The Devil, Piaget and "The Magic Years"

Michael O’Loughlin noted here last week that the devil will be making an appearance on television in the fall: "The Exorcist Files will recreate stories of real-life hauntings and demonic possession, based on cases investigated by the Catholic Church." Meanwhile in England Jonathan Tulloch updates us (sorry, Tablet subscribers only) on the sales and influence of Harry Potter's adventures, a series with supernatural delights and evilness embedded. Some fear Harry's adventures are a plot to steal the souls of the world's children. Tulloch writes:

In his journey to the heart of our culture, Harry and his friends (and enemies) have fallen in with some strange companions. Fundamentalist Christians, taking exception to the central role of magic in the books, have objected, and in at least one publicised event, copies were burned. Persistent rumors from the White House asserted that J.K. Rowling was turned down by the George W. Bush era because of the unease felt by many of his administration at the anti-Christian nature of the books. In 2003, when he was Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was quoted in L'Osservatore Romano as warning that Harry Potter created an inverted and confused spirituality in the way it "subtly seduces young readers and distorts Christianity in the soul before it can develop.

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My rather unscientific observations in bookstores--where, in many, New Age books outnumber books on Christianity, Judaism, or Islam--suggest that Christians should be concerned about the glorification of magic in our midst. The Catechism gives us appropriate caution (2116):

All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to 'unveil' the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, and in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.

Now, does this caution apply to millions of children responding with delight to Harry Potter, and by extension, to other material in the genre including Grimm's Fairy Tales, The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings? I think not! Psychologists who work with children use the work of Jean Piaget to understand why children are fascinated by such tales. This Swiss psychologist once observed his young son watch the moon in the sky at night. As the moon moved across the sky, Piaget's son believed that he himself was moving the moon by his own feelings. This led Piaget to theorize that many children in the 3-6 age group believe that their own internal feelings cause many events in their environment. Piaget called these "The Magic Years." Children are naturally delighted and open to explanations of the world that emphasize creative sources of causation. It's not the devil, it's just their way of learning to differentiate between themselves and the outside world. In our book Crisis Counseling with Children and Adolescents, John Mordock and I suggest how this same phenomena makes children blame themselves when events such as death, divorce, or destruction occur in the world around them.

Tulloch tells us in the Tablet about a new voice in the Harry Potter debate, a Benedictine monk, Father Luke Bell of Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight, who has written Baptising Harry Potter: A Christian reading of J.K. Rowling. In this book, Father Luke highlights the Christian values that can be discovered in JK Rowling's books:

While accepting that the novels were not written with a specific spiritual agenda, 'Baptising Harry Potter' moves effortlessly through J.K. Rowling's themes, identifying their Christian essence. He argues cogently for the doctrine of free will being expounded in Dumbledore's belief that 'it's our choices...that show what we really are', as opposed to the evil Voldemort's belief in 'accident and chance.' On the grand scale, he finds Harry Potter's resonances with Christianity most pronounced: the ancient resolution of good overpowering evil not by force of arms. His study pinpoints recurring images of the Resurrection, such as the dawn in the great hall when Voldemort is defeated.

I've recently re-read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, a book about, well....the Devil and how he may be recruiting and educating more devils-in-training. You may be reading more about it here. I was gratified by the response to the online book discussion we had here on Mortimer Adler a few months ago, and if you'd pick up a copy of The Screwtape Letters (it is short, easier reading), I'd like to invite you to discuss this great book with me in March. It's good Lenten reading, too.

William Van Ornum

 

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Marie Rehbein
6 years 9 months ago
I wanted to share this from The Book of English Magic by Philip Carr-Gomm and Richard Heygate:  "Of all the different kinds of magic ever worked in Britain, witchcraft is undoubtedly the most ubiquitous.  Today it is the most commonly practised magic in the country, and you will find covens meeting everywhere, from the tip of Cornwall right up to the Borders and beyond."  The book says that some claim that English witches worked very hard to defeat Hitler.

I'm not sure, Bill, if that was an altar in the picture of Loughner's back yard, since before we moved we had a fake skull in the house and some of those same kind of candles - the skull was a Halloween decoration and the candles were purchased from church for All Souls Day. I also have pots and potting soil.  However, with regard to the possibility that this was an altar, I think that is not unlikely.

