I’ve been doing a long series of posts on atheism and Wicca. I’m working out the idea that atheistic and neo-pagan communities have more in common than they might think, and that, as American religiousity continues to shift away from Christianity, those two communities will increasingly be blended into each other. This will be messy messy messy. Religious naturalism is their central meeting point. Atheists will gradually build larger social organizations while neo-pagans will gradually build more rational doctrines. One of the results may be an atheistic nature-religion. Nature-religion is one of the things we do well here in America. On this point it’s instructive to go back to the New England Transcendentalists – reread your Thoreau, your Emerson, even your William James. If you think this is all crazy, or that it’s irrelevant, bear in mind I’m mainly describing things that are already happening in America, and cultural forces that are already at work.
Starting on Monday, I’ll be devoting a series of posts to the Wiccan God and Goddess. Are they really theistic? Or are they merely mythic symbols for natural forces? Or something stranger in between? American Atheists have argued greatly against the Dear Old Christian God; but those arguments just won’t work against the Wiccan deities. After the God and Goddess, I’ll be looking at the neo-pagan Wheel of the Year. Remarkably, atheists have already adopted parts of the Wheel. Should they adopt all of it?
After the Wheel, it’s time to look critically at reincarnation. It’s funny that it’s thought of as an Eastern thing, when so many classical American thinkers have endorsed it (once more, I urge you to go back to the New England Transcendentalists). But are there arguments for reincarnation? Well, not for reincarnation here on this earth — that is, not for transmigration. Nobody gets reincarnated here on earth. All memories of past lives are false. But what about palingenesis? Palingenesis is better known as rebirth. It’s the thesis that you will have other lives in other worlds. Are there arguments for other lives? There’s Nietzsche and his eternal return, the Buddhists with their rebirth, David Lewis and his counterpart theory, and a strange line of reasoning in a letter by Kurt Godel. Rebirth does not involve any gods or goddesses; it is entirely consistent with atheism. Atheists in the East have endorsed it (that is, the Buddhists) while atheists in the West have also endorsed it (Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and others). Atheism isn’t the same as positivism or even skepticism. There are interesting arguments that we will have other lives in other worlds. You’ll have to decide for yourself.
After reincarnation, it’s off to magic. There’s a nice article in the January 2012 Scientific American about how our brains just naturally generate woo. It’s unstoppable. Nietzsche would love it: those errors that are useful for the species. Of course, magic is ineffective and the theory behind it is false. But I won’t try to debunk magic — debunking has never had much effect, and it never will. As long as our brains work the way they do, they will continue to generate woo. Hence my argument against magic will be ethical: Wiccans have an ethical maxim, their Wiccan Rede. And it’s not consistent with their embrace of magic. Any ethical Wiccan (any Wiccan who follows their own ethical doctrine) is obligated to repudiate all magic. And there are plently of Wiccans who repudiate magic altogether. What I’d like is a spell that banishes irrational thinking. I’m a philosopher. I actually believe in rationality. Nature is rational and reason is natural. That’s why I’m an atheist. It’s also why I’m not a positivist.