Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
July 14, 2003
Christ is mystical, not magical
In the fictional world of Harry Potter, all humanity is divided into wizards and muggles. Wizards are those who, by birth or happenstance, have been gifted with a love of and an ability to engage in magic. Muggles are everyone else.
But "muggle" is not a neutral term; it is a disparaging one. Muggles are angry, obtuse to the world of magic, dull-witted and generally insensitive.
Out of this rises a question for the Christian: Are we muggles? For we are surely not wizards. Wizardry is a violation of the first commandment, a dabbling with spirits and the occult, an entertaining of forces that are not of God and over which we have, at most, illusionary control. Christians ought to strive to steer clear of wizardry.
So, does that relegate us to the bland world of muggledom? Hardly. True Christianity is a rebellion against the bland conformism of muggledom as much as it is a rebellion against the world of wizardry.
The great 20th century Trappist, Thomas Merton, saw his faith as a rebellion against the muggledom of his time: "For my own part, I am by my whole life committed to a certain protest and non-acquiescence and that is why I am a monk."
When he entered the monastery, Merton left behind "certain standards of value which to me were idiotic and repugnant and still are. The image of a society that is happy because it drinks Coca-Cola or Seagrams or both and is protected by the bomb. The society that is imaged in the mass media and in advertising, in the movies, in TV, in best sellers, in current fads, in all the pompous and trifling masks with which it hides callousness, sensuality, hypocrisy, cruelty and fear" (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander).
Merton was certainly not alone in his critique of modern culture as in contradiction with the fullness of life offered by Christianity. A hundred years before him, John Henry Newman spoke of "the beginnings of religion" as "To put off the idle hopes of earthly good, to be sick of flattery and the world's praise, to see the emptiness of temporal greatness and to be watchful against self-indulgence."
Newman urged people "to break with the world and make religion our first concern." He saw religious obedience not as a muggle sort of life, but as identical with faith: "Viewed as sitting at Jesus' feet, it is called faith; viewed as running to do his will, it is called obedience."
It is, of course, possible to be religious and to be a muggle too. The religious muggle is one for whom religion is a formality, an abstract way of looking at things that does not touch one's daily life.
Muggles are those who do not see the gross inhumanity in the coexistence of their own relative comfort and pleasures with the terrors of abortion, war, mass starvation and institutionalized greed.
There is one more thing, however. There is no superiority of the true Christian over the muggle. We do not exist in a special world of supposed holiness while "they" live in the world of the unclean.
Merton writes that on one of his rare trips away from the monastery and into the city, he found himself at a busy street corner. The revelation given to him was almost mystical: "I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers."
The challenge to the Christian is to rise out of the muggledom of mass society. We rise through prayer, adoration of the one God and service to other men and women. Yet, despite our efforts to rise, aided by God's grace, we do not see ourselves as a spiritual elite. We are one - one with each other and one with all of humanity.
Faith gives us the responsibility to serve.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.