In my reply to Kevin Clarke's "The Tucson Tragedy", I described two murders that were committed by the same individual early one morning.  These occurred not far from where the Loughners live and the shopping center where the shooting was done.  The perpetrator said he was a Satan worshipper and that these murders were offerings to Satan.  With regard to yet another murder that I did not mention before, the killer, who looked and acted like a normal but confused average guy, was saying that he did not know how or why he did it and that he felt that his mind had been taken over. 

When we first moved to Tucson, we looked for housing in that area, and I recall the woman who took our rental application saying that the area needed more people like us.  Apparently, they were running a little low on normal people.  
Michelle Russell
6 years 9 months ago
"Apparently, they were running a little low on normal people. " 
 
Thanks, Marie...maybe it shouldn't have, but that made me laugh!

Words.  There are several blog posts relating to words and their "power":  The removal of the "n" word from Huckleberry Finn; the rhetoric surrounding the Tucson shooting; and now your post, Bill.  With regard to the Harry Potter books, and other such books, I think the debate does center around words and whether or not you believe the words themselves contain a power independent of the reader/hearer.  Words can inspire, instruct, demoralize,etc...  Does the speaker/writer have a responsibility to consider how their words may affect the audience?  Can't the same words evoke different feelings, emotions, actions in different people?  Are books that contain magic inherently bad for children?  etc....

I personally watch very carefully over what my son reads.  He has read Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, all the Narnia books, The Lord of the Rings...but he is just 12, and still very influenced by what he reads.  He hasn't read the Harry Potter books, primarily because I haven't read them yet.  I suspect that they would be OK, but as with most books he reads, discussions would be had regarding the various elements in the book.  But I think it is important for our children to learn to look at things for what they are or what their intended purpose is, be that books, movies, advertisements, political rhetoric, etc.  I find that many people won't or don't (or perhaps can't?)take the time to engage their children in these discussions, discussions which I feel are imperative for the intellectual upbringing of my boys, and one reason we home-educate.

I look forward to the discussion on The Screwtape Letters.  I have not read this before.  It sounds interesting.
Crystal Watson
6 years 9 months ago
Good point about Africa  and Sout Aerica ... makes me think of  Santeria.

 I guess what really intrigues me is the idea that the church doesn't just say magic is superstition and unreal, but that using magic  is  like doing an end run around the church.

  I like Karl Rahner's take on angels and demons ("thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers") and I wonder if he only considered the subject because as a Jesuit, the discernment of spirits is so important (Introduction to Discernment of Spirits).  He  seems to put them in that realm of science, though science that we haven't figured out yet,  instead of magic ...

"He defines angels then as "regional subjectivities," i.e. as modes of transcendental consciousness which are not linked to the cosmos through the kinds of bodies that humans have, but, analogous to the human soul-body form of life, have a special connectedness to certain regions of cosmic reality .... He looks instead for natural structures in the universe that could be explained best by postulating some sort of "regional subjectivity" that could be called angels. His modest conclusion is that it would be at least possible that the natural order, without a mythological interpretation, as he puts it, could include something like angels."  - Demythologization in the theology of Karl Rahner, Theological Studies, March, 1994 by Michael D. Barnes
we vnornm
6 years 9 months ago
Marie,

I once visited your state many years ago and remember the desert at sunset, after a rainfall...beautiful and peaceful. I do have a hard time reconciling this image from long ago with what I recall today. Maybe I am in denial?  best, bill
we vnornm
6 years 9 months ago
Michelle,

Depite my blog enthusiasm and that of the good Padre across the pond, you make a compelling point about how words can and will affect others differently, and so some books which may seem innocent and fanciful to some may snare others with a dark and destructive influence. It is gret that you read everything before your children do and most importantly are there to respond to and discuss their reactions-and I suspect you are able to note their nonverebal reactions or sense when they are troubled and can't put it into words.

There are some Stephen King books which I enjoy and yet there are others I have had to put down right away because of the dark message that was coming across to me and pulling me down-emotionally and spiritually. I like to read an occasional science fiction/fantasy and find the same thing occurs. I will have nothing to do with some authors and yet a very good friend who is an exemplary Christian finds them simple entertainment and I am glad that he is able to see them through that lens. (Perhaps this would be a good separate blog...I know there are Christian groups that review the various "fantasy" books as per their appropriateness for teens.)

