Creative Arts with Patrick Moore


What will the Effects Be, of Pope Francis saying that God is Not a Magician with a Magic Wand?
November 5, 2014, 3:20 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Pope Francis said last week:

“When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so…

Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”

Many have already commented on this and I will not re-hash what has already been written. This blog post will bring up new ideas, questions and speculations that I have not yet seen written in the press, blogs or comments on the news.

Some commentators have rightly said that Pope Francis’ statement is not as new as everyone seems to think. However, his wording is new. To say God is not a magician with a magic wand, addresses the heart of the controversy between Science, with a capital S, and Religion with a capital R.

Science’s main complaint about Religion, in the last 50 to 100 years, has been that God as depicted in scriptures often breaks the laws of nature. For example, in Joshua 10:12-13 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Joshua+10%3A12-13&version=NRSV , God stops the day from progressing to night. The Israelites were in a bloody battle, and night was approaching. As often happened in battles in olden times, weather or nightfall can make a big difference in whether the battle is won or lost. Joshua’s side needed more time before it got dark. So Joshua prayed to God to not let the sun move westward. And God stopped the sun from moving.

For the sun to stop moving toward the West, it appears that God would have to have broken one of the laws of motion (an object in motion stays in motion until acted upon by a force). If the laws of motion, matter and energy are broken whenever God feels like it, or whenever someone sway’s God with a moving prayer, our world would be chaotic.

Did you see the movie, Bruce Almighty? God appointed Bruce to do God’s job temporarily. When faced with thousands of people are praying to win the lottery, Bruce decided to wave his magic wand and cause each of those people to win that day. The result was very funny. This scene of fiction shows us how odd our world would be if God had a magic wand and did all the things that people pray for, hoping God will use his magic wand. The oddness of such a world, is the main reason why Science has rejected God as an explanation of our universe. It’s not that they reject the idea of God existing, as much as they resist the idea of God doing magic things that break the laws of nature. It would make our universe too odd for them.

I believe by using the word, “magic,” Francis was deliberately addressing this complaint, that Science has long made about Religion.

It is true that since 1950 Popes have said that the Big Bang and Evolution are not in conflict with Catholic beliefs. What Francis said this week was far different. He said God refrains from doing magic. This implies that Francis believes, God obeys the laws of nature. This is a radically different statement than what preceding Popes said.

It is not my intention of this blog post to side with the liberal Pope, with conservative Bishops who are against the Pope, with Creationists, Evolutionists, those who favor or oppose the Big Bang. The purpose of this post is to suggest Francis believes God does not do magic, and to ask, what comes next, when you live in a world where the Pope believes God does not do magic?

I wonder–if Francis believes God does not do magic, how does he think of the miracles that are supposed to occur during a Catholic mass? Changing bread and wine into human flesh and blood would break the laws of nature, wouldn’t they? How can a Pope say God does not do magic, when any old Catholic Priest is believed to do this magic, weekly? Second I wonder what would serve best for a Pope to do and say, if he disbelieved in the magic of the mass? Third I’d like to share how similar this is to a book H. G. Wells wrote in 1917 called Soul of a Bishop, about an Anglican bishop who began to doubt that God is a trinity, and other things that are in the creed. Fourth and finally I will ask what kind of Catholic Religion would be left, if God’s magic deeds were erased from the Catholic belief system? I will point out something the press has already noticed about Francis, that he is less concerned with what Catholics believe, than with the compassionate and nonjudgmental deeds. For example, Francis has washed and kissed the feet of a Muslim man, and said that Atheists, divorcees and gays can be redeemed. Fifth, Francis’ quote solves an important problem in cosmology, the Goldilocks Problem.

  1. What does Francis Think of Magic and Magic Wands in the Mass?

Much Christian and Catholic doctrine is based upon the belief in miracles. When I have told my friends who are non-Catholics what Catholics believe occurs during the mass, they always look at me funny, as if I were pulling their leg. Catholics believe that during every Sunday church service, the Priest takes a cup of wine and changes it into the blood of Jesus. Then he takes a bowl of crackers and changes them into Jesus’ flesh. Then the Catholics come up to eat Jesus’ body and drink his blood. When I was a Catholic, this seemed normal to me, but later in life when I began to tell it to others, I began to see how odd it sounds.

When I attended Catholic school in the 1970s, the Nuns tried to instill awe in us children by telling us:

Once a while ago, bad boys had snuck into church, where communion wafers had already been changed into Jesus’ body. These bad boys stuck pins and needles into the wafers and do you know what happened children? The wafers bled. Real blood came out of them!

These are the same Nuns that taught us math, physics and chemistry. Hearing your physics lesson from a woman who had earlier told you a graphic, nauseating story about laws of physics broken, has an odd effect on children. I suppose the reason that Nuns would tell us stories highlighting God’s magic was that, if God long ago, and Priests every Sunday, could do magic like this, then surely this is a religion worth paying attention to. You don’t get weekly physics-breaking magic at the Protestant church!

