to lead them to the truth of Christ.

Does it make sense to apply this method to the Christian? __________

As far as Christians are concerned, is magic part of what they ‘know’? __________

Is magic the place (like the Athenians worshipping false gods) that Christians need to start with and then be moved away from, and into the truth? __________

If this is true, then shouldn’t Christians also start their children on a diet of false gods, before being  introduced and led to Christ? ___________

Hopefully you begin to see the illogical nature of ‘Learned Larry’s’ premise. Christians and their children should already have a Biblical world view that begins with the truth?

In other words, doesn’t the whole application of Paul’s statue of the unknown god only apply to unbelievers? You will probably agree that it does, and we will look at the passage carefully in a moment so you can strengthen that resolve in your own mind. If you agree that the statue to the unknown God scripture is meant to be applied to the unbeliever than it should not be viewed as some sort of thumbs up from God promoting fictional magic for the believer.

What about the unbeliever then? Let’s go to the text:

Acts 17:18-33 KJV
[18] Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.

Did Paul start with the unknown god? _________
What did he start with? __________

[19] And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is ? [20] For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean. [21] (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.) [22] Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.

Paul is about to introduce the unknown god ‘strategy’. Is he promoting, or putting a positive light on, or saying something they would like to hear about the subject he is going to bring up? (look at verse 22) __________

What does he tell the men of Athens? (verse 22) __________

[23] For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD . Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. [24] God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; [25] Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; [26] And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; [27] That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: [28] For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. [29] Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.

Did Paul promote making an image to the unknown God? (verse 29) __________

Did he promote making an image to the real God? (verse 29) __________

How did he correct them in their thinking? (verse 29) __________

[30] And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: [31] Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men , in that he hath raised him from the dead.

What are the Athenians in danger of if they continue worshipping these images graven by art and man’s device and not following after the one true God? (verse 31) __________

What must the Athenians, and all men do? (verse 30) __________

So, according to the unknown god method for leading people to Christ we note the following:

1) it was used for unbelievers.
2) it began with the gospel
3) it was used as an illustration
4) their unknown god statue was shown in the negative: superstitious, not a way to think of the Godhead, something that will be judged if they do not repent of it.
5) it was quickly, immediately used to point to the truth of God.

Applying this method to magic might work with the witch, pagan, or sorcerer who pursues magic just as the greeks were pursuing their false gods, IF you told them that their magic was useless, and the One who can do things outside of the natural (ie. things that might seem like magic) is God Himself. He does not use magic, it is just that He is not bound by the natural laws which He has created.

Now think about the witch: we would not continually represent God to the witch through magic. That would completely distort who God is and what He says. Similarly, when thinking of the idol worshiper, would it not be wrong to continually represent God through idols, in teachings, movies, and works of fiction? I use the word ‘continually’ because that is in effect what we see in Christian fictional magic and paganism.  They start with magic and end with magic.

Remember our quote from ‘Learned Larry’:

“Using the word magic to teach children the moral law embedded in the universe, is like Paul using the statue to the unknown god to point to the known God. You start with what they know and move to the truth.”

Would you recommend that your children run around playing with idols of false gods or a statue to the unknown god? Of course not. The statue and thinking behind it was portrayed in scripture as bad and it was corrected. It is obviously not pleasing to God. Yet, I hear Christian children often running around with ‘magic’ swords or ‘magic’ powers, and pretending to be magicians from ‘Christian’ fantasy. Why? Who taught them that? It is mostly from books and movies that these things were embedded into their minds  … books and movies that we promoted.

‘Learned Larry’ used the Chronicles of Narnia as his example for ‘using the word magic to teach children the moral law embedded in the universe.’ Shouldn’t we then continue the application in its entirety to see if the unknown god method is really being used? Remember, Larry said, “You start with what they know and move to the truth.” Does Narnia and other fictional magic point out that magic is bad? Does it bring the reader from what they ‘know’ to the truth? Does it correct the false thinking which says magic is good and something to be desired?

