Atheopagans and Scientism

I recently came across this term and went to a blog linked to by Ian Corrigan and wondered why they would want to use the terms pagan and religion for what they were doing. Here’s a sample of their thinking:

 

“I think it’s pretty clear that a critically thinking mind and an endorsement of the scientific method are the best means of determining truth. Educated persons tend toward atheism exactly for this reason–the higher one’s level of education, the less likely one is to subscribe to supernatural explanations for phenomena and experiences. It is not a radical thing to say so.”—Atheopaganism blog.

 

A bit condescending? What the atheopagans practice, at least the ones I’ve read, is scientism, a faith that doesn’t hold up well to critical thinking. There is something colonialist in this attitude, and rooted deeply in racist ideologies that imposed (or tried to) the at first monotheist values and later materialist values on most of the rest of the world. Philosophical materialism is at the heart of modernism; it bolsters capitalist values that mark everything as resource, including other humans, by those managing and owning. I’ve noticed that atheist pagans, whether they call themselves humanist, or naturalists (something of a misnomer I think) want to claim they hold the truth, a unitary truth that they label science. This is not only privileged before all other ways of knowledge, including those of art, sacred traditions, myth, dreaming, cultural forms of knowledge, indigenous practices—but which are often even further denigrated as superstitions, or mere entertainments, or the productions of childish minds. Just a few decades ago the term ‘savage’ would’ve been lobbed too.

 

Science is a wonderful methodology of learning about the physical world, those things that can be observed, measured, repeated and quantified. Science in and of itself can’t give us meaning; that is not its province. Seems like the atheist pagans then make meaning out of what they’ve learned from empirical scientific knowledge, but the philosophizing remains invisible to them. The reality remains that scientific knowledge is culturally situated, its truth cannot be purely objective in the way they wish. Ironically, this attitude that scientific truths are transcendent of our lives has roots in the Protestants’ omniscient deity.

 

Something particularly troubling is how they seem to want lay especial claim to the natural world; wondering at the sun, the experience filtered via knowledge known through astronomy and physics is fine. However, the blindness to the worldview they express is one of privilege that fully supports the capitalist global order, and the blindness to the history of colonial subjugation, racism and misogyny behind this scientism is not fine.

 

I’d take the atheopagans a lot more seriously if their discourse took a critical view at how science constructs its stories of what nature is, and of sex/gender and race as well, but I don’t see anything of that. They might well read Donna Haraway’s Primate Visions: Gender, Race and Nature in the World Of Modern Science,* that trenchant tome of analysis that painstakingly examines how science tells its tales of nature in “ a particular aesthetic, realism, and a particular politics, commitment to progress….” If you’re not familiar with her she is a major scholar in history of science, science studies, and philosophy of science and was long based at U.C. Santa Cruz.

 

Haraway and others argue that the idea that science is somehow separate from the social and the cultural is one of the hegemonies that create an obstacle to different ways of knowledge and that science’s practices are interwoven with patriarchal, racist, heterosexist, and colonial histories. Science is not a practice that somehow is done in some outside sphere, some sterilized globe outside of culture and history (like the remote island named New Jerusalem that surveilled all the rest of the world in Francis Bacon’s prescient New Atlantis, written around 1626). Haraway has written about a cautious optimism that a more self-reflexive science could be done, and certain examples of it (for her nature is described as Trickster, Coyote), but I don’t see atheopagans writing about this or discussing how their ideas of nature are constructed from science’s stories. They remain descendants of Rene Descartes and Francis Bacon.

 

Bacon
Bacon

Educating oneself in postcolonialism, feminism, continental philosophy and the history and philosophy of science can make a person lose faith in Science as the one True Way of Knowledge. The reader may still remain atheist, but most likely they would be a less arrogant, less patronizing and colonialist one.

 

I love what I’ve learned of the natural world from scientists, including Ilya Prigogine and Lynn Margulis. But I also can and have learned much of nature from poets and artists, like Gary Snyder, Diane di Prima, Basho, Yeats, Wordsworth, the early Irish nature poets, and Georgia O’Keefe, Hokusai and Andy Goldsworthy to select a very few. And from my personal phenomenological experience and an animist worldview. If this is all worthless to those highly educated persons they reference then it seems to me it may be higher education that’s failing us.

 

Mycelium

 

*The chapters have delicious titles like “Monkeys and Monopoly Capitalism”;

“Teddy Bear Patriarchy: Taxidermy in the Garden of Eden, New York City, 1908-36”;

“Apes in Eden, Apes in Space: Mothering as a Scientist for National Geographic”;

“Women’s Place Is in the Jungle”; and “Sarah Blaffer Hrdy: Investment Strategies for the Evolving Portfolio of Primate Females”.

