Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Lapsed Pagan WTF?

First, some definitions:

Lapsed: No longer committed to or following the tenets of a particular belief, obligation, position, etc.: e.g. a lapsed Catholic.

(neo)Pagan: Adherent to a 20th-century revival of interest in the worship of nature, fertility, etc.

So that's it then, used to define myself strongly as Pagan (or Neopagan to be more accurate) but not anymore. Why not? Well that's a short question with a long answer and no mistake guv'nor.
The short version of the answer is "It became counter-productive, so I stopped it." To really answer why I stopped being a Pagan, I guess it's important to find out why I was a Pagan in the first place, and what kind of Pagan I was.

Why was I a Pagan?
I think when I was about 9 or 10, I rejected Christianity as a bag of shite, and had thereafter strongly identified myself as atheist, though perhaps with agnostic tendencies. My parents had half-heartedly tried to bring me up to be CoE, which was tricky since neither of them actually believed it, but paid it lip-service in the lazy way that most British people of no fixed belief do. For a lot of people, it's easier when asked "what religion are you?" to say "Church of England" or just "Christian" (usually with the caveat "but I don't really go to church much") than it is to say "I'm not any." So anyway, fortunately for me, their lacklustre attempts to indoctrinate me into the social norm didn't take.
I developed a strong interest in the so-called paranormal: esp, rosicrucianism, Golden Dawn, Qabbalah (yes before it was trendy) etc. and read a lot about all of it. I also became interested in my Celtic heritage and began to read up on that that. Additionally, I read of loads fantasy literature, much of it with significant Celtic influence. When I was about 14 or 15 I got into rock music, a lot of which has (moreso then than now even) "satanic" or magical themes and imagery associated with it and I was attracted to the glamour of all of this. It was at this point that a few of those I called friends at that point decided to be Satanists 'cause it was "cool". I dabbled with this for a few weeks but quickly came to the realisation that "Satanism", to
most dabblers at least, is just an excuse to act like a cunt to everyone around you in the name of religion, and surround yourself in pseudo-mysticism (so, exactly like Christianity then ;D), so I ditched it, and them. I was around this time that my reading into the paranormal and occult led me to discover the concept of Neopaganism, though no-one used the prefix "neo" at the time. It strongly appealed to my sensibilities: a religion that teaches tolerance, and respect for each other and the natural world, and with a branch that has it's imagery and observances rooted in the Celtic world (albeit in much modified/reconstructionist form), so at some point I guess I thought "I want to be one of those" and hey presto, I was, because you don't need any initiation to be most kinds of Pagan.

What kind of Pagan was I?
So, I read loads Pagan literature; I dismissed Gardnerian Wicca as a sex cult, Asatru as racist, etc. In fact most other Pagans I met just got on my tits with their insistence on a firm standpoint on some very woolly ideas and seemingly unshakeable belief that their practices were the a direct, unbroken descendant of whatever pre-Christian belief system they modelled them on, despite evidence to the contrary (most of it is reconstructed, cobbled together from what little evidence there actually is, or simply made up). I never even joined the Pagan Federation as, at the time, they insisted that you sign up to a firm belief in the Wiccan Rede and the Law of Threefold Return, and I think the law of threefold return is bollocks and that they both represent dogma, which is almost always harmful. They recently relaxed this rule but it was too late. I was what gets called an "eclectic" or "solitary" Pagan; pick and choose bits from the various traditions you like, discard the rest, and make some stuff up for yourself. What was the essence of my belief? You could probably sum it up in a single phrase from The Fast Show if you wanted a sound-bite "Isn't nature brilliant¿"; or, for something a bit more explanatory, "A pantheistic Neopagan following a loosely Celtic oriented path of ritual and meditation, with a mostly naturalistic viewpoint." I'll probably elaborate further in later entries about what I mean by "mostly naturalistic"
Why am I not a Pagan Now?
Well it all started when I read Richard Dawkins excellent polemic on religion "The God Delusion", but it's not quite as simple as "Dawkins says religion is bullshit, so I won't be religious". If you haven't read it (go and fucking read it! ;)) it's a piece by piece deconstruction of all the bullshit reasons people give for being religious, clearly showing how they are all fallacious and don't really stand up to any kind of rational scrutiny. If fact it goes further than that and hypothesises that religion is counter-productive and does more harm than good; wars, gay-bashing, fuck stupid bans on stem-cell research, teaching the third world that contraception is a sin, violence in the middle-east etc. But reading this alone didn't stop me from calling myself Pagan. Because Dawkins necessarily focuses on the "big 3" abrahamic religions, many of the arguments simply don't apply to pantheistic neopaganism; in fact Dawkins describes pantheism as merely "sexed-up atheism". What the book did do, and what I think it's done for a lot of people who detest the hypocrisies of organised religion, is galvanise my opinions and make me want to speak out more against the harmful bullshit that we see all around us that people seem to tolerate because it's religious: "Oh people can believe what they want" no, they fucking can't, not when what they believe causes acts that bring harm to others, or gives support to those who do, and the beliefs those harmful acts are based on is totally unsupported and contrived to be unprovable; that's just bullshit. Anyway, so I started having conversations with people where I say "organised religion is bad" when what I really mean is "dogma is bad" (but part of the problem with having these kinds of conversations is that many people don't really understand what is meant by words like dogma, pantheism, agnostic, theism, deism etc.) and what would often happen is that the best counter-argument that anyone can come up with is the ad hominem "but you're a Pagan." It doesn't really work as an argument, it's a classic logical fallacy, and a transparent diversionary tactic, but it's a pain in the arse having to explain this.
In addition to this, the term "Pagan" carries with it a lot of baggage; many Pagans seem to have an in-built tendency to believe any old new-age bullshit that drifts through their transom from feng-shui to palmistry to astrology. I used to think that the term "Pagan" said more about me and my outlook on life, than the term "Atheist", and I was right, but I've recently come to realise that it also says a lot more than is actually true. While I'd like people to understand that I have a respect for, if not awe of, nature and an interest in history, heritage and the traditions, and art of the celtic peoples (among others), I don't really want them to think that I'm falling for bunk like crystal healing, dreamcatchers or reiki. So that's it, I say I'm not a Pagan and hey presto, as if by magick (sic), I'm not.

1 comment:

Paul Baird said...

As an ex-Pagan myself I found myself nodding away in agreement when reading this post.

I ended my Paganism as a solitary, not following any specific path and being fed up with some of the dogmatism that I heard.

That said, I still keep a toe in the Pagan pond because it allows me to argue against Theisms either as an Atheist or as a different Theist.

It's a sort of a Mortons Fork approach.