As you can guess from the title in this post we go back to a controversy no-one is asking for and resume my (theoretical) explorations of the occult (unofficially called the occultmergent series) and its intersection with Christianity. More specifically we’ll look at a very important principle in both magical/new-age traditions and the Christian faith, namely willpower and strong faith.
We can start safely in the realm of the psychological: Willpower and belief generally have a very strong influence on yourself. Or even on people around you, since it can be infectious. People are very sensitive to suggestion, and it is often true that if you believe you can do something, the chance of it happening is a lot bigger than if you believe for 100% that you won’t be able to do it. That’s quite basic, but the effects can be quite strong. Auto-suggestion can be very effective, and placebo can even heal people sometimes while they’re not been given any medication.
The same thing works with the outside world, starting with the beings around us: If we behave towards people expecting something, there is a bigger chance of getting what we want often. If we approach a dog as if it’s going to bite us, chances are big it will bite us. If we approach it friendly chances are much bigger it will be friendly…
Let’s note here already that those things never work in an absolute way. The only thing they can do is increase the chance that something will happen, even if it is just with a few percent…
Let’s go a bit further now. So far we’ve stayed just in the natural realm; but a lot of people go further than this, and will say that the same effect works not just with ourselves, people or animals, but also with the universe and the natural world. This exists in more forms, but let’s start here with the ‘law of attraction’, which in this current time is probably best known as the basic idea behind the selfhelp-bestseller The secret, although the term and idea are a lot older and originating in the new though movement. Wikipedia sums it up in the following terms:
The law of attraction is the name given to the belief that “like attracts like” and that by focusing on positive or negative thoughts, one can bring about positive or negative results.
This is the same as older books named with titles as Think and grow rich preached and is said to be something that has been practised by people who became billionaires through it. The whole idea is that you focus your thoughts and will on something you want, and really believe that you will get it, and then, eh, you get it. Usually there’s a few steps that are given, like these three from the secret:
The creative process as portrayed in the extended version of the movie The Secret involves three steps to attracting all your desires.
1. Ask – You must know what you want. I mean, really know what you want. The universe can’t deliver without first knowing what it is that you want to have manifested into your life.
2. Believe – You need to truly believe that what you are asking for will become yours. Doubts need to be pushed away. The idea that failure is a possibility will mess up the delivery.
3. Receive – It is important that you become an active player in reaching your goals. When opportunity comes your way you must not hesitate. Grab the brass ring when it appears
Put this way, I would call this nothing but a very primitive form of magic. Trying to manipulate the world around us through techniques that work in the invisible realm. I actually do not believe that it can be seen as ‘summoning magic’ (‘the universe’ cannot be summoned as if it was a genie in a bottle and made our slave) and I am strongly inclined to think that whatever is happening here, it is only misguidedly framed here as a petitioning prayer with the Universe in the role of a Divine coke machine that gives you everything if you just ask it the right way. But I do not really doubt that it can work sometimes. (I have heard from people that it works. Focussing willpower and faith can have effect beyond the psychological effects and outside of ourselves.)
Note also that, I only say here that it might work, not that I agree with all the explanations behind it. The universe is not a Divine coke machine and God does not give whatever we ask either no matter what some ‘name it and claim it’ prosperity preachers tell us. And regardless of what some believers say, this does at all not work all the time. We need at least 2 ‘amendments’, which are actually things that I spoke of earlier when we were still in the realm of the psychological: Firstly it is not working absolutely, but increasing chances, and secondly, some people are better with it than others. ‘Magic’ is as much of a talent that some persons have and others don’t as playing music or painting, and like other talents it needs to be refined, even by those who use it unconsciously… So for some people it will work better and for some it will not work at all…
If we go back our topic, for by now at least Christians in my readership will have recognised this in a way very similar a much simpler version of it believed by certain charismatic/pentecostal Christians: Derek Prince’s ‘blessing and curse’ idea is actually very close to this for example, except for the absence of blah-blah about the Universe and a Christian way of framing the whole thing. But the principle is identical: If you speak positive things blessings will happen, but if you speak negative things curses are cast, that can have negative impact on your life, and that one might never get rid of unless they are broken in the name of Jesus. You can find a whole lot of things that might cause curses in your life according to Derek Prince here, ranging from illicit sex and anti-Semitism (yes, really!) to saying negative things to your daughter.
Or, let’s say the father has a daughter, 15. Like some young ladies of fifteen she has acne. And the father has to drive her to school every day and every day she’s up there in the bedroom putting things on her pimples. And so she’s late. And so the father gets exasperated and one day he says, “You’ll never get rid of those pimples, you’ll have pimples for the rest of your life.” Fifteen years later she’s a married woman with children of her own and she is still struggling with her acne. Why? Because of a curse.
