All Our Relations: Pagans and the more-than-human world.

For Pagans the Sacred encompasses us all, rivers and mountains, oceans and deserts, grasses and trees, fish and fungi, birds and animals. Understanding the implications of what this means and how to experience it first hand involves our growing individually and as a community well beyond the limits of this autistic civilization. All Our Relations exists to help fertilize this transition.

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Gus diZerega

Gus diZerega

Gus diZerega is a Third Degree Elder in Gardnerian Wicca. He studied closely with Timothy White who later founded Shaman’s Drum magazine, and also studied Brazilian Umbanda  for six years under Antonio Costa e Silva.

Dr. diZerega has published widely on the social sciences in the academic press as well as on spirituality.  His second book Pagans and Christians: The Personal Spiritual Experience won the Best Nonfiction of 2001 award from  The Coalition of Visionary Resources.  His third, coauthored with Philip Johnson, is Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and a Christian in Dialogue. His art frequently appeared in Shaman’s Drum, and the ecological journals Wild Earth, and The Trumpeter.

DiZerega combines a formal academic training in Political Science with decades of work in Wicca and shamanic healing.

His next book, Faultlines: The Culture War and the Return of the Divine Feminine, will appear in 2013. 

         This is part III of what will be a three or four part series on the social implications of Pagan religion. 

         Some Pagans probably found my previous essay on alternative forms of economic organization,    such as the Mondragon workers cooperatives, far removed from a strictly Pagan site’s expected interests.  At first glance it does seem far removed.  Here is why I think it is not and in fact goes directly to who we are.

Among the world’s Pagan traditions NeoPaganism is particularly open to coexisting happily with the modern world.  Our roots are in this world and most of us do not look backwards towards earlier Pagan times as being in most respects preferable to modernity.  But there is one important point where we clash fundamentally with modernity’s dominant attitudes, be they of the left or the right.  We see, and many of us have powerfully experienced, the world as inspirited.  Not only human beings are expressions of Spirit, so is the world itself. In sharpest contrast, the modern worldview treats the natural world as a storehouse of resources that acquires what value it has by serving us. 

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  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. diZerega, Thanks for another great post! Two things: You've reminded me of why I cancelled my subscription to The Economist,
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    I'm also a big fan of silent film generally, and Fritz Lang's German stuff in particular. I'll remember your post the next time I
Business as if human beings mattered more than profit

Capitalism seems invulnerable today not because anyone likes it, informed decent people do not, but because it is hard to imagine a realistic alternative. State socialism failed, and failed in a horrible way.  Going back to the land is impossible for more than a relative few of us.  Markets work better than explicit controls and markets seem inevitably to generate capitalism.  We seem trapped. 

But markets are not as predictable as economists claim and most economists confuse their theoretical categories with the real world of men and women. Consider the Mondragon cooperatives   in the Basque country of northern Spain. In September, 2012, I had the opportunity to visit these cooperatives in September of 2012 as part of an annual study group organized by the Praxis Peace Institute.  Given all that I had heard, I felt that while I could not easily afford to go financially, I could not afford not to go intellectually. 

Here is why.

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  • Stifyn Emrys
    Stifyn Emrys says #
    Intriguing analysis. It seems to me you've put your finger on a weakness of corporate capitalism as practiced in the United States

Every religious tradition stands in some tension with its society, legitimizing some things in terms of a larger eternal context, but in the process challenging others, sometimes deeply.  As NeoPagan religions increase in America this same pattern is developing. This essay explores how the logic of Pagan religion leads us to question the legitimacy of some important contemporary institutions, particularly the joint stock corporation, and with this questioning, the way our society views the world. 

More deeply than most religions, NeoPagans legitimize and honor the goodness of this world, the sacred immanence that shines through all things.  Consequently, from a Pagan perspective living well in our world requires observing appropriate ethical and moral relationships.  This insight cannot help but lead us to criticize attitudes treating this world as noting but a means for human ends.

