PantheaCon Raises Questions About the Future of Non-Theistic Paganism

I just returned from PantheaCon, the largest annual Pagan gathering in the US.  About 2000 Pagans gather in the Doubletree hotel in San Jose, CA every year to converse, do ritual, party, drink, sing, dance, and build community.  It’s a lively and fun event.  And this year, there were two Atheopagan events on the official schedule.  Mark Green has written a good review of the event here.  I had a great time and I appreciate everyone who participated in the Atheopagan events.  But I have some reservations about the experience.

In order to understand the significance of having explicitly non-theistic Pagan events at PantheaCon this year, it’s necessary to put it in the context of the history of the wider Pagan community.  In the 1990s, access to World Wide Web grew exponentially, which led to the unprecedented spread of information about contemporary Paganism. As a result, Paganism experienced a kind of dilution from the time when most Pagans belonged to small, secret, initiatory groups.

Around the turn of the millennium, there was a reaction to this dilution, in the form of “hard” or devotional polytheism, which grew rapidly.  This was accompanied by an increase in dogmatism and evangelism among many polytheists.  Literal theism increasingly came to be seen as the sin qua non of Paganism.  And it became commonplace to hear other Pagans say that one could not be Pagan if one did not believe in literal gods.  Some non-theists left Paganism during this period.

About 10 years later, various groups of non-theistic Pagans began to form, including the creation of this site.  This was partly in reaction to the perceived domination of Paganism by polytheists.  The more outspoken and cantankerous advocates on both sides (myself among them) frequently engaged in heated, public debates about the place of theism and non-theism in Paganism.

Since then, something of a truce has been reached in the hot war between the evangelical polytheist community and the non-theistic community.  The various factions of polytheists have settled into the territory they have claimed — a substantial swath of the contemporary Pagan landscape — while the loose confederation of non-theistic Pagans rejoices over its small gains.

This was manifest in the Pantheacon programming this year.  Pride of place was given to myriad permutations of polytheistic devotion, while Atheopagans contented themselves with having established a beachhead on the contemporary Pagan scene: two explicitly non-theistic events, a forum and a ritual, both during respectable time slots.

There is a reason for the disproportionate representation.  Part of it may be relative numbers, but I’m not convinced that is the only explanation.  I suspect it is also because of a qualitative difference between theistic and non-theistic Pagans.  Polytheists today tend to be energetic, focused, and organized — everything that non-theists Pagans are not.  Non-theistic Pagans are divided — by belief (some reject theism while embracing other unscientific beliefs), by ritual (some embrace ritual, while others eschew it), and by symbol (some use theistic language and symbols pragmatically, while many reject them).  But the real defining characteristic of contemporary non-theistic Paganism, as I see it, is a low level of commitment, bordering on the blasé.

Polytheists, despite their diversity, are bound by a belief in the reality of the gods and the significance of their worship, which motivates them to worship both privately and publicly.  In contrast, non-theists are bound by a negation of that belief.  Now, you might argue that non-theists are bound by a “belief in science”, but the scientific method is a methodology, not a belief system.  It proceeds by disproving hypotheses, not by proving them.  And a negation will never inspire people the way an affirmation will.

Writers, like Jon Cleland-Host, Lupa, and others who have contributed to this site, have advocated for a more positive understanding of non-theist spirituality, one focused on a Sagan-esque wonder evoked by the natural universe.  And while this idea has some passionate advocates, I have yet to see their passion spread to the wider non-theist Pagan community.

This was reflected at the Atheopagan events at PantheaCon.  The non-theist forum was held in the afternoon of the first day of the conference.  It drew around 50 people and resulted in lively discussion.  Nevertheless, I left unsatisfied.  We had explicitly invited polytheists to the discussion in the program description, but only one or two took us up on the offer.  And now I’m kind of glad they didn’t.

