Dr. Tara Isabella Burton joins the crew to discuss why occultism, astrology, tarot cards, folk religion, and New Age spirituality are all the rage and why this phenomenon is not particular to religious “nones.”
Intro + The rise and importance of “intuitional religions” [0:00 – 4:04]
The convergence of progressive Christianity and New Age spirituality [4:04 – 6:02]
The depth and breadth of “remixed” spiritual views in the culture today [6:02 – 11:27]
Why New Age spirituality and witchcraft are seen as appealing and resourceful in today’s political and cultural climate [11:27 – 20:35]
“Resistance witches” and the appeal of an intuitional religious view [20:35 – 26:30]
How atavist theology intersects with alt-right views (e.g., “alpha male” culture and “beta male” culture) + why the pejorative “woke millennial” does not capture the whole picture [26:30 – 34:04]
How social media helps people affiliate with anti-authority and radicalized views + Conclusion [34:04 – 40:06]
[Article] “The Rise of Progressive Occultism” by Tara Isabella Burton
[Article] “The Religious Hunger of the Radical Right” by Tara Isabella Burton
[Article] “The Religious Hunger That Drives Jordan Peterson’s Fandom:
Jordan Peterson, The Alt-Right, and the Reactionary Allure of Mythology” by Tara Isabella Burton
[Book] Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars From 4Chan And Tumblr To Trump And The Alt-Right by Angela Nagle
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Finally, as always, follow Derek, Andrew, and Alastair for more tweet-sized brilliance. Thanks to Timothy Motte for his sound editing work. And thanks to The Joy Eternal for lending us their music, which everybody should download out of gratitude for their kindness.
Very interesting and important discussion that immediately brought to mind Josephson-Storm’s The Myth of Disenchantment. There was a tremendous amount of important and insightful work by Dr. Burton and the rest of you (I would really like to hear Andrew’s take as a pastor, please get him to clear his schedule more often). In the section on institutionalism vs. individualism, I found myself rather agreeing with Alistair’s take. I am sympathetic to Derek’s “sliding scale” but i am wondering if (at least for the masses and not the full-on witches) there isn’t a deeper and perhaps unresolvable tension that is a part of the modern world and which the sliding scale doesn’t quite adequately address. For example, Dr. Burton argues that the self is the only thing you can trust and due to the lack of trust in institutions, “pure trust of the self . . . makes total sense” (the ellipsis covers either “pure individualism” or “pure intuitionalism” i couldn’t quite tell which).
The problem with this line of thinking, it seems to me, is that while it may account for the broad cultural distrust of Trump, I am not quite so sure that it accounts for the rage against him or for the rise of Jordan Peterson as a phenomena (or dare I say movement), the rise of AOC and the “squad”, or of various movements on the right and the left which seem both individualist (as Dr. Burton’s articles point out) on the one hand and reflect a definite desire to be a part of something bigger – if not quite an institution. Of course this is not, by any means a new move. As a Get Xer, I find my default mode is not only not to trust institutions, but to be quite cynical about them. Boomers distrust of institutions during the 60s practically goes without saying, and yet they gave rise to a great many institutions.
This push and pull of the communal/institutional and the individual maps at least somewhat onto the terribly human need to save one’s self and the certain knowledge that we are not up to the task. i wonder if this is perhaps an entry point for a distinctively, if “mere” orthodox Christian entry into these waters. (It would be interesting to hear, for instance how someone like Tim Keller would/does minister to folks like this or how Derek will be in his roll with RUF).
Well, sorry for the long post, but please keep up the good work! 2 for 2 this season so far.
Storm’s “The Myth of Disenchantment” is excellent. But doesn’t it show that the occult never disappeared at all, despite attempts of institutional religion to stamp it out? So I don’t think Storm would be having any of this “rise of occultism” idea, and I would agree with him. So much of the time when we see a rise of some phenomenon, we find that what gave rise to it is in our methods of measuring it.
The narrative of “lost community”, “millennials”, internet, and “consumerism” and the rest of the standard list has always had a life of its own, and it’s irresistible for people who see things in such terms to try to explain what was always there as a cause for one’s own appraisal of the world’s ills.
