Faith in Play #33: Psionics

This is Faith in Play #33:  Psionics, for August 2020.


About eighteen years ago, in July 2002, I published Faith and Gaming:  Mind Powers, and thought I had said everything that needed to be said on the subject of psionic powers in fiction and games.  It was republished fourteen years later on our refurbished reformatted website, August of 2016.

I could not have foreseen that seventeen years after it was originally written, November 2019, the republished copy would be discovered by someone who wanted to discuss it in enough detail that it has expanded to eighty comments, fewer than half of them contributed by our webmaster and me, filled with questions and links and references attempting to determine whether these “powers” were actually part of the “occult” practices condemned in Deuteronomy 18.  Many Christians think so; for reasons covered in that article, I do not.  However, the morass of commentary there obscures the critical points, and so I have returned to address the question again.

The issue we addressed was whether, within a fictional setting, it might be plausible to include characters who for one reason or another had developed “natural” mental abilities beyond those common to humans today—the mutant Jean Grey, for example.  We demonstrated that in fact modern humans had mental abilities that were completely unknown less than two millennia ago, and that while it could not be said that we therefore would have greater powers in the future, it just as certainly could not be said that we would not.  There was no harm in imagining such naturally developed mental abilities in fictional characters.

But our commenter could not get past arguments by other Christians to the effect that these powers were necessarily “occult,” and it would be sinful to use them or to suggest their use.

That attitude is understandable but actually foolishly reactionary.  In the less than two centuries during which there has been any effort at “scientific study” of the idea, many of the subjects being studied claimed to be mediums with the ability to speak with the dead.  That practice—an ancient middle east religious practice—is condemned in Deuteronomy, because all religious practices of the nations were condemned including trimming beards and wearing tattoos.  Whether it was possible to do that then is hotly debated, but I think we can agree that God does not want us seeking answers from other spirits, whether gods, demons, or the departed; He wants us seeking Him.

However, since those who claimed to have psychic abilities claimed to have connections to spirits, Christians were right to say that if their claims were true they were adherents to false religions, regardless of their jargon.  And since these claims were popular, the belief of the critics became that the powers were not mental but spiritual, demonic gifts of some sort.

Critical to this, though, is the fact that in over a hundred fifty years not one shred of credible evidence has been demonstrated to support the claim that any of these psychic or psionic abilities exist.  The mediums and psychics and spoonbenders have all been shown to be frauds.  Thus we have the argument that if these abilities are real in people who contact other spirits they must be demonic abilities, undermined by the complication that the abilities have never been shown to be real.

So we certainly agree with our Christian brothers that abilities obtained by contacting spirits other than God are satanic.  That simply is not what we are talking about in this discussion.  Rather, we are raising the possibility that natural human abilities could expand over time to include powers which to us today seem magical—as magical as it would have seemed to Augustine that we can read this article without pronouncing each word aloud (see previous article).  We don’t say that the mind will ever develop telepathy or telekinesis or psychic healing—only that if it did so, that would be a natural mental ability, not a demonic spirit power.  And since our interests are not in the reality of a thousand years in our future (which might never come) but in what is appropriate to explore in fiction, we maintain our position that powers described in our stories and games as specifically mental abilities are not magical and not demonic and perfectly reasonable to include.

I do hope this puts the question to rest, at least for another decade.


Previous article:  Zealots.
Next article:  Guidance and The Machine.

13 comments

  1. Markus says:

    Yep and that commentor was me… and I do have one more but I’m not gonna turn it into some charade like last time consider this as a “intellectual reminder” for myself:

    http://www.christiananswersforthenewage.org/Articles_Psychics.html “I know we’ve been down this road before but I’d like to see what your commentary is on this article cause that I think about it sure mental powers are mostly fake but if Eastern religion or “occult” sects try to “develop” or “use whatever within yourself” they take it too far. And no I’m not worried about it anymore I’d just like to see what’s your answer”

    • I read the article. I don’t know that it’s really relevant to what we’re saying here–it appears to be saying that there are people who attempt to obtain psychic abilities by contacting spirits. As noted, scientific studies have failed to find any successful psychic abilities–and an 85% success rate would probably show as significant, so I am guessing that no psychic really has that level of success, they’re just reporting that someone said someone had that level.

      In any case, people who do obtain powers, if there actually are any, by contacting spirits are practicing a false religion no matter what they claim about it.

      God gives gifts, and when we see the list of prophecy (separate from being a prophet), words of wisdom, words of knowledge, and others, and we don’t know what they are, we have a lot of room to suggest that God may have gifted someone in ways that look like psychic ability. I think these specific gifts would be spiritual–just as God gave powers of divination to the priests through the Urim and Thummim (which your writer overlooks) while condemning divination that seeks any other spirits, so too he might give spiritual gifts of knowledge to anyone.

      And this still would be distinct from naturally developed mental abilities.

