It’s a pretty complicated topic.
Let’s face it: for someone just becoming exposed to the idea of “rational religion”, there is a lot of territory to cover: the idea that religion doesn’t have to involve gods or the supernatural; the idea of Paganism itself, which is not exactly mainstream, even in groovy Northern California. And then, at the end of it, the big question: why? If you don’t believe Anyone is Listening, why would you do rituals and have celebrations?
If your understanding of the nature of religion is founded in the characteristics that define the mainstream monotheisms, it’s a long and somewhat arduous walk to understanding a religion that looks nothing like them. But when the topic comes up—and when I feel up to the attempt, rather than simply dodging—here is how I explain what I do and believe.
First: I believe that science and critical thinking are the best ways we have to determine the likely nature of the Universe. I do not believe in anything supernatural, or that there is anything science is inherently incapable of studying, because the available evidence doesn’t even remotely support these ideas, and I’m an evidence-based kind of guy.
That said, I believe the evidence does indicate that religion is something humans evolved as a strategy for group success and personal life enrichment. Religion can give us values, practices and a sense of meaning in life. It can help us to build community with others who share our values and view of the world.
I believe that the nature of religion is an inevitable outgrowth of the nature of the human brain as it has evolved. I can go into a lot of detail about that, but suffice to say it is a model that hangs together insofar as I am concerned.
To me, being an Atheopagan is about celebration of the wonder of the natural world and the Cosmos. My values center on life and love and beauty and truth and happiness, and I celebrate the passage of the seasons as a way to feel more deeply the seasonal changes and their metaphorical meanings. I have eight major holidays around the year, and also practice ritual observances on occasions like weddings, births, deaths, and life passages. And I can do all of that—and do—without believing in gods, effective prayer, magic or invisible powers of any kind.
So that’s how I explain it. If they have questions, I answer them, and if they want to argue, I generally find a way to leave.
How about you? How do you explain your beliefs and practices?