Our children should not ‘know’ magic like the Greeks ‘knew’ idolatry so as that we need to start with magic to teach them about God’s truth. Paul used it as a springboard and immediately corrected their error. Do most Christians do this with Narnia and Tolkien etc., exposing the lie of magic, and then go on to using God’s truth to teach their children about moral law? Not that I have seen. I think the norm is that we parents get our children excited about the lie (reading exciting books that call evil good, i.e. magic and paganism). We praise the books, and often vehemently defend them.

What is your reaction when you see a world wholly given to magic, paganism, and idolatry? Paul’s reaction is telling … we can see it by starting two verses earlier in the unknown God chapter:

Acts 17:16-17 KJV
[16] Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. [17] Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.

Pau’s spirit was stirred in him when he saw all the idolatry … stirred in him to dispute … and ultimately, to lead them to God through Jesus Christ.

Is that how we are stirred when we see books, movies, and people, wholly given to magic and Paganism?

The unknown god scripture is actually an excellent light to shine on the topic of fictional magic and paganism; it is quite relevant, just not in the way that ‘Learned Larry’ tried to apply it.

One final thought to ponder: what is the fruit of this magical fiction that our children like to read? Do our children move to the truth through these books, do they grow in the grace and knowledge of God, and want more of God?

Or … do they want more magic?

12 Comments

  1. I think you nailed it at the end: they always want more magic. Is this not the way with everything that has a facade of the supernatural but denies the truth? Technology is no different. Notice the clamoring for the new iPhone and iWatch, it has a very “new magic” verve that has legions of followers or worshipers.

    This is an area in which God has convicted me and my wife. He has put it strongly on our hearts to purify what we watch, read, play, think about and so on. I find the majority of believers have some disconnect with what they read in Scripture and what they believe they can intake with media without consequence. Pray that God will awaken hearts to purity in all areas.

    Thanks for the great post.

    Reply
    • Yes, years ago my wife tried to help us with that ‘disconnect’ thing by putting the following scripture over our television: Philippians 4:8 KJV [8] Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
      It didn’t take long before we decided to get rid of our tv. It sure wasn’t easy, and I still fail in so many ways. I praise God for His mercy and grace. I sometimes sit and ponder, wondering what will be the next layer of myself that God will peel back and expose, letting me know He is faithfully continuing to sanctify.

      Reply
  2. Your argument is sound. The use of magic to teach morals is wrong.
    Still, in Tolkien at the very least, any magic that is implicitly considered good does not fit this definition [note that i came up with this myself]:
    Magic- the interference of evil supernatural beings [a.k.a. deamons] through humans in nature.
    Do you consider the parting of the Red Sea magic? Or Peter’s release from jail near the beginning of Acts? I hope not. Yet if it was in fantasy we would call it magic.
    God bless.
    Χαιρε!
    Sincerely,
    RC

    Reply
    • I think I should address the defining of magic in another post, since that could become a pretty long narrative. To your point on calling the parting of the Red Sea magic, I agree with you that men should not call it such. What I disagree with you on is the belief that men can dream up a way to do it anyway. In other words, make up a genre where it is allowed.

      When I was in Thailand I went to see a world traveling illusionist. He was a Christian who shared the gospel during his act. He explained at the beginning of his show why he called himself an illusionist and not a magician. He said that most magicians were actually performing illusions like himself, yet they were pretending that they were getting their powers to do so from the supernatural magical realm. He proceeded to tell us what God thought about magic and then explained that he wanted to make it perfectly clear that he was not doing anything at all like the thing that God hated, so he used the word illusionist instead of magician. He took seriously the admonition in Isaiah 5:20 “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil”

      The context of the Bible makes it clear that the parting of the Red Sea and Peter’s release from jail were acts of God, by God’s will, by His power, through the use of a man and an Angel. And Moses could not just walk around making any body of water part and turn into dry land, any time he wanted to. But, the context of the fantasy genre is that mankind can perform magic/supernatural feats without God and that it is a good thing.

