What If We Are Screwed?

John Halstead very eloquently and thoroughly puts the question to us in his post “’Everything is Going According to Plan’”: Being an Activist in the Anthropocene”.

Take time to read the whole thing. It’s well worth it.

So really: what if it’s simply too late for any kind of peaceful transition to a sustainable post-disastrous civilization, and a messy and bloody collapse of industrial capitalism and Earth biodiversity in the context of skyrocketing global warming is now firmly set on course?

It could be true. It may very well be true.

What does this mean to us as Atheopagans, when we state explicitly that it is a part of our ethos to be advocates for a better future?

As someone who has devoted his career to public interest work, and particularly in the environmental field, I have wrestled with this question a lot. And I find that my Atheopaganism is both a motivator and a comfort to me in the context of what appears to be gathering doom.

If we ARE completely screwed, there are some things we can probably anticipate. And the primary one—the critically important one—is this:

There will be survivors.

Humans are unbelievably adaptable. We are the species which can live far above the Arctic Circle, in equatorial jungles, wandering as nomads in the Sahara, high in the Andes and Himalayas. We have managed to build a quite reliable global network of resource extraction, food production, manufacturing and distribution, and as destructive as that system is, it is a monument to the sheer ingenuity and logistical capability of our species.

Even with sea levels rising dozens of feet, billions of deaths due to disasters, starvation and unlivable conditions, mass migrations of climate refugees, and crashing biodiversity, there will be survivors. Many of them may be the privileged, but many of the privileged aren’t actually very well cut out for survival. They are pampered, and soft.

There will be ordinary people who survive, too. And it is for them that our efforts can make a difference.

At best, our work to develop and render visible our path is work towards culture creation—establishing principles, values and practices that are consistent with a world kinder and more sustainable than that in which we live now.

Meanwhile, these present a way for us to be happier, and to live better lives.

Finally. let me say this.

If humanity is doomed and billions of living creatures must die off, I would much rather be one of the ones who stayed at the pumps and worked to keep the ship afloat than to ignore the crisis and fool around just indulging myself and having fun.

In that case, I can go to my death feeling I did what was right to do. I stood where it was right and just to stand, when the time came that a stand was required. I lived, overall, a righteous life.

There is so much I grieve. My wife has been known to call me “the man who knows too much” because I can look at a landscape others find beautiful and see only erosion, invasive species, the growing damage wrought by humanity. And as I look at the world of humans, of course, I see the bigotry, the cruelty, the sheer destructiveness for the most petty and greedy of reasons.

But we are here. We are alive. We value life.

We are Homo capabilis, the Human Who Can.

We’re not done yet. Just looking down the barrel of a new chapter.

And we have something to offer.  Our path is worthy, even now.

Even if we’re screwed.

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What Makes a Ritual “Successful”?

John Halstead over at Humanistic Paganism has published a rather sharply-worded piece about “10 Signs You’re Half-Assing Your Ritual”. It’s well worth a read, and in general, he’s right: there is a lot of ho-hum ritual out there and many, if not most of us can do a better job of preparing and enacting our rites.

But I think there is something missing in John’s piece, and that is this: a discussion of what we mean by a “successful” ritual.

This is often a moving target. When you talk to someone who has come out of a successful ritual, more often than not what they will talk about is not the activities that took place within it, but about a feeling—and one that is hard to pin down, at that.

But I think that all of those feelings come down to a particular state of mind: one of focus, presence, sensory awareness, creative flow and fervent dedication to the activities at hand. It is what I have previously termed the Ritual State. Many Pagans also refer to it as trance.

Here at Atheopaganism, I’ve written somewhat extensively about the Ritual State (in fact, there is an Atheopagan Ritual Primer that is all about how to provoke and maintain it). I believe it is a particular brain state that is well known to artists and musicians, but may be less familiar to others, in which the prefrontal neocortical Talking/Thinking Brain relinquishes its usual driver’s-seat role in the operation of the brain to the limbic or Feeling/Creating Brain. The Thinking Brain is still present, and may chime in with recognition of metaphors and symbols that contribute to the Ritual State, but it is the Feeling Brain, which remains firmly in the present moment rather than going off into memories or speculations about the future, that is the primary system in charge.

The primary hallmark of a successful ritual is that it succeeds in bringing participants into that fervent, present, awe-inspired creative state, which can be intensely moving and joyful. Each person is different, of course, so some techniques which work for one person may not work for another, but there are approaches to induction of the Ritual State that have worked for most people for thousands of years: repeated rhythms, dancing, chanting or singing, low and flickering light conditions, and beautiful and colorful Focuses or altars, to give a few examples. See the Primer for more details.

Getting into the Ritual State is a learned skill for participants, too. Experienced ritualists are usually able to suspend the internal chatter and critical voice of the Thinking Mind more easily than newcomers to the art. As simple an act as lighting candles on a Focus and saying a brief word of gratitude and devotion can be enough, with practice.

But the key point is that a ritual is an inductive journey: a set of steps designed to bring participants into an experiential state of holy Presence. Succeed in that, work within it, and then ground it out so participants “land” back in an ordinary state of awareness, and your ritual will be a success.

Key ritual facilitation skills such as singing, public speaking, drumming and ritual movement are worth cultivating. They are deeply helpful in ritual leadership, as they can help lead participants along into the Ritual State.

Preparation can make a big difference, and John’s warnings are worth taking seriously. But in experienced hands, even impromptu ritual can be highly successful.

It isn’t just about having a map, and learning it. It’s about knowing where you intend to go in the first place.

Godless Paganism declared “The Pagan Book of the Year!”

I was so proud to be a part of the creation of John Halstead’s Godless Paganism, and wanted to let all you Atheopagans know that Megan Manson of the Pagan Tama blog on Patheos has rated it the top Pagan book of the year!

If you still don’t have a copy, you can pick it up at http://www.lulu.com/shop/john-halstead/godless-paganism-voices-of-non-theistic-pagans/paperback/product-22646041.htmlOr save money and paper and buy the e-book at http://www.lulu.com/shop/john-halstead/godless-paganism-voices-of-non-theistic-pagans/ebook/product-22635653.html

Lulu has a 20% off sale going through the end of the year, so get yours now!