Enchantment Shifting: Part 1, Are We Really Disenchanted?

Following Charles Taylor, in Reviving Old Scratch I tell the story of Western civilization over the last 500 years as a journey from enchantment to disenchantment.

Whimsically, in the book I call this ScoobyDooification, using the trajectory of a classic Scooby Doo episode to illustrate the movement from a world filled with magic, ghosts, and spirits to a world of science, technology and rationalism. At the start of a Scooby Doo episode the world of agents consists of people and spooks. But at the end of the episode there are only people. No gods, spirits, or ghosts.

So our secular age is disenchanted.

Or is it?

Over the last couple of years scholars have been pushing back upon the disenchantment story. Perhaps we aren't as disenchanted as we think we are.

Here's how Stephen Asma describes modern supernatural beliefs in his book Why We Need Religion? After discussing how his sophisticated college students scoff at the scientific illiteracy of things like Ken Ham's Creation Museum Asma observes:
My own students in Chicago chuckle with ironic dismissal about the Creation Museum. But now it gets interesting. My students believe in ghosts.

It's not just a few students, or an odd cohort, that believe in ghosts. It's a vast majority. Over the last decade I have informally polled my students and discovered that around 80 percent of them believe in ghosts...

If you are surprised to find such a high number of ghost believers, you might also be alarmed to discover that almost half of my students also believe in astrology...

Much has been made recently of the nonreligious nature of the Millennials, given that they self-identify as "unaffiliated" when polls ask them about religion. They are indeed disaffected about organized institutional religion, but we would be mistaken if we read this as an Enlightenment style triumph of scientific literacy. They are devoted to mysticism, supernaturalism, [and] pseudoscience...and the same [students] who think the idea of heaven and hell is ridiculous, see karma and reincarnation as manifestly obvious.
I think this is very true. Sure, you might run into a hard core atheist from time to time, but by and large your average Dick and Jane is very much a supernaturalist.

In short, we're not as disenchanted as we think. Our enchantments have just shifted.

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