Posted by: aediculaantinoi | December 9, 2013

An Open Letter to Atheists

I have put the present post off for several weeks now, but I think I actually have the time and the mental clarity to write it now. (There are two other, longer posts that I have been planning to write as well on topics that are likely not to make certain groups of people, or even particular individuals, happy, and I suspect I’ll get to those other two over the next few days, and by the end of this week.)

As a prefatory note to the present post, and to those ones which will follow, the present blog occurs within an online shrine to one of my most important gods, Antinous: that’s what Aedicula means. Thus, it is expected that those who interact here will do so in ways that are respectful. Conversations and questions and such are fine; derogatory comments, trolling, and other such things are not, and will be deleted. This is all the warning on this that I should need to give.

Greetings Atheists,

Dear me–I’m writing “open letters” now. I feel like Sinéad O’Connor writing to Miley Cyrus…so, if that comparison flatters you, fair enough!

The present post is, in certain respects, an attempt at a more clear-headed elaboration on another post I did last month, which itself was a response to this. Another polytheist colleague wrote this post, which had some of the most appalling and inexcusable comments I’ve seen in a long time on it; but, they got me thinking about a variety of matters.

Then, the following post was made at The Wild Hunt on atheist appropriations of Winter Solstice, Saturnalia, and other matters, and the present post seemed all the more relevant and urgent.

I assume, because of the claims that many atheists make, that you are open to reasoned discussion, and are on the whole an intelligent lot of people. I go into the present excursus not expecting to “convert” any of you away from your own positions in regards to theological matters; I merely write the present hoping that you might come away from it more informed, and thus more likely to make better-informed decisions on certain matters in the future.

Let me begin by telling you that I find many atheists, and many atheist opinions on a variety of matters, not only convincing but entirely correct; and, you will find many modern pagans and polytheists share these same thoughts as well.

The critiques of institutional monotheistic religions that atheists have voiced are ones I agree with entirely; the inconsistencies of creedal monotheistic theology and their multiple logical fallacies are spot-on as far as I’m concerned. The importance and relevance of our current scientific understanding of matters like evolution (which is “theoretical” only in a poor, colloquial understanding of the term), geology, astronomy, physics, biology, and genetics cannot be understated, and in itself each of these fields of scientific endeavor inspires wonder at the diversity and beauty to be found in the universe as we can currently perceive it and comment upon it.

I completely and utterly agree that in order for a democratic society to be free and to foster liberty and equality for all, that it must observe a strict and no-strings-attached policty of separation of church and state. I am in no wise interested in a theocratic government of any sort, nor am I interested in any moves to give creedal religions any sort of favor by local or national goverments, nor to enact laws that are based on creedal religious morals that are not shared with some religions, nor with the best understandings of science or of secular human values.

Socially, you’ll find that most pagans and polytheists, though they may range across the political spectrum, are at least socially liberal, and are in favor of things like LGBTQIA equality, are pro-choice and pro-birth control, have a concern for the environment and conservation, and a variety of similar ideas that are considered more liberal and which are often opposed by the institutional creedal monotheistic religions.

There are many self-identified atheists whose work as actors and comedians I enjoy immensely, including Bill Maher, Lewis Black, Eddie Izzard, and Stephen Fry. I respect the work of some of the major atheist thinkers and spokespersons of recent years, including Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens. And, who doesn’t enjoy a good lecture by Neil DeGrasse Tyson? 😉

I also fully understand that atheists are a sometimes persecuted and often misunderstood minority within a group of overcultures that are still predominately creedal monotheistic in their religious outlooks, and as a result some tactics resorted to and positions adopted might not look as traditionally “respectable” as the common social mores of the overculture might prefer. Indeed, this is an aspect of your experiences that is shared between other marginalized groups, including queer people and modern pagans and polytheists.

But, in a variety of other areas of life, of interests, of activities, and of values, I suspect that you as atheists and myself, as well as many of my modern pagan and polytheist colleagues, could not possibly diverge further. Again, I don’t think that’s a bad thing, nor do I intend to suggest that you ought to change, “convert,” or in any other fashion continue your lives in ways other than you might wish to do under your own free will.

I do, however, take your self-assertions that you are intelligent and informed, and are often better-read about “religion” than your creedal monotheist antagonists are, seriously, and thus I think there are some matters of added nuance, context, and classification that might be useful for you to know going forward regarding the continued existence of modern pagans and polytheists and some of what our religious outlooks do and think which distinguish us from the undifferentiated mass of “religion” that you have often critiqued.

I have often heard Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris begin arguments for atheism with lines like the following: “We are all atheists as regards Zeus and Poseidon now.” Whether you accept the existence of the deities there named, the statement in itself is not factual. While there aren’t many people who acknowledge the existence (note, not “believe,” on which more in a few moments) of Zeus, Poseidon, and a variety of other deities alive and practicing at this point in the history of the world, there are some of us, and our numbers grow slowly and steadily. You might find that creedal monotheists also think that there is no such thing as any god other than their own gods, and thus such statements might be rather odd attempts to try and create common ground with them.

Under certain circumstances I might argue that such tactics are “fair enough,” but because they fly in the face of the facts on the ground, and such facts are often the cornerstones of atheist arguments in relation to other matters in which conflict exists between atheists and creedal monotheists, it might be useful to revise your tactics in that particular respect. It is just as annoying to us to be dismissed and ignored entirely as it is when people of any number of religious viewpoints assume that everyone “believes something” or “believes in God in their own way,” thus dismissing and ignoring the existence of atheists entirely.

While I have problems with the “Golden Rule” (though almost all atheists I’ve heard speak on the matter don’t seem to), I think observing the “Silver Rule”–namely, “Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you”–is a good way to live one’s life, and many of the points that I bring up in relation to your own conduct fall into this category.

It is one of these matters of conduct not appreciated by many people being done to others by you which is especially puzzling to me: proselytizing. I know of few if any people who appreciate being accosted on the street by missionaries from one Christian church or another, billboards advising passers-by to repent or to find Jesus, or for having my time and privacy invaded by people knocking at my door to tell me all about the “good news” of their particular church, and leaving their leaflets for me to recycle on my doorstep or at bus stops (and, unfortunately, the list goes on).

It confuses me, thus, that atheists would resort to some of the most showy, in-your-face tactics of this sort to try and attract “followers” to atheism, as was the case with the “God Graveyard” that was done earlier this year. Rather than winning adherents by exemplary conduct, or on the strengths of your own arguments, why would you do something that more often than not hardens the resolve of those subjected to it to stay exactly where they already are in terms of their theological positions?

While newer movements that take to the streets, as it were, often have a variety of “adolescent rebellion” about them, and go through an almost necessary “obnoxious” phase which may feature some actions like the ones described above, I hope that this phase within the history of your own movement is a short one, and is overcome by the self-reflection and maturity that many of your adherents claim–all the more so because of the stated lack of needing emotional crutches and the like which atheism as an existential position is said to provide for its adherents.

