The mainstreaming of Paganism

The New York Times reports that paganism in its different guises is becoming just another religion. From Paganism, Just Another Religion for Military and Academia;

From academia to the military, in the person of chaplains and professors, through successful litigation and online networking, Paganism has done much in the last generation to overcome its perception as either Satanism or silliness. . . .

Because the federal census does not ask about religious affiliation, and because ridicule or discrimination tended to keep Pagans closeted in the past, statistics on the number of adherents in the United States are imprecise and probably too low. Still, the recent growth is evident in surveys done in 1990 and 2001 by the City University of New York.

Over the course of those 11 years, the survey went from tabulating 8,000 Wiccans nationally — that branch of Paganism was the only one to turn up — to 134,000 Wiccans, 33,000 Druids and 140,000 Pagans. (Others identify as Heathens.) The sociologist Helen A. Berger, who is doing research on Pagan demography, said she believed that a more accurate current number would fall between 500,000 and one million. . . .

In several ways, though, Paganism was waiting for modernity to catch up with it. The emphasis on the worship of nature in virtually all variations of Pagan faith, and the embrace of a female divinity in many, situated the religion to mesh with the environmental and feminist movements that swept through the United States in the 1970s.

In the 1970s, Wiccan groups began seeking and obtaining tax-exempt status from federal and state authorities, said the Rev. Selena Fox, the founder and spiritual leader of an early, influential Wicca church, Circle Sanctuary in Barneveld, Wis. By the decade’s end, Wicca was included in the handbook for military chaplains and had been written about in such popular books as “Drawing Down the Moon,” (Penguin, 2006), by Margot Adler.

Since then, Wiccans have served as chaplains in prisons and hospices, as well as in the armed forces. Just this week, Ms. Fox supplied the invocation for the daily session of the Wisconsin State Assembly. And, of course, the popular culture of the Harry Potter books, the television series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and the current zombie vogue have defanged Pagan religion for a mass teenage audience.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Matt C.

    In the Muhammed post, you noted the lack of sacrifices in this new paganism. Perhaps we can add “yet” to that statement. In the face of a decline in public support, the increasing use of ultrasound, and arguments that are becoming more and more obviously bankrupt, the practice of abortion is just screaming for a new justification. If the NYT is right, and this is in part an expression of feminism, then many feminist dogmas, including views on abortion, could take on a religious aspect to them. It also fits well with radical environmentalism, which has always been willing to sacrifice human lives which are seen as a threat to gaia.

    Human nature hasn’t changed while paganism took a vacation. In the end, I doubt that paganism will look all that different than it used to.

  • Matt C.

    In the Muhammed post, you noted the lack of sacrifices in this new paganism. Perhaps we can add “yet” to that statement. In the face of a decline in public support, the increasing use of ultrasound, and arguments that are becoming more and more obviously bankrupt, the practice of abortion is just screaming for a new justification. If the NYT is right, and this is in part an expression of feminism, then many feminist dogmas, including views on abortion, could take on a religious aspect to them. It also fits well with radical environmentalism, which has always been willing to sacrifice human lives which are seen as a threat to gaia.

    Human nature hasn’t changed while paganism took a vacation. In the end, I doubt that paganism will look all that different than it used to.

  • kerner

    Yet another reason why Christians should not be pushing for overt religious institutions in government. As we become a more religiously diverse culture, Non-Christian religions worm their way into access to government largesse. We are SO better off separating Church and state, because the state inevitably contaminates any religious function it touches.

  • kerner

    Yet another reason why Christians should not be pushing for overt religious institutions in government. As we become a more religiously diverse culture, Non-Christian religions worm their way into access to government largesse. We are SO better off separating Church and state, because the state inevitably contaminates any religious function it touches.

  • http://www.utah-luthetran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    As hard as I can be on other faiths, and even Christian denominations, I try not to laugh at them. I don’t know if it is the inherent feminism of these pagan faiths clashing with my chauvinist Old Adam or what, but this neopagan junk makes me laugh most of the time. I can’t help it. Especially when I see a guy practicing it. It’s like a guy who doesn’t know he is in drag walking around oblivious to his self castration. But the more funny aspect is the revisionist history they swallow, which does not stand up to even a superficial investigation for veracity. When the reinvent Vikings as hippies you start laughing.
    That said it really isn’t all that funny. I’m of a generation that has grown up with this stuff in the mainstream, I have had plenty of classmates etc that were or are involved and take it quite seriously. Often the outcome is not pretty.

  • http://www.utah-luthetran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    As hard as I can be on other faiths, and even Christian denominations, I try not to laugh at them. I don’t know if it is the inherent feminism of these pagan faiths clashing with my chauvinist Old Adam or what, but this neopagan junk makes me laugh most of the time. I can’t help it. Especially when I see a guy practicing it. It’s like a guy who doesn’t know he is in drag walking around oblivious to his self castration. But the more funny aspect is the revisionist history they swallow, which does not stand up to even a superficial investigation for veracity. When the reinvent Vikings as hippies you start laughing.
    That said it really isn’t all that funny. I’m of a generation that has grown up with this stuff in the mainstream, I have had plenty of classmates etc that were or are involved and take it quite seriously. Often the outcome is not pretty.

