By Catherine Edwards Sanders.
Shaw. 256 pp. $13.99 paper.
Catherine Edwards Sanders argues that modern women turn to witchcraft and Goddess-worship because they find Christianity dissatisfying—or rather, because they often encounter dissatisfying Christians. Sanders, who first investigated modern witchcraft as an assignment for a magazine, writes: “I was surprised to discover that even if I didn't ask any questions about the church, Wiccans always mentioned it.” The women Sanders interviews in her engaging Wicca's Charm cite any number of reasons for their interest in witchcraft, but again and again they say that it satisfies a craving for spirituality and ritual that many Christian communities do not. Given the state of contemporary catechesis, this flight from the churches is not surprising. Most of these women have never been taught that creedal Christianity is not simply a cultural fairy tale. Much less have they been exposed to authentic devotion or formed spiritually themselves. Many such women seek help with the longings and doubts natural to any Christian, but are left without informed, devout explanations of Christian scripture, theology, history, practice, moral teaching, ritual, and liturgy. If a practicing pagan can offer them some kind of answer, how are they to understand just how wrong-headed and dangerous that answer is? Wicca's Charm is worth noting, not because modern witchcraft offers any serious threat to Christianity, but because attraction to witchcraft is yet another manifestation of modern desires that might be satisfied by Christianity—if modern Christians would only show the way.
—Mary Angelita Ruiz
The Best American Spiritual Writing of 2005.
Edited by Philip Zaleski.
Houghton Mifflin. 240 pp. $14.
Editors predictably look to see how many of the thirty-three essays are from their publication. This year the New Yorker has the most (four) and FIRST THINGS is tied with Christian Century for second place (three each). We'll have to try harder, and maybe have a talk with Philip Zaleski. In truth, this is a judicious selection of fine writing from the past year along the lines of what is broadly defined as spiritual.
The Impossibilty of Religious Freedom.
By Winnifred Fallers Sullivan.
Princeton University Press. 328 pp. $29.95.
A valuable contribution to “church-state” studies, a genre of which there likely will be no end. Sullivan, a dean at the University of Chicago's Divinity School, served as an expert witness in a 1999 federal case in Florida, Warren v. Boca Raton. People had for years put religious symbols on the graves of their relatives in a city-owned cemetery, and the practice was challenged by the usual suspects as a violation of the no-establishment provision of the First Amendment. Using this case as her centerpiece, the author explores the difficulties, if not impossibility, of defining “religion” for legal purposes, and of making a distinction between “high religion” with clear sacred texts, church-like hierarchies, and authoritative traditions, on the one hand, and the “low religion” of popular piety evident in the cemetery symbols. Sullivan contends that most of what needs to be protected under the title of religious freedom is provided by other guarantees such as free speech and association. But she acknowledges that religion of whatever species makes an appeal to transcendent authority that challenges the “statist monopoly on law.” The right to religious freedom, therefore, is a space claimed for the right to “life outside the state,” which she believes can best be secured by laws guaranteeing equality. The argument is provocative, if not always persuasive, and students of this subject will not be surprised that she acknowledges her debt to the late Philip Kurland of the University of Chicago law school, who very influentially contended for government “neutrality” with respect to religion.