Despite my attempt to discourage the use of offensive and judgmental language, a fair amount of disdain for theism was casually thrown around during the forum.  I found myself cringing more than once at the thought of how any theists present would feel.  The forum quickly devolved into a kind of gripe session for non-theists.  Now, catharsis has its place, but is counterproductive if the goal is understanding.  I think a more productive discussion might have been had if the discussion had been facilitated by a theist and a non-theist, and perhaps by a less notorious non-theist than me.

The forum was entitled, Dancing Without Deity: A Discussion on Non-Theist Paganism.  There was, of course, no actual dancing at the forum discussion.  But there was an opportunity to dance the next day at the non-theist ritual, which was titled Living Earth Devotional: A Non-Theistic Ritual of Commitment.  The ritual was scheduled on the second day of the Con at 11:00 pm, which is very late for some people, but it is actually a a very good time slot.  For a lot of people, Saturday evening is the height of the Con, and the Con crowd tends to stay up late and sleep in.  The other events taking place during the same time slot were a BDSM discussion, a drum circle, a bawdy body affirming ritual, a Roman ancestor ritual, a lighthearted scapegoat ritual using sock puppets, and a bardic song and poetry circle.

Unfortunately, the non-theist ritual only drew around 20 people.  Given that PantheaCon usually draws around 2000 Pagans, the turnout at the non-theist ritual was underwhelming.  We expected a minimum of 40 people, and we were hoping for 100.  Over 40 people had registered for the ritual, more than had registered for the forum discussion the day before, but less than half who attended the forum actually attended the ritual.  This reinforced my belief that (like Unitarians and other non-theists) non-theist Pagans enjoy talking about their religion more than practicing it.

I suspect that more people would have been drawn to the non-theist devotional had it not been advertised it as explicitly non-theistic.  The reality is that non-theistic rituals are not uncommon at PantheaCon.  Groups like Reclaiming and the Spark Collective regularly populate the PantheaCon programing with rituals which don’t invoke deity, but they don’t advertise as non-theistic.  The result was that people who might otherwise have been drawn to a “Living Earth Devotion” were probably turned off by the word “Non-Theistic” in the subtitle.

But not only did we fail to draw in open-minded theists, we also failed to draw in the very same people who so were talking about non-theistic Paganism so enthusiastically the day before.  I am left wondering about what the future holds for the non-theist Pagan community.  Explicitly non-theistic Paganism coalesced under the pressure of extinction from an external force: evangelical polytheism.  But now that open hostilities have ceased, and something of a cold war, if not a real detente, dominates polytheist-nontheist relations, I wonder what will happen to us now.

Will the non-theistic Pagan community thrive in this newly accommodating environment?  Do we have enough passion and creativity to build a religious community based on more than the rejection of someone else’s beliefs?  Can we create communal practices that really lift us out of ourselves and our overactive cerebrums and help to bind us together in the way that religion should?  Will new leaders step forward to carry the torch of non-theistic Pagan religion?  Are non-theist Pagans willing to make the commitments and sacrifices necessary to make Naturalistic Paganism a reality, and not just a name or an identity?

If we do succeed, I think it will only happen if non-theist Pagans are willing to move outside our comfort zone.  We need to get out of our armchairs and remember (or learn) how to dance again, both literally and figuratively.  Maybe we need to reconsider words which we have for so long rejected, like devotionworship, and spirituality, and what role they may have in a non-theistic practice.  And maybe we need to consider what we can learn from those polytheists we have been arguing with for so long, something about privileging direct experience over abstract thought, about having courage to take emotional leaps of faith, and about keeping a lookout for the divine “Other”.

John Halstead

John Halstead is Editor-At-Large and a contributor at HumanisticPaganism.com. He blogs about Paganism generally at AllergicPagan.com (which was previously hosted by Patheos) and about Jungian Neo-Paganism at “Dreaming the Myth Onward” (which is hosted by Witches & Pagans). He is also an occasional contributor to GodsandRadicals.org and The Huffington Postand the administrator of the site Neo-Paganism.com. John was the principal facilitator of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment,” which can be found at ecopagan.com. He is a Shaper of the fledgling Earthseed community, which is described at GodisChange.org. John is also the editor of the anthology, Godless Paganism: Voices of Non-Theistic Pagans.