Atheists have argued that their ethical foundations are sound without the need for supernaturalism or a revealed scripture or a divine authority supporting and enforcing them. If that is the case, then I say: “okay!” That there will be no consequences or “judgement” upon you by divine forces for your actions in your own belief, though, is then that much of a greater burden of responsibility to bear to do as little harm to your fellow humans as possible, I would have thought. It would thus behoove you to demonstrate your superior ethical senses and understandings by having that much more consideration for others.

I have often heard the atheist critiques on “religion,” and as mentioned before, I can agree with many of them, with the following caveat: the critiques are not on “religion” in general, but on specifically “creedal monotheistic religions.” There are many different types of religion in the world, and the basis for almost all of them excepting two (Christianity and Islam) are not creedal, but instead are some combination of experiential or practical; and even where some of these are monotheistic or monistic, a larger number throughout history have been animistic or polytheistic. To say that a religion is not based on “belief” might be confusing to many, especially when the prevailing religious viewpoints of an entire set of overcultures for many centuries has been creedal in nature, and any religious viewpoint that does not meet those characteristics (or other ones, including monotheism, Abrahamic origins, and so forth) are actively not considered real or valid religions. But, that has been the way of the world for much of human history and many human cultures, several of which still exist to this day.

From a polytheist viewpoint, there is no point in “believing” the gods exist outside of experience of them. Once one has had those sorts of experience, whether one “believes” or not is irrelevant: the experiences have occurred, and one can attempt to understand them and integrate them into one’s daily life and concerns, or one might not. However, to pretend as if one has had those experiences when one hasn’t is not considered virtuous; and to choose not to pursue those experiences is likewise an option. I might go my entire life not having visited Burundi, or going bunjee-jumping, or eating calamari; while some might feel that this is a tragic loss because they enjoy those things so much, they are not necessarily absolutely crucial experiences to have undergone in order to have a complete and accomplished life. If religious experiences were viewed in a similar fashion, as options rather than necessities (beyond the general respect for the ability of others to pursue them to whatever extent they might wish), and as things which may or may not be experienced rather than as things in which it is necessary to have “belief,” you might find that many religions around the world are far more sensible than are the large institutionalized creedal monotheistic religions that have dominated the world for the last 1600 years.

Many atheists, of course, assert that there is no scientific “proof” of the existence of deities; there is much more to say on this topic. But, even Sam Harris does not dispute that there are certain portions of the human brain which, under certain circumstances, are stimulated during periods of prayer, meditation, and other varieties of what are generally classified as religious experiences. Whether the stimulus for these experiences originates internally or externally is not as relevant in the present circumstance as that they exist on a phenomenological level. There are any number of human emotional, sensory, and other experiences that cannot be “proven” on a scientific level, nor evaluated, including the viewing and appreciation of art, the feeling of being in love, and so forth, and yet no atheist would argue that these things do not exist. Likewise, there are many areas that would be considered “values” in human life, like equality and freedom and justice, which do not have any objective existence, are disputed in their definitions and understandings, and which most certainly do not exist as facts of nature as observed on the earth or in the universe more broadly, and yet most atheists would argue that such things are essential parts of the human experience and human existence, and are what give it worth beyond the mere objective scientific understandings of biology, chemistry, and physics which actually direct how almost everything in the universe functions. If religious experiences were understood more like the aesthetic experiences of art, or the affectional and emotive experiences of love, in contrast to the institutional creedal monotheistic understandings that have been assumed as normative for the last 1600 years, then perhaps “religion” might be interpreted as a more benign force than it has often been by modern atheists.

While further differences in understanding are certainly present for modern pagans and polytheists and atheists, these are not as essential to understand, accept, or adopt as one’s own–in order to do so, either we would cease to be polytheists or pagans, or you would cease to be atheists, and that is (may I reiterate!) not the intention of the present letter. No pagan or polytheist would agree that our deities and our varieties of experience with them are “just aesthetic” or “only emotional” or are “solely values-based,” and yet nearly no pagan or polytheist would argue that they at least encompass these things. But, you need not accept those further dimensions of our own existence as polytheists and pagans to understand how and why our experiential-based religions and the practices they give rise to or from which their experiences originate are important and indeed motivating forces in our lives.

I have often heard atheists argue that atheism is not a religion, and if anything it is against religion; but, this seems to be at odds with a number of facts on the ground, and unless either the facts are taken account of, or this statement is revised, a major inconsistency remains. I’ve hosted any number of events over the years having to do with discussions of religion, and atheists have often been not only enthused attendees, but have insisted that they be given time to voice their viewpoints. The interfaith religious website, which I participate in on the Pagan Channel, has a large and active atheism channel. If atheism is against religion and is not a religion, then why is there an insistence by atheists on being included within the context of “religion”? If atheism is the “antibody” that should be present wherever the “infection” of religion occurs, that may be one reason to argue for this sort of strategy; but, atheism hasn’t proven to be as effective an “antibody” to the “infection” of religion as many might have hoped. An antibody that is not effective in comprehensively attacking and eliminating a virus or other infection cannot be called an “antibody” in any meaningful fashion, I’m sure you’d agree. Trust me when I say that I mean the following without any pejorative understandings whatsoever: atheism’s presence in the environment of religious activities like the discussions I’ve hosted or the website I mentioned might be more accurately likened to a kind of environmental pollutant, which manages to “kill off” the religiosity of a few people out of the population, but which doesn’t impact many others, who eventually adapt and build up an immunity to it.

I would argue, in fact, that atheism is not an anti-religion so much as a religion unto itself, and one which is adopting many of the same characteristics as other religions as time goes by. There are atheist symbols available on tombstones now, for example, which is intriguing considering that most atheists do not think there is an afterlife, and say that they find ceremonialism pointless, and yet that’s exactly what formal burials and grave-markers emerge from and represent within a religious context. There is little doubt, based on the studies of religious scholars, that atheism is much more like a religion than not, and in its practice in the modern world, it is a religion that is based more on creedal monotheism than anything else. Just as many circular arguments in relation to religious topics have been voiced in favor of atheism as have been in favor of any creedal monotheistic religion. Despite whatever “faith” in science is espoused by atheists (as if something as definite as science needs to have “faith” or “belief” expressed in it–faith or its lack in gravity will not change the fact that gravity exists!), science itself gets treated as The Ultimate Reality in a manner that is often far more like that reverence for God which is given in creedal monotheistic religions. It is of course necessary to note that there are differences between the “clergy” and “philosophers” of atheism–authorities like Dawkins, Harris, and others–and the common people just as there are with any other religion that has ever existed. There is often a deficient understanding of a given belief system in terms of the latter group in comparison to the former; thus, there are just as many ignorant and un-nuanced views of atheism by some common people when compared to scientists as there is of a particular religion’s dogmas amongst the common people of that religion as compared to their theologians and clergy. But, even in this regard, atheism seems much more like a religion than a non-religion. Stephen Prothero, in God Is Not One, argues that atheism is more like a religion than it isn’t. Of course, the biggest difference–which, as the example of tombstones noted above indicates, is changing as time goes on–is the lack of specific atheist practices, including rituals and holy days that are observed on a widespread basis. Oscar Wilde in “De Profundis” lamented this lack in atheism, but proposed that it should change, and it seems to be going further in that direction in recent decades, with the advent of “spiritual atheists” and the like (which is another subject altogether!).

