The Wizard of New Zealand

The Wizard of New Zealand

For his eightieth birthday the Wizard of New Zealand reflected in the Press (the Christchurch newspaper) on the disenchantment of our contemporary culture.

Drawing on the formative work of Max Weber, the Wizard described his own 38-year contribution to the culture of Christchurch (the city where I live) as a non-fictional, non-commercial, wizard.

Weber saw the world being robbed of mystery: our culture sees mystery as negative; we no longer seek to enter into mystery but to solve it rationally; we seek to conquer mystery.

Is the church listening to this challenge by the Wizard, by Weber?

Christmas is one of the times in the year when we can still be captured by a season of enchantment – and even then Christmas time clings onto enchantment by the skin of its teeth. Just. And then really more for children than for adults.

Having relentlessly smashed our inherited images, signs, and symbols, protestant iconoclasm turned its destruction on all that it had left – words. Biblical Higher Criticism dismembered stories, leaving dead words on its autopsy table. [Little known Science fact: If all the blood vessels in your body were laid end to end… you would be dead.]

Fundamentalists, antitheists, and the insipid are three natural results of the disenchantment.

Fundamentalists reject the enchantment of our spiritual world, accepting instead a flat rationalistic literalism. Antitheists are the shadow side of fundamentalists. Like fundamentalists, they also do not go beyond a flat rationalistic literalism. Rather than accepting the flat literalism as the fundamentalists do, antitheists reject it. For fundamentalists God is scary. For antitheists God is silly.

The third category, that I here call the insipid, is that category that one meets so often in churches: led by clergy who, if they have training at all – it consists in a university degree in the dismembering of the scriptures. These clergy have little to no liturgical study and training. Sacraments have been desiccated to things that occur solely in one’s head. Bells, smells, and symbols are reduced to a couple of candles on a table (if you are lucky). Vesture is degraded to what the majority of Christian history would regard essentially as underwear. They hold to the last vestiges of the outward form of godliness but deny its power.

Many of the mystery-starved in our contemporary culture understandably turn to crystals, scientology, cults, and anything that is a “privatized, idiosyncratic, personally satisfying stance and practice that makes no doctrinal claims, imposes no moral authority outside one’s own conscience, creates no necessary personal relationships or social responsibilities, and can be changed or abandoned whenever it seems not to work for the practitioner.”


A currently popular wizard

Meanwhile, the majority of the disenchanted sacralise money or grown men running around a field with a ball. Film might be one of the last places where real enchantment is still experienced (but even there, the flickering lights of cell phones in the cinema are the warning sparks in the dry grass where the suspension of disbelief is so easily burnt away destroying even this “temporary escape from our mundane lives“).

When I hear stories of people walking out, or tempted to walk out, of Christmas Midnight Mass, because even there all the enchantment has been beaten out of both symbol and story, I know it is time for serious re-evaluation.

We desperately need to rediscover the contemplative. We need agility in the apophatic. We need training, study, and formation in liturgy and symbol (well beyond getting the words right). We need to rediscover midrash – that the understanding of a story is found through telling another story.

Being fully human depends on it.

image source 1 and 2

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