Our society’s institutional and legal core views the world as without value beyond its use to us.  A mountain or forest has no more intrinsic value than a crumpled wad of paper.  Our economic system in particular is only able to relate to the world on these terms. Its signature institution, the joint stock corporation, is created so treat everything it encounters as either a resource for attaining its goal of making money, a threat to that goal, or irrelevant. By understanding what is defective about a corporation we can better appreciate what Pagan insights add to our world.

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  • Henry Buchy
    Henry Buchy says #
    'Tapa is innocent, study is harmless, the ordinance of the Vedas prescribed for all the tribes are harmless, the acquisition of we
  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    Since I did not use the term 'socialist' and indeed included a strong criticism of sate socialism, I see your ability to read and
  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    No, pagan is not a socialist political agenda no matter how many silly assertions you make about corporations and economics.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

Our Sabbats provide a framework of meditation and insight that can deepen and transform our lives if we pay them any serious mind.  Wiccan Sabbats have three dimensions, one links us to the universal cycles of the sun, another to our being people of the earth, and both take us to the experience of our own lives. Yule, Ostara, Midsummer (or Litha), and Mabon are our solar Sabbats. Brigid or Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain are our Sabbats rooted in the earth. They reflect the agricultural cycles of Celtic lands and so immerse us in the experience and blessings of living in this world.

As light and darkness and the changing of the seasons form parts of an eternal cycle within which life takes place, so life itself repeats this cycle with birth followed by childhood, the vigor of adulthood, the slow decline of old age, and finally death, to be repeated again.  In the process beauty, love, and delight are brought into being and repeat themselves in endless variety. 

 I have always been most partial to the earthly Sabbats, rooted as they are in how we humans live in this earth I love.  As Yule ended the time of death honored by Samhain, soonfollowed by the end of the calendar year, now the first of our earthly Sabbats, Brigid, recognizes and honors the stirrings and possibilities of life inherent in the new year.

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  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    Thank you Rose. I liked it. It somehow reminded me of an adaptation of my favorite scene from Disney's second Fantasia. I do not
  • Rose
    Rose says #
    Very nice! I shared your response with Glenys. I think she'll like it.
  • Rose
    Rose says #
    Gus: I think yon may enjoy Glenys' work. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mRiI2Nz2go a Pagaian ritual from Down Under.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

Every religion is both a product of its times and, to the degree its vision takes hold of practitioners, transforms those times.  Ours is no exception. I think Pagans interested in our larger significance within American society as a whole will want to take a look at my new book, Faultlines: the Sixties, the Culture War, and the Return of the Divine Feminine, published last month by Quest. 

It was as a guest at a NROOGD Midsummer Sabbat many years ago that I had my first and most powerful encounter with the Wiccan Goddess. After that encounter my life existed in a context I had not even imagined possible. It would be years before I began to grasp how different.

At first the Pagan world differed only in the most obvious ways.  We dealt with different deities, and more of them and had different sacred days.  Often we had more fun and were rarely on time. But the longer I lived within our world the more I realized it opened me to insights far deeper than these relatively minor ones.

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  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    Thank you Jamie. I think you will like the larger context, ultimately spiritual. in which I put the very accurate points you are
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. diZerega, I'm a fan of your writing, and your book made it onto my gift list shortly after I became aware of it. Spot on. Ev

Alexis de Tocqueville visited America in 1831 and published his justly famed Democracy in America  in 1835.  While admitting his personal sympathy with aristocracy, Tocqueville was an honest as well as perceptive observer, and provided an admiring report of the new American democracy, particularly as it existed in New England.  He was far less impressed with the South.

In a brief passage Tocqueville made observations about democratic culture’s long-term influence on religion. His observation is relevant to us today. 

