Deity?

What about gods?

Humanistic Pagans may be atheists, pantheists, or even animists. Not all Humanistic Pagans use theistic language, but some do. The use of “god language” by non-theists can be confusing. Some feel that we should “say what we mean” and avoid theistic language altogether. However, other Humanistic Pagans feel that to surrender all theistic language to literalist demands is to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Both the heart and the head need to be satisfied. In religion, the evocative power of language is at least as important, if not more, than semantic precision. As B. T. Newberg explains:

“The imagination must be captivated and transformed by a vision, not of what one is not, but of what one is or could be. This missing element may be embodied in symbols that remind, invite, and inspire. The individual must be able to interact imaginatively with the symbols in ritual or meditation, and fill them up as it were with experience and affect. At that point, when they are charged with personal meaning and emotion, they may become powerful motivators of thought and behavior. They radiate the power to transform.”

Some Humanistic Pagans have found that use of theistic language in a ritual context is more productive of certain kinds of religious experience than non-theistic language. For one thing, the word “god” or “gods” is embedded in a complex web of cultural associations. This is precisely why many Humanistic Pagans discard such language (especially when those associations are negative), but it is also a good reason for retaining “god language”. Such language is laden with emotional resonance (both positive and negative) and has unique potential to evoke powerful emotions of a special character. Because the word “god” lacks an objective referent, it is like a container that can be filled with many different meanings. Whatever goes in the container takes on the qualities associated with the word, including a sense of sacredness, a relationship to what is of “ultimate concern” (Tillich), and moral power.

In addition, much of “god language” is anthropomorphic. Again, this is another reason why some Naturalistic Pagans avoid it: anthropomorphism can lead to anthropocentrism. But anthropomorphic language is useful to Naturalistic Pagans because it stimulates different parts of the brain than non-anthropomorphic language. Anthropomorphic language tends to activate the regions of the brain associated with sociality and relationship, in contrast to the part of the brain that processes objects and abstractions. This is why we have a different experience in response to words like “God” or “Goddess” than we do to more abstract or impersonal words like “Being” or “Nature.” We experience “Goddess” as a “Thou” rather than an “It” — to use Martin Buber’s terms — even when we are using the word to mean an impersonal Nature. As a result, we become open to a kind of relationship with nature that would have been impossible had we used more objective language, and we become more susceptible to the life-transforming religious experiences that flow from that relationship.

3 Comments on “Deity?

  1. Pingback: Earthseed as a Naturalistic Pagan Path – Earthseed

  2. As a long time atheist (about middle school age) I have always used theological terminology. It’s how I grew up, it’s as natural to talk about god (regardless of the sentiment behind it) as it is for me to say y’all. It confused people but I don’t feel it’s necessary to cut it out of my life. I’ve been told it makes me a bad atheist, I’ve been told that I never let go of religion, and religious people love to tell me it’s a sign that I’ll “come around”. To me it’s not a battle to be won. Religion, pure and simple, is not logical to me. I have an overwhelming respect for the earth. I appreciate it’s existence and the knowledge that I come from the earth and I’ll return to it. I feel safe and at peace in nature, which those that know me know that peace is rare. Because of this I’ve recently started venturing into paganism and the ideology behind it. But that doesn’t mean I’m not atheist. The terms are not mutually exclusive.

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