So in Part 1 Halstead couldn’t find an author’s name, tried to dodge just how faithful the ancients could be, attempted to claim two out of three Pagan Pillars were non-theistic, and attempted to dismiss anyone who is a theistic pagan as a “Retro-Pagan Recon” who doesn’t believe in things like inclusivity, pluralism, other sweet PC ideas.
Onwards, to part 3, which is in Part 2!
3. Paganism adds a emotional element to philosophical naturalism.
Now, to answer Jön’s question, What does Paganism add to humanism or atheism? For me, it adds an emotional quality. It speaks to the parts of my being that rationalism does not reach. Many religious humanists and religious naturalists, like myself, find humanism and philosophical naturalism to be intellectually compelling, but emotionally or psychologically unsatisfying. Humanism and naturalism just lack the symbolic resources of theistic religions. Paganism is well-suited to fill that void. On the other hand, contemporary Paganism can seem prone to irrationalism and superstition. Scientific naturalism can counter this tendency. Together, they balance each other. Naturalism can help keep Paganism true to the empirical world around us, while Paganism can enrich naturalism with symbolism and myth.
I’m pretty sure Jon’s question was “why do you call yourself a fucking pagan when you don’t worship Pagan gods.” not “what does paganism add to humanism or atheism.” But hey, Halstead’s gonna do what Halstead’s gonna do.
Also, I hang out with a bunch of Rationalists on twitter and I watch a number of them on youtube, and let me tell you…they would laugh their asses off at Halstead here. Being rational and embracing rationalism is about setting aside the emotions you feel for the sake of the Observable Truth. Facts, not feelings. And yeah, it can be pretty emotionally unsatisfying, but that’s the price you pay to be a rational person. Your feelings do not get an accounting. I also love how he is mining theistic religions for their symbolic resources, but not giving homage or honor to the Gods of those theistic resources. I mean, wasn’t this the same man who ripped into all us polytheists about how we were ignoring the earth we were taking all our resources from? A bit of hypocrisy here, I think. But then, I guess Lucius’s Law holds true again, the sin you condemn in other people is the sin you’re most guilty of committing yourself.
I also love this dig about how contemporary paganism can be prone to irrationalism and superstition. You know, like believing in Gods, spirits, supernatural powers, magic, etc. Because these things are a problem, and believing in them is stupid. Right….
A good example of this approach is Áine Órga’s essay, “Emotional Pantheism: Where the logic ends and the feelings start”. Áine writes that while she does not believe in divinity in any real way, she has very strong pantheistic feelings:
“My beliefs and therefore my practice are certainly naturalistic. I leave room for the unexplained, and engage in practices that might seem empty or pointless to some naturalists or atheists. But I don’t take many leaps of faith intellectually, everything is based in reason. In this way I am a naturalistic Pagan.
“Where I do take those leaps of faith is in the emotional sphere. By engaging in this spiritual practice, I open myself up to experiencing things beyond the mundane. In many ways, it is in exercise in allowing myself to feel without judgement. My spirituality is my way of allowing my pantheism a space in my life.”
There is just…so, so much wrong with this I’m not sure where to start. Okay, I know this is hard, but if you want to be a Rational Person, the Logic Never Ends. You cannot be a rational human being right up to the point where you get bored or you want some emotional high and then toss it aside just so you can have complete freedom of feeling.
And you know what, I really hate to criticize someone’s personal practice here. This is not something I like to do, but Halstead is using it to justify his position so I have to address it. If you’re reasoning everything out in your religion, that’s fine. If you want to be emotional about your religion, that’s fine. You can even mix the two options. That’s something I do myself. But do not try to sell it as you are a rational person when you will swan dive off the emotional diving board. Or you will strip mine the emotional elements out of a religion because you feel your rational practice is not satisfying enough, and then claim that you religious practice is better because it is “rational” when it is not!
And atheistic or Humanistic Pagans like me find Pagan myth and symbolism — both contemporary and ancient — to be especially significant. For example, the Neo-Pagan Wheel of the Year with its corresponding mythology has a deep emotional and psychological resonance for many atheistic and Humanistic Pagans. The Neo-Pagan Mythos is an amalgam of myths and stories drawn from many different sources, both ancient and modern. It describes the passion of dying and reviving deities and heroes, often including the monomythic journey of the hero and the interaction of a tri-form goddess of nature and sovereignty who is wed to a duo-form phallic consort/sacred king with light and dark aspects, who perpetually struggle with each other, sow the seeds of their own rebirth, and are ritually sacrificed to or by the goddess in a cyclical pattern in order to renew the powers of life. This Mythos emphasizes those aspects of the deities which relate to sex and death, which have been excluded from or demonized in the monotheistic religions, and invests these traditionally negative qualities with positive meaning, including the valorization of the divine feminine generally, and especially the dark aspect of the divine feminine which gives death in order to generate new life; and the wild or bestial phallic/horned god of sexual license liberation.
