What Will Be the Paganism of the Future?

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.

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.

 

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8 thoughts on “What Will Be the Paganism of the Future?

  1. This is that guy who calls himself hrafnblod speaking. I will verify that however you like, if you doubt it, but I hope it’s sufficient that I am commenting by way of my Facebook and am in no way attempting to obfuscate who I am, online or off. Whatever can be said about me in this ordeal, let no one say I am dishonest.

    I’ve really stayed out of this outside of reddit, because I don’t play the blogging game. I don’t keep track of the intricate web of who’s jerking off who and who’s a popular blogger and who isn’t. So I’ve dodged the comments.

    But in the interest of posterity, something none of the blogging parties involved in this whole ordeal seem to have a grasp on, I’m going to clear one thing up:

    I did not “block John Halstead from Reddit.” John Halstead was banned from /r/pagan, not by me (hrafnblod), but by one of our mods after the team came to a consensus, largely independent of me. I very deliberately and specifically recused myself from being the banning party, and actually continually advocated for -not- shutting the thread down or banning anyone until it was probably well past the time to have done so.

    I apologize for nothing that I said. I stand by every word of it, and I will not back down from my convictions on the matter (but neither am I going to air them in your space, because it is yours). But I will also not let untruths continue to be spread unchecked. I do not make a habit of shutting people down based on disagreement alone, which all the other moderators on that subreddit (and on other related ones) will attest. I am reluctant to ban anyone who isn’t in flagrant violation of our subreddit’s rules or of reddit’s policies. I fervently disagree with closing threads and terminating discussions, even if they are at a point where they do not appear productive.

    But most of all, I did not personally ban John Halstead- his ban message, which he saw, acknowledged, and replied to, came from another mod entirely. He is being flagrantly dishonest in saying that I banned him, there are no two ways about that.

    I will own everything that I have said or done in this. I expect equal integrity from the other parties involved, and I have not seen it. I don’t blame you for the inaccuracy, it’s not something easily verified by those uninvolved (since the ban PM was, as it happens, a private message). I just want to correct it, because I am tired of misinformation being spread simply because John Halstead has repeatedly chosen to obscure the facts.

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    • As a followup comment to your snippy, accusatory edit:

      I am not alone in “claiming” not to have banned him. Multiple parties back me up and the important aspect of this is that Halstead had all the information available to know it was not me, including a ban message received specifically from a moderator who wasn’t me, and has consistently presented a fraudulent narrative. Say what you will about my conduct, but I will at least stand by everything said and not attempt to twist the facts of the situation.

      Moreover, it is not a “red herring.” Halstead’s integrity, or rather his flagrant lack thereof, is absolutely elemental to this discussion.

      And finally, and perhaps most importantly, a bunch of non-moderators who are not even participants in the /r/pagan community- or the reddit pagan community at all- have little business quibbling over what and how we decide to moderate. At the risk of sounding like the ass that we frankly all know that I am by now, it isn’t yours, and any statement you might make about how I (or anyone) should’ve been the recipient of moderator warnings or other attention frankly doesn’t mean a thing. It isn’t your place or your decision, and that is far more of a red herring than anything we’ve brought up (in much the same way that Halstead bringing up the existence of /r/polytheism and generally showing he has no concept of the structural organization of reddit as a platform is just bad form and fallacious debating).

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      • It’s still a red herring, as far as I’m concerned, and there are such things as generally accepted standards, which you and your moderators have clearly violated. It doesn’t matter whether or not those who observe this are familiar with reddit or not: your behavior and those of others on the thread are clearly unacceptable online communication. Dance all you like, but that’s a fact. Nor do I see any evidence in anything in either your or Halstead’s writing to indicate a “lack of integrity”. AFAICT, the trolls are running the show at /r/pagan, and your reply here reinforces the point.

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  2. “as he trashed atheist Pagans as “not Pagan” and then blocked John Halstead from the subreddit.”

    That is a factually incorrect recounting of events as they transpired. I don’t know if you’re being malicious or ignorant but this bit needs to be fixed.

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  3. I’ve been made aware of the fact that Hrafnblod is also attempting to leave a comment with you in regards to the accusation that he was the one who banned Halstead. I did want to also come forward and back that up by stating that I was the moderator who made the ban after the moderation team came to an agreement about it.

    I’m a very mild mannered person who feels that Paganism has more than enough room for a variety of beliefs and views. I started off with Paganism from an atheistic standpoint and I still feel that my views at that time were reasonable, respectful and rational. I have no reason to ban Halstead based purely on some anti-atheistic conviction. Continuing to spread the idea that Hrafnblod banned him is just objectively incorrect and I hope you’ll amend your post. When I locked the thread after banning Halstead, Hrafnblod wanted it re-opened. I still feel that this discussion is already too mired in aggression and that the participants keep going with blinders on which is going to prevent any real, healthy discussion about this issue. I’m perfectly willing to, as a moderator, put the brakes on a discussion when I see evidence it won’t be going anywhere. If you want to label anyone as using moderation powers to stop that discussion, you should be labeling me and I’ll agree in full and stand by it.

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  4. Lots of really interesting points here, Mark. I’m particularly interested in the various shades of SolSeed/Space-futurism, etc. that pop up as alternative eschatologies among humanists and the like.

    The ideas that humanity’s future “lies in space,” and that our best bet is colonizing other planets seem to be offered up not only as pragmatic options but also as moralistic ideals; that is, we are fulfilling some kind of ultimate/natural human destiny by leaving the planet.

    Don’t get me wrong – I am 100% in favor of all space exploration. But I have to wonder, do the above views (if I’ve characterized them correctly) characterize humans as detached, exceptional, “qualitatively different from other animals,” kinds of beings? And if so, is this characterization accurate? If our destiny is in the stars, does that mean “we’re not really from here”? And how is that significantly different from the old, “Our destiny is in heaven, because that’s where we’re really from” kind of narrative?

    In my own view, everything that we are, everything we do, everything we’ve invented, our identity, is fundamentally tied to our life on Earth. It is the ultimate frame of reference for all human cultures (even those which undervalue it). Do space-oriented futurists stop to think about the possibly devastating existential consequences of life without this frame of reference? Just think of the massive nostalgia complex in all future space-human literature! And what of the devastating sense of alienation (pardon the pun) that such a “destiny” might bring with it?

    As you suggested above, beginnings and endings in sacred narratives tend to be connected. If the story says we’re going to live “happily ever after” in some kind of condition, the suggestion is usually that x condition is what is “most true” to our human nature and condition. I find it really interesting to parse out what those narratives seem to suggest, and determine whether it holds up to other areas of experience and fields of knowledge.

    On healing the biosphere and thinking about the here and now, rather than some glorious idealized future: YES! Because as Peter said in Guardians of the Galaxy, “I’m one of the idiots who lives here!”

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    • Very thoughtful comment, Emile–thank you! Personally, I am skeptical of “bright shiny future in space” narratives because I don’t believe in “destinies” so much as simple change over time. I feel that we are as prone to kidding ourselves about some foreordained “destiny in the stars” as we are about Invisible Friends in the Sky.

      Nor, given our nature, do I believe that those too-human failings that have always dogged us would not follow us into space. We would have conflict, we would struggle with factionalism and bigotry, etc. Even if we do move out into space–and I agree, we might become completely unmoored from our frame of reference if we do–I suspect it won’t be “happily ever after” so much as the usual work in progress.

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