Posted by: aediculaantinoi | August 18, 2012

The Philosopher’s Dilemma (or, Someone’s Wrong on The Internet…)

Still a lot going on, and still have a lot of things I’d like to write about, but not enough time today…so, instead, this. But, first a little bit of background on the first part of my title above.

I had never heard anything like the phrase “the horns of a dilemma” before I was in Oxford, sometime during the latter two trimesters I was there in the early part of 1997. One of the most interesting people I met there was a slightly-older-than-myself British fellow who had formerly been in the seminary, but was a theology student, who I had met in the Storytelling Society. One night, we were hanging out, and he took me back to his college, Pembroke College (which was the one and only time I was in the place, though I had to pass it every day on my way to my own college from home) and told me a bit about some rather tragic events that took place there over the years and how some of them left the place haunted (including the place where his own quarters were). We also went to the MCR (middle common room), an area that only graduate students and others have access to, and he showed me, amongst other things, this huge set of what I thought must have been water buffalo horns with a large inscription on them. I said “What is this?” and he said “It’s the ‘philosopher’s dilemma,'” and I said “Oh,” and didn’t really know what that meant, but was somewhat afraid to ask…Not long after that, I heard people using the phrase “the horns of a dilemma” relatively regularly, and thought, “Ah, yes, that thing Ben showed me that time.” Very metaphorical…

Well, I find myself–and, I have to admit, I’m very far from being a philosopher (a theologian, certainly, but not a philosopher…and there is a very big difference!)–on the horns of my own dilemma concerning the work of a certain modern pagan philosopher. I read Brendan Meyers’ guest post on The Wild Hunt today, and found myself both confused and offended…not because any of it was difficult-to-understand, but because what he appeared to be saying was offensive to anyone who is intellectual, or who has ever contributed anything to society, technology, or the greater course of history, and who is also an actual polytheist who acknowledges the existence of deities and worships them.

For example, this phrase:

Call it a case of observer bias on my part, but Humanist Paganism seems to be an emerging option for those who want to be part of the Pagan community, but who want to be a little more intellectual about their practices, and they really don’t care about the “woo” anymore.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I’m pretty fuckin’ intellectual in my practices, I know where they come from and why I do them, what the cultural context of some of their original expressions are, why they appeal to me now, and I have no difficulty distinguishing between why I do them, what history actually can tell us about them (or their absence), and a variety of other things which would make them intellectually “viable”…and, the “woo” is not gone from them either, and is just as important as it ever was. (In fact, I’d suggest that if having connections with actual divine beings is interpreted as “woo,” then there’s very little point to doing anything like this unless the “woo” is there…yes, there are dark nights and such, but that’s a kind of “woo” in itself…!)

He goes further later:

For those who struggle with anti-pagan prejudices and stereotypes, Humanist Paganism might be a powerful educational tool. It can show that a pagan can be a sophisticated, cosmopolitain, and enlightened person, and that a pagan culture can be artistically vibrant, environmentally conscious, intellectually stimulating, and socially just. Remember, the Acropolis of Athens, Stonehenge, Newgrange, and the Pyramids of Egypt, were built by Pagans. Complex astronomical instruments like the Antikythera Mechanism, and the Nebra Sky Disk, were made by Pagans. Our Pagan intellectual heritage includes poets and scientists and literary intellectuals of every kind, especially including those who wrote some of the most important and influential books in all of Western history. Homer, Hesiod, Pythagoras, Plato, and Cicero, just to name a few, all lived in pagan societies. Some of the greatest political and military leaders of all time, such as Alexander the Great, Pericles of Athens, Hannibal of Carthage, and Julius Caesar of Rome, were all pagans, or else living in a pagan society. And speaking of Pagan societies: some of today’s highest social and political values, like democracy, secular republican government, freedom of speech, and trial by jury, were invented by pagans. Even the Olympic Games were invented by pagans. Yet that fact is almost always ignored when people study the origins of western civilization. In the face of anti-pagan prejudices, it might be better to point to accomplishments like these, than to something mostly amorphous like “freedom”.

As Dver pointed out in the comments on that post, all of these accomplishments by pagans he lists were by pagans who were polytheists and had experiences that conveyed to them that the gods exist, which is pretty damn “woo-ey,” I think…!?!

There’s nothing wrong with humanistic paganism, but humanist pagans do not have the monopoly on intellect, on critical thinking, or on being fans of science and nature in addition to other things. (I’ve talked about Neil DeGrasse Tyson here before; but I am not certain that Meyers realizes that Bill Nye the Science Guy is just as much a comedian as a scientist, if not more so on some occasions…but, being from the Seattle area, I know that more than most people might, since I was a longtime fan of Almost Live and knew him just as much as Speed-Walker as “the Science Guy.”) It’s perfectly possible to be a polytheist, to think that the gods are real and to treat them as such (even if one acknowledges that our experiences of the gods come through the medium of our minds and senses–which is not to say that they’re therefore “all in our heads”!), and to have experiences that are “woo-ey” while still being someone who looks at the physical processes of the universe as explained by science and has wonder and awe for them as equally as one has a solid intellectual understanding of them.