      Reply
      • Mr. Harding,
        Your argument here rests upon teh premise that in a fictional world, it is wrong to have something happen that couldn’t happen naturally here without the intervention of God directly. Could you please prove this?
        If, as i contend, Gandalf was an angel- like being, then his supernatural doings were merely aprt of the anture given him by Eru, that fictioanl universe’s analog of God.
        Tolkien’s world did have a somewhat different mythology, as it lacked a true savior, which i count one of his mythopoiea’s greatest’s weaknesses.
        What about science fiction?
        God Bless
        Sincerely, RC

        Reply
  3. Response to RC “Your argument here rests upon ….”
    Before I begin, I just want to make sure it is clear to you that I’m not upset with this back and forth dialogue in any way. I really appreciate your willingness to discuss the issue, especially the gentlemanly way in which you do it. I hope I come across as respectful and friendly as you do. 🙂

    Isn’t fantasy /mythology literature the realm of the heathen/pagan? Look at its usual defining components: magic/occult, the magical worldview, gods and goddesses, and world’s without the one true God. Should we adopt it? Of course, to find our answer we must find out what the mind of God is on the subject. We must search His Word and desire to line ourselves up with it.

    God says not to worship him in the way that the heathen does, or syncretize with darkness:

    Syncretism: The attempted reconciliation or union of different or opposing principles, practices, or parties, as in philosophy or religion.

    Deuteronomy 12:30,31 (KJV)
    30 Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. 31 Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.

    Leviticus 20:23 (KJV)
    23 And ye shall not walk in the manners of the nation, which I cast out before you: for they committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them.

    2 Corinthians 6:14-16
    14 Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?
    15 And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?
    16 And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
    17 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,

    Lewis and Tolkien at best wrote stories that are out and out Pagan. At worst, they tried to synchretize our God with paganism. Either way, Christianity, for the most part wants to interpret their works as Christian works, when they are not. That is Syncretization. That is concord with Belial. He tells us to be separate.

    Fiction does not happen in a God less vacuum.

    Everything we do, we do because God made it possible, and he wants us to remember Him in every aspect of our lives. Jesus Christ made this world. He made us. He made our imaginations. He made the ability in us to create fiction.

    We can not enter into our imaginations and then close the door to God and say, “You can’t come in here Jesus. I’m making a version of you in here that only fits in my little fictional world.”

    If Tolkien has made a world inside his imagination that keeps the true God out, then through his vain imaginations he has changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image, and the truth of God into a lie. You mentioned that Tolkien’s god Eru is representative of God the Father, yet that cannot be. We don’t have to go far to unmask Eru as a false god. You did it yourself when you said that their is no true savior in middle earth. The true God has a son who died for the sins of the world, and Eru does not. So where does that leave Gandalf, and the other ‘good guy’ characters who practice magic and use magic items throughout the series? Do they not live in a pretend world where magic is good, God is not present, and brethren enter in to play, shutting the door behind them?

    Rev. 3:20
    Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

    Reply
  4. Does your question about Science Fiction have to do with your question on the Genetic Joe post about Clarke’s Law? If so, I’ll try to answer that another day over there. Thanks, RC?

    Reply
    • Mr. Harding,
      I likewise appreciate this discussion and your polite way of stating your arguments. Thank you. I iwll attempt to diminish the frequency of spelling errors that my fingers make and do not correct.
      I would like to make a passing note that every single one of the elements you present as parts of fantasy/ mythology are present in the real world, if you beleive that at least some of the “gods” were actually daemons.
      Technically any fiction could be considered to shut the real God out in a sense, if, as Lewis beleived, this world was the best of all possible ways ot heaven because God is a righteous, perfect God.
      Eru was, as i have said, a flawed picture. Tolkien never meant him to be n analogy to God. Eru is, i beleive, Tolkien’s greatest error. Nevertheless, the basics of Catholic Christian Theology are present in Eru, even if distorted. Do i let Eru change my view of God? no. How therefore is this a false image? it doesn’t pretend to be God. If you find anyone who worships at the altar of Eru, i’d be surprised [note: though i read Jedi is considered a religion. how???(rhetorical question, no need to reply :)]. Tolkien never sets up Eru as a God. He never actually calls Eru a god explicitly in all that i have read, though he does call the valar/ maiar demigods [I think he used this merely for convenience and it may merely have been a description of their might]. Lewis never claimed that Aslan was as great as Christ. In- universe, yes. but he made it clear that Aslan was truly just a pale colorless analog comapred to Christ. Could not we say something similar about what Dante wrote? He imagined a glimpse of what God might be like, but we know that a glimpse would be infinitely greater. Yet is he shutting God out?
      About science ficiton, how do you view things which are scientifically impossible yet done by machinery that is likewise scientifically impossible? Do you consider this magic or a bending of phsyical laws?

