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Saturday, December 12, 2009

David Bentley Hart on magic

I'm still reading parts of David Bentley Hart's book Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies at Google Books, and thought I'd post a small excerpt from it on magic.

Hart seems to think that the church was not the main impetus in witch hunting. He opines that the practitioners of magic had more to fear from secular government than from the church. I don't know if this is true, but I do find interesting his idea of magic as a morally neutral mastery of unseen but non-transcendent forces of the created cosmos.

Here's a bit of it ....


In many cases it was those who were most hostile to the power of the church to intervene in secular affairs who were also most avid to see the power of the state express itself in the merciless destruction of those most perfidious of dissidents, witches .....

In truth, the rise of modern science and the early modern obsession with sorcery were not merely contemporaneous currents within Western society but were two closely allied manifestations of the development of a new post-Christian sense of human mastery over the world. There is nothing especially outrageous in such a claim. After all, magic is essentially a species of materialism; if it invokes any agencies beyond the visible sphere, they are not supernatural -- in the theological sense of "transcendent" -- but at most preternatural: they are merely, that is to say, subtler, more potent aspects of the physical cosmos. Hermetic magic and modern science (in its most Baconian form at least) are both concerned with hidden forces within the material order, forces that are largely impersonal and morally neutral, which one can learn to manipulate, and which may be turned to ends fair or foul; both, that is to say, are concerned with domination of the physical cosmos, the instrumental subjection of nature to humanity, and the constant increase of human power. Hence, there was not really any late modern triumph of science over magic, so much as there was a natural dissolution of the latter into the former, as the power of science to accomplish what magic could only adumbrate became progressively more obvious. Or, rather, "magic" and "science" in the modern period are distinguishable only retrospectively, according to relative degrees of efficacy. There never was, however, an antagonism between the two: metaphysically, morally, and conceptually, they belonged to a single continuum ....... (pp. 81-82)



Blogger Liam said...

I don't enough about the early modern period to opine on the church role in the witch hunts, although it's true they happened in both Protestant and Catholic countries.

I have read a bit about magic in the late medieval period and I would agree that it was considered a "scientific" endeavor -- finding out and manipulating the occult powers in the universe.

8:30 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Liam,

I was wondering what you would say about this. The wikipedia page on witch hunts says ...

During the Early Middle Ages, the Church did not itself conduct witch trials. However, witch trials were the direct result of Church doctrine .... Pope John XXII formalized the persecution of witchcraft in 1320 when he authorized the Inquisition to prosecute sorcerors.[10] In 1484 Pope Innocent VIII issued Summis desiderantes affectibus, a Papal bull authorising two inquisitors, Kramer and Sprenger, to systemize the persecution of witches.[11]

Wasn't John Dee a sort of science/magic guy?

8:46 PM  
Blogger Mike L said...

Interesting article, as usual, Crystal. Along strange lines I did have the chance to read some of the results of experiments by the military on telepathy and other psychic powers, and they were very interesting. For one they indicated that telepathy works, but is generally very noisy and not very reliable. I was also associated with a rather secret project that some psychic pretty well nailed down the location of where the experiment was being performed.

While I believe that 99.999% of what we see on television etc is pure trickery (and some of it is amazing), there are some strange abilities that humans seem to posses and sometimes can use.


Mike L

7:38 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Mike,

I remember an X-Files episode about the military using psychics for "remote viewing".. I think there's a movie out about it now - The Men Who Stare at Goats (George Clooney). You always know about the most interesting things :)

12:19 PM  

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