In Europe and America alike, he wrote, “It cannot be denied that pantheism has made great progress in our age. . . . This appears to me not to proceed from an accidental, but from a permanent cause.” He explained “When the conditions of society are becoming more equal . . . at such times the human mind seeks to embrace a multitude of different objects at once; and it continually strives to succeed in connecting a variety of consequences with a single cause.”  Ultimately “he seeks to expand and simplify his conception by including God and the Universe in one great Whole.” Of the systems people devise “to explain the Universe, I believe pantheism to be the one most fitted to reduce the human mind in democratic ages.” A good Catholic, Tocqueville strongly opposed this tendency.

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  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    Thanks Jamie. Thomas Taylor is an interesting man who did much to help us learn the views of Classical Pagans. He also knew Mary
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    There is an irony in there, with regard to Classical variants of Paganism and their multi-faceted influence on us today. Axiothea
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. diZerega, Thank you for another enjoyable post. 'Classical' education, including the study of great Pagan authors like Homer

This is the conclusion of a three part essay on conservatism, liberalism, and their relationship to NeoPagan spirituality. Part I described what liberalism and conservatism have been historically and philosophically and argued there is considerable truth in both views. Part II explored their relationship to Christian and Pagan spirituality and how Pagan insights enabled us better to understand their competitive but ultimately symbiotic relationship.  Now, Part III examines why neither, but especially conservatism, resembles what they have been historically and why those Pagan insights are so critically important to everyone today.

           The argument is more complex than the preceding two, but I hope you will bear with me. I am happy to elaborate points that seem undeveloped in the discussion to follow. Exceptions exist to much of what I am arguing, my larger argument is that the exceptions are minor themes today.

A valid conservative criticism of liberalism

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  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    They will empower me to eliminate your nastiness and rudeness from this blog, probably Monday. Had you any integrity you would no
  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    I have asked that you be banned from this blog.
  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    Of course you did. Liberal talking points and insults can't tolerate contradictory opinions. Its all "good" only when inside a v

        Part I of this essay was needed so we can know what liberalism and conservatism have meant historically and begin to grasp how they are changing. In addition, to understand their relations with one another and with the world I added a third pole, Power, and claimed we can understand neither liberalism nor conservatism without it.  We can now delve more deeply, and begin to appreciate how Paganism can deepen our understanding and appreciation of both liberalism and conservatism.

Despite its now being almost always defended in purely secular terms liberalism is more in keeping with Jesus’s teaching that all are equal in God’s eyes  than is any other modern ideology. John Locke derived human rights from his Christian belief that we were God’s creations and in His eyes equal. Consider Matthew 25:34-40.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

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  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    Thank you Jamie. When I began writing a manifesto was pretty far from my mind, but as I puzzle the pieces together I think one is
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    Mr. diZerega, Thank you for writing a Pagan political manifesto of such depth. Frankly, I agree with every word. It was well wort
  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    By this you must mean the corporate and banking military industrial complex. Yes?

As my readers know, this column frequently has a political orientation.  Some people object a religious site should not have political content.  But historically spirituality has never been purely private except when viewed from a secular perspective that relegates it to the purely subjective, like preferring chocolate ice cream over vanilla. Interestingly, this secular outlook imports powerful monotheistic assumptions under the surface.

However to say that religion has unavoidable political implications is not to make the next jump and say that religion leads to One Right Way politically. This totalitarian conclusion has roots in religions dominating societies and also claiming there is only One Right Way. Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism are tragic examples. By contrast, religions emphasizing sacred immanence, that divinity is within the world wherever else it might be, generally recognize many valid spiritual paths, and more easily live at peace with a diverse political landscape. 

I want to explore how these Pagan observations shed new light on the great ideological conflicts rending America today: conflicts usually described as liberalism vs. conservatism. I will argue both liberalism and conservatism have important spiritual insights and both are transformed in a good way when viewed from a Pagan perspective rather than from their original Christian origins, or attempts to ground them in secularized reasoning rooted in transcendental monotheism.

