There is No Magic

The World is a Sandbox

We are born into a world of taboos. As we grow up, some of these taboos are lifted, while some are broken in secrecy. Yet there are others, however, which remain throughout our entire lives—and we do not often call them taboos.

“Taboo” is a borderline scientific word. If a man desires to do something, yet abstains from it, he may call it a vice. If he believes that others should abstain from it, he may call it a wrongdoing. If he does not see any good reason why anyone ought to abstain from it, he may call it a taboo.

In line with this thinking, I imagine that some controversy could be generated with statements like these:

Murder is taboo in some societies… a local man has breached contemporary taboos by violating his mother’s corpse… in North American culture, the rape of one’s child is often considered a social taboo, and is punished by the conservative legal systems…

When we distinguish between sins and taboos—between what is wrong, and what is frowned upon—it is more than a simple rationale that separates them. Even if we are not thinking religiously, there is a deep, pervading sense that wrong actions stain the very time and place at which they were committed. We feel that the system itself is offended at what we have done; that a wrong, done to another person, harms more than just that person.

It makes perfect sense that many of us would acquire this intuition. All of our actions as children are monitored, rewarded and punished. Our actions as adults are not without their repercussions. We are trained by cause and effect, and of those things that we have not done, or strive to avoid, we imagine that only the stringent secrecy could contain them. People may be deprived of the truth, but it would still be there; the thing has a life of its own.

In my early teenage years, I played a then-scandalous, then-new game called Grand Theft Auto. You could run over pedestrians, steal cars, and shoot policemen. The only catch was that the more crimes you committed, the more police would chase you, as denoted by a tally of jabbering cop heads that appeared at the top of the screen. If you caused enough damage, they would send the army after you. When playing this game, I did not think to myself “The police found out about what I was doing, and they are making an effort to stop me,” I thought, “The system is reacting to what I have done.” And so it seemed for much of my life, that there were things I could do that would invoke a response from the whole system, and perhaps even God, directly.

Something eventually happened to me. Whether it was by reading a story about a serial killer, or by committing some wrong of my own, I came to realize the frightening truth. We may hunt down serial killers, we may install security cameras, and we may keep a record of wrongs, but the system does not acknowledge the meaning—the gravity—of actions. You can kill a man in a field and throw his body into a well; there will be no earthly consequence if you are not found out and punished by others. The system does not distinguish between the crushing of a melon and the crushing of a skull. Your worst actions do not light up against the backdrop of all the others. Nothing is so bad that it cannot happen. No child is too young to die, no romance is too perfect to be sundered by an unspeakable tragedy on the day of the wedding, no regime is too evil to arise and terrorize a continent. You can do absolutely anything, the laws of physics permitting. There is no magic.

The serial killer Ted Bundy was responsible for many women’s deaths. It is unlikely that he felt he was doing anything extraordinary. Reading about his murders, one cannot help but wonder why “the system” did not react to such a grand and heinous string of crimes. It is for this reason that people, even if they do not take God seriously, exclaim: “How could God let this happen?” They are expecting magic where there is none, and they are looking to the one who might have provided it. But this is not a didactic exercise, and God has not built a classroom; it is recess, and he has built a sandbox.

I do not know why God would build us a world without magic, though I have my suspicions. I do not mean to say that no such forces move beneath the surface of the universe, but that no such thing is regular, nor is it apparent to us. I do not mean to say that we should abandon our instincts. On the contrary, I think that this instinct means something, even if it does not deliver what it promises.

When speaking of taboos, we imagine an action that is mundane in nature, but significant in its effect. When we speak of a wrong, we imagine an action that is significant both in nature and effect. How do we justify this difference? We must be careful. When we discover that there is no magic attached to a wrong action, we forget what it is like to be horrified by it. Soon, we forget to think of it as wrong.

This is my warning to those who separate their taboos and their wrongs. Perhaps the magic you believe in is the same as the magic you don’t.


4 Responses to “There is No Magic”

  1. My RSS feed said this was posted 22 hours ago. You must’ve posted this right around the time church was ending. WHY YOU SKIP CHURCH TO BLOG.

  2. Since you seem to be insinuating that God built us a world without magic, would it be possible for you to more clearly explain your definition of magic?

  3. I stay up late to write these, schedule them to post at 12:00 noon, and then I sleep through church.

    I just used the word “Magic” to refer to the stuff I was writing about immediately beforehand in the post–that is, the world not showing any “reaction” to wrongs.

  4. Stephanie Says:

    I make it my business to dispel taboos whenever possible in the interest of drawing more attention to what is inherently wrong, and why.

    What is the purpose of your warning, exactly? I do not see a useful application for it.

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