Posts tagged ‘humanistic paganism’

Humanist, Naturalist and other Definitions

I’m not interested in jumping into any religious debates currently, but I thought I’d shed some light by trying to sort out some definitions.

Atheist– There is/are no god(s)  Theoretically could believe in an afterlife, magic, divination or other non-scientific proven things.

Agnostic– Knowledge of god(s) is unknowable- many people use it in the sense of “I’m not sure” or “I don’t care” which would be an Apatheist. More about the a/gnostic & a/theists axes here.

Skeptic– person who uses critical thinking, reason, and logic, though they may not be consistent in how they apply these tools! Could include religious people but communities of skeptics typically don’t. Skeptics originally were a school of Greek philosophy

Freethinker/Freethought– one who thinks freely, especially in matters of religion and philosophy- originally this was used for Deists and people who questioned the doctrine of the Trinity, but has been mostly taken over by nontheists.

“None”– demographic rather than a self-identifier, person who has no institutional religious affiliation. This could include some Pagans.

Spiritual But Not Religious– many “nones” describe themselves as such, many Pagans do so as well, though I find the assumptions behind the division of “spirituality” with “religion” to be rather tiresome, I think we should listen SBNRs define this for themselves individually rather than just writing them off as flaky, which many mainstream religious folks and atheists alike often do.

Nontheist– includes atheists, agnostics. Depending on how you want to define things, a pantheist, deist, animist or ancestor venerator (with no deities) could also be nontheists. This isn’t typically a self-identifier, but I use “nontheistic pagans” as a broad term for pagan-identified folks who are less deity-focused. (If I ever get someone’s identity/label/tradition wrong please let me know)

Humanism– philosophy or life-stance that focuses on human needs, this life, a positive view of the body and the world, humans making the effort to improve themselves and the world, reason, critical thinking and the scientific method. Typically a humanist is at least agnostic or not focused on questions of the existence of gods, spirits and the afterlife.

An older definition of humanism (pre Humanist Manifesto) that is still used particularly in educational settings, is of Renaissance humanism, belief in the value of individual freedom of expression, education in the humanities, exploration of what it means to be human. This is the sense that I might use it for myself, but it requires so much explaining and disclaiming that I don’t usually bother!

Secular Humanist– pretty much the same as the first definition of humanism.

Religious Humanist– Humanists who want to have rituals, celebrations of rites of passage and/or the seasons, possibly buildings/organizational structures similar to churches, and sometimes humanist celebrants and chaplains who officiate at ceremonies or provide ethical or spiritual counseling. Religious humanists can be found in Unitarian Universalism, the Ethical Society/Ethical Culture, Sunday Assemblies, Jewish humanist groups, and various forms of Paganism, Buddhism- Secular Buddhism, Nontheist Friends (Quakers) and various people who attend church services because they like the community/music/etc. even if they aren’t sure how much of it they believe in.

Religious Naturalism– viewing the Earth, universe in a reverential manner, as a mystery, way of seeking meaning, based in scientific inquiry. This may be the “new” religious humanism. Spiritual Naturalism is another version.

Anti-theist– one opposed to belief/worship of God(s), who wants to convince religious people to leave religion behind. Please note that not all atheist activists, even those who actively criticize religion are necessarily anti-theists. Often it’s hard to tell though since they typically conflate all religion with fundamentalist Christianity and Islam. I would typically exclude these guys from humanism, whether secular or religious, since they treat most humans with such disdain. Interestingly, I’ve mostly seen this used pejoratively, but I’m starting to see people self-identify with it. Another person I know uses it as “I believe gods exist, but I want nothing to do with them!”.

Pantheism– seeing God/the Divine as the same as the Universe/nature

Universal Pantheist Society-includes pantheists, panentheists, cosmotheists, religious naturalists etc.

World Pantheist Movement– scientific/natural pantheism, broke off from the UPS and is now larger

Panentheism– sees God/the Divine as both pervading and transcending the Universe

Secularism– Not the Same as Atheism! In an United States context it can mean separation of church and state- state secularism. A secularist may advocate for the rights of nonreligious people, and ending forms of religious privilege, dissuade religious influence over political decision-making and public discourse- they can be religious or non-religious on a personal level. Christian fundamentalists/evangelicals in the United States often claim that advocacy for separation of church and state and loss of Christian privilege is “creeping secularism/secular humanism” and is an erosion of their religious freedom. Seriously, for years I didn’t know secular humanists were a real group of people, because they just sounded like Jerry Falwell’s imaginary bogeymen!

