The ancient Chinese were a superstitious people. Tao Chiao – “Church Taoism” or “Taoist Teachings” – was the Taoist division that dealt with the supernatural world. This cultish Taoism saw that
“There were epidemics to be checked, marauding ghosts to be reckoned with, and rains to be induced or stopped as occasions demanded. Taoists responded to such problems. The measure they devised paralleled many of the doings of free-lance soothsayers, psychics, shamans, and faith healers who came by their powers naturally and constituted the unchanging landscape of Chinese folk religion.” (205)
The author is very careful to see that his readers do not judge such ridiculous-sounding practices too quickly:
“Popular, Religious Taoism is a murky affair. Much of it looks – from the outside, we must always keep in mind – like crude superstition; but we must remember that we have little idea what energy is, how it proceeds, or the means by which (and extent to which) it can be augmented. We also know that faith healing can import or release energies, as does faith itself including faith in oneself. Placebos likewise have effects. When we add to these the energies that magnetic personalities, rabble-rousers, and even pep rallies can generate, to say nothing of mysterious reserves that hypnotists can tap into, concerning which we haven’t an explanatory clue – if all this is borne in mind, it may temper our superciliousness and allow us to give religious Taoism a fair hearing.” (205)
I would like to know exactly what Smith means by "energy.” I am not quite sure how the scientifically studied affects the mind can have on a person who believes (correctly or not) in something can be used to justify the practice of soothsayer-like priests who “made cosmic life-power available” (205) to ordinary others. Perhaps he has replaced “ch’i” or “Tao" with energy.
Anyhow the Taoist church is quite reverent of magic.
“Traditionally, magic was understood as the means by which higher, occult powers are tapped for use in the visible world. Proceeding on the assumption that higher powers exist – the subtle rules the dense; energy rules matter, consciousness rules energy, and superconsciousness rules consciousness – magic made these powers available.” (206)
So the higher powers are “the subtle,” and superconsciousness, consciousness and energy of each other and matter? They couldn’t have been the only powers, as this sect used “freelance wizards, exorcists, and shamans” (206).
But the real problem comes when Smith writes, “For a genuine instance of magic in its traditional sense, we must turn to something like Peter’s healing of Aeneas as reported in Acts 9:32-34” (206).
The quoted verses are as follows:
“And it came to pass, as Peter passed throughout all quarters, he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda. And there he found a certain man named Aeneas, which had kept his bed eight years, and was sick of the palsy. And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and make thy bed.’ And he arose immediately.”
Smith analyzes these verses through his own secular glasses:
“Note that this was not a miracle. It would have been a miracle if Christ had empowered the paralytic Aeneas to climb out of bed without Peter’s help, effecting thereby an instance of what clinicians refer to as spontaneous remission. As it was, Peter had a role in the cure, a necessary role we may assume, and we are confronted with magic; sacred magic, as it happens, for if demons had been invoked for malevolent purposes, sorcery would have been at work.” (206)
It is rather amusing that Smith believes he can define a miracle as “what clinicians refer to as spontaneous remission.” Peter told Aeneas that Jesus Christ would make him well. If the paralytic had simply jumped out of bed that morning, who would have praised Jesus as the one who healed him? Worship was a major part of the Apostle’s ministry.
It is a complete misunderstanding of Scripture, however, to say that Christ employed Peter’s help in healing Aeneas. Christ gave a distinct power – the Holy Spirit, and most certainly not the Tao – to His apostles. Filled with the third Person of the Trinity, they had a God-given authority to “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8) Smith also forgets verse 35 in the Acts passage: “And all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord.” The apostles touched lives not through themselves, but through their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, so that people all over the world would hear, repent, and believe. Of course, Smith is not fond of such exclusivity, and chooses to associate Peter’s God-given authority with magic.