A marvelous firestorm has broken out in the pagan blogosphere to kick off 2009 properly. A prominent pagan podcaster has left the community, throwing his hat in the atheist ring instead. Why? Was it something we said?…
Well, no. It’s worse.
Jason Pitzl-Waters has a couple of posts that summarize the situation, along with other links to posts put up in response, and literally hundreds of comments — and the comments are definitely worth going through. Most of the comments are reasonable, thoughtful, and even moving.
But the podcaster, deo, says he has “outgrown paganism”. He was initially attracted to it because of “romantic tone, fantastical escapism, and promises of deep dark secrets”, and as these elements have lost their allure, he’s found nothing else in paganism to keep him with us. And more: paganism, he’s found, does not offer a rigorous and scientific way of looking at the world. Without that, what have you got? “What a strange set of beliefs to choose!” he says.
He approvingly quotes the blog of Colin McGinn, a philosopher: “We certainly do know that Santa Klaus does not exist, or goblins, or three-legged giants who live in the fridge; it would be daft to be ‘agnostic’ about such questions — and even dafter to remain ‘open-minded’ about them… We indeed don’t know everything, but some things we know quite well — and the complete falsity of religious doctrine is one of them.”
Goodness. Aren’t “we” lucky to be so enlightened!
And deo’s post elicited some remarkable responses. “…eats bugs” said: “I, for one, am … only still calling myself pagan for the sake of my personal history, my own love of theatrics and ritual, and based on certain morals and ethics I learned from paganism at large. But all the supernatural aspects of paganism, all the deity worship, all the magic, philosophically leads to zero, where an accrual of all the data used to say that paganism is one thing leads one to believe this is total bupkiss.” No doubt! And Dr. Myers, after calling spellcraft a “senseless sham”, said: “…as a philosopher… in my judgement, ‘gut instinct’ and ‘intuition’ and ‘it feels right’ are simply not good enough reasons to adopt a belief. Yet these are some of the most common reasons offered for why people in the [pagan] movement believe some of the things they believe. But really, the only acceptable reason for believing something is that the belief is true. This requires an exercise of rational intellectual inquiry: it demands material evidence and strong logical argument.”
Tut tut, pagans! How can you possibly pursue a religious belief without material evidence or logical argumentation? For shame!
Frankly, I was irked.
“Outgrowing Paganism”? Let’s be clear here. You can outgrow your reasons for choosing paganism, sure, absolutely. And yes — the thrill of finding ancient secret truth and dressing up and going into the woods — these are fine things to outgrow. (Or not!) Outgrowing paganism, however, implies that the Master has matured beyond everyone who chooses to call themselves Pagan. That’s… well, that’s a very strong claim.
deo: “I think there are probably two good reasons for holding a belief. The first is evidence. The second is training… I haven’t any proof of any religion’s truth. Nor do I have the training in any other religion. I also will not ‘fake it ’till I make it’ with another set of ‘beliefs’ for the wrong reasons. The only remaining alternative is atheism…. [My] path of inquiry… is constrained by reason and evidence. Religion, therefore, can simply play no part.”
Of course not. deo, how did you decide that reason and logic are the best ways to decide a belief? How did you decide that scientific evidence — as opposed to personal experience — was so damned important? Do you have any basis for that belief? If that’s how you want to limit your personal search, be my guest. But don’t pretend you’re laying down Eternal Truth — don’t claim that irrational, non-scientific searches are childish.
You see, I already tried rational and scientific. I’m not a philosopher, but I’m a linguist, trained in philosophy and logic and semantics. I was atheist, or borderline atheist, for years. I know what lies down that road.
I was never infatuated with pagan ritual. I was never entranced with idea that great secrets might be hiding somewhere. I went through a long period of wanting my personal belief system to be self-consistent, rational, logical, scientific… And I came out of the other side of it, done with it.
You know what I think? Finding the Great Truths of Life rationally and scientifically is (a) impossible and (b) disempowering. (“Trust Your Feelings” is a great intro post to explain why; also “The Search for Truth“.) Does that mean I’ve “outgrown” atheism? No. I’ve outgrown those reasons for atheism. Someday maybe I’ll find other reasons to be atheist, and return to it. But it won’t be because I’m looking for a logical, coherent, scientific belief system.
I’m not concerned that paganism might be irrational. I’m pagan because it’s irrational. And I say that as one who has painstakingly gone all the way to the end of the rational path and seen what’s there.
(There’s a little grinning Zen monk with a stick.)