WE EXIST.

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.

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14 thoughts on “WE EXIST.

  1. “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 while that’s a valid point, I think you fail to recognize that you also regularly engage in divisive rhetoric that has similarly negative effects.

    Take this statement, for example: “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.”

    This is divisive rhetoric, its problematic on many levels, it is insulting (despite the intent of your disclaimer), and I’d love to know what your source or basis is for this statement. I know plenty of very radiated people who are dedicated polytheists. Such claims are just as insulting and dismissive towards polytheist identity as Rev. Platine was insulting and dismissive towards your identification as a Pagan.

    With all due respect, crying victim while engaging in nearly identical behavior does not serve you well.

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    • If you really think that I have engaged in “nearly identical behavior” to Platine’s, well…we will have to agree to disagree.

      It is a FACT–a documented one–that higher levels of education tend to lead towards more atheism. Maybe that’s just a fluke, but it’s still a fact. That doesn’t mean that *no* educated persons are non-atheists, and it is reductio ad absurdum to claim so (I’m presuming that when you typed “radiated”, you meant “educated”). If facts are insulting, that makes them no less factual. They are stubborn things. If one finds a fact insulting, it’s more likely that one needs to engage in some reflection than to shoot the messenger of said fact.

      The dismissal of atheist Pagans–of whom there are many–is a common behavior in this community. Calling it out is hardly “crying victim”…particularly in response to a foul-mouthed diatribe that characterized atheist pagans as “dangerous”.

      Are my words a bit sharp? Yes, they are. Deservedly so. Coming out of the closet can be like that, and that is what atheist Pagans are doing.

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      • Harris Interactive poll (one of many sources, I just picked one): “Still, the possibility may remain that as the “echo boomers” age, their religious identification may change. But it should also be noted that education was also measured in this poll and as it turns out the better educated a person is, the less likely they are to believe in God. Those with only a High School education or less ranked in a 60% belief. Those with some college education had even less belief at 55%. A full college education brings the percentage of belief down to merely 48%. And a post-college degree brings one 11% points closer to “eternal damnation” at a merely 37% believing in God.”

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  2. I fall into a strange in-between place.

    I like the idea of gods a goddesses but I make no claims about them, as all we know about the gods is from stories humans told us. That being the case, and knowing that humans have agendas that may color their stories, I can’t be certain if any of the information about the gods are correct. Now as I have never had direct contact with any god, I can’t be certain how accurate the information is from those that say they have direct contact with certain Gods.

    I also admit that I may be wrong about my beliefs and about my doubts. That does not worry me at all. I like to try to be honest about my limits as I have no one that I need to impress.

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  3. I’ve been a Pagan since 1997, and I’ve understood from Day One that some Pagans are atheists. It surprises me that this has become such an issue with some theistic Pagans lately, because I do not see your presence in our subculture as anything new. I also don’t see it as a threat. The more people there are who identify as Pagan, the stronger we become as a whole. I’d rather work together toward common goals than waste time arguing over who’s version of Paganism is right or wrong.

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    • For the record, neither I nor (to my knowledge) anyone participating my community of Atheopagans is an “anti-theist”. We don’t care what YOU believe–we just want to be allowed to believe what WE believe.

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      • This from the same person who told everyone in the PACO environmental conference that everyone else should stop ‘pretending’ our gods want us to do anything about the environment, huh?

        You do care what we believe, and you want us to change that.

        A good third of my friends are Atheists and don’t attempt to colonize my beliefs in things they don’t see. That’s why they’re my friends and are welcome to any ritual I do for my gods–they don’t need to assert that I’m delusional or uneducated to justify their own beliefs.

        When you get to that point, everyone will welcome you with open arms. Before then, you’re just adopting the non-Pagan colonialist (and mostly pro-Capitalist) rhetoric of Dawkins, Pinker, and Harris. We say this often, and I’ll happily repeat it anytime. The problem isn’t Atheism; the problem is needing to belittle (and diagnose) everyone who believes in something you don’t.

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  4. I find the whole thing absurdly ironic; looks to me like she’s power-tripping on the Maetreum’s court victory.

    P.S. I’m totally cool with not being a pagan. :-} I’m an animist and a witch (and damned if people won’t stop arguing about what a witch is!)

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