The Virulent Nature of Religion

Religion, thoughtfully defined, is a completely human reaction as a means of relating to one another. Atheists and secularists rail against it, mindlessly realizing that it is not that it is religion that they are railing against, but every religion that is not their own.

This was the sin of Babel, that fabled city whose inhabitants sought to raise a tower to heaven as a memorial to themselves. Prideful self-importance led to a rebellion that invited God’s displeasure and discipline. Now, while I have criticized fellow Christians in particular interpretations of Scripture, I have not condemned them and worship with them the same God whose glory we seek to proclaim, happily and in accordance with the Scriptures. However, as I have concluded in an earlier post, with the rejection of one organized religion another naturally springs up in its place. That is seen, rather clearly, in this story from the New York Times, written by Michelle Goldberg, titled, “Season of the Witch.”

The editorial, dated November 3, 2017, begins with this paragraph,

On a Wednesday evening last week, I sat in on a class called “Witchcraft 101: Curses, Hexes and Jinxes,” at Catland, a fashionable occult boutique in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More than a dozen people, most of them young women, sat in folding chairs in the store’s black- walled event space. The instructor was one of Catland’s co-owners, Dakota Bracciale, a charismatic, foul-mouthed 28-year-old former M.A.C. makeup artist dressed in flowing black, with a beard and long, lavender nails.

Bracciale’s story, found later in the story is interesting and telling,

Bracciale, who uses the gender-neutral pronouns they and them, grew up in an evangelical household — somewhere “between ‘Jesus Camp’ and snake handlers” — and said that the new atheism of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens had a profound effect on their generation. But atheism wasn’t enough, said Bracciale: “It left this huge vacuum, and that vacuum had to be filled with something.”

Hmmm, “atheism wasn’t enough” and, “[atheism] left this huge vacuum, and that vacuum had to be filled with something.” That’s an interesting conclusion on his part. What Bracciale says at the beginning of his class,

“If you’re not ready to admit that the universe is chaos, I’m not sure how far you’re going to go,” Bracciale said to the class, describing witchcraft as a way to exercise power in a world without transcendent moral rules, a supernatural technology for taking care of yourself when no one else will. Witchcraft, Bracciale said, lets you be the “arbiter of your own justice.”

Hmmm, interesting. Bracciale is operating under the assumption that the universe is chaotic and it is up to individuals, taking it upon themselves, must “exericise power” and this power is under no authority, in fact there are no “transcendent moral rules“, rules which would necessarily govern the exercise of power, and define the limits between individuals, so that the person engaging in this exercise of power to “[arbitrate] your own justice.” The obvious question that should immediately jump into one’s mind is, if there is no transcendent moral rule that defines what is and is not, in fact “just” and “unjust”, then upon what grounds can Bracciale appeal to in order to define what is or is not, in fact, “just” in order to engage in such arbitration without it being purely arbitrary?”

Goldberg captures the heart of this mentality, saying,

I suspect that this assumption of chaos — the sense that institutions have failed and no one is in charge — helps explain the well-documented resurgence of occultism among millennials.

Such attitudes betray their own refutation: if there is no standard to which to appeal, there can be no such thing as “failure”. The appeal to what constitutes success or failure is dependent upon a standard that exists outside of that which is being considered. If the argument is that the “institutions have failed” there is a necessary need to justify what an assumption of their success would be and what could justify that assumption. Have the institutions failed because they abandoned the standard upon which they were established? If that’s the case, it’s the abandonment of the standard that precipitated the failing, not the standard itself. In other words, you don’t throw out the baby because the bathwater got dirty. But this has so much more to do with a range of occultic media that has become propagated.

One article that Goldberg cites is one that deals with the surge of positive imagery in popular culture,

[Over] the last several decades, witch stories in everything from Broad City to The Witches of Eastwick have reclaimed the witch as a powerful, admirable, and appealing figure. The harm is no longer something the witch inflicts on people; it’s a modern, feminist vision of witchcraft as a response to pain, as a way of seeking revenge, as a female reclamation of power.

I’ll be honest, I like some of the shows, they have compelling and complex characters but it doesn’t change the fact that there is a reality in many of the situations that these characters find themselves in is ultimately the result of someone meddling with powers that they had no business interacting with. It’s not some “female reclamation of power” as much as it is a female exerting power that she is not authorized to use, ultimately pointing right back to the deception of the woman in the Garden. Ultimately, the appeal is actually one that has no standard to which to appeal, and simply invites a cycle of oppression and violence.

The startling obtuseness and disconnectedness of the author to that reality is found in the closing paragraph of the article,

If you set aside witchcraft as a practice, if you table the whole idea of magic potions and instead think about witches as people, the question of belief starts to look a lot different. It seems less like hokey fortune-telling and more like support for something outside of the status quo. It’s an argument about making room for voices that speak out against entrenched power, about making room for women’s beliefs, and about believing women. It’s about making women’s voices the default, rather than the exception. Bring on the witches.

