Q. What is Atheopaganism?
A. Atheopaganism is a particular path within non-theistic, Naturalistic Paganism. It includes four Sacred Pillars, a set of thirteen Principles, and a cycle of holiday celebrations around the year, known as “The Wheel of the Year”.
Q. What is Naturalistic Paganism?
A. Naturalistic Paganism is the spiritual path which uses Pagan symbols, rituals, and ideas while maintaining a Naturalistic worldview.
Q. What is “Naturalism”?
According to the dictionary: Naturalism (noun): The idea that all phenomena in the Universe can be understood in scientific terms without recourse to spiritual or supernatural explanations or supposed divinity.
Q. What is a “Naturalistic Worldview” (what do Naturalistic Pagans believe)?
A. It is an approach to existence based on the natural laws found by science, on observable evidence, and on objectively confirmable experiments. Because things like ghosts, gods, magic, souls, divination, and spirits have not been shown to exist, they are generally not included in a naturalistic worldview. People with a naturalistic worldview include pantheists, agnostics, non-theists, atheists, freethinkers, humanists, skeptics, Universists, etc. This worldview is often arrived at by the approach of using objective evidence as the only reliable means to determine the truth.
We don’t require anyone to agree to a rigid doctrine, but instead urge that everyone use reason, logic and evidence to critically test any belief. Famous naturalists include many of the US’ founding fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Ethan Allen, and others such as Charles Darwin, Mark Twain, Bertram Russell, R. G. Ingersoll, Carl Sagan, and many more.
Q. What is “Paganism”?
A. Paganism is an umbrella term for a large number of spiritual paths, which are commonly Earth or Nature centered, focused on this life or world (as opposed to some “Otherworld” or afterlife), and often polytheistic. In the context used here for “Naturalistic Paganism”, Paganism refers to practices common in Pagan religions such as Wicca, especially the Wheel of the Year. The Wheel of the Year (along with the compass directions) can be used to represent many ideas.
Q. Do Naturalistic Pagans or Atheopagans make up the majority of Pagans?
A. No. Most Pagans believe in things that are not part of a naturalistic worldview, such as reincarnation, literal gods, spirits, divination, etc. We don’t have data on the actual number of Naturalistic Pagans, but it appears to be small. That’s OK. We generally get along well with other kinds of Pagans.
Q. What holidays do you observe?
A. Many of us celebrate the 8 holidays (Sabbaths) on the Wheel of the Year (the solstices and equinoxes, plus the cross-quarter holidays which are at the points between the solstices and equinoxes). Because these are real astronomical events, they feel more like real holidays than dates made up by people. We also celebrate rites of passage such as naming or welcoming ceremonies for babies, passages into adulthood, handfastings (weddings), etc. And then there are some fun holidays we celebrate “just because”, like Pi Day (March 14).
Q. How do you celebrate those holidays?
A. The more common celebrations involve rituals which follow seasonal, evolutionary, or natural themes. You’ll probably find many of those very familiar, such as the coloring of eggs for High Spring or the Maypole of May Day.
Q. Why did you call them “Sabbaths” instead of Holidays?
A. The word “Sabbath” means a day of rest. The words “Sabbath” and “Holiday” can be used interchangeably. Use whichever term you are most comfortable with.
Q. But if your Naturalistic worldview doesn’t include literal gods, then are you really Pagan?
A. Yes. Paganism is not about orthodoxy, or belief–it is about how we conduct our religious practices. We respect those who see the gods as real, and for the most part we’ve been respected in return. Naturalism & Paganism are both focused on this life and this glorious Universe, so for us, they fit together well.
Q. But how can you take part in Pagan rituals if your worldview doesn’t include gods or magic?
A. In the same way we can value both engineering and poetry. If we insisted on only literal truth in everything, our lives wouldn’t be much fun. We’ve found the Pagan metaphors and practices add meaning, pleasure and color to our lives.
Q. What political party do Atheopagans belong to?
A. Atheopaganism is about being better, happier, freer and kinder people, and so it does have a political aspect. We see activism on behalf of the Earth, the oppressed and future generations as inherent in our responsibility as humans. As for what party (of any given country) that might align us with, I imagine you can figure that out for yourself.
Q. Do Atheopagans condemn homosexuality?
A. No. We celebrate it, as we celebrate all forms of love. Love is one of our four Sacred Pillars.
Q. Do Atheopagans believe in God, or any gods?
A. If you mean a literal personality with whom you can intelligently discuss your date last night, such as the Roman god Zeus, or the Hebrew god described in the Bible, then no. We do not see credible evidence for the existence of such beings, and we therefore do not believe in them. However, any of these gods can be seen (and even invoked) as a metaphor for something real.