Why doesn’t he seem to get this, or that the way he’s phrased his arguments seems to indicate that he’s suggesting non-humanistic pagans aren’t intellectual, etc.?

He replies in the comments thus:

But if I may say so, I think you are reading a bit too much into the article. It’s a piece about some of the merits of humanist paganism; it says precisely nothing, one way or another, about other kinds of paganism.

I’m not the kind of writer who covers his words in a mountain of caveats and disclaimers, in order to avoid causing unintended offense, or accidentally making someone feel “invalidated”. I don’t like doing it; it always feels to me like a distraction. I’d rather get straight to the job of saying what I have to say.

With that in mind, perhaps you will find the piece easier to understand?

He follows this up with:

I do not claim that theistic or polytheistic pagans cannot be intellectual. No such statement appears in my text, and if others think it is “implied” there, then they are committing a logical fallacy. Remember, the statement “X has properties A,B, and C” does not mean the same thing as the statement “not-X lacks properties A,B, and C.”

The general idea is that humanist paganism is an “emerging option” for pagans who want to be more intellectual about their own paths.

Thus there is no “distinction between intellectual and the Pagan community” intended in my text. That statement attributes to me a false dichotomy.

But, personally, I’m not very satisfied with this refutation by (so it is implied) logical argumentation. Oftentimes, the pointing out of specific logical fallacies is an internet argumentation tactic that is used to sidestep an issue–if someone who is, let’s say, a trained lawyer but who has never read a particular medieval mythological text, and thus is completely unprepared to be able to discuss said text in a critical and contextual manner makes some statement, and I reply by saying, “Well, you’re a trained lawyer, not a mythological scholar, so your thoughts on this matter are incomplete and not as informed, and thus not as relevant, as they might be otherwise,” a common way for said lawyer to sidestep the issue of his unpreparedness for meaningful engagement in the conversation would be to say “Well, you’re making the logical fallacy of the ad hominem attack–that has to do with me, not with my argument, and thus you’re incorrect and illogical.” No matter how post-modern people want to be, there are just some matters that depend upon knowing and having experience in a specialized area of knowledge, and if someone doesn’t have that, then they’re not as prepared to enter into a useful argument about something; it doesn’t mean that they can’t have a useful discussion about a particular issue they’re not trained in, but that lack of knowledge often does prevent an informed engagement.

Too often, I think Brendan leans on his philosophical credentials a bit too heavily when he makes his statements, but doesn’t actually bother to put in the work in the relevant other areas of knowledge–he did this with “druidism” in an entire book, and he did it with various areas of history (in which he was simply incorrect) in his book on virtue ethics, and he has done it in various places with Irish mythology more times than I can personally count.

So, I don’t know…what do you think? Am I being too harsh with Dr. Meyers, or did he really miss the boat on this? Does his saying that Homer, Cicero, and Pythagoras “lived in pagan societies” and then the sentence following it on Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar being pagan or “lived in pagan societies” sort of suggest that the writers in the first sentence weren’t really pagan, while only some of the military leaders in the second may not have been?

Personally, I think it does…but, I’m no philosopher, so what do I know about what Brendan Meyers writes? 😉


  1. All this kerfluffle over what words people use to describe experience. Some people want to say “gods”, other people want to say “ideas”. Bah. Arguing about reality is like dancing about architecture.

    See what I did there? I almost feel clever.

    • Though personally, I think there needs to be more dancing about architecture. I mean, is there anything greater than the Pantheon in Rome to make you want to shake your bootay? And I’m quite sure the Washington Monument makes people want to do…well, other things that involve movement, though perhaps not dancing so much. 😉

      • Pole dancing, perhaps?

      • Though, it’s hard to seductively slide around a pole that is that geometric, alas…it’d put dents in one’s bits!

      • I’d dance around that pole, any day.

      • True. Also, it dwarfing you by a factor of at least a hundred probably kinks the dancing a bit. I was more suggesting that we dance *around* the pole.

      • Really, one pole-dances around a maypole, why couldn’t one pole-dance around the Washington monument?

      • When the phrase “pole-dance” comes up these days, it tends to be something done by scantily-clad strippers in seedy clubs to crowds of gawkers…

        So, that kind of pole-dancing isn’t really going to work with Washington’s Obelisk. 😉

      • I dunno, a whole huge ring of scantily clad dancers wiggling their way about the monument? I bet some folks could really get into that.

      • Well, yes…but, as I was saying in an earlier comment, the way they sort of grind around the pole and writhe seductively about it is made more difficult by the very hard edges of the Washington Pole, not to mention its size…!?!

        But, then again, perhaps we could all convince the Statue of Liberty to shuck her toga and try it out, at least until the Colossos at Rhodes fixes himself and swims across the Atlantic? 😉

  2. I feel that Brendan was a bit lazy in his formulations. I hoped that he might be interested to discuss the matter at hand – what is the place of intellectualism within paganism – than just saying that he did not say anything truly offensive in his article. Why not think, hey, those are some interesting comments, and I have written about the sometimes sneering attitude towards ‘reason’ opposed to ‘whatever feels right’, maybe there is something important here to discuss?

