Returning to a Space of Our Own

Recently, Niki Whiting at Patheos advised her readers not to read the work of those who are “mean”, and specifically named me as one such writer.

It’s not hard to see why. A core truth of Atheopaganism clashes with a treasured precept of the hard theist. We don’t believe in literal gods. They do. So in the very articulation of my beliefs, I am—if you see it that way—”mean” to those whose are opposite.

And do I cushion my position much, so as not to offend?

No, I really don’t.

I don’t, because I don’t see many examples of those in the theist camp making the slightest accommodation in the other direction. In fact, when I suggested a simple way that a more open-minded means of expression might lead to better relations between the a- and the theists, John Beckett wrote an extensive argument for why he shouldn’t do so. There is no room in the talk of theists for the possibility that their gods don’t exist, but writers like me are apparently expected to take pains to qualify our language, to not speak definitively about gods’ fictitiousness, because this is characterized (or taken) as disrespect for those who believe in them.

I can respect people I think are flat wrong about important things. But just because I respect them doesn’t make me think any less that they are flat wrong about important things, and if that’s going to be taken as dismissive or insulting, we probably aren’t going to have much of a relationship.

To be mean in my book is to be sadistic: to wish to inflict pain on others. My motivation is far removed from that; it is simply to speak the truth as I see it. That is not a welcome perspective to those who must, at their core, at least sometimes wonder if their beliefs are erroneous. It cannot be comfortable to hear someone say out loud what that inner, niggling voice has been murmuring.

But is that my intent? Hardly. Nor is it to recruit, entice, or beset. I write my observations for those who get something out of reading them, and as a means of expressing my thoughts as Atheopaganism develops in my life. Based on site traffic and feedback on Facebook and elsewhere, there clearly are such folk, and I’m grateful to have their ear and their input.

This blog is for them: for the folks out there who are genuinely adopting parts or the entirety of Atheopaganism as I have described it into their own practices and principles.

It’s certainly not intended to offend anyone. But it’s also not going to bend over backwards to avoid offending someone. And for Whiting, that is apparently a bridge too far.

I’ve always said that what is true–or most likely to be true–really matters to me. For some others, that does not appear to be as high a priority as is validation of their personal interpretations of their experiences. And I can see how it may seem “mean” to question–and, indeed, simply to disbelieve–what is held so close by those who interpret their experiences as involving gods, but I frankly can’t help it: I don’t believe them. I see much more likely explanations that do not involve such extraordinary mechanisms.

Does that mean I “want to be right”?

Damned straight it does.

I want not to get it wrong. I want not to be fooled by my perceptions. I want the foibles of my brain not to paint a cosmological picture that isn’t likely to be what is, in this Universe, the actual case, because in my awe for the Universe I want to know that I am revering what actually is there. So when it comes to extraordinary claims, I’m completely open to evidence, but not, I’m sorry, to simply accepting “I felt it so I know it’s true.” It may be real to you, but that doesn’t mean it is real in any absolute sense, and that is an important distinction in my mind, whether or not it is in yours.

But here is where Whiting and I can agree: if it undermines your happiness, don’t do it. If your orientation to cosmology values skeptical critical thinking less than it does personal experience, you probably aren’t going to get much out of reading atheist Pagan material.

So don’t do it. Go forth and enjoy life.

Unless, that is, you’re unsure. Or curious. And able to tolerate reading ideas that clash completely with your own.

This latest arrival comes after a furious back-and-forth between John Halstead and John Beckett, which I have linked to and commented on previously. And a part of why I stepped back from further comment on this exchange is that I sense now that, like it or not, the Pagan community at large is recognizing that yes, in fact, there are atheist Pagans. In fact, that there are quite a few of them, and always have been.

While some continue to argue that such a combination is impossible and/or should not be considered a part of the Pagan community, I don’t hear those arguments very much any more. We had tremendous support at Pantheacon this year for Atheopagan events and a panel on atheism/agnosticism in Paganism. For better or for worse, we are here. We are a part of the landscape.