  • Carl Vehse

    When the E_CA voted to permit homosexually-active clergy, some in the LCMS questioned whether to discontinue joint charitable/missionary cooperative efforts.

    The same question can be applied to whether the LCMS should allow chaplains to serve as commissioned officers, whose military duty in part is to aid, assist, and promote religious (including pagan) activities in the military, although (on paper) Lutheran chaplains are not required to conduct nonLutheran worship services.

    WELS has only civilian chaplains, whose salaries are paid by WELS, not the U.S. government.

  • Carl Vehse

    When the E_CA voted to permit homosexually-active clergy, some in the LCMS questioned whether to discontinue joint charitable/missionary cooperative efforts.

    The same question can be applied to whether the LCMS should allow chaplains to serve as commissioned officers, whose military duty in part is to aid, assist, and promote religious (including pagan) activities in the military, although (on paper) Lutheran chaplains are not required to conduct nonLutheran worship services.

    WELS has only civilian chaplains, whose salaries are paid by WELS, not the U.S. government.

  • http://www.geneveith.com geneveith

    And how pagan are they, really? They don’t sacrifice cattle. That don’t have taboos. They don’t unify nature and the culture. They don’t hold our political leaders to be divine. (Well, we might be moving in that more actual pagan direction.)

  • http://www.geneveith.com geneveith

    And how pagan are they, really? They don’t sacrifice cattle. That don’t have taboos. They don’t unify nature and the culture. They don’t hold our political leaders to be divine. (Well, we might be moving in that more actual pagan direction.)

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    Give me an old Pagan anyday. Many oft these neo-Pagans tend to be the children of Victorian sentimentality. Same source as Jack Chick, but the flip side of it… That says it all.

    That said, the best customer, who paid on time etc. when I had my organic farm in Africa, was some kind of New Ager. The wealthy Calvinists were some of my worst customers.

    I guess one shouldn’t generalise.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    Give me an old Pagan anyday. Many oft these neo-Pagans tend to be the children of Victorian sentimentality. Same source as Jack Chick, but the flip side of it… That says it all.

    That said, the best customer, who paid on time etc. when I had my organic farm in Africa, was some kind of New Ager. The wealthy Calvinists were some of my worst customers.

    I guess one shouldn’t generalise.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    There was a time when the word Pagan was synonymous with our modern day term hick. This generally because the country side was the last of the areas to be evangelized, and hence full of pagans, non-christians. Funny how words evolve. Now it seems more like to find the faithful Christians in the countryside.
    It is a good point though that you don’t see very many sacrifices going on yet with in this “neopagan” culture. That is why this thing is so ridiculous though. Pagans unlike neopagans were not likely to be animal rights activists, or for that matter enviromentalists, even if they did worship various god’s of the earth. Neither were pagans for peace in the ancient world. Well maybe peace at home, but you wouldn’t catch them protesting unfair treatment of civilians abroad. In fact they were quite eager to see the exotic slaves make their way into the brothels.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    There was a time when the word Pagan was synonymous with our modern day term hick. This generally because the country side was the last of the areas to be evangelized, and hence full of pagans, non-christians. Funny how words evolve. Now it seems more like to find the faithful Christians in the countryside.
    It is a good point though that you don’t see very many sacrifices going on yet with in this “neopagan” culture. That is why this thing is so ridiculous though. Pagans unlike neopagans were not likely to be animal rights activists, or for that matter enviromentalists, even if they did worship various god’s of the earth. Neither were pagans for peace in the ancient world. Well maybe peace at home, but you wouldn’t catch them protesting unfair treatment of civilians abroad. In fact they were quite eager to see the exotic slaves make their way into the brothels.

  • Timm

    Joe Schimmel at Good Fight Ministries has written an interesting article regarding the revival of Wicca and other pagan enterprises:

    http://www.goodfight.org/a_co_twilight_harrypotter.html

    I also strongly recommend the video exposes available at his website. If you have teenagers, this may give you the ammunition needed to advise against a CD or film which promotes sinful themes and outright gnostic God-hating:

    http://theater.goodfight.org/

  • Timm

    Joe Schimmel at Good Fight Ministries has written an interesting article regarding the revival of Wicca and other pagan enterprises:

    http://www.goodfight.org/a_co_twilight_harrypotter.html

    I also strongly recommend the video exposes available at his website. If you have teenagers, this may give you the ammunition needed to advise against a CD or film which promotes sinful themes and outright gnostic God-hating:

    http://theater.goodfight.org/

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    None of the stuff in the article is terribly surprising or new, but I do have to ask: How have the Harry Potter books and the “current zombie vogue … defanged Pagan religion for a mass teenage audience”? (I never watched Buffy, so I’ll ignore that for now.)

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    None of the stuff in the article is terribly surprising or new, but I do have to ask: How have the Harry Potter books and the “current zombie vogue … defanged Pagan religion for a mass teenage audience”? (I never watched Buffy, so I’ll ignore that for now.)


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