Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Pat Robertson on Miracles

Before delving into today's topic, I want to point out that unlike a certain subset of occultists I have no problem with Christianity as a spiritual system. When I was younger I was Christian and quite religious, and the reason that I drifted first into Hermeticism and later Thelema was that I wanted to know how to manipulate the "levers" that make the universe run, not out of any sort of rebellion. I do have some problems with fundamentalists and with individuals who treat their spirituality as a social club, but neither of those impulses is exclusive to Christianity. I issue this disclaimer because lately it seems to me like a lot of recent articles here have either been critical toward or making fun of Christians, and I want to stress that this is not because they're Christians and I'm a Thelemite. It's because some of them keep doing such ridiculous things.

With that being said, to work. Today's silliness comes once more from influential televangelist Pat Robertson, who has been featured more than once here on Augoeides. On a recent broadcast of his 700 Club television series, Robertson explained to a viewer that the reason miracles happen in place like Africa and not here in the United States is that we're too well educated and know too much about science.

“People overseas didn’t go to Ivy League schools,” the TV preacher laughed. “We’re so sophisticated, we think we’ve got everything figured out. We know about evolution, we know about Darwin, we know about all these things that says God isn’t real.”

“We have been inundated with skepticism and secularism,” he conintued. “And overseas, they’re simple, humble. You tell ‘em God loves ‘em and they say, ‘Okay, he loves me.’ You say God will do miracles and they say, ‘Okay, we believe him.’”

“And that’s what God’s looking for. That’s why they have miracles.”

First off, I want to correct the statement that evolution somehow proposes that "God isn't real." Evolution has nothing to do with metaphysical speculation. One of the big mistakes that a lot of creationists make is the belief that the theory of evolution asserts that mutations are truly random - that is, they are completely independent of any outside forces whatsoever and occur along strictly statistical grounds. The very existence of environmental mutagens, for example, demonstrates clearly that this is not the case. In fact, the theory of evolution says nothing about where mutations come from, just that adaptive ones are preserved because they contribute to the survival of the species and that over long time intervals the accumulation of such traits can lead to the development of a new and distinct species that is more adapted to its environment than the original ancestor. This isn't just me pointing this out, either - the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church, the world's largest Christian denomination, has explicitly stated that there is no conflict between Christian theology and evolution. It's just evangelicals like Robertson who are convinced that evolution is somehow anti-God.

At any rate, as far as "miracles" happening where people know little about science goes, I find myself agreeing with Robertson but for a completely different reason. Miracles seem to happen more often in some parts of Africa because people there who lack critical thinking skills are easily fooled into seeing events that are unusual but which have normal causes as miraculous. You know what also happens in Africa? Witches who transform into cats or goats. Prostitutes who mysteriously transform into donkeys overnight. Sorcerers who steal penises. And the list goes on. What all these things have in common with "miracles" is that according to the normal laws of physics such things are impossible. So either the laws of the natural world are different in Africa than they are here, or the people reporting these events lack the skepticism necessary to distinguish rumor and hearsay from factual information.

I would contend that a skeptical approach makes me a better mystic and magician. By skepticism here I don't mean the knee-jerk approach of professional debunkers, who essentially assert that probability shifts of less than a thousand to one don't exist. Instead, I apply methods more akin to what one finds in actual scientific research, in which I make observations, formulate hypotheses, and then test those hypotheses under conditions as close to controlled laboratory conditions as possible - with some allowances made for the fundamentally subjective nature of consciousness. It does a magician no good to formulate practices according to superstitions that may or may not be true, so in my opinion this sort of testing is crucial to working out the best and most effective magical methods based on the real results that they produce in his or her life.

Here's another question - let's say that Robertson is right and being less skeptical and educated makes God more likely to expose you to the miraculous. If his example is Africa, one has to assume that this lack of education also opens you up to shapeshifting criminals, animal prostitutes, and penis thieves. Does that really sound like a good trade?

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