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As Traditional Religion Goes into Decline, Paganism Is Poised to Take Its Place

July 14 2017

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.

Read more at First Things

More about: American Religion, Paganism, Religion & Holidays, Superstition

Israel’s Success Has Surprised Everyone

April 20 2018

On the eve of Israel’s decision to declare statehood, 70 years ago, the CIA estimated that a Jewish state couldn’t hold off its Arab enemies for more than two years, while the famed Haganah commander Yigael Yadin told David Ben-Gurion that their chances of victory were fifty-fifty. Daniel Gordis describes just how wildly the country has managed to outpace expectations:

In 1948, there were some 650,000 Jews in Israel, who represented about 5 percent of the world’s Jews. Today, Israel’s Jewish population has grown ten-fold and stands at about 6.8 million people. Some 43 percent of the world’s Jews live in Israel; this population overtook American Jews several years ago and is now the world’s largest Jewish community. . . .

Beyond mere survival, the other challenge that the young Jewish state faced was feeding and housing the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were flocking to its borders. At times, financial collapse seemed imminent. Food was rationed and black markets developed. Israel had virtually no heavy machinery for building the infrastructure that it desperately needed. Until Germany paid Holocaust reparations, the young state’s financial condition was perilous.

Today, that worry also feels like a relic from another time. Israel is not only a significant military power, but also a formidable economic machine. A worldwide center for technology that has more companies listed on the Nasdaq than any country other than the U.S., Israel’s economy barely hiccupped in 2008. The shekel, its currency, is strong. Like other countries, Israel has a worrisome income gap between rich and poor, but fears of an economic collapse have vanished.

Israel has become an important cultural center, vastly disproportionately for a country whose population approximates that of New York City. When the five finalists for the Man Booker literary prize were announced last year, two were Israelis who write in Hebrew: David Grossman and Amos Oz. Grossman won. . . . Today, Americans and Europeans alike wait hungrily for new episodes of Israeli shows like Fauda, while others (like Homeland and The A-Word) have been remade into American and British series.

On the occasion of Independence Day, Israelis are fully conscious—and deeply proud—of the fact that their country has exceeded the ambitions of the men and women who founded it seven decades ago.

Read more at Bloomberg

More about: David Ben-Gurion, Israel & Zionism, Israeli economy, Israeli Independence Day, Israeli literature, Israeli society