Unpopular Ideas

On this day in 1809, Charles Darwin was born. 50 years later, he would publish “On the Origin of Species”, which pretty well blew the doors off the scientific world, outraged the contemporary religious culture, and established the key scientific foundation of the field of biology for all time.

Darwin knew what he was doing. He sat on “Origin” for years, aware that the core implication of his work—that no God was necessary to explain the diversity of life on Earth—would bring him a deluge of hatred and ridicule. He was right.

159 years on, Christian fundamentalists still rail against Darwin’s discovery. Their entire worldview is threatened by his simple suggestion that a far simpler and more elegant mechanic is responsible for the diversification of life on Earth. Not to mention by the fact that this mechanic—natural selection—has been demonstrated over and over to be, yes, the actual explanation for speciation.

Atheopagans know something about being the bearers of unpopular ideas. In both the atheist and Pagan communities, we’re viewed somewhat askance, either because of our religious practices or because we aren’t religious (as in, credulous in gods) enough.

But what if what we are about is actually the more elegant answer to long-posed questions, just as Darwin’s theory was?

What if reconciling the spiritual and the scientific really is a matter of understanding religion as not about the nature of the Universe, but the nature of us, as humans? If it is our needs, as evolved through the development of our brains, that are fed by religious behavior, and this has nothing to do with what is “out there” in the Cosmos?

What if we can meet those needs while contemplating the Universe as it truly is: dispassionate and godless?

As the proportion of non-believers continues to rise, these are going to be increasingly important questions. We have something to offer those non-believers: practices verified by science to be beneficial in their lives, to help them to build community and to feel connected to the greater whole of Nature and the Cosmos. Principles with which to live lives of integrity. And thoughtful celebration of the magnificent Universe through a lens of both joyful embrace and critical analysis.

Theism is waning—in the developed world, at least, and precipitously in the Americas. There is a great deal that Paganism has to offer, but if it comes bound up with theism, it will increasingly find fewer and fewer prospective takers.

So take heart, Atheopagans, when you get grief for your beliefs and practices.

Darwin was on the right track. So are we.

Happy birthday, Charles.

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On the Other Hand…(A Love Letter)

So, I’ve been a little hard on the Pagan community lately.

I’ve decried abuses and hierarchieslack of political engagement, and the leftovers of the sexual culture of the 1960s that still thrive in many corners of it.

Those things are true, in my opinion, and I stand by them.

So why, one might ask, do I continue to be a part of a community of people who I find so problematic?

Well, let me tell you: because it’s wonderful.

In all my experience, no cohort of people has ever been so smart, interesting, creative, unique and, by and large, genuinely good-hearted. Weird, yes—but isn’t that just a synonym for creative?

Despite blind spots, Pagans are generally kind and well-meaning, and wish the best for the Earth and their fellow humans. They are fiercely independent and egalitarian (sometimes to a fault). And the vast majority of them are adamantly opposed to bigotry and injustice.

They are masters of arts, like brewing and distilling, leathercraft, weaving, jewelry making, sewing. They are musicians and poets. They throw a great party, and many of them know how to create a powerful, life-transforming ritual.

Being a part of the Pagan community adds LIFE to my life. Life lived large, out loud, with unashamed exuberance. Life filled with rich flavors and sensuous textures, life full of music and dancing. Life of exploration and adventure.

Life the way I always hoped life could be before I found them.

Does it drive me crazy with its frequent dysfunction? Certainly.

Does it sometimes disappoint me with its too-human failings to live up to the vision of what it could be? Of course.

But when I withdrew from the Pagan community in 2005, following some very dysfunctional experiences, I found quickly that my life had become pale and wan. The color had simply run out of it.

Yes, there was the richness of the natural world. And as I began exploring my thoughts and researching the nature of religion (the explorations which would lead to my publication of the “How I Became an Atheopagan” essay), I certainly savored the richness of Nature.

But we are social apes, we humans. We need one another. And every social group I found myself in after leaving the Pagan community seemed so constrained, so denatured. So straight.

And maybe it’s just because I’m a weirdo, too. But the culture of suburban white middle-class America not only bores me senseless, it fills me with a kind of panic. A desperate desire to escape. I can play the game for awhile, but it’s not where I want to live.

No. Give me the woolly musky randy brilliance of a full-on human in contact with the complexity of this world, someone who thinks and feels and knows they are an animal. Give me people who laugh loudly and cry bitterly, who wring the joy from living.

For truly, they are my people. They are blessed.

Blessed

For my people—you know who you are

I am among the blessed.

