Posts Tagged ‘paganism’

Why do some atheists become pagans?

Thursday, August 28th, 2014 | Humanism, Religion & Politics, Thoughts

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.

Happy Christmas

Sunday, December 25th, 2011 | Thoughts

That’s right, I said it. I’m an atheist, and I used the word Christmas. I know, I know, I’m crazy, I’m on the edge, etc, etc. A lot of non-believers don’t like using the word because they think it has too many Christian connotations. But I really don’t have a problem with it.

Why? I guess for the same reason that Reclaim the Night started. I don’t think we should give up the word so easy. Because it’s nonsense that the origins of the holiday season lie in Christianity, we all know it’s nonsense and it really doesn’t bother me that people are occasionally misguided about this, but even if they were, it would only inspire me to explain to them the truth.

Of course, Christians genuinely are celebrating the birth of Jesus, but the rest of us aren’t. Any suggestion we were could equally be rebuked by the argument that actually, Christians are celebrating Paganism just as much. So I don’t even get drawn into the debate these days. For me, as a Humanist, the holiday season is another arbitrary point to celebrate life. family and friendships. But as all holidays are essentially arbitrary these days, it doesn’t make it any less special.

Perspective Citywide: Paganism

Thursday, March 17th, 2011 | Events, Foundation, Religion & Politics

For the Paganism session of Perspective Citywide, we welcomed Rhiannon Grant to the group. I had already seen the talk at the Atheist Society the previous Friday but it was never the less entertaining and the discussions were great.

Paganism and curry

Sunday, February 7th, 2010 | Events, Religion & Politics

On Friday we invited the Pentagram society to Perspective to talk about Paganism. It was a very interesting talk although I have to say I’m not a fan of Paganism, or certainly that brand of Paganism because it’s too wishy washy new age. While religions such as Christianity are clear they are making crazy claims in a take it or leave it fashion, the views expressed were very much trying to force a square peg into a round hole and say it fits.

For example one of the things suggested was that what we called magic thirty years ago is now called neuro-linguistic programming and so a lot of Paganism is things science simply doesn’t understand yet. That would almost be an argument if it wasn’t for the fact that NLP is for the most part unproven bullshit. More importantly it really smacks of when alternative medicine practitioners try to attribute something that clearly doesn’t work but they are still trying to sell as being something to do with quantum theory, taking advantage of the lack of public understanding of the topic.

It was also interesting to witness the fact they couldn’t actually work out what they believed in. Most religions have differences in their beliefs – just look at the amount of different denominations of Christianity (or even Islam which now has more and more developing despite stricter controls over it and even, unbelievably, Scientology) but they do at least have some common beliefs. 100% of Christians believe in Jesus for example whereas the Pagans didn’t seem to be able to give us anything they could say 100% of Pagans believed in which, as Chris Tedd did, raises the question “how do you even know your a Pagan?”

Finally I also felt there was a lack of internal consistency in the beliefs, probably resulting in the fact that they can’t really work out what it is they believe in. For example they started by talking about reincarnation and then later talked about talking to dead ancestors so Heini raised the question “how can you talk to dead ancestors if they have been reincarnated?”

A much better approach to take to the belief system I felt was the one presented to us at last year’s session on Paganism where out speaker basically said “I’m not going to lie to you, we made it all up in the 60s, but it works for me.” Never the less, it was a very interesting evening and well worth attending.

Perspective: Paganism

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009 | Events, Humanism, Religion & Politics

Friday saw our Perspective session on Paganism with a practicing witch coming into to talk to us. You have to respect the guy’s honestly, he opening said “it’s all made up” and was created about 30-40 years ago. However it is apparently a belief system that works for him and he has seen it working with his coven using the power of their mind to change reality. Fair enough I guess.

Zoltan provided the food this week and did a rather nice vegeterian dish. We also had meeting room 8 rather than meeting room 5 so we actually had enough space for once. All in all, a very nice session if I do say so myself.

Perspective: Paganism Perspective: Paganism Perspective: Paganism