Now, the article is from an entertainment page, so that has to be considered, but it is saying that there is something wrong with that “entrenched power”. Okay, what is wrong with it and why? Can she provide a consistent, non-arbitrary standard by which to make such judgments? I doubt it.

Returning to Goldberg, she writes, referring to the article,

Some of this vogue is about witch-as- metaphor, an icon that captures the boiling rage and determined independence of legions of nasty women. But some of it is a real, if eclectic, spiritual practice, adopted by people skeptical of organized religion but unfulfilled by atheism. It’s these sincere attempts to use magic that interest me, because occultism often gains currency during times of social crisis. (emphasis added)

The bolded sentence demonstrates the incoherence and unreflective nature these people, these moderns who are disillusioned with modern religion,  possess: they’re exchanging one organized religion for another. They are attending a class, they are being educated in the doctrines and dogmas of this new (relatively speaking) religion. Clearly these people are not skeptical enough. What’s sad is that these people are so blind that they cannot see that their teacher is empirical evidence of everything that is causing our current times of social crisis.

Goldberg observes,

This is a familiar pattern. Theosophy, the mother of all new age movements, was founded in the 19th century as the discoveries of Charles Darwin undermined faith in Christian creation stories, which led some to abandon religion altogether but others to embrace new forms of mysticism. The rise of occultism among the counterculture of the 1960s and ’70s befuddled scholars who assumed that American society was moving toward ever-greater secularism. The dominant sociological model of the time, a University of Chicago professor wrote in 1970, “cannot cope with the new manifestations of the sacred on the college campus and in the communes where the collegians go when they flee from the campus.”

Theosophy, as defined by the founder of the Theosophical Society, is the assertion,

[…] that the divine spark in man being one and identical in its essence with the Universal Spirit, our “spiritual Self” is practically omniscient, but that it cannot manifest its knowledge owing to the impediments of matter.

It rings very close to Gnosticism, if not jumps into it with both feet. But so much of the problem arises from people who cannot think rationally, or they want to rationalize everything. One thing that Theosophists often say is that every religion has some truth but not all truth, so what the theosophists have to do is sift it out. That, however, fails to see that such a claim is a totalizing truth claim, and a claim made without a justifying standard to which to appeal. It is the ultimate smorgasbord of beliefs however they’re telling everyone that is not a theosophist that their beliefs are wrong. If you’ve been following this blog for any period of time, you know that my standard is Scripture, and I spent several weeks dealing with a general introduction to a basic theology that drives me, so that people would know where exactly I stand.

Goldberg makes this revelation,

Though youth culture occultism predates Donald Trump’s presidency, Bracciale believes the calamity of the election accelerated interest in witchcraft. Witchcraft itself has certainly gotten political. Every month, thousands of witches, neo- pagans and other magic practitioners virtually join together to cast a binding spell on Trump: “So that he may fail utterly. That he may do no harm.” (The pop star Lana Del Rey has participated.)

Notice that Hillary Clinton’s clear defeat in the 2016 election is called a “calamity“. In fact, especially given recent revelations, (Inside Hillary Clinton_s Secret Takeover of the DNC – POLITICO Magazine) it was a fine example of the old adage, “winners never cheat, and cheaters never win.” But Goldberg notes in regards to this,

Catland has held three packed ceremonies to hex Trump, which involve the use of “cursing ingredients” as well as the recitation of Psalm 109: “Let his days be few, and let another take his office. Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow. Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg; let them seek their bread also from their desolate places.”

 

She goes on,

It might seem strange for people who reject monotheism to chant Bible verses, but Bracciale often uses the Book of Psalms as a spellbook. …Bracciale notes, savoring the irony, that for eight years, some Christian prayer warriors used the same imprecatory psalm against Obama. “They just use thoughts and prayers, and we know what those are worth,” Bracciale said with contempt. “With us, there’s structure around it, there is a methodology behind it.”

And I would have argued that those Christians were abusing a text of Scripture. But notice Bracciale’s admission that there is a “methodology” that he is using and that is a tacit admission to the organizational nature if his religion.

Goldberg closes on this note,

Millennial occultists might seem silly to outsiders, but you don’t have to believe in hexes, witchcraft or magic to take them seriously as a sign that many people find the present intolerable. Just under the surface of American culture, something furious is brewing.

I don’t think that what they’re doing is silly, I think that it is inherently dangerous. They are aligning themselves with powers that they cannot control, powers that ultimately seek their destruction. They are truly blinded by the god of this world, under the false impression about the state of the world and that the means of restoring it is at hand, made present in Christ Jesus, not in a church or an organization, but in a man who is the Incarnate God of very God. What these people need is the gospel.

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