Magical Thinking should have an expiration date — at the end of childhood, say. Or when one turns 18 and votes for the first time.
Alas, that’s not the case. Some people — Republicans — never lose their taste for Magical Thinking. That’s because it’s more than a taste, it’s an addiction.
The reason religious dogma grabs people when they’re young is because that’s when magic still answers questions satisfactorily. Explanations don’t have to line up with facts so long as the narrative captivates. The apostle Paul’s genius — Paul invented Christianity, not Jesus — was to weave Jesus into a vague, mysterious messiah narrative that, if you accept it as “gospel truth”, will allow you to defeat death. That’s what Christianity is selling: eternal life. But only if you believe the ooga-booga lock, stock & two white-or-grey smoking barrels.
Jesus preached a pretty simple message: do unto others. While there was plenty of Magical Thinking in Jesus’s view of the world, his teaching didn’t require any mental gymnastics. One doesn’t have to believe in magic to do unto others. Even if one believed in Yahweh, Jesus taught that one could speak directly to him. One didn’t need the temple priests to do it for you — because they knew the magical code while everyone else didn’t.
Jesus never claimed to be the product of a virgin birth. He never claimed to be the son of anyone other than his actual mother and his actual father. He never claimed messiah-hood. All that magic was imposed on Jesus and Jesus’s story by the early church. The church very effectively disposed of the real Jesus, replacing him with an entirely magical Jesus instead — a Jesus who serves as mascot for their institutions and for Magical Thinking itself.
When people start out believing magic is the answer to our most foundational questions — why are we here and what is our purpose — they’ll favor magic as the solution to those questions. Instead of feeding themselves when hungry, they’ll await manna from heaven. They’ll mistake brain chemistry gone awry for demonic possession. They’ll think the voice in their head is divine and their actions therefore justified (no matter how terrible).
It’s a lot easier to forgive people for accepting magical explanations when their knowledge base is limited. The men who scribbled out the texts that became the OT really didn’t know much. Their world was tiny compared to ours. Most of them never traveled more than 50 miles from where they were born. They had no idea that pathogens existed. Their cosmology was all wrong. Imagine if, instead, they’d had access to telescopes and microscopes and the internet. They wouldn’t have written what they wrote the same way (even if they’d still had the same questions).
We don’t have their excuse. And yet, plenty of people still accept the explanations for basic facts from people who were legitimately ignorant of the facts.
If you accept the Magical Thinking that, say, the bible is the “inerrant word of God” then you will approach your work with that as the basis for all your thinking. If God doesn’t say “Hey, don’t pollute the planet” then polluting the planet is fine. But then, if your Magical Thinking tells you that the planet’s going to turn into some magical garden after Jesus returns, it doesn’t matter what you do to the planet. In your magic-addled mind, magic will fix it all anyway.
Except, of course, no — it won’t. Because it doesn’t exist.
The four days of the Republican National Convention was a study in Magical Thinking Gone Even More Bonkers Than Normal. Not only were masks not required, neither was logic. Or any sense of history — including what’s been happening from day to day. Suddenly Donald Trump’s disastrously inept pandemic response was genius. His racism was the best thing that ever happened to Black Americans. His treason was next gen foreign relations.
Every last bit of data and evidence from the last four years says Donald Trump has been a disaster for America and the non- authoritarian world. It says the rich have gotten exponentially richer while everyone else has gotten appreciably poorer. It says racism, anti-Semitism, anti-LGBTQ bigotry and every other form of hate is on the rise. Only Magical Thinking spewed at Trump campaign rallies and by Trumpanistas on TV says otherwise.
Every time Trump tells a rapturous, maskless crowd that the economy’s never been better, that America’s never been more respected, that he cares about them above all, that every negative word said about him is “a hoax”, we see Magical Thinking at work. The crowd mews approvingly as if the words magically made bullshit true.
What’s worse — the press repeats those words — and the crowd’s mewing response. They don’t frame what’s happening as Magical Thinking so it comes across as just “thinking” — so therefore legitimate. A crowd of rubes getting suckered in real time gets reported as “Trump’s supporters agreeing with his assertions”. It’s Magical Thinking to think that’s what’s happening.
Magical Thinking never ever represents reality. Trumpism’s triumph was getting the news media to report Magical Thinking like it does.