In her book Strange Rites—which she previously discussed on the Mosaic podcast—Tara Isabella Burton explores the various quasi-religious clusters of ideas that have sprung up in post-Christian America, from “wellness” and “fandom” to witchcraft and radical political activism. At the heart of all of them is Americans’ burning desire for “a spiritual identity and surrounding community that precisely reflects their values, their moral and social intuitions, their lived experience, and their sense of self.” Michal Leibowitz notes in her review:
Although Burton doesn’t much discuss it, this intuitional theology is also trickling back into explicitly religious (or at least relig-ish) spaces. How different, really, is the exhortation from the SoulCycle leader—“It’s about you. . . . Your perk. Your goals. Your drive . . .”—from an advertisement for Stanford Hillel’s “Jewish Incubator Fellowship” that I recently ran across: “It’s about YOU. Your interests, your experiences, your passions, your goals. . . . You’re the driving force behind what happens here”?
But, asks Leibowitz, are these “bespoke” forms of religiosity really delivering what they promise?
[R]eading Burton’s book, one can’t help wondering whether such attempts to reclaim this enchanted world while rejecting any kind of external authority fall victim to a more insidious kind of force. At the core of the intuitional creed Burton discusses is a hidden premise, gestured at but never quite articulated: the idea that we have access to our deepest, most authentic intuitions and desires—and that we are capable of separating these deepest selves from consumer culture, social pressure, newsrooms, and Internet feeds. And yet, when we retweet a popular political opinion or attend a SoulCycle class or cleanse our house with sage, are we really expressing our most authentic selves and so pursuing the good? Or are we . . . anchorless and tossed about by the brands, ideologies, and communities we think we choose?
Read more on Jewish Review of Books: https://jewishreviewofbooks.com/articles/8611/american-gods/