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What is behind the increase in “witches” in the US?

As the number of self-identified witches in the United States has surpassed the number of Presbyterians, it is helpful to recall G.K. Chesterton’s adage that when we stop believing in God, we begin to believe in anything.  A recent Pew Research Center survey found that about 0.4 percent of Americans identify themselves as Pagan or Wiccan, a significant increase over previous years. An estimated 1 to 1.5 million people say they practice Wicca or Paganism today, a rise from an estimated 8,000 in 1990, and 340,000 in 2008.

The increase in the number of witches parallels the decline in the number of Americans who identify as Christians, as documented by the most recent survey (in 2015) of more than 35,000 Americans by Pew. The survey found the number of Americans who describe themselves as Christian dropped almost 8 percentage points, from 78.4 percent in 2007 to 70.6 percent in 2015. During that same period, those who described themselves as atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular” increased from 16.1 to 22.8 percent.

When the Pew data was released in 2015, NPR proclaimed the impending demise of religion, and New York Times reporter used the data to resuscitate the long-discredited secularization theory to suggest that a more educated and affluent population will naturally reject religion. Claiming that the declines in Christian affiliation among the young, well-educated, and affluent are consistent with a general disenchantment of society, skeptics conclude that religion no longer provides meaning in an increasingly rational world.

Or does it? What NPR and the New York Times seem to forget is that we will always be seekers. We will always be searching for meaning in our lives. When traditional religion no longer provides us with that meaning, we will seek it elsewhere. The shift toward paganism and witchcraft should have been expected. Psychologist Jordan Peterson recently told an interviewer for a Catholic journal that 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche intended his statement, “God is dead,” as a warning against the atheism and nihilism of the Western intelligentsia: “When they lost faith in God, Marxism and then Nazism moved in to fill the void.” Peterson might have added environmentalism as the newest ideology—it is the ideology that celebrates the primal powers of nature that aligns so well with paganism and witchcraft.

Read more at Catholic World Report. 

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