I imagine that many Catholics are unhappy with Francis saying God does not do magic, because God doing magic, was the way that Nuns brought us our religion. What is left of our religion if not God doing magic?

If Francis believes God does not do magic, then:

  • What does Francis believe occurs every Sunday when a priest waves his hands over the wine holds it up in the air while the altar boy rings the bells, and then declares it is now the blood of Jesus?
  • Same question for the bread the priest wave his hands over, with bells, and then it is said to have become Jesus’ flesh. If Francis disbelieves that God does magic, what does Francis believe is occurring during this phase of the mass?
  • Has Frances noticed that the mass is very much like a magic show? It has special doors in the back where the audience is not allowed to go. The audience is not allowed to look at or touch the special chalice, the wine, the wafers, or the special table where the magic is done. The magician wears robes. There is an assistant in a dress. There is a special candle off to the side that, being lit, proves God’s presence in the room. The props, the set, the magic words, are so much like a magic wand, that any curious Catholic must wonder, is this what Francis meant when he said God uses no magic wand, and God does no magic?
  • What does Francis believe caused Mary to become pregnant?

I assume that an intelligent man who was chosen to be Pope, willing to say publically that God does no magic and uses no magic wands, is not just tossing off a quotable line. He must have thought this through. To say magic twice, and magic wand…

My interpretation is that Francis believes God does no magic — not in creation, not in evolution, and not in the mass. What I am really really curious about is wether he will say the rest of what he believes, or just keep us going with hints. I could see the benefits of both paths.

  1. If Francis believes the mass is not magic, What should he Say? What should he Do?

I don’t imagine the Pope is going to say the mass is not magic. It is hard to imagine a Pope saying, bread and wine are not transformed into human DNA. I don’t think a Pope could say, nothing in the mass goes against the laws of physics and chemistry, and remain Pope. The Bishops would impeach him.

If Francis really believes no magic was done by God in the beginning, during evolution, in the stories told in the Bible, and still no magic is being done every Sunday, should he say so? Or was it enough to say what he said and leave it that way? Which way would serve humanity better? Which way would serve God better?

Some historians have wondered, Why didn’t Benjamin Franklin speak up about slavery in 1776? Franklin was influential in the forming of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, which states that all men are equal. Why didn’t he go the extra step? Some historians have suggested that the formation of a new country was balancing on a thread already. If he had spoken up about equal rights, then Americans would be divided, and would not be able to stand as a unified whole against the Crown. We may never know because even his letters do not answer this question, why.

But the question applies equally well to this Pope. If he really believes God does no magic, not even the virgin birth or the wine-into-blood trick, he must be wondering how much to say. If he just comes right out and says, we priests can’t really do magic, what will the other priests do? Many (most?) of these priests (I presume) believe they can and do, transform wine into blood every Sunday. Wouldn’t they be outraged if their boss, the Pope, said that what they had been doing all these years is not really magic, that no matter is being transubstantiated into living cells with Jesus’ DNA? All the Catholic priests in the world would be faced with dilemmas not of their own choosing. How could they face their congregations? Would some thing they had been doing this magic fraudulently, and become angry at the priests? Would it be unfair of the Pope to put the Priests into this situation? Speaking his mind would be a huge disservice to those Priests and Catholics who still choose to believe in the magic. There is nothing wrong with believing in the magic, it just happens to not be the belief of the current Pope. Does he have the right to impose his newfangled belief upon all Catholics and Priests, a belief that goes against the Catholic tradition?

Another option the Pope could do is to step down from the post, to say, I don’t believe the things that a Pope must believe. I no longer fit the job description, so it is unethical for me to stay in the post. He would then remove the ring, the hat, the robes, and blend in with the rest of humanity. Maybe he could write a book, or start a discussion group about what comes next. But many might think, No! Don’t go! We need you! Many Catholics may be thinking, Francis is just what we need. Even if he doesn’t come right out and say what he seems to believe, he is still better in the post than out of it. As Pope, there are reporters snapping photos of him kissing the feet of the Muslim man. There are reporters capturing every phrase he speaks, like God uses no magic wand. Those phrases and photos deserve to be seen! Stepping down would be a huge disservice to humanity that needs a fresher view of Religion.

A third option for the Pope is to remain in the post, but keep his mouth shut. This seems to balance the least trouble with the most influence. Sort of like Benjamin Franklin seems to have kept his mouth shut about Slavery. First things first–first get a new country started, and then in 80 years we can deal with slavery. Maybe that is what needs to happen with the Catholic church.

2.5 What do Lapsed Catholics Want Francis to Do and Say?

Of those raised Catholic, many of us no longer attend. By my mid-20s I could no longer say the creed–though I had it memorized of course. I haven’t been to a Catholic mass in decades, because so much of the wording and ceremony is geared toward things that I not only don’t believe, but that I believe take people the wrong direction. In the mean time I have attended Tibetan Buddhist, Quaker, Unitarian Universalist and Unity services. I won’t go back to a Catholic church while that Nicene creed is said and transubstantiation is attempted. That means I will probably never go to a Catholic church again in my lifetime. However… if Francis would say more, and if a few Priests would endorse him, and if they would say so in church, then it would be a pleasure to go back.