    When he thinks of woo and of less-than-intellectual paganism, I am sure he has a picture in his mind of eclectic15-year old wiccans or perhaps pagans who are more grounded in the New Age side of things, who sneer at the mention of the word ‘reason’. There can be, especially in some online corners, a somewhat hostile attitude towards critical thinking. I estimate that he thinks of these people, and that he just hasn’t come across any interesting blogs such as yours, Dver’s or Sannion’s.This is my guess. He defines Humanistic Paganism but nowhere does he address other forms of paganism, because that is simply not what he was talking about. Yet, he does say something about it, because apparently Humanistic Paganism offers something that regular paganism does not, and the only real benefit that is really mentioned in the article is the ‘more intellectual approach’.

    I liked ‘The Other Side of Virtue’. I like philosophy. But yes there are other viewpoints than that of the philosophical professional. Why not address what concerns the pagans here. Why shy away of a good argument to be had?

    • While I think you are on to something here, very definitely, he never really did define what the “less intellectual” forms of paganism were, or where they originate or how they proliferate, etc. He just highlighted what (I suspect) is his own viewpoint, but hid behind weak formulations in doing so, and pointed toward other leaders within humanistic paganism. Oh well…

      The Other Side of Virtue is good in parts, but he makes several large historical mistakes in it. While getting a date wrong here or there is excusable, tracing the development of ideas and traditions, and then saying “and next in line was” someone who was several centuries before sort of undermines the argument. (That’s what he did with Dante, placing him after Ficino and Pico della Mirandola, when the latter were almost two centuries after Dante.)

      • “(…) and pointed toward other leaders within humanistic paganism”.

        Yes, he was supposedly surprised that he was seen as a spokesperson for humanist paganism. Might this have something to with him pleading for humanist paganism on The Wild Hunt? Just a guess😉

  3. O, and please post this somewhere where Brendan might also read it. I want to see his response. And I truly think he cannot just get by with is original one here.

    • If he wants to read my response and respond to it, he most certainly can. I don’t know his reading habits, and when I have suggested he read and comment on things I’ve written before, he never has. Oh well…

  4. Sadly, I see this tendency in much of his writing. He’ll say stuff that certainly seems to imply a variety of things about others, then deny that it’s what he meant. If we’re misinterpreting him so often, then I really think he needs to work more on his writing so that his actual meaning becomes more clear and less prone to misinterpretation.

    • Indeed. I’m reminded of part of what Oscar Wilde said about something else: “Twice begins to look like carelessness…”

      In one of his comments, he said that he doesn’t like to clutter up his writing with caveats and explanations and definitions and so forth, he just likes to get right to the point. In other words, he doesn’t like to qualify his statements–which, in turn, means that his opinion on these matters is quite literally unqualified. It’s not very good philosophical methodology, certainly…

      • I really didn’t want to dig into the comment slushpile. I’ve got a lot of other (and better) things to be doing with my time at the moment. Speaking of which, did you want to come over Tuesday? I do have a VA appointment on Wednesday, but that doesn’t have to interfere too much. While Travelers tea shop is no more, we could still hang at the Elliott Bay Cafe afterwards and catch up.

      • While I’d love to do ritual with you on Tuesday or Wednesday, realistically I can’t get down there until Thursday–I’ve got Academia Antinoi course materials to prepare on both Tues. and Wed. (as well as other things); there is an LGBT Pagan Meet-Up on Thursday night in Volunteer Park, though, if that has any interest for you…Then we could hang at Elliot Bay beforehand, and it’s at 7 or 7:30, then head back from there, etc. Anyway, let me know what you think!

  5. No, he really put his foot in his mouth with this one. The fact that he can’t see the foot in his mouth, even after others have repeatedly shown him pictures of it, or shown diagrams of how he put it in his mouth, says something … really not good about him.

    • *nods sadly*

  6. I read Brendan Meyers’ post yesterday with interest because, in my experience, there’s a lot of intellectual and practical common ground between Humanists and Pagans beyond “Hey, Christians hate both of us!” While Humanism is staunchly atheistic or at least agnostic as a rule, I find much of value and interest in Humanist writing for me as a polytheist living in the modern world. So the idea that there are folks who identify as Pagan Humanists is an intriguing one for me, and I’m curious about how they navigate the tension between a tradition that is strongly atheistic and one that is exuberantly theistic, and how (and whether) they interact with other Humanists as Pagans in a decisively secular community.

    I agree that Meyers is sidestepping the issue of a clear implication in his writing that most of Paganism is less intellectual, more mystical and “woo”, and prone to logical errors or at least fuzzy thinking than the Humanist Paganism he writes about. To be sure, he’s not the only person who holds that view (even within the Pagan community), but given the amount and level of academic research and intellectual activity in various Pagan groups, and especially among Reconstructionists, I don’t see much evidence for painting the entirety of modern Paganism as less intellectual or scientifically-inclined than any other faith community. I’m also disappointed in Meyers’ attempts to explain away his statements rather than acknowledge that he expressed a prejudice in his post and deal with that issue in his responses to various comments.

