Pagan atheism, is this a thing?

There has been some noise through the pagan blogosphere about pagan atheism versus polytheism versus paganism at large. I became first aware of the conflict between the three groups through Galina Krasskrova’s blog. It is a long standing issue that is creating some strife. I usually wouldn’t wade into muddied waters such as these because of how heated the positions are. I can not, however, stand by and watch as the polytheists and theists of the pagan community are derided.

Pagan atheism is described by author Stifyn Emrys as a pagan belief by way of its reverence for nature. He then continues to describe what differentiates pagan atheism from pagan beliefs. He fails, however, to clearly delineate the difference between pagan atheism and secular humanism. The predominant qualities of pagan atheism, as can be determined from Emrys’s article are the following:

  • Reverence for nature
  • Atheistic positions regarding deities
  • Science based positions regarding philosophy
  • A rejection of dogma and related organized religious traits
If you take a moment to consider this description and that of secular humanism, you will find the two groups indistinguishable. This should indicate how pagan atheism is a misnomer. Those who uphold the idea of pagan atheism should be viewed in askance. Paganism is defined as the belief in deities that are outside of the Abrahamic model and not part of other major established faith practices such as Buddhism or Hinduism.
The term pagan is derived from ‘country dweller’ in the Roman empire era of history. This was a term that was scornful and used to describe the ‘unsophisticated’ and ‘backward’ people who did not convert to Christianity with its adoption by Emperor as the state religion. These people continued in their polytheistic belief systems, in many cases at a political and social disadvantage as Christianity gained in strength. Modern day pagans practice their faith within belief systems that worships deities separate from the Christian faith (which is frequently the dominant faith where paganism is present in the Western world).
Paganism can not be divorced from theism in any of its many manifestations. Belief in deities is a defining characteristic of paganism. It is nonsensical to argue that one can be pagan and an atheist at the same time. The cognitive dissonance that comes from combining the two systems of thought renders application of this supposed belief system null. At best, you have someone who is an agnostic with heavy leanings towards humanistic belief systems. At worst, you have someone who is hostile to paganism in any of its manifestations.
The aggressive positioning of prominent figures within this group such as John Halstead is not based in a desire for discourse. Indeed, when these people are confronted with their frequently derisive treatment of theist positions, they argue that they are personally being attacked when it is the ideas they ascribe to being called into question. I would like to give these people the charitable consideration that perhaps they are confusing an aggressive rebuttal with an ad hominem attack. I can’t not help, however, questioning their motivations in attacking theists.
The argument that all challenges to their assertions are ad hominem attacks is an attempt to obsfucate the real problem here. The pagan atheist cultus are almost as aggressive in their proselytizing and attack of belief systems they do not agree with as the evangelical christian believers are. This appears not to be the action of a few lone wolves out to make a name for themselves. It appears to be an integral part of their belief system. It appears that they have an unspoken mission to deride and decry any and all theistic beliefs as willful ignorance and primitive.
In the course of my doing research for this post, I looked at quite a few pagan atheist blogs. This is a consistent pattern of behavior. This is something that we should not tolerate. I recognize there will be ideological spats between different faith systems within the pagan community. The hard polytheists regularly have it out with the soft polytheists. You can almost set a watch by how frequently those conflicts happen. Neither group, however, presumes to tell the other that their beliefs are backwards or primitive. They both agree that deities exist. The argument is how to approach said deities and what the nature of these deities are.
The aggressive posturing of the atheist pagans is something that should give the rest of the pagan community pause. Within the community, there is a voice that is belittling the whole of the community and working to spread strife. It is something that we should not tolerate. Because the whole of the community should not be subjected to such scorn in return for the tolerance of differing belief systems. The pagan atheist community is actively working to undermine the defining traits of the pagan community whilst attempting to seek shelter in that larger community.
This must not be tolerated because it will lead to an erosion of the cohesion of the pagan community. Granted, the pagan community is about as organized as herd of cats. (Actually a herd of cats would be more organized.) But there is the ability for the different pagan belief systems to work together and advocate for greater recognition by the dominant faith systems within the larger group. Pagan atheism is actively seeking to splinter paganism and restore the ‘order’ wherein said belief systems are decried and scorned in favor of more ‘tolerable’ and ‘modern’ ones. This is no different from when the evangelical christian community pushes for laws to be made against our faith practices.
Let pagan atheism be what it actually is. Pagan atheism is secular humanism. Let us know them by their true name and deal with them on our own terms. Allowing them to define the discussion (which they have been doing thus far in many cases) is leading to a denigration of all pagan belief systems. We must stand up and calmly refute their positions and reassert that we’re an equally valid belief system, regardless of what pagan belief system we practice.
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2 Responses to Pagan atheism, is this a thing?

  1. By and large I agree. I was willing to support the concept until I found repeated social attacks on polytheists and other people with spiritual beliefs. They range from dismissively calling us insane to actively encouraging us to be excluded from the NeoPagan community.

    I am by and large willing to live and let live, and have often pointed out that intelligent people go through many phases of belief in their lives. I’ve been a monotheist, a monist, a panentheist (and still kind of am, although kind of not too), I’ve flirted with atheism and nihilism as I tried to make sense of my experiences and I landed in Polytheism. Intelligent people will explore their options.

    But there’s a serious leap from “This is how I think.” to crusading against people who think differently, and use the rallying cry of “SCIENCE!” as their IHS. So while I understand and can live with the idea of Pagan Atheists, most of the ones that I’ve seen or interacted with are hostile and exclusionary. I get enough of that in Heathenry, thank you very much.

    • cydira says:

      i wouldn’t have a problem with pagan atheism if it wasn’t for the deplorable behavior. i do find the term nonsensical and inaccurate when what they are engaged in is identical to secular humanism.

      I am sure that there are pagan atheists who are better behaved but in my readings, I have consistently found a hostile position with respect to do not share their beliefs with sufficient vitriol to have the feel of reading an evangelical Christian extremist’s screeds.

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