      you never address the cases of such peoples as the elves [immortality], dryads [turn into trees], and other creatures of fantasy which possess powers derived form their own nature.
      If i am to never read anything which in the slightest infringes upon that theology whcih i beleive to be correct [I beleive that i probably have flawed theology, i just don’t know exactly where the flaw is], I shan’t be allowed to read anything. I don’t mean that i should just read anythign i want. I should limit any interaction with books past a certain level of wrongness. There are reasons to read or study books such as The Last Days of Socrates or 1984 [which i started to read and grew sick of]. But I’m not going to read books such as Harry Potter of the Hunger Games which have loads of bad theology and provide little edification.
      Note on Star Wars: The Force is a pagan concept. completely. It does not merely possess the theological flaws of Eru, it is a completely different beast. Its pantheistic nature combined with a probable yin-yang balance concept is alien and wrong. Therefore i don’t watch it.
      God bless
      Sincerely, RC

      p.s. 🙂 [I want to see if this makes an emoji or not]

      Reply
  5. Response to RC’s “I likewise appreciate …” post:

    RC “I would like to make a passing note that every single one of the elements that you present as parts of fantasy/mythology are present in the real world ..”

    Yes, exactly. All of these things that God says are evil are actually present in this world. He tells us to stay away from them. My point is that the fantasy genre takes those things that God hates, elevates them to the preeminent functioning worldview, and removes God altogether, or changes who He is. Most fantasy Christians then jump right in with a syncretized God which actually becomes a false god due to that very syncretization.

    RC “Tolkien never meant him (ERU) to be an analogy to God.”

    I am not very familiar with Tolkien. I was basing my comments on your comment which said that Tolkien’s Eru was an analogy for God.

    RC “Nevertheless, the basics of Catholic Christian Theology are present in ERU, even if distorted.”

    This is an incredibly good and insightful point. Catholicism is syncretized paganism and Christianity.

    RC “Do I let Eru change my view of God? No. How therefore is this a false image.”

    This statement doesn’t make sense. Perhaps you didn’t mean it in the way that it sounds. For, we do not recognize false images to be false images based on our reaction to them. They are false if God’s Word defines them as such. For instance. When my mom was an unbeliever she would often tell me that her Jesus of the New Age Movement was the same as the Jesus of the Bible. I would point out the differences and though there were some similarities, hers was a false Jesus that does not save. Her view of Jesus did not change my view of God. According to your logic then, her view would not be false. Yet it is false, regardless of my reaction. I have personally spoken with three people who believed in a false Jesus because of Lewis’s Aslan or Lewis’s Mere Christianity.

    RC “If I am never to read anything which in the slightest infringes on that theology which I believe to be correct I shan’t be allowed to read anything.”

    That is a pretty correct statement. The only problem is that it is a straw man to our discussion. I am not proposing your if statement. I am proposing that we be good Bereans and prove everything with the Bible and strive to have the mind of Christ. I am also proposing that many Christians do not want to do so when it comes to magic in story telling. And finally, I am proposing that If a Christian should decide to read Tolkien and Lewis, or even Rowling’s Harry Potter, that they should do so with their eyes open, compare it to scripture, discern truth from lies, and expose those lies to themselves and others, especially to children.