To speak with John, contact him on Facebook.

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26 Comments on “PantheaCon Raises Questions About the Future of Non-Theistic Paganism

  1. I have been a spiritual explorer all my life. In my attempted Christian phase, I was regarded as a mystic, which was awkward in the extreme for me. What I experienced was not generally Christian, but the experiences were, for me, indisputable. I finally left monotheism for a rather shamanistic influenced paganism. I studied various traditions and experimented. Now, I half jokingly call myself a poly-deist; I don’t know for certain if deities exist – but if they do, they expect us to get off our knees (and asses) and clean up our own mess.
    I mostly identify as a humanist pagan; I avoid theism because I personally consider it presumptuous. Theists of all stripes inevitably define the god(s) and the design OF the deity for us humans. I DO think that is presumptuous, if not out and out hubristic. I think whether or not deities exist is a moot point for humanity – if we do not own our own issues and need to act rather than implore various presumed gods, we cannot succeed.
    I do think it necessary at times to “suspend disbelief” in order to function as a spiritual being and put oneself in communion with the natural world we inhabit. But I refuse to do this within any system that gives any priests power over my life. I am in charge of me.

  2. So, I can’t help but read the beginning of your article as a description of a literal land war. You talk about gaining or losing ground.

    I’m curious – what do you feel is the actual goal? What control was/is being fought over? Language like this always sounds to me as if there’s a feeling that the different sides need to be in actual opposition, that they can’t peaceably share the landscape together.

    What’s the platform that you’re hoping non-theistic paganism will eventually achieve?

    I ask genuinely, as someone who mostly avoided that entire brouhaha. If these questions are clearly answered somewhere else, I’d appreciate being pointed in that direction.

    • I used the land war metaphor intentionally, not so much to describe real goals, but to describe the zero-sum feeling that characterized a lot of that brouhaha.

  3. Thanks for this informative and thoughtful reflection. It’s helpful for those like me who couldn’t make it to the Con, never have, and in all likelihood never will, but still remain interested in the movement — if we can call it that!

    I’ll quibble with one point: “negation will never inspire people the way an affirmation will.” I have said similar things myself. Yet as I reflect now, I don’t think it’s true. Negation can be every bit as powerful a motivator as affirmation. The key is what that negation opens up. If it opens up creativity, if it opens up community, then I’d say it absolutely can inspire as much as anything.

    Our community might be characterized as founded on negation. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It might even be our greatest strength.

    However, it just doesn’t seem salient in the context you’ve described. When I’ve organized rituals, I’ve never advertised them as non-theistic, even though they were.

    I guess your questions about the future raise for me an implicit question: what would “success” look like? Is it necessary to have local circles which are explicitly naturalistic? Or is acceptance of naturalism in the broader community enough?

  4. The process of individuation often starts with defining yourself by what you are not. The process ends when you can define yourself by what you are. I think your observation of not putting the words “Non-Theist” in the title of the ritual would have yielded better results in terms of attendance. Unfortunately, atheists have a reputation, at least in my experience, of being cruel to theistic minded people. Often ridiculing theists, appearing superior and beating people over the head with rational thinking. Even though your discussion (which I was at) invited theists to join, they are most likely not going to come. You are going to have to go to them.
    I often wonder if those of us who were raised in a non-theist/not-really-talked-about-or-acknowledged household have a different take on this whole Theist vs Non-Theist question. It seems to me, that people who grew up in a religious household need to make a sharp distinction for themselves in regards to this question. As someone who grew up in a non-theist house, where religion was something other people did, to identify as an Atheist is not really a huge need for me. And being around people who are hard polytheists is not all that uncomfortable for me either. The question of how one understands, or doesn’t understand, the gods is never part of the conversation. When gods or the divine or worship or what have you, is discussed it is in the context of someone’s experience – something I cannot judge as false or true, it just is. It is theirs not mine.
    Perhaps those who grew up “churched” (as they say in the UU), where the many benefits of Sunday morning fellowship is missed, they feel more of the need to develop communal ritual. Whereas, for myself, communal ritual is foreign and uncomfortable. And in my practice, ritual is very much as personal, intimate thing – one I prefer to do alone or in a very small group of close friends. When I venture out into the larger pagan community, it is to sit around and wax philosophical. I deeply enjoy that. This is why I am drawn to Humanistic Paganism – it is where the interesting conversations are at.