November 17, 2015 at 7:11 am 6 comments

Pagan Identity and Responsibility

I’ve enjoyed the contributions of other nontheistic & pantheistic Pagans like the 2 Lupas (Lupa Greenwolf & Rua Lupa)- their approaches to nature have enriched my own. But they do their thing and respect that their approaches aren’t for everyone. We often come into Paganism with a particular vision and focus and that’s fine as long as we don’t expect everyone to be on board with that same vision. Nature/Earth/the environment both physically and spiritually are important to me, it long has been before I became a Pagan. Including a diverse range of human beings and their access to equitable resources in society is also important to me, and also was a value before I became Pagan, so is creativity and the arts- religion is to me, in some respects a dimension of that creativity. I also value the continuance of human cultural diversity and many languages and cultures around the world- and the ecosystems they are intimately connected with are endangered. I draw inspiration from Irish and Scottish culture, and so I have been working on learning Irish and promote understanding, interest and awareness of living Celtic cultures to broader Pagan-dom and my community in the Twin CIties metro area of Minnesota. I think most people who like to claim a single-minded devotion to saving the planet, or any other cause typically have other  interests, jobs, relationships and self-care that they need to take time for. People who 100% devote themselves to only one cause, and think they are superior to everyone, often find themselves rather lonely and unhealthy- both mentally and physically (this is not to stigmatize anyone who does activism while dealing with mental or physical disabilities)

The major reasons for banding together as a pan-Pagan alliance are two-fold- One– is to work together to preserve and ensure our religious freedoms, (in the U.S. separation of church and state) making sure there is an understanding and inclusion of Pagan religions in various institutions such as ones in which chaplains serve (hospitals, the military, colleges, prisons etc.) There is also a growing recognition that atheists and agnostics have spiritual needs as well- needing counseling while in difficult transitions and officiants at rites of passage. Commonly therapists and government officials can fill those functions, but sometimes folks find humanist celebrants and chaplains to be helpful as well.

Two– within our own sects, paths and traditions we are often isolated, and so we band together for a broader community.

Some folks are less focused on those goals, don’t feel a need for them and prefer to not be associated with the pan-Pagan alliance. That is fine. That is their choice. I like to keep the alliance open to those who may need it, but I also don’t appreciate fair-weather friends. Don’t scorn us and then call us up crying when you face discrimination, or can’t find an understanding clergy person to talk to when your relative dies. To give another comparison, it’s like how I advocate in the GLBT+ community for including asexual spectrum people who have needs for community and protection from discrimination. Some ace spectrum people may not choose to identify with us, some may find their needs better met by say, a singles rights organization. But in case they need us, we’re here. Likewise, polyamorous, swinging, kinky communities and heterosexual crossdressers may also have common interests with GLBT+ folks, though cis and heterosexual members of those communities may not face stigma and discrimination in the ways that we do and so we’d rather they not claim the word queer for themselves. (Though to be fair, maybe I could say the same of wealthy nondisabled cis white gay men…)

Likewise let’s consider the ethics of identifying as Pagan- it’s a very broad word, no one has copyright on it- technically it means “country dweller” with a connotation of “hick who does old-fashioned stuff”. But when identifying as a Pagan, please remember that it has the connotation of “religious outsider”. Atheists face discrimination in some parts of our society, but there are also some spaces- particularly in academia in which an atheist, agnostic or simply secular person is more accepted as more “serious and professional” than anyone with a “strange” religion. So don’t claim the word pagan thinking it only means “someone who thinks Nature is really important” and use our communities and resources and then get embarrassed by those of us who actually are religious outsiders and marginalized in various ways by society.

August 25, 2015 at 10:15 pm 1 comment

Six Types of Atheists- Relevance for UUs & Pagans

Atheists, agnostics, skeptics, freethinkers and humanists- I identify loosely with several with those labels with the exception of atheist- in fact I feel atheists have a tendency to take over words for themselves which apply more broadly. The latest one is Pagan. Who has a “claim” to the word pagan? A messy question for another day! I see heathen get used, but usually in a more joking manner, and they generally aren’t aware of its use by Norse/Germanic pagans. What types of atheists make good allies for Pagans & UUs, and which types mesh well enough to even be included in UU & Pagan groups?

I came across this study- copy pasted it here, with some added commentary

How many ways are there to disbelieve in God? At least six, according to a new study.

