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Enchanted Glasses

I recently barged in on this recent post at Irresistible (Dis)grace but then I felt bad because it was a big long thing and it wasn’t really replying to Andrew’s main point.  So I’m going to just reprint it here.

Andrew, at the end of his post, said this:

As John H writes, I — as a 21st century guy — am living in a post-enchanted world. In some ways, this is what led me “out” of the church…but in other ways, it’s what keeps me from re-conceptualizing the scriptures as metaphorical. At some level, I think, if this isn’t literally true, then what’s the big deal, even though in general, I value the subjective. (Basically, my subjective experiences are mediated by cultural scripts that value literality and objectivity.)

I wonder what it would be like to step out of the 21st century mindset of the sterile, post-enchanted world. I know plenty of folks online or offline who have done it, but their stories seem so strange to me. I just don’t grok it.

Still, I feel that the mundane, non-magickal world isn’t necessarily better, more enlightened, or more advanced than the enchanted worlds of yesteryear. Rather, the same sorts of marginalizations happen — the same inequity of power structures exist — but this time, things are just so much more boring about it.

And here was my reply:

Well this might simply be due to your neural wiring, for one. But if not…

I would say that as long as you conceive the “enchanted” as a sort of subjective mist that only happens in material brains, or is just a lens for human animals to look at the world with, then you will probably never be able to do that, given your personality. It’s not a mode that one “gets” into, because in your mind, there is an objective, material world, and humans interact with it metaphorically/subjectively/enchanted-ly.

But what if the world is fundamentally metaphorical? Well, I don’t like the word metaphorical. I’ll say, to be 100% precise, what if the world is fundamentally built on immaterial structures, or with immaterial structural components, or is fundamentally mind-like and not matterlike? (You can pick idealism, hylemorphism, substance dualism, panpsychism, Platonism, whatever, since they all work for the discussion at hand.)

I think this is probably an insurmountable gap between someone who is just atheistic/naturalistic, personality-wise, and someone who is not. The former might try to empathize with the latter by trying to see the world through “enchanted glasses,” or viewing such-and-such Bible story as allegorical and not literal, or trying to equivocate seasons with spirits, etc. But an “enchanted believer” isn’t seeing the world through “enchanted glasses,” the believer thinks the world is fundamentally enchanted. And the believer doesn’t see a difference between allegorical and literal things, because to them an “allegory” is how the objective world points to actual, objective mind-like structures that undergird everything.

Now believe it or not my personality is quite a bit like yours, I just happened to have been persuaded by the metaphysical arguments of the Scholastic philosophers who thought themselves to death back in those “dark days” Bond alluded to before Descartes and Newton (and as such, I always roll my eyes at suggestions that pre-Enlightened Europe was just stupid people rolling around stupidly in mud until they got plague and died). But I digress, since this wasn’t the point of your post to begin with.

I will add one addition that is even less related to Andrew’s original post. For an “enchanted believer,” allegory is not a fuzzy approximation of reality that is used to navigate one’s world. Rather, allegory is an objective feature of the world – just like atoms, quarks, and gravity – and that means some allegories are more true than others. Thus I also bristle when I hear people say that universalizing, fuzzy New Age faith is the most mature kind of faith (as some psych of religion implies), because I think a truly mature believer can make statements about truth that hurt people’s feelings – even mine – and even marginalize people, and still be a mature believer.

But anyway, here’s the TL;DR version:

A materialist, or “post-enchanted” person trying to “go back” and view the world “through symbolism” (like the religious ancients) is a well-intentioned but flawed idea from the beginning, IF that person still axiomatically thinks that the world is an objective thing and “enchantedness” or “magic” is just a way of observing it. If they really want to see the world the way the religious ancients did, they have to see the world as fundamentally allegorical/enchanted/magical/mind-like/intentional/teleological in the same way that they now see it as material.

Or the even shorter version: Isn’t it possible that objectivity/naturalism is simply a fuzzy, inaccurate reflection of the actual, subjective/magical way that the world is?

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3 thoughts on “Enchanted Glasses

  1. I definitely appreciated your comment and did not think it was off-topic. especially since it pointed out a blindspot that I had (e.g., the post-enchanted goes back and views the world through symbolism…but that is still an intrinsically non-enchanted way of looking things.)

    but i mean, that still gets at the thing I was trying to capture in the post. Eras ago, people saw the world as fundamentally enchanted. Now, most of us don’t.

    Actually, I guess a question would be: how would you describe faith crises (esp. when one becomes atheist as a result) in this context. Would it be that once someone viewed the world as enchanted, but now they don’t. Or do you think that people these days don’t really view the world as enchanted, so faith crises are really just their worldview “catching up” with that?

  2. I’m guessing it depends on the person. For instance, there are those now well-known studies that examine teleological thinking in neurotypical people, atheists, and those with Asperger’s. Those with Asperger’s just don’t see the world as teleological at all, and neurotypical people are most likely to see the world as teleological (in the sense that there is purpose behind events – not in the Aristotelian sense). But neurotypical atheists are still prone to teleological thinking, they just consciously reject it. I think we could probably separate those who leave Mormonism (let’s focus on Mormonism since as I said it’s supremely personal/social in orientation) into two types – those who never saw things as enchanted to begin with (that would be you, from what I know about you), and those who became… well, disenchanted. The latter would be more likely to still think in teleological ways, so they might transfer that to something else. I don’t know, I’d have to think more about that. You know this conversation has really got me thinking about some psych research that I could do!

  3. BTW I’m not saying you have Asperger’s! Just that teleological thinking probably happens on sort of a sliding scale, with Asperger’s/Autism being the most extremely un-teleological end.

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