Okay, I see what is going on here, and you, Halstead, have actually managed to answer the question Upsal and I and everyone else had about why you call yourself a Pagan when you’re an atheist who goes around attacking Polytheistic Pagans.
It’s because you’re a god damn thief. Your atheism wasn’t emotionally satisfying, and it didn’t look all that pretty, and it just wasn’t doing it for you in your soul. So you went around, found some Pagan shit, figured you liked the look, and you mugged it, stole its clothes, put them on, and went dancing around laughing about how pretty everything was and how emotionally satisfying it is as you trot about proclaiming there is no need to worship Gods when you’re a Pagan, because look at you, you’re a Pagan in fancy Pagan robes and you don’t need no Gods because that shit is irrational. You couldn’t handle the empty Atheism so you stole from Religions, but you’re too much of a damn narcissist to honor those whose things you’re taking because that might mean there were some Gods above you and you weren’t the most important thing in your connected universe.
You can dress it up in historical narrative and facts about how “neo-Pagans” didn’t worship the Gods, and how “you can’t prove the ancients were theists” and you can come up with ever reasonable and rational excuses to explain why you’re right. But your own words tell the truth. You weren’t satisfied being an atheist, it didn’t do it for you emotionally, and so you wanted to dress it up. And now, when theistic Pagans start showing up more and more, wearing the garments of honest Paganism, and honoring the Gods and Peoples you STOLE from, you scream and cry and protest about how we are the bad guys, we are the unenlightened ones, we’re the ones who need to leave Paganism, stop projecting our theism on Paganism, etc, because we show you for the lie you are.
You know what, when I first started going through Halstead’s stuff, I never thought this would be the conclusion to be reached. I mean sure, I knew some Pagans weren’t all that theistic in their beliefs and that was fine. And sure, Halstead started this whole mess by misrepresenting the meaning of Enchantment, but hey, whatever, double speak happens. It was stupid of him, but none of us are perfect and I could forgive that. But this rank hypocrisy of trying to present himself as a Rational person, strip mining Paganism for his Emotional needs, and then trying to expunge us theists simply because we rightly call him on his shit, and his base attempt to justify his actions by claiming that Paganism is good for the Emotions but that’s all it should be used for, and to scrap everything he doesn’t find satisfying or important, when this entire time he goes on about how we need to respect the Source of our Resources when it is the Earth, is going too far.
Maybe we “retro-Pagans” with our theism and our “Exclusivity” and our “homogeneity” and all that other unenlightened, superstitious stuff are what you say we are. But guess what, Mr. Put-the-earth-first-because-of-resources, we’re calling you out for that same shit. You want the resources of Paganism to make your life happy, well maybe that means you should honor the fucking Gods as the individuals they are, rather than saying they don’t count because they aren’t really people and you can take what you fucking want for your own emotional needs and damn everyone else. Respect the source.
Because what Halstead has done is what certain people (whom Halstead often seems to share a point of view with) call Cultural Appropriation. He’s come in to a peoples and their culture, taken what he likes, and walked off. Now, anyone who has read my blog knows I’m all for cultural exchange, and if Halstead had left it there I probably wouldn’t be so pissed, Hel, that’s why I’m not tearing into other “atheist pagans.” But Halstead has been taking it one step further. Not only did he “appropriate” Pagan Culture, he has been going around for years trying to kick Theistic Pagans, the people who are of that culture he took from, out of Paganism!
That’s like going to the Native Americans, taking their shit, taking some of their rituals and appearance, and then insisting that the Native Americans are the posers who need to get out of Native Culture because they “aren’t the right kind of Native Practice.” And he’s justifying it by saying that “Paganism makes him feel good, but those other guys commit wrongthink.”
Fuck it. The rest can go in a Part 3 or something. If I even bother to give it the time of day. Which frankly, I don’t think Halstead is worth it, although it might be worth it to show everyone else what the fuck he actually has turned out to be.