Christianity’s Addiction to Magical Thinking

Churchgoers don’t even notice or care 

A thousand years from now, will there be people—with as little grasp of history as contemporary Christians—who worship a goddess named Minerva, because they believe that Minerva McGonagall in the Harry Potter stories was real? What magical powers she had! She could change herself instantly into a cat, and multiply food supplies. Will there also be a goddess Hermione, based on Hermione Granger in Harry Potter, who created a magic potion that allows the person who drinks it to assume the physical appearance of another person? Will the Fairy God Mother in Cinderella be worshipped as well, because she used a magic spell to turn a pumpkin into a splendid coach?
The New Testament authors used exactly this kind of razzle-dazzle to bring converts to the Jesus cult. These authors borrowed freely from miracle folklore of the ancient world: they depicted Jesus healing a blind man by smearing mud on his eyes; a woman was healed by touching the hem of Jesus’ garment. He transferred demons from a man into pigs, fed thousands of people with just a few loaves and fish, turned water into wine, raised a man from the dead by voice command, recommended magic potions—drinking his blood and eating his flesh—to gain eternal life. He cured a paralytic by forgiving his sins. Jesus glowed on a mountaintop while chatting with Moses and Elijah—and the voice of Yahweh came from water vapor (a cloud). Jesus walked on water and controlled with weather. At the end of his story, he floated up and away, disappearing in the clouds. 
There’s magic as well in the letters of the apostle Paul. He taught that by believing in your heart—and saying with your lips—that Jesus was raised from the dead, “you will be saved.” That’s a magic spell. Paul also was sure your sexual desires are cancelled (or, as he put it, crucified) if you “belong to Jesus.” 
The New Testament is a handbook of magic. Any one of these Jesus stories told from the pulpit evokes a feeling of awe, “Wow, wasn’t Jesus wonderful!” But a responsible study/analysis of scripture means that even the most devout readers must consider probabilities, based on how we know the world works. Which is more likely—that Jesus did such awesome things, or that the gospel authors fashioned their stories from the fantasy folklore of the time? If your favorite priest or minister claims to have pulled off miracles similar to these Jesus-deeds in the gospels, only the most gullible would be convinced. In this era of cell-phones, many churchgoers would ask for evidence: “Let’s see the pictures.” But when they believe—and adore—the magic stories in the Bible, they waive the request for evidence. 
There is very little curiosity about what it was like to live at the time the New Testament was written, or a grasp of how little knowledge of the world and the universe most people at that time possessed, e.g., that we live on a planet whose crust consists of seven continents and vast oceans—with a molten core at its center; that we are in a solar system that orbits the galactic center, along with billions of other solar systems. The Bible authors didn’t even know what stars are. 
Nor is there much curiosity among the devout about the authors of the New Testament. Who were they, after all? But it is hard to satisfy this curiosity because the gospels were written anonymously, and so many of the epistles were forgeries. Because of the apostle Paul’s own seven authentic letters, we have an abundance of information about him—which, unfortunately, is not a good thing! But from what the New Testament authors wrote, we can figure out a lot about their mind-sets—which, also unfortunately, is not a good thing. The church has done a good cover-up job by positioning these authors as saints, and this has deflected attention from the superstitions and magical thinking that they embraced and promoted.  
Scholars have researched and debated these realities for a long time, with devout scholars trying to put the best possible spin on ancient beliefs that should be trashed. Religions have always thrived on the appeal to belief without evidence. That’s the whole point of the story of Doubting Thomas, found only in John’s gospel (20:24-29). When the other disciples told Thomas that the resurrected Jesus had appeared to them—Thomas wasn’t there when it happened—his skepticism kicked in. A week later, Thomas was present when Jesus showed up again. He invited Thomas to touch the sword wound in his side, and that convinced him: “My Lord and my God!” And then he got a scolding from Jesus: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 