    I personally know several atheists and agnostics who are enthusiastic participants in Pagan gatherings, rituals, and groups. One even co-leads an active Wiccan coven. They may not believe in magic or the literal reality of the Gods and spirits, but they appreciate the power of ritual and the love of nature, and they genuinely enjoy and value their experiences in Pagan community. And most secular Humanists I know are willing to admit to a sense of awe and wonder at the power of nature and the magnificence of the physical world. Clearly, there is more to Pagan Humanism than Meyers presented in his post, and I hope we’ll see more and broader contributions from Pagan Humanists in The Wild Hunt and other sites.

  7. Well, as someone who *did* train in philosophy, I’d be more likely to point out that not only did he make the implication originally, he did it again in his response, and will do so every time he frames humanistic Paganism using the words “MORE intellectual.” Where there is a “more,” there is an implied “less.” He could dodge this whole issue by calling it “strictly intellectual,” which would be more correct for what he claims to want to say.

    • Indeed, and thanks for chiming in!

      The use of the comparative adjective always implies, well, *comparison*…which is just basic grammar, really. Crikey…

  8. A guy with a Ph.D. parachuting in to be the savior of the pagans? I thought that was my gig.

    Seriously, though, this gives me a headache. First, Plato was hella “woo”. Moreover, the philosophers get more woo over the course of antiquity, not less. This is why Christians felt they had to shut down pretty much the entire study of philosophy aside from a bit of basic logic for a few hundred years just to give it time to cool. Now, if Meyers thinks that the woo factor of late antique pagan philosophy was a symptom of decline, then he’s really not on the same page with us at all, in addition to having missed out on the massive revaluation of late antiquity that’s been one of the more notable trends in the humanities in the last forty some-odd years.

    I think that pagans need to put up a fight against anybody who wants us to consider our Gods as mere ideas or symbols. They’ve peddled this already to the Christians, who weren’t buying, so now they’re offering it to us, looking quite wilted. Certainly from a philosophical point of view it’s dead on arrival. But the price, if anything, is actually steeper for us, because we don’t have cultural hegemony to coast on for a while after we’ve flushed our actual theology down the toilet.

    Indeed, pagans are far more philosophically relevant as non-reductionist polytheists than they would ever be having adopted whatever superannuated mode of “humanism” Meyers wishes to fit them out for. You get to the great accomplishments of ancient pagan civilization through the woo, not despite it; and that goes not only for “Western” civilization, but Indian, Chinese, Egyptian, et al. All of these cultures are beset by modern readings that attempt to divorce their “respectable” intellectual achievements from the theologies that nourished them from start to finish. But Plato without Pindar, Vedanta without the Vedas, Confucius without the Book of Odes, are just Adonis gardens. You can’t even balance the books; the equations won’t go through. None of these are free-standing ontologies.

    But then you could hardly call me sophisticated, cosmopolitan or intellectual!

    • I’m even happier to hear this from you, dear friend! 😉

      • I think that could work. Email me and we’ll work something out.

      • feh. replied to wrong comment. This is what happens when you get no sleep for too long.

  9. […] going to bother responding to that post largely because P. Sufenas Virius Lupus has already done a superb job of it: Well, I find myself–and, I have to admit, I’m very far from being a philosopher (a theologian, […]

  10. You’re not the only one who was left confused, I’m not sure why he just doesn’t join a Secular Humanist society and be done with it. It seems like he wants to create a Paganism that fits in nicely with the New Atheist worldview (by chucking out anything that doesn’t fit in with that worldview, e.g. literal belief in Gods, magic, etc).

    I also am not that convinced that he’s such a great intellectual, I’ve seen plenty of Pagans, Witches, Occultists, etc who are more knowledgeable about history or intellectual subjects than he appears to be, I’ve also seen more cultured and well traveled too.

    Perhaps he’s just a New Atheist that wants to try and use the Pagan community to attack Christianity (and Islam), which seems to be the main hobby of the “New (boring) Atheists”.

    Personally, I doubt his “Humanistic Paganism” will last, it’s probably just a passing fad that will disappear in a few years (Myers will then probably move on to something else).

  11. So, I’m not a philosopher or even an intellectual but I read your post and the one you’re commenting on and to me it looks like ‘humanistic paganism’ (in some respects) is another name for naturalism or spiritual atheism. While I have no problem with either ideology I do take issue with people that want to cheer a deity but not really, essentially, care if the deity gives a hoot. I think this attitude feeds into the notion that the Gods are only there for human beings to use as tools that make them feel good and whatever else. There are plenty of other means these people can use that do not involve appropriating paganism or the Gods.

