At the height of the war in Iraq, I went to a busy local intersection where anti-war protesters gathered to wave signs and shout at motorists.
Among the protesters was a young man adorned with jewelry bearing strange images. I pointed to the stone around his neck and asked what it was.
“This is Rah, the sun god,” he said. I asked what was on his bracelet.
“That’s Rah, too.”
I said, “Does that make you a rah-rah?” He said it made him a pagan, which meant he was tolerant and nonjudgmental. He was baptized Christian, but turned away because, he said, the faith bristles with intolerance and hypocrites.
It was my first encounter with a self-identified pagan in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, but not my last.
In an occult shop in New Hope Borough, the proprietor told me that Christian women are among her most frequent customers of elixirs to dispel moodiness, bring peace or aid in winning the Pennsylvania lottery.
She knows they are Christian by their crucifix necklaces.
I wondered: Are American Christians paganizing?
Given declining church attendance among those who believe in God but not religion, the despairing answer is yes, the paganization of baptized Christians is underway.
In 2008, Pew put the population of Wiccans, Druids and other pagans at a little more than 1 million in the United States, up from about 200,000 in the late 1990s.
Paganism is an umbrella term for pre-Christian religious ritual that led believers to worship nature gods, sex and themselves. Paganism’s spiritual crudity was characterized by the normalization of barbarism, including infanticide, polygamy and slavery.
With its self-admiring New Age creed, “I’m spiritual, not religious,” contemporary paganism has an array of eerily similar sanctified-secular daemons, including birth control, abortion and transgenderism. With marriage now redefined in the minds and hearts of a majority of Americans, it is only a matter of time before the pagan practice of polygamy is normalized.
Unlike the ancient pagan era, ours is a culture haunted by Christ. Because of this, most Christians buying Lucky Lotto potion in New Hope would be offended if you said they were engaging in paganism. Neo-paganism is not full-blown Ba’al-worship, but subtler.
This underreported spiritual syncretism is akin to what happened as the hippie counterculture slowly displaced traditional family culture in the 1960s and ’70s.
Not every American wore long hair, smoked pot, shacked up or drove a VW bus to Grateful Dead concerts. Most Americans were busy living in squaresville. The perception of hippie free-spiritedness and liberation from stifling orthodoxy held allure. Millions were enticed, tolerating it in their children and grandchildren until divorce, living together, out-of-wedlock births and recreational drug use was normalized. Neo-paganism is displacing traditional Christian culture. This isn’t because the Church is out of touch with the modern world. The modern world is out of touch with truth.
There is hope. First, Christians must live holy lives. Not holier-than-thou, but lives of humility aimed daily at glorifying the Creator.
Second, we must pray for a new Pentecost. No new evangelization will succeed without it. Only the Holy Spirit can reclaim lost souls, not rebranding and marketing gimmicks, jazzy liturgy or new hymns that sound like show tunes.
Third, we must be gentle in our manner, the fruit of a well-formed conscience. They will know we are Christians by our love, not our crucifix necklace.
J.D. Mullane writes from Pennsylvania.