Virtue vs. Moralistic Therapeutic Deism


Mike Austin has a new post today at Being Good.com: Virtue vs. Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. MTD is a challenge to America’s teenagers and emerging adults. It is a challenge to parents. And it is a challenge to America’s churches. I urge you to read Mike’s post!

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Is Witchcraft Merely a Passing Fancy among Emerging Adults?


Buffy

As a university professor, I have a deep interest in the lives of “emerging adults” and trends occurring among them. Today, one such trend is commitment to Witchcraft.

A popular website, TeenWitch.com, claims that

Witchcraft is the fastest growing belief system in the U.S. and the second largest religion in the U.S. Witchcraft (including Wicca) passed Buddhism in 2005, passed Hinduism in 2007, passed Islam in 2008, and passed Judaism in March of 2009.

More young women than men are attracted to Witchcraft. Often, their initial introduction to the Witchcraft movement is through popular media: TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and feature films like the Harry Potter series. Initial curiosity is often fed by internet searches that put young adults in possession of more information and in contact with established members of the Witchcraft community.

Many emerging adults simply accept the neopagan interests of their peers without seeking inclusion. Others, who investigate a little more fully, lose interest quickly. But a marked number take to Witchcraft quite seriously.

The movement deserves greater attention and more sensitive understanding. It’s tied to a worldview that looks particularly attractive to a group of today’s emerging adults who seek to make sense of their experiences—disappointments, spiritual needs, loneliness, quest for meaning, social dissonance, etc.—on a deep level.

Witchcraft’s associated worldview is supported in various ways by a general culture of relativism and experience-based conviction (over rational inquiry and the assessment of evidence). I believe the Witchcraft movement has real staying power, that it will endure as the stabilizing center for many young people now being initiated into its sensibilities. In other words, it’s more than a passing fancy or form of teenage rebellion or angst.

A good place to begin understanding the movement is with a book by sociologists Helen A. Berger and Douglas Ezzy: Teenage Witches: Magical Youth and the Search for the Self. Berger and Ezzy conducted intensive interviews with self-identified witches in the U.S., Great Britain, and Australia. Their book describes their findings. It includes transcripts of several interviews.

Compared with other literature I’ve read, this book by Berger and Ezzy is most helpful as an introduction to the movement among young people. Their conclusions are tied to specific empirical data. They describe the pathways by which young witches often become committed to Witchcraft. They recount the experiences and practices of young witches, and explain the notions behind them. They relate the Witchcraft movement to broader cultural sensibilities, especially (and most helpfully) in connection with the effects of postmodernism.

(Another book to make this connection is Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion, by neopagan Michael York.)

Berger and Ezzy take care to describe the elements of an individual’s experience that dispose him or her to the blandishments of Witchcraft. They explore the ways family and friends have responded or reacted to the revelation that a son or daughter, friend or neighbor, has become a witch. And they describe how these responses have affected young people who consider themselves witches.

Berger and Ezzy are reluctant to criticize the movement, and they are remiss, I believe, in their conclusion that young adults are not injured by commitment to Witchcraft. They believe that for some young people, Witchcraft is a viable way of making sense of their world and living with greater purpose and satisfaction. They do not critically examine the worldview components of Witchcraft, in the interest of assessing their truth value. They seem themselves to be heavily influenced by relativizing tendencies in Western culture.

But their research and clear exposition have great value, whatever your view of these shortcomings. The authors are, after all, examining the movement as interested sociologists. Value judgments, whether positive or negative, are deliberately kept to a minimum. My impression is that this book could be read by emerging adults who are either fascinated with or already committed to Witchcraft, without causing them to feel misunderstood or prematurely judged.

More important, the book is an excellent entry point for parents, teachers, church leaders, and any others who are confused by the Witchcraft movement and concerned about the involvement of young people they know.

Film and Parental Discretion


“How do you help your children to be discerning and pick up themes and messages inherent in the movies, books, and visual arts?” Thank you, Cindy Gould, for another great question.

Just today I was talking with a screenwriter friend of mine about the kinds of movies producers like to make. For the fast buck, they favor films for teens. And let’s face it, most films targeting the teen market aren’t all that “intellectually meaty.”

That doesn’t mean, though, that teen films are ideologically vacuous. And some teens actually like sophisticated movies intended for a more specialized audience. Is it possible to equip them to be reflective about their film experiences without ruining their enjoyment of film? Absolutely.

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Start young. Be selective about the films your children see early on. Watch them together. Afterward, probe with questions about what they thought or felt. To get specific answers ask specific questions. Remember that one scene in Shrek when the princess is singing and, just when she hits a really high note, the bird that was singing with her literally explodes? Here are some questions to ask: “Was it funny when this happened? Was it tragic? Was it both? How could it be both?” In The Lion King, the treacherous uncle looks the part. You could get some good discussion about that. “Do the bad guys always look like bad guys? How can you tell when someone might be trying to trick you into doing something you shouldn’t do? How do you know when to trust someone?”
  2. Let children express themselves fully. Ask questions about what they say. Show sincere interest in their answers. But be careful not to “cross-examine.”
  3. Affirm them for the good ideas they have and the reasonable ways they come up with those ideas. If you love the way they think, tell them, “I love the way you think!” If we’re going to raise a generation of thinkers, they have to know we value thinking. This brings us to a final point.
  4. Share your own ideas with your children. If you’ve asked for their point of view, you’ve earned the privilege of sharing your point of view and there’s a real chance they’ll listen because you’ve listened. Be careful about the tone of your contribution, though. Try not to sound too dogmatic and authoritative. Be a model of intellectual curiosity. Encourage your children to respond to your ideas with their own evaluation.

This is pretty general advice. Much depends on a child’s age and the relationship you have with your child. I hope readers will share their thoughts and experiences in the comments box below.

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