Religions rely on this gimmick: believe what the preachers claim to know about god(s).
For in depth study of this issue, I recommend an article published here last November by John Loftus, Paul’s Christianity: Belief in Belief Itself. This is actually the full version of the Foreword that Loftus wrote for Robert Conner’s excellent book, The Jesus Cult: 2000 Years of the Last Days.
What are we up against when we face belief-in-belief? Loftus reports this encounter: “I asked one woman whether she honestly wanted to know if her faith was false. She said she didn’t, that she was happy, and that was that. She knew the implications if she concluded it was false. It would involve some adverse social repercussions she didn’t want, so she chose not even to consider whether she was wrong.” 
Which means that most churchgoers would not want to deal with the issues that Loftus discusses in this article. He opens with a quote from the Conner book: “…the greatest threat is the core feature of the Christian cult: belief in belief, the conviction that the Christian narrative is literally its own proof.” (p. 2, The Jesus Cult)
Hence churchgoers today—like the woman Loftus mentions—couldn’t care less how Christian theology emerged in the ancient world; their simple answer is sufficient: “Jesus the son of God was born, did his magic tricks—proof for sure he had divine powers—was sacrificed to atone for our sins, rose from the dead. This is what we have to belief to live with Jesus forever.” The heavy magic component here isn’t noticed—or more correctly, it is embraced as willingly as Harry Potter fans cheer on their hero. Conner is blunt:
“Christianity was a cult as presently understood from its inception, a toxic brew of apocalyptic delusion, sexual phobias and fixations, and a hierarchy of control, control of women by men, of slaves by masters, and society by the church.” (p. 2, The Jesus Cult)
This toxic brew of apocalyptic delusion got a jump start in the writings/teachings of the apostle Paul. The devout don’t seem to notice how much their religion has been damaged by Paul’s bad theology. No surprise. If few Christians make a practice of reading the gospels with full curiosity and skepticism engaged, I suspect far fewer read Paul’s letters. The gospels at least have stories, but Paul wrote extensively about his theological certainties based on his visions. It is obvious he had little—if any—knowledge about Jesus of Nazareth. 
Why doesn’t this example of Paul’s bragging shock churchgoers: “For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin, for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.(Galatians 1:11-12)
So, Jesus spoke to Paul directly from the spiritual realm? Here we go again with magical thinking, similar to the commonly accepted notion that gods speak to humans via dreams. Loftus notes that this is detached from reality:
“Hearing and heeding imaginary voices in one’s head as if they came from someone else, a god, angel, or deity, is not the mark of a sane person. Period. This insanity should be acknowledged if the voices command things that are harmful and dangerous, deceptive and false, and control much of a person’s life. That’s what we see throughout the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments.”
The Old Testament prophets claim that the word of Yahweh “came to them” and Joseph supposedly learned about Mary’s pregnancy in a dream. This is yet more magical thinking. 
There has been a lot written about Paul’s state of mind, and Loftus sums up the conclusions of many secular thinkers: “I can affirm with a great deal of confidence that Paul was functionally insane, if he were living among rational people. But in a rational society Paul wouldn’t function well at all. He would be that homeless guy on the city street corner who proselytized with bullhorns and signs to no one, calling on people to ‘REPENT! FOR THE END IS NEAR!’” 
Robert Conner also wrote an essay, “Paul’s Christianity,” for Loftus’ 2019 anthology, The Case Against Miracles. Conner’s conclusion, at the end of his 25-page essay: “A more mature modern psychology with superior investigative techniques and tools can now question whether Paul of Tarsus was functionally, if not clinically, insane—and whether the religion he championed is based on delusion.” (p. 545)

                                             Loftus draws attention to Gerd Ludemann’s book, Paul: The Founder of Christianity. This title might puzzle many of the devout, who don’t appreciate New Testament chronology. That is, Paul’s version of the faith was preached long before the gospels were written, and much of their content might, in fact, be derived from his thought. On this, see especially, Mark Dykstra's book: Mark Canonizer of Paul.
I’ve just scratched the surface of Loftus’ essay. It is worth careful study, especially by Christians who are inclined to ignore the origins of their faith—to protect their beliefs. Their belief in belief. Loftus also references Richard Carrier’s article, Kooks and Quacks of the Roman Empire: A Look into the World of the Gospels, in which he states:

“From all of this one thing should be apparent: the age of Jesus was not an age of critical reflection and remarkable religious acumen. It was an era filled with con artists, gullible believers, martyrs without a cause, and reputed miracles of every variety. In light of this picture, the tales of the Gospels do not seem very remarkable. Even if they were false in every detail, there is no evidence that they would have been disbelieved or rejected as absurd by many people, who at the time had little in the way of education or critical thinking skills.
Christianity’s addiction to magical thinking guarantees that its foundations are incredibly weak. 

David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. He is the author of two books, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith, now being reissued in several volumes, the first of which is Guessing About God (2023) and Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (2021). The Spanish translation of this book is also now available. 
His YouTube channel is here. At the invitation of John Loftus, he has written for the Debunking Christianity Blog since 2016.
The Cure-for-Christianity Library©, now with more than 500 titles, is here. A brief video explanation of the Library is here