Two researchers at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga found that atheists and agnostics run the range from vocally anti-religious activists to nonbelievers who still observe some religious traditions.

“The main observation is that nonbelief is an ontologically diverse community,” write doctoral student Christopher Silver and undergraduate student Thomas Coleman.

“These categories are a first stab at this,” Silver told the website Raw Story. “In 30 years, we may be looking at a typology of 32 types.”

Silver and Coleman derived their six types of nonbelievers from 59 interviews. We’re pretty sure we’ve spotted all six in our comments section.

1) Intellectual atheist/agnostic (often but not always activist type) Some friendly to religious liberals, others more broadly anti-religion

This type of nonbeliever seeks information and intellectual stimulation about atheism.

They like debating and arguing, particularly on popular Internet sites.

(Ahem.)

They’re also well-versed in books and articles about religion and atheism, and prone to citing those works frequently.

2) Activist (generally also the intellectual type, some anti-religion/anti-theist, others are more like “faitheists” 

These kinds of atheists and agnostics are not content with just disbelieving in God; they want to tell others why they reject religion and why society would be better off if we all did likewise.

They tend to be vocal about political causes like gay rights, feminism, the environment and the care of animals.

3) Seeker-agnostic- Spiritual But Not Religious (SBNR) many UUs, many Pagans- this describes me! Agnostic with a polytheistic worldview & an aesthetic/intellectual enjoyment of ritual & mythology. I feel that’s a more intellectually honest description, though I use polytheist for short. At the end of the day I feel I have more in common with them. 

This group is made up of people who are unsure about the existence of a God but keep an open mind and recognize the limits of human knowledge and experience.

Silver and Coleman describe this group as people who regularly question their own beliefs and “do not hold a firm ideological position.”

That doesn’t mean this group is confused, the researchers say. They just embrace uncertainty.

4) Anti-theist (sub-type of the activist) New Atheists, typically. This is the type that probably would *not* mesh well in a Pagan group, interfaith group, or a UU congregation! Ableist attitudes (such as “religion is a mental illness/neurological disorder” or “religious people are stupid” are disturbingly common.

This group regularly speaks out against religion and religious beliefs, usually by positioning themselves as “diametrically opposed to religious ideology,” Silver and Coleman wrote.

“Anti-theists view religion as ignorance and see any individual or institution associated with it as backward and socially detrimental,” the researchers wrote. “The Anti-Theist has a clear and – in their view, superior – understanding of the limitations and danger of religions.”

Anti-theists are outspoken, devoted and – at times – confrontational about their disbelief. They believe that “obvious fallacies in religion and belief should be aggressively addressed in some form or another.”

5) Non-theist (Apatheists, functionally agnostic) my partner falls in this category

The smallest group among the six are the non-theists, people who do not involve themselves with either religion or anti-religion.

In many cases, this comes across as apathy or disinterest.

“A Non-Theist simply does not concern him or herself with religion,” Silver and Coleman wrote. “Religion plays no role or issue in one’s consciousness or worldview; nor does a Non- Theist have concern for the atheist or agnostic movement.”

They continue: “They simply do not believe, and in the same right, their absence of faith means the absence of anything religion in any form from their mental space.”

6) Ritual atheist (secular Buddhists & Jews, UUs, some Pagans?) Alain de Botton- Religion 2.0

I suspect for a lot of sci-fi/fantasy/comics & games fandom, fandoms can function as surrogate religions for the ritual atheists. Music & sports do as well.

They don’t believe in God, they don’t associate with religion, and they tend to believe there is no afterlife, but the sixth type of nonbeliever still finds useful the teachings of some religious traditions.

“They see these as more or less philosophical teachings of how to live life and achieve happiness than a path to transcendental liberation,” Silver and Coleman wrote. “For example, these individuals may participate in specific rituals, ceremonies, musical opportunities, meditation, yoga classes, or holiday traditions.”

For many of these nonbelievers, their adherence to ritual may stem from family traditions. For others, its a personal connection to, or respect for, the “profound symbolism” inherent within religious rituals, beliefs and ceremonies, according the researchers.

