Recently, I’ve participated in online discussions both on Facebook and over on John Halstead’s blog on Patheos, “The Allergic Pagan”, relating to a rant by Rev. Cathryn Platine of the Maetreum of Cybele, the background on which can be found here (including the comment thread Platine deleted, apparently finding it too threatening).
The upshot of Rev. Platine’s quite abrasive screed is that people with a naturalistic view of the world can’t be Pagans: in fact, that without “polytheistic devotionals”, no one can be. She suggests we all toddle off and become Unitarians.
I have news for Rev. Platine: we exist. I exist.
And among our number happen to be some rather well-known Pagan figures who do not believe in literally existing gods. From the early days of the Neopagan movement, there have always been those who saw gods as metaphors and archetypes…or who dispensed with them entirely (cf Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon).
Are my Earth-honoring rituals and seasonal observances at the quarters and cross-quarters of the year any less “real” because I don’t pretend I’m talking to an invisible intelligence? Is what is added to my life by my religious practices any less precious and moving to me because it is grounded in a naturalistic understanding of the Universe? Is the community building around the concepts and practices of Atheopaganism any less a community because we share a science-based and atheistic cosmology?
On the flipside, am I any less likely to be characterized as a “pagan” for revering the Earth by those who oppose the environmental movement? Indeed, will I not be thrown in two socially suspect bags, that of the “pagan” and of the atheist?
No, no, and no.
I am not a Unitarian. I am not interested in being one, although I know some participants in the Facebook Atheopaganism group value their UU community highly. My orientation to ritual is much more in the Pagan tradition of circular structure, freeform creativity and wonder and awe for the natural world than is the usual UU modality (I have no experience of CUUPS, and can’t speak to that).
Without wishing to insult anyone else, I think it’s pretty clear that a critically thinking mind and an endorsement of the scientific method are the best means of determining truth. Educated persons tend toward atheism exactly for this reason–the higher one’s level of education, the less likely one is to subscribe to supernatural explanations for phenomena and experiences. It is not a radical thing to say so.
I suggest that it is pretty radical that Rev. Platine feels that abandonment of what is demonstrably the most effective way of learning about our Universe is a prerequisite for being a Pagan. Over these many years, we have been able to share ritual space with those credulous in gods, and they with us (if unknowingly). It hasn’t been a problem. Splitting the community with an arbitrary decree, on the other hand…
The kind of divisive rhetoric that Rev. Platine produces in her diatribe isn’t helping the Pagan community any. All it’s doing is making a large segment of its population feel unwanted. And this is why I am so glad that at the 2015 Pantheacon convention next month, we have arranged to hold several Atheopagan events, hosted by the Pagan Scholars suite.*
It’s time for us to stop playing along and pretending we’re not atheist Pagans–rather, to create a welcoming space for Atheopagans. It’s time for us as a community to take up and diversify the work of developing the ritual practices, traditions and ideas of a naturalistic Earth-honoring path: a path which, I believe, is that of the future as humanity grows less theistic, more educated and science-literate, and aware of its precarious condition in relation to its home planet.
Sorry, Rev. Platine. We’re here, and we’re clear–get used to it.
*If you’re going, mark your schedule: we will host an Atheopagan Open House on Saturday Feb. 14 from noon-3 pm; a panel on atheism in Paganism at 1:30-3 pm on Sunday, and my workshop on Atheopaganism and a short ritual thereafter starting at 3:30 on Sunday.