The Pagan/Atheist Alliance

I’m a Facebooker, it’s a problem, and I know this.  I probably check it ten times a day, usually for just a couple of minutes, but sometimes my sessions run a little longer.  I try hard not to be obscene about it, I’m not a “friend collector” randomly friending people just because they happen to be Pagan, but I am up to about 850 “friends.”  It’s hard to keep up with all of them, but that number does guarantee that I’ll get to see every important political and religious news story of the day (or last week depending on how often people check their Facebook accounts), along with a very large number of pictures.  In addition to the over whelming number of photos from the account of George Takei I also seem to get a lot of photos from atheist sources.  Most surprisingly, those atheist photos tend to get posted by people who call themselves Pagans.

I’ve always found the alliance between Pagans and atheists an odd one.  Atheists don’t believe in “God” or gods, I believe in millions of gods and goddesses.  Yes, it’s true that my political beliefs are generally in agreement with those of many atheists, but they are also in agreement with many Christians, Jews, and Muslims.  While Pagans seem to be happily joining atheist groups online (or at least spreading some of their material), there aren’t a whole lot of us posting pictures and articles from Proud Liberal Christian.  In many ways, I feel as if I have more in common with liberal Christians than I do atheists, which sometimes seems to bother many of my friends.

I’m a Pagan not because I want to practice spell-work, but because I feel as if it offers me the most direct way to bring deity into my life.  Belief in a Goddess and a God (or goddesses and gods) is the foundation of my spirituality, and my spirituality is the guiding force in my life.  Take away my Pan and Aphrodite and I’m like a boat without a rudder or a captain, lost and adrift, they are the  most important thing in my life.  That’s not really all that different from my Christian friends who have made Jesus the most important thing in their lives, and there are often similarities between their faith journeys and my own.

I’m a firm believer in religious tolerance and that (generally) “all paths lead to the center.”  While we might not particularly like where some adherents take a particular path (cough, cough, Tea Party, cough, cough), that’s not necessarily the fault of the path.  Jesus never preached about capitalism or said a word about abortion for example.  So I see Christianity (and Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and several other faiths) as a valid and real form of religious expression.  When someone tells me they’ve been “touched by the Holy Spirit” I believe them.  If my High Priestess can Draw Down the Goddess, than I also have to believe that Yahweh has the power to make his followers speak in tongues.  That doesn’t mean I have to agree with those people speaking in tongues about everything, it just means that I find their religious experience a valid one.

In another life I used to manage a coffee shop and I employed several Evangelical Christians.  Listening to their experiences, I was surprised by how much of what they said mirrored my own faith.  They talked about a personal relationship with Jesus in the same way I talk about a personal relationship with Pan.  While some of them didn’t accept my faith as legitimate (it was either made up or a deception created by Satan), I was able to sympathize with them to some degree and at least understand what their relationship with deity meant to them.  Amongst my more open-minded born again employees I was able to find large swaths of common ground, both politically and spiritually, a win for both sides.

I think most atheists are pretty tolerant people; they don’t go out of their way to mock the faith of others, or intentionally try to stir the proverbial pot.  Sadly, there are exceptions, and there are people and groups out there who like to make fun of religion.  Luckily for us as Pagans, it’s Christianity that tends to get made fun of the most, and those are the types of pictures that come up in my Facebook feed.  Some of them are certainly funny, but many of them can be downright mean.  When I see some of that stuff I do chuckle, but that laugh tends to end with me remembering that I believe Pan runs through the woods chasing nymphs and having sex with sheep.  While my religious convictions are near and dear to me, they can be made fun of just as easily as those of a Christian.  We’re just not enough of the national conversation to be a target yet.

