Thursday, September 18, 2008

The magical world of god

I think I see what the attraction might be. I don't think that this is the reason that every religious person chooses their particular lifestyle, and I don't even think that this is the one reason that anyone lives a religious lifestyle. But something struck me as I watched a YouTube video of a Saudi Cleric give a talk about mice. The punchline of the video is that he says Mickey Mouse should be killed because 'god calls mice little corrupters. '

Imagine living in a world where mice were actually controlled by evil spirits! Imagine living in a world where god watched every little thing that transpired; as my faith waned over the past decade, I saw the world less and less like this, and by now the thought is just ludicrous. But it reminds me of a fantasy world not unlike Dungeons & Dragons - a game, incidentally, that I was not allowed to play because... I'm not really certain why it was banned, but it isn't too difficult to figure out. I think that most Christians in America have a relatively limited concept of a 'spiritual world.' I intend that as a point in their favor. I think that most (clearly not all) of today's American Christians are far more grounded in reality than they were in times past. There are plenty who believe that the world is only six thousand years old, that snakes used to have legs and the ability to talk and that magic was performed on a regular basis right up until the point when accurate records could be kept. This belief, although it is professed loudly, is more of a philosophical nature than practical. Aside from a few absurd groups - Mennonites and the Amish, for example - they live as though science is right about these things. They employ vaccines, they have iPods, they drive cars - some even recycle and use low-energy light bulbs. In other words, they treat things and live their lives as though the world were a natural place.

This is not the way of the fantastic. In Harry Potter's universe, for example, technology is not generally employed. New magic is developed, new spells are written or discovered or something, and new magical items are really just 'more magical' than the last. This is not quite the same as technology - it is just more of the same, adjusted to meet the needs of the day. And that, from where I stand, is what the magical world of god looks like. There is just one book (many books actually, but one per faith) and it has to be stretched and pulled into every situation. This is how people believe that Satan controls mice and that sex is not to be trusted and that painful childbirth is a punishment for something that happened six thousand years ago. Snakes could talk, giant fish swallowed people whole and allowed them to live for three days before being spit out healthy and ready to go (the story of Jonah, incidentally, sublimely demonstrates a story that is the product of its time).

So why is this preferable? Just ask any D&D or WoW (World of Warcraft, which I also do not play - although I am now allowed - is today's immersive alternate reality) player why they spend hours of their real life pretending that their life is something different. Ask them why they would rather sit for hours in their parents' garage or in front of their tiny computer screen instead of going outside to live in the real world. In their false life they are something they could never be in real life - magicians, warriors, elves, or specially chosen children of god. They have powers too - magic spells, incredible strength, faith that could, potentially, move mountains and the power of prayer that can speak to the creator of the universe.

And then there is the landscape, the universe within the universe. In World of Warcraft, the universe is quite small, but endlessly adjustable - for all purposes it is infinite. The lands are full of creatures that provide conflict that is ultimately surmountable. So it is with the religious worldview - evil is everywhere! Although the stakes are higher, there is a goal, a purpose to life. There is something that is being lived for and somewhere in the corner, your points are being accrued.

Both are fantastic and both are tragic because both fail to see the world for what it is. I maintain that the world is more amazing for the absence of god and creation. I look at rocks and marvel that they are millions of years old. They have been stepped upon by thousands of creatures, including humans, for centuries. The stone that I sit on has been sat upon by many people, most of whom are dead now. We can share this stone, I think. I will die and centuries from now someone else may sit in that same spot. It may be a strange thing to think, but it amazes me. Hurricanes that sweep through our country dump water and dust that has traveled from Africa. And even if the world's economy turns to dust, the plants and rivers and animals in the forests will continue to live. The rocks will still be there. I love the thought that I am not special. I love the thought that I am a part of this vast fabric. I love knowing that, in some way, we are all the same; we are all made of stars. I know it sounds overly romanticised, but unlike the thought of heaven, hell or Orc attacks, this is real. This is tangible. This is outside right now! And it is a beautiful day outside!

1 comment:

Fourstorymistake said...

Wow! Really beautiful entry, Nathaniel! I enjoyed reading it.