I was raise as an Episcopalian, a church usually noted for being liberal. My church had a pretty diverse congregation, mostly middle class and professional. The folks there were devout in their way, but they were also very comfortable with the science and technology of the modern era.
One preacher wanted to hold healing services. She was hustled out the door pretty quickly.
So when I read something like Dan Delzell’s post about the magician known as Dynamo, I’m completely gobsmacked. Part of me doesn’t want to believe that people still think like this:
Whether the levitation is experienced by young girls playing a dangerous occult “game” at a slumber party, (“Light as a feather, Stiff as a board”) or by street magicians as shown on YouTube videos, paranormal things happen when people engage in practices that are rooted in sorcery, magic and witchcraft. Many magicians and other occultists have experienced levitation and various forms of supernatural power. These sorcerers typically cast spells or perform other rituals in an attempt to conjure the power to accomplish these feats. It is becoming more and more commonplace to see such expressions of magical performance.
What most of these magicians do not realize, however, is that the power to do such things only appears to be under their control. These magical performers are actually being duped by beings with superior intelligence to their own. Just as some magicians engage in illusion, so do the spirits which seduce magicians to go deeper and deeper into their craft. It is incredibly enticing, especially when the performers start to get high on the attention it brings them. While the spellbinding feats such as levitation are very often real, these “abilities” are not under the ultimate control and power of the magician.
Delzell honestly believes that Dynamo is transgressing the laws of physics using the power of supernatural entities. This is a view of magic that goes all the way back to the Roman world. Magic is done by persuading, or compelling, spirits to do your bidding.
The Christians tweaked it a bit by lumping all the spirits together as evil rather than simply capricious. They also lumped all the Greco-Roman gods into the same category. These daemons were guiding people away from the true God, and they had to be fought with the power of Jesus.
I could have hoped that this worldview would have died in the Enlightenment but apparently not. I expect to see it cropping up among Pentecostals like Cindy Jacobs, who are intentional throwbacks to pre-modern times, but Delzell is a Lutheran.
Bart Ehrman has pointed out that apocalypticism is an idea that goes back to the beginnings of Christianity and continues to pop up today. Karen Armstrong has argued that there is an vein of misogyny that runs from the Patriarchs to modern Christians. Perhaps this kind of “spiritual warfare” theme is just one more ancient legacy that Christians are stuck with.