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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