Archive for November 11, 2013

Archetypes vs. “Real Gods”

Pagans, being more focused on spiritual practice than belief, don’t argue as much about theology as other religions. But there has been a growing clash between “hard” polytheists who believe and experience deities as real, individual beings that they worship & interact with- and eclectic pagans who view gods as archetypes- powerful concepts within their own minds, that they use to connect to the Divine more broadly. Chaos magicians, as I understand regard gods as symbols to center the mind during spellwork. They are more interested in finding what works magically rather devoting themselves to a god, pantheon and cultural tradition. Some even say that “god-forms” or archetypes are more powerful the more spiritual/emotional energy people direct towards them. If this is so, they should be asking Jesus for help. Instead, it has been become more popular to call upon pop culture characters in rituals.

I don’t really believe in magic, so for me the question of whether this is effective is moot. I think we should avoid stating beliefs as facts. The sun is made of helium and hydrogen. That’s a proven fact. Believing Helios, the Greek sun god is a real dude is a belief. So is the belief that Helios is an aspect of the sun god archetype, the same dude as Ra, Balder, Lugh etc. And for the record Lugh & Balder are not actually sun gods in their original mythologies, but they are often seen as such by modern pagans. But as you can see this can lead to a lot of sloppy lumping together of otherwise totally dissimilar beings.  So moving along, you think hey, Luke Skywalker is a hero who conquers darkness and evil- wouldn’t he make a great sun god? So then the followers of Ra, Helios & Balder get even more insulted when their gods are equated with a mere movie character. (Would that mean George Lucas is the Creator? Scary thought) But really, should they care? This fight has become really stupid, folks. That’s why I haven’t commented til it cooled down a little.

I think the real problem is when one pagan or polytheist expects another to affirm their beliefs. Monotheistic Unitarians may believe they worship the same god as Catholics, even if they view him differently. But they don’t expect Catholics to approve of their beliefs or practices, and they aren’t even remotely part of the same religion or community. They may work together in interfaith and social justice groups,  but they agree to disagree about specifics of their religions. If they don’t, then they avoid each other, with the exception of the occasional awkward Thanksgiving dinner or what have you. So that’s what we need to do. It’s not that hard, people!

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November 11, 2013 at 10:27 pm 5 comments

Taking the Autism/Atheism Connection Too Far

A very belated post—but nonetheless—

A while back, I commented on a study that had come out that found a correlation between autistic adults and lack of religious beliefs (or unconventional beliefs) I thought it fit with my own observations of autistic people I’ve met (including myself) and that how we think doesn’t always fit in with mainstream religions. I was concerned though, that this might lead to people jumping to conclusions (Correlation DOES NOT equal causation, people!) and lead to further stigmatizing of both groups.

Yup. I was right. Fehmi Kaya, a  Turkish doctor has claimed that autism causes atheism, that a deficiency in the autistic brain misses the ability to believe, and children need “therapy” to help them become religious. And to boot, he is no ordinary doctor, but the leader of Turkey’s Health and Education Associations for Autistic Children. Of course this caused an uproar among scientists, family members, autistics, educators as well as atheist/humanist/agnostic and religious communities, and Kaya has apologized though I suppose he may still privately hold these views.There is a panoply of responses on both autism, atheist and religion focused blogs. The Friendly Atheist sums it up well.

This is damaging to both autistic and non-religious people. It is completely unscientific- though there is some speculation about brain activity and religious experience– it is just that- mostly preliminary speculation and research.  In addition to being obviously insulting to the intelligence and agency of people with autism (of any kind) it is also, from a religious viewpoint implying that we are spiritually inferior, created as lesser beings.

I take the position that religion itself is of neutral value– throughout human history and today, religions have inspired great artistic and musical beauty, a search for wisdom, the spread of literacy and charity and social justice work. They have also been used to justify war, conquest, oppression and the suppression of knowledge and science. I think we would be doing most of these things regardless of whether religion was involved, because either way, we are human and capable of  Likewise, secular or non-theistic ideologies have been put to both good and evil ends.

On the other side, there also a view that autistic people (and folks with other types of disabilities) are somehow more spiritual or have some special wisdom and are inherently sweet and innocent. This is a seemingly kindler, gentler more New Agey cousin to the Noble Savage- instead of the “magical Negro” we have the “magical retard” and it leads to a condescending attitude.

November 11, 2013 at 7:11 am 1 comment

Autism & Atheism: A Correlation?

(This post is from Sept 2012 on my other blog)

This spring, an article came out with several studies showing a correlation between autism and atheism. My procrastinating self is finally getting around to responding.This connection does not at all surprise me. Most adults with autism I have met or interacted with online, (myself included) seem to be either skeptical or non-believing in God & religion, or have their own unique spiritual beliefs/practices.  Some of these psychologists are attributing the lack of belief to autistics’ lack of  theory of mind or mentalizing- the ability to understand what others are thinking.  It was also stated that men as a group have a lower mentalizing ability compared to women. Maybe this is so, but I think it isn’t so much that autistic people don’t develop similar beliefs due to not intuiting others’ thoughts, but because we care less about what other people think and believe.

The autistic mind is generally prone towards logic and free-thinking.
We also tend to be literal-minded, which can either result in rigid fundamentalism or questioning commonly held beliefs, traditions and customs. We also tend to edge away or outright refuse to do or say things we don’t understand or agree with.
A neurotypical child, who is more easily socialized may sit quietly during a service that s/he finds dull and little meaning in, and recite a creed in a confirmation ceremony before they are really old enough to have formed beliefs for themselves. An autistic kid? Don’t bet on it!Faith and emotion might hold together an individual’s religious belief system, but it’s social conformity that holds together religion as a whole. This is not to insult religion- conformity isn’t always a bad thing, we all must follow traffic laws to be safe for example. Nonetheless, organized religion with its positives and negatives depends on many people following leaders, rules and traditions that aren’t always so logical.I hope this data does not lead to further stigmatizing either autistics or atheists- seeing autistics’ religious beliefs or lack thereof as a sign of their mental inferiority or thinking those poor misguided atheists must just be autistic.
But this does seem to reveal some sparks of autism in the lack of social tact practiced by prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens.

November 11, 2013 at 7:08 am Leave a comment


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