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Austin Cline

Comment of the Week: Atheist, Pagans, and Religious Tolerance

By December 25, 2012

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Atheists are critical of religion generally and of specific religions, like Christianity and Islam. But you don't hear a lot of atheist critiques of paganism, do you? Why not? It's not because paganism is extinct (though it no longer dominates like it once did). It's not because atheists think paganism is "true" or so much more "rational." So where does the difference lie?

Forest Dance
Forest Dance
Photo: Rob Goldman/Getty

Well, there are a lot of differences and probably a lot elements that go into the difference of treatment, but the biggest issue may simply be that, as a rule, pagans don't have a problem with atheism and atheists. They don't go around trying to convert atheists, don't want to impose their beliefs on atheists, don't want laws to reflect their religious doctrines, and don't think that there is anything "immoral" about not believing in gods.

It is perhaps a great example of agreeing to disagree: pagans believe in gods (often literal gods, sometimes more as metaphors) while atheists don't. Neither group, though, is given much reason to consider the disagreement to be very important. Both groups may think the other is mistaken. On an individual basis, one may think the other is irrational. But it's not something that matters a great deal.

Sarah writes:

Why Atheists Don't Piss on Pagan Parades: A Guide for Christians
by Sarah, High Priestess 4RC Coven

1. We don't try to save & convert them. There's nothing to be saved from, and if you're meant to be Wiccan, you'll find your way to us. It's not our job to come looking for you.

2. We don't believe in hell.

3. We don't "feel sorry" for atheists because they don't experience Divinity as we do. Atheists instead seem to have the ability to use their logic-based brains to see things from a rational POV and arrive at solutions to problems faster than the average person. Feel sorry for them? Ha! Sometimes we're jealous of THEM!

4. We don't try to change laws and restrict their freedoms based on our personal religious beliefs.

5. We think science is a good thing. When science showed that the chemical digitalis in the leaves of the foxglove plant was the reason foxglove helped people with heart problems (and not the "magical energy" of the plant) we said, "Wow, cool!", not "NO! You're ruining my religion because that's not what it says in this old book! And we know the old book is the TRUTH because it says so right in the old book!"

6. We KNOW our stories are myths, each containing some wisdom about life and/or what we believe to be "the Creator". We aren't trying to change history and science textbooks to make them reflect our myths instead of reality.

7. We know the vast majority of atheists are good people who do indeed have morals - real morals that come from their hearts, not the "forced" morality that exists when one only "does the right thing" because they're afraid (!) of a "loving" God. (Afraid? Of the Creator? Seriously, Christians?!)

8. We invite atheists to our feasts (after the religious stuff is over) and they seem to enjoy the food, mead, and occasional naked dancing.

That's all I could think of off the top of my head.

[original post]

If invited to, or if it became an issue, most atheists probably wouldn't have any problem critiquing pagan and Wiccan religious beliefs (speaking about atheists who are involved with critiquing religion and the paranormal in general, of course). But it doesn't typically become an issue, does it?

Atheists are justified in caring about and critiquing religious beliefs because beliefs matter - and beliefs matter because actions matter. All of our actions stem from what we believe. So to the extent that any particular belief influences your behavior - behavior that affects others - that belief is a legitimate subject of discussion, critique, debate, etc.

Thus far, there's little to nothing in the way of pagan and Wiccan behavior that affects others in a way that would warrant a great deal of critical attention. On the other hand, beliefs that inspire the action of inviting others to feasts with food, mead, and occasional naked dancing merit thanks and appreciation.

Speaking of which, have any readers here been lucky enough to try real mead? Not wine or something that's simply flavored with honey, but the real stuff? It's something I'd like to try but it doesn't seem to be generally available in Pennsylvania. Our restrictive laws are a legacy of Prohibition which, in turn, was a product of right-wing Christianity.

Comments
December 25, 2012 at 9:00 am
(1) Jefferson says:

In all of your anti-religious criticisms, I’ve never seen you denouncing Zeus. Nor have you spent much time denouncing rabbinical Judaism (not the anti-Semitic type). You dedicate most of your criticisms to the Christian faith. And the real reason why you and other atheists spend copious amounts of time deriding Christianity is because all of you think there is genuinely something to it. If you opposed religion for your purported reasons, you would spend more time criticizing rabbinical Judaism, the New Age movement and other faiths.

December 26, 2012 at 9:07 am
(2) Austin Cline says:

In all of your anti-religious criticisms, I’ve never seen you denouncing Zeus.

Believers in Zeus don’t make an issue of their beliefs.

Nor have you spent much time denouncing rabbinical Judaism (not the anti-Semitic type).

I’ve written quite a bit about Judaism.

You dedicate most of your criticisms to the Christian faith.

Christians are most of the problem in America.

And the real reason why you and other atheists spend copious amounts of time deriding Christianity is because all of you think there is genuinely something to it.

Yes: something genuinely twisted and wrong.

If you opposed religion for your purported reasons, you would spend more time criticizing rabbinical Judaism, the New Age movement and other faiths.

And what are my “purported reasons”?

December 25, 2012 at 9:16 am
(3) James says:

I understand your argument, and it sounds logical. I would even agree with the entire article if it weren’t but for one… logical… fact.

Christians came to this part of the world, to create a place for Christians.

Question: why are the pagans/atheists so upset about living in a part of the world relegated specifically for Christians? Why not just… move?

December 26, 2012 at 9:09 am
(4) Austin Cline says:

Christians came to this part of the world, to create a place for Christians.

