The recent film The Witch can come across at first as yet another social justice warrior-influenced piece. The entirely White Christian characters have fanatical beliefs which cause them great stress and are implicated in their own ultimate downfall. They are isolated from civilization and grow increasingly paranoid, hostile and sick. They speak a now obsolete form of English, with much of their dialogue being excerpted from actual 17th-century texts concerning witchcraft. The average internet atheist might well see this and be reinforced in their belief that our ancestors were simply insane, barely even comprehensible on the linguistic level let alone the psychological, and that we are lucky to have been liberated from their oppressive worldview.
On another level, though, the film is profoundly sympathetic to the characters. The use of language is beautiful, comprehensible with some effort, and a reminder of the cultural heritage of every American English-speaker in the audience. Some of the cinematography seems intended to highlight a sort of simple beauty in these people. The family are not simply insane from the beginning, but instead gradually driven into hysteria by brutal circumstances including a shortage of food and their children’s deaths, and clearly make attempts at self-restraint in response to provocation. Despite their religious hysteria, their belief that there are malicious outside forces at work is shown to be correct.
The film also refers to contemporary social trends, though, intentionally or otherwise. Puritan views are echoed in a perverse form in a worldview which is now prominent in a secular context. Firstly, there is the belief that various kinds of human suffering or misfortune should be blamed on intangible yet powerful evil forces, rather than being the result of concrete actions. Belief in witchcraft can be found among many populations of Third-World ancestry today, and increasingly a similar mindset is found among Westerners who champion “social justice” causes.
While it is customary to sneer at the superstition of our ancestors concerning witchcraft or the “bad blood” which justified bloodletting, the same sort of faith in invisible dark forces animates the SJW worldview, including the same willingness to engage in harmful cleansing rituals. “Structural racism” or “institutional racism” for example, can even operate “without anyone having a consciously racist intention;” it is not a matter of the conscious views or behavior of individuals or organizations, but only the alleged intangible nature of systems and institutions. In this it is similar to “white privilege,” which “tends to be unintentional, unconscious...” and yet is blamed for great suffering. In other words, it is like the accusation of witchcraft. Something negative is observed, and it is assumed that a dark and vague force is responsible. There is no conceivable evidence which could disprove the allegation, and none is needed to support it beyond the fact of the unpleasant reality observed. As the Grassroots Policy Project puts it, “how do we explain persistent disparities among groups, and disproportionate levels of poverty, incarceration, unemployment, etc. in communities of color. We can’t. Not without a structural racism analysis.”1
Since individuals’ intentions are essentially irrelevant, nothing could be enough to counteract this faith in the “structural racism” which “lies underneath, all around and across society.”2. We are all members of society and influenced by or even a part of the “racist” system; “[w]e all internalize elements of the dominant worldview.”3 Just as no Puritan man be could certain of God’s grace toward him, no SJW can ever be confident that he is free of his “privilege,” “transphobia” or whatever the latest impurity is called. He must constantly “check” it or allow someone more enlightened to check it for him. This type of thinking is a recipe for endless guilt and self-abasement for some, and endless recrimination for others. Both are displayed in the plot of the film.
This sense of a guilt which can never quite be understood, let alone purged, is also present in the film outside of the context of witchcraft. William and his son Caleb repeat the dogma that man is by nature thoroughly corrupt. This is connected with a doctrine believed by some Christian denominations including the Puritans, namely that of “total depravity.” In this view, connected with the doctrine of original sin, man is inherently corrupt to the point of being completely unable to choose not to sin. According to John Calvin’s interpretation, everything man could do by his own will would displease God, even if his outward behavior followed God’s law.
Calvin’s view was much like the modern SJW belief in an unlimited societal well of “racism,” “sexism,” and so on from which no one can avoid drinking. The belief is that Whites, straight men, and so on are inherently “biased” or “privileged,” which in practice means something much more negative than the literal meanings of the words. Essentially “privilege” means that all of their accomplishments are suspect, others are justified in being jealous towards them, and they are responsible for the suffering of various other identity groups, while “bias” means that their views can often be dismissed due to their natural inability to understand certain things. Their conscious thoughts or decisions can never negate these flaws.
Another common theme is that of anxiety and uncertainty concerning one’s own status. The son Caleb expresses great anxiety at the thought of damnation, not only for his lost baby brother, but for himself if he were to die that day. He shouts at his father to tell him whether he is damned. The father makes explicit here that no one but God can definitely know who will be saved and who will not. According to the doctrine of unconditional election, God had already predetermined who would be among the “elect” before their birth, and was unmoved in this decision by how any individual lived their lives.
This uncertainty in their relationship to God is implied to be a source of great stress for believers, and not only for Caleb. His mother Katherine at one point expresses despair concerning her recent lack of faith, contrasting it with an earlier blissful feeling of being bathed in God’s love which Puritans tended to take as evidence that they were part of the elect. It is at this point that she starts speaking in hysterical terms of witchcraft. The implication is arguably that the stress of such a worldview leads people to mental illness.
On the one hand, SJWs do believe in predestination in that one’s identity group (White, gay, transgender and so on) can be taken as evidence of one’s moral status regardless of one’s behavior. The more victimized the group allegedly is, the more valid their views are. If we accept the view that these groups’ identifying characteristics are innate rather than a personal choice, this is a statement that one’s moral status is at least partly predetermined before one’s birth.
Compared to the Puritan conception, though, identity groups are not an impenetrable mystery to SJWs. Instead they have insecurities springing from a distinct, though related source. Although group identity helps determine it, status as a righteous SJW is never assured, as one’s behavior is indeed an issue; verbal offenses against a growing list of grievance groups can make anyone unclean, or “bigoted” to use the modern term. According to Puritan doctrine, though the elect are unaware of their elect status, they never need to fear losing it; God will never change his mind about them. But SJWs cannot help but notice that their peers can certainly change their minds about them.
There are more chilling reflections of our own situation in the deaths of the parents. Katherine falsely accuses her daughter Thomasin of murdering the two surviving children, and tries to strangle her. Thomasin defends herself by hacking her to death. To give them the benefit of the doubt, SJWs today actually believe that they are being oppressed by traditional views and even by left-wing views less radical than their own. In large part this means they imagine a threat from older generations, and of course many of them have not had good experiences with their own parents. Although Thomasin seems peaceful initially, she does resort to violence, overcoming the strongest natural instinct against harming one’s own kind, in response to an existential threat. As absurd as the fear of “straightriarchy” or “white supremacy” is, similar desperate behavior can be expected from SJWs who believe the dogma, denounce even the concept of “one’s own kind,” and characterize disagreement as “violence.”
Immediately before the scene with Thomasin, the pater familias is ultimately killed by the black goat known as Black Phillip. The beast simply attacks him and gores him with no apparent provocation. Picking up his axe, the wounded father faces the goat for a moment as if still possessing the strength to defend himself. Instead, though, he lets out another confession of his own corruption and drops the axe, at which point the goat finishes him. Certainly he was wounded, but he did not fight back against an adversary which for all he knew could have killed his remaining family. It is implied that his own sense of guilt made him lose the most basic instinct for survival and protection of his own kind. Does this sound familiar?
- See page 15.
- See page 2.
- See page 21.