Quick Note: Secular Re-Enchantment

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  June 17, 2009 — 3 Comments

As I’ve mentioned before, many social theorists and theologians believe that Western culture has gone through a period of “disenchantment” in the post-Enlightenment era and the resulting rise of secular government, perhaps culminating in the “death of God” theology so popular in the 1960s. But while many were pondering the “death” of God, some started to notice a new “re-enchantment” (one that includes the magic-embracing Pagans) coming to fill the void left by this newly minted “post-Christian” era. But is “re-enchantment” necessarily a rebellion against secularism and reason? Keir Martin of The Guardian doesn’t think so.

“However, what both Weber’s analysis of disenchantment and counter-claims as to the importance of contemporary re-enchantment often share is a tendency to make an easy association between religion and enchantment on the one hand and secular rationalism/scientific atheism and disenchantment on the other. In fact there is a long history of occasions when very modernist secular events seemed highly enchanted to many of those participating in them. Wordsworth’s response to the French Revolution, containing a reference to “reason” as the “prime enchantress” of the earth, being but one famous example. Likewise, organised religion can often be experienced as profoundly disenchanting, as the work of generations of writers, from James Joyce to Jeanette Winterson testifies.”

In short, the old binary of religious=enchantment and secular=disenchantment may be too reductive in today’s world, in fact, as one recent academic collection of essays argues, the new forces re-enchanment have no problem with “secular rationalism”.

“…enchantment continues to be understood as anti-rational and quasi-mystical, a source of cognitive deception and affective indulgence … modernity produces an entirely new array of strategies, compatible with secular rationality, for re-enchanting a disenchanted world. We perceive this as being an exciting new trend in current conceptualizations of Western modernity…”

To Pagans, the “spiritual but not religious”, the scores of “no religion” agnostics who believe in God, and the many other groupings taking part in the West’s re-enchantment, it isn’t a choice of Dawkins or Pope Benedict. Instead, it is melding of the best aspects of rational and secular progress with the immanent and transcendenat spiritual experiences provided by various religions and philosophies. While the old binary view of religioun and rationalism continues to duke it out, Pagans are having their (secular re-enchantment) cake and eating it too.

Jason Pitzl-Waters