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Thoughts, lessons, and theology from an eclectic witch from a varied background.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Pagan Atheism, is this a thing?

There has been some noise through the pagan blogosphere about pagan atheism versus polytheism versus paganism at large. I became first aware of the conflict between the three groups through Galina Krasskrova's blog. It is a long standing issue that is creating some strife. I usually wouldn't wade into muddied waters such as these because of how heated the positions are. I can not, however, stand by and watch as the polytheists and theists of the pagan community are derided.

Pagan atheism is described by author Stifyn Emrys as a pagan belief by way of its reverence for nature. He then continues to describe what differentiates pagan atheism from pagan beliefs. He fails, however, to clearly delineate the difference between pagan atheism and secular humanism. The predominant qualities of pagan atheism, as can be determined from Emrys's article are the following:

  • Reverence for nature
  • Atheistic positions regarding deities
  • Science based positions regarding philosophy
  • A rejection of dogma and related organized religious traits
If you take a moment to consider this description and that of secular humanism, you will find the two groups indistinguishable. This should indicate how pagan atheism is a misnomer. Those who uphold the idea of pagan atheism should be viewed in askance. Paganism is defined as the belief in deities that are outside of the Abrahamic model and not part of other major established faith practices such as Buddhism or Hinduism. 

The term pagan is derived from 'country dweller' in the Roman empire era of history. This was a term that was scornful and used to describe the 'unsophisticated' and 'backward' people who did not convert to Christianity with its adoption by Emperor as the state religion. These people continued in their polytheistic belief systems, in many cases at a political and social disadvantage as Christianity gained in strength. Modern day pagans practice their faith within belief systems that worships deities separate from the Christian faith (which is frequently the dominant faith where paganism is present in the Western world).

Paganism can not be divorced from theism in any of its many manifestations. Belief in deities is a defining characteristic of paganism. It is nonsensical to argue that one can be pagan and an atheist at the same time. The cognitive dissonance that comes from combining the two systems of thought renders application of this supposed belief system null. At best, you have someone who is an agnostic with heavy leanings towards humanistic belief systems. At worst, you have someone who is hostile to paganism in any of its manifestations.

The aggressive positioning of prominent figures within this group such as John Halstead is not based in a desire for discourse. Indeed, when these people are confronted with their frequently derisive treatment of theist positions, they argue that they are personally being attacked when it is the ideas they ascribe to being called into question. I would like to give these people the charitable consideration that perhaps they are confusing an aggressive rebuttal with an ad hominem attack. I can't not help, however, questioning their motivations in attacking theists.

The argument that all challenges to their assertions are ad hominem attacks is an attempt to obsfucate the real problem here. The pagan atheist cultus are almost as aggressive in their proselytizing and attack of belief systems they do not agree with as the evangelical christian believers are. This appears not to be the action of a few lone wolves out to make a name for themselves. It appears to be an integral part of their belief system. It appears that they have an unspoken mission to deride and decry any and all theistic beliefs as willful ignorance and primitive.

In the course of my doing research for this post, I looked at quite a few pagan atheist blogs. This is a consistent pattern of behavior. This is something that we should not tolerate. I recognize there will be ideological spats between different faith systems within the pagan community. The hard polytheists regularly have it out with the soft polytheists. You can almost set a watch by how frequently those conflicts happen. Neither group, however, presumes to tell the other that their beliefs are backwards or primitive. They both agree that deities exist. The argument is how to approach said deities and what the nature of these deities are.

The aggressive posturing of the atheist pagans is something that should give the rest of the pagan community pause. Within the community, there is a voice that is belittling the whole of the community and working to spread strife. It is something that we should not tolerate. Because the whole of the community should not be subjected to such scorn in return for the tolerance of differing belief systems. The pagan atheist community is actively working to undermine the defining traits of the pagan community whilst attempting to seek shelter in that larger community.