While I would place this specific example probably just in the realm of the purely psychological with psychosomatic effects, I do not at al want to say that there is not something real behind this idea. But again, it is exaggerated into the extreme and a lot taken too much as an absolute all-pervasive reality by some. I’ve met Christians who lived in fear of negative words and got cramped by everything that they or other uttered that might be a ‘curse’… Which is a very unhealthy outlook on life, based on a half-truth, and another adventure in completely missing the point… (And the opposite of anything that could be called ‘freedom in Christ’)
There is a lot we can say about having strong faith. Surely Christians believe that having faith is important for a lot of reasons, and Jesus says that we can let a mountain drop itself in the sea if we have faith as big as a mustard seed (which is mostly probable to be taken as just a figure of speech, there are not much examples of mountain-moving faithful in history, with the spectacular exception of the Egyptian Saint Samaan…) But Christians should have faith in Christ, faith in God, faith in the Holy Spirit. Not just enough faith in the impossible so that it happens. That’s not Christian faith, that’s a form of magic.
Actually this power of strong belief does not have anything to do with God or Christianity, it is also acknowledged in a lot of other traditions, as for example in a very interesting and unsettling way in the postmodern magical tradition of Chaos magic, where it is seen as a very strong and potent power to get things done (regardless of the content of that belief, it is just a tool here). Mindreality dot com describes it like this:
Chaos magic works with metabelief. It is the belief that belief itself is only a tool for achieving effects and not an end in itself. It means that you can belief anything you want, but it is the belief alone that has power. It is the idea that belief is nothing more than a state of mind, and as such, can be manipulated by the will. Magic is the act of causing change in accordance with will, whether it be lower will or higher will. It is the will that moves the energy of reality.Belief is a psychological state that can be deliberately self-manipulated, although it has the power to shape our own reality, and sometimes other people’s reality as well. It is the means not the end, the vehicle not the destination. Any object that you use and any belief that you choose is just a means for magic to work its effect. Hence it is the most powerful form of magic in the universe because it involves and transcends all other forms of magic. Chaos is the creative principle behind all magic. (color markings from the original source)
I would say that this ‘belief as a tool to cause change’ is exactly what’s happening in all the other stuff we’ve been speaking about, both in the psychological realm and beyond (except for prayers answered by an act of the Creator breaking in into Creation, which is a miracle.). It might as well be just a ‘law of nature’ that isn’t recognised as such, but I do have the idea that it can be abused in sinister ways. (Even when we stay in the psychological realm btw.)
I do have to note one thing here, that isn’t such a problem if we take the route that I make here, but that is often a big problem when people take this kind of thinking to the absolute. I’ve actually encountered this in both Christians and new-agers equally. The problem is that the idea that you absolutely can ‘make it happen’ through enough faith or positive thinking or whatever, is that it can very easily lead to victim-blaming and the kind of mentality that makes the friends of Job look like very understanding compassionate guys! If something bad happens to you, you did something wrong. You didn’t that enough faith. You’ve attracted bad thoughts, whatever the way it’s explained, it is your fault. And the ones without problems get very cold and take a distance, since the victim is to blame for their own problems.
This is why I repeat now again that none of this is absolute, and that if this kind of magic does work, all it does is increase the chance that something happens. It’s always possible that something else happens no matter how much faith and willpower and whatever you have, for a whole range of reasons that has nothing to do with you at all. You are not by any measure the most powerful being in the universe… Not God nor the universe can be put in your pocket as a tool to accomplish whatever you want without fail. The opposite is true, Christians are not promised that God will give us everything we want and take away all our problems, but that God will be with us, even if we find ourselves in the valley of death. Jesus became one of us to suffer with us and finally die on a cross… It is only in self-giving, not in grabbing power and success, that Christians believe that Jesus could defeat sin, death and evil in the resurrection.
And I probably should add that the Christian God is not at all an impersonal force that we can tap into to accomplish whatever we want, but a sovereign Being with His own will, and the Creator of all we see and not see. It does not matter how much faith we have, sometimes the answer will be ‘NO’ if we ask something. We cannot use the Creator to get everything we want, and we cannot ascribe whatever we get through this king of ‘name it and claim it’ techniques to the Creator either…
(The most dark side of this kind of thinking is that taken to the extreme everyone in misery has brought it upon themselves, like the people in third world countries, wars, accidents, natural disasters and whatever. Here this line of thinking becomes just straight evil, and completely unchristian… Remember also the tower of Siloam)
And as a last note I should say(like I said before), I do fear that in certain hypercharismatic environments it might happen that people do bypass God, and work certain ‘supernatural’ effect on their own, just through human magic as I’ve described it here. I’m saying human magic here as I’ve described it here, not demonic influence as most of those people would see magic, but still it’s not Gods work, just human work. Elvis has left the building… Which is why the more unhealthy hypercharismatic corner of Christianity can be swimming in a sea of supernatural stuff without barely anything of Jesus left… If we have to have faith as a Christian, it is to be faith in God, faith in Christ, faith in the Holy Spirit. Not just faith in having enough faith to get something. That would just be a Christian version of ‘the secret’, or even chaos magic…
What do you think?