In debates between adherents of particular (usually creedal monotheistic) religions and atheists, “religion” (again, usually in the exclusive creedal monotheistic definitions and understandings of it) is often argued to be “good” because it’s done good things. Time and again, atheists have pointed out that this is not a good argument, considering how much that is manifestly “not good” has also resulted from those same “religions.” I would argue, though, that not all religions are equal in this regard, and some have done more that is “not good” as a result of their particular constitutions and foci (including those that are creedal and monotheistic in focus) than those which do not share those characteristics. Of course, no religion is perfect in this (or any other) regard, because religions are constructs by humans, no matter how much divine inspiration (which I know is an arguable point, but in any case…!) may be present in any given instance of religion. The same can be said of strict adherence to science as well, though. Even if one’s values do not derive from religious or theological contexts, lacking values altogether means that atrocities of the greatest magnitude can result easily simply because the hard sciences do not naturally imply values of any kind. The wider universe may spin and collide in any number of ways that are indifferent to human values, but humans should not do the same, I think most atheists would agree.

And, I think this is one area in which a greater number of people–religious or not–are coming to a better and more useful understanding in accord with much of what I’ve written above. Science and religion can be understood as “non-overlapping magisteria,” which is to say, they need not be considered to be in conflict with one another, and their best applications might be in entirely different areas of life and our understandings of the universe. Science is an excellent method via which to understand the facts of the universe, what makes it up, and how it functions, and the modern findings of biology, chemistry (which is at the basis of biology), and physics (which is at the basis of chemistry) all provide a very good working model of the “how” of existence as we experience it. What it lacks is a larger existential “why,” which is much more appropriate to human endeavors involving the imagination and the boundless possibilities in creativity, including art, religion, and philosophy. Likewise, religion is an excellent system for giving options to humans in terms of what ultimate values are and where these are located, what narratives are the most appealing explanations for the great unknowns of human experience, and how one relates to others, to oneself, and to the wider cosmos–in essence, any and all things which might be considered concerns regarding the meaning(s) of life, which can never be answered objectively and once-and-for-all. This is the realm not of facts, but of truths, which are always contextual and limited in their application, though profound and powerful for those who perceive them in particular manners appropriate to their positions. As long as religion does not suggest that it is a superior source of facts about existence (e.g. creation myths, etiologies for certain phenomena, etc.), then there is no conflict between science and religion. And, indeed, I suspect you’ll find that most of the conflicts between science and religion that have occurred in the last 1600 years, as well as more recently (and which still rage in some regions of the U.S. and elsewhere!) are situations in which certain individuals have not understood that their religious truths are not scientific facts.

Perhaps there are areas in which scientists and atheist philosophers and religious specialists can dialogue in the future. One notion that might be explored, but which has generally not been discussed due to the understanding of “religion” as a strictly creedal monotheistic phenomen, is the possibility that deities might be an emergent property of the universe rather than a creative one. Polytheistic religions of the modern world do not generally think that deities created the world as we know it, nor are they eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent in the way that the monotheistic deity has been presented. What if, instead, deities are emergent properties of the universe, beings that have come into being in ways not yet accounted for, but which are just as much a part of the “randomness” that has resulted in humans, all other animal and plant species on the earth, and the various other planets, stars, and celestial bodies in the observed universe? While their existence as such may not be possible to prove nor disprove via the current methods of science that we have available, would this suggestion be a useful one to at least float in the meantime as an alternative to notions like “intelligent design”? Even if it isn’t, it is one that might be appealing to pagans and polytheists, in any case, who are interested in looking at divine matters from a scientific viewpoint. Even if their supernatural existence cannot be proven, nor even detected, by science, at least the phenomenological existence of the “idea of gods” throughout human history cannot be disputed by atheists, and these ideas–just as much as the ideas of human liberty, justice, and equality–has had a profound impact on societies, cultures, and all of their products throughout human history. It takes no reification of mere abstracts and ideas to admit that this is the case.

In closing, I would like to remind modern atheists of the origins of the term “humanism,” which has been absorbed into the modern self-understanding of atheism. It takes at least three steps to get to the understanding of “humanism” as a synonym for “atheism” in the modern world. In the original definition of the term, which emerged in the later renaissance, a humanist was a person who had studied and internalized the teachings of the classical Greek and Roman worlds (often through Islamic intermediaries) within the Christian framework. Individuals like Pico della Mirandola, Marsilio Ficino, and Erasmus of Rotterdam were exemplary in this regard, and the first two of these were not only learned in both Christian theology and the heritage of classical antiquity, but they were also proponents of what might be considered by some (both in their own day and today) as “non-Christian” practices and philosophies, including magic and essentially pagan philosophies. Indeed, many modern pagans trace the emergence of our own modern traditions to these specific roots, which began to question certain premises of Christian theological hegemony in response to their learning about and respect for the classical Greek and Roman polytheistic traditions. These more esoteric doctrines were shared as interests with later luminaries of early modern science, like Sir Isaac Newton. From this understanding of humanism to the next one–namely, of looking for solutions to difficulties in the world through human effort and attention rather than through divine causes and prayer–is one that is shared by many people throughout the world, including most modern pagans and polytheists. The Jesuit university I attended for my degree in religious studies identifies itself in its core mission statement as not only Catholic and Jesuit, but also humanist in its most basic self-understanding. Indeed, most of the problems that exist in the modern world are problems that have human origins, from climate change (at least in part) to economic inequality to any number of varieties of injustice. And, while the blessings of the gods are useful to have on these matters, if that is what one is interested in, the solutions will only come about as a result of human efforts, no matter what religions or lack thereof are observed by the humans involved. Humanism as a position that ignores the possibility of divine influence or existence on life is the latest understanding of this term, and is relatively recent in its coinage. You will find that most pagans and polytheists will agree for certainly the first, and generally the second, stages of this definition.

To conclude, I thank anyone and everyone for reading this letter in its entirety. I don’t want to suggest by the above that modern atheists should seek to have common ground and cause with modern pagans and polytheists because we have a “common enemy” to unite against in creedal monotheism (although if that is the result, so be it). Again, I don’t intend for the previous remarks to be any persuasive oratory for why modern paganism and polytheism are superior religious choices that should thus be motives for which to convert to our religious viewpoints for modern atheists. I hope that what I’ve written above serves to outline some dimensions of our modern pagan and polytheist religious viewpoints so that modern atheists know that, firstly, we exist, and secondly, some of your recent actions do you no favors in gaining the respect of others (including potential allies on some issues, as modern pagans and polytheists might be), nor in becoming respected voices on the stage of world religions. As Stephen Fry has said on many occasions, I know that many atheists don’t care about respect (especially when it comes to other religions), offending people, or being at all sensitive where religiosity is concerned, but it does atheists no favors to argue for an inependent and non-supernatural source of their own ethics that is legitimate and just while actively courting disrespect and insensitivity in some areas (like the “god graveyard”), or in appropriating the religious imagery of some religions when it suits them (like Saturnalia and Winter Solstice). We would never claim Charles Darwin or John Thomas Scopes as “polytheists,” therefore claiming Hypatia of Alexandria or Saturn or Venus as atheists or atheist-appropriate symbols seems ignorant at best.

