On Appeasing Gods

I can understand right now, with giant fires bearing down on us, and billowing toxic smoke and plague in the air, how people less informed about the nature of the world would try to put a face on these implacable forces and somehow petition them for relief. I can imagine all the rituals I would do, and see the temptation to make sacrifices, as if the Giant Force might be satisfied with eating just a little instead of the whole countryside.

And I can see how it would be deadly serious business, if, say, you lived on an island composed of live volcanoes, or a place prone to earthquake.

My region has seen such disaster over the past three years. The Tubbs Fire of 2017 burned within a half-block of my house, destroyed about 20% of the city where I live and killed 12 people. In 2018, the big fires that leveled the city of Paradise were away from us, but the smoke blanketed us to remind us of destruction happening not too far away. There was an earthquake centered in Napa (30 miles away) in 2018 that kicked the hell out of their downtown, and then the Kincade Fire of 2019, which came within mere feet of erasing the town five miles north of us, and for which we were evacuated twice in one night.

And then there is COVID-19, the invisible killer that has turned our society upside down.

Now it’s fire again, and prepping to bug out, and having to think about what we would take and what we would leave.

The powerlessness is galling. There is literally nothing we can but wait and see. I’m sure it would be comforting, on the one hand, to be able to trot down to the temple and make an offering to That Which Destroys.

But on the other hand, then I would have to live in a world where giant personalities capriciously decided to wipe out people and their homes. Somehow, to me that is much worse. I can live with the insensate forces of Nature far more easily than with genuinely malicious gods.

What About Those Who Insist Their Gods Are Real? A Policy Statement.

Though I generally try to avoid engaging with them, there are those in the broader Pagan community who are quite adamant that their gods are real and that anyone who doesn’t think so isn’t a Pagan. Some of them feel the need to rail at people like Atheopagans and call for our expulsion from Pagan community. So I thought I would spell out my exact orientation to such folk, so my position is clear.

Primarily, my inclination is to ignore them. They’re wrong, but they’re entitled to their opinions. If their beliefs make them happy, great. Though given the sour and caustic tone of some of them, there is reason to doubt this is the case.

I don’t care that other Pagans believe in gods. They’re welcome to do so, in my book, even though I believe that is in the process of dying out.

When it comes to the bigotry factor, however—the suggestion that there is something wrong with us because of what we believe and practice, or that it’s “not a real religion”— I will stick up strongly for our rights both to what we do and believe and to belong in both Pagan and atheistic communities. My only reason for engagement with strident god-believers who refuse to live and let live is in insisting that mine is a religion as well, and I have a right both to call it one and to a place in community. I have never argued that they have no place there, and this is a fundamental difference in values between us: inclusivity vs. exclusivity on the basis of cosmology and/or praxis.

I do not feel the need to try to establish that at some level, we are all talking about the same thing using different labels. We aren’t. We have a fundamental cosmological disagreement. “Real” for purposes of my writing means “existing in some sense external to the mind”. The memory of my mother, therefore, is not “real”, while, when she was alive, my mother was real.

Rocks are real. Gods are not. So the evidence suggests, and so I believe.

Do ideas “exist” in some sense? Well, certainly. But certain ideas are not privileged with “reality” more than any others. Zeus has exactly the same amount of real existence as does Wilbur the Pig or Gandalf. They are memes, not things or persons.

There are those who disagree with these ideas and will be angered to read them. My suggestion for them is simple: go away. Read something else. I don’t write this blog for you; I write it for those of largely similar views, so that together, we can develop and explore our Atheopagan spirituality.

I hope this clarifies where I stand.