    As for the rise of people using their brains in pagan circles, well, it’s nothing new. There are Heathens, Hellenists, Romanists (?), Kemeticists, of all whom have demonstrated that they know their sources and their heritage. And on the note of people being critical and ‘scientific’ as far as things like magic go I think there’s a notable difference: it doesn’t take a scientist to be critical it just takes some attention. I find that many pagans, new agers and the like have flocked to quantum physics because it, purportedly, explains how things *really* work. Yet, I’ve also found people who are veritable pagans, magicians, etc. who know all about physics and do not see the connection at all and see them as separate disciplines that stand on their own merit.

    In any case, these are my thoughts on this matter and I hope they make some kind of sense! Blessings.

    • “I do take issue with people that want to cheer a deity but not really, essentially, care if the deity gives a hoot. I think this attitude feeds into the notion that the Gods are only there for human beings to use as tools that make them feel good and whatever else.”

      I’m actually in complete agreement with you here. Personally, I am a hard atheist about certain deities (i.e. Christ as Christians actually believe in him) but I also don’t show their worship disrespect.

      Incidentally, in Christ’s case I’m one of those atheists who worships anyway. My foster brother is a devout Catholic, mass is a bonding thing. Love my brother, love his god. Both me and the god appear to be ok with that. I’d call it a win-win.

  12. This whole sorry episode makes me deeply sad.

    First of all Dr. Myers, in his response, is essentially asking us to believe he doesn’t know the difference between explicit and implicit when in his non-apology apology he tries to defend himself through the logical fallacy idea. We get that he didn’t explicitly say we’re idiots or less than intellectually, that’s why we used the word implicit.

    Second of all why do I get the feeling that what he really wanted to say was “How can you be offended at what I wrote when you’re obviously too stupid to understand it?” but somehow he managed the tact to avoid it.

    Third of all Dr. Myers has a long history of stating that he believes he knows the “woo”, as he puts it, to be bullshit. Anyone remember the aftermath of the Deo’s Shadow host becoming an atheist? Dr. Myers wrote a blog post where he strongly implied that anyone who actually believes in any of that sort of thing is either stupid or delusional, though I’m sure he would respond that “I never said that explicitly therefore you’ve committed a logical fallacy!”.

    As for the “defenders” of polytheism I’m extraordinarily disappointed. Throwing New Age devotees and “fluffy bunnies” under the bus, again, is getting really old. The people who buy self-help books and healing crystals are not idiots no matter how much hard polytheists often want them to be.

    I also wish people would realize that humanism does not necessitate atheism or agnosticism. Humanism is, in my experience, very accommodating of theistic beliefs and ideas. The only thing humanism does is sets the divine on the back burner and brings humanity to the front burner. It is non-theistic in as much as the gods are usually secondary and not necessary per se, human flourishing is in human hands in humanism.

    I also am utterly confused by the idea that an atheist or agnostic person participating in a theistic ritual constitutes a grave offense either to the theists participating or to the gods or divine powers receiving the ritual. I can’t speak for the gods, or other theists, obviously, but I have yet to encounter a divinity concerned with belief. Follow the procedure of tradition to be sure, I’d recommend it highly, but I doubt the gods have thought police.

    As to the theist sharing ritual space with the not-theist, why do you care? If the gods you worship are concerned with belief, and I don’t mean to imply that can’t or shouldn’t be, that is their prerogative after all, then find out beforehand. If not, as long as the not-theist remains a respectful guest and follows tradition, I see no reason to be offended. That’s just me though.

    • If I were more well-spoken, this is what I would like to have written. Bravo, sir!

      • @ Faoladh

        Thanks but to my lack of credit my original response would have been to suggest telling him “yeah well that’s your opinion man” then spraying whipped cream in his eyes and walking away.

        I am actually a fan of Dr. Myers by the way, I just happen to part ways with him on a variety of subjects. And I like playing peanut gallery. So there you go. Incidentally, great blog!

      • Ha! Spraying whipped cream should be a specific and protected category of discussion.

        Thank you. I wish that I felt the enthusiasm for writing in it that I once had.

    • My main issue with this is how can one possibly perform a ritual to a deity if one does not even think it possible that the deity exists in the first place? It makes no sense at all, at least not to me. Also, the Gods may not have ‘thought police’ yet I think they might be able to discern the difference between the intent to pay them homage and the lack thereof. I don’t know, maybe that sounds iffy?

      • There are many reasons why a person atheistic or agnostic about a particular deity or divine power would actively worship them. Pride in what’s seen as cultural heritage, respect for theistic family members beliefs, maybe even curiosity as to whether they might actually be a theist themselves.

        If we turned people away at the gate for being not-theists we would destroy paganism by ensuring that no one who was not-pagan ever became a pagan. In the process we would be the instruments of the demise of the worship of our gods. That to me seems a greater folly than “not believing” in them.

        Personally, I would think your average god (is there such a thing?) would be wise enough to know this and more than willing to be accommodating of worshipers who may not happen to actively believe. Or at least be able to take it in stride.

        I leave it up to the gods to defend their own honor or make it known to their would-be worshipers their “displeasure”, as it were, regarding intentions, motivations, or disbelief. I imagine there are indeed gods for whom belief is, at least at some point, important. And yet maybe some of them revel in insincere worship? The gods are a diverse bunch after all.