As stated previously, I am open to honest inquiry and discussion on this matter in the comments here. If we understand each other better than we do as a result of such discussions, it is all the better. My main reason for writing this letter has been because I have perceived a dearth of understanding of modern polytheists and pagans’ existence in a great deal of modern atheist discourses, and if that can be remedied in a manner that simply offers better information on us, directly from us (rather than from our creedal monotheistic detractors), it might be of potential benefit. I make no claims to be speaking for all modern pagans or polytheists in what I have stated here–we are a diverse group of somewhat-related religious viewpoints, after all, and anyone who argues to the contrary is sadly misguided!–but I do think that what I’ve stated above is relatively accurate on many of us, and thus it may be useful for you to have this information as given here.

With respect,

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus
Ekklesía Antínoou


  1. This Left Hand Path agnostic thinks you have done a very nice job here. I look forward to the impending posts. I think the term “non-overlapping magisteria” came from Stephen Jay Gould.

  2. Wow. I am so happy that I read this today. Well said!

    • I’d just like to follow up with something quick. I shared this with people, and a discussion I had with someone made it clear that some of the terminology you used may not have been as neutral as the effect I think you tried to have in the last third of the letter. If the letter is a living document, the following might be something to consider (pasted verbatim from the conversation I had). The context is a discussion about religious individuals’ insistence that atheism is a lot like a religion:

      ‘”Religion” is a charged word, but so is the word “cult.” Technically, a cult is ANY system of worship around a god or the process of giving worship to a deity. It’s just that we don’t typically use that now (i.e., nobody says, “the Jesus cult” or “give cult to the Virgin Mary” outside of academia) because the common meaning is divorced from the actual definition. In this spirit, I agree with the argument that PSVL is making, and it makes sense to me that he used the word “religion,” but it might have been more approachable to atheists if he used subcultural or group identity terminology instead.’

      • Just a note to start: the pronouns given for me are incorrect. (There’s a tab above on the blog header explaining the proper usage.)

        I use the term “cult” and “cultus” rather frequently, including in self-reference. If that bothers atheists, that’s unfortunate; the words “worship” also bothers some atheists, as well as some pagans, but because I’m a devotional polytheist, and I do out-and-out worship the gods that I am devoted to, I don’t think there’s anything to be gained by mincing words about it.

        If the same is true of the word “religion”–and, I know this is also the case for many pagans, who say “I don’t have a religion, I have a spirituality” and other such terms or phrases–well, that’s also unfortunate. What else are we to call a “system of beliefs about the ultimate nature of reality, often including beliefs on the supernatural”? If that rather broad definition is in any way accurate, then atheists have it just as much as anyone else who is religious, even though it is considerably simpler in their case because supernaturalism is eliminated as a possibility.

        Some words scare some types of people, and I’m sorry that such is the case, but if my own point is to come across, some of those words need to be used, in my opinion. Since atheists I’ve come into contact with are fond of using phrases like “imaginary friends” for my gods, which is extremely offensive to say the least, use of words that might be slightly scary or which might seem off-putting or less approachable to atheists doesn’t bother me that much. My intent is not to offend, it’s to inform; the atheists who use that phrase mentioned earlier make no qualms about offending, and they likewise say they’re “informing” by doing so.

        While I am trying to observe the “don’t be a jerk” ethic throughout this, I think “your systematic thoughts on this matter resemble a religion” is a relatively un-jerk-like statement in comparison to “you’re deluded and think your imaginary friends are real.” Others may disagree, but that’s their prerogative.

        I don’t really intend for this post to be a “living document” as such–I had hoped, in fact, that this would be a one-off matter that I can now put behind me, because the whole incident of the god graveyard that largely prompted this letter is something that is better forgotten sooner, in my view. And, I have better and more important tasks before me than revising this piece, especially considering that not very many atheists will ever even see it nor give it much consideration–this is a pretty obscure blog, after all, and not even most modern polytheists care enough to read it, much less pagans generally, nor people from other religions or non-religions, including atheists.

        That having been said, I do appreciate the further thought and consideration you’ve given this, and thank you for commenting!

      • My apologies for the incorrect pronouns.

        I also use the word “cult” or “cultus,” but I wouldn’t consider either of us part of the majority (at least in the USA). At some point, I do agree that everything is a trigger word for some kind of awkwardness. Some lectures I attended on nonviolent communication have made me more aware that this is not trivial, though, and that comfort is a prerequisite to sustained dialogue. The “imaginary friends” attribute is definitely offensive, though, but I think that’s meant to cultivate an us/them mentality, so it makes sense that it would be.

        More people read your blog than you might think.🙂 I’m still not sure if my feed reader actually “hits” against it. You’ve always come at things in a measured and reasoned fashion, and I like that.

      • As an aside, I really want people to stop saying that words, ideas, or images that prompt awkwardness or discomfort are “triggering”. “Trigger” is psychological jargon for events that prompt PTSD flashbacks or anxiety attacks –as some-one who experiences both, I find the Internet’s watering-down of “trigger” to highlight anything that might be merely upsetting as appropriative, at its worst, and ignorant and discourteous, at its best. Anyway, “upsetting” was verbed decades ago, as was “discomforting” –it’s not like there aren’t already a plethora or words to use to adequately describe one’s reaction to certain words, images, and ideas.

      • Thank you…

        And, I’ve had more blog hits today than I usually do, so I am more apt to take your point on the non-obscurity issue at this stage! 😉 I usually don’t get that many on a daily basis, and there are still vast swathes of the online polytheist communities who have never heard of me, etc. But anyway…

  3. Well, instead, Dawkins could have easily employed Mithras or the Flying Spaghetti Monster or some deity we KNOW isn’t actively (seriously) worshipped anymore (Russell famously invoked the Flying Tea Pot). I think the singling out of Zeus for criticism is a bit irrelevant to the larger point; that we all are atheist with regards to deities, only atheists go a step further and have a 0 on their chalkboard instead of 1 or 25. I find that is a sound argument (that we all go through a process of elimination of gods); many don’t give that argument any weight. It doesn’t mean atheism is therefore correct: it’s just trying to make the argument that atheists share thought processes with others, we just come to different conclusions.

    But I think the biggest problem is assuming Dawkins (or Hitchens, or Harris) speaks for atheism. The “New Atheists” (a pejorative term nowadays) are rather quite few. Their “proselytizing” is rather limited and most importantly, rarely “converts” someone.

