While America’s once-dominant Protestant—and to a lesser extent, Jewish—denominations have gone into demographic decline, and the proportions of Americans who identify as having no religious affiliation is on the rise, there seems to be no commensurate decline in “spirituality.” To Ross Douthat, it seems that not just a post-Christian but a pagan future might be on the horizon. He asks whether an emergent paganism can fill a socially constructive role:
[So far] this new religion [lacks] a clear cultic aspect, a set of popular devotions, a practice of ritual and prayer of the kind that the paganism of antiquity offered in abundance. And that absence points to the essential weakness of a purely intellectualized pantheism: it invites its adherents to commune with a universe that offers suffering and misery in abundance, which means that it has a strong appeal to the privileged but a much weaker appeal to people who need not only a sense of wonder from their spiritual lives but also, well, help.
However, there are forms of modern paganism that do promise this help, that do offer ritual and observance, augury and prayer, that do promise that in some form gods or spirits really might exist and might offer succor or help if appropriately invoked. I have in mind the countless New Age practices that promise health and well-being and good fortune, the psychics and mediums who promise communication with the spirit world, and also the world of explicit neo-paganism, Wiccan and otherwise. Its adherents may not all be equally convinced of the realities that they’re trying to appeal to and manipulate (I don’t know how many of the witches who publicly hexed Brett Kavanaugh really expected it to work), but their numbers are growing rapidly; there may soon be more witches in the United States than members of the [once-popular, mainline Protestant] United Church of Christ.
It seems like we’re some distance . . . from intellectuals who [can be described] as pagan actually donning druidic robes, or from Jeff Bezos playing pontifex maximus for a post-Christian civic cult. . . . For now, occasional experiments in woke witchcraft and astrology notwithstanding, there’s a more elite embarrassment about the popular side of post-Christian spirituality. That embarrassment may not last forever; perhaps a prophet of a new harmonized paganism is waiting in the wings.
Until then, those of us who still believe in a divine that made the universe rather than just pervading it—and who have a certain fear of what more immanent spirits have to offer us—should be able to recognize the outlines of a possible successor to our world-picture, while taking comfort that it is not yet fully formed.