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  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    We have come almost full circle about Liberalism over the past couple hundred years. Liberal started out as someone favoring Libe
  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    Greybeard- You will never understand this or the following columns if you think of them treating liberalism and conservatism as a
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    So much has changed politically, even since the 1970s, that the U.S. mass media's notions of 'liberal' and 'conservative' don't ev

The biggest and most divisive ethical issues of our time involve abortion and the environment. Does a zygote or fetus have sufficient moral standing to put its interests above those of the pregnant woman carrying it? If so, how much? Does the other-than-human world have any moral standing able to override human interests? If so, how much?

Significantly, of those most opposing abortion, few have interest in or recognition of the other-than-human world’s moral standing.  On the other hand, most supporting a woman’s right to choose will be sympathetic to and sometimes deeply committed to environmental concerns. Individuals in both camps are usually ethically motivated, but they live in different ethical worlds.

These contrasting moral visions reflect a schism going to the center of contemporary America, a genuine clash of cultures capable of tearing the country apart. One is ultimately rooted in an agricultural order, the other in our industrial one. After explaining why I think this is the case, I will explore how we NeoPagans fit into the picture.

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  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    I discovered something weird happened to my link to a better map of red and blue regions. I changed it, but if you already read th
  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    Hi Editor B. This is quick and my new post on abortion and pre-existing spirits over at Patheos might touch on some relevant issu
  • Editor B
    Editor B says #
    Great piece, as per usual, Gus. I have a lot of respect for where you're coming from. The issues you address here have been much o

Friday evening I drove to Point Reyes Station to hear David Abram give a talk.  Ever since I had read his first book, The Spell of the Sensuous,  Abram has been on my shortest list of authors to read, reread, and recommend to anyone I meet. Including you, dear reader. (But unless you are a serious student of philosophy, skip chapter 2.) It was particularly fitting that I could hear him just a few days before Earth Day.

As a graduate student, Abram hoped his skills as a sleight of hand magician, and consequent heightened appreciation for how perception worked, would give him special entry into the worlds of traditional shamans.  He traveled to Indonesia and Nepal to do his research, and found they were indeed interested. He also, as he put it, got in way “over my head.”

His second book, Becoming Animal,  delves more deeply into the implications raised by his first, but for Earth day in some ways Spell of the Sensuous is the most important.  (See here for my review of Becoming Animal.  )

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I closed the second of my open letter to Pagan libertarians with a few comments as to what is right about libertarianism. Since discussing the issue continues on this site, I want to explore libertarianism’s positive dimensions a little more. This is complex because the good is interwoven with the not very good, and the interweaving is hidden by popular words covering both, such as “individualism” and “private property.” 

Along the way I will also try and make clear where we Pagans have something important to add in enriching libertarian thinking. 

The libertarian principle of not aggressing peaceful people is in keeping with the Wiccan rede “an it harm none do as ye will.”  And where libertarians understand their principle clearly, they end up on the right side of important issues, such as opposition to the aggressive wars we are waging in Iraq and Afghanistan or to the so-called “War on Drugs.”  Given that no conservatives and few liberals are clear on both these issues, and both the Democratic and Republican Parties are largely tools of corporate domination, it is easy to see why many idealistic people are attracted to libertarian positions.

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  • D. R. Bartlette
    D. R. Bartlette says #
    This is probably the best "answer" to libertarianism I've read. I've always been appalled by the libertarian blindness to the very
  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    Nice try. Now try an argument sometime.
  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    There seem little value in exchanging personal insults with someone who prefers pseudo-intellectual straw men to real discussion,

Libertarians have a long history with modern NeoPaganism. In the early years of our rapid growth science fiction writer Robert Heinlein ‘s Stranger in a Strange Land,   helped inspire creating the Church of All Worlds.  and the libertarian spirit and strong female characters in his The Moon is a Harsh Mistress  was popular with many.  Historically the connection between libertarians and Pagans is deep.  Today many Pagans are libertarians and still more are sympathetic to what they imagine that philosophy to be.