(Problem is I couldn’t figure out where a non-theistic path such as Buddhism would fit in- though I suppose it would depend on the kind of Buddhism. By secular Buddhism I mean the practice of meditation & some philosophy without the belief in karma & reincarnation. )

December 12, 2014 at 5:06 am 9 comments

Inclusive Polytheism

So with various discussions of “devotional polytheism” vs. “immersive polytheism” going on, I find myself puzzled by what these terms mean and if I personally relate to them at all. Once again the Unitarian Universalist in me is saying “Who cares what someone’s theology is if they act like a jerk?”

Now I think theology does matter in helping us find others who have enough in common with us spiritually to create in-depth and meaningful worship. I do enjoy and find meaning & beauty in UU worship, but it’s more about sharing with others the sacredness of Life, the Universe and Everything than expressing devotion to specific divinities and spirits. From a polytheist/animist viewpoint, UUism’s strong point in the piety department is towards ancestors and heroes, particularly individuals important to UU history and various social justice movements. I believe this is an area that we can keep building on theologically and liturgically, in a way that is still very inclusive of UUs of different belief systems.

So here’s my idea of “inclusive polytheism”- by inclusive I do not mean anything goes, I do not want a lowest common denominator definition that paganism now has, I want a meaningful definition.

Practice:

  • Functional ritual polytheism– treating gods or spirits as individual beings in ritual & prayer
  • Expectation of reverence & respect for deities and spirits by ritual participants (if not literal belief) thus balancing obligations of guest & host
  • Reconstructionism is a methodology, not an end to itself. Not all polytheists are reconstructionists.
  • Inclusion of syncretism, eclecticism and following more than one tradition. Practicing blending & mixing of religions is like playing with a chemistry set: sometimes it blends together well. Sometimes explosions happen.

Theology:

  • Soft agnosticism (gods might exist, leaning toward belief/treat them ritually like they exist even if belief is uncertain), polydeism– many gods that are less directly involved in the world and straight up polytheism, primarily philosophical polytheism and primarily magical polytheism as parts of a theological spectrum/cluster
  • Animism, a belief in many spirits (or that everything has a spirit)
  • Patron and godspouse relationships happen but are not a requirement, people who have more intense relationships with deities/spirits are not necessarily “better” or “more spiritual” than others, they just have a more specialized path/role. Same with being a temple/cult priest/ess. If you don’t recognize them as being a Real Legit Thing within your tradition, cool. It’s not your tradition.
  • Nontraditional deities/spirits (that people may have channeled, created, discovered in popular culture/history/legend/their imaginations) happen in polytheism. However, Tinkerbell/American Gods theology (if I believe it, it exists/has power if I stop believing, it doesn’t) is bad polytheistic theology.
  • Archetypes, eregores and magical “thought constructs” might be Things in your path, but they are not gods.

Identity Issues:

  • People with polytheistic theologies/practices may or may not primarily identify as polytheists. They may prefer calling themselves Pagans, Heathens, Witches, Wiccans or other more specific terms.
  • Polytheists do not all adhere to any one political ideology or party, apart from most likely, supporting religious freedom and impartiality towards a variety of religions and non-religious people. (As for separation of church & state- this may very by country)
  • Whether service to the Gods is “more important”, less or equally important to helping fellow humans is up to the individual, and has no bearing on whether they are a “true” polytheist
  • Question: is a “polytheist community” one in which participants primarily identify themselves as polytheists, or people who happen to be polytheistic, regardless of self-identification? 

Notes: the reverence & respect portion is an opinion I came to after reading this interview by Jason Mankey with Amy B., an atheist pagan who says she does ritual (as a priestess!) for “entertainment purposes”. Understandably, many Pagans and polytheists were offended, and other humanistic pagans like John Halstead were “horrified”. The second portion was inspired by writings on PSVL’s blog about hospitality in ritual. Can’t find the post!

The statement about theological diversity, is I think much more reflective of the reality of ancient polytheism than the way some have promoted polytheism in modern times. Some people in both ancient and modern times were/are more focused on the pursuit of philosophy, ethics, truth and knowledge, others focus more on magical practice and occult knowledge, and may do so while still being legitimate polytheists, though they likely won’t call themselves devotional polytheists, or use the term polytheist much at all.

I’ve also seen several people assert that they consider serving the Gods to be higher priority than helping other humans. As a humanist and a polytheist, I don’t take that position (it seems a false dichotomy!), but I do consider it one of many ways of being a polytheist. I can see there being a place in community for a small number of individuals whose primary calling is serving the Gods/Spirits directly. However for most of “serving the Gods” is going to be part of a long to-do list!

August 12, 2014 at 12:36 am 8 comments


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