The Scientific Pagan

One of the few things I lost when I left the religion of my upbringing was the ability to easily define my beliefs in a simple label. I am no longer “Southern Baptist” and all those two words immediately imply. I don’t in any way consider this a bad thing, but when people ask me what I believe now I don’t want to weigh them down with “I’m a Unitarian Universalist neo-pagan scientific pantheist humanist who practices Buddhist insight meditation (Vipassana),” even though it’s the truth. Sometimes, however, I have the personal need to privately unpack these labels that usually blend seamlessly in my daily life in order to get a better sense of who I am and where I’m going on this spiritual journey.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock
Image courtesy of Shutterstock

My degree is in education with a specialization in life and earth sciences. How does my love of science fit into my spiritual life? While I’ve always been a pagan at heart (but didn’t realize it), I discovered I was a scientific pantheist first. I won’t go into all the details of what scientific pantheists believe (for more information you can go here: http://www.pantheism.net/manifest.htm#statement), but in short I have a deep reverence for the universe and believe that science can ultimately explain all phenomena within it. Until that happens there are many mysteries I can’t explain, but I don’t believe they are caused by supernatural forces. I believe there are forces and events that are nothing short of miraculous in human terms, but I feel that they are all part of the natural system of our cosmos, that they all obey standard laws of biology and physics, and that we just still have a long way to go in some cases to define these laws. I believe that many of the things we do and do not understand are completely deserving of our awe. Both of the Cosmos television series serve as an excellent documentary of what it is I believe as a scientific pantheist.

But then how can I be a pagan? Don’t all pagans believe in supernatural forces? A brief exploration with Google shows that this isn’t the case. Most probably do, and I have nothing but respect for those who do. As an earth-centered pagan, however, I believe that the universe is worthy in and of itself to be worshiped and honored in my rituals. Science, as the system I trust to explain the universe, is a great tool for shaping and enabling this worship. But it doesn’t fulfill my need to interact with the things I don’t understand and which sometimes bring about deep emotions and moving mental states. Ceremony and ritual help me meet that personal requirement, and I find that pagan rituals do so best of all.

When I first participated with the women’s pagan circle at my UU fellowship, I was somewhat uncomfortable using the words “goddess” and “spirits.” I’ve since come to associate the forces and conditions of the universe that science cannot yet explain with those terms. To me these words are just as good as any others in naming that which cannot (yet) be named. There are also a lot of people who believe that we can be one with, if not the same as, “God” or “Goddess.” My spiritual nature can identify with the creativity, love, and sense of power so often attributed to supernatural beings – not that I consider myself to be above others in any way. So I’ve lost most of the wariness I once had for such terms. I often find myself thinking of science promotor Adam Savage’s words, “I reject your reality and substitute my own.” But this is something all thinking spiritual people do as they evolve.

In the end, I don’t feel any kind of disconnect between my love of science and my love of and reverence for nature. And maybe someday I’ll drop all the labels I’ve given to myself and just consider my spiritual beliefs to be what they are. In the meantime, I find them helpful in mapping out just what it is I do and do not believe, and that’s an excellent way to continue propelling myself down my own path.

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