Monday, 5 September 2016

Magic and Nonsense in Religion

Two very different comments on my elegy for David Jenkins. A man who in many ways summed up the problems caused when intelligent people try to engage with the rest of us. Kind of road tested the issue, before Rowan Williams came along and really kicked into gear with the whole intellectual incomprehensibility game.

In particular, Nickalong says,
"Those of us who do not want magic and nonsense in our religion are grateful for the life and work of Bishop Jenkins, and any reading of 1 Corinthians 15 reveals a mass of rhetoric and confusion which it is a Christian duty to resolve into a coherent faith as quickly as possible."

To which my response is, well mostly not. I mean, taking the definitions implied in Thomas's magisterial* work, Religion and the Decline of Magic, "Magic" is trying to force the supernatural to do what it is told - conjuring spirits; reciting spells to have a defined effect; enacting rituals to force a sympathetic response. While religion is attempt to approach the supernatural in a state of supplication and, instead of ordering, plead in the name of your God.

Or to look at it another way, Science works. Magic doesn't. And Religion doesn't need to.

But nonsense is really important. Religion often doesn't make sense. To take a suggestion of trying to make sense of the Resurrection appearances. You can't harmonise them. This bodily resurrected Jesus appears randomly to disciples; walks through walls or manifests into thin air; eats fish; meets them in Jerusalem, Galilee and by the sea side then floats off in a cloud. You can't make sense from this. You can figure there was something behind it, then have the humility to stop there. Your brain, my brain, David Jenkins' brain - none could be big enough to rationalise it without importing our own presuppositions - modernist ones, mostly - into the case.

Don't try and sort out the rhetoric and confusion, that's what I'm saying.

You will lose the magic.



  1. Grateful for our agreement about Magic and the revelatory quotation.

    Still not convinced that "Stop making sense" is a useful religious direction. I expect poetry and imagery, and the sideways look at reality; the transcendent and the cloud of unknowing, but underneath it all (I feel) should be sense of coherence and explanation.

  2. Oh, and by the way, I look to my priests for help with this...


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