    Reply
    • Mr. Harding,
      And fiction that elevates the occult, gods, goddesses, and the like is wrong. But not all “magic” elevates the occult and not all fantasy worlds elevate gods and goddesses. Some do [Riordan’s worlds do, from what i have read on the internet]. I admit to reading mythology. I enjoy it. I don’t beleive it. Sometimes it disgusts me with some horrid vileness and i stop that story. I often read it purely to gain story gems that can be transposed, cleansed, and changed.
      I think you misunderstood. I said “analog”. By that i meant that Eru occupies a similar place in the Ardan cosmology.
      I don’t recall any real differences between my understanding of God and teh Catholic idea. Could i have more details? As far as i remember, the true problem with Catholicism was its later embrace of Aristote’s ideas and logic.
      My argumnt was not stated very well. What i mean was: “Eru is not set up as God. I have yet to see anybody who beleives in Eru or worships him. How therefore is he an idol any more than anything else besides God?” New Age “Jesus” is set up as God. Eru isn’t.
      About your last paragraph: Ok, agreed. I see your point.
      I would also like to note that you have stopped arguing against fictional magic; you are more arguing against Tolkien and fictional analogs of God.
      God bless.
      RC
      p.s. I am sorry for my lack of polite beginngs and endings to my other comments today. I would edit them if i could.

      Reply
  6. Great to hear from you again RC. Reposting instead of replying directly so it takes up less space on certain screens.

    RC: “I think you misunderstood. I said “analog”. By that i meant that Eru occupies a similar place in the Ardan cosmology.”

    My dictionary only has one definition for ‘analog’ which is “of or pertaining to a mechanism that represents data by measurement of a continuous physical variable, as voltage or pressure.” I didn’t think you meant that. But your own definition, ‘occupies a similar place in’, seems to fit with the term ‘analogy’ or ‘analogous to’. I guess I might not understand what exactly you mean by ‘analog’, but it seems like we are talking about the same concept.

    RC: “I don’t recall any real differences between my understanding of God and the Catholic idea. Could i have more details? As far as i remember, the true problem with Catholicism was its later embrace of Aristote’s ideas and logic.”

    Catholicism’s Jesus is sacrificed again and again on their eucharist altars for our sins and for the sins of the dead. Catholicism’s Jesus paid part of the price for sin on the cross and continues to pay part at the table, and men must pay the rest with their works. Catholicism makes images of their gods. Mary is the sinless Queen of Heaven. Purgatory … and on and on it goes. If you are interested in reading much of this from source documents, then I would recommend the Catechism of the Catholic Church which can also be found on the Vatican Website. I wouldn’t recommend asking a Catholic if these things are true because most of them have a very limited understanding of what their church actually teaches.

    RC: “I would also like to note that you have stopped arguing against fictional magic; you are more arguing against Tolkien and fictional analogs of God.”

    I thought I was responding to you having brought up Tolkien. I do believe though that Magic and the Magic worldview is linked very strongly to demons/false gods, and therefore the discussion of the gods and goddesses of fantasy literature is pertinent to the argument. And of course, both Tolkien and Lewis are also relevant, since Christians hold them up as their fantasy heroes leading the masses into Christian-fantasy-magic.

    RC: I am sorry for my lack of polite beginngs and endings to my other comments today. I would edit them if i could.

    I haven’t read anything you’ve posted as anything other than polite 🙂

    Reply
    • Mr. Harding
      Sorry that i most probably misused “analog”.
      Yes, Middle Earth has some deeply flawed theology, though Tolkien did eliminate Purgatory, at least tentatively. A savior isn’t outlawed in the world, but it isn’t mentioned either, something i felt to be the greatest flaw of the books.
      Now, Eru is not God nor is he anything as great. He does occupy the same place in Ardan cosmology. But he is not a false god because a false god [idol] is something somebody does or did worship more than God. Eru is not meant to be worshipped at all.
      Thank you.
      God bless.
      Sincerely, RC

      Reply

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