Every Holiday Season I get the usual “Mithra is the Reason for the Season” pictures, many of them by atheists (there are even lawn signs), and often shared by Pagans, but are those types of pictures designed to educate or inflame?  One of the reasons some atheist groups compare Jesus to ancient pagan figures is to de-legitimize Jesus, it’s not being done as a favor to us, and there are a lot of Pagans who don’t seem to get that.  Certainly the majority of atheists don’t care what we do (just like the majority of Christians), but that small and loud segment that can’t find any good in faith, is probably laughing at us just as loudly as they laugh at Christians.

We should certainly stay vigilant as to what the Christian Right is up to, and in that regard we have a lot of common ground with atheists and atheist groups, just think about what you are posting and laughing about.  I’m fine with making jokes about the close-mindedness of others, or how certain individuals want to take us back to the Middle Ages when it comes to women’s rights, but be careful about sharing things that ridicule the essence of someone’s spirituality.  Also be careful about where the things you share are coming from, it could come from someone who sees your faith as an object of ridicule too.

About Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason can often be found lecturing on the Pagan Festival circuit, so you might just bump into him. When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.

  • http://profiles.google.com/manyhandshouse Melanie Moore

    I am a Pagan Atheist. The Gods and Goddesses create a framework for my life. But I don’t believe they “exist” in the sense that you or I exist. The need for “faith” or “belief” seems to me to be a Christian idea.

    • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

       Some ancient Pagan philosophers, like Epicurus, would agree with you.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=601178231 Jason Mankey

      I know a lot of Pagan atheists.  The difference between an atheist Pagan and a rabid “make fun of everything” atheist, is that you probably wouldn’t dismiss my beliefs out of hand or find them comical.  I think one of the tenants of Modern Paganism is not that we are polytheists, but that we all tend to accept the faith experiences of others.  Some of my favorite Pagans tend to fall into the “atheist Pagan” category, I love that our tribe has so many different beliefs!    

    • sandra

      What exactly is a pagan atheist? I know there are “gods” such as Zeus and Athena and many many other gods, but I don’t believe they are REAL. I believe in them as a myth or a story. I have a book from the library about many gods – from around the world. I find that learning about gods is something fascinating to me – but I don’t believe in them as real. So, am I a pagan atheist?

  • Dscarron

    As someone of faith, Atheism boggles me.  
    As a modernist, fanaticism offends me.  
    As a believer in Asatru, I dance those lines pretty hard and am always checking my place. 

    I believe that this is the appropriate questioning stance of a religion.  And I think the Atheists, above all, appreciate the questioning as a standard operational procedure.   

    • sandra

      As a new atheist (and after asking many questions to arrive at my belief in no gods), I find both pantheism and paganism – well – it boggles my mind. But having this experience of asking so many questions – and not seeing any reason or evidence in any gods – yet still being very spiritual as an atheist – I can now understand how sacred and special someone’s religion is to them.

      I was a Christian (a Independent Fundamental Baptist) for over 15 years and for those years, I was not tolerant of any religion and not tolerant of anyone in the Southern Baptist Convention. We were taught that the only “real” Christians are “IFBs”. And it is a cult.

      Since becoming atheist in 2013, I have more of an understand of religion and how it helps people to cope and how people rely on their faith in everything they do. As a person in the IFB, I was too closed minded to understand anything other than what I was taught and I wanted to do was convert others over and get them “saved”.

      As an atheist now, I care LESS what others are doing with their spiritual life (in the IFB you are trained to be a fruit inspector – and trained to judge anyone at any time). As an atheist, I only care about my own actions and my own spirituality. I don’t have time to think of others with respect to their religious practice and I don’t care to make others an atheist.

  • Habibidancer

    This was an excellently thought out and written article. I also appreciate the viewpoint! I think this is a good reminder and one that I will keep in mind. I’m sure I see most of the same pictures and comments you do. Thank you for posting this.

  • http://brainwise.myopenid.com/ brainwise

    I very much enjoyed this post and can find myself in agreement with its ethos. My spiritual path is closely aligned with Germanic Heathenry, and I am am also very much involved in interfaith dialogue. In my personal approach to divinity, however, I like to say that I am a non-theistic polytheist. That means my operating mode is something along the lines of: “There is no God, and yet there is. There are no Gods and Goddesses; but look! they are all around us!” 

