If you’re like me, your conservative Christian mother took you aside one day and had to have a talk with you regarding what was Real and what was Not. This wasn’t brought on by Santa Claus or C.S Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, but by J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. I remember what prompted this talk. The first Harry Potter movie had just come out on VHS (Yes, VHS), and my Grandfather was interested in watching it with me. So naturally, my mother, who was in the crowd that believed that modern witchcraft existed and was wrongfully portrayed as acceptable, decided that I needed to know that Magic wasn’t really, and even though it wasn’t real, it was the work of demonic powers.
I remember thinking how odd it was at the time, but I just nodded along with everything she said because I wanted to hurry up and watch the movie already. The more and more I look back at this talk, the stranger it becomes. Nowadays, my mother personally doesn’t care for Harry Potter, but is not opposed to it. I think she’s even watched the first 4 movies.
This whole encounter sparks a couple questions in me every time I think about it: What’s wrong with Magic? And what’s wrong with Fiction?
I was allowed to read comics about a talking Cat, and books from the Dog’s intelligent perspective, but that is clearly a misrepresentation of how animals interact in real life, so why wasn’t I prohibited from reading those? My mother even read the whole Chronicles of Narnia to me, and that’s full of magic.
As I child, I watched the Hobbit, and I knew that it was not even in the same universe as my own. I was on earth, and it took place in Middle-earth. Even if it was true, I knew that I would never encounter it. The separation between fiction and reality was so great, that I knew that one was true and the other false. That’s no so dangerous as to confuse a child’s brain is it?
But what about movies set in this universe, with all the same rules applied as our own, misrepresenting, by a small margin, what life is actually like. That seems way more dangerous to me. Of course I know that I will never be a Power Ranger, but I don’t know that I won’t ever be a tall, rich, successful, father of two, who has no problems in life. That’s towing the line of fact and fiction in front of me and I’m just not sure what’s real and what isn’t.
All of this is even more ironic when you consider that I was raised playing Dungeons & Dragons and being read the DragonLance series as a night time story at the same time Harry Potter was banned from my life.
I believe that the ability to determine what is fact and what is fiction is tremendously important. Its part of you mental cognition that helps you decide what is true and how you can interact in the world based off of it. I think its also important to never lose that part that believes in Magic.
Magic is magic because it is unexplainable. Magic is the law of the universe, regardless of which universe its set in. As soon as you explain something in systematic terms, it becomes a science or an equation, but the fundamental reason that this does that is still a mystery. In the Harry Potter universe, they have extracted the natural force of magic into something that is to be systematically studied and applied. Its really not that far off from the Bible-college experience. You study the biblical texts, and then how to use them, typically in very step-by-step manners. If you follow the steps correctly, you can come before God in prayer properly, or you can cast a fireball.
True magic is Jesus walking on water. How does he do it? “Well, he’s Jesus, so…” Yeah, but that doesn’t explain HOW he does it. Do you really need to know the mechanics and science of how Jesus walked on water? No. Its magic. Real magic.
Have you seen the television show Planet Earth? Half of the animals in there might as well be mythical beasts, and you want to tell me that Unicorns aren’t real. I watched a lizard shoot blood out of its eye! What is that?! And you can explain that one with science to me, but WHY did it develop the ability to shoot BLOOD out of its EYE! Why couldn’t it just spit fire out of its mouth like all the rest of the dragons? Even an solid scientific explanation doesn’t take away from the magic of this odd creature.
So why was I told magic doesn’t exist, when it clearly does? If you tell me a story set in fictional world in which magic is of the devil, and then describe a man who preformed miracles in the real world and isn’t a devil worshiper, but add the caveat that all stories with magic aren’t real, except for this one story, I think my little brain is going to get confused and explode. There is so much contradiction going on that a child cannot understand. So what’s easier? Telling me that magic isn’t real and that the miracles Jesus preformed are the exception, or letting magic be real in the real world?
What’s fact and what’s fiction?
We spend most of our lives working on this. Its the same thing that allows you understand metaphors and allegories are not real, but stand for something else that is. Its the brain muscle that sees the animated version of a true story, and even though the animation is not real-life, you know the story is true. Its the ability to understand that an idiom like “at the drop of a hat” might never involve a hat actually being dropped. And, if you’re ability to determine fact from fiction is strong, then you can understand the true meaning of sarcasm when some one says “My favorite music is obviously Country”.
In my mind, dark humor is the best kind. Its how I determine who I can be real with, and at the same time, how intelligent you are. This is because dark humor requires a lot of mental processing. If you laugh at a dark joke, its because you broke down the joke into its essential components, separated the fact from the fictional, removed the emotional component from the fictional side, and then, upon examining the removed emotional component, you react contrary to it.
That’s a lot, so let’s tell a bad joke.
How do you make a Plumber cry?
Answer: Kill his family.
Some may not find this funny, and that’s okay, stay with me as we break this down, for science…or whatever.
The first step is that realizing that this narrative is completely fictional. There is no plumber. There is no plumber’s family. You aren’t killing them. And even if there were a a plumber and his family that had been killed, they are not the same as the story you are telling about them. If you can get past that, then I can explain to you that you assumed the answer to the question had something clever to do with the occupation of a plumber, and maybe a careful pun or play-on-words, but instead I gave you something completely unexpected, but true for the context.
Would killing his family make him cry? As a human, you can relate to a person morning the loss of their murdered family, but you also know that this story isn’t real. You empathize, but you don’t actually sympathize. The answer to the question is so completely contrary to what you were thinking, that it elicits laughter.
I made this systematic, but that’s truthfully not even how humor works. How does humor work? How does a joke make you laugh? I’ve watch two people tell the same joke, and get two different reactions. The truth is that some people can’t tell a joke. And there’s a lot of science to humor and laughing, but at the base of everything, its simply unexplainable why we laugh at certain things. Its magic.
The reason I thought about all this is that I value the ability to determine fact from fiction. I love dark humor; I love magic; and I love examining the Bible for what was literal narrative and what was figurative.
So why are these things so contrary to what I have seen in Christian communities? Why is there no belief that the Bible could be partly fictitious but still true? Why is there no love for magic and mystery? Why does it all have to be explained or have excuses made for it? I see that done for enough for Christian faith already.
And as for the dark humor bit: I thought it was a sign of intelligence to separate fact from fiction, yet it’s so often judged and deemed insensitive, just because others cannot separate reality from fantasy. As a mature adult, you should be able to see what is so ludicrous about what I say, and that I don’t mean it, and laugh at how ludicrous it is. There was a study recently about Dark humor and the results are interesting. I will add a link below for you to read on your own, but one of the interesting observations made was that people who enjoy dark jokes seem to be more emotionally stable. Just a thought.
On that note, I leave you with this:
Two Roman soldiers crucify a man named Jesus. One turns to the other after they’re finished and says, “Boom. Nailed it.”
The other soldier tells him, “Men who wear sandals get what they deserve.”
P.S.- Listen to the interview with Pete Holmes on the Liturgist Podcast Ep. 13. Its got some language, but if you read all of this then I assume you can make it through the episode.