Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A question for John Halstead

Well, to be honest, I'd welcome some answers from anyone who identifies as a pagan atheist, or humanistic pagan, or religious humanism, or whatever the heck they call themselves.

Why do you include the word "pagan" in your self-identification?

The reason I ask is that Mr. Halstead has been on a bit of a crusade lately, both on Patheos and Pagansquare, beating the drum that Pagans (and, presumably, Heathens) who actually believe in Pagan gods are misguided at best, and actively harmful to his favored causes (which he conflates with his own definition of atheistic paganism) at worst.

So it begs the question, why does he, and why do they, bother to call themselves Pagan in the first place? Why not just call themselves atheists, or humanists, or whatever? What additional value is there in the hyphenated identity for them? I've had my own bouts of denial of the divine, and never once was I tempted to undertake some sort of hybrid approach. It's a mindset outside of my experience.

Is it to mark their belief in the importance of nature? That doesn't work, because there are plenty of environmentalist atheists. I'd be willing to bet the intersection between those two groups was pretty significant, actually.

Is it a cultural thing? Do they feel an affinity for the neo-Pagan subculture that has evolved since the 1960's? If so, there are plenty of hippy wannabes who don't use the Pagan label.

Is it about the rituals? Well, here he might have something, if he's just looking at rituals as psychodrama (although I'm sure he won't enjoy being reminded that Anton LaVey got there first in his Satanic Bible and Satanic Rituals). But if it's about the plain efficacy of ritual, it still doesn't explain why he doesn't take the final step and just start his own religion, with its own rituals that hit the psychological buttons he feels are their purpose, but which doesn't rely on any supernatural agency for its undergirding premise, and thus distance himself from those Gods-believers he seems to despise so much.

So I ask; John Halstead if he happens to read this (which I doubt), or any atheist Pagan who happens across this; why retain the "Pagan" label when all it does is link you with a bunch of people who do (at least on some level), in fact, believe in the existence of our Gods and Goddesses, who believe in the efficacy of our prayers and rituals beyond mere psychological impact, and condemns you to what will surely be a lifetime of writing and talking about the differences between you and us, despite your conscious use of the term, when all that fuss and confusion (and, to be honest, implicit attempts to "convert" Pagans to your purely materialistic point of view) could be avoided by simply dropping the moniker?

Or is that the whole point, on some level? To use the hyphenated term as the camel's nose to try to bring some self-identified Pagans around to your point of view? Again, I don't claim to know. And thus I ask.


  1. Hey Jon,

    My name is Matty and I run the Nature Is Sacred Blog. (naturalpantheist.wordpress.com). I am a Naturalistic/ Humanistic Pagan, and I have written a blog post in response to your question. I hope it's helpful/ answers your question.

    Also, I regularly follow your blog and I learn a lot from it so keep up the good work.

  2. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/2015/09/10/why-pagan-an-atheists-response-to-a-theist/

  3. A very thought-provoking post. Here's my response: http://www.mudandmagic.com/well-why-not-both/

    Also, it doesn't beg the question; it raises the question! (http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/begs-the-question)

  4. I am not an atheist but I am always in disbelief when someone asks this question. Paganism is a nature religion at it's core. I always thought the "nature" part was pretty self explanatory how an atheist could be pagan.

    1. A lot of people seem to think that all forms of Paganism are "nature religions" but it's simply not the case. A lot of us value folk more than environmentalism, and other forms of Paganism and Heathenry have their own foci which are not "nature". I explored this a couple of years ago:


  5. I've had gnostic experiences. That's why I'm a pagan. It's my belief (evolved belief, based on experiences) that supernatural entities attempt to feed off human emotions, and will stimulate humans to this end. Certainly some contacts with "the departed" and "gods" have come from these fraudulent entities. My approach is technically "alatrist" - look it up. There may well be many gods and goddesses, but it is wrong to worship them (or encourage them). That doesn't stop me being a pagan, but it does mean I tend to side with the atheist pagans.