Some did.

Many other Christians came to create a place for everyone.

And, of course, non-Christians didn’t come here to create a place for Christians.

Question: why are the pagans/atheists so upset about living in a part of the world relegated specifically for Christians? Why not just… move?

Because the United States of America wasn’t create specifically and solely for Christians. Anyone with a very basic reading ability can see that from reading the Constitution.

December 25, 2012 at 11:43 am
(5) Evolving Squid says:

I have tried mead, and made it from honey and yeast (also from maple syrup and yeast once). It is nice but you can end up with a legendary hangover :)

December 25, 2012 at 12:49 pm
(6) Anand says:

In the same way irreligious atheists normally have no problem whatsoever with Samkhyan Hindus, Unitarians and Thelemites generally, almost all Jains and Quakers, many Buddhists, Zoroastrians, African animists and followers of Afro-Brazilian religions and so on. Because the one thing in common is critical: “Don’t make me do it, mind your own business”.

December 26, 2012 at 6:44 pm
(7) Eric Moore says:

Some pagans are kind of cuckoo.I can’t stand the fluffy bunny ones.But other than that,they don’t push their beliefs on anyone.So that’s good.

December 26, 2012 at 8:00 pm
(8) B. T. Newberg says:

Excellent article.

>Christians came to this part of the world, to create a place for Christians.

Oh… um… did we forget that little thing about there already being people here when the Europeans arrived? I don’t think *they* intended this to be a place for Christians!

December 26, 2012 at 8:59 pm
(9) Lori B. says:

I used to be a christian. Full-blown, happy clappy. Worship leader, Sunday School teacher. 32 years. Ironically, it was wanting to learn as much as I possibly could about the bible (by reading the bible) that opened my eyes to the truth and FAR away from the church. When I started questioning, the christians never seemed to have much time for me … to care, call, write, or even look my way in Walmart. (I don’t think that when Jesus said to “turn the other cheek,” that he meant to turn your cheek so you ignore people in need … but apparently, THEY did.) Then, making the effort to learn from ACTUAL history (not just by reading the ‘history’ articles in christian magazines, which are nothing more than religious propaganda) opened my eyes to the truth that ALL religions had their origins in (or just plain ripped off) pagan beliefs – including judaism and christianity (islam is just a ripoff of those two). Since I personally enjoy the pageantry and mythology of Paganism, I just went with it, and I’m much happier. (Ironically, YHWH was originally worshiped as a Pagan fertility god, and the Ark of the Covenant had two cherubim HAVING SEX ON THE LID! Look it up!) My christian ‘friends’ still don’t really speak to me all that much (the truth hurts!), but in the meantime I’ve met a LOT of really great Pagans and even more really great atheists who I consider to be the most moral and upright people I’ve ever met – and better FRIENDS than most christians I know. As for there being “something to” christianity … I have to agree, there is something to it. It’s called “the theft and bastardization of other people’s beliefs and cultures, occasionally by threat or by actual violence.”

December 27, 2012 at 12:41 am
(10) R. D. Flowers says:

And, some of us are both. Many of us Pagans hold only with metaphorical deities. Some of us atheists are willing to consort with deities that are metaphorical. Some of the overlap people are Scientific Pantheists.

Believers in Zeus are not mismanaging and endangering our world.

December 27, 2012 at 1:41 am
(11) Hannah says:

I thoroughly enjoyed this article. Not just because I am a pagan, but because I appreciate very well-written material. I grew up in the fundamentalist Deep South and practically lived at the local church when I was young, so I truly appreciate how twisted modern Christianity is. Thank you for an excellent read.

December 27, 2012 at 5:50 pm
(12) Cousin Ricky says:

@Jefferson – Instead of making stuff up about us, you should listen to Sarah. She’s read us perfectly.

@James – There was already a place for Christians. It was called “Europe.” You might want to ponder why so many Christians tried to get away from the most Christian land on Earth.

January 1, 2013 at 4:43 pm
(13) MaryL says:

I’ve had mead (or what they said was mead) at the Maryland Ren Fair. Liked it, too. I’d suggest a local Ren Fair or medieval type gathering to find some.

January 6, 2013 at 9:03 am
(14) Beatnik Bob says:

“6. We KNOW our stories are myths”
There are Christians who know this as well and if they were the ones who were the spokespeople for their religion and not the fundies, things would be a lot different.

January 11, 2013 at 3:06 pm
(15) JTL says:

@James: You need schooling, boy. Please read the Constitution of the United States of America. The U.S. HAS NO OFFICIAL BELIEF SYSTEM. Can you grasp that concept? It is a fallacy that everyone moved to what is now the USA in order to create a Christian Nation. That is pure, refined, unadulterated bullshit of the the Grade A variety. Another thing you need to know: Just because you may be surrounded by “Christians” and you think that Christians are in the majority in the USA, DOES NOT CHANGE THE LAW!!! If you wish to live in a theocracy, I suggest that YOU move to the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is an official theocracy as of 1978. There, you will be judged upon every move you make and everything you say. If your actions do not jive with their holy laws, you will be punished accordingly. Is this what you want the USA to become? Politics and religion DO NOT MIX! You do not know what you are talking about.

January 14, 2013 at 6:11 pm
(16) Tony Brown says:

Jefferson,

If atheists being critical of Christianity means they believe there is “something to it”, then what explains the early Christians much more violent and forceful criticism of Paganism?

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