We had a great conversation in the Atheopaganism U. video conference today, in which it arose that for many participants, there simply hasn’t been a place in their lives for asking Big Questions like, what is my highest vision for my life? What makes me happiest?
They are the very sorts of questions I pondered when I was first conceptualizing what became Atheopaganism, and at the time, I didn’t really have opportunity in my life to mull them over much, either. But circumstances forced them upon me; I had left the Pagan community over issues of unethical behavior and nonsensical cosmologies, and found my life barren without the rituals and community. I was diving into study of religion and the brain, and finding that at root, religious behavior is about how both individuals and societies create a sense of safety, offer aspiration, inculcate values, pursue connection, and foster contentment and happiness through experiences of awe, gratitude and profound meaning.
So I had to ask myself: what, exactly, was I missing from my time in Pagan circles? Why, as an atheist, had I gravitated to them in the first place?
And my answers surprised me. Some were obvious, like desire for friends and community, but some were things like sacralizing the passage of time and being in touch with the Earth’s seasonal rhythms and feeling connected to the rest of the Universe and experiencing that Glowing Present Meaningful Kind of Mental State I Don’t Have a Name For, But Which Feels Really Good.
And then there were things I wanted that I hadn’t really found in Paganism, except in very limited forms: an articulation of values and ethics, of principles for living.
I wanted all that stuff, and some, at least, had felt like they were happening when I was circling with Pagans, but were no longer around when I stopped. My life was poorer as a result.
So as I began to think about what a “rational religion” would look like, I began to zero in on what its ultimate goals would be. Big goals, like greater personal happiness. Connection in community. Personal integrity. Better personal effectiveness. Contribution to a better, more environmentally and socially responsible and, ultimately, a happier world.
Big goals, for certain. But shouldn’t religion be aspirational?
Others are: they offer “salvation” (from a mythical flaw they claim everyone carries) and heaven or Paradise or nirvana or what have you.
Big goals to strive for throughout life.
I don’t believe in that stuff. But I believe in moments of happiness. I believe in community and living with integrity and activism for social and environmental responsibility.
So that’s where Atheopaganism came from. It isn’t just a scientific cosmology, and it isn’t just reverence for nature. It’s one set of answers to a series of really Big Questions that are about living well and happily and helping others and the planet to do so as well. That are about a life filled with meaning, purpose, celebration and service.
Because after all, if we can achieve that, life will be good. We will reflect at the end of it and know, I had a good life. I lived well and honorably. I was of service. I helped. I had beautiful experiences.
That, I can believe in.