I am of the kind who leaves the glaring tube, remembering

And goes to watch the moon rise silver through the trees

Breathing purple and chill, stinging pine.  I am

Among the blessed:  I know the acacia, the first daffodil,

The irises unsheathing cream and violet labia in the green wet of May.

I tune for the new music on the radio:  I turn it up.

I am among the blessed:  I drink wine by firelight, clothes rank with smoke,

Bright silver twisted through my lobes.  I know secrets;

They are tattooed on my body where the sleeves can cover them,

They read

Blessed, and only if we are lucky enough, you and I, courageous enough

To shed our clothes together will you read them.  Seeing scarlet leaves drift down,

Perhaps, with ice around the moon, or the steel bones of the oaks against Orion,

Knowing we are among the blessed, that we miss nothing, that we will eat this life

Like a chocolate mango, like Beethoven ice cream,

Moaning our joy with each sweet bite.

Children of the Earth Tribe, WAKE UP

Back in September of 2015, I asked, is Atheopaganism political?

Go ahead, read it. It lays out why I believe that any religious path that is truly about this Earth—any path of integritymust, in days such as these, be one of activism.

Since, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to consider the Pagan community generally through this lens. And I am sorry to say that I have been sorely disappointed.

Most of the visible voices, most of the “Big Name Pagans”, are anything but political. At best, they may voice the occasional political opinion in passing, but mostly they’re about rituals and magical tools and cultural traditions and “mysteries”.

Oh, and selling stuff. Books, tools, tokens, clothes, workshops, statues. Stuff.

There are exceptions, of course. But they’re kinda rare. And it turns out that nearly all of them are women, people of color, and people who are LGBTQ. Those folks know what time it is. They know this is not the time to be silent.

A year ago, two dozen writers left the Pagan Channel at Patheos.com, the foremost religious discussion site on the Internet. They left because the site had been purchased by companies run by far-right Christian evangelicals associated with racist and anti-LGBT hate groups, and the terms of the writers’ new contract prevented them from criticizing this (or anything else about Patheos). And it allowed Patheos to edit or censor anything it found objectionable in the writing of its writers.

Oh, and it banned them from using too much dirty language.

There’s a lot to be said about this. A year on, John Beckett (who stayed at Patheos) has one very strong view.  John Halstead (who is definitely in the activist camp) has quite another.

Tempers are hot and each side probably has scored a point or two. But I want to focus on one, very specific thing: Beckett’s triumphalism over having not been censored over the past year.

To which I say: that’s the problem, John

In a whole year, you haven’t said one damned thing of substance that brought out the Patreon ownership with a red pen. And looking over your posts of the last year, it is quite clear that you never tried.

Why aren’t you pushing that boundary? Why aren’t you challenging on the issues that are most important today?

You’re a white middle class straight cis man with a megaphone. YOU don’t have to contend with what the owners of Patheos are promoting all over the world. And in your privilege, it apparently doesn’t even cross your mind to speak out on behalf of your fellows who aren’t so privileged, does it?

No. You just keep on going on about gods and fairies and rituals, in a very comfortable bubble, and rationalize your service of the likes of the Family Research Council as “getting out your message”.

As if the world weren’t burning.

As if people aren’t being murdered and deported and abused and shunned for being different.

That’s not “proof” that Patheos is benign. It’s evidence that, willfully or not, you are complicit in their agenda. Which includes the agendas of their owners.

(Beckett’s just an example. Others can look in the mirror and decide for themselves whether or not this critique applies.)

So I look at all this, and the content of the vast substance of Pagan content being published online every day, and I say NO: Modern Paganism isn’t political.

But it bloody well should be.

Aren’t we supposed to be about a better world? Haven’t we “resacralized” living on Earth? Aren’t we about diversity and tolerance?

Paganism isn’t just playing dress-up and being “witchy cool” and holding hands in circles and partying. And it isn’t JUST religious practices.

It’s about walking responsibly in the world that gave rise to us, and in service to our people…all of them.

I hate saying these things. They’re grouchy and depressing and they are the farthest thing from honey (vs. vinegar). I’d much rather devote time to my own activism and my own religious practices and culture-building.

But for Earth’s sake, “Children of the Earth Tribe”, will you wake up?

Everything is not “just going to be okay”. Tragedies are happening every day, and enormous ones are looming.

If you’re not actively out there fighting for what is right, please.

Wake up.

Do something.

 

(To read many of the bloggers who left Patheos as a matter of conscience, visit paganbloggers.com)