  5. John, I’m surprised to read this. I thought that both events went really well. The discussion contained some elements of a “gripe session” because nontheist Pagans are STILL experiencing criticism and negative reactions in some quarters–the group gave them a chance to vent. As for the ritual, first of all I think we had closer to 40 people rather than 20, but also that it went well energetically and accomplished its purpose.

    We could, indeed, put future events on the schedule without explicitly naming them as nontheist, but I think demand for our kind of rituals is only going to grow. There were many people who told me that they were sorry to miss ours–generally, the excuse was that they were exhausted and sleeping instead. And I know for a fact that one attendee, at least, was really blown away: she invited me to lead the main ritual at Beltainia in Colorado (which I can’t do, as it conflicts with a major work event, but that’s beside the point).

    I still hope to put on Moon Meet, a nontheist Pagan gathering, this summer. Such things start small, but they grow. I am comfortable being just one slice of the broader community, building our own culture, lore, materials and traditions. My Atheopagan Facebook group continues to grow and has nearly 750 members now, and newcomers continue to be excited and moved.

    We’re doing fine.

    Mark

    • Mark, I felt great about the ritual, and I think the discussion went well. I’m very glad we did them. And I don’t want to downplay the significance of either event for individuals or for the community. But I do think there is benefit to be had in self-critique.

      Even though my initial feeling about the events was very positive, after we left the conference, as I reflected on it more, it seemed to closely resemble my ambivalent experience with UUism.

      I think you and I both had hoped we might move the discussion beyond reacting to theism to creating something positive, but I don’t think we were able to do that in the forum. The ritual was an attempt to do that. But, whatever the actual number of people present, it was fewer than half the people who came to the forum.

      I certainly sympathize with the need for sleep. (I’m still recovering.) But it’s a question of prioritizing the building of non-theist community. It makes me wonder if non-theists are willing to make sacrifices the way theists are to build community.

      As you pointed out in the Atheopagan FB group, one of the differences between theists and non-theists is that the former believe they have to worship, whereas the latter want to … except when they don’t. And that makes a huge difference in the kind of community that results.

      There’s a counter-intuitive dynamic in religious communities that was studied by sociologists of religion Stark and Bainbridge, which is that communities that demand greater sacrifices inspire greater commitment. This explains the difference between Mormonism (which demands 10% of your income, performance of at least one church service job, and a minimum of 3 hours of church a week) and UUism (which is completely voluntary). I’m not suggesting we start collecting tithing. But I do think we should can and should expect more of each other.

      • Fair enough. I just think that at this point in the community’s evolution, we’re probably better served by honey than vinegar. We don’t have the feared disapproval of gods to drive our behavior, nor their approval’s cultivation, and that means we need the draw of pleasure: pleasure in meaning, pleasure in community, pleasure in discovery, in creativity, in awe and wonder. That’s what drives my Paganism, and my efforts to build our community. I just think that’s more effective than telling people they’re not doing it right.

        • There were 25 at the ritual, not including the four of you leading–I counted. I do agree with you about pleasure (and might I even suggest joy? but also just emotional expression of various sorts) as more of a draw than disapproval. It’s always worth looking at what can be improved, of course.

