Many religions contain a rosy story about the past, and look forward to a “foretold” future. Certainly the Abrahamic monotheisms do that; and many Pagan paths are highly focused on learning about and replicating traditions from long ago. Even many atheists who pursue spiritual paths these days feel that there must be a story about the future to which they can subscribe: the idea of humans as the vehicle for Life to spread to other words (SolSeed), and even transhumanism, wherein we can use technology so that our consciousnesses are preserved indefinitely, transcending death.
To which I say: enh. I’m more focused on the relationship between humans and the biosphere. In healing that rift.
This world has problems. It has suffering and injustice. And the odds are good that suffering and injustice will be with us so long as we exist, because it is the nature of humans to suffer, and it is the nature of our impulses to create injustice.
And yet there is tremendous beauty in today, and there is cause to believe humans are evolving more towards justice, more towards kindness, more towards dignity than ever before. The current spate of fundamentalism looks more like the last gasp of the reactionaries to me, more than a rising tide.
So I don’t worry much about whether or not we can continue to extrapolate our technology to reach the stars, nor to cheat death. Whether or not those would be good outcomes is a complex conversation without definitive answers.
No, what I think about is the next century, when humans will either come into harmony with the Planet that brought us forth, or will fail to do so, and suffer cataclysm. It is a far less radical—yet probably more challenging—hope that humans will be brought into harmony with Planet Earth than, say, to leave it to spread to other worlds. So that is where I choose to put my hope and my effort.
And this is why my vision is that more and more people will base their beliefs and actions on critical thinking, core humanistic values and the scientific method, that supernatural belief will fade in the world, and that we will keep what works best for us in religious practice while discarding what leads into illusory motivations and fanaticism.
Now, how does this play out with my fellow Pagans who are theists?
Well, it doesn’t have to affect them at all. We have a root disagreement about the nature of the Universe, and the only way any given individual will change in that regard is through their own process. My goal with development of Atheopaganism has been, from the beginning, to present what I created as an available path; a way people can follow if it works for them. I never said that everyone should do so.
Proselytizing is ineffective, and rude. People are going to do what they do, and nothing I can say or do is going to stop them. By and large, the values that drive Pagan practice are positive ones, so the associated cosmologies just don’t matter that much…except and unless those cosmologies begin to be viewed as litmus tests prerequisite to belonging to the community. As was expressed by someone calling himself “hrafnblod” in this exchange on Reddit, as he trashed atheist Pagans as “not Pagan”
and then blocked John Halstead from the subreddit. (Edit 12/4: hrafnblod claims the banning was by the group of the subreddit’s moderators and that he abstained from voting–see his comment below. I have no reason to doubt this is true, but it’s a minor point. The key takeaway is that hrafnblod behaved in a manner which certainly should have gotten HIMSELF moderated, still refuses to apologize for any of it, and the result was that Halstead was banned. I do not see how the question of who, exactly, did the dirty work of banning Halstead has relevance to the overall issue of the completely inappropriate behavior that was leveled at him and tolerated by moderators in relation to him. Quibbling over this point strikes me as a red herring.)
When I joined the Pagan community back in the mid-1980s, no one ever suggested—ever—that one “had to believe” in certain things in order to be a Pagan and a Witch and a member of those communities in good standing. In fact, the most influential book that came out around that time defined magick as “the art of changing consciousness at will”, which is a completely naturalist way of looking at it. While there were certainly people in the community around me who subscribed to supernatural beliefs, it was well recognized that these beliefs varied from person to person, and didn’t really matter when it came to those peoples’ inclusion. I’ve said it often, but I’ll say it again: atheist and agnostic Pagans have been a part of the modern Pagan Renaissance since its inception.
So I look at the ongoing recent conflicts between nontheist/Atheopagans and those polytheists who declare that we “aren’t Pagan,”and what I see is that those elements of the community are going backwards: that even as we become somewhat more populous, rather than becoming more open-minded, more inclusive, and more rooted in the objective realities of this Universe, a significant cohort of us are instead reverting into expectation that an Abrahamic-style “credo” be accepted by all who hope to be a part of the community—on pain of ostracism if they do not.
That looks fanatical to me. It looks like fundamentalism to me, in its hard-shelled separation of the world into “us” and “them”. It looks like a hangover from Pagans expressing such views having formerly been Christian, or Muslim.
What it doesn’t look to me is in any way recognizably Pagan. And I hope it’s not what the Paganism of the future looks like.
We don’t need orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is a path to extremism.
I have been surprised at the large number of my fellow Pagans who have come forward to tell me that they are also atheist/agnostic since I went public with Atheopaganism. The Facebook group is up to nearly 500 members now. And I hope that there will be more of us as the availability of nontheist Paganism becomes more visible as a spiritual path.
I think we’re creating something that offers great hope for the future.
And theist Pagans are—and always have been—welcome at my rituals.