What would Jesus palm?

I really enjoyed this behind the scenes look from Mother Jones at the annual convention of the Fellowship for Christian Magicians:

To demonstrate one of his favorite bits of legerdemain, [Duane] Laflin selects a boy named Drake and asks him to mark a quarter.

“This quarter represents Drake’s life,” announces Laflin, delivering a stream of well-rehearsed patter. “Now, it’s a treasure, isn’t it?” He places the coin in a small box, and retrieves a silver cube, which, he says, represents God’s will for Drake’s life. “Would you like to know what’s in the cube?” Laflin asks. Drake nods. Music swells from a set of portable speakers. “There’s only one way for you to know—you must give up your life. You can keep the quarter or pick God’s plan for your life. What’s your choice, Drake?”

After a moment’s hesitation, Drake picks God’s plan. Laflin hands him the silver cube. Nervously, the boy lifts its lid—only to find that it contains six smaller boxes, nested like Russian dolls. Inside the final box is a handkerchief with two quarters inside. One is unmarked; the other is his original coin. “When you make the decision to live for God and give your life to him, God gives your life back to you so you can live for God,” Laflin says as Drake stares at the coins in amazement. After Laflin finishes his lecture, audience members—mostly middle-aged men and teenage boys—line up for autographs.

One of the magicians covered is Andre Kole, whose gospel show I saw in Texas many years ago:

For some gospel magicians, the very fact that their powers aren’t supernatural is proof that the biblical miracles were real. “I carry tons of equipment in order to do my shows,” says André Kole, a famed magician who consults for David Copperfield and has mastered an illusion where he appears to walk on water. “If Jesus was a magician, you’d have to visualize 2,000 years ago Jesus and the disciples walking through the dusty streets of Galilee wearing sandals, with three diesel trucks behind them carrying all their equipment.”

Kole puts on a good show, but really, that’s an absurd argument. (It’s not just a random quote — the argument is a central part of his presentation.) I don’t know anyone who believes that Jesus was a magician. I know lots of people who think we shouldn’t be taking ancient religious books as literal truth. Can Muhammad’s ascension to Heaven from the Dome of the Rock be explained by advanced Middle Eastern illusion technology? No? Then we’d better start pulling rabbits out of our keffiyahs, because we’re all Muslims now.

The FCM convention does have one thing going for it that I envy: “The five-day event coincides with a gathering of the Fellowship of Christian Cheerleaders.” The overwhelmingly male secular magic conventions I’ve attended would have been a lot more fun with a Gathering of Skeptical Cheerleaders going on next door.

Comments

  1. Ben says:

    I get that Kole’s argument isn’t exactly airtight. But I certainly don’t get what your argument is. There’s somethign in there about technology vs. miracles and skepticism and how to read religious texts. And something about Islam and pulling rabbits out of keffiyahs.

    Huh?

  2. Jacob Grier says:

    Just saying that the real case he has to make is for the primacy of the Bible over other religious texts. Otherwise there’s all kinds of miracles from other traditions we can’t explain through magical means.

    What I don’t understand is how I’m supposed to fit this rabbit into this keffiyah. Top hats have so much more room! This Muslim magician thing is not working out for me.

  3. Ben says:

    Just be glad that you aren’t a Jewish magician. Can you imagine pulling a hat out of a yarmulke?

    Or as my lovely wife once put it “that Jewish hat thingy.”

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