          I believe that people are looking for meaningful ways to connect with each other and forces that are bigger than our individual selves (nature and community, for example). I see ecstatic ritual (Dance Elemental and the Spark ritual are good examples of this) drawing larger groups than ritual that speaks only to intellect, and the more non-theistic rituals can include the ecstatic experience, the more likely folks will want to attend.

        • Along with Selene, I think joy is a very important ingredient. The ritual was very heavy, and I was so grateful when, at then end, someone broke out in spontaneous song and led us dancing around the circle again. It was the perfect ending.

          I also agree about the importance of ecstatic ritual. The challenge, I think, is that a lot of non-theists are uncomfortable with ecstasy. In the forum, when I alluded to ecstatic ritual, Todd Arthur Covert challenged me and argued that we need to validate contemplative ritual as much as ecstatic ritual. I agree with him on that.

          He also said there is an over-emphasis in Paganism on ecstasy. I’m not sure I agree with him on that, though. Ecstasy is one of the strengths of contemporary Paganism, and since its one of my weaknesses, it is one of the reasons I was drawn to Paganism. And I honestly think it is exactly what the Naturalistic Pagan community needs.

        • I have just confirmed a venue for Moon Meet, my Atheopagan/nontheist Pagan gathering next summer, and that is exactly what we will be working to achieve. I agreed with Todd, too, but ecstacy is much more of a draw, let’s face it, and it’s harder to reach for those whose orientation is more rational by predilection.

        • Bear in mind, too, that this ritual wasn’t intended to be ecstatic. It was about real and dark challenges, and rising to meet them. We deliberately made a choice to create a ritual around those themes, and one of the comments I heard from those who did attend was that they appreciated that–that it wasn’t “just a feel-good ritual”. We could have done a celebration of the glorious Universe that didn’t involve a call to arms, and we made a choice not to do that. By definition, that was going to be darker–and perhaps more offputting– than something fun and upbeat.

        • One of the most important factors I consider in my teaching and practice is that different people respond to different approaches. We don’t have to be a one-trick pony approach. Contemplative ritual, ecstatic ritual, intellectual discussion, singing and dancing, silent meditations, solitary practices, community connection–all of these (and so much more) have their place, and I would love to see the non-theistic community embracing any and all approaches that can support those looking for a community that invites them out of isolation and into connection, in whatever forms work for them.

        • Well said, Selene. I agree. And “success” doesn’t have to look exactly the same as it does in the theist Pagan community, either.

  6. George McGeorge raises an important point, to my thinking. Is it not possible for both “sides” to co-exist? As an atheist, I know that I would not be comfortable participating in a ritual dedicated explicitly to one or more deities, but I would be fine with a neutral ritual where others might spontaneously called upon their deity of choice.

    I’ll admit I don’t participate in group activities. I never have, so am completely ignorant of what goes on. You mentioned observing disdain for theism at your forum, which demonstrates the attitude of the non-theists, at least when they think they are only with others like them. Is this attitude similarly on display in the theist’s playground when they are alone? Do these attitudes then go on display when the groups get together?

    It confuses me somewhat, so I’ll repeat George’s question: what is our goal? I’m also curious about what we (non-theistic pagans) are missing in our own so-called religious practice.

    I do want the two sides to get along and to celebrate the beliefs they have in common. Reverence for the earth is rare enough among humans that I hope we could draw on that to build a strong community that includes everyone.

    • I was very clear in my introduction to the forum that theists might be present and that we needed to keep our comments limited to our own experience and not characterize others’ experiences or beliefs. I’m afraid we did not do a good job of policing that as the discussion progressed.

      As for goals, one of our goals was to get some level of representation on the official PantheaCon schedule. And we have that largely because of Mark Green. Two years ago, we had an off-the-schedule Atheopagan event. Last year, we had one event on the schedule. This year, we had two (maybe three, if you count Lupa’s workshop). There is a limited amount of space on the programming, so the spaces we filled might otherwise have been filled with theistic programming, and to that extent there is a degree of competition.

