Why is Naturalism Radical?

One of the hottest points of contention between Atheopagans and both theists and hard-antitheist atheists has to do with naturalism. Naturalism is a philosophical position which holds that there is nothing which is not of the physical Universe: that there is nothing which is supernatural, and that such claimed supernatural phenomena as gods, spirits, souls, ghosts, and magic are fictitious.

Theists dispute this out of hand, of course. It makes sense that nontheist Pagans have friction with theists over this point.

But adamant antitheists like David Dennett and Richard Dawkins have conflict with it, too–because they insist that if you are a naturalistic tradition, you’re not really a religion.

This is frankly silly. The only reason that we assume you must believe in the supernatural in order to be religious is because our society unthinkingly adopts the paradigm of religious traditions for whom Belief is a Big Big Deal.

Think about it. If you were going to create a religion today*, there is no way you would start from the standpoint that much of what science tells us is untrue and that instead, fantastical and completely unverifiable anecdotes are the true accounting of the nature of the Universe.

The only reason such anecdotes and beliefs are sewn into the fabric of Bronze Age religions is because they didn’t know any better back then. They were grasping for answers and they made up stories to fit their cultural values and what little they could verify for themselves.

Clearly, cultural inertia is a thing.

I grow frustrated with the likes of Dawkins and Dennett because their arguments against Religion writ large are always REALLY arguments against supernaturalism.

But religion doesn’t have to be supernaturalistic. So their arguments “against religion”—entire books’ worth—come down to straw man fallacies.

Why is it considered so wild an idea that religion need not contain a supernatural component? The only answer I have is that it is because the religions we see around us have not been doing it that way. For centuries.

The insistence that Belief in that which requires Faith is a necessary prerequisite for a religious tradition is basically a monotheistic holdover from the Abrahamic religions, in my opinion. We’ve been steeping in the assumptions of the Judeo-Christian worldview for so long we can’t even see how they have stained us.

Religion isn’t just what you believe about the Universe. It’s also about your values, and your morals, and your religious practices and observances.

And that really isn’t such a radical idea.

 

*And if you’re an Atheopagan, you actually are, by the way.

 

Looking Forward

So, Gavin Frost died.

And several writers I respect have weighed in on his shameful legacy.

I can’t say any better what they have, and my rule-of-blog is not to repeat what’s already out there.

What I can say, though, is that the death of this awful human is an opportunity to speak about what it is that makes Atheopaganism different. Or potentially so.

Atheopaganism is a forward-looking religion. We don’t claim to derive from a lineage or tradition, and as such, we are neither beholden to nor reverent towards so-called elders.

Did those who helped to create Paganism help to pave the way for where we are here? Yes.

Did those who helped to shape modern Atheism help to pave the way for where we are here? Yes.

Are prominent figures in both camps kinda…screwed up?

Yes.

So to those of us who are Atheists becoming Atheopagans, yes: some of the people who started the modern Pagan movement were loony, and a few were delusional to the point of evil.

We learned from that. We’re getting better.

And to those who are Pagans embracing their Atheism, yes: the dogmatism of the New Atheists moved them from speakers of truth to evangelistic zealotry. They over-generalize about religion and throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Still, their assertion of naturalism as the most reasonable cosmology for a thinking human is absolutely compelling.

We are fortunate in that we have no “high priest/esses”, no hierarchs, no cult leaders. We’re just a group of people working together to create something that works for us.

My hope for Atheopaganism is that we can draw forward elements of value from what has been in the past, while firmly leaving behind the dysfunction through a firm commitment to our values and Principles. And then, from there, to build our own culture, our own shared traditions sprung from our own creativity.

Let us enshrine history and legacy in the form of actions of integrity, rather than the lionizing of problematic people. If that is the practice, the likes of Gavin Frost will be forgotten soon enough.

 

 

Building Atheopagan Community

As I referenced earlier, Atheopaganism as a named path is new. That means that those of us who are a part of it are rare, and far-flung (the Facebook group has members from across the globe). That said, Atheopaganism has something precious to offer both atheists and Pagans, and those are quite a bit more common. Atheopagan community is therefore likely to be ecumenical community: at first, at least, we will gather with both those who share our worldview and those whose cosmologies differ.

Pagans are rare enough in most places; expecting to find a broad community of atheist Pagans may be unrealistic. However, most Pagans are pretty tolerant–they will joyfully be a part of your community so long as you will be a part of theirs, and they will participate in your rituals if you, in turn, join in theirs. And the point of ritual is the doing, anyway, not the philosophical underpinnings of it. Atheist Pagans have been circling with theist Pagans since the Neo-Pagan revival began, and there is no reason for us to stop doing so just because we have now come forward to declare our way of believing to be a legitimate alternative to theism.

In the atheist community, as well, there are those who are seeking ways to make their lives more meaningful. If you know such people, you can invite them to a celebration, hold a short ritual and see how it sits with them.

Unitarian Universalists and liberal Christians and Jews may also enjoy Atheopagan ritual; don’t rule them out if you know some. UU “churches” are good places to advertise for atheists/agnostics looking for meaningful celebration of the seasons, as well. If you are inviting strangers, you may want to hold your first ritual at a park rather than at your home—that’s up to you.

My encouragement, as always, is just to do it. The best times of the year to hold an “introductory” Atheopagan ritual are at the solstices and equinoxes, as these are objective astronomical events which even the staunchest atheist must recognize as real. Have your friends over for a solstice or equinox meal and tell them that you would like to do a short ceremony to celebrate the season. Be sure to include that in the invitation: inviting people over and then “springing” it on them will not go over well.

Say a brief gratitude prior to the meal (my usual one is, “This food, swelling from the Earth by the breath of the Sun, is brought to us by many hands. May all be honored.”)

Focus your ritual (the Atheopagan ritual primer will help you to design one) on the metaphorical meanings of the season passed and the one arriving, and on connection to the broader processes of the Universe: that we are a part of all this, and are grateful for all the many ways in which the biosphere and the broader Cosmos enable us to live.

These are themes which are pertinent to all humans. They have—or should have—meaning for all of us.

Keep the ceremony short. Make it participatory: each celebrant can say what she is hoping for in the coming season, for example, or what he is grateful for. You may want to have some sort of takeaway: a token of having been a part of the ritual, a symbol of what the coming season means. You would be surprised at how meaningful such objects can become for people; for some, the item may become the beginning of a Focus.

Feel free to tell your guests that you are exploring something called Atheopaganism: a science-based, god-free, woo-free practice to enrich your life by celebrating the seasons, life events, and personal transformation. Don’t keep it a “secret” from them—that’s always going to be counterproductive in the longer term. If they’re curious, point them to this website and let them find out more for themselves.

When the next Sabbath rolls around, invite the same folks again, and any others who seem like they might enjoy or find meaning in what we do.

It’s in this way that community begins: with a few friends sharing something wonderful.