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University of Missouri observes Wiccan holidays

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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The Columns on Francis Quadrangle in front of Jesse Hall at the University of Missouri (Credit: Don J Schulte via Flickr)

The University of Missouri will now observe eight “Wiccan/Pagan” holidays during the year.  That’s one more than the number of Christian holidays to be celebrated.  The university’s Guide to Religions lists 42 holidays across the academic year, beginning with Hinduism’s Krishna Janmashtami (celebrating the birth of the Hindu god Krishna) on August 28, 2013.  The school joins Vanderbilt University, which began including Wiccan/Pagan holidays on its interfaith calendar in 2011.

Consider some of the Wiccan/Pagan holidays: Yule (winter solstice) celebrates the birth of the newborn sun; Imbolc marks the recovery of the “Earth Goddess” after giving birth to the “Sun God” at Yule; Ostara and Beltane celebrate fertility; Litha celebrates the marriage of the god and goddess to create the harvest.

Would these rites have been familiar to ancient Israel?  The Canaanite religion of their day centered on Baal, the god of rain and fertility, and the goddess Asherah.  Baal’s death each year brought the dry season; his resurrection brought rain and the harvest.  They were worshiped through a variety of fertility rituals which led the Jewish people into spiritual and sexual adultery (cf. Jeremiah 3:9).  Is Wicca/Paganism a modern-day equivalent?

Witch School International claims that Wicca is the fastest-growing religion in America.  The school seeks to train thousands of Wiccan teachers over the next decade to meet this demand.  What does it say about our culture that Wicca/Paganism would be so appealing today?  Why would the University of Missouri now feel compelled to recognize it in its Guide to Religions?

I think more is at work than a university’s need to include all religions if it recognizes any.  The University of Missouri did not include Wicca/Paganism before this year, and excludes Scientology, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and a number of other religions.  But Wicca/Paganism is the perfect religion for our culture.  It requires no repentance for sin and judges no behavior, but it promises followers the empowerment of unity with nature.  Isn’t that what many want out of religion today—affirmation and power?

What did God say about the worship of Baal?  Remember the face-off between the prophet Elijah and 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah (1 Kings 18:18-40).  The pagan prophets prayed unsuccessfully from morning into afternoon for their gods to send fire on their altar.  But when Elijah called on God, “the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench (v. 38).  Then, “when all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, ‘The Lord—he is God!  The Lord—he is God!'” (v. 39).

Do we need more Elijahs today?