On the surface that connection makes a lot of sense because libertarianism’s ethical principle is remarkably compatible with the Wiccan Rede   Libertarians generally say no one has a right to coerce a peaceful person and our rede states “An it harm none, do as ye will.”

Words are often like frosting on a cake. Ideally they reflect the quality of the cake below but often fancy frosting covers inferior cakes. In my view such is the case with modern libertarianism. As it currently exists libertarianism in my view is deeply incompatible with Pagan religion in any form. It need not be, but it almost always is. Libertarian Pagans tend to confuse the attractive frosting with what it covers.

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  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    Greybeard, I am intrigued that you never ever actually confront a single argument I make, preferring rhetoric no one can disagree
  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    A growing number of Americans, including American pagans, are Libertarian on social issues and Conservative on issues of economic
  • Chris Sherbak
    Chris Sherbak says #
    I'm not libertarian but don't many of the arguments supporting things like "just get another job" presuppose a fairly extensive (a


continued from part I.

What is wrong with libertarianism as a philosophy for Pagans?

While my chapter demolishing libertarianism treats every aspect of its ideology as failing its core ethical principles, I think its basic heartlessness should give any person pause if they adhere to any tradition holding values like love, compassion, harmony, and kindness.  For Pagans who see that our world as a whole is more than just a pile of goodies for the powerful to use, the lack of fit is even more fundamental.

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  • Diotima
    Diotima says #
    I've looked into libertarianism at various times in my life and found the discussions of individual rights interesting and pertine
  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    Selina- Why do you ignore every actual argument I give? I do not quite know how to answer your first observation since it is ludi
  • Selina Rifkin
    Selina Rifkin says #
    Even the most cursory reading of the history of political parties shows that they often travel far from their roots. Going by your

This post started as a discussion of whether some Pagan traditions are more “privileged” than others.  It rapidly became deeper than this.

When I first became a Pagan and began thinking about the deeper implications of my spiritual path, my first major insight was that since Spirit is everywhere, every spiritual tradition, including those made up from whole cloth, have the potential of carrying someone closer to harmony with the Sacred. For example, even if Gerald Gardner simply made up Gardnerian Wicca (which I do NOT believe), that the Gods come in our workings is all the proof I need that it is a valid path – at least for me.

Several major insights grew from this realization.

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  • D. R. Bartlette
    D. R. Bartlette says #
    Thanks. I try to tread very carefully, because I do NOT want to add fuel to the "culture wars" that seem to be brewing between ecc
  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    Thank you D.R. We all carry what we once were with us when we change on anything, and many either try to stuff what is new into o
  • D. R. Bartlette
    D. R. Bartlette says #
    Lovely post, as usual. As one who has learned and lived an ecclectic path for almost 30 years, it has always been my experience (n

UPDATE BELOW

Joseph Bloch has made an interesting case that Pagan religion cannot always be labeled a “nature religion”  because  historically most weren’t. Instead they were concerned primarily with human affairs. I argue here that he is wrong, and do so in three steps. The first two explore crucial concepts he ignores. The third looks at errors of fact.  Grasping how he is mistaken deepens our understanding of what Paganism is and how we relate to the world today. 

The issues he does not examine are what we mean by “religion” and how Paganism reflects the times in which it exists. 

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  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    I just posted a discussion of how a Pagan perspective gives us insight into the nature of our protected wilderness areas over at P
  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    I just posted a discussion of how a Pagan perspective gives us insight into the nature of our protected wilderness areas over at P
  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    Dear Elani- The points you raise require more space to reply than this format makes comfortable for readers. I think I might do a

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 How might our Paganism influence our politics? A post I wrote before the election, was recently rebuked because I supposedly had no respect for nearly half the American people. Supposedly my views were alien to the Wiccan rede. I disagree as will be obvious, but my basic issue is not with the author, who I assume was sincere, but with a style of thought and the confusions it breeds.  While this post begins with a political question to answer it I will take a journey through some theology and some philosophy.

How big a tent?

