A friend of mine posts a meme on her Facebook timeline. It reads:
Don’t think about what can happen in a month. Don’t think about what can happen in a year. Just focus on the 24 hours in front of you and do what you can to get closer to where you want to be.
At first glance, it appears to be harmless, even positive. But just as I “like” it, I notice that the source is “Wicca Teachings.” This prompts a review of the referee’s call. Follow me and you’ll see why.
It’s hard for me to take Wicca seriously as a spirituality or way of life, let alone as a religion. Like Satanism, it owes its existence to Western anti-Christianity. But the vast majority of Satanists are merely atheists looking to get Christians to clutch their pearls (for example, The Satanic Temple). By contrast, Neo-Paganism, of which Wicca is the preeminent variant, tries to reach back past Christianity to resurrect or recreate (by way of dubious historical and religious research) some ancient form of religiosity believed to be simpler, purer, less restrictive, and less vulnerable to hypocrisy.
If in doing so they can set Christian teeth on edge, so much the better.
The Wiccan result is a rather inchoate pastiche of contrived beliefs and practices that vary from “tradition” to “tradition.” Not even the Wiccan Rede — “An it harm none, do what ye will” — is observed or accepted by all practitioners, to say nothing of the magic for which Wicca initially gained fame. Many Wiccans are theological skeptics, even concerning their own beliefs. Indeed, the only common draw for Wiccans seems to be the experiences created by the rituals: religion as performance art, the acme of postmodern self-absorption. Even some practitioner-historians have admitted that their beliefs matter less than do their rituals.
The witchcraft, however, isn’t completely irrelevant. No matter the different theories of what magic is and how it works in the world, in the end, it serves merely as an instrument or technique by which the Wiccan can bend the material world to conform with their will. I will not trouble to ask whether it works as advertised, though I should hope it doesn’t. My concern here is that it encourages the Wiccan to say, “My will be done on earth; who cares what’s done in Heaven?”
Comparison With Christian Teaching
So let’s go back to my friend’s Wiccan affirmation and contrast it with a similar-appearing Christian teaching:
[Jesus said,] “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:31-34)
The first thing to note is that the Wiccan affirmation is entirely, utterly practical. Nothing wrong with practicality as such, though occasionally pragmatism conflicts with moral rectitude. But to say it’s utterly practical is to say that it might have been uttered by any secular self-help guru. It’s of a piece with maxims like, “You can eat an elephant by taking one bite at a time,” or “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” It’s not especially profound, let alone “spiritual.” By contrast, Jesus’ blatant disregard for material practicality is a challenge and a stumbling block.
The second and more important thing to note is that, while the Wiccan affirmation concerns itself with long-term, self-interested material goals, Jesus teaches us that even our struggle for our most basic necessities must take second place to “seek[ing] the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” It’s not that we aren’t allowed material goals, but rather that achieving those ambitions is not as imperative as is participating with God in the divine life. That, to Christians, is the only end worth striving for; all merely material ambitions are ephemeral:
Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:25-27)
Organic Religion vs. Performance Art
I contrasted the Wiccan affirmation with the passage in Matthew to bring up another point of comparison: the different treatments of the future. The affirmation takes the future for granted if only the disciple focuses on the here-and-now. Eventually, you will eat the elephant and cross the thousand-mile line, so long as you work toward them by small daily increments. By contrast, Jesus only guarantees that tomorrow will have its own problems for us to contend with. That’s not all; in other passages, he reminds us that tomorrow isn’t promised to us (cf. Luke 12:16-21, 13:1-5).
Jesus calls us to get our stuff straight with God today because it just may be our last chance to straighten it.
The difference is not that Christianity’s beliefs and teachings are organized so much as they’re organic: they spring out of the Judeo-Christian cosmos and mythos naturally. Christianity has dogmas because it has something to teach about us, our place within the universe, and the reason for our existence; it has rituals because the rites enact and teach the stories in which the beliefs are encoded. The same thing can be said of other authentic religions; even a syncretic cult such as Gnosticism or Mormonism begins with a cosmic order and stories which tell us about it.
Besides, the rituals of organic religions, when done properly, tend to make for better theater.
Wicca, by contrast, puts the ritual cart in front of the cosmic horse. For all its talk of gods, goddesses, and elemental powers, they’re so much stage dressing for the performance art of the rituals. Like theater and the movies, they don’t require belief so much as they do the willing suspension of disbelief. Likewise, Wiccan morality springs not from a common conception of the human person’s relationship with the cosmos or society but from the conclusion that, well, a “way of life” really ought to offer some idea of right and wrong. In other words, it’s an optional accessory.
The Scent of the Free Cheese
Finally, we must ask why we ought to make such a fuss over a harmless bit of practical advice. But the affirmation is harmless in the same way that the cheese on a mousetrap is harmless: The mouse could eat it all without ill effect, so long as it doesn’t trip the spring. Context matters more than you might think; consider the different shades of meaning you can get from “Love your neighbor” when spoken by a Christian preacher and by a swinger couple. The mouse doesn’t ask itself why the cheese is there. Let’s not be mice.
I know plenty of people who share inspirational memes without any ulterior motive or intent to endorse the memes’ sources. The friend who posted the meme, for example, is not a Wiccan and would regard the magic aspect skeptically. People like the person behind Wicca Teachings depend on knee-jerk sharing to get their memes in front of as many people as possible. And they post as many as they can as quick as they can make them for a cumulative effect. The more Wicca Teachings you see and like, the more likely you are to check out what Wicca offers.
And what does Wicca offer? An artificial religion substitute, a spiritual Aspartame. It’s religion for people who want the spiritual “warm fuzzies,” the moral validation, and something of the communio of organized religion, but without organized religion’s uncomfortable, “regressive” dogmas and mores which cramp their style and set them against the spirit of the world. God the Creator is there if you want Him, but He makes no demands of you, not even belief. She can even be female if that’s your anti-patriarchal pleasure. This is the free cheese; the memes are its scent.
Without advocating Indifferentism, I still must say that the artificial religions created by the Neo-Pagan movement, particularly Wicca, pose a spiritual danger that other, more naturally grown non-Christian religions don’t. Where the other religions arise from humanity’s search “in shadows and images” for God (cf. Lumen Gentium 16), Neo-Paganism has been intentionally created to terminate the search and draw people away from God, redirecting their efforts towards material goals. It’s spiritual junk food: artificially processed to satisfy the consumer’s tastes without regard for the consumer’s real needs or best interests. That’s the fatal, immortal trap into which the cheese lures us.
The moral of the story is: Be careful whose “harmless” words of wisdom you endorse with your “likes” and spread with your “shares” on social media. Consider whether the source has some discernible objective beyond the mere spread of maxims and truisms, and whether that objective is something you can support, or at least tolerate. You don’t have to pretend Neo-Pagans don’t exist. But you don’t have to give them free advertising, either.