As if on cue, the online Pagan community has erupted into arguments yet again. This time it’s over who has the right to call themselves a Pagan and was sparked I believe by this article here. Other’s have got involved in the debate here and here. Now it’s always good to have a debate, I like debates and have them often. But every 6 months there seems to be another argument between atheistic pagans and hard polytheistic pagans within the community which probably leaves the vast majority of pagans bewildered. And it leaves some of us within those groups bewildered too. The constant bickering reveals an insecurity within both our groups. It always seems to be over who has the right to call themselves a Pagan. So let’s get this straight – the Pagan Federation defines a Pagan as:
“A follower of a polytheistic or pantheistic nature-worshipping religion.”
So – if you want to be a hard polytheist who worships literal gods, then you’re a pagan. But if you want to be a nature venerating humanist who sees earth or the universe as in some way “divine” i.e pantheism, then you are also a pagan. One individual doesn’t get the right to define who is or isn’t a pagan. And we can learn a lot from each other.
Take me – I am a Naturalistic Pantheist Pagan. For the most part I accept the scientific naturalistic worldview and have trouble believing in anything that doesn’t produce some evidence. There was a time when I defined myself more as an atheist and was quite fiery in some of my debates – especially after first leaving Christianity and being exposed to the Youtube videos from more vocal hard atheists, but over time I’ve learned a bit more respect for others. Nowadays, I don’t define myself as an atheist although I have yet to see any evidence to suggest the existence of any gods or other entities. While it’s not something mainstream science would advocate, I see a lot of good in the worldview of Panpsychism/ Panexperientialism i.e. that mind or the ability to experience goes all the way down to the smallest atom or largest universe (but that’s a story for another time). Recently I posted about reading the book “A world full of gods” by John Michael Greer and he made some very good points about why Polytheism is a much more logical belief system than monotheism, and made me really think by the obvious implication that to really be an atheist, one must assume that the millions of people around the world who have religious experiences with what they perceive as the divine are deluding themselves – a claim I am really not willing to make. During the last few years as a Pagan I have been a member of ADF – probably one of the most explicitly hard polytheist pagan organisations in the world, yet I find a lot of value in their approach and have never felt unwelcome by their members. And I am not the only naturalistic pagan in that organisation. It is an organisation that values diversity and promotes scholarship. Over the past year I have felt more pulled to learn about Reconstructionist Paganism and particularly Heathenry. Heathens are definitely hard polytheists, but again I find value from the practices and worldview. And I am not about to go having an argument with them about whether or not Thor or Odin are real gods. I would have no problems joining in with a heathen blot (unless it involved literal animal sacrifice which I would strongly object to – as would many heathens) and honouring the heathen gods. I would just interpret the experience differently than they would.
I was attracted to Paganism for a lot of reasons, but the Pagan emphasis on tolerance, diversity and emphasizing practice over belief were very important factors. Since the revival of paganism a century or more ago, these values have helped to guide us and allowed us to build a stronger religion. Look at nature – it emphasizes diversity because that means more variety, more resilience, more innovation and more chance to find out what works best for people. Imposing a one-size fits all is to go against the way of nature, and for polytheists – against the way of the gods.
My point is this –
To my polytheist friends – if Naturalistic Pagans can find value in, and respectfully fit in with hard polytheistic groups without disrupting things, why not accept us and stop getting so defensive all the time.
To my Naturalistic Pagan friends – lets have some humility and accept we don’t know everything about the world. The scientific worldview is the best we have but there are still a lot of gaps. We don’t need to become Polytheists, but nor do we need to do regular battle with them. We have an awful lot to learn from them. Lets be respectful and in six months time when someone writes a silly article having a go at us again – lets rise above it and not respond.