        I like to give my gods credit though, they understand most worshipers are coming to ritual with centuries of anti-pagan monotheist and materialist baggage informing their religious world views. And I’d like to think they are wise and gracious enough to be patient with us mortal fools who are daring enough to worship them again. Else why call them gods?

        As for whether to allow avowed atheists, agnostics, or other not-theists to continue worshiping at theist rituals? Well, if you as a person really feel that uncomfortable with it feel free to have a “belief test” at the door to all your rituals, that would no doubt make you exceedingly unpopular among most pagans however.

      • To be clear I was shooting more for “giving my opinion” and trying to not shoot for “being a dick”. If I failed in the latter I apologize in advance, I’m merely very passionate about the former.



    • I very much agree with all you’ve said here–not only in critique of Meyers, but also in terms of the critique some of the critics of Meyers have had of “fluffies,” humanists, and the like.

      Sure, I’d prefer it if various new age, “fluffy,” and other types were a little more critical and better informed; I’d also prefer a lot of recons to be better informed and more realistic about their traditions. (No, sorry, medieval Irish literature was not monkish scribes writing down the stories of druids, as much as they might wish that to be otherwise; no, the Greeks were not a hermetically sealed culture that didn’t have influence from every culture around them; etc.) There are likewise some very well-informed and intelligent people who are a bit squishy when it comes to their spirituality; and likewise again, there are some rather poorly informed people who, nonetheless, are very practical, no-nonsense, down-to-earth, and as real as rocks (and I mean that as a total and superlative compliment!) when it comes to spirituality and religious activities, and perform them effectively and productively with a very discerning eye and every other sense underlying their practice.

      Also, I do find it interesting that “belief” is becoming an issue here. As polytheists, belief should be secondary; I try not to use that term very often, which is why I said above that there are polytheists who acknowledge the existence of gods, etc. That is no longer in the realm of “belief,” at least as it’s commonly used, in my understanding. Saying I “believe” in the gods in the common understanding is as meaningless as saying that I believe in the sun, or oxygen, or the earth, or gravity, because whether I “believe” in those things in the conventional way or not, I utterly depend on them for my life and for the conditions of existence as I know them to occur.

      As you said below, I likewise don’t think that creedal requirements should ever be something that is a part of modern paganism or polytheism. The last group that wanted to institute something like that with which I was affiliated…well, that ended in a schism between myself and them, but as it lead to the founding of Ekklesía Antínoou, I don’t think it was a bad thing at all! 😉

      • Completely agree with you about belief. This may seem weird but i am personally agnostic about all deities, divine powers, archetypes, etc that I haven’t directly experienced. That doesn’t stop me from participating in the worship of divinities related to those I’ve already “met” and so far I haven’t been struck dead.

        So far…

        Seriously though I think the pagan/polytheist communities would do well with a refresher on “experiential” and “orthopraxy” as religious concepts. Given that I don’t come from a traditional Christian background though maybe I’m orthodoxy deficient??

      • I feel the same way about belief and that’s why I didn’t use the word above and rarely use it at all, for the very same reasons. I’m just not in agreement with people that won’t even entertain the notion that the Gods do exist and whatnot which is not to say I don’t respect people with those views. However, I don’t see this as a bar for the participation in ritual and such of not-theists and I personally wouldn’t have a problem with seeing as I’ve participated in rituals of other traditions more for the sake of my friends than my own interest (I wasn’t particularly in the tradition or its deities but I didn’t go around saying that it didn’t matter if they were real or whatever).

        Not everyone feels the same way though and several commenters to the original post voiced their own opinions on having someone in their ritual space who did not, at the least, think more of the ritual than just psychodrama. In any case, I do understand that many people come to paganism with excessive baggage and so they made need air that all out or work through it.

        I just think people need to be more cautious with their proclamations and be sure they know what is they’re talking about which, in the context of original post, means that the author could’ve been more aware of what paganism looks like right now before making his assertions. I mean, paganism has been, for many years now, home to many people who are activists, feminists, environmentalists, etc. who are not less critical of their work despite the assertion that there is ‘woo’.

  13. Excellent response…between Meyers’ essay and BT Newberg’s one – in which he pretty clearly implies that had he not met (literal or hard) polytheists more intelligent than he that he would consider hard polytheism to be nonsense and would dismiss it entirely (to which I was just left with my jaw hanging open a little bit) – I’m getting pretty tired of the entire discussion. My belief in the gods, my ‘woo’, does not make me less intelligent.

    Anway! Very, very excellent post.

  14. […] Also recommended: my friend Lupus’ post on Myers’ essay.… […]

  15. May I gently request that people who wish to discuss my work should spell my name correctly?

    • My apologies.

    • I apologize as well, that was most careless of me.

      • And thank you, as well.

  16. I would love to hear you expound upon the difference you see between the theologian and the philosopher sometime.🙂 I would classify myself as a philosopher far more than a theologian, and I don’t see a vast divide between in the perspectives we each bring to our practices. . .