I have actually read and been recommending Storm’s book for a couple of years now, precisely because of some of the issues with the recent disenchantment thesis. And it’s precisely for that reason and others that we have wanted to get into the subject matter that we delve into on the show. https://derekzrishmawy.com/2018/12/29/when-you-sort-of-miss-disenchantment/
That said, I do think there is a way in which the rise of occultism and Storm’s thesis can coexist. Precisely as folks, esp Millennials, increasingly identify as Nones, without actually going full-on atheist, secular, etc. the more prominent and public these sorts of beliefs will become, even if they have never fully gone away. Folks who would have called themselves Christian before, but still blended that with belief in ghosts, astrology, etc. may end up just going full-on into the latter without any hint of the former. And in doing so, they’ll identify more fully with it, or be open to exploring these options in a way they hadn’t before.
Derek, there’s another way for Storm’s thesis and a “rise” of occultism to coexist. It’s that modern communications means the rise is a function of our ways of measuring it. Anytime there’s a “rise” in anything we should always ask how we know that. It seems to me the vast majority of the time it corresponds to a change in the method or standard of measure.
I’d challenge you to also read Bernard Yack. His books “The Fetishism of Modernities” and “The Problems of a Political Animal” are necessary books that every Christian seeking to be wise should grapple with. Our most strident cultural critics seem the most blind to even more subtle and powerful narratives than disenchantment. If you think about it there are many narratives mimicking the Fall, and especially within Christianity itself. Most evangelicals I know are more than happy to entertain for the sake of argument–apologetics–the idea that God doesn’t exist. But the idea that their favorite conspiracies about “modernity” isn’t true? No chance. They appear shocked and can’t even entertain the idea. People want Christianity to correspond to their favorite narratives, conspiracy theories, the same as it ever was.
I think of it as negative theology. If and when one can distinguish and identify an idea, and critique it effectively, one has gotten closer to a realistic Christianity. We have too many specialists. We need generalists who can cross disciplines to deal with bad ideas of all kinds. Pharisaism is or is born of idealism, and it’s never gone out of style.
“… no one reads anything anymore … but if you’re accredited inside a discipline, you don’t exist for any other discipline. People talk a good interdisciplinary game in our academic world, but they don’t practice it. Because departments are centers of attention. There is a lot of anonymity in our world, and people are very scared of it and for good reasons, because they tend to fall into the interstices … so only the department life is meaningful. So if you say ‘I believe this about human societies’ and you’re not a sociologist, I mean you can’t talk. … if you’re an anthropologist you stay in anthropology. If I’m in sociology I stay in sociology. Safe scholarship is for the one who thinks mostly of his career. He will not write a book on sacrifice or will not mix up Greek tragedy and archaic cultures because he knows the departments of classics will be furious. But the department of anthropology will be furious too. We are at a time when certain forms of synthesis are, I think, ready or possible that were not possible fifty years ago. So at least one should have an open ear you know.” –René Girard
Thanks for the link to your other article. I have always found it interesting that some of the biggest scientific minds of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were also highly spiritual in a non-systematic sort of a way. we want the systematic and rational because we want control. However, as Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd argued (If I remember correctly-he as difficult to understand and its been years), humans are at their core religious so everything we do will always have that element whether we want it or not. (See also Augustine and many others). I think, because of this, whenever we move in a purely rationalistic direction we will always have both an internal/individual and cultural push back.
If this is the case, we would expect to see both an increase in rationalism and a corresponding increase in “spirituality” under whatever guise. Further, I wonder (and this is pure speculation on my part) if we don’t culturally seek the “spiritual but not religious” because we have, in the world of science (“facts”) leaned so heavily on our belief in systems and we don’t like the implications of of a religious system. (e.g., One has to be right because they all can’t be, if true then we have to actually obey it, religions say that we don’t have and can’t have ultimate spiritual control). Religious systems, especially a Christian system, make demands that individuals don’t generally like. We need systems, we know we need systems (and not just in science – government, banking, work, etc.), but we also know that human systems are inherently corrupted (because we are) and therefore we don’t trust them. so what does this mean for religious systems, those areas of ultimate concern? Well, if you can de-systematize them, perhaps both the corruption gets diluted and their claim on us while still allowing us to connect to our inherent religious core. I know that’s pretty loose and I haven’t completely thought it all through, but it seems like it might be a direction to head.