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Going Atheist: When Belief in the Gods Fails

Going Atheist: When Belief in the Gods Fails

I decided to write this piece about when belief in the gods fails because Tyson Chase, a fellow blogger has gone from pagan to atheist. It’s a shame, because I enjoyed reading his posts, but I understand where he is coming from.

I read a number of blogs from pagan and atheist authors off Patheos, (and if I want to get pissed off, I read the Christian blogs, too), but it always intrigued me that someone living in the heart of Mormon country would be pagan. I found it daring, to say the least. But his belief in the gods failed because it’s tough to reconcile gods and magic with science. So, he has become an agnostic atheist.

Writng as a Former Agnostic Atheist

It’s kind of funny that I had the exact opposite experience. I went from Catholic to Agnostic (with heavy emphasis on Atheist) to Heathen. The gods had to figuratively whack me upside the head to get my attention, but they did get my attention. I had to accept that there were gods, and that their existence coincided with the science I knew and understood. Not gods of the gaps, but actual gods who existed in a pantheistic way, and who could take forms.

Not everyone will have that kind of experience. In fact, some people will claim I am delusional. So be it. I make no apologies for it. If you’re one of those who believes this, you are not my audience, and I recommend that you simply move along and don’t waste your time.

Sometimes I’m still agnostic, especially when it comes to things like magic and wights. I’ve had some odd encounters that I can’t rationally explain without jumping through a bunch of hoops to make reality fit the model, so I’ll just claim I’m agnostic and let it go at that.

But when asking for an obvious sign and getting one? Well, that’s where the gods have stepped in and slapped me upside the head. Hel, they even spelled out their names.

When You’re Tempted to go Atheist

I’m not one to tell you to not go atheist. I can only tell you my own experience. I’ve known Heathens who were basically atheist who just liked keeping the Heathen ways alive. Like the people in our society who don’t really believe in the Christian god, but still celebrate Christmas, they like the holiday and the practices, but don’t believe the gods exist. That’s fine. Our gods don’t require our belief.

The Heathen (and also many other pagan) gods aren’t easily measurable. They aren’t part of the physical world, (but they do have the ability to take on physical forms.) They don’t insist that people worship them, although they show up to those they want to work for them in this world.

Yeah, I don’t think I’m so important to Tyr that he couldn’t get anyone else to do what I do, but he and Thor chose me for some damn reason. An atheist-leaning agnostic, at that. Go figure.

What About Science?

Paganism/Heathenism and science aren’t mutually exclusive. Scientists discover new things about our world all the time. Some of their discoveries and theories strengthen our beliefs as Heathens. Some of the information discounts what we believed in the past. That’s okay, really. If we cannot change with the new discoveries and facts, then our religion has no relevance to our current society. This is why Christianity is having such a tough time keeping and attracting new followers. Most Christian denominations fail to change with society, and thus become irrelevant to most people.

Look at their bible. Many still believe that the world was made in six days. They believe that man sinned from eating from the tree of knowledge, and that sin stays with everyone until they are baptised. Furthermore, if you don’t believe the bible and in Jesus, you get punished for eternity.

Heathens don’t believe that. In fact we look at our books as inspirational texts and more like guidelines than actual rules. We accept science and look at it as one more key to understanding our universe.

As Heathens, we know our books were written by people from an oral tradition. No matter how hard you try to get the information right, like the game of telephone or operator, the stories are going to change from one generation to the next. Add multiple generations and a change to Christianity, and the stories not only become Christianized but also very different from the original story. And be aware that the original story was told through the viewpoint of a Heathen who lived over a thousand years ago.

So, What to Do if You Lose Faith in the Gods

First, understand that Heathenism and science (or paganism and science) are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the two complement each other. You can read about quantum theory and still believe in Odin. You can look up at the night’s sky and feel Tyr beside you. You can understand the mechanism behind weather and still hear Thor’s voice in the thunder. Science does not negate this.

But let’s say you’ve been Heathen a while and never heard a god. Never seen a wight. Never felt anything close to divine. Okay, so you haven’t. So what? Lots of people don’t hear from the gods. And the gods are not your bitches. That means you can’t summon them up like a lab experiment.