    Leaving that aside for the moment, it’s time to put on my pedantic rantypants. I just didn’t bother on TWH because it was clear the exchanges of comments weren’t acting as a real discussion. . . but here I think my POV might be appreciated a bit more.

    The attitude I brought to reading the essay was cautious curiosity. I am familiar with the basic concept of humanistic Paganism, see value in it, and am open to learning more. On the other hand, my past reading experience has left me feeling that Brendan Myers’ work is lacking in intellectual rigor and disappointingly light on providing supporting documentation for his assertions.

    This essay did not reverse the trend.

    As many others here have noted, I also sensed a bias towards the superiority of the humanistic Paganism point of view in the essay, and an increasingly distinct tone of condescension towards theist Pagans. I got that impression several times through the piece; the basis for my feeling is far more than just one or two ill-considered sentences.

    While disappointing, the perspective was familiar to me from secular humanist and atheist and agnostic arguments, and so ultimately unsurprising. What really pissed me off was his refusal to directly address that angle of criticism in the comments, and the sheer flimsiness of the logic that he so ostentatiously wielded in his defense, ESPECIALLY given his professional qualifications.

    The meaning of a text cannot be defined by the conscious intentions of the writer. “Meaning” is a liminal and interactive thing – it is a product of a collaboration between the author and the readers, and cannot exist without the engagement of both parties in the process of constructing a mutual understanding. Once words are seen by anyone other than the author, any idea of controlling the meaning is just daft.

    The perspective of one reader could be shrugged off as an outlier, but when numerous people state that their reading of the piece was that it came across as dismissive towards a stance different than the author’s, that connotation *exists*. It cannot be unmade.

    To ignore that and try to wave away alternate views as irrelevant because “it’s not what I meant” is not a wisdom-loving response. For Dr Myers to stoop to it strikes me as willfully disingenuous and intellectually lazy. If he believes what he wrote, fine. He should stand behind it, own the weaknesses he’s been shown, and look to the arguments of his opponents to educate him about how to develop the theory into something more plausibly defensible.

    To cite one’s academic qualifications as a basis upon which to demand respect without actually demonstrating the mastered skills in defense of a weak argument. . . it’s frankly insulting. The message I get is that he can’t be bothered to deploy REAL philosophy against those who disagree because they wouldn’t understand it anyway.

    Well, here’s one woo-ful yet critical reader, sir, that thinks you do a disservice in representing the cause in whose service you speak. As you indulge in vapid emphatic hand-waving to show the distinguished value of a new and exciting approach to Paganism that features intellectual vigor in contrast to the feel-good, wishful practices heretofore generally associated with that set of spiritual practices, well. . . you’re not convincing me to set the wisdom of the gods aside to follow your shining example.

    Paganism and intellectual rigor. . . what a concept! Two great tastes that would taste great together! If you happen to find something like that, you let me know. That would be so exciting!

    In the meantime, I’m taking these here peanut butter cups over to Lugos’ place. Don’t worry, I won’t bother to tell Him you say hi.

  17. I was right with you untill “I’m pretty fuckin’ intellectual in my practices,” then I stoped reading. The very statement is a contridiction. Sometimes I wonder when people will understand that a large portion of readers don’t want to hear it!

    • Uh…okay…?!?

      So, you stopped reading about 1/3 of the way through my entry here, and are commenting…why?

      The vast majority of readers of this blog are interested in hearing about my methodologies in practice, my ideas, my interpretations…that’s why they read my blog. If I prefaced my commentary in that section with a phrase that you didn’t like, that doesn’t mean it’s a contradiction. If you’re among the “large portion of readers” who don’t want to read what I have to say, then why should I have any interest in what you think, and what is the point in you commenting at all?

      Honestly, I’m confused by this, and if you’d care to discuss further, I’d truly appreciate it.

  18. I think all this boils down to the fact that humanists, i.e., secular humanism, wants to distance itself from any beliefs that can’t be rationally proven. I don’t think they particularly believe in gods or Paganism in the way most of us believe in deities, worship them, pray to them, etc. Humanist Paganism just seems to be a way of being Pagan-flavored but taking out the irrationality of it all. This will not work, in my opinion. The point is there are always going to be “religious” people who believe in things that cannot be proven. The important thing is to make sure one’s religious beliefs don’t align themselves with hatred or intolerance towards any group.

  19. This general response to certain critics may be of interest to you.

    • Thanks very much for pointing that out! I appreciate what you’ve written there very much indeed! 🙂

  20. […] the course of this post recently, I got a comment from Disirdottir which said the following: I would love to hear you expound upon […]

  21. […] P. Sufenas Virius Lupus’ contribution in my last wrap-up it deserves another read for wisdom such as this: There’s nothing wrong with humanistic paganism, but humanist pagans do not have the monopoly on […]

  22. […] debate when I featured a guest post by Brendan Myers on Humanistic Paganism. Many took this post to be an insult towards the intelligence of Pagans who believe in the reality of gods and powers, and a wide-ranging debate took place across the Pagan blogosphere on the topic of the […]

  23. I enjoyed the humanist post, and didn’t find it offensive at all. I also try to be a bit “intellectual” and I have been a polytheist for 26 years. I found the post interesting, and it wasn’t offensive to me. I understood what he was getting at, and while I didn’t completely agree, it didn’t bother me.

