Post-Christian America

My sense from talking to our customers is that there is trend toward post-Christian America that is likely to be vaguely pagan, but not exactly pagan in the way my generation (Boomers) might think of it.

I’ve become interested in books and arguments that suggest that there actually is, or might be, a genuinely post-Christian future for America and that the term “paganism” might be reasonably revived to describe the new American religion, currently struggling to be born.

A fascinating version of this argument is put forward by Steven D. Smith, a law professor at the University of San Diego, in his new book, Pagans and Christians in the City: Culture Wars From the Tiber to the Potomac. Smith argues that much of what we understand as the march of secularism is something of an illusion, and that behind the scenes what’s actually happening in the modern culture war is the return of a pagan religious conception, which was half-buried (though never fully so) by the rise of Christianity.

What is that conception? Simply this: that divinity is fundamentally inside the world rather than outside it, that God or the gods or Being are ultimately part of nature rather than an external creator, and that meaning and morality and metaphysical experience are to be sought in a fuller communion with the immanent world rather than a leap toward the transcendent.

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Was it possible to be an atheist in the days before the Enlightenment?

Was it possible to be an atheist in the days before the Enlightenment? I run across this question from time to time. The answer always seems to be No, because post-Foucault it doesn’t seem possible to belong to a category before it exists. Yet — behaviors can exist before they have a label. Here we have Otloh of St-Emmeram in the 1070s saying, “I wholly doubted whether there was any truth or usefulness in the holy Scriptures, or if Almighty God existed.” Poor Otloh, to be an atheist before there were atheists.

Impact of the Golden Dawn…

Not many people today know what a profound impact the Order of the Golden Dawn had on mysticism in the European tradition. Coming out of Mormonism it seemed like an obvious path to me.

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which originated in late 19th century London among a small group of Masonic Rosicrucians, remains the most influential and well-known occult society in Western history. Its story has been told in a number of popular books, and its prominent members—Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, William Butler Yeats, A. E. Waite, Dion Fortune, and Israel Regardie—are icons of esoteric lore. Yet countless Neopagans and New Agers, along with those who dabble in esoteric practices like Kabbalah, Tarot, astral travel, and visualization, have no idea that their spiritual beliefs and practices are pulled directly from the pioneering work of this magical secret society.