Having traveled to Brooklyn to attend “a shamanic healing conducted in accordance with ‘Inca values,’” Matthew Schmitz considers Americans’ growing attachment to superstitions, belief in the paranormal, and neo-paganism:
What I saw in Brooklyn is happening across the West. Christianity’s decline is leading not to austere secularism, but to a wild flowering of shamanic healers, spirit crystals, and transcendental maharishis. . . . Worship of strange spirits is on the rise in America, often in ways we do not acknowledge. Tarot readers, ghost hunters, UFO abductees, and shamanic healers may not seem to have much in common with the noble pagans of old. But in a society shaped by comics, sci-fi, and multi-culti kitsch, inchoate polytheism manifests itself as paranormal belief. . . .
Rigorous skepticism may work for storybook characters, but it cannot satisfy man. . . . We may be tempted simply to have an urbane laugh at the follies of the superstitious, but that would be a mistake. . . . [V]ery few are capable of sustained and thoroughgoing unbelief. This is why no superstition is more ridiculous than the pretense of secularism, and anyone who thinks Christianity will give way to atheism is a far greater fool than the most credulous ghost hunter.
This winter, I hiked across the lava fields on the south slope of Kilauea. Shortly after we began, the guide bent down over the rock. In hopes that the volcanic goddess Pele would forgive us our trespassing, she made an offering of cocoa beans (organic—she grows them herself and sells them at the farmers’ market), laceleaf, and M&Ms, along with a libation of IPA. Her brand of bourgeois superstition has a bright future in post-Christian America.