Q. Are you saved? (Have you found Jesus? Do you know the Lord? etc. …)
A. The question is based on an assumption that we don’t share (the assumption that one needs to be “saved” from something). Because a naturalistic worldview doesn’t include anything without testable evidence, most Atheopagans don’t believe in any kind of afterlife. So there’s nothing we need to be saved from.
Q. What if there really is a hell? Shouldn’t you be Christian just in case?
A. This reason for being Christian is known as Pascal’s Wager, and has been shown to be an illogical approach for a number of reasons which are too numerous to list here. However, a short and simple reason to reject Pascals wager is that of other religions. Islam claims you have to be Muslim to avoid hell, while many Baptist churches claim you must be members of their church to be saved, while the Roman Catholic church asserts that there is no salvation outside their church, etc. You can’t logically be simultaneously a member of each of these while refuting all the others. So if hell exists you’re pretty much screwed anyway.
Q. How do you view the Bible?
A. The same way we view the Qu’ran, the Gita, and other revealed scripture. We see these as works of humans that contain both good and bad. As with any other book, it takes reason and logic to decide what to agree with and what to ignore. Please don’t try to convince us of the inerrancy of the Bible. Some of us may be more knowledgeable than you are concerning the Bible, and the many problems with the Bible have been pointed out for hundreds of years. A good primer on these problems is the classic “The Age of Reason” by Thomas Paine.
Q. How can you be moral with a Naturalistic Worldview?
A. Before answering, let me ask that same question of you. Why are you moral? Is it because your parents or a teacher told you to be moral? I hope not, since blindly following someone means that our morality could be wrong. (Imagine following the morality of, say, Stalin.) Is it because you are afraid of some divine punishment or seek some divine reward? If so, then does that mean that you are actually immoral, but are afraid to do what you want?
Atheopagans (many of them, anyway–we’re not a doctrinaire religion) hold four Sacred Pillars–Life, Truth, Beauty and Love–and live by thirteen Principles which are kind, moral and progressive. We do so because we genuinely want the world to be a better place for all of us.
Q. Is Atheopaganism some new crackpot religion?
A. You can decide that for yourself. While Atheopaganism itself is both new and forward-looking (rather than looking backward to some imagined “better time”), many of the ideas in Atheopaganism have been around for millennia. For instance, many Pagan practices, such as celebrating the Solstices and Equinoxes date back at least 7,000 years, and possibly many times that. Naturalistic views bloomed into their modern form three centuries ago during the Enlightenment, and early forms of Naturalism are found in Greek philosophy, over 2,500 years old. Our ancient Pagan Ancestors (such as those who built Stonehenge) celebrated our Universe using the most advanced knowledge they had available at the time. We do the same, and now the most advanced knowledge we have is that of science.
Q. Are Atheopagans weird?
A. Well, one can decide for oneself what “weird” means. We are normal people like you meet every day. We come from many walks of life. We are fathers, mothers, students, wives, husbands, scientists, computer programmers, laborers, office workers, sisters, brothers and neighbors, and we’re all over the world. We feel a deep connection to our Earth, indeed to the Universe, and we celebrate that connection through our religion.
Q. What about spells and magic(k)?
A. A Naturalistic worldview means that only things with verifiable, testable evidence are believed in, and that generally eliminates a belief in magic. However, magic spells do serve to make a desired outcome more real in one’s own mind. For instance, before a track meet, a Naturalistic Pagan may conduct a ritual spell to help them focus their intent — rather like wearing a “lucky” shirt. To Atheopagans, spells are not understood to cause a real change in the world other than in the mind of the participant. This view of spells is different from that of many other Pagans.
Q. Is there a local Atheopagan circle or coven I can join?
A. Because this approach is quite new, there aren’t many established local groups, although a few have begun to convene in areas such as the greater New York/Tristate region and Dallas/Fort Worth. There will probably be more in the future — but who knows? However, this approach is similar to other naturalistic approaches such as pantheism, spiritual humanism, and others. Also, Naturalistic Pagans often fit in acceptably well in eclectic Pagan groups. This is because even a ritual with supernatural themes can be interpreted metaphorically, and because Pagans are often accepting of various types of Pagans, including Atheopagans. Eclectic Pagan communities are appearing, such as CUUPS (Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans) groups at Unitarian Universalist fellowships.
There is, however, a large and thriving online community of Atheopagans on Facebook.
Q. What is that symbol?
A. The Atheopagan symbol, the Suntree, was designed and selected by the community in 2018. It has many symbolic meanings.
Q. I’d like to learn more about Atheopaganism. Where should I start?
A. Buy the book! Click here to order a copy. There is also a great survey anthology called Godless Paganism which contains information about many nontheist Pagan paths, including Atheopaganism. For a less detailed explanation of Atheopaganism, where it comes from and the science behind it, you can also download this essay.
Thanks to Jon Cleland Host of Naturalistic Paganism from whose site FAQ this was adapted.