3 Francis’ Dilemma Surprisingly Similar to the book, The Soul of a Bishop, by H. G. Wells

Soul of a Bishop, 1917 by H. G. Wells. http://smile.amazon.com/dp/B008479MHS free kindle book,. Free book, text or HTML at Gutenberg.org http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1269

What an interesting coincidence that I happen to be reading this book. Wells seems to have has a psychic understanding of events that would be happening a hundred years later.

The Soul of a Bishop begins with the Bishop’s bad dreams and insomnia. The Bishop of Princhester has come to doubt the idea that God is three beings, the Trinity. In his dreams, a kind of evil triangle taunts him. As the book progresses, he is faced with one of the priests under him writing a book that doubts many of the things that the Creed says. I imagine that fictitious book would be something like The New Theology, written by R.J. Campbell in 1910. At Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/27500 at amazon: http://amzn.com/B004TQ9ZF2  Since the Bishop is the Authority Figure of his church, he must stop this priest from leading the people astray. But in reading the subversive book, he seems to agree with many of the ideas. Still, you can’t go telling people these things… can you?

He has discovered that other bishops have doubts–though they doubt God even exists, or that Jesus existed, as more than a symbol. But our Bishop has no doubt God exists.

My favorite part of the book so far (I am 40% done) is when our Bishop receives a wonderful vision, or experience, or meeting with God, or with God’s angel, or just a lovely dream (Wells doesn’t tell us which). In this experience our Bishop knows clearly and directly God exists. It’s just that God is nothing like what his Anglican religion is preaching every Sunday. The experience is wonderful and the consequences are awful. How is he supposed to do his job, with this new knowledge? Should he quit? But where will that leave the others? His wife would no longer have this palace, and his daughters their college tuition. Should he stay and keep quiet? Should he stay and speak up gently and subtly?

I can imagine all these things going through the mind of Pope Francis. Wells is showing us what it must be like for a Priest to have an accurate understanding of God and the Universe, and the terrible responsibility of what to do with this knowledge. How odd and puzzling that Wells had such a vision, so long ago, that seems to be matching our current times.

  1. What’s Left of Religion, if God Does No Magic?

Jesus never said his mother was a virgin. Jesus never said the wine in the cup was literally changed into human blood, against the laws of physics. Jesus never said Lazarus was raised from the dead–in fact when the others said he was dead, Jesus said Lazarus had not actually died yet, but was only sleeping. Jesus made no claims about God, or himself doing magic. It only makes sense that those who wish to follow Jesus’ lead, would also make no claims that the laws of nature can be broken and are broken weekly.

What would the Catholic church look like, if all claims that God does magic, were removed? What would be left?

What would be left would be deeds, relationships, attitudes:

  • Do service for others (as Francis is demonstrating).
  • Be tolerant of those who have different beliefs than you do (Francis washing the feet, and kissing the feet of the Muslim man).
  • Be nonjudgmental to those whom others judge (Francis allowing those who have divorced, gays to participate in the church. Francis saying even atheists can be redeemed.)
  • Look for more ways to reunite the world and our understanding, rather than divide it (Francis speaking at events with Scientists on Evolution and Big Bang cosmology).
  1. Francis Solves the Goldilocks Problem

Science is puzzled by the fact that, against tremendous odds, our universe, galaxy, solar system and earth happen to be just right for life. The solution to the puzzle is, God created the universe with just the right constants, just the right balance of gravity to expansion, so that when the stuff began to conglomerate into planets and suns, these would have the right properties for life to begin, to evolve and to ask important questions.

This answer works for at least two reasons.

One, it does not make God into someone who breaks the laws of nature whenever someone like Joshua makes a particularly convincing prayer. Scientists hate a God like that. I think Science could tolerate a hypothesis of a “God or being sufficiently powerful and intelligent” to assisted initial conditions before the big bang to be favorable to life, to cause the tremendous outward expansive force of the big bang (another thing Science can’t explain) with just enough outward force, so that gravity will begin to locally clot matter into suns and planets, and other neat things to emerge and progress as it will under the (well-written) laws of nature.

More importantly, a creator who wrote good initial conditions, and then kept hands off, is a more plausible and less silly hypothesis than the currently fashionable, Infinite Multiple Universe Theory–a hail-mary hypothesis that allows for the odds to be in favor of a universe that just happens to have all its constants, balance of forces just right for life. Isn’t the hypothesis of an intelligent designer, less absurd than that?

Francis saying God does not do Magic, means that, other than writing the laws of nature to be just right, and ordering the four forces in the right proportion to expand just enough and contract just enough in just the right scales, God does not tamper with the laws of nature. This does not mean God no longer acts, just that if He does act, it is not in a way that breaks the laws of nature. It does not mean God can’t break the laws of nature, only that He doesn’t. Because, really what do we know of the capabilities of a being that could design a universe?

I look forward to your thoughtful comments and challenging questions, thanks 🙂

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