Recently, I saw one of my friends post on Facebook about attending Pagan Pride. I found this interesting because they used to run an atheist society. When I think about it, I can name quite a few people who have flirted with paganism, either before they came to atheist society, or having left the society and then drifted over to paganism.
It seems to me that there seems to be a stronger link between atheism and paganism than between atheism and other religious beliefs. I wonder why this is.
The simplest explanation, could be the size of my dataset. While having reviewed my personal experience revealed this connection, it could simply be that this by chance, and if I looked at a wider variety of evidence I would see something different. In particular, cultural setting probably plays a large part, though if that was the case you would expect the dominant religion to feature to be Christianity. Still, that seems a good explanation. However, in the interest of discourse, I want to discuss the possibilities assuming that that is not the case.
My first instinct was that Paganism is easier to swallow than more dogmatic religions. It seems fair to say that in order to become religious, you probably have to swallow its bullshit to some degree. With the Abrahamic religions, that is quite well defined bullshit. it is hard to wriggle out of because their god helpfully wrote it all down in a series of contradicting books that explained exactly what it was, then created a series of prolific institutions to further expand its claims.
Paganism does not have this. Nobody really knows what it is about. Thus from an intellectual point of view, it is easier to swallow their nonsense because you have more freedom to accept or reject specific claims and can water it down to taste.
However, I am not convinced by this explanation. Religion is not an intellectual argument. It is an emotional one. I am not sure who said “[the problem with convincing believers is that] you can’t reason yourself out of a n argument you did not reason yourself in to”. People do not make these choices using logical. If they did, nobody would be religious. It is a willing suspension of your disbelief in order to gain the emotional reward gained from religious adherence.
That is not to say that religious people cannot defend their ideology. They do, and come up with plenty of arguments for their belief. However, as Michael Shermer’s research shows, people form beliefs first and then come up with reasons why they believe if afterwards.
Therefore, if we accept that religion is an emotional choice, the watering down of theology offers no benefit. Indeed, for me personally, it would be less appealing. If I was to ignore my rationality and choose on an emotional level, I would much rather have the loving, protective (if a little jealous and vengeful) Christian god watching over my life and occasionally listening to my prayers (I am rich and white, and would generally pray fur curable things after all) than the vague concept of a Mother Goddess which may nor may not split down into a polytheist set. I want the certainty that our human brains naturally crave. Otherwise what is the point?
Another explanation could be the similar, but importantly different, idea that we inherently have believing brains (referencing Michael Shermer once again). In a straight forward clash between emotion trying to override logic, it makes more sense to go to one extreme or the other. But suppose that rather than craving the certainly of religion, we simply allow our rationality to slide to the point where we tolerate our inherent trait of building narratives and purposes were not exist.
If we were to subconsciously form this belief, which we are all somewhat predisposed to do, we would then go looking for a way to explain why we held this belief. Again, belief first, reasons second. But the key point with this is that we are still essentially acting on a rational, intellectual level, but from a base point that we are formed a faulty premise that there is something greater out there. Retroactively fitting an explanation to this, would lead us to fitting on the belief system that causes the least conflicts with that world view. Here, with its lack of doctrine and defined beliefs, Paganism probably has the edge.