Two points argue for an immense political tent among Pagans and I agree with them both. First anyone can be a Pagan who claims to be one because there is no set of authorities to say you or I are or are not Pagans. That lack of authorities is a good thing in my view.

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  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    There is a growing number of Americans, including many Pagan Americans who are Libertarian/conservative, who want the government o
  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    As if the universe wants to back up my basic point, today I came across this connection between a prominent Tea party leader in Te
  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    Mr. Bloch juts closed off discussion of his attack on this column in his blog on Witches and Pagans. The discussion over there is

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

My previous post on connecting with Pagan Gods and Goddesses involved seeking to establish relationships with them by becoming involved in ritual Pagan practices where such events happen, and sometimes are even expected to happen. Having such experiences means our spiritual reality roots are directly into our own experience of the more-than-human as not only sacred but also willing to enter into explicit relationship with us. Such encounters are both wonderful and deeply transformative. They also upset our life plans in many cases, although in my experience leaving us ultimately better off than had such things not happened.

 

But are there easier ways to at least get a sense of this greater reality? Ways where we can be more active in our search?

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

One of the most interesting discoveries I made about modern Paganism is the large number of people attracted to us because they feel at home here. They like the way we celebrate seeing ourselves as a part of a larger world of intrinsic value and beauty. Our society gives little opportunity for people with these feelings to come together in a community. We do, especially in our public Sabbat celebrations.  But they say they have never had a powerful spiritual experience, in whatever way they might define the term.  Some even describe themselves as Pagan atheists.

Their motive for identifying with the rest of us seems to me an excellent reason to consider oneself a Pagan. On the other hand, I am surprised at the numbers of us who have never had a personal experience with this enchanted world. This blog entry is dedicated to those who haven’t and wonder how they might

But I want to make one initial point very clear.  I do not think people who have not had such experiences are in some sense “less evolved” or “inferior” to those of us who have.  In my judgment the core of spirit is love, not amazing encounters, and the size and openness of your heart is a better indicator of your spiritual qualities than whether you see auras, encounter spirits, or can go into trance.  But with that said, such experiences became an important part of my own spiritual life, and in my particular case ultimately enlarged and opened my heart as well, which is their true value.

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  • Trine
    Trine says #
    Very interesting post. I particularly liked the gorilla reference, it made a lot of sense to me. I remember watching that video a

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

In the two months since the election my broader outlook has become less defensive.   I have begun turning from battling the nihilistic right to the vastly more rewarding challenge of helping build a attractive alternative to modernity’s collapsed moral foundations. That collapse facilitated the right wing’s attempt to impose traditional authoritarianism in both secular and religious guise. Now, instead of constantly uprooting the right’s intellectual and moral weeds I hope to help prepare the ground for new growth and beauty. We sure need it.

My reading has shifted from politics to exploring recent studies exploring how our world is truly conscious “all the way down.” So long as materialist reductionism dominate the intellectual conversation, with irrational monotheism as the alternative, we will be regarded as exotic outsiders, and not taken seriously.  This conversation desperately needs widening. More and more people are becoming aware of the inner bankruptcy of the Enlightenment project and its monotheistic alternatives, and so are open to views such as that of many Pagans if they are skillfully presented.

Mainstream philosopher of science Thomas Nagel’s short Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False,  argues materialistic reductionism will not work and suggesting possibilities with more promise.  All involve making consciousness in some sense a fundamental aspect of reality “all the way down.” Coming from the perspective of process philosophy, Christian de Quincey’s  Radical Nature: The Soul of Matter   is a more demanding work making the positive case that nature is conscious. After Nagel demolishes, de Quincey builds.  These two books are an excellent beginning, and for most, probably a good ending to seeing how a Pagan friendly outlook helps solve problems in the contemporary worldview, and does so from the perspective of contemporary thinking.

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  • Peter Beckley
    Peter Beckley says #
    Thank you for writing this, it's so nice to know there are others who feel this way.

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