So rather than butt heads with theists in an endlessly recursive and largely unproductive exchange of mutually exclusive views, perhaps the thing now is for me to go back for awhile to addressing topics inside the wheelhouse of Atheopaganism, and not bothering with mixing it up in the context of the broader Pagan blogosphere. It’s enough to me to simply note that if someone thinks the Earth is sacred, they’re probably pretty cool overall, even if I can’t get behind their supernatural (or transnatural, or invisible-dimensional) understanding of their world.

There is a reason why evangelical and progressive Christians need completely different forums, groups and communities. They may both be putatively Christian, but their definitions of what that means vary so widely that they share only a limited set of shared experiences in common. It may be the same with the Atheopagans and the polytheists.

We have our own communities to weave and our own knitting to do as our path evolves. I’m going to focus on that for the next while. You’re welcome to come along if you wish; if not, there’s a great big Internet out there for you.

And I wish you the best. Really.

8 thoughts on “Returning to a Space of Our Own

  1. Musette

    I am perplexed as to why someone would claim to be open-minded, tolerant, and inclusive, and yet refuse to even *read* anything that might challenge their Certainty. And furthermore, to advocate a “We can’t talk about it” policy, and attempt to forbid others from reading such viewpoints. We can – and should – Talk About It. We are adults.

    I am also disappointed that – even in our diverse Pagan community – there persists a notion that one cannot truly be considered Spiritual unless one *also* promises to believe in gods, faeries, ley lines, dousing, crop circles, Space Brothers…or what have you. Or at the least: To completely shut up about any doubts we may have about such phenomena.

    I am an Atheopagan because I think that Paganism mostly has got it right – open-minded, tolerant, inclusive, and diverse – all except for the “You Also HAVE TO Believe in Faeries” part. Sorry, can’t “go there’. Don’t have to. But I *will* be more than happy to talk with you about it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Carys

      Niki didn’t say she doesn’t read ANYTHING that challenges her certainty, she started off the post by saying she reads, and has read, and believes in the value of doing exactly that. She said she’s chosen not to read one thing in particular because it’s no longer constructive for her. That’s not the same as saying she’s going to wall herself into an ideological bubble and refuse to look outside. I think it’s unfair to paint her that way.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Erin Lund Johnson

      Whiting didn’t say to avoid reading what challenges certainty; she said to avoid reading mean writing. She clearly doesn’t advocate ‘not talking about it,’ either, since she blogs and engages in the comments section with her readers. She also didn’t claim any pagan needed to ‘believe’ anything in particular. Fair enough to believe, or not believe, whatever you like, but take care to not mischaracterize the words of another. I personally enjoy reading about a variety of beliefs (or non-), and discussing them with those who believe differently than I do, but I don’t enjoy reading or receiving disparaging remarks, and I don’t think one needs to make them when discussing one’s beliefs or non-beliefs.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Due to centuries of Judeo-Christian influence, people automatically assume that a religion requires uniformity of belief. They forget that Pagan/Polytheist religions in the ancient world accomodated virtually every perspective from skepticism to hard polytheism.


  3. I tend to think both the 1 and 7 points on the Dawkins scale (aka the extremes of belief and skepticism) represent closed minds. Better to consider all the possibilities, and be open to changing your mind either way. That said, regardless of where you stand, this was well spoken and worth reading, though I also get her point about not wasting time with people who will only pull you down and so on. I’ll continue to give you both an ear.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Erin Lund Johnson

    This blog post could easily go the other way– if one does not believe in the existence of gods and the ability to engage with them, then why bother reading blogs written by and for such polytheists who do? Further, why then go on to disparage those shared experiences through an outsider lens irrelevant to the experiences had, and the worldviews through which they happened? It certainly doesn’t speak to the topic of this blog and its audience, which would be to share the opposite concepts and discourse. Perhaps more peace may be maintained if each camp minds its own fire, remains open to friendly seekers who might wander over, and those from one do not try to dampen the fire of the other. Refusing to read where inflammatory, and living to let live, might work towards such peace among the camps.

    Liked by 1 person

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