Paganism is growing. That isn’t my mere opinion, it is backed up with statistical data from places like the Pew Forum and ARIS. More often than not, when mainstream newspapers and news outlets write about us, they mention how we’re growing, or how we’re moving into the mainstream. The growth of modern Pagan faiths, and other religious minorities, has also seen a growth in “nones”, those who profess to not hold any religious identity. This circumstance has led to a series of books by younger Christians who are trying to understand, and reverse, this trend. The latest entry in this genre is “Generation Ex-Christian: Why Young Adults Are Leaving the Faith. . .and How to Bring Them Back” by Christianity Today editor Drew Dyck. In an interview with the Birmingham News, Dyck explains where all these young Christians are going.
“No two “leavers” are exactly the same, but some patterns did emerge. Postmodern leavers reject Christianity because of its exclusive truth claims and moral absolutes. For them, Christian faith is just too narrow. “Recoilers” leave because they were hurt in the church. They suffered some form of abuse at the hands of someone they saw as a spiritual authority. God was guilty by association. “Modernists” completely reject supernatural claims. God is a delusion. Any truth beyond science is dismissed as superstition. “Neo-pagans” refers to those who left for earth-based religions such as Wicca. Not all actually cast spells or participate in pagan rituals, but they deny a transcendent God, and see earth as the locus of true spirituality. “Spiritual Rebels” flee the faith to indulge in behavior that conflicted with their faith. They also value autonomy and don’t want anyone — especially a superintending deity — telling them what to do. “Drifters” do not suffer intellectual crises or consciously leave the faith; they simply drift away. Over time God becomes less and less important until one day he’s no longer part of their lives.”
Which is fine as far as these things go, many younger Christians are indeed turning to some forms of modern Pagan religion. What I usually have trouble with is their analysis of what Christians should do about it.
“Many young people have been exposed to a superficial form of Christianity that effectively inoculates them against authentic faith. To stem the tide of young people leaving, I believe churches need to get shift the emphasis away from an entertainment model and back to religious education and spiritual growth.”
It all comes down to teaching and role-modeling the elusive real fundamental Christianity to young people. Dyck’s book, and books like “UnChristian”, “Generation Hex”, “Wicca’s Charm”, and many, many, more, all call for a return to an elusive central core of faith that is pure enough to withstand the rigors of engaging the wider secular/non-Christian world. Christians love these books, because it not only addresses a problem that worries them, but tells them that the solution is to become more Christian as a way to solve the problem. But that solution is one built on faith, not on any real-world tested mode of engagement. Further, to classify “neopaganism” as merely a category of backslider instead of whole movement of individual faiths with theologies and beliefs of their own is setting up Christian parents and leaders for failure. First, it will not equip them to engage with those who have actually embraced a Pagan faith, and secondly, it will alienate those who have simply become interested in environmentalism, or simple ideas of immanence within a Christian context. Becoming more Christ-like (or fervent) won’t necessarily impress either category of “neopagan”.
If there’s a “secret” to stopping the move away from Christianity in the West, a trend that worries everyone from evangelicals to the Pope in Rome, it may be that Christians think you can change nothing about the faith, while putting a new spin on things to win people back. But younger people see that the faith they grew up in, and its moral failure to change on important issues, makes it an inviable option for existing in a tolerant and secular society. Modern Paganism, because it has had to engage on a decades-long project of reconstruction and re-envisioning since its emergence, has been able to absorb modern approaches to politics and society without having to deal with the “culture-war” issues in the same fashion. Further, polytheism can handle schisms, disagreements, and differences of opinion, in a far more fluid and healthy fashion than most of the top-down monotheisms can. So long as these authors address the “problem” of young people leaving the faith in this current fashion, modern Pagans will have little to worry about concerning its own growth.