Recently, John Beckett wrote on “A Pagan Crisis of Faith“.
Beckett’s central premise in this piece is that from time to time, and especially when confronted with extreme circumstances, some theistic Pagans will come to a point where they question their beliefs in gods. However, he argues, what they should really be doing is doubling down on their credulity, seeing such major life events as reflecting the actions of gods or “fae” or what have you in the way of invisible, magical entities.
Unsurprisingly, I have a different take.
I think that when crises arise in life, it is an opportunity for us to shed comforting illusions: to realize that there are no Big Powers pulling strings around us nor “guiding” us to some apparently desired outcome.
Terrible things happen for no reason but chance. It happens all the time. Good things, too. Any meaning contained in their occurrence is meaning we invent.
Here in the bubble of mostly-safe America, surrounded by safety regulations and generalized domestic security, it is easy to think of Big Dangerous Events as being somehow freighted with meaning. But in other parts of the world—and some here as well, especially where there is poverty—they happen every day. They are simply the “normal” within which one must attempt to survive.
So my recommendation to those experiencing a Pagan crisis of faith is: step back and think. Really consider whether it makes any sense that a godlike being would make the effort to crash a tree into your car, or whether it’s more likely that it was a confluence of weather and soft soil. Does it really seem reasonable, when you look at the world around you, to believe that there are powerful invisible beings constantly meddling in terrestrial affairs? Is there any real basis for that other than occasional coincidences and the felt sense that “something is going on”…and is that enough basis for you to build a worldview around?
Many Atheopagans (and other nontheist Pagans) have come to that crisis point and have realized that what they had believed really didn’t hold up for them. They’re still practicing Pagans today, though many have taken a break to reconsider their beliefs and rework their practices.
So know that the stakes of this consideration are NOT that you might have to give up a community and way of living to which you have become accustomed and in which you find meaning and joy. You can be a Pagan and not believe in literal gods! Many of us don’t—in fact, some prominent names in the community don’t.
And you don’t even have to give up your gods, really. Gods can be powerful metaphors: ways to “put a face” on phenomena and elements of human experience so we may more easily interact with them in a ritual context. I personally do not use them, but many Atheopagans do. They just understand that what they are doing is a sort of “let’s-pretend” for purposes of religious practice, rather than a literal belief.
A “crisis of faith” is an opportunity to reflect. An opportunity to take stock and contemplate what you really think is going on in this world, and thereby to grow.
Now, if after such contemplation, you continue to subscribe to the idea of an “Otherworld” and the gods and other supernatural creatures that supposedly inhabit it, well: it’s your life, so more power to you.
But at least take the time to consider other points of view. Rather than simply doubling down on what Beckett calls a “magical, animist, polytheist, experience-based worldview”, really contemplate what the available evidence and simple logic point towards. Occam’s Razor is your friend!
And if you find yourself no longer subscribing to what you once did, we welcome you with open arms! Join our Facebook group and become a part of developing Atheopaganism as a rich, meaningful Pagan path.