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Waaaaiiiiit a Minute…

whoop by jason tinder, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  jason tinder 
(It’s a whooping crane.)
(Get it? Like, “Whoops!”)

I was trapped on a plane today for several hours, and as I am wont to do when that happens, I either read or listen to podcasts. Today was a podcast kind of day.

As it happens, one of the podcasts I listened to was The Creative Penn hosted by Joanna Penn. It’s a new podcast for me, and I’m still trying to decide if I like it enough to keep listening. For now, it’s interesting and a keeper.

The episode I heard was “Writing Religion and Spirituality With Jill Carroll.” Jill Carroll, as it turns out, is a doctor of world religions. She and Joanna had an hour-long talk about how your own faith (or lack thereof) informs your writing, and how writing characters who follow specific faiths (or none) can help make them more rounded characters.

Which brings me to my epiphany.

When I listen to writing podcasts—and I listen to several—I almost always end up thinking about how whatever the host(s) (& guest(s)) are saying can apply to whatever I’m currently writing. In this case, I’ve been restructuring my urban fantasy universe in my head. I haven’t put much of it down on “paper,” yet, but it’s churning around up in my cerebellum, making waves.

I describe it to people as “It’s paranormal FBI agents and Atlanta police solving crimes in modern Atlanta, only magic works.”

One of the main three characters is a devout Catholic. I know almost nothing about the Catholic religion, so I’ve been glossing over that when I write him. Just mostly using it as “background information” that the writer (me) knows, but the reader (hopefully, you, one day) is not necessarily even aware of, except that that bit of information informs how the character reacts to things that happen in the book.

And that’s when it hit me: in my world, magic is . . . well, it’s special in that not just everyone can do it, but the ones who can do it can pretty much do miracles.

In a world where many people can perform genuine, demonstrable, repeatable, scientifically verifiable “miracles,” . . . well, what place does religion based on miracle-working have in that world?

I just love it—no, really, I do—when a passing thought causes me to go “Oh, crap,” and rethink pretty much everything.

Of course, there’s still the concept of divinity and having a direct line to a god or gods (as it were). But if my characters can do things that are only in the purview of gods in our real world, what, then, is a religion in a world of magic?

I’m gonna have to think on that one.

Originally published at WriteWright. You can comment here or there.



Atheists Are People, Too  Antispam  

Comments

( 3 hisses — Hiss at me! )
izmeina
Jul. 12th, 2012 04:13 pm (UTC)
A Mystical Emerald Serpent
You want information on The One True Church? Feel free to ask this ever so lapsed serpent who was brought up in the Catholic tradition but abandoned its ways for darker pastures

Izzie is ever so grateful to have grown up in the Land of Oz where the Catholic schools here were less religious than the state schools of the Emerald Isle. There they would celebrate Mass to celebrate the beginning of a new minute. The Australian version of Catholicism was almost like atheism there.
Even in secondary school back in the early 80s they considered it a sin to question religion. The Izzie and her brother and sister were considered to be the resident rebels

There is a lot to be said for being the eternal outsider. In Australia the Izzie was Irish and in Ireland was most definitely Australian.

Ever so curious to know what is your definition of magic. The Arthur C Clarke is the best one so far.
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

What pisses this serpent off big time is that so many folks are so obsessed with the whole miracle and resurrection from the dead stuff that they completely neglect what a cool critter JC was, Such a snark and a rebel. The parables and the drama in the desert (immortalized by Dostoyevsky in that chapter "The Grand Inquisitor" in The Brother Karamazov) is the stuff of genius
Still searching for an online copy of the fascinating essay "The power tactics of Jesus Christ" by Jay Haley

Izzie loves lurking in the 'invisible world' too much to be an atheist or agnostic although it is so much fun to see Richard Dawkins or Peter Singer make mincemeat out of brainless believers
siercia
Jul. 12th, 2012 05:28 pm (UTC)
What an interesting thing to think about!

