Monday, 24 March 2008

The Pagan Atheist

I mentioned early-on in this blog that I might one day address my own personal beliefs, and this is where I'll be doing so. It's only after reading this post at Skepchick that I really feel like I've got it straight in my own head; in it, Judaism is discussed as being both a religion and a culture. It seems clear that people are able to be part of the latter without accepting even the most core tenets of the former, thus making it possible to have a secular Jew, or Jewish atheist, without contradiction. It's all about heritage.

So it is with me. I define myself as pagan (or sometimes heathen because I like the word), but don't believe there are supreme supernatural entities interfering with life on earth. I don't believe in an afterlife, or reincarnation, or precognition. I don't attend any sort of temple, and don't recognise the authority of any high priests or priestesses. I don't indulge in arcane rites, dance around a fire skyclad, or trust a deity to cure my ills.

So what is paganism to me? Well, as I alluded to above, I immerse myself in the culture of paganism - the history of the pagan people, the mythology, the values. In particular, those of the Scandinavian cultures; something that goes sadly unnoticed by most of my fellow Britons is just how much of a role the "North-men" have played in our island's history. Most will not, for instance, know that the Norman invasion of 1066 (as in the battle of Hastings) was carried out not by the French but by Scandinavian people who had settled in what is now northern France.

I wear a Mjollnir (Thor's Hammer) pendant at all times, I read the ancient Icelandic sagas (e.g. Njalssaga, Volsungasaga), and I'm educating myself wherever possible about all aspects of the culture. I find their values to be the closest to my own, and one of the most important things in the world to me is a sense of honour - something largely seen as an anachronism in today's society. It's one of those subjects on which I'm liable to talk for hours.

I became pagan as an anti-conformist teenager thing, I'll admit. I was educated to the age of 11 in what was (though not explicitly advertised as such) a Church of England primary school, with hymns in assemblies and subtle indoctrination. I never believed a word of it, probably because the questioning and sceptical mindset of my parents informed my own; it's hardly surprising that I went looking for alternatives as soon as I was able. I ate up every scrap of information I could on Britain's and Europe's pre-Christian culture, and even today I never miss an opportunity to remind people what our Christian holidays are based on and why. It probably annoys those closest to me, but they put up with it bless them.

So this is me. The pagan atheist, the atheistic pagan, the secular pagan, the pagan humanist - whatever you want to call it. It's a cultural thing.


cursuswalker said...

Greetings from the still young, Atheist Pagan Blog!

Your post is very close to my attitude towards Paganism. I still take part in ritual,with important qualifications, having come to Atheism via 10 years as a Theistic Pagan.

The podcasts you mention are favourites of mine as well.

Keep up the good work!

Darkwinter said...

Good to hear from you - your blog is now nestled snugly in my RSS aggregator, and stands a good chance of hitting my blogroll if it continues in the quality I've seen there so far.

Look forward to hearing more from you in the future :o)

Derek said...

I'm in search of the same mindset you're talking about: a cultural and life pagan. Someone who walks a Pagan path, but isn't tied up in the supernatural quite so much. I could go into detail about how that probably worked out with pre-Christian culture, but meh. Anyway, glad to see I'm not alone out there.

Elexina said...

This is exactly what I've been looking for. Paganism always made sense to me inasmuchas it respects nature and the environment and the turn of the wheel, but there is too much focus on deity and woowoo for it to fit me and I can't pretend anymore. But I did enjoy the ritual and community and familiarity. I just want to do it without the gods.

Just us - Just me said...

Whooh! And I thought I was crazy! It is a great relief to me to see there are others dealing with the same issue.
I never believed in Christianity, I was the skeptic person with the scientific mind. A year ago I got into strong, very open Atheism. Maybe anti-Christianity too. How did it happen? I read a history course in college. Before that I had never been interested in history. I just knew that an ideology system like Christianity can't be good. I had no idea how right I was... So onward with my Atheism. I've got many Atheist friends and in the beginning I'd freak whenever I heard about any religion or gods.
However, a friend of mine from Greece told me about the Hellenists. I couldn't believe it when he told me there are people today that still believe in the 12 gods. Naturally at first I thought they were stupid. But when I got to think about it a bit... and saw one of their rituals when I was in Greece last summer... I felt like home, I wanted to join their ritual. I started researching Hellenism, then moved to Slavic polytheism, now to Norse. It seems that not only I can't keep myself to the Atheistic culture, I can't even keep myself to one polytheistic culture or one pantheon. Strong polytheism started making sense to me, at least a lot more than monotheism. The idea of Paganism attracts me and gets me all excited but I am still primarily Atheist. I like the idea of a ritual but when I think of actually doing it it seems a silly. And if I did do it, wouldn't it be hypocrisy? How can skeptical scientific Atheist call himself a polytheistic Pagan, without cognitive dissonance? I consider I am an Atheist above all other things that may get my juices flowing.
I don't think much of the dilemma, I just try to educate myself into what Paganism is all about, what different Pantheons are all about. I see there are some like-minded people in the blogosphere. What do you suggest I do?