      I don’t think parity is the goal, though. But I do think non-theists are underrepresented still. And I think some of the reason for that falls on ourselves. I have witnessed the rapid growth of devotional polytheism, and while they do have a head start on us, the growth of explicitly non-theistic Paganism really don’t even compare. It’s still just a tiny handful of passionate people who are holding this together. IMO, counting people on a Facebook group is not the way to gauge the growth of community. Community is measured by connection, action, and leadership.

      And so many non-theistic Pagans, like yourself and Melissa (above), have little to no interest in communal worship. Without communal worship, I don’t think we can even call ourselves a religious community. A special interest club or social action committee, yes, but not a religious community.

  7. Perhaps the real issue is how one defines “religious community.” If our impulses towards worship grow from a different understanding and/or motivation than that typical of theists, why should we imitate their style? Why would we even want to? Like some of the other posters, I have little interest in group ritual. In all honesty, I’ve never been to a pagan ritual that didn’t strike me as silly. I wish I could put that in a kinder light but that’s my reaction, time and again. Believe me, I’ve tried to find a pagan group with a worship style that made sense or even just moved me but after 20+ years of looking I’m throwing in the towel. Thoughtful discussion on the other hand, is always welcome and something I seek constantly. That’s why I’m here and will continue to be here. It’s inspiring and often moving. I love it when someone finds a way to artfully articulate an experience or an insight that I know but haven’t put into words yet. Awe can come from many sources. So can community. Our community doesn’t have to look like the “traditional” religions and maybe there’s an argument to be made that it shouldn’t. If I had been at Pantheacon (though I never will be, promise!!) I probably would have attended the discussion but not the ritual. I’d prefer to keep talking and leave the hand-holding and dreary singing to somebody else.

    • Attitudes toward and experiences of ritual probably depend largely on personality and personal history. But if you’re experiencing a ritual as silly, it may be because the ritual was ineffective in helping participants achieve the “self-forgetting” that makes ritual work. It requires skilled ritual facilitation, but it also requires a willingness to surrender a degree of self-consciousness, and that is not easy for people, especially heady people like naturalistic/humanistic Pagans tend to be.

      As for why we should imitate theists, I think it makes sense to adopt some of their techniques or religious technologies. And the reason is simply that they work. Group worship is a kind of corporate self-forgetfulness or self-transcendence which helps us connect with something larger than our individual egos. That “something larger” doesn’t need to be a deity. It can be the earth or the web of life or just the collectivity of the people in the room. And connecting with that is important, because it motivates positive social action.

  8. So many areas of discussion! For me, the long view is helpful. Specifically, we’ve already come a long way in a very short length of time, and tomorrow morning I’ll be at Convocation, one of the biggest Pagan gatherings this far away from Pantheacon. We’ll see how that goes.

    Regarding practice – yes, we’ve both (and all, I think), recognized for a long time that there is a great opportunity to expand our practice. While several of us do have active practices, a lot of us are just getting into this, and it takes time. I think it’s more a factor of inertia and time than anything else.

    -Jon Cleland Host

  9. Like Bart, I’m not likely to make it to Pantheacon any year soon; work and family commitments at this stage of life make travel time scarce. So it’s interesting for me to read others’ accounts. And I’ll admit that, like Denise, even though I write for this blog, I would’ve attended the non-theistic panel discussion but likely not the ritual. I approach my paganism with a set of naturalistic, humanistic values and attitudes, but I draw on stories and symbols for which I have no scientific basis in my daily and other ritual practices. Spiritual practice is juicier that way, and I find that it works. Drawing on symbol, imagination, and play leads to insight, it helps me shift my perspective, to grow, to heal. Sorry, but it’s more fun.

    I still can’t pin down exactly what I think about the nature of deity, but that usually doesn’t matter. My paganism is heavy on praxis, light on theory. As such, my spiritual passion doesn’t much happen online. I live it out in the context of my local Reclaiming community, my local UU church, in front of my personal altar. Or really everyday, everywhere that I’m in person and present, in the ways that I relate to the rest of the living, breathing world.