Thanks for bringing a nuanced voice of reason and caution to the discussion, one which I hope is heard by many. amdg, bill
we vnornm
6 years 9 months ago
Crystal,

Last Spring when I stayed with the Trappists, Dom John Eudes Bamberger (Merton's student who is also a Georgetown-trained M.D.) verbalized a similar viewpoint: angels are beyond our current scientific measurement techniques:

http://www.americamagazine.org/blog/entry.cfm?blog_id=2&entry_id=2988

Glad to read more about Father Rahner. I am currently reading SPIRITUAL EXERCISES, his notes on talks he gave to priest-retreatants. It is beautiful, compelling-a treasure. got it at a used bookstore for 3.95. Pub date 1965 by Herder and Herder. If you speak German the original is Betrachtungen zum ignatianischen Exerzitienbuch, Kosel-Verlag, Munich, 1965. I suspect the German langauage is better at conveying the richness and sublties of his thinking,

Keep reading! bill
Marie Rehbein
6 years 9 months ago
Bill, I currently live in New Mexico, but lived in Tucson between 1996 and 2001.  Tucson is a big city even though people call it a town.  It has over 800,000 people.  On the other hand New Mexico has under 2,000,000 in the whole state.  Las Cruces, where I live, is the second largest city in New Mexico with under 100,000 people.  Albuquerque, the largest city, has around 300,000 people and much more crime that Las Cruces.  I think a place with a population the size of Tucson's is likely to have a lot of crime. Maybe it is the expectation that Tucson should be like a town or small city that makes the amount of crime and the severity of it so shocking. 
6 years 9 months ago
One of my all time favorite books on child development is Selma Fraiberg's, "The Magic Years".  I believe she was influenced by Piaget.  She was a social worker, psychoanalyist who pointed out the universality of childhood nightmares and scarey fantasies.  No matter how well parents try to protect their children from the above, they  will go through a normal develpmental phase that includes scarey thoughts and nightmares.  It is how this phase is handled that counts in furthering or not, healthy development.  As you pointed out in your book, Bill, a very problematic area for children is when they believe they are the cause of deaths & catastrophes. 

I grew up with the Grimm Brothers and also the ghost stories and tales of boogey men that were told by older kids in the neighborhood who took great delight in scaring the younger ones!  To this day, I thoroughly enjoy books such as those of Tolkein, Rowling and CS Lewis and the magic realism in Latin American Literature.  I find them harmless and enchanting.  We can do with a bit of enchantment in our culture.

But, there is a point (tipping point?) when the harmless  can become harmful and I think this may be what the Catechism is referring to.  Reading one's horoscope may be fun and harmless, but living by it could lead to trouble.  And it isn't only the uneducated and ignorant who are susceptible.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his second wife were completely taken in by the occult and the spiritualism practiced during his time.  Elizabeth Kubler Ross got herself in trouble when she got involved with the occult.  I have also noticed the book shelves of New Age books and wonder  about the fascination with some aspects of it:  witches, covens, crystals, etc.  Are there still Black Masses?  This leads me to looking forward to reading "The Screwtape Letters" with you and readers!  Now, I find that book fascinating!
we vnornm
6 years 9 months ago
Norm,

The forces of pessimism seem to have overtaken Europe...perhaps there are unheralded sources of the good that have not yet been revealed to us? best, bill
we vnornm
6 years 9 months ago
Janice,

Glad you have reviisted the Catechsim passage I cited. The day after the killings in Arizona, one of the New York papers had a photo of some kind of weird "altar" in the backyard of the shoting suspect. Since then I have heard various persons invoke mental illness, political party rhetoric, free will, media vitriol, as well as the state of things in Arizona as "causes" of the event-yet I have not seen any serious commentator add this strange spiritual practice to the alleged killer's motives....very interesting....amdg, bill

ps John Mordock and I are indebted to Selma Fraiberg for her inspirations in our book
Crystal Watson
6 years 9 months ago
Thanks for the book recommendation.  I've just read one book so far about Rahner - Karl Rahner and Ignatian Spirituality by Philip Endean SJ.  It's good though I can't say I understand it all  :)
Marie Rehbein
6 years 9 months ago
Norman,

