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.


Mythology: The Guardian Trees

This is another in my series of mythological stories about Sonoma County (see “Storytelling and the Mythic Landscape”.)

What if this happened, long ago?

Now, everyone knows that the Sacred Earth gives birth to all of us, and takes us back into itself and makes new creatures when we die.  This is the way of Life:  those whose time has come are eaten to sustain the living, and when our time comes, we get eaten, too.  But what some people don’t  know is that the Earth does the same thing with the very lands themselves, like our Sonoma.  When their time is done, they, too, go back into the ocean, the source of all Life, and new lands arise from the ocean and have their time to live and thrive and create.  Now, this all takes a very long time, of course, and we will all be long gone by the time our Sonoma returns to the ocean, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.  The Earth is patient.

And as anyone who has been on a hunting trip or seen a cat catching a mouse also knows, it is the way of the living to try to keep living until they are old.  This is why it is important, when you take some wood from a tree or berries from a bush, to thank it and tell it why you need it.  And never to take more than you need.

It’s the same with our Sacred Sonoma.  When she was new and green, already the ocean began to claw against her edges, pulling her body back down into the Great Ocean where life begins and new dreams are always taking shape.  But Sonoma wanted to live, and to have her time to dream and create.  And because she was blessed enough to live very near the source of all life, she was also endangered by its hunger.

One of the Animal People that was there was Red-tailed Hawk.  He swept far over the skies above Sonoma, and a red feather from his tail fell into her hands.  Sonoma took the feather and planted it in the earth on the cliffs above the ocean.  The feather grew into an enormous tree, a warrior tree, and the tree breathed a fog that covered the beaches all along Sonoma’s flanks until she was hidden, and the ocean couldn’t find her.   And that tree grew old and thick, and had daughters who circled around her to protect her when she was old, so that even after that first guardian tree was gone, you can still see the daughter trees standing in a ring.

They had so many children that all the cliffs along Sonoma’s flanks were covered, and they all breathed fog.  Only when the wind came and opened the fog a little, or when the day was so hot that the guardian trees could breathe no fog, could the ocean find Sonoma and start to take Her back into the great ocean’s womb.  So she is going, but very slowly.  And this is why the redwood trees are the protectors of Sonoma, and why she is still here today to give us Her many blessings.

You can still see the color of Hawk’s tail feather if you peel off the bark a little.