  • kenneth

    I “ally” myself with atheists only insofar as they are some of the only consistent and vocal supporters of separation of church and state. There are liberal Christians and even some evangelicals who share that conviction too of course. I think Americans United is headed by a guy who is a Christian minister of some sort. I know hardcore atheist can be preachy and judgmental in their own way, and think paganism is as absurd as anything else. However, they are also on the front lines of fighting these relentless attempts to make Christianity the de-facto official religion in this country. They file the lawsuits and endure the death threats more often than not. 

    • Steve

      Paganism is as absurd as anything else
      Doesn’t stop it or anything else having validity

  • secular.heathen

    I am an atheist, so I wanted to put forth my 2 cents worth. 

    It all comes down to dogma. And how harmfull your dogma is. Christians have some very harmfull dogma associated with their faith. I honestly can’t think of any pagan dogma that is harmfull, though I am a little ignorant of many pagan beliefs.

    If someone has a faith/religion and its harmless, I’m all for it! Seriously! I’d even go so far as to say that some of the pagan ideologies are appealing to me.

    BUT, if your faith/religion preaches intolerance and condemnation. FUCK YOU! and the talking donkey you rode in on!

    • kenneth

      I think in general atheists view pagans on a different level because we are not in a position nor even inclined to try to force our beliefs on anyone the way the big monotheistic religions do. That said, some atheists do save a bit of disdain for us simply because we are “irrational” and so we get lumped in with homeopathy and other New Age quackery in their eyes. Even still, I think we have an important common ground insofar as neither pagans nor atheists have anything to gain by a Christian theocracy. 

      • sandra

        two words got me in reading your post. “Homeopathy” and “new age”. I believe I’m a part of the New Age movement since I enjoy meditation and the Chakras. I believe we all have energy areas in our body and meridians – as well as a light going from the top of our head down to the bottom of our tailbone. Now if that alone – makes me a pagan – or a new age person – so be it. I think this “pagan atheist” is something that I need to look up and education myself on.

    • sandra

      As an atheist, I agree. As an ex-Christian I can 100% tell you that Christians are very judgmental and act like their shit don’t stink and say things like “I go to church on sunday so I can’t work”. Many Christians would try to put themselves up on a pedestal to make it look like others are lower than them. And Christianity – in my view of it – hurts others. The dogma is very – harmful.

      What I also don’t like about Christianity is that if you don’t believe in Christ, you go to hell -even if a person was born in a far away country and was never told of the Jesus story – that person goes to a literal hell with fire. I can’t accept that at all.

  • Sunweaver

    On Point had a discussion about the Atheism and their recent rally in Washington:
    http://onpoint.wbur.org/2012/03/26/atheists#disqus_thread

    Which, as you can imagine, sparked quite a bit of fervor in the comments! Listening to the show, I found myself agreeing with much of what the guests were saying– they pointed out Christian privilege and how it can be stifling at best and hostile at worst, they promoted separation of church and state in order to protect their right to not be forced to participate in the prayers and rituals of the dominant religion, and they promoted science and reason– two subjects close to my heart. I was right there with them, nodding and agreeing with what they said.

    …right up until they started mocking theists. Their tone was condescending and though they would claim to be okay with someone who came to their faith after careful deliberation, in the same breath they made fun of people who have a theistic belief.

    On the other hand, I work with many several atheists who don’t have that attitude. One of my colleagues was genuinely curious when I told her I’m a Hellenic Polytheist and was glad to hear that I’m letting the offspring decide what she believes.

  • David

    I just found this post, so, I hope it’s ok to still post, but, I’m a Pagan too, and really agree with you.  I, personally, have more in common with liberal and Progressive Christians than I do with those militant Atheists who make fun of every religion (especially if its Christianity or Islam), for me, there is no sense in making fun of someone’s religion, other than to be mean and a prick (I’m not sure if you use that word in the U.S., like we do in the UK). 