I have a couple of initial thoughts - depending on how demonstrable, repeatable and scientifically verifiable an action is - would it be considered a miracle? Does the answer change if more than one person can do it? How many have to be able to do it before that answer changes? Thinking here of other awesome physical / mental abilities - most people can't run a mile in under four minutes (even if they trained and trained and trained; yet no one thinks that it's a miracle that some people can (we also don't think it's magic, which opens up a whole bunch of other thoughts and questions). If everyone can do magic (or anyone can, given enough work and study) then they're not miracles; but only seem like they should be because they are in OUR world.

The Church has always recognized that there are people who are capable of performing miracles (and makes them into saints). If magic working was confined to a small group of people, then I think you'd see a paradigm where the Church would come up with a classification for those people - or at least an explanation that allowed both the co-exist.

As far as Catholicism being a religion based on miracle-working, I'm not sure that's a fair thumbnail sketch of the theology of the religion, which is why I think the two would be able to successfully co-exist.
kaasirpent
Jul. 12th, 2012 06:26 pm (UTC)
I have a couple of initial thoughts - depending on how demonstrable, repeatable and scientifically verifiable an action is - would it be considered a miracle?

I meant that we in the "real world" would consider it miraculous, but that is a good point as well. If it's well known that certain people can, for instance, move things with the power of their mind or create multi-sensory illusions, or create fire, etc., those things would not be considered miraculous by the people inhabiting that world.

As far as Catholicism being a religion based on miracle-working, I'm not sure that's a fair thumbnail sketch of the theology of the religion, which is why I think the two would be able to successfully co-exist.

Fair enough. I over-simplified because I didn't want to take the time to find a more precise way of saying it. I wrote the post last night before bed, and I was tired and submitted it almost without review, this morning. :)

Perhaps better way of saying what I meant is this: the religions I'm at least passingly familiar with have a component in them of the miraculous that, if that component were to be removed, would fundamentally change the religion.

I certainly think the Judeo-Christian religions have a strong component of magic/miracles/the supernatural. If one removed all of the that from the various books, what would be left other than a philosophy? Would the story of Moses, for instance, even work without it? The parting of the Red Sea, the plagues, etc.? What about Jonah being swallowed by a large fish and living to tell about it? The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and Lot's wife being turned into a pillar of salt? Noah?

Thomas Jefferson famously took the Christian New Testament and excised all the supernatural stuff, leaving only the philosophy. He apparently believed that the philosophy was sound, but that the other stuff was unnecessary to the core of the religion.

I'd wager there are people to whom that is bordering on or crossing into blasphemy.

most people can't run a mile in under four minutes (even if they trained and trained and trained; yet no one thinks that it's a miracle that some people can (we also don't think it's magic, which opens up a whole bunch of other thoughts and questions)

And that is also an excellent point. But, how about this? Take our fastest runners of today and transport them back in time to, say, the first Olympics. Let our current record-holder beat the absolute snot out of those people. What would people say about them?

A lot of authors and TV/movie writers have had fun with taking current technology back into the past (or bringing those in the past up to the present) and playing with how the past receives what we think of as the everyday mundane, but to them is, indeed, magic. Possibly of the blackest kind. Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure may, in fact, be one of the better representations of that conceit. The scene where a young Mozart encounters electronic keyboards, and Joan of Arc discovers exercise videos... :)

I'll note that Jim Butcher gets past all this by having all of it be 100% true. God and angels and Satan and demons—as well as unicorns, fairies, elves, werewolves, vampires, other gods, etc.—do exist, and Harry has met a good number of them. The characters don't have any reason to question any of it. One of the main recurring characters that I like very much is Father Forthill, who is a Catholic priest right in the thick of real magic.

I'm probably still missing the boat, because I'm typing this between breakfast and the first event I'm going to on the first day of TAM, so most of my brain is elsewhere. :)
( 3 hisses — Hiss at me! )

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