    • If that was your experience, great!

      That wasn’t mine, nor that of many of my associates and co-religionists.

  24. Sorry to be commenting late on this – I only just discovered this post, after seeing it referenced in today’s Wild Hunt. I think you’ve made a lot of excellent points here.

    Personally, I had mixed feelings about Brendan’s original post – part of me wanted to show it to a few people I know, my partner included, who have found themselves torn between a fascination with mythology and a longing for ritual on the one hand, and a lack of faith on the other. I’ve met a number of people over the years who are drawn to some aspects of paganism, often for reasons they can’t clearly articulate even for themselves, but can’t quite take the leap of faith they assume is required to really “believe” in the Gods. Some identify as atheist and some just as agnostic, or undefined. Some are open to the possibility of the Gods’ existence in principle, but feel they can’t really say they believe, as such, until such time as they’ve had some kind of spiritual experience that confirms it for them (and some of them eventually have that experience, if they let themselves). Some of them, I think, overestimate the relevance of blind faith to paganism, or assume that direct worship of a deity must include subservience, based on past experience with other religions. So it seemed to me that a piece like this might speak to some of them, and let them know they can explore paganism without feeling pressured to commit to a specific form of belief.

    But at the same time, another part of me reacted much the way you did to some parts of the article, especially the implication that an atheistic approach to paganism was necessarily more intellectual than a theistic one. I encounter enough militant atheists, both in my own social circle and in society at large (especially the internet portion of it) to be really, really tired of constantly hearing the equation of religion with stupidity, naivete and credulity, and there are parts of the post that can certainly be read that way, regardless of whether it was what Brendan actually meant.

    I think I didn’t react as intensively negatively as many others did in part because I have a bit more background knowledge of the author – I know he’s not, as one commenter here put it, “a guy with a Ph.D. parachuting in to be the savior of the pagans” – he was a pagan long before he had a Ph.D. Hell, I think he was still an undergrad when I originally met him (via a Celtic Reconstructionist mailing list, though he later ended up being a member of my coven for a while). So he’s definitely not an outsider to paganism, as some commenters here seem to have assumed. But that said, it’s been well over a decade since we were in any sort of regular contact, so his ideas may well have shifted in some respects since the days when I knew him better, and I found myself wondering how much so after reading the post.

    I do think that, overall, paganism has room for both those who do and those who do not believe in the literal existence of deities, as well as those who really aren’t sure and are trying to keep an open mind on the matter. As to the question some have raised of whether it’s inherently disrespectful or offensive for an atheist to attend a pagan ritual – to me, that depends on the kind of atheist. A militant atheist, of the sort who believes that all spirituality is delusional and all spiritual people are idiots – definitely not welcome in any circle I’m running, any more than a fundamentalist Christian who was convinced we were all going to burn in hell would be. I don’t want anyone there who isn’t going to be respectful and who doesn’t sincerely want to be there. But I have no problem with agnostics attending, or even a non-militant, non-judgmental atheist (those do exist, though they sometimes seem to be an endangered species) who doesn’t believe in any deity themselves but accepts that belief is subjective and that their disbelief is not inherently better or more valid than someone else’s belief. The bottom line is, for me, respect and sincerity. I don’t care if someone perceives the Gods as literal realities, archetypes from the collective unconscious, or just beautiful images from myth and folklore, as long as they’re willing to pay them *some* kind of respect, and as long as they aren’t judgmental of others perceiving them differently.

    • I agree with much of what you’ve said here, apart from your repeated use of the word “belief.”

      I am not a humanist (at least in the sense defined by Myers–though I’m an über-humanist in others), or an atheist, or an agnostic, I’m a polytheist, and a devotional polytheist at that; but, I don’t for one second “believe” in the gods I worship–Antinous, Polydeukion, Glykon, Serapis, Hermes, Anubis, Dionysos, Herakles, Set, Ptah, etc.

      I also don’t “believe” in the sun, or the rain, or the earth; I don’t have to, because when I go outside, all I have to do is look up and see that there’s light and warmth coming down on me, or that I’m getting wet and there’s a reason for it, or that there’s a very large and solid object beneath me that is always there to support me and everything else that lives upon it.

      There’s absolutely no need for “belief” in the gods when one is encountering them constantly, and depends upon them for one’s life. Leaving questions of “belief” for those who have never had a direct experience of a deity, and simply follow along with what they’re told (i.e. creedal monotheists, especially Christians and Muslims), is fine by me. My practices lead to experiences of the gods, which lead to further refinement of practices, which lead to further experiences, etc. There’s no room for “belief” in there whatsoever, it’s totally irrelevant and nonsensical in that context. (Unless one re-defines it, which I have done on occasion, and find useful…but, in the way it’s used by most people in relation to religion or the gods, it’s redundant and misleading.)

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