    Pagans shouldn’t encourage those Atheists, because, 1) it encourages them to continue, and, bullies should never ever be encouraged (and posting mean and negative comments about others is bullying), 2) those Atheists are just as likely to think negatively about Pagans and our experiences too, and 3) it makes liberal and Progressive Christians (as well as Progressive and Liberal Muslims) take a negative view of us, and we lose more allies and friends.

    Personally, I think those who are Liberal and Progressive of all ideologies – Christian, Muslim, Pagan, Atheism, Buddhism, etc should unite against those who are mean-spirited, those who bigoted and enjoy attacking others.

    Personally, some of the “New Atheists” I’ve seen online, the ones that enjoy posting hurtful things about Christianity or Islam (and sometimes other religions too) are a form of psychic vampire – they create negativity so they can feed off it. 

    Anyway, great post.

  • Tigerlily1978

    I’m an atheist and I make no apologies for that. I don’t believe in a higher power, a creater god/goddess or organised religion. I tend to question that and have since childhood, luckily my family has accepted and nurtured that within me. I do however respect all of this worlds religions and spiritual beliefs. I took R.E. in high school, I’ve read the Quran, Bible, Torah etc and find it all fascinating. Don’t get me wrong personally I believe it to all be a bit silly. But that’s MY belief. To the pagan/atheist alliance which I discouvered today I think I benefit from. My pagan friends are more accepting of my atheism than my more judeochristian friends. Oddly enough my Muslim friends are as accepting of me as my pagan friends. I believe I’m digressing LOL

    I enjoyed this article immensely and have posted it to my pagan friends. Looking forward to that conversation :)

    I believe what I believe. Hopefully I can be as accepted for that as I fully accept everyone else for theirs.

  • Corina

    Check the book Proof of Heaven, it’s an nde account by neuroscientist that was in comma due to an infectious disease, and he saw God, and a sister that he didn’t meet while he was alive due to the fact that he was adopted, and he was also miracolously healed of his disease.

  • lucystrawberry

    Jesus never spoke about capitalism? Eh, I dunno.  Here is an interesting article.
    http://www.smh.com.au/business/what-jesus-said-about-capitalism-20120408-1wjmm.html

    And let’s not forget he chased the money-lenders (bankers) out of the temple!

  • sandra

    Interesting to read about paganism for a person that is an ex-christian and now atheist.

  • Ass-Kicking-Bitch

    I find one thing particularly funny that you say militant atheist are bullying by making fun xtians, but most of the supposed “mockery/making fun of” is just funny memes pointing out the vast contradictions in the “xtian faith”. I was raised in a strict xtian home, then began practicing paganism and finally realized I was an atheist because I knew (through educating myself) that religion and the belief in higher beings as creators is not possible or plausible. The fact of the matter is you think if we are all done “bullying” xtians then paganism will be next on the chopping block, which is silly and ridiculous. Most of the time xtians are the ones bullying atheist. I stated an opinion on a youtube video about a preacher who slandered and harassed a group of atheist and was attacked and threatened. Some people even threatened the lives of my children. And you know what I said? “I am glad those teens did not respond to him. He is just being rude and opressive. I am glad I raise my children to be free thinkers.” He was attacking the teens with his words. Telling them they are fornicators, druggies and didn’t deserve the life god gave them. He said the will burn and be in eternal tourment for their disgusting lives they led. All they were doing is peacefully holding signs that stated their opinions on their belief that religion has no place in politics. Which is true. He acted like an animal. But it is okay according to you for atheist to be bullied but if we point out true facts about religion and talk of it being funny and ridiculous then we are wrong and we are bullies. That makes no sense whatsoever. I do not have anything against paganism or wicca because most of them are not trying to force their religion on me or telling me I am wrong and cannot wait for the day I burn in hell for my beliefs. I also know xtians who are kind and good and do not do bad things or say bad things to me and I have no problems with them either. But that group of xtians seems to be very small. Just to close this out, you are wrong. I will stand by atheism until the day I die, but I am NOT a bully for telling the truth, voicing my opinion or feeling I should have the right NOT to be opressed by religion.

