An Atheopagan Path: Journeys in the Sacred World

Musings, values and practices in non-theistic Paganism

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What's so Radical About Naturalism?

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.

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Mark Green is an activist, writer and nonprofit professional with a background in environmental public policy and electoral campaigns. He is the author of "Atheopaganism: an Earth-Honoring Path Rooted in Science", published in 2019. A Pagan since 1987, he presents at Pantheacon and has been published in Green Egg and the anthology "Godless Paganism" (for which he wrote the foreword). His Pagan writing appears here, at the Humanistic Paganism website (humanisticpaganism.com), at the Naturalist Pagan site (naturalpagans.com) and at the Atheopaganism blog.  

Comments

  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale Friday, 22 December 2017

    One need not discard the world of spirit to embrace nature. That is a false dichotomy, which springs from the monotheist religions which dominate our culture. One can believe that everything is nature, and therefore there is no supernature, that is, nothing above nature, and still believe in the gods and landwights and so forth. Because they are part of nature, like everything else is.

  • Mark Green
    Mark Green Friday, 22 December 2017

    I disagree. There is no credible scientific evidence for the existence of disembodied intelligences. Arbitrarily declaring that these imaginary beings are "part of nature" doesn't make it any more likely that they actually exist, other than in the minds of their believers.

    Everything that is natural is subject to the laws of physics, which conflict heavily with the idea of invisible, disembodied, self-aware beings that can violate such laws at will.

  • Aryós Héngwis
    Aryós Héngwis Wednesday, 27 December 2017

    Mod note: Just a reminder to keep discussions courteous. We can agree to disagree on subjects of theology without being dismissive of one another's points of view.

  • Mark Green
    Mark Green Wednesday, 27 December 2017

    For the record, one fundamental difference between naturalistic Pagans and many others is that we embrace the scientific method when it comes to determining our cosmology. That means that we welcome rigorous interrogation of proposals about the nature of the Universe, and expect evidence and reasoning to support them.

    It has long been an unspoken rule in the Pagan community, in my experience, that we don't question one another's worldviews. I believe this is harmful, and contributes to the supernaturalism and lack of critical thinking that are so commonplace in the community. If we are to be celebrants of the actual Universe--and not just a story in our heads--we have to know what that is. We get there through the scientific method, not anecdotes and subjective accounts.

    So I believe. Others' mileage may vary.

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