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You've heard of Pagans who are naturalists, humanists, atheists, agnostics, or the like, but what's it all about? Discover the wonder of a naturalistic path rooted in science and myth.

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Prayer: In awe of a mystery

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

Can a naturalist really pray to deities?

It is eminently reasonable to be skeptical.  In fact, I'd go so far as to say there's something wrong if you're not skeptical.  I mean, how could a person who doesn't believe the gods are literally "out there" somewhere ever communicate with them?

Silent Prayer, by Leila Darwish

It's a good question, but a moot one.  The simple truth is that, for me at least, all of this comes out of an effort to understand something that is already working.  I'm having profound experiences talking to deities at the same time that I hold completely naturalistic ideas about them.  How is this possible?  I can't fully explain it yet.*  But that is no reason to dismiss it as false.

Nor is it a reason to dismiss naturalism as false.  We may rush to a god-of-the-gaps theory, but that would be equally unsound.  Positing the literal existence of gods doesn't explain anything, it just adds more questions (for example, how would they exist so completely undetectable, unlike anything else in the universe?).  No, that's no explanation.  The mystery remains.

What happens when I talk to Isis?  When I mull over a problem all day, unable to resolve the emotional crisis within me by any power I can muster, and then sit down at her altar, begin to pray, and within moments an insight comes that resolves the crisis - that is a phenomenon to be explained!

The experience opens me to awe at the mysteries of the depths of the mind.  This is not "my" mind, for I cannot command it; it is so much greater than "me." I cannot call it my mind, only the mind.  Marveling at this mind, it makes me feel small as an ant before a mountain.

And to think that it came about by the self-movement of the cosmos, by the undirected power of evolution, by forces so much larger than myself... I kneel in awe.

Some may not call this prayer, exactly.  If not, fine.  But it's something real, and it's profound.

Yes, it is surely right to be skeptical, as right as it is to search for answers to that great mystery:

the simple fact that insight can come from within us, yet from beyond us.

*I can't fully explain it yet, but the last several years of research have been fruitful, however.  Evolutionary and cognitive approaches to religion reveal startling insights about the mind that can be applied to prayer.  Ask me, and I'll be happy to discuss it.
Image credit: "Silent Prayer" by Leila Darwish
Last modified on

B. T. Newberg is the editor of Humanistic Paganism, a community blog for naturalistic spirituality.  For eleven years and counting, he has been practicing meditation and ritual from a naturalistic perspective.  He is a member of ADF, and frequent contributor to Patheos, Witchvox, and GoodReads.  Professionally, he teaches English as a Second Language.  After living in Minnesota, England, Malaysia, and Japan, B. T. Newberg currently resides in South Korea with his wife and cat.


  • Editor B
    Editor B Friday, 10 May 2013

    The Situationists had a slogan I like, "All Power to the imagination!" If we say the gods are imaginary, it seems dismissive, but maybe our concept of imagination is too small.

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