    I wish the New Atheism movement hadn’t been so mainstream, because now I am thrown in with people who are far smarter than me and are motivated to prove others wrong. And they–and by extension me–are now subject to everyone and their grandmother trying to trip me up, criticizing my thought process. These writers tend to be academics or polemicists; they are itching for intellectual fights and need to gain ground intellectually. There’s thousands (millions?) of us atheists who have no desire to raze the monotheistic religions to the ground. We just want to be afforded the same rights as theists, including the right to be left alone and not hassled about our (lack of) beliefs.

    The last thing I’ll point out is that atheism is far from the coherent mass the author hints at. I am a secular humanist: some atheists (as you rightly point out) are blatantly misanthropic, nihilistic, anarchic, etc. Atheism says so little about your larger philosophy on life, and do not assume we all equate humanism with atheism. The author makes the mistake of equating all atheism to objectivists or materialists. That is not the case. But to say that since atheism doesn’t cover everything, you could fill it with faith or a ritual does not follow. You choose to, and that is great, but it doesn’t make any more sense than not doing so.

    I’m glad you want a discussion; unfortunately you are reacting merely to the most incendiary people in the atheist movement, and so I’m not sure how valuable the discussion will be.

    • Mithras is also worshipped–I know, because I’ve done it personally, and have spoken with others who worship him as well that did so independently of myself.

      I don’t quite understand what you’re attempting to argue with the following:

      that we all are atheist with regards to deities, only atheists go a step further and have a 0 on their chalkboard instead of 1 or 25. I find that is a sound argument (that we all go through a process of elimination of gods); many don’t give that argument any weight.

      Since there are many of us who are not atheists, and who do not go through a process of elimination of the gods–if anything, several of us (including myself) have gone through a process of multiplying them!–that there is any point in speaking about “we all” with this when the only ones doing that are atheists.

      It isn’t just Dawkins, Hitchens (when he was alive), and Harris who proselytize for atheism. The stunt at the University of Wisconsin: Madison is a specific example of the kind of proselytizing I was speaking about.

      I accept that atheists are a diverse group of peoples, and indeed there are a number of pagan atheists and humanist pagans, etc., amongst many other possibilities. I understand that many atheists are what Stephen Prothero calls “friendly atheists,” and have no interest in destroying monotheism, or any other religion, they just want to be let alone to do as they wish–and, I have absolutely no problem with that. The entire point of this piece is not to convert anyone, as I said repeatedly above; it is so that atheists–including yourself–have a better understanding of what those of us who are actual pagans (and not “pagans” as synonymous with “atheists,” as some have assumed) and polytheists think on a variety of levels, where we do share some similarities, and where our understandings of religion generally are different than those of creedal monotheists who are making existence and being let alone to do and think as we wish a problem for both atheists and pagans/polytheists.

      Note, I’m not an atheist, and you seem to be getting that confused repeatedly–I am not an atheist who chooses to fill the gaps with faith or ritual, I’m a polytheist whose rituals and practices and experiences are an integral part of my life.

      Apparently, you’ve thought that this discussion would be valuable enough to say something here in the comments, so I hope that it has been. Thank you for taking the time to do so, in any case.

  4. Let’s start from an agreement that the U. Wisc. Madison Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics student group and The Freedom From Religion Foundation are ethically wrong.

    Saying that atheism is “a religion” (singular) is like saying that paganism is “a religion” (singular). We generally don’t agree that diverse groups of people across different ideologies, cultures, and centuries can be meaningfully grouped like that. The facts on the ground are that if you look at actual survey data and not the biases of “news” media or internet communication are that anti-theists are a minority among atheists, and a significant minority of atheists are participants in religious community. The historical and contemporary relationships among atheisms and religions is extremely complex.

    I don’t think those relationships can be understood generally, and they can’t be understood locally without a great deal of work and intimacy with the people in question. Your probably not going to get it through the internet, which is a megaphone for cranks. You certainly are not going to get it via the polemics of Dawkins, Hitchins, and Harris.

    If you speak of your beliefs, I’ll attend in silence. If you try to speak of mine, I’m going to say that you’re getting it wrong.

    • Certainly, I agree: it is an important distinction to make, that there is no “paganism” but instead “paganisms,” there is no “polytheism” but instead “polytheisms,” and likewise there is no “atheism” but “atheisms.” While there may be more things different between two individuals in any of these generalities than there are similarities, nonetheless religious studies as a discipline, as well as a great deal of social interaction, can only take place when certain generalities are made and then individual nuance is observed on closer inspection or interaction. Origen is an early Christian, except in XYZ; and the same is true in terms of any number of individuals and movements that have been grouped under any and all religious headings over history.

      • I think your generalities are so general that the most of the claims you make about atheists are, well, wrong. They can’t be examined at all unless you crack open the fact that atheists don’t all agree and come from different backgrounds and perspectives.

        I can’t say I’m surprised that an academic discipline would sanction the practice of making general claims about a group without the consent or participation of members. It’s the dominant paradigm after all. But it’s not a paradigm I consider to be especially ethical. I disagree that such generalizations about the political other are necessary or desirable. The importance of autobiography and autoethnography, and the conception of classes as domains of diversity rather than generalizations is probably something I’m carrying with me from queer theory. (NOMA in my opinion, doesn’t go nearly far enough.)

      • If we’re speaking of generalities and their lack, would you mind indicating which generalities that I’ve given above are, specifically, not specific enough?

      • Treating any of the four horsemen as authorities without acknowledging any of the criticisms about them. Trying to talk about the debates among Religious Humanists, Humanist Celebrants, and anti-ritual groups without acknowledging that they are separate groups (in the process, oversimplifying the relationships between memorial services in religion as well.) “‘Faith’ in science” vs. NOMA ignoring multiple other criticisms of the limits of science (NOMA doesn’t go far enough.) Generalizing from specific political protests to atheists without ever naming the actual groups involved in the protests. And generalizing to interfaith life on the basis of the arguments of cranks on badly manged discussion forums.

      • I did give links to the group in question; in this blog generally, I often refuse to name certain groups or individuals that I specifically don’t want greater attention to be given to (because as a practitioner of filidecht, there is power in naming, and there is also power in not-naming on some occasions), and if I include a link, I don’t think it’s necessary to name them.

        This is an “open letter” on a relatively obscure polytheist blog, not a Ph.D. dissertation. I’m not a scholarly authority on atheism, or its critiques; I only know what I’ve come across in passing, what I’ve had to learn about organized atheism in order to do certain things (e.g. my due diligence in teaching world religion classes), and have had to deal with in direct arguments with atheists.

        We could all be better informed about a great many things that we choose to write about, admittedly. But, there isn’t enough time in the day, and I try to spend as little time as possible “studying” atheism and its critiques as an intellectual exercise because I have enough on my plate as it is trying to study my own gods, the cultures they come from, the languages used in those cultures, and their histories…much less worshipping them, and doing the other tasks of daily life that are required of me and are needed for my job, etc. I have in no wise claimed to be an authority on these matters, so I don’t know why you’re expecting me to know as much as you clearly do on them. I’m not the only person who has written on a subject without knowing everything possible about it, and I certainly won’t be the last.