This must not be tolerated because it will lead to an erosion of the cohesion of the pagan community. Granted, the pagan community is about as organized as herd of cats. (Actually a herd of cats would be more organized.) But there is the ability for the different pagan belief systems to work together and advocate for greater recognition by the dominant faith systems within the larger group. Pagan atheism is actively seeking to splinter paganism and restore the 'order' wherein said belief systems are decried and scorned in favor of more 'tolerable' and 'modern' ones. This is no different from when the evangelical christian community pushes for laws to be made against our faith practices.

Let pagan atheism be what it actually is. Pagan atheism is secular humanism. Let us know them by their true name and deal with them on our own terms. Allowing them to define the discussion (which they have been doing thus far in many cases) is leading to a denigration of all pagan belief systems. We must stand up and calmly refute their positions and reassert that we're an equally valid belief system, regardless of what pagan belief system we practice.

Partial List of Blogs Consulted:

Identity Break from Stifyn Emrys
Allergic Pagan from John Halstead
Atheist, Polyamorus Skeptics from shaunphilly et al.
Musings of a Lapsed Pagan from Timmy!

26 comments:

  1. >"Pagan Atheism, is this a thing?"

    Uh, yes. If it weren't, you wouldn't be writing this article.

    ReplyDelete
  2. >"There has been some noise through the pagan blogosphere about pagan atheism versus polytheism versus paganism at large. I became first aware of the conflict between the three groups through Galina Krasskrova's blog. It is a long standing issue that is creating some strife. I usually wouldn't wade into muddied waters such as these because of how heated the positions are. I can not, however, stand by and watch as the polytheists and theists of the pagan community are derided."

    You fail to offer a single example where polytheists or pagan theists are "derided." I'm sure there are some, but not in my recent response to Galina, which is what I think you are referring to.

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  3. >"Pagan atheism is described by author Stifyn Emrys as a pagan belief by way of its reverence for nature. He then continues to describe what differentiates pagan atheism from pagan beliefs. He fails, however, to clearly delineate the difference between pagan atheism and secular humanism. The predominant qualities of pagan atheism, as can be determined from Emrys's article are the following: Reverence for nature, Atheistic positions regarding deities, Science based positions regarding philosophy, A rejection of dogma and related organized religious traits. If you take a moment to consider this description and that of secular humanism, you will find the two groups indistinguishable. This should indicate how pagan atheism is a misnomer."
    First of all, in the linked article, what Stifyn is describing is something he calls "Pagan atheism" -- which gives the emphasis to the atheism over the Paganism. In contrast, what I have been writing about is atheist Paganism -- which gives the emphasis to the Paganism. That may be a subtle difference to some, but not to me. Stifyn's Pagan atheism may indeed be a form of secular humanism, but other atheist Paganisms are a form of religious humanism. The difference between secular humanism and religious humanism is significant -- as the names suggest, the former is not religious, while the latter is.

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  4. >"Those who uphold the idea of pagan atheism should be viewed in askance. Paganism is defined as the belief in deities that are outside of the Abrahamic model and not part of other major established faith practices such as Buddhism or Hinduism."

    Who defined Paganism as the belief in deities? That's one definition, but there are others. The Pagan Federation, for example, defines Paganism as "a polytheistic or pantheistic nature-worshipping religion." I define it as any religiosity that draws on ancient pagan belief and practice (or modern reconstructions of ancient pagan belief and practice) for religious inspiration.

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  5. >"Paganism can not be divorced from theism in any of its many manifestations. Belief in deities is a defining characteristic of paganism. It is nonsensical to argue that one can be pagan and an atheist at the same time. The cognitive dissonance that comes from combining the two systems of thought renders application of this supposed belief system null."

    Actually, it can, and it's not, and it isn't. And the only cognitive dissonance going on is in your own head. And your cognitive dissonance does not render our religiosity "null," any more than my disbelief in your gods renders your religiosity "null."

    ReplyDelete
  6. >"At best, you have someone who is an agnostic with heavy leanings towards humanistic belief systems. At worst, you have someone who is hostile to paganism in any of its manifestations."