I offered the quote from The Book of English Magic to suggest that while Christianity may be waning in Europe other forms of spiritual activity seem to be thriving, at least according to the authors of the book.  The book speaks very kindly of witchcraft.  There are also chapters devoted to druids, astrology, alchemy, and more.  There is a tone of pride in how these things are part of England, flourishing there in times past and being revived there in recent decades.  It gives some guidance in how to participate in these practices or do them at home on one's own.  For example, one of many places to which it refers readers is www.druidry.org.  The book may be a little naive in that it seems not to acknowledge that some of those involved in these practices may not have the best intentions.
we vnornm
6 years 9 months ago
Thanks to all for keeping the discussion going. bill
Tom Maher
6 years 9 months ago
Once again the author's has chosen a topic rich in ideas and observation that are not commonly heard.  The author asks in effect "Hey folks, what is going on in the world around you on this subject and how does this square with what you know and believe in?"  The author first directs our attention to event and happenings external to ourselve and asks what do you see?  This approach seeks to look at and deal with reality.  

This reality-seeking approach is so refreshing in its ordering the discussion and its results.  We all live in reality and we all have reality in common. Our prospectives will differ often very widely on what reality is and how reality works.  But our prospectives could also be fairly accurate and similiar many times.   But seeking reality is a great focal point in interacting on a topic and producies  tons of fresh, original insights from individual observers as is shown in the above comments. 

This reality-seeking approach is refreshing in its break with the usual rigid Catholic mode of inquiry where one is hit over the head and directed by some moralistic premise that elicits robot-like responses from readers as if  every siduation can be anticipated in advance and given a ready-made solution.  Siduation are frequently pre-judged to fit into some moralistic scheme. Very heavy-handed and pretentious of already knowing everything.  It is tedious to hear adults who ought to know better moralizing on every siduation and receiting the catechism or other church document as if all of reality had been defined and known years before and we only had to look up the proper response. - a very backward looking, narrow and annoying mode of inquiry that assumes nothing new can happen when the reality is in fact full of surprised all the time.  

It is a needed break for readers to have more authors with science-based approachs to issues that avoids moralizing. 
we vnornm
6 years 9 months ago
Thank you very much, Tom, and thanks to all who made such excellent comments.  amdg. bill
we vnornm
6 years 9 months ago
Susan,

Chilling is the perfect description of the effect reading that book can have on one. It certainly makes us think of our ultimate reality and ultimate end. I guess I just missed the play, maybe it will come around again. Thanks for the great info! amdg, bill
we vnornm
6 years 9 months ago
David,

Many thanks for finding those links. I do so much writing at times my carpal tunnel flares and your help in conserving my hands and wrists is appreciated. Saved time, too. amdg, bill
we vnornm
6 years 9 months ago
Norm and David,

I have not known about h2g2 before. Please give me a little time to explore it and digest it.

David, I have the three-volume set of the HGTTG here; I read the first hundred or so pages a couple of years ago...and honestly found it.....boring!.......sorry!.....but perhaps I did not give it enough of a chance so I will try to go back to it.

Thanks guys for the leads. bill
we vnornm
6 years 9 months ago
still searchin', Norm.....b
we vnornm
6 years 9 months ago
Crystal,

It's really interesting what you point out about science. Two hundred years ago who would have know about electricity or atomic energy-I suspect they would have fallenn into the realm of "magic" had someone written about them. And I suspect science is only beginniong to capture some of the as-yet unmeasurable features of the universe. When the NYT has features on modern physics, I have to admit that it seems like magic to me...all those strange names for new particles, etc.

I wonder if the catechism quote is meant to be directed at "magic-based" religions in the Caribbean, Africa, and South America....does anyone know this?

Here am I going to speculate...purely speculate....does a certain emphasis on Satan in the modern church offer an "ecumenical" branch of sorts to believers from cultures in Africa, etc., whom we may hope to convert? Pure, pure speculation that I've just thought about now in response to what you've written....

Thanks for brininging your "Renaissance person" interests to the blog...bill
we vnornm
6 years 9 months ago
David,

Like you, I've categorized the Potter books in the genere of comic books, Superman, Spiderman, Fantastic Four, and even Batman....no harm anywhere. Good point on mystery being everywhere.