        Don’t mistake this blog post for anything that you might think or wish it ought to be as far as thoroughness of treatment is concerned. It’s a statement of some things I’ve noticed, and some suggestions on what I think is better information in regards to some aspects of “religion” as framed by many modern atheists (Four Horsemen or otherwise). To expect more of it (and thus to be disappointed by it) is entirely on you and is a function of your own expectations, which I am in no way obliged to meet, anticipate, or know. If you feel this post is inadequate and useless for further consideration as a result of its lacks (which I’m happy to acknowledge), that’s fine, and it’s also not my problem.

      • It’s not a matter of writing a PhD dissertation. It’s a matter of basic respect and courtesy in interfaith discussions to understand the basic facts on the ground about who you’re presuming to lecture on their own beliefs.

      • If atheists don’t consider their beliefs to be a religion, how can it be “interfaith”?

        And, am I lecturing them on their beliefs? I’m repeating what I’ve heard some of them say to the best of my ability, and I’m offering some alternative ideas on “religion” as it applies to many pagans and polytheists.

        I have not, at any point, said they’re wrong or stupid (which they have often said in conversation with me or my colleagues), nor have I suggested that they should change their basic atheist viewpoint on things (which many of them have been so presumptuous as to assume that I hold, just like them, and am simply self-deluded in not admitting at present, and the fact that I or my colleagues vehemently disagree with them is “just proof” that we really are atheists and know they’re right deep-down), which I think is pretty respectful ultimately.

        Again, if you don’t like how I’ve handled this or what I’ve written, that’s fine and I have no problem that such is the case; but, your repeated insistence that I’m not doing this to your own standards or expectations isn’t really getting you anywhere other than into my list of people I find annoying. I’m not claiming to represent all pagans and polytheists (if, indeed, you consider yourself to be a part of either of those identities), so I don’t really see what stake you have in this repeated insistence that I’m not meeting some standard of yours that people on the other side of the debate, in my general experience, are also not meeting. What is it you’re trying to accomplish by your critiques?

      • What is it I’m trying to accomplish? What you claimed to be the goal of this letter, dialogue and common ground. Which can’t happen if you’re talking New Atheist while I’m talking Religious Naturalist. I don’t think you’re acting according to the standards you claimed as important in making that generalization.

      • As I just wrote to Editor B, I’m not addressing religious naturalists here–that’s an entirely other set of issues and concerns, not many of which (to my knowledge) overlap with what I’m addressing here. As you rightly just said, I’m talking New Atheists (and, granted, I should have been more clear about that, which I own as a fault of the above), and you’re getting mad at me for not addressing you, when I had no intention of addressing you–not out of disrespect, but simply because it’s an entirely different set of issues.

        The amtters of common ground I wrote about above are not to be “found,” I don’t think, so much as observed and noted (where they exist, if applicable to particular instances). I don’t think finding further common ground, at least as far as theological matters, is very possible, and is likely not very appealing to the intended audience of this piece; but, some matters of definition and interpretation might be usefully shifted or re-evaluated in some cases.

      • I can accept that. It’s not just a personal concern for me, it’s a political one. But I’m not in a space to explore that further.

      • Thank you, in any case, for engaging here–I do appreciate it! 🙂

  5. It’s been awhile since I’ve had the opportunity to come read your thoughts, but I found this a most welcoming and well voiced post.

    As someone who once identified herself as atheist, I think everything you said was done so respectfully and very accurately. For my own thoughts, I particularly liked the suggestion of possibility that deities are another facet of the universe. It was through my own readings and education that I came to the conclusion I could not rule out the possibility of such existence, and in fact it seemed more likely for it to be true than not. Specifying the difference in that versus purely belief based practice was very well put and I think something that has a very good opportunity for thoughtful pause.

    Everything was very well stated and not in the least bit offensive nor converting. Parts actually needed to be “put out there” so to speak. Many do “practice” atheism verses simply being atheist. The difference undeniably crucial.

    Thank you, once again, for the smiles and thoughts produced from your writing.

  6. […] yesterday’s post of an open letter to atheists, here is the “next installment,” so to speak, of pieces that I’ve been putting […]

  7. […] with custom, I have been jumping on some skin-bags swollen with air. Looks like P. Sufenas has been as well. A boisterous Brumalia to you, one and all! And remember, there’s still several days to […]

  8. I saw this humorous debate recently between John Fugelsang, who is a comedian, political commentator, and a liberal Christian (and who I think is fantastic), and another comedian who is an atheist. Of course, the debate focuses on “does God exist,” and so it automatically frames everything within the lens of monotheism, as if that’s the only philosophical/theological question that is relevant, and so the debate REALLY is about Christianity vs. Not Christianity, BUT apart from that caveat it’s a rather fun and funny debate. You can see it here

    But my point in sharing this is that at one point John says, “If you want to be a believer, great. If you want to be an atheist, great. Just don’t be a dick.”

    That pretty much sums up my point of view regarding all of this. Just don’t be a jerk. Whatever theology or lack of theology you ascribe to, just don’t be a jerk. Don’t insist that everyone else adhere to your labels. Don’t insist that everyone else define terms exactly as you do (although sometimes we do have to come to an agreement on terminology in order to have a constructive discussion). Don’t insist that everyone practices the way you do or that your practice is the default. If polytheism works for you, great. If monotheism works for you, great. If atheism works for you, great. I will never understand the need that humans have of hearing their own opinion come out of someone else’s mouth. I do what I do because it works for me, not because I think someone else should think/believe/do the same thing.

    *le sigh*

    • I do like Totally Biased, but have not seen it in a while–thanks for reminding me of it!

      I do think the “Wil Wheaton principle,” as I think it’s sometimes called, i.e. “don’t be a dick,” is a very good one to follow generally.

      I do also think, though, that words do have meanings, that even when there is some variability in meaning amongst some words that there are definitely things that won’t work within a given concept while still being that concept; thus, I can’t support some stretchings of the meanings of certain terms within theological discourse. If this isn’t the case, then all communal identity, and all communal discourse, will break down entirely and someone will have to start from square one with every single person they meet.

      Yes, getting someone’s pronoun preferences at first meeting is a good thing; asking “In your view, what does ‘is’ mean?” and then proceeding to every other major noun they might end up using in conversation is not as useful.

      But in any case…

    • That pretty much sums up my point of view regarding all of this. Just don’t be a jerk. Whatever theology or lack of theology you ascribe to, just don’t be a jerk.

      While this certainly works great on an individual level, it sort of dissolves responsibility from the institutions that thrive on the inequalitiesthat encourage many people to “act like jerks”. Yeah, it’s a chicken-or-egg debate, but I think if not for a system created specifically to maintain a socio-political inequality by keeping certain people down at the bottom with enough “fitting in”, in the middle just enough to make it very hard to dismantle the system, there wouldn’t be quite so many individual “jerks” who think they can get away with it –and all too often, do, because they are specifically “jerks” in a manner that is favoured by the aforementioned system.

