Religion in the west is thought to be in decline. But is it? In some ways it is. Traditional forms of religion, especially Christianity, are in decline. However, many people, especially younger ones, are finding meaning and community in a variety of new religious/spiritual belief systems. Tara Isabella Burton, author of Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World, separates them out into three large groups: self-helpers, pagans, and alt.right. All three are very humanistic, often emphasizing human will, liberation, and self-actualization. Self-help authors run the gamut, from Norman Vincent Peale to Oprah. Although repackaged for modern minds, their basic ideas have been around since the 19th century. The pagans include Wiccans, Satanists, and social justice warriors. They are hostile to the traditional Abrahamic religions, politically quite progressive, and mix and match ideas from a wide range of sources. The alt.right is a diverse group of Nietzscheans, Jordan Petersonians, and outright racists and misogynists. Politically, they range from libertarian to anarchist to neo-Nazi.

The author is generally objective and lets members of these groups speak for themselves. She ends Strange Rites by saying, “All three of these new faiths claim a powerful, transformative vision of the world, rooted not in transcendent meaning but in human thought, feeling, and will. The techno-utopians’ dream of a world in which we are all rendered optimally efficient machines, the social justice utopia of a liberated world, the atavists’ vision of a purifying cataclysm that will bring us beyond the tyranny of civilization altogether—all these are potential ends to the arc of postliberal history. Only time will tell which one will win.” Highly recommended for understanding the post-postmodern zeitgeist. 

Reviewed by Art, General Reference Assistant Librarian