We do not live in a secular society. Most of us think we do. It is a truism of our time. Folks are flooding out of the Church and embracing the sunny uplands of rationalism, scientism, and freedom from the shackles of dusty, old, and even dangerous dogmas. They are becoming nones, glorious nones, at a furious pace.
This certainly appears to be true. According to Pew Research, 65 percent of American adults now describe themselves as Christian. This number is down 12 percentage points over the past decade. It is down 25 percent from fifty years ago. The religiously unaffiliated continues to grow. Atheists, agnostics, or “nothing” have increased to 26 percent, a gain of 9 percent over ten years.
From 2009 to the present, self-identified Protestants have dropped from 51 percent to 43 percent, while Catholics have dropped from 23 percent to 20 percent. Atheists have grown to four percent, agnostics to five percent, and “nones” have increased from 12 percent to 17 percent. These numbers hold for all demographic groups. The Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials are all heading out the door.
There are some funny and utterly American aspects to these numbers. Consider that only 89 percent of atheists don’t believe in God. Only 63 percent of atheists say religion is irrelevant to them. Americans, even atheists, tend to DIY everything, including religion.
After all, America is the place that birthed Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Church of Christ, Scientist, and Joseph Smith, whose golden tablets inspired Mormonism, one of America’s fastest-growing faiths. In 1899, Perry Baker—later renamed Dr. Pierre Bernard—hooked up with a traveling Indian yogi named Sylvais Hamati in Lincoln, Nebraska, studied with him for 18 years, and became the father of yoga in America. Baker taught practices that are now familiar to soccer moms all over the country: the lotus position, breath control, and the ritual cleansing of bodily toxins. I write about this extensively in my new book, Under Siege: No Finer Time to be a Faithful Catholic.
Consider the modern movement of wellness, a $4.5 trillion market that includes $639 billion spent on wellness tourism and $702 billion spent on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss. In addition, wellness acolytes spend a whopping $1 trillion on personal care, beauty, and antiaging products and services. Is this a new faith? Take a close look at Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness empire.
Paltrow founded Goop, a company and a movement that is equal dollops wacky, unsubstantiated product claims, and spiritual lunacy. It started as a newsletter and has grown to a website with 2.4 million unique monthly views, a magazine, a podcast, a huge annual conference, a television program on Netflix, and more than $250 million in yearly revenue. Goop is an aspirational love letter from and to the lifestyle of the eponymous guru Gwyneth.
Gwyneth sells a loopy product called Real Water with “E2 Technology that adds electrons to water through electrical restructuring. The negative ionization can be measured in millivolts (mV) by an Oxidation Reduction Potential (ORP) meter.”
She sells a “Jade egg for your Yoni.” Yoni is Sanskrit for vagina. You insert it for “joy and well-being.” When not in your Yoni, you need to store it in a “sacred space” that has “good vibes.”
Gwyneth’s Goop Summit has featured an “akashic-records healer” who, according to The New York Times, “reads your past, present, and possible future.” The healer claims to have flat feet because someone chopped off her feet in a previous life, and whenever she is reincarnated, she comes back with flat feet because she likes the surety of her feet entirely touching the ground.
Paltrow’s website features a woman who offers herself as your “intuitive guide as we gracefully align with your Divine Blueprint.” What’s the Divine Blueprint? It is nothing less than the “temples, power places, and the global plan to shape the human soul.”
On her Netflix program, called The Goop Lab, Paltrow hosted an energy practitioner who hovers his hands over stressed-out clients in what appears quite obviously to be an exorcism. Bodyworker chiropractor John Amaral charges upward of $2500 for a one-on-one session where his clients lay on an elevated table as he pants and moans as if intoning prayers. Then, he sweeps his hands over and under them while they writhe and moan. You can watch as Paltrow’s chief creative officer retches and dry heaves. She describes it as an exorcism and calls herself a “witch.”
Bodyworker Amaral says he is merely trying to change the frequency of the vibration of the body itself. He says the universe is made up of only four percent matter, and the rest is energy, so we have only to plug into that energy. We come from energy, and we return to it when we die. You cannot look at the Goop empire, and so many like it, and think they are even remotely secular.
You need to understand that when people uncheck the Christianity box and check the “none” box they do not resort to nothing. That is impossible. And what they move to is something like wellness, or obsessive sexuality, angelic creatures, pantheistic environmentalism, anti-racism, whatever. But they do not become nothing. They do not become “secular.”
Ours is not a secular age. In my subsequent column, I will argue that these and other new denominations have become an established state religion. I will explain how it came about and how this new established “church” is coming for the heretics: you and me.
[Photo Credit: Ian Tuttle/Getty Images for goop]