      “Don’t be a jerk” is a pacifier of the bourgeoisie adult baby fantasy, designed to make people feel like things would be great if it weren’t for a few “jerks” with bullhorns –a fantasy that fails to take into account where those “jerks” got their bullhorns from, in the first place.

  9. And, who doesn’t enjoy a good lecture by Neil DeGrasse Tyson?

    I thought deGrasse Tyson considered himself an agnostic rather than atheist?

    a larger number throughout history have been animistic or polytheistic.

    …also an aside, I’m growing an increasing disfavour for the term “animism”, which unfortunately has an incredibly racist history as a term designated for religious practises of supposedly “lower races”. I know it’s a term still used with ostensibly neutral intent in many academic circles, and seems to be a term self-applied by a handful of (usually white) pagans and polytheists, but I can’t help but wonder why that is, given that it’s clearly used to describe the gods of certain peoples as “not really gods”, and their religions as “mere rudimentary, primitive forms of religion”, and those people just happen to be, well, not white, nor do the people practising those religions ever describe them as “animistic”. It just seems that, for a self-identified polytheist and pagan (which, I admit, are also likely words foreign to how the so-called “animist” might describe their religion) to call another’s religion “animistic”, whether one is conscious of the connotations of “lesser religion” that it tends to carry or not, is committing the same fallacy that creedal monotheists commit by assuming that only creedal monotheistic religion(s) is “real religion” and that polytheism is “false religion”.

    If religious experiences were understood more like the aesthetic experiences of art, or the affectional and emotive experiences of love, in contrast to the institutional creedal monotheistic understandings that have been assumed as normative for the last 1600 years, then perhaps “religion” might be interpreted as a more benign force than it has often been by modern atheists.

    I can certainly get behind that. I don’t think it’s exactly parallel to such aesthetic or emotional experiences, but if it stimulates similar portions of the mind, or at least is regarded in the same category of “experiential, ineffable, and intangible”, then sure, the bra fits.

    There is little doubt, based on the studies of religious scholars, that atheism is much more like a religion than not, and in its practice in the modern world, it is a religion that is based more on creedal monotheism than anything else.

    Wherein I’m reminded of an Ultach joke:

    A man is taking holiday in Belfast, and suddenly realises he’s walking down the street in a particularly tumultuous neighbourhood, which he did not intend on. He’s soon approached by a small gang of “tuffs” and they ask of him, “are you Cat’lic, or Prod?” Feeling confident now that he won’t be bothered, he responds proudly, ‘Why, I’m an Atheist!” The young men then converse amongst themselves a few seconds, and the man stands there a tad confused before they turn back to him, and clarify their question, “Well, are you a Cat’lic atheist, or a Prodesn’ atheist?”

    It’s funny because it’s true: Atheists tend to bring more of the ostensible religious culture they grew up with into how they currently believe; an Atheist who grew up in a close-knit Catholic community in New Mexico is going to have a bit of difference from the atheist who grew up in a Presbyterian neighbourhood in Wisconsin –and the “atheists” of the pre-Christian Mediterranean were worlds away from the modern atheists who come largely from Christian communities.

    • An alternative name for “neck deep in mystical and moral relationships with specific animals, plants, places, and atmospheric events” would be welcome.

      • Add “Structures and abstract ideas/whatsits”…There’s going to be some variation within the group that some lump together as animists. Some perceive or depict anthropomorphic versions of the “spirits”; others consider them more impersonal but still wondrous forces, and so on. Some might have what might be considered inanimate totems. Some think these things, wild-found or Mind-made, have feelings like people do; some don’t. Some people might even have a sexual thing going, although not with animals I hope, and make something mystical out of that. I myself have decided not to care what body parts (or whose) get in on the fun just so the brain is involved.
        I think people are just wired differently–some feel the presence of gods, some don’t, some feel other things, and then there’s all the stuff they learn growing up, as in Ruadhan’s example.

    • Regarding Neil DeGrasse Tyson: that may very well be. I’ve been noticing that many atheists appropriate agnostics frequently, but anyway…

      On animism: I don’t see any reason why the term can’t be reclaimed or rehabilitated, just as “pagan” and “witch” and “queer” have been. I do know some animists who are Native American and who happily use the term, because they don’t see the majority of the spirits their religion encompasses to be things that are worshipped in the way that gods are, and are likewise wary of calling their spirits gods, or considering them their own religion’s equivalent or analogue to the category of “gods” as types of divine being, etc. Definitions will vary, inevitably.

      I’ve heard the same Ulster joke, only with “Jew” instead of “atheist” as the factor concerned–and, when I heard it, it wasn’t a joke, it was an anecdote of someone who was traveling in that region. (And, to an extent, “Catholic Jew” and “Protestant Jew” has a certain truth about it re: Orthodox/Conservative vs. Reform/Reconstructionist Judaism…!?!) In any case…

      • Regarding Neil DeGrasse Tyson: that may very well be. I’ve been noticing that many atheists appropriate agnostics frequently, but anyway…

        Is it really possible to appropriate agnosticism? I know this comic makes a gross oversimplification of the topic. With regards to Tyson in particular, when asked if he believed in a higher power(s), he has stated in a YouTube video:

        Every account of a higher power that I’ve seen described, of all religions that I’ve seen, include many statements with regard to the benevolence of that power. When I look at the universe and all the ways the universe wants to kill us, I find it hard to reconcile that with statements of beneficence.

        …that doesn’t necessarily sound like the words of a staunch “large-A” Atheist, but instead one who is unwilling to believe that any deity who may exist is clearly far from the all-benevolent God of many creedal monotheists. Having been in that region at some point on my own spiritual map (and was there for several years), saying almost those exact same words (indeed, if I want to pay to re-establish the search function, I’m sure I could lift almost those exact words from my LaVeyan days on LiveJournal), I can’t see an unwavering, “religious” Atheism, one which proclaims not only a lack of belief but an implicit “anti-belief” in any deity, in them.

        Tyson has also stated, “at the end of the day I’d rather not be any category at all,” and “I can’t agree to the claims by atheists that I’m one of that community,” which just reminds me of Carl Sagan’s words:

        An atheist has to know a lot more than I know. An atheist is someone who knows there is no god. By some definitions atheism is very stupid.

        Now, I’m not saying that Tyson is anywhere near Carl Sagan in terms of potentially possessing clear pagan/Pagan sympathies –indeed, when Sagan said

        In the fabric of space and in the nature of matter, as in a great work of art, there is, written small, the artist’s signature. Standing over humans, gods, and demons, subsuming Caretakers and Tunnel builders, there is an intelligence that antedates the universe.

        … he demonstrated beliefs that are pantheist or panentheist rather than “truly” atheist– but when Tyson says (paraphrased) “to say that any god which may (or may not) exist is all-benevolent is at odds with the evidence on the ground”, it’s clearly on a different level of “lack of belief” than when others say “no god or gods exist”. Furthermore, coupled with his clear discouragement of being labelled an Atheist, it’s really poor form to say that he’s somehow just another atheist appropriating agnosticism.