    • AtiyaTheSeeker

      Soooo… you had to not only use the term “xtian”, but also thought it proper to put up a wall of text about your hatred of spirituality because you got butthurt?

      …I swore to Bast that if your kind ever tries to eradicate religion, that I’d fight you fuckers to the death. I meant it.

      • Ass-Kicking-Bitch

        Oh, so if verbal oppression doesn’t work, threaten physical violence. Just thr logic of the uneducated religious types. How sad and pathetic you truly are.

  • noodlewhip

    I disagree with the idea that just because some Pagans are deeply religious in any way means that we need to acknowledge other deities from other religions. We do not. People outside of Abrahamic religion, and really, no one outside of any other religion is required to acknowledge the existence of other deities. It defeats the purpose of autonomous and ‘pure’ spiritual belief. If you believe in the power of other deities to exist outside of their own system, unless you specifically tie them into your religion or choose to acknowledge that religion, is to in some way tie yourself spiritually to that religion and that contributes to (or at least in my opinion detracts from) one’s identity as a Pagan. The Abrahamic religions are unique into and of themselves because they are part of one system, derived from one another as three separate religions, and they do not have anything nice to say about Pagans, they are vehemetly against Pagans/Witches or the acknowledgement of a Goddess in any fashion. Their religion(s) are not compatible with Paganism, at all, so to believe that you must acknowledge them is to be left under the residue of validation that they imply that Pagans seem to believe. Once Paganism, in all it’s forms, stops feeling the need to worry about validity in the form of recognizing another religion and start worrying about what it is to really be Pagan, then maybe the Pagan movement will be able to exist without needing to feel obligated to ‘live up to’ those other religions. They have no authority over us or what we do, therefore, why act as though they do? When you wrote in your article, if a person says they were touched by the holy spirit, and that you have to believe them just as much as you would believe if a High Priestess says she drew down the moon, I found that to be incorrect.

    In the words of Aristotle, “It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it.” You don’t have to believe that person just because they say they did so–not believing a person doesn’t mean that you’re discrediting their beliefs. If your beliefs are as important to you as you say they are, then how is there room to acknowledge another religions’ beliefs? We have no ‘enemy’ deity inherent in Paganism, as a whole, *depending on the Pantheon anyway), so it seems to me to be playing into this mentality that Pagans/Wiccans owe something to Abrahamic religion when we do not. Acknowledging them as equal to your spiritual practice validates them and is doing them a favor. I, as a Pagan, feel that I value my spirituality enough to be educated and not pretend that Abrahamic religion is in any way peaceful towards Pagans, or that they are to be trusted in any way–acknowleging them only gives them a place that I feel would disrespect any deities or energies or spirits that I would have around because of what has happened not only throughout history, but by their spiritual actions also. Aristotle’s words are worth heeding in this respect. Peace.

  • Maeva

    I am pagan, and I agree. I know I need to stop disrespecting christianity so much; I am working on it. My main agreement with most* atheists is that Christianity IS harmful, and shouldn’t be glorified by the State(as well as science and reason in government and schools). I have both seen the harm and been harmed by Christianity, so my tolerance as a Pagan trips and falls when it comes to conservative christians.

    *Not the ones that put up obnoxious signs and mock all beliefs; but the atheists I know are more tolerant and loving than most christians I know, so like fundies in christianty, I hold that they are in the minority.

  • jlucis

    Atheists are just as bad because they tend to be as self-righteous as Christians are. Although politically I lean more socially conservative libertarian, I nevertheless support many atheists who expose Christianity and Islam and the evils of it.


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