Faith and Gaming: Mind Powers

Courtesy of Flikr user yellowblade67
Courtesy of Flikr user yellowblade67

Most gamers call them psionics, a term coined in the middle of the last century for the idea that we could use our minds to change the world around us directly. But to many, they are just another form of magic, and therefore a danger to the saved and the lost alike. To believe in mental powers, we are told, is to believe in evil Satanic powers of darkness. No Christian should ever believe in such things, or promote such beliefs, or even entertain the possibility that they might be a subject for conversation, let alone for something so frivolous as game play.

But I do believe in mental powers. I believe that we have them, that we have powers and abilities we have not tapped. I don’t see anything anti-Christian about believing such a thing. In fact, I think I can prove it.

Many years ago I recognized that I had the power to transmit my thoughts to others. No, I’m not claiming some mystic magic here—I realized that you have this power, as well. We can take something that is nothing more than a thought in our own minds, and transmit that through the air to another person, so that they will know our thoughts. We call this power speech. It is a remarkable ability which nearly all humans share to some degree. It is a power of our minds, an ability which enables us to convert pure thought into pure thought, from one mind to another.

Perhaps you are not impressed with this ability; after all, any child can use it, and as far as we know children have been doing it for as long as we have dared to call them human. And were I to suggest that to a lesser degree other animals are able to communicate their thoughts one to another, you would still be unimpressed. After all, bees communicate information about food sources through extremely detailed body language, which we anthropomorphically call a dance; ants similarly leave scent trails for each other, leading to food sources. Just how much elephants, chimpanzees, gorillas, dogs, and octopi can tell each other is unclear, but there is this communication going on around us all the time. Through our own body language, we often tell each other our thoughts and feelings, unaware either that we are telling them or that we are hearing them—thoughts and feelings are communicated without a word, by the powers of the mind. But indeed, we don’t think of this as extraordinary. Why do we not? If it’s something everyone can do, then it’s not magic. It’s only magic if it’s a mind power which only a few, or only one, can do. Those are the powers that interest us, and the powers which we are told are from the devil.

But are they? Could it be that someone could have extraordinary mental powers which were not common to all people, enabling them to do something no one else could do, or at least few could do, or at least which had not been done before? Not only do I believe this to be true, I know it for a fact. We all have such powers; we take them for granted precisely because we all have them—but our ancestors did not have them, and so we have mental powers they did not share. I’m not talking about some hypothetical prehistoric evolutionary ancestors; people whose lives we know and revere could not do some of the things we do today. We have developed such mind powers, and passed them to our children. Where is the proof? There is a story in church history which shows it.

St. Augustine of Hippo
St. Augustine of Hippo

St. Augustine spent some significant time with St. Athanasius, and he wrote a bit about that man. These were certainly two of the intellectual and spiritual giants of the church. Athanasius gave us one of the great creeds, and is credited with developing what philosophers call the ontological argument for the existence of God, demonstrating that because we have existence, God must exist. Augustine wrote many great works of theology, including City of God, which is credited with saving the western church when Rome fell. It is difficult to name two more eminent scholars in the first millennium of the church, let alone two who knew each other.

In writing of Athanasius, Augustine noted one day that when the man was reading something to himself, you could not hear what he was reading no matter how close you stood.

Pay attention to that. Read between the lines. This tells us that when Athanasius, this giant intellect of the day, read anything, his lips moved. My lips don’t move when I read; I dare say yours don’t, either. We teach our children from age five to read without moving their lips. But Augustine fully expected that if he stood close enough to Athanasius, he would hear what the man was reading, and that meant the man’s lips were moving.

It tells us more. Augustine was surprised not that Athanasius moved his lips, but that while he moved his lips he did not also vocalize what he was reading. That means that this other intellectual giant, Augustine, not only moved his lips but quietly spoke aloud each word as he read it. He could not imagine reading without speaking the words, and was surprised enough that Athanasius did not read aloud to himself that he made note of it in his writing. Neither of these two men, arguably the most intelligent and educated of their age, could read something quietly to himself without moving his lips; one could not even do so without being heard speaking.