        My journey to polytheism has been more experiential than practical –I had the experience of deities before adopting the practise of worshipping them as individual beings (whereas I get the impression from things others have written that it usually goes the other way around –first the practise, then the experience). While I may have had some level of this experience as young as seven or eight years old, clearly there went years where I lacked it and found myself saying things Tyson has, yet I still discouraged the label of “atheist” because I was very staunch in my belief that I was open to the experience. While I have yet to straight out ask him to elaborate on this, I also feel compelled to ask yourself where the right to self-identify must end, and it suddenly becomes OK for others to put unwanted labels on oneself? Tyson has identified himself as an agnostic, he has said other things that support this, even if he hasn’t said very much (at least in public), and in spite of a clear friendship with Dawkins and others who do, and in no uncertain terms, consider themselves “large-A” Atheists –how much more do you want from him until you’re satisfied that he’s no longer “appropriating”? I could draw a personal analogy for yourself, if you’d like, but I’d rather not; I’ve just got to say, I’m really disappointed that you’d discount another’s personal feelings of their self-identity because of your own pre-conceived notions about what they must really be.

      • You missed my point here: I wasn’t saying Tyson was an atheist appropriating agnosticism at all; I was saying that *other atheists* appropriate agnostics as “one of us,” and that I’ve heard atheists say that Tyson is one of them (apparently, despite his statements to the contrary, which I had not heard or read before).

        I also find how quick you are to say that you might have a “personal analogy” akin to this misunderstanding in mind for use on me to be pretty lousy.

      • Re: “appropriating agnostics”
        OK, I see what you meant now –and yeah, I think that’s pretty appropriative, as well. I’m so tired of seeing atheists claim Carl Sagan was one of them, when, if one actually pays attention to what he said about the cosmos and the potential for Divine intelligence, he clearly wasn’t an Atheist in the way Dawkins and others are, but perhaps in the pan- or panentheist way that seems the best way to describe ancient “atheists”. I’m especially tired of people taking his comment on “extraordinary claims…” out of context, cos he was talking about alien contact. I also know that Stephen Hawking’s wife has described him as “not typically religious” and as a Deist at times. Tyson seems to be the latest in that line of completely brilliant scientists who atheists want to claim for their own.

        …as an aside, even Dawkins’ atheism is often misunderstood, by both his critics and his fans, to be far more extreme than it actually is. He has a HUGE beef with organised religion, and especially creedal monotheism, but seems almost forgiving (at times) of modern pagan movements, especially when the “natural sciences” are given a place. When I get off the tablet, I’m sure I can find some quotes. That doesn’t excuse his ignorance of pagan practises and theologies, but some of the quotes of his that I’ve seen, more recently, gave me a better impression than I had, previously, of his thoughts on religion as a whole (as a biologist, I still say that he’s pretty brill).

        RE: my lousy comment.
        I apologise, sincerely. For what it’s worth, I took it out and put it back maybe five times, with huge pauses each time totalling maybe ten minutes. I made the wrong choice, and I apologise.

      • Thank you–I appreciate your apology. 🙂

        I’ve found it odd to hear that Dawkins, for example, isn’t against people celebrating Christmas with trees and presents and so forth. Not that he “should be” against it as an atheist, by any means, but because all of that stuff is not only “cultural Christianity” that is an “assumed default” for people in European cultures (an assumption which many atheists aren’t happy about), but is also “doubly” strange considering that most of it is pagan in origin, and points to the mythical rather than historical nature of the festival, which are things that many atheists likewise seem to be quite against in religions generally. Oh well…different strokes, eh?

        I suppose the real test case will be to have some of these major atheist spokespersons on the same panel or show as some modern pagans or polytheists…I’ve always wanted to be on Bill Maher, in case anyone wondered. (Yeah, that’ll happen…!)

      • The relationships that Dawkins and Hitchins had with creedal monotheism is complex. For example, both of them praised the King James Bible as foundational work and sometimes identified as “cultural” Anglicans.

        Confusion about Sagan and Tyson comes about because very little of what they say is beyond the bounds of modern atheisms (post-1900). I’m inclined to agree with the Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy that the distinctions among atheisms and agnosticisms are often political and pragmatic. Dawkins is an agnostic in the Huxleyan sense, something he clearly stated in “The God Delusion” (and in earlier essays). This causes a big scandal in the “news” media every year when he discusses it in debate.

        Fundamentally, people are “truly” atheist if they say they’re atheist and “truly” agnostic if they say they’re agnostic. They may also “truly” be both, and religious, and spiritual as well. Because we’re talking about complex and diverse people expressing complex and diverse ideas in complex and diverse cultural contexts.

  10. […] from “An Open Letter to Atheists” by PSV Lupus […]

  11. […] something…?!?) As you may recall from yesterday and the day before, the first one was about atheists, and the second about Wiccans speaking for all modern pagans. This one is about […]

  12. […] The first one is about atheists: […]

  13. This entire missive seems to be predicated on the idea that atheists and Pagans are completely separate and non-overlapping. That’s a false premise. I thought you were aware that there are (of course) atheist Pagans. No? Well, we exist. I can’t speak for all of us, but I for one share some of your concerns about certain atheist activism.

    • No, it’s not.

      Atheist pagans were simply not the focus of this piece, thus it does not address them or mention them.

      This was directed at atheists who have no religious connection whatsoever, who often have some ideas about “religion” that do not apply to many (or even most) religions that have existed or still exist in the world, other than creedal monotheisms. Hence, no mention of “atheist pagans” was deemed necessary; and I therefore assumed (perhaps wrongly) that atheist pagans would not understand this piece as being directed at them.

      The matter of atheist pagans is an entirely separate set of issues, concerns, and considerations than the present piece was responding to, and I have not presumed that any of the issues mentioned in this open letter apply to atheist pagans. If you assumed that this was directed at you because it says “atheist,” that’s your own interpretation and choice, and thus the incorrectness of that assumption is your own responsibility. Given my own interactions with some atheist pagans previously, and the relative notoriety of some of those incidents, your condescension on that matter is not at all appreciated, either.

      I am glad that some of this resonates with your own concerns about certain atheists’ statements and actions, certainly, though.

      • Oops, I did not intend to condescend but apparently I have a proclivity. I beg your pardon. I do identify with the term atheist, however complicated that has become in recent years, so in the absence of further qualification, I do read an “open letter” to atheists as addressed at least in part to me. That was not your intention, it seems; thank you for the clarification. Most of the atheists with whom I interact these days are in fact religious naturalists and very much outside the scope of your letter. So this may be a digression, but I’d note that many of us don’t cotton to the notion of “non-overlapping magisteria” and much prefer a marriage of science and religion, which we tend to find harmonious. But I fear I am venturing far from your intended topic.

      • Thank you, I appreciate it.

        It is, indeed, a complex set of entirely separate issues (i.e. religious naturalism), and thus beyond the scope of the present piece’s concerns (and, very possibly, beyond my personal scope at present to even attempt to address in any way, for or against).

  14. Reblogged this on Bloody Bones Blog.

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