The Pagan and the Atheist

I go through cycles in my spirituality. Sometimes I’m more focused on meditation, being still, calming my mind, enjoying the moment, etc. Other times I’m all about the visions and trance journeys, dreams, scrying, and working with guides. Still other times I pull out my spellbooks and get down to business with working some magic.

And then there are periods when all of that is fairly quiet and my agnostic side is dominant.

I never worry when a piece of my path recedes because I know that it will come back around again whenever it’s needed; however, I hadn’t realized why my agnostic side felt so disconnected from the rest of that cycle until I read two very different books: The Spiral Dance by Starhawk and The Atheist’s Way by Eric Maisel.

One was a very well-thought perspective that blended a deep respect for the author’s own beliefs and experiences with a kind of casual take-it-or-leave-it attitude. The author could clearly laugh at themselves, recognized that there was a certain level of absurdity to things, and wasn’t invested in anyone else believing as they believed. They expressed a healthy skepticism about the world along with some deeply held values, and they encouraged readers to make sure that reality testing worked with their own belief system as well. They addressed social justice issues and the way their worldview contributed to that. And they demonstrated respect for the whole person (rational, emotional, conscious, and unconscious).

I hardly expected to be blown away by either book, but after I finished the first, I was quite impressed.

The other book, in contrast, had the opposite effect.

From the first chapter, the author exuded classism and prejudice. They demeaned anyone who did not ascribe to their beliefs and presented humans as having to fight against their very nature and to uproot anything not in line with the presented worldview. Even worse, they used progressively religious, fear-mongering language in favor of the strict form of belief presented, warning of “backsliding” to those who dared stray from their path. All in all, they presented some of the most blatant slippery slopes, straw men, unaccepted enthymeme’s, and naturalistic fallacies I’ve seen in a book, religious or otherwise.

Would you believe it if I said that the latter was written by the atheist?

Despite stating over and over that his readers had the freedom and power to choose what they wanted to believe about the meaning of life, it became clear that there was only one acceptable choice in Maisel’s mind.

I guess up until then I’d never realized that I’ve carried around a mild shame over my chosen path. In my personal dialogue with myself about my beliefs, I’ve always said, “It doesn’t matter if it’s real or not because it is nurturing my psyche and helping me accomplish growth.”

But in conversations with others, I’ve always felt a need to hide my beliefs just a tad, especially around atheists.

It was sort of like I saw this hierarchy of spirituality.

Not being tied to a religious tradition out of fear felt like a step up from where I’d been, but not believing in gods at all seemed like the “better” more “rational” stance. (After all, I had basically chosen my own beliefs partially because they seemed more fun than believing in a non-magical world.)

But the truth is, I’d be much prouder to be like Starhawk than like Maisel.

Maisel’s atheism hasn’t made him more open-minded or more logical. In fact, I dare say that atheists like him and Dawkins are closer to religious fundamentalism than they would like to think. That’s not the kind of person I want to be!

I certainly don’t think all atheists are like that.

When I no longer have a bad taste in my mouth from this last book, I look forward to reading more atheist writers to round out my experience.

At the same time, I also no longer feel the inferiority of choosing to believe in the power and value of my own path.

Maisel was right, I do have the ability to choose the worldview I want to give my life meaning. What he failed to realize is that atheism is not inherently better. As Starhawk reminded me, my spirituality can enhance the meaning I find, strengthen my social justice commitment, and create harmony between my rational and “child-like” self.

Even if it’s based in make believe, I think that’s better than a worldview that cuts me off from parts of myself, makes me fear my own spiritual longings, and participates in systems and patterns of oppression.

 

 

 

 

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