Maybe you’re looking for proof and are disheartened that the gods don’t speak to you. Look, the gods sometimes speak to me. Not always. Even when I’m searching for an answer, sometimes all I get are crickets. Be patient. Wait and see. Use your runes and talk to others who are Heathens for their opinions.

If this truly bothers you, then perhaps you’re not in the right form of paganism, or maybe not in the right religion at all. Maybe you should be an atheist or agnostic. But, I would encourage you to be open to the gods, even if you decide Heathenism isn’t for you. You never know when one of the gods will look you up. Or bitch-slap you upside the head like they did with me.

The Point to All This

I suppose the point to this rambling post is that if you really want to leave paganism/Heathenism, no one will stop you. Sure, we’ll be sad to see you go, but everyone must follow their own path. Just as Tyson Chase must follow his own path. I enjoyed Tyson’s posts, and maybe he might pick up blogging on the nonreligious channel, but I kind of doubt it by the finality of his tone. Still, the pagan/Heathen door is always open for those who wish to honor our gods. I wish you good luck, Tyson, and I look forward to whatever you choose to write in the future.

How to Defend Your Beliefs Rationally

How to Defend Your Beliefs Rationally

I’ve run into several interesting videos lately by the atheists who are working what is called Street Epistemology (just search for it on YouTube).  It’s a method that Socrates (the Greek philosopher) used to have a discussion with his students to logically challenge their beliefs.  The atheists who use this interesting method are using it to foster doubts in various religions.  To be quite frank, most of the people they talk to tend to be Christian, and the Christians tend to have no fucking clue why they believe what they believe.  Or how they came about their beliefs.  I’ll admit that some of the video is painful to watch to the point where I would rather have my dentist drill my teeth than watch the Christian evangelists preach.  Still, you have to give points for the stones the atheist has asking how people arrived at their belief systems.

How I Feel About This

I understand why the atheists do this.  Street Epistemology uses logic to foster doubt in irrational beliefs people hold dear.  They allow the interviewee to make their case and then gently tear it apart when it is shown to be illogical.  It is a friendly discussion, but its intent is to foster doubt.  Far be it for me to say avoid them.  They actually give us a good reason to examine our beliefs and why we believe what we do.  As Heathens, we often pride ourselves with our “homework” and the antiquity of our beliefs.  Some of us–yours truly included–have had UPG and contact with deities.  Talking with atheists do not necessarily make us atheists.  It simply helps us define what we believe and why.  If you don’t know why you believe something, other than faith or a gut feeling, you should probably define why you believe what you believe.  And quite honestly, if you decide you don’t believe, that’s okay, but for reasons other than you think.

The Heathen Gods Don’t Need Us

Unlike the Judeo-Christian religions, our gods really don’t give a damn if we follow them or not. (Okay, maybe they care a bit, but not the way the Christian god purportedly does.)  I’ve been told several times now by Tyr and Skadi that it really doesn’t matter what I believe, if it is my destiny to do something, I will do it.  (You gotta love the Wyrd, there.)  Science may agree with this assessment of free will.  In a block universe, everything has already happened.  We are just moving forward in time because that’s how we perceive things.

The Heathen gods really don’t need us to worship them.  They’ve existed quite fine without us for some time, but since we inhabit a world they deal in, they do deal with us, at least in their elemental nature.  They like dealing with us because they’ve “created” us or at least put the entire mechanism of evolution into creating us. At least, that’s how I understand them.  Having doubt in your belief system is okay because it fosters further study and research. And in a way, talking with someone using Street Epistemology is probably a good thing.  It focuses our minds on what we believe and why.  If you actually get to talk to a person who is questioning our beliefs, use it as a learning experience and not a way to get into a fight.  It’s okay to say, “I don’t know,” to someone who asks pointed questions.

Asking Questions and Getting Answers

So, I looked at Street Epistemology and considered the questions asked.  Why do I believe in what I do?  In many cases, the religious types responded that they believed that their religion is the right religion because 1. their parents taught them their faith, 2. they believe the Bible/Koran is 100 percent infallible,  3. their god purportedly saved them in an accident or some other dire situation, or 4. they have “faith” in their god.

