Is the World Enchanted?

Theologian Charles Taylor argues that one of the reasons it is so hard to be a classical Christian these days is that the world is no longer enchanted.  Actually he uses the word orthodox but it’s such a loaded word that I’d rather use the word classical in its place.  Anyway, writing from a singularly European perspective, he believes that in days of yore it was all but impossible not to have a Christian faith in God, even if that faith was imbued with all manner of pagan myths and superstitions, because the world then was enchanted.  In the enchanted world the material world of the temporal now was not separated from the transcendent world of the eternal there, and spirits of all kinds roamed the earth involving themselves for good or evil in human affairs.  Paganized Christianity was simply the biggest, most powerful and most trustworthy spiritual force around and belief in it provided one with the best defense against the dark forces.  That world ended, says Taylor, with the advent of the Enlightenment and modern scientific method.  As a result the coin has turned so that now it is all but impossible to have a Christian faith.

I wonder.  If our scientific minds have so shut out all but verifiable, temporal facts, how is it that we have such a hunger for that which is enchanted?  Popular entertainment is rife with programming about magic, crossing over, witches and wizards of various sorts, transcendent powers known only to certain martial arts experts, super powers come to life from comic book pages, and ghosts of every kind.  Frankly, I think our claims to being non-religious, secular and fact driven are nothing more than a very thin veneer covering a deeper belief in enchantment that was never really left behind. 

Maybe what makes it difficult to be a classical Christian is that its teachings expose that kind of enchantment for the pagan superstition that it is.  By that I mean that that kind of enchantment holds out the promise that we can engage spiritual powers on our own terms by learning the secrets through which we can control our own environments and destinies.  Classical Christian teaching declares that to be untrue in every way, and proclaims not simply another path but another universal reality altogether, one that requires greater personal responsibility while committing one’s self more fully into God’s care and keeping.  Perhaps that’s just too big a pill for some to swallow.  What do you think?

4 thoughts on “Is the World Enchanted?”

  1. Charles Tayor seems to be really a latter day disciple of Rudolf Bultman, who declared that modern science based technology makes it impossible to believe any longer in the 3 level universe (earth, heaven above, hell below) of the Hellenistic world of early Christianity. Taylor\’s \”enchanted world\” idea explains the belief of earlier generations in magic and miracle and, as you say, is simply a pagan world view, not necessarily a Christian orthodox (\”classical\”) view. You make a good point that the Enlightenment is, for many, just a \”very thin veneer\” over the underlying belief that one can manipulate reality to suit one\’s own agenda by a sort of magic. Bultmann should have had less faith in that Enlightenment theory from his own experience of the way Naziism used irrational magical belief to \”enchant\” the German people with a destructive mythology. Whether your thesis that \”classical\” (orthodox) Christian thought is not that \”enchanted\” thinking is an interesting point of debate. Glad that your absence yesterday is not due to a new health problem!

  2. \”That world ended, says Taylor, with the advent of the Enlightenment and modern scientific method. \” An alternative viewpoint regarding where scientific method is taking us is presented in a program presented on the radio by Speaking of Faith.The scientific method seemed for a while to explain so much. However, as the body of knowledge increases, the volume of questions and unknowns seems to increase as well. The Mysterious remains. The headline at Lucy\’s blog expresses the concept on a personal level: \”The more I learn, the less I know.\”Is enchantment no longer in the world? It may depend on who is looking for it.

  3. This is a very interesting, and timely question. Interesting because it pushes at the crux of the \’postmodern\’ argument against belief and timely in that on the Feast of Hildegard of Bingen, we talk about words like \’enchanted\’ in connection to creation and God\’s role in it.Sam Portaro, retired University of Chicago Chaplain, writes in his book \’Brightest and Best: A Companion to the Lesser Feasts and Fasts\’ about Hildegard\’s visions as windows into the \’supernatural\’. Sam makes (a good, IMO) distinction between fantasy and the supernatural.Enchantment as it\’s used most of these posts seems to me to be a fantastic referrant and not a supernatural one. The term fantasy means something that can be completely fabricated (trolls, elves, hobbits…) where the supernatural implies a creative energy behind the natural (what is) that science can obscure if we let it. It seems to me that the casualty here is not the inherent \’enchantment\’ of the world, but rather as \’geezer dude\’ implies who\’s looking for it and how.The wonder of the rhythm of the seasons (being in New England it may be easier)is still enchanting to me. I can\’t look at a sugar maple go crimson and declare \’enchantment\’ dead.Thanks for the conversation starter.

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