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Christian Smith in his book "Religion. What it is, How it works, and Why it matters" gives the following definition of religion:
"Religion is a complex of culturally prescribed practices, based on premises about the existence and nature of superhuman powers, whether personal or impersonal, which seek to help practitioners gain access to and communicate or align themselves with these powers, in hopes of realizing human goods and avoiding things bad."

IMO that would be a good definition of magic, but not of religion. Because religion is more about beliefs, not practices;
and religion is not primarily instrumental ("getting goods and avoiding bad things" );
and religion is an inherently social activity, whereas magical practices can be performed alone in you room.

People use magic for their own benefit, but you belong (!) to a religion, it is part of your identity. I think that Prof. Smith does not take this aspect into account in his definition.

Matias 8 July 3

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: Magical thinking Magic: Magical doing
"god will smite my foes" VS "I will smite my foes with purple fire. It's still fire, but will scare them more."


There was a time when people believed in magic, seances and spiritualism. I don't think it is particularly healthy, because when clearly examined so many charlatans ply that field. But I have experienced a few things that make me not dismiss it so easily.


Magic is an illusion you can see.


Magic is what you say it is. Or sing it.


Religion is a belief system, magic is what someone does for show and entertainment.


When someone goes to a magic show they are usually under the impression that they are being deceived. In religion the magic show is real and they do not believe they are being deceived even by Satan. Though some think that magicians are really performing Black Magic and not just performing a fancy trick.


My grandfather was a magician. While both are based on illusion, Magic was fun and entertaining. Religion was not. Magic made me smile. Religion did not.


You are only looking at religion from the perspective of passive participants.

If you look at religion from the perspective of the clergy this definition fits quite well.

Further more, passive participants expect the clergy to fulfill this fuction on their behalf... In exchange for certain considerations...


Well, stage magic at least is real. You can see how the tricks actually work, and the magic part is all about hiding the true mechanics during the performance. But magic magic, like religion in general, is just something people made up without bothering to investigate whether there's anything there to make the tricks work - and indeed they do not. But I admit, I'd love to be able to say "forzare" and unleash a force of nature, like one of my fictional favorites Harry Dresden.

Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Conjure by it at your own risk.


There is no such thing as real “magic”. The only valid use of the term is to add color and hyperbole to your writing. What is real are people who practice the art of illusion and that can be very entertaining to watch.


I think it depends on the specific religion. The one I came out of (middle of the road evangelical fundamentalism) was very much instrumental. The beliefs (asserted, of course to be correct) enabled the instrumentality. And indeed ... the scriptures are replete with lavish, elaborate and very specific promises of benefits in exchange for correct belief. Worship and serve me, and you will be counted among the righteous, and I will bless the righteous and confound the wicked. I will protect the righteous and punish the wicked. See if I won't open the very storehouses of heaven and shower largesse down upon you.

Yes some of that is displaced from the individual to the corporate level, hence, god blesses and curses nations and tribes and families and religious groups. Fundamentalists are also big on identifying with the correct group with the correct beliefs and to enjoy the corporate benefits and corporate schadenfreude resulting from that belonging. "If my people ... will humble themselves and seek my face ... I will make their lives a living hell". Whoops, I think I got that wrong ... yup, it's "I will forgive their sin and heal their land". Seems like a pretty clear quid pro quo there. As well as a strongly implied alternative, which is to be sinful and sick.

So I don't buy that religion isn't "primarily" instrumental in the minds of any of its practitioners, or that the belonging isn't connected to that instrumentality. It might be that the perceived needs are often just as imaginary as the promised curative, but they're quite clearly delineated. Combine that with literalist / inerrantist thinking and you have a very potent perceived deux ex machina for whatever ails you.


Both are delusional but in religion both activist and follower are deluded.


Everyone has an opinion.


Dungeons & Dragons has two kinds of magic - the 'wizards' and the 'clerics'. The wizards use magic as an energy/force, almost like science/artistry. The clerics just pray to their God(s) to do the magic for them. That's what Christians & Muslims do: pray to God to do magic for them. They are 'doing' magic by praying. But they outlaw magic. Therefore they are hypocrites. They think only God/Jesus can do the magic - but by asking Allah/Yahweh/Jesus to do magic for them, they are 100% doing magic. Hypocrites.


Is religion a complex of culturally prescribed practices? To me that sounds too narrow. That definition leaves out the religion of those who have mystical or religious experiences directly, and it leaves out the religion of people like Einstein, who had a glimmer of something in the universe profoundly beautiful and mysterious, but who adhered to no culturally prescribed religious practices.

And there’s that last phrase about the purpose of religion being to get good things and avoid bad. My opinion is that deeply felt religion has no “purpose”—it just is, sort of like art, an expression or emotion.

I’ll admit though that the definition fits a high percentage of church members. You provide food for thought Matias. Maybe organized religion in general is akin to magic, while deep religious experience is anchored in reality.

Smith unilaterally focuses on practices in his book, which I think is too narrow. The core of religion is more the beliefs associated with these practices. Practices alone can become "hollow" when the belief evaporates and leaves just the husk, which then is no longer religious but just a piece of tradition people still hold in esteem but without any religious significance.
I do think that Smith's definition is pertinent for most believers, but it leaves out all those whose religious affiliation is more than another kind of utilitarianism.

@Matias Good point. I would change “belief” to “insight”, but maybe I’m too...


There are religions that are also about practice. Perhaps not highly ritualistic or ceremonial types of practice (though that exists too) but by doing or not doing whatever it is the religion in question demands. What a person eats or not, what they wear, how the treat others are all also practices. Prayer, going to church or whatever establishment it has also count. Now, just because many people claim a religion and don't follow suit, that doesn't mean there are none to follow as part of the religion.

As for magic, you have the stage magic and you have the energy bending kind of magic. Both definitely take practice.

I think the real difference is that religion seems to require a go between, some priest to go through to reach deity or a universal source or whatever. Magic seems to lean mostly on getting things done yourself.

AmyLF Level 7 July 3, 2018

The size of the lie.


"Because religion is more about beliefs, not practices;"
Is it though?

When I think about Religion I see both. People who do not truly or deeply believe, but who do not rule their traditional Religious Tradition as outright wrong and often never deeply think about what they believe, but carry out religious practices, like church attendance, sacraments, confession and so forth, 'religiously'

"and religion is an inherently social activity, whereas magical practices can be performed alone in you room"

Again, might hold water, but is not the axiom.
"“5 And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.
6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." Matthew 6:5--words attributed to Jesus.

Religion is both, magical thinking and social traditions OF magical thinking.

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