This topic keeps coming up. In general the Atheopagans are more sinned against than sinning in this last round, but this article raised some hackles.
A certain segment of the Pagan population has decided to adopt in large part the ideology of modern atheism and philosophical materialism. They often consider themselves to be within the strain of modern thought called ‘humanism’, and have labelled themselves as ‘Naturalist’ Pagans. I have no objection to any of this (except the latter, see below). Paganism does not require any fixed set of opinions to be Paganism, and this lot seems reasonably focused on ritual, meditation, and service, which *are* Paganism-indicators, to me. However they are not just Pagans who happen to be atheists, they also seem to act like atheists who happen to be Pagan. Where I find myself objecting is when members of this school present their ideas as Truth of some sort, or as “more true” or “more in touch with reality” than those of more mythic perspectives.
Modern atheism suffers from imitation of Christianity in its evangelical desire to assert its ideas as “the truth”. I’m not interested in doing hard philosophy here; we’ll be vernacular about “truth”. I am entirely unwilling to accept that materialist, scientistic worldviews more accurately describe the reality of religious phenomena than those of tribal mythic systems. In fact I find atheism and materialism in every way inadequate to describe religious phenomena, though they have developed some complex rationales to attempt to do so. Thus I dismiss them as useful “truth”.
On the other hand, I (and many spiritist Pagans) reject the term ‘supernatural’ for the realm or category in which non-material intelligence abides. I view the spirits, in their uncounted species, as being as natural as chipmunks or chairs. They simply haven’t been subsumed into the ‘scientific worldview’ that started quantifying what it could reach a few hundred years ago. One of my favorite teachers said “There can only be one Order of Nature”, an aphorism that makes sense to me. Thus I simply don’t use the idea of ‘supernatural’ at all. For that reason I do resent the attempt to co-opt “Naturalist” for the materialist position - it simply fails to describe the spectrum of modern Pagan ideas accurately. Most Theistic (an inadequate term for polytheism and spiritism) Pagans, I’ll hazard, are not ‘supernaturalists’.
To be clear, in my local Pagan culture such discussions are relegated to the beer-hall. They play no role in the practice of our religion. The truth or falsity of any given world-view, from traditionalist to materialist, is irrelevant to practice. My own experience has been that when educated materialists are exposed to well-crafted spirit and deity work for a few years a good percentage will find themselves… let’s say “less atheist” than previously. Several in my experience have become devotionalists.
Atheism arises naturally in certain minds, and enters others by conviction. I associate it with other human specifics such as tone-deafness. Even tone-deaf people can participate in music by well-planned charts and by experience. Thus I’m willing to assume that folks who simply don’t perceive the spiritual intelligences of nature (or who have rationalized that perception away) can participate in religion to their own benefit. However I’m unwilling to accept assertions that a&m are true in some sense greater than the assumptions of a Voudun priest or Shakta tantric. Some atheists want to be participants in the Pagan movement. I would heartily suggest they note the community aversion to proselytization. This is not *merely* philosophical laziness, but a real awareness – a skepticism - of how unlikely any specific model of ‘truth’ is to be the truth in fact. In general “proclaimers” and “revealers” are viewed as pests.
I would suggest that Atheopagans will find themselves welcome to the degree that they refrain from suggesting that the belief systems of other Pagans are false. After all we all agree (at least I agree with the atheists) that personal philosophical biases are unimportant as definers of Paganism (or polytheism). No matter how convinced one is of their ‘truth’.