That means you and I and our entire generation and generations before us have developed a mind power they did not have. We can read words without speaking them. Speech is no longer necessarily connected to our comprehension of language. We do something easily, typically, which they could not do at all.

But, you will argue, psionics isn’t about being able to read without speaking. It’s about reading minds, moving objects, levitating, controlling pain, creating illusions, teleporting—the things we can’t do. But that’s just precisely it: fiction—fantasy and science fiction in particular—is about the things that we can’t do now. Jules Verne gave us submarines and space ships, things that we could not do then, but not magical things. Reading silently was as much a magical thing when Augustine wrote of it as reading minds is to us—which is to say that it is not magical at all, but merely something we cannot do but can only imagine doing.

Will we ever read minds, or communicate by thought, or move objects telekinetically? I have no idea. Jesus may come this afternoon, and whatever we do thereafter will not be done in this world. But to say that because these are things we cannot do they must be magic and evil is foolish. By that reasoning, you who have been reading this web page silently to yourselves have all been involved in something magic and evil as measured against Augustine and Athanasius—you are using your mind powers in ways that were beyond human abilities, as they understood them. Perhaps there are no more human mental abilities to be discovered or developed; perhaps we actually have reached our full potential mentally. It is a flaw in human reasoning that we always perceive ourselves as the pinnacle of humanity, that we assume people in the future will not be in any way more advanced or sophisticated than we ourselves are, despite the evidence that we have already advanced beyond the limitations of our own ancestors. It is equally a flaw to assume that because there has been some improvement over the generations there will be more of the same in the future, and that we therefore know that our descendants will accomplish great physical and mental achievements. But there’s no harm in imagining so, or in pretending that we, or characters like us, would have such powers.

This article was originally published in July 2002 on the Christian Gamers Guild’s website. The entire series remains available at its original URL.

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  1. Markus says:

    So telekenisis telepathy and psionic weaponry etc is not demonic? Then why does sometimes they attribute it to witchcraft sometimes I’ve looked to see what the answers were and this topic is SO divided some say its witchcraft and demonic some say it’s a gift and some believe it doesn’t exist I think it’s either a parlor trick for the eye or that it’s possible through God I mean He did have Joseph dreams and Samson his strength, then what is truly witchcraft besides clairvoyance communication with the dead? I’m currently making a book with sibling that have such abilities and are Bible believing Christian’s, indent want to unintentionally promote the occult and attribute these things to God.Thank you for giving the time to read this and you have a good day

    • Bryan says:

      I would say no, those things aren’t demonic; they are fictional. As far as I am aware, there has been no credible evidence, ever, of telekinesis or telepathy. As understood in the context of this article, these are not spiritual or magical abilities—that’s the entire point Mark is making here—but natural ones, and as such, if they exist, they would be repeatable and measurable.

      The descriptions of witchcraft and sorcery described in the Old Testament, especially Deuteronomy 18, are linked to the religious practices of the nations Israel interacted with. Communion with the dead was certainly included, and specifically banned. Also divination from observation of natural forces (observing the flight of birds, examination of animal entrails, etc) or the casting of lots, which might be dice, or might be some other randomizing item, like a cast of I-Ching rods, although obviously Israel had no contact with China at that time and wouldn’t have known the I-Ching. “Spells and enchantments” were probably things like rituals to increase the fertility of the earth or bolster the strength of a house. The reference to making sons and daughters pass through fire is a reference to a specific ritual to the Ammonite god Moloch. All of these practices were related to seeking knowledge and power beyond what is commonly available to humankind from sources that are not God.

      Following that paragraph, we’re told that God will raise prophets to perform these same functions—to provide knowledge, wisdom, and supernatural intervention. Joseph and Samson fall into this category—individuals given power or knowledge by God to serve Israel. Modern Pentecostal traditions (among others, probably) assert that such power continues to be available to believers today, in the form of the “gifts of the spirit” as outlined in 1 Corinthians 12. I lack the wisdom and education to evaluate what that actually means, but I will tell you that I’ve seen some stuff done in Jesus’ name that was clearly not natural. I remain unconvinced that I wasn’t simply fooling myself into believing in what I expected, but I don’t discount it out of hand, either. After all, God does have power, or else He isn’t God. I tend to be cautious, though. I recommend reading about prelest, a concept taught by the Eastern Orthodox church.