    "At best," you have Pagans who share a love of the myth and ritual of Paganism, but not what they see as its irrational credulity and superstition, or atheists who are looking for a spiritual practice to help them celebrate the natural world or experience a deeper connection to the Universe without abandoning their rational faculties. I have not seen any "hostility to paganism" from anyone who identifies as an atheist Pagan or Pagan atheist -- unless you're conveniently defining Paganism so narrowly to only include hard polytheists like yourself.

    ReplyDelete
  7. >"The aggressive positioning of prominent figures within this group such as John Halstead is not based in a desire for discourse. Indeed, when these people are confronted with their frequently derisive treatment of theist positions, they argue that they are personally being attacked when it is the ideas they ascribe to being called into question. I would like to give these people the charitable consideration that perhaps they are confusing an aggressive rebuttal with an ad hominem attack. I can't not help, however, questioning their motivations in attacking theists."

    Uh, let's see who's engaging in personal attacks: Galina Krasskova has a tag on her blog titled "Humanist horseshit" which is devoted to me. Sannion has called my spirituality "adolescent rebellion." Anomalous Thracian has threatened to punch me for my beliefs. And most recently, both Tess Dawson and Galina Krasskova have compared me Islamic terrorists. And there were "no personal attacks" in my responses to Galina or Tess -- unless you think calling them out is a personal attack.

    ReplyDelete
  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  9. >"In the course of my doing research for this post, I looked at quite a few pagan atheist blogs. This is a consistent pattern of behavior. This is something that we should not tolerate. I recognize there will be ideological spats between different faith systems within the pagan community. The hard polytheists regularly have it out with the soft polytheists. You can almost set a watch by how frequently those conflicts happen. Neither group, however, presumes to tell the other that their beliefs are backwards or primitive. They both agree that deities exist. The argument is how to approach said deities and what the nature of these deities are."

    Actually, lots of hard polytheists are fond of telling everyone -- soft polytheists, non-theistic Pagans, and atheistic Pagans -- that they are wrong. I know you know this, since you read Galina's blog.


    ReplyDelete
  10. >"The aggressive posturing of the atheist pagans is something that should give the rest of the pagan community pause. Within the community, there is a voice that is belittling the whole of the community and working to spread strife. It is something that we should not tolerate. Because the whole of the community should not be subjected to such scorn in return for the tolerance of differing belief systems. The pagan atheist community is actively working to undermine the defining traits of the pagan community whilst attempting to seek shelter in that larger community."

    Strife has been spread by both sides unfortunately -- including myself I admit. But I'm not working to undermine the Pagan community or even the Polytheist community. I am working to reinforce two of the three poles that are holding up the Big Tent of Paganism: the Earth and the Deep Self. It is only because you think there is only one pole -- Deity -- that you see my efforts as an attack.

    ReplyDelete
  11. >"This must not be tolerated because it will lead to an erosion of the cohesion of the pagan community. Granted, the pagan community is about as organized as herd of cats. (Actually a herd of cats would be more organized.) But there is the ability for the different pagan belief systems to work together and advocate for greater recognition by the dominant faith systems within the larger group. Pagan atheism is actively seeking to splinter paganism and restore the 'order' wherein said belief systems are decried and scorned in favor of more 'tolerable' and 'modern' ones. This is no different from when the evangelical christian community pushes for laws to be made against our faith practices."

    Uh, there is a huge difference between advocating for a definition of Paganism that includes atheist Pagans and lobbying for laws against Paganism. The fact that you cannot appreciate the difference is unfortunate.

    ReplyDelete
  12. >"Let pagan atheism be what it actually is. Pagan atheism is secular humanism. Let us know them by their true name and deal with them on our own terms. Allowing them to define the discussion (which they have been doing thus far in many cases) is leading to a denigration of all pagan belief systems. We must stand up and calmly refute their positions and reassert that we're an equally valid belief system, regardless of what pagan belief system we practice."

    Is your post supposed to be an example of "calmly" refuting our position? Really? And if all you want is an acknowledgment that yours is "an equally valid belief system," why don't you extend the same courtesy to us?