Lewis is a much better writer than Adler and for that reason he is easier to understand.

Beware the intelligentsia! amdg, bill
we vnornm
6 years 9 months ago
Norm,

Great ride back into the 50s and 60s. Let's not forget Ben Cartwright and the forces of good on Bonanza. Remember "Bewitched"-wonder if the priest you mentioned wrote against that one. Or Mr. Ed the talking horse! And Eddie Haskel....paragon of hypocricy. Somehow kids knew it was for fun.

In our own culture, much about horoscopes seems like something people do for fun....if you could see my comments to Crystal, I've speculated about that particular item in the Catechism being addresssed to those of other cultures who take magic, etc. VERY seriously.

Your point about how Cathoic orthodoxy "claims" the spirit world is a respectful and astute one, and I suspect it does so in reference to the "magic-based" religions on other continents in the world.

Most of us, saints included, spend out lives trying to discover God's will....amdg, bill
we vnornm
6 years 9 months ago
Hi Marie,

Hope your son enjoyed England. Good that magic seems to be on the side of good and not evil. No one has yet figured out how to harness it for prediciting horse raises or the Mega Millions and to me that says alot. Glad you want to join us for Screwtape. "Screwtape" and "Wormwood"-such awful names. best, bill
Susan Murray
6 years 9 months ago
Bill
Screwtape Letters - I read it a while back I think in one sitting - I just had a hard time putting it down.  Compelling.  Chilling.  Good choice - I look forward to your future column on it. 

A couple of tidbits you may be interested in if you haven't come across them already:

- A Broadway show of the same title based on the CS Lewis book just closed a couple of days ago - had hoped to see it, but couldn't fit it into the schedule.  The show is going on a national tour at this point. Max McLean adapted the book for the stage and plays Wormwood.  He provides interesting background on himself and CS Lewis at the show's website. 

- There's also a 2006 story about it on National Review Online which quotes Lewis about the negative impact of writing it on his spiritual life at the time. 

Susan 




Marie Rehbein
6 years 9 months ago
My goodness, Bill, my son just went to London over the Christmas vacation with his band to be in the New Year's Day parade and during that time I found "The Book of English Magic" on the "new Book" shelf of the library and have been reading it since he left.  The thing I keep finding in the book is that magic used for nefarious purposes backfires.

I will look for "The Screwtape Letters".  The only thing I would say, though, is that we do not get enough time to cover these topics before they are bumped from the main page and people lose interest.
we vnornm
6 years 9 months ago
Kay,

Great that you can use these stories with young people in teaching religion! And leading them to see that love transcends all. best, bill
Kay Satterfield
6 years 9 months ago
I think Harry Potter has Christian themes.  In a scene in the Harry Potter movie of the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter is distaught because he is afraid he is becoming Voldemort and Serious Black his godfather consoles him that we all have light and dark inside of us but it's the choices we make that determine who we are.  He tells Harry he is a good person who bad things have happened to.  It's a great scene.  I have used it in teaching religion classes to adolescents in describing what the saints did.  The saints were constantly choosing God desiring to be a light even if darkness was around them or in them ie Oscar Romero and like Harry they had courage.  The strongest magic in the books is love.  
Crystal Watson
6 years 9 months ago
  I've only read one of the Potter books but I've read lots of books incorporating magic, including a series, Deryni novels by Katherine Kurtz, that combine magic and Christianity.  Read The Screwtape Letters too and I found that more creepy than books with magic.

The church's attitude towards magic seems to be not that  it doesn't exist in reality (as Piaget seems to think) but that it's bad to use it because it's a way for people to independently gain power (that Catechism quote you gave).  Theologian David Bentley Hart mentions magic in his book Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies .... "Hermetic magic and modern science (in its most Baconian form at least) are both concerned with hidden forces within the material order, forces that are largely impersonal and morally neutral, which one can learn to manipulate, and which may be turned to ends fair or foul; both, that is to say, are concerned with domination of the physical cosmos, the instrumental subjection of nature to humanity, and the constant increase of human power."

I like magic in fiction, and I know Ignatius believed in the influence on us of good and bad spirits,  but I find the modern church's belief in  Satan/demons/exorcism really disturbing. 

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