Atheism and Wicca: The Road Ahead

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.

Here are the posts so far:

Atheism and Wicca

The Wiccan Deity

The Wiccan Deity: An Initial Philosophical Analysis

The Wiccan Deity: Related Concepts in Philosophy

On Atheistic Religion

Nine Theses on Wicca and Atheism

Atheistic Holidays

Criticizing Wicca: Energy

Atheism and Beauty

Do Atheists Worship Truth?

Some Naturalistic Ontology

Criticizing Wicca: Levels

Atheism and the Sacred: Natural Creative Power

Atheist Ceremonies: De-Baptism and the Cosmic Walk

Atheism and Possibility

The Impossible God of Paul Tillich

Atheism and the Sacred: Being-Itself

Pure Objective Reason

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Erika

    i’m very much looking forward to your article regarding magic, since the Wiccan Rede has so many different versions and is perceived in many different ways, just like magic is understood very individually among wiccans.

  • llewelly

    . It’s unstoppable. Nietzsche would love it: those errors that are useful for the species


    Or just a compromise with the expenses of rigorous thinking and the limits of computability?

    • Eric Steinhart

      You put the issue brilliantly: “a compromise with the expenses of rigorous thinking and the limits of computability”! I think that’s an excellent modern way of expressing Nietzsche’s idea of usefulness for survival. Well said. It’s fascinating to study our brain function from the perspective of computational cost.

  • SAWells

    “American Atheists have argued greatly against the Dear Old Christian God; but those arguments just won’t work against the Wiccan deities.”

    Which arguments? The claim is very sweeping.

    Also, did you ever work out how the Immanent Power of Being relates to unstable particles, or does bronze-age metaphysics not cope with modern physics?

  • melissameverden

    Very interesting! I’m glad I saw this post so that I can check out this series. Studying paganism helped lead me from my collapsed Christianity to my current atheist state, so I’m curious to see your discussions of the two.

  • Phledge

    @melissameverden: I went from boring Presbyterian (birth to 16yo) to fundie evangelical Christian (4 years) to Neopagan (17 years) to current atheist. Also v interested in this series. Thanks Eric!

  • Daniel Fincke

    bronze-age metaphysics


    • SAWells

      Hyperbole, but at least it made you ask the question!

      Serious point: I’m suspicious about deep musings on Being and Existence which aren’t based on what we know about beings and their existence, and since we keep learning more, we should be very carefully checking our metaphysics to be sure that we are going meta- the correct physics. In particular, Eric has made repeated reference to something that he refers to as Being-itself, or as the “Immanent Creative Power of Being”, which is apparently supposed to sustain existing things in existence and prevent them becoming non-existent, and is also apparently supposed to be involved in creating one or more universes. The idea of things being sustained in existence by some power implies that things ought to cease existing if not so sustained, and this may simply not be a correct model of how things are.

      In particular, the difference between the behaviour of the muon and the electron, properly considered, leads naturally to a metaphysical position diametrically opposite to the idea of a “power of being”. Should I explain further?