Spiritual Vision, Magic, or Mirage? How To Tell the Difference

For years, when I lived in Hollywood, I loved magic. I’d go to magic shows, try to see the best practitioners, and visit the Magic Castle, Hollywood’s wonderful old Victorian clubhouse for magicians.

Of course, when you watch magic, you know you’re being tricked — the fun, for me, is trying to figure the trick out. With bad or even mediocre magicians, it’s usually pretty easy to do. With great magicians, it’s often impossible.

The greatest magician I ever saw — Ricky Jay, who during his lifetime the New Yorker called “perhaps the most gifted sleight of hand artist alive” — once cut a watermelon in half by throwing a playing card at it from 10 feet away. You might say that’s not possible, but I saw it with my own eyes. I think.

First, my family and I, sitting in a relatively small theatre near UCLA in Los Angeles, witnessed a whole, intact, large watermelon sitting on a table on the stage. Second, we saw a regular playing card, pulled from a deck of cards that Ricky called his “52 Assistants.” Third, Ricky bends the card to show the audience what it’s made of. Fourth, he takes the card between his index and middle finger and rapidly flings the card backhanded at the watermelon, both halves of which drop to the table, neatly sliced in two.

Years later, I still can’t figure out how he did it.

Perhaps it was real, I thought. If seeing is believing, then it sure seemed real. Also, at one point, Ricky was listed by the Guinness World Records for throwing a playing card 190 feet at 90 miles per hour — so it certainly seems possible. Highly unlikely, but possible.

I suppose I love magic like Ricky Jay’s (check him out on YouTube) because his art astonishes. Like all great artists, he found ways to amaze us, doing things that had never been done before in ways that seemed completely original and inspired.

RELATED: Should We Believe in Miracles?

On the other hand, while magic is fun, I’ve never liked the idea of miracles. 

Sure, miraculous things probably do happen, but the laws of nature are hard to bend or break. That’s why the illusion of magic works — because it seems to defy science and natural laws.

The Baha’i teachings clearly say that science and religion agree. People call the Baha’i Faith “the scientific religion” for that reason. Unlike religions of the past, Baha’is believe in and accept scientific conclusions, and see both science and religion as truth. In a speech he gave in New York in 1912, Abdu’l-Baha said:

… religion and science are in complete agreement. Every religion which is not in accordance with established science is superstition. Religion must be reasonable. If it does not square with reason, it is superstition and without foundation. It is like a mirage, which deceives man by leading him to think it is a body of water.

Believing in science makes it hard to believe in miracles. Even as a child, I remember hearing about the miracles performed by the prophets — Moses parting the Red Sea, Jesus walking on water or feeding thousands with five loaves of bread and two fish, for example — and feeling suspicious. These tales seemed fantastical, even to a boy of nine or ten just learning science in school. 

Yes, that’s a young age to become a skeptic, but I did, because the church I grew up in privileged miracles over science. At an early age, I went with science. The skepticism that arose from that conflict kept me, as a teenager, away from all religion — until I encountered the Baha’i teachings, which explain miracles in a rational, believable way:

Our meaning is not that the Manifestations of God are unable to perform miracles, for this indeed lies within Their power. But that which is of import and consequence in Their eyes is inner sight, spiritual hearing, and eternal life. Thus, wherever it is recorded in the Sacred Scriptures that such a one was blind and was made to see, the meaning is that he was inwardly blind and gained spiritual insight, or that he was ignorant and found knowledge, or was heedless and became aware, or was earthly and became heavenly.

That explanatory passage, from Abdu’l-Baha’s Some Answered Questions, is just one of many in the Baha’i writings that ask us not to take the symbolic stories in scripture literally:

Also, most of the miracles of the Prophets which are mentioned have an inner significance. For instance, in the Gospel it is written that at the martyrdom of Christ darkness prevailed, and the earth quaked, and the veil of the Temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom, and the dead came forth from their graves. If these events had happened, they would indeed have been awesome, and would certainly have been recorded in the history of the times. They would have become the cause of much troublings of heart. Either the soldiers would have taken down Christ from the cross, or they would have fled. These events are not related in any history; therefore, it is evident they ought not to be taken literally, but as having an inner significance.

Once we all learn this important fact, and once we begin to comprehend the figurative inner meanings of the teachings of God’s messengers, we have found the magical key to true understanding.

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