Christianity has declined because it no longer believes in magic

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Some thoughts prompted by reading John Michael Greer here. JMG says, “I’m far from the only person to notice that something very strange has been happening to Christianity for quite a long time now. The liberal denominations that used to be the mainstream capitulated to atheism back in the 1950s — you’ll have to look long and hard to find ministers in any liberal church who actually, literally believe in the objective reality of the God whose weekly worship they’re paid to conduct—and now function mostly as charitable foundations and political-action committees with a sideline in rites of passage.” Then later on he says, “Valerie Flint, in her brilliant book The Rise of Magic in Early Medieval Europe, has documented that a core reason Christianity was able to spread so rapidly across Europe, winning support from local warlords and kings, was that Christian monastics and clergy earned a reputation for being better at magic than their Pagan rivals: better, that is, at delivering the goods that religion is supposed to deliver.”

I think there is a very great deal of truth in this (I leave aside the category mistake that JMG makes about ‘God’ and gods).

Specifically, I see the death of the mainstream churches (in the West) as rooted in a surrender to a scientific spirit which – as part and parcel of that spirit – also rejects any acceptance of magic and (what is commonly called) the supernatural.

If the church doesn’t dispense magic – and the most magical elements of Christianity are the sacraments – then it no longer has a spiritual purpose, and JMG’s description is justified.

Magic here must be understood in its proper sense, not Harry Potter-esque action at a distance, but rather as the changing of consciousness in accordance with will. In Christian terms it is about the renewing of our minds.

How many clergy actually take spiritual warfare seriously in their daily lives? I am only beginning to, and I am aware of how far I have to go in developing this, yet I am very conscious that – most especially from the viewpoint of the institution – I am a bizarre outlier. It’s a marker for how far the scientistic spirit has taken root within the church itself.

I am conscious of having written about this in greater depth in my book: “With you is my contention O priest!” I am quite certain that unless we attend to this deep spiritual wound within our common life then everything else we do will be of nothing worth.

Which is another way of saying: the first commandment must come first, and because that is laughed at within the church, this is why we die.

(Perhaps the problem is that different factions within the church claim the right to say what the first commandment means. At least the RC church doesn’t have that problem.)

Something to add to my musings about the Church of England. I do not yet have a solution; but I am working on it.

4 thoughts on “Christianity has declined because it no longer believes in magic

  1. Dear Sir,

    I’m new to your blog – for now, I’ll abstain from the “right vs. wrong” side of mankind.
    I’ve posted a comment on Mr. Greer’s post you refer to above. In it, I have tried to draw some attention regarding Emanuel Swedenborg. To me, he seems like a good example of someone trying to bring back some magic into Christianity, at the expense of being labeled as insane by his former science acolytes, and largely (purposefully?) ignored by Church authorities – am I wrong?

    Kind regards.

  2. I’d be interested in knowing more about the “category mistake” you allude to. Concerning the spread of Christianity, I said much the same in my doctoral thesis on Orthodox mission methods, comparing medieval monastic missionaries and 19th century rationalist ones. Premodern missionaries, like Aaron, threw down sticks that turned into snakes that wasllowed all the shapely wisdom of Pharaoh’s magicians; modern missionaries, on the other hand, build schools to teach people that sticks don’t turn into snakes. Christianity has become a classroom religion.

    • Did you see the link to my article about the category mistake? You’re absolutely right about the rationalism and mission – still working out what the implications of that are in our post-rational age!

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