I thought about the question of why I believe what I do, and my answer was “none of the above” to the answers the people whom they talked to gave.  My parents taught me Roman Catholicism, and I saw inconsistencies in the Bible from the start.  I certainly don’t believe that the stories our people wrote down (including those in the Eddas) are completely accurate.  No god ever saved me from an accident, as far as I know — those accidents I’ve been in, I got my own butt out of them, or someone else helped.  If  an all-powerful god really wanted to help me,  I wouldn’t have been in the accident in the first place. As for faith, I have very little of it when it comes to believing in something I can’t see.  That’s why my belief in the Heathen gods is rather odd.  My answers are a bit more flexible, which would probably drive those performing Street Epistemology batty.

Challenge Your Belief in the Gods

If I were approached by a Street Epistemologist about my Heathen faith, the question of how much I believe in my faith would probably be around 70 percent.  That leaves a fair amount open for questions.  Why?  Because the moment you go into lock-step dogma, the more someone is manipulating you rather than you thinking for yourself.  I know, it’s a radical idea for a religion and a religious person, but there you go.  If you think you’re always right and your religion has all the answers, you’ve lost your ability to think critically.  And that, my friends, is the difference between wolves and sheep.  A wolf may follow a pack, but in the end, the wolf still uses its brain to make decisions. Sheep, on the other hand, follow the herd.  Which one do you think is more likely to be slaughtered for dinner at the end?

The next question would probably be how I came to my belief.  My guess is that my answer would send the interviewer packing, since it sounds fucking crazy.  I mean, how do you explain that you were contacted by not one, but two, gods?  Yeah, yeah, there are enough of us who have gotten a call, but seriously?  Assuming the interviewer wasn’t fleeing for his life, he would ask how I knew it wasn’t just delusional.  I’d say, “Bro, why do you think I’m at the 70 percent mark?”

As I’ve said before, you should challenge your belief in our gods and come up with logical reasons why you believe. Otherwise, you’re likely to end up like the people you see in those videos who just state that it’s faith and nothing else. While that may be good enough for you, it isn’t logical or well-defined.  And makes you look like an idiot.

Nothing is 100 Percent Certain

As Heathens, we know that not everything is 100 percent certain.  We know that there is possibly more to reality than what we can currently measure, and science backs us up when it comes to other dimensions. We know different dimensions might be the mechanism our gods use, along with basic quantum physics, but we are just guessing.  For all we know, there could be nothing more, something more, or something we haven’t postulated yet.  It’s okay to say “I don’t know” and accept that if we were presented with facts which contradict our beliefs in the gods, we would have to go along with them.  Or we could consider another explanation as to why we still believe in the gods and why the information is not a contradiction.

I’m reminded of an old Enterprise episode where this race of people sent their bodies into another part of reality.  They believed that the bodies would return to life and live happily in their newfound paradise.  Only, they didn’t.  They sat on a moon and rotted.  The news was so horrific to the inhabitants that they could not accept the truth and disavowed all ideas that something could be different.  In the end, the Enterprise crew did pick up energy readings that circled the moon.  The implication was that maybe these people did indeed “live on” in the form of energy.

Our Beliefs May Change

If you don’t want to be a Luddite, you’ve got to accept that your belief system may change.  Look at our ancestors’ beliefs.  We know that the Earth is really not a Frost Giant’s body.  We know that the Earth is not the center of the Universe. We know that our Earth is very old, and the Universe is older still.  Our ancestors did not know this.

Those who insist that we not only reconstruct the ceremonies and beliefs, but stay mired in them are idiots.  Heathenism must grow to suit our knowledge and modern sensibilities.  Nowadays people can live to more than 100, with an average US life expectancy of a little over 78 years.  Consider our ancestors in Viking times.  They were lucky to make it to 50 years old (which was considered advanced old age), with a third dying in childhood.  It would be accurate to say we’ve doubled the life expectancy. Thus, our experiences are vastly different than our ancestors. It’s cool to study them and learn the lessons they learn, but we must fit our beliefs into our modern times.  No, I have no desire to return to an age where I’d already be dead, where disease ran rampant and I have none of the conveniences of modern day.  Hel, my electric stove gave up the ghost the other day and while I made do, the next day I had to get a new one.  I do NOT want to spend my time cooking on a hearth.

Anyway, I hope you’ve found some of these ideas enlightening.  Let me know what you think.