Magical Thinking in the Atheist Community

Do you know what magic feels like?

I’m not speaking of magic tricks, or Magic: the Gathering, or Wiccan magic.

I’m talking about real magic.

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.”
-Stephen King

When I was growing up, my father encouraged reading. It was kind of a thing with me. Every day I was reading books. The books could be educational, religious, young adult, and on and on and on. I read so much that I developed a love for reading.

When I first experienced what I’m calling magic, it was when I was in the seventh grade. I had a friend who was reading a book outside of class (picture us in Hawaii, at Aliamanu Intermediate School, where the classrooms themselves led to outdoor walkways, as opposed to what you find most places in the CONUS).

“What’chu reading?” I asked him after getting over my feelings of impoliteness.

He looked up at me with this huge smile and then handed me the book. My eyes lit up at the cover, this painting of three characters standing at a doorway, one of whom held a glowing ball of light in his hands.

“The Elfstones of Shannara,” I said, whispering to myself.

“You want to borrow it?” he asked. “I’ve already read it.”

“Are you sure?” I ask in return.

“Yeah. Just give it back to me when you’re finished.”

From the very first word of that back, I understood what magic was. Not the magic detailed in the book, mind you (as Elfstones should imply the book was heavy with magic). It was raw wonder racing through me, dancing on my nerves, invigorating me.

I read that book in a few days because I just couldn’t get enough. The Elfstones of Shannara, which turned out to be the second book of the series I’d eventually complete from the beginning, is easily my favorite book of all time.

I was inspired to write this post because I saw a question on Facebook: what is your favorite book of all time? One of the answers to the question was “If you can give a single answer to that question, then you haven’t read enough books.”

Given that I’ve read so many books I’ve lost count years ago, the answer kind of rubbed me the wrong way. Here was an atheist, so smug in his intellectual superiority that anybody who answered the question clearly wasn’t well read.
This seems to be a thing we do, doesn’t it? We assume people are less intelligent than us not based on any real information, but based on something simple, like being able to name a favorite book. I can name a favorite book because the Elfstones of Shannara was the very first fantasy genre book I’ve ever read, and since I read that book, the majority of books I read are fantasy and science fiction. Elfstones opened up a world to me that I didn’t know exist. It was a fictional world, to be sure, but the surge of wonder and imagination was akin to having sex for the first time. You always remember your first, right?
Listen, I’m fairly certain that I’m guilty of labeling people dumb or illiterate or intellectually deficient for reasons that don’t necessarily hold water, so it’s a good thing this comment struck a chord with me. Nobody likes being called dumb (though, when you’re doing or saying something dumb, you should kind of expect to be called dumb). My point is, it’s always a better idea to at least make an attempt to understand where people are coming from, versus prejudging them based on what may be your own narrow viewpoint.  What we do, sometimes, feels almost like our own brand of magical thinking.  But where we’re not looking for supernatural answers to questions of reality, we are answering those questions based more on how we feel than on any actual evidence or reason.
Maybe I’m wrong, though. Can we make honest judgments or criticisms about the intellects of people with whom we may disagree or who may not necessarily be as educated as we are on paper? What do you think?

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