    This naturalistic pagan movement is still so young, and we are definitely in the process of figuring out what we’re about. That’s ok; I don’t feel a sense of urgency or disappointment about being in process. It’s a state, not a trait, of the movement, I think. Which, if I may, is a very pagan way of thinking about it.

    Thanks, as always, John, for raising uncomfortable questions.

  10. John, with a slower, second reading of this post, I find I agree a lot, and would name something else in addition to the “comfort zone” of the last paragraph. All spiritualities, as far as I can tell, help point to two central things. First, they point to what’s real. They are based on what is real – to be best conception of those doing the pointing. Secondly, and just as importantly, they draw from this understanding of reality to point to what’s important. Practices help connect us to what’s real and what’s important.

    I think that’s what will determine if Naturalistic Paganism flourishes – the question of whether or not it provides a path to connect people to what’s real and what’t important. I’m optimistic, while agreeing that it’ll take work – just like anything else of value.

    Jon Cleland Host

  11. John, your experience echoes my time as part of a now defunct naturalist druid group in the U.K. Yes, we loved talking, but much of the discussions among ourselves were anti-theist, not constructive. Also our rituals, to the extent we tried to make them similar to theistic rituals were a flop, with no energy or no purpose for some members – and at worst a parody of theistic rituals. I think naturalistic paganism and paganised atheism/agnosticism/pantheism has a great future but not under the pagan umbrella, squashed in with theists. Instead, in the much more post Christian and secularized U.K. at least, your type of paganism is becoming the spiritual attitude of the wider population who would never want to be seen with members of covens or druid orders. As a Welsh Unitarian said to me once, most people are unitarians now even if they don’t know it and would never use that label. I find as a side show to other paganisms you will tend be only a half way house for many disappointed or disaffected on their way out of theistic paganism, joining you on the ‘rebound’ from a failed relationship – not a good foundation. You would be much more encouraged seeing naturalistic paganism as something very different to theistic paganism, at least as different as Judaism and Buddhism. Your richest “mission field (!)” are probably not to be found at conferences for die hard or even disgruntled theistic pagans but among the unpaganed and unreligious who want something more, plus ex monotheists like me who feel the mono (well, the hen!) but not the ‘theist’ as you’ve so eloquently put it previously.

    • I just wanted to say I agree with this comment. I’m not a pagan and never looked much into it until I discovered pantheistic, atheistic and humanistic pagans. There is still not that much out there for those of us who are pantheists or nontheists, but also value spirituality/religion as an important part of our lives. Not being a pagan or hanging out in spaces where it is discussed in any detail (I am UU, but there’s another church in our area which I think most local UU pagans attend), it was pure chance that I happened to stumble across the nontheistic pagan community. I’ve since mentioned it to a few people and they were surprised it existed, but found the idea really interesting and wanted to know more.

    • Phil – good points. It’s worth mentioning that it need not be either/or, and is instead “and”, I think. In other words, we can be involved in both the growing community of the non-religious, as well as (and simultaneously) Pagan conferences. I personally greatly enjoy both. -Jon

    • “… most people are unitarians now even if they don’t know it and would never use that label.”

      I have heard this too. Unfortunately, I think this does not reflect will on Unitarians. When you can’t tell the difference between religious naturalists and secular naturalists, then I have to wonder why they are bothering with the religious part. There is power in religious ritual, symbolism, and community, and I think we non-theists need to swallow our pride and consider that something other than stupidity caused these religions to survive for millennia.

  12. Yes, John, I agree on both points. It doesn’t reflect well on UUs because if there is nothing different about us, then why would anyone join us? I don’t need to swallow any pride to agree that these religions survived for millenia – I think that they did so, at least in significant part, due to the fact that the ritual and other spiritual technologies they developed (or borrowed, stole, adapted, etc.) work, and work well, for needs that most of us humans still have – as you point out. Thanks! -Jon Cleland Host

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