With just a few days before the United States election, it’s inevitable that at least some of us are considering what our Naturalistic Paganism (under any name, and similar paths as well), has to do with our politics. While I of course can only speak for myself (Jon Cleland Host), I think that several aspects of any naturalistic path (including Naturalistic Buddhism, Naturalistic Judaism, Naturalistic Christianity, and more) make the question of political involvement pretty clear, and don’t support the idea that as a blog about spirituality, we should avoid anything political.
Without belief in a supernatural world, we know that this world is the only one we have, and so there is no solace in escapist ideas of an afterlife. We have no gods to tell us what to do. If a theistic Pagan believes that their goddess told them not to be involved in politics, then that Pagan would have to choose between being involved an disobeying their goddess. Not us. We have reason, evidence, and logic – that’s all. We can’t stay home on election day while reminding ourselves that we are going to another world when we die, so what happens here won’t affect anything more than a tiny fraction of our existence (and that of future generations). We know that this world is the only one we have, the one that we have borrowed from future generations, and the only one that humans live in. We don’t believe in an goddesses or gods who will fix things if we humans screw them up, and no goddesses or gods who can affect politicians (on either side). We don’t expect magic spells or transmitted energy to distantly affect the outcome, aside from how it might motivate ourselves. We fully accept that changes are up to us and no one else, that only concrete actions will make a difference.
We care about this incredible, interdependent web of life on Earth that we are enmeshed in. More than “care”. We revel in it. This reality is what makes us Pagan, and it is a major part of our spirituality. From our Pagan Community Statement on the Environment:
We are earth, with carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus making up our bodies one day, and incorporated into mountains the next. We are air, giving food to the trees and grasses when we exhale, and breathing in their gift of free oxygen with each breath. We are fire, burning the energy of the Sun, captured and given to us by plants. We are water, with the oceans flowing in our veins and the same water that nourished the dinosaurs within our cells.
We are connected to our families, through links of love, to their relatives, and so on to the entire human species. Our family tree goes back further than the rise of humans, including all mammals, all animals, and all life on Earth. The entire Earth is our immense and joyous family reunion.
We feel these connections in a spiritual way. The web of life includes strands that tug on our hearts, thread through our essential nature, and weave us into a spiritual whole. As part of the body of life on Earth, we care about the health of all parts of the body.
Together, our naturalism and our Paganism mean that if we are honest about our spirituality, we will do what we can to influence politics. After all, the decisions made by politicians – especially by politicians who lead the United States government, are some of the strongest human forces on the planet affecting everything from education to the environment. For those of us (like me) who’s gratitude for our Ancestors spurs us to make a better world for future generations, few things affect that world as much as political choices. Being active politically is thus a spiritual imperative for so many of us.
Our naturalism and attention to evidence also brings a lot of clarity to politics. It helps us make informed decisions, because the facts and the experts are often clear on issue after issue. On a deeper level, it makes the political process itself more clear. We recognize that we are tribal animals – whose brains evolved to be swayed by charismatic leaders. We accept that evolutionary forces have molded our brains and those of everyone, making groupthink and bias not just possible – but likely, as things that had adaptive utility and were hence selected for. We know that we need to apply the same skepticism we apply to religious ideas to our political ideas – because the same evolved forces of confirmation bias and wishful thinking work just as strongly (or more strongly!) on our own cherished political views as well.
Though the data are not clear on many issues, they are quite clear on many others. The scientific consensus on climate change, vaccine effectiveness, GMO impact, same-sex parenting, gay conversion therapy, and many other issues are clear. We need not go through each of them, but in those cases where one side is supported by evidence and the other by conspiracy theories and appeals to emotion, it’s not responsible to stay neutral. Similarly, when one candidate is openly racist, advocates sexual assault, has been shown by fact checking to repeatedly lie, denies the reality of climate change, and shows no regard for our Earth, we need to vote against that candidate at the very least. As has been pointed out before (thanks, Mark), the Republican party’s war on science makes it difficult to see how anyone with a naturalistic worldview could vote for them. While reasonable people can disagree on some issues and on the question of voting third party, it’s clear that voting against Donald Trump is necessary. If you are a U.S. citizen, have you voted yet? Will you be sure to vote by Tuesday?
Starstuff, Contemplating by Jon Cleland Host
We are assemblages of ancient atoms forged in stars – atoms organized by history to the point of consciousness, now able to contemplate this sacred Universe of which we are a tiny, but wondrous, part.
Dr. Jon Cleland Host is a scientist who earned his PhD in materials science at Northwestern University & has conducted research at Hemlock Semiconductor and Dow Corning since 1997. He holds eight patents and has authored over three dozen internal scientific papers and eleven papers for peer-reviewed scientific journals, including the journal Nature. He has taught classes on biology, math, chemistry, physics and general science at Delta College and Saginaw Valley State University. Jon grew up near Pontiac, and has been building a reality-based spirituality for over 30 years, first as a Catholic and now as a Unitarian Universalist, including collaborating with Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow to spread the awe and wonder of the Great Story of our Universe (see www.thegreatstory.org, and the blog at evolutionarytimes.org). Jon and his wife have four sons, whom they embrace within a Universe-centered, Pagan, family spirituality. He currently moderates the yahoo group Naturalistic Paganism.
Heather is a parent and a scientist raising her four children to explore the world through scientific understanding and with spiritual appreciation of the Universe. She has a Master of Science degree in Physics from Michigan State University, a Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Michigan, and a Bachelor of the Arts degree in English Literature, also from the University of Michigan. She teaches physics as an adjunct instructor at Delta College, runs the Math Mania program at a local elementary school, has worked at Dow Corning as an engineer and at NASA as an intern, and she has led science outreach workshops for K-12 students through joint programs between NASA and the University of Michigan. She is a naturalistic non-theist, whose faith has been shaped by her childhood within the Episcopal Church, her adult membership in the Unitarian Universalist church, and through Buddhist meditation. She has a passion for bringing science and spirituality to everyone in a fun way, both for her own family and for the wider community of the Earth. She is a co-author with Jon Cleland-Host of Elemental Birthdays: How to Bring Science into Every Party.