  2. Markus says:

    I’d like to thank you sir for helping me understand, then why do fundamentalists condemn it not only in real life but in the fictitious world of Star Wars, X Men comics among others? Sure sometimes they can be “linked” to the dark arts but that’s not the ONLY way to get it, I dont want to seek it I was just curious about it, and like I said I do not want to promote the occult and attribute those things to God like how the Pharisees attributed Jesus power to the demons, although that was from ignorance and defiance than unintentional

    • Thank you for your thoughts, Markus. I hope I can help.

      When we’re talking about extra-normal and paranormal abilities, there are a lot of different theories and beliefs about them. Some people think that any claimed mental powers are really spiritual; others that any claimed spiritual powers are really mental. This article is not attempting to resolve that dispute. What it is saying is that there is evidence that human mental abilities have improved over the centuries, and we cannot discount the possibility that in the future there might be perfectly normal human mental abilities which in the present would seem superhuman, and that it is possible to imagine such future abilities without assuming that they are demonic.

      That does not mean there might not be demonic copies of such abilities. Indeed, there might also be divine versions of them. We really don’t know to what Paul was referring by words of wisdom and words of knowledge and discernment; we have guesses, usually based on experiences that seem to fit. The fact that Jesus said we could command mountains to move does not mean we cannot move them with our own machines. There are usually several ways to do anything. Speech, as the article suggests, is a mind power, as is reading silently. They are not demonic powers.

      “Fundamentalists” condemn fictional use of paranormal concepts because they fear that such considerations will lead people to explore demonic versions. I don’t share that fear. I think that a belief in supernatural power today is a positive step toward God. Not everyone who takes that step reaches that destination, but no one who disbelieves in the supernatural ever comes to God without overcoming that hurdle.

      I hope this helps.

      –M. J. Young

  3. Bryan says:

    I’m not as fundamentalist as I once was, and maybe I was never as fundamentalist as some in my church would have liked, but I have dealt with people who categorically reject fiction with fantastic elements most of my life. In most cases it comes down to trust in an authority who doesn’t really know what they’re talking about. Pat Robertson got a bee in his bonnet about D&D 30 years ago, and still preaches against it. There are plenty of people who hold the 700 Club, or Focus on the Family, or some other program, as the next step down from inspired Scripture. If James Dobson says fantasy literature is a problem, that’s good enough for them. Don’t need to read it for myself or learn anything about it—the Man of God has spoken!

    I have a dear friend who insisted C.S. Lewis was leading children into Satanism. Unfortunately for her, she taught at a Christian school where The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was part of the curriculum. Since she was forced to assign it, she decided to instead read it aloud to the class so she could immediately denounce everything she saw as wrong with it. By the time she was finished, Lewis was her favorite author. A few months later, I visited her classroom. The school’s mascot was a lion, so it wasn’t at all surprising that there were lions *everywhere* in that room. But when I asked her how many of them were Aslan, she said, sheepishly, “All of them.”

    Of course, she still insists that rock music has “the same rhythms they use to summon demons in Africa,” in spite of the rock 4 beat being the same one used in the majority of contemporary worship choruses, so she still has a ways to go.

    The point, though, is that more often than not such attitudes are based on ignorance about whatever is being demonized, whether that’s Star Trek, Harry Potter, Green Day, or Oliver & Company (a movie I was not allowed to watch because of a Disney boycott). I mean, given the size of just one major fandom convention, if comics were leading people to the occult, it would be *really* freaking obvious. DragonCon’s attendance was 85,000 this year. San Diego Comic Con’s was 135,000. And relatively few comic readers even attend conventions. But I suppose if you’re the sort to blame the Devil when you don’t get a good parking space (and I know people who do), then you probably believe that each and every one of those hundreds of thousands is under demonic oppression. I disagree.

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