      –M. J. Young

  2. Markus says:

    Ahhh I see, and what did you say about life force and Rogues ability to power mimicry through a persons “life force”, from what I’ve read blood is somehow our life force and that her powers are ambiguous in terms of either a physical, mental or spiritual but based on what I’ve seen it’s the former 2 but it’s comics lol

    • I said nothing about the Marvel comics character Rogue. I have only a passing acquaintance with her from minor appearances in movies.

      One of the “facts” asserted in the Multiverser game system is that anything can be done by any “bias area”, technology, psionics, magic, or body. Writers are not always clear concerning how a character does something–indeed, although I try to be clear about how my main characters do what they do, I’m not always clear about how the villains do things. That has to do with something called “perspective”, an important consideration in writing that determines what the reader knows. We don’t know how Rogue does what she does, and in fact it’s not clear that she knows. We simply are not told, as far as I know.

      –M. J. Young

        • Markus says:

          Other than it somehow connects to her emotions cause she accidentally slipped her friend Cody into a coma (which is more related as a brain injury) I think it a bit more psionic and physical as she can copy powers, memories, and physical features and she also has a copy of the person’s personality

          • Markus says:

            Sorry for another one but I’ve looked at official info on her powers and that she has a Life-Force absorption which she copy powers, absorb memories, copy physical features, and has an “echo” of the personality of the persons that she has contact with. What do you think about that? It seems spiritual but I think it’s more psionic and physical (kind of like Shadowcat as she’s alive but separates her particles to phase through anything)

          • 1) I don’t think this article has anything to do with Rogue. It might be that Rogue has psionic powers, and it might be that she has some other kind of power.

            2) “Life force absorption” is meaningless and tells us nothing.

            3) Since Rogue is a copyrighted character of Marvel, you’re not going to use her in your stories anyway, and if you create a character with similar powers it’s going to be up to you to decide how those powers work.

  3. Markus says:

    How is life force absorption meaningless to you? In what way? Cause most would stop at that and say “oh is that part of the spirit or what ever” and you can use copyrighted characters you just cannot claim them as yours check in Fanfiction.net or Wattpad there’s lots of people who do that. And my point is that I think her power more focus on the mind (personality’s, memories, powers etc) and physical attributes (hair, skin color etc) than something that’s spiritual as what life force usually is like in Star Wars or Avatar. I’m just learning a bit more but I’ll just let you respond and stop right there

    • I told myself I wasn’t going to get sucked into another frustrating discussion about these issues, and here it seems to be happening.

      “How is life force absorption meaningless to you?”

      I have no idea what my “life force” is; it’s a fictional concept made up to sound like taking it would be injurious without causing physical injury. It’s probably based on the life levels of Dungeons & Dragons, that could be taken by undead creatures, stealing your experience and training so you go back to a lower level–like being kicked back a grade in school because somehow you have “unlearned” everything you knew. I don’t have anything I would call a life force, and neither do you. I’m not in the least bit frightened that something would take it from me. It’s just a story feature.
      “you can use copyrighted characters you just cannot claim them as yours check in Fanfiction.net or Wattpad….”

      I apologize. I was under the impression that you wanted to create commercially marketed products including movies. Fan fiction? Well, I suspect that really people get away with it because there are too many violations for the copyright holders to tackle. Try publishing a book about a hobbit, and see how fast the Tolkien estate smacks down on you. If you just want to write stories about copyrighted characters and give them away for free, you’ll probably get away with it. If you make a movie about Rogue, you can bet Marvel will sue.

      –M. J. Young

      • Markus Gaines says:

        When I was asking how it was meaningless to you I wasn’t trying to challenge you of I’ve “unlearned” anything, I just wanted to make sure cause if you met my family they would tell you that I’m not the greatest in memory but still determined to find many truths cause I’ve been fed lies for a long time and I’m still learning. Well at least NOW I remember that this “life force” stuff is entirely fictional and has NO real world equivalent like the mental powers lol, I just need some kind of knowledge if I’m gonna be in Hollywood and make heros while also serving Christ

        • Markus says:

          ive found another thing interesting for topic: if your familiar with Ghostbusters they use what’s called a PKE Meter to search psychokinetic energy to find ghosts, but isn’t that energy usually found in the mind? but a case could be said that this is exclusive to ghosts and not of the actual human mind like The Force its a spiritual energy

          • As far as I know, psychokinetic energy isn’t actually found anywhere. It’s another name for telekinesis, the notion that objects can be moved by thought, and in the fiction of the Ghostbusters universe it’s the way non-corporeal ghosts such as poltergeists are able to move objects. While there might be anecdotal evidence of the existence of ghosts, the general scientific consensus seems to be that they don’t exist, and therefore they neither need nor have such energy.

            Now, if you’re asking whether you can use psychokinetic energy to explain how ghosts move things in some fictional story you’re creating, sure you can–but you keep getting caught up in whether these fictional things are real, and if you really have that kind of problem, you should probably stay away from them.

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