    ReplyDelete
  13. Also, you said you read "quite a few" atheist Pagan blogs, but two of the four blogs you linked to were not Pagans. One was a self-described ex-Neo-Pagan and the other was a polyamorous atheist. The other two were Stifyn's blog and my blog. What other atheist Pagan blogs did you read?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nice of this cheery fellow to make personal attacks, isn't it? How very warm and wonderful. How very "perfect love & perfect trust" of them. Pah, I sense a two dimensional twat with a chip on her shoulder. You and Stifyn and good people, and no one should "not tolerate" any kind of paganism. Attacks like this are very telling: reflects badly back on the writer of this *thing*

      Delete
  14. Sorry for the multiple comments. There is a character limit imposed, so I had to break my response up.

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  15. It says Identity Break is a pagan atheist blog, when it's a novel having nothing to do with paganism nor atheism. This guy is unintelligent.

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  16. Sounds like the author is crying out for people not to tolerate pagan atheism. Wow. How very intolerant of him. Religion is a blight on this planet, and this blowhard is just another blah-blah-blah xtian-pagan transplant.
    You're not going to tolerate us? What're you going to do? Hunt us down and burn us at the stake? <_<

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  17. Oooh! A ranting attack on certain types of pagans, HOW FUN!!! Now, where'd I put my pitchfork and torch? >_>

    ReplyDelete
  18. I'm mystified to have my work quoted as somehow intending to "scorn" or "undermine" polytheistic beliefs. To quote the closing sentence of my blog cited here, "There’s room enough in this vibrant community for a wide array of different expressive forms, including pantheism, various forms of polytheism, eclecticism (with which the author here identifies) and, yes, Pagan atheism." Exactly whose beliefs am I trying to undermine? No one's. I'm arguing for a big tent and mutual respect/understanding. I don't know the author of this blog and have no agenda here other than to state my position, which I believe was stated clearly in my initial blog, to which the author linked. Pagan atheism poses no more threat to polytheism - or any other form of Paganism - than same-sex marriage poses to traditional marriage. To each his/her own. Or, to quote the popular bumper sticker so popular in a variety of Pagan circles: "Coexist."

    ReplyDelete
  19. Your definition of pagan is incorrect. It is RELIGION, not GODS, which are in fact two different thing and neither necessarily follows the other. Your argument falls apart after one realises the definition is a RELIGION outside of the abrahamic or major religions.
    You also completely neglect nature and spirit worship, which again, are unconnected to deity, but strongly connected to Paganism. Also unrelated to secular humanism, funnily enough.
    I will not be rejecting my atheist kith based on this narrow reasoning; and frank;ly it's sad that you do.

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  20. Oh and no, you don't get to kick people out of a self-identified title, or self-identified community because you don't like how they behave. The No True Scotsman fallacy doesn't work any better for pagans than it does for christians.

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    Replies
    1. An excellent point. The right to self-identification is very important, to my way of thinking. To me, spirituality is a very personal thing that transcends labels - for the simple reason that these labels have as many differently nuanced meanings as there are adherents.

      Delete
  21. Beware those who seek to define Panagism as excluding others for fundamentalism stirs in their hearts!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you!

      Delete
    2. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

      Delete
  22. With all respect, Mr Halstead, the blog author and those in agreement, are right to feel as they do.

    Atheist Pagan is an oxymoron, one you choose because you like the history and tradition of Paganism.

    I wonder, if you enjoyed the company of the Christian church folk and their history, would you call yourself an atheist Christian? I seriously doubt it. Because you know that just isn't a thing, not to mention you probably want none of that association is my guess.

    Why not just call yourself an atheist? Are you afraid you wouldn't be welcome in the polytheist community? You would be welcome to many things within it so long as you were polite and respectful, but of course some rites etc involving deity worship, well, maybe or maybe not depending on circumstance.

    In any case, the problem people like the author and myself for that matter have with people like you isn't your atheism, but your insistence that you are Pagan when you refer to belief in the gods and supernatural as I quote you above, 'silly superstition'.

    And you wonder why this isn't accepted with open arms?

    ReplyDelete