Darkwinter said...

@Just us - Just me:

Thanks for the comment, it's always gratifying to find a kindered spirit.

I think the symbolism and mythology of religion - particularly polytheistic - is extremely powerful, and can express parts of ourselves which might otherwise go unnoticed. Just because there is no evidence for them (which I strongly believe), which makes me an atheist, I don't think this aspect of religion should be underestimated.

As for what you should do, I really have very little advice for you - unless you're particularly unhappy with your current situation, I'd suggest carrying on as you have! Learn all you can about science and what interests you, perhaps focusing particularly on the psychology of religion. It's a fascinating subject.

Just us - Just me said...

I am not really unhappy with the current situation, quite the opposite. Still, I don't see how I could progress into Paganism. I try to think about it as an exercise of imagination. Imagining the gods exist brings me joy but I could never be dishonest to myself and believe they actually exist. Belief is not a matter of choice anyway. Science won't let me, LOL. I don't think believing in their existence could bring me any more joy than imagining their existence.
I still remember my experiences with the Christian church as a child. It always seemed like dust in the eyes. Maybe I am projecting that image on what I think a Pagan ritual would be like. I don't know.
I enjoyed watching the Hellenist's ritual, I felt like home there, I honestly wanted to join them. But I can't honestly believe in the actual existence of the gods.
So sometimes I feel torn. Attracted to Paganism, but the only intellectually honest way is Atheism. Never thought I could talk about it to pure Pagans, or pure Atheists. I wouldn't feel right faking it with the Pagans and the Atheists would think I've lost it. Isn't Atheistic Polytheist an oxymoron? Atheism works best for me but somehow I must never stop to anything and say that works just fine, I won't look any further. And I can't help thinking it wasn't until my outburst of radical vocal Atheism that I started researching religions. In a way, it was Atheism that brought me to Paganism.
I know what being a radical Atheist is all about. I guess what I am saying is that I am afraid of falling into what I really hate about religious people: the double standard.
Meditating about the religious feeling itself I came to the conclusion that Christianity ruined it. Monotheism ruined it. So I am trying to rethink it, rethink religion, without the stigma of blind belief/faith.
Psychology of religion is ok, but that would make me mad, constantly reminding me of the Christian trap.
Sorry my posts are so long.

Robin said...

I totally get it. :) I see myself as a pantheistic pagan. The gods are what we make them, always have been.

Ritual is something that connects us with the subconscious as well as community. There doesn't necessarily need to be gods if you don't want them there.

I've been solitary for well over a decade, and godless at that. LOL But I do love learning the mythologies and connecting with divinity directly.

maria said...

darkwinter, i believe in non-theistic paganism aswell. i appreciate symbolism and nature but i have been a skeptic since winter. i grew up with belief in a patriarchal catholic god, next i became curious in other faiths such as wicca and buddhism, then i believed in universal god and afterlife. i knew that something wasn't adding up when i was introduced to a man of science-based belief. being a person of question, i believe that all fact is theory, thus leading me to the label of skeptic. now, i have become interested again in pagan belief and being a feminist, have taken a certain liking to dianic wicca. i believe in appreciation in both female and male but have been overwhelmed by male domination my entire life and have decided to put special emphasis on the appreciation of female and anything she represents through commonsensical genetic evolution such as giving birth, caring for others and destroying anything that will harm those concepts. i believe that ritual is an everyday part of life and that focus on ritual is important to achieve one of balance. can't wait to explore the rest of your site. thanks, maria

maria said...

thanks to anyone who read my last post. i think its important to feel part of a community. on that note, i am looking for insight. i have decided today to honour death. my granny, two months away from her hundreth birthday, passed on this morning and i am in search of non-theistic pagan death ritual. so far i've used the symbol of wearing black. i've also looked up what i can on the topic but feel that i need more ideas from a non-theistic pagan point of view. any suggestions?