What Atheopaganism Won’t Do for You

Recently, I have experienced some severe life challenges. A period of disability followed by a one of unemployment drained my savings away. I finally landed a good job with a great organization…only to be told, one paycheck in, by my landlord of 18 years that my beautiful home has been sold and I must move by Sept. 1.

Without any money. And 18 years’ worth of accumulated possessions.

I believe I will get through this, as people do. I have community and fundraising skills and ideas, and I am earning a salary now. Nemea and I will find another home, and survive.

But it occurs to me that members of other religions tend, in times like these, to speak of their religions as “a comfort to them”. In moments of grief, sorrow, adversity they can look to their beliefs for reassuring platitudes: God has a plan. Everything happens as it should. Something better is meant for you. It will all work out for the best.

Well, my fellow Atheopagans, I don’t know about you, but I don’t get any of those benefits. Because I know that the Universe has no plan beyond the laws of physics, and could not care a whit about my well-being because it is incapable of caring about anything: it is not sentient. If things work out well, it will be through a combination of work and luck. If they don’t…well, they don’t, and then you have to figure out what to do next.

As I have worked through the implications of being an atheist Pagan, I knew that some of the “goodies” of religiosity were not going to pertain to my path. I knew I was never going to be able to kid myself that I would exist after death in some sense beyond the memories of my fellows, or that concepts like “fate” and “karma” and “destiny” were anything but fictitious. Or certainly that some Big Powerful Entity/ies might help me out if I asked them just the right way.

Nope. That stuff is just fantasy, and I’m not into a cosmology of fantasy.

So times like these feel…lonely. It would certainly be nice for there to be some big parental figure to pat me on the back and murmur “there, there”. Or to have a sense that there is an inherent force in the Universe that *wants* me to succeed and thrive.

But there isn’t.

Mine is a religion of awe, wonder and gratitude. It’s a one-way street; what comes back is air and sunshine and the possibility of further life, but only that—not a guarantee, not a destiny. I have to make it happen, or it won’t. At times like these it is hard to remain with the gratitude, hard to posit hope apropos of nothing save its aspiration.

Atheopaganism isn’t comforting. It offers no reassurances, makes no promises, proffers no magical powers.

But that is the way life on Earth really is. Creatures are born and die every day, for reasons ranging from the noble to the ridiculous to the trivial. We must make our own ways, by building communities to help support us and through our own efforts. The gift of life is given, and from then on—for humans, on or about the arrival of adulthood, if we are fortunate—it is up to us.

No great Mommy or Daddy is out there caring about us. No cosmic forces guide us to betterment. We, in the context of vagaries over which we have no control, are the agents and exponents of whatever destinies we may attain.

Knowing this makes life colder and human connection more precious. For if we are not to struggle entirely alone, it will be with our fellow humans that we strive. We are the only allies available to one another.

That is the comfort I can take: I have fine, lovely people in my life who will help to catch me if I fall. And that has to be enough.

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5 thoughts on “What Atheopaganism Won’t Do for You

  1. Personally I’ve found stoicism to fill that purpose in my life. It doesn’t provide a magic sky man to help, but a process that I find helpful. The linked website is not mine, but a contemporary philosopher I highly respect.

    There are no quick fixes, but perhaps this or another secular philosophy can help you or one of my fellow readers.

    I hope things work out.

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    • Oh, I’m sure they will–thank you. I didn’t write this to whine; rather, to point out that the “comforts” that self-delusion about the nature of the Universe can provide aren’t really available to those who take a hard, cold look at how it really IS: beautiful, terrible, and dispassionate.

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  2. And for a totally different perspective on this…

    My 17 year old son died unexpectedly over five years ago. I was a Christian at the time and that loss, combined with the truly awful behavior of my church, were the double whammy that finally destroyed my faith. I was told that I brought about his death (from a drug-induced asthma attack) by divorcing his abusive father. The pain of his death was, by far, the hardest thing I have ever dealt with. Being told that a loving God did this to me to punish me for protecting myself and my children was – well, I have no words for it.

    I had an awful time with all of it until I embraced the randomness of life. People have been losing their children all throughout history. We consider this such a tragedy today because of our modern day privilege. Who am I to presume that I am exempt from this? I can celebrate the circle of life today and see his death as a natural part of that. I didn’t have that luxury when I supposed that the Big Guy in the Sky was doing this for a reason. And that naturalistic perspective is the only way I have found peace.

    My point is that there is a lot of guilt, shame, and confusion that comes when you suffer a tragedy as a person of faith.

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