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19 thoughts on “Atheopagans and Scientism

  1. Pingback: Belief vs. Worldview | The Lefthander's Path

  2. The whole notion that science can provide “truth” (rather than what it does provide–fact) is flawed from the start; as is the notion that the only purpose of religion (which they always understand as “bad/primitive science”) is to “explain things.” Where do we begin with how misguided these notions are? You’ve done a good job of pointing out the flaws in those particular filters here, certainly.

    So, how then these folks decide that there’s anything worthwhile in paganism to appropriate for themselves, I am still utterly astonished at…

    1. I’m astonished too.
      Like some of the more well-known atheists they slam us in faith terms too, you know, as if it’s all a matter of belief. Accused of having “faith” in our experience. Shakes head!

      1. I also love how a certain person that one of our colleagues has nicknamed “Johnny Humanist” constantly says that not considering other interpretations of our experiences (like “it’s all just in your head,” for example) makes us not open-minded, whereas asking them to consider that peoples’ interpretations of their experiences might include divine ones that are individual and just for them is completely off-limits for us to even insinuate that they should do, because “it’s not about belief,” etc. This is largely what prompted my most recent blog post, as I’m sure you could guess…but crikey! 😦

  3. Ah, the Johnny (re)writing the deities out of modern pagan history?
    Isn’t it interesting how the people with the socially normative view think that those of us who have a minority worldview are the ones who never really thought about our experiences or questioned ourselves??

    1. As we’ve seen on some recent TWH comments in relation to Rhyd’s posts: apparently “atheist” and “healthy skeptic” are also the same thing…And when I suggested that’s a flawed understanding because it equates “health” with atheism, I got a lot of “you don’t understand”…

      Crikey.

      1. Being open minded is a very peculiar self-description for them, when they are so arrogant toward other people’s experiences. Atheopagan tells me (and us, as polytheists) that my approach is not “rationally defensible”, whatever that means. They claim they are part of the ”big tent” which personally I would not have a problem with if they weren’t insulting the rest of us. It is pretty ironic that the quote I placed at the head of the piece showed the condescending attitude and then he came over here with a comment so dripping with condescension and rudeness that I didn’t put it up, as it violated the Mast’s policy, which is based on hospitality.

        I also find that any mention of science’s social situatedness sends some of these people off into outrage (how emotional of them). Well, as we know, mentions of hidden privileges often trigger vehement denial among those benefitting.

        As you know, I’ve been one to stick to the pagan umbrella, but with recent developments there doesn’t seem to be any consensus on what the term might mean. What I really don’t get at all is the way they’ve set up camp among a group of magical/religious communities and started sneering at us. There are so many ways people can be non-theist but some atheists carry a strong evangelism. They are so convinced that their worldview is superior that they are blinded to even the terms of other worldviews. Yeah, it does seem to be getting worse.

    1. Crikey…I love the “suitable for printing” thing there…

      But, it looks like there’s some major misunderstandings there (the difference between atheists and theists is more than “metaphorical vs. literal”!), some broad generalizations that almost everyone can agree to, and an awful lot of leeway allowed by “nobody’s perfect,” probably with the caveat that it only applies to theists trying to correct or nuance atheists, and the “no questions get fully answered” (or whatever it is) kind of is more in the agnostic territory, as most declared atheists have made up their minds.

      Well, anyway…no sense losing sleep over this.

      I am going to address some of these matters regarding the viability of the “pagan umbrella” in my “State of Paganism” remarks on Paganalia next week, as I often do when that festival comes around. Likely as not, it won’t make a drop of different to anyone else, but oh well.

      1. I think atheist means a firmly made up mind. Quite different than agnostic, but seems like there’s slippage there. Ahem.

        Look forward to reading your address. Would like to do one of my own but probably not, as of tomorrow I’m back in the educational trenches.

      2. Yes, exactly…It’s hard to berate theists from having “made up their minds” when the atheist position assumes the exact same thing, only from the opposite viewpoint. Whatevs.

        I am going into my fourth week of those trenches tomorrow…which is good, because that means things are close to 1/3 over for the quarter already! 😉

  4. You’ve raised a valid and important issue here, and I say that as an “atheopagan” myself. Much of atheist discourse, including atheist Pagan discourse, betrays a disturbing lack of critical perspective. We often seem to be caught in an 18th and 19th century modernist paradigm, uninformed by feminist, post-modern, and other critical perspectives. I would like to see us turn the critical eye, which we direct outward so easily, inward on ourselves.

    1. Thanks for that, John, and I see you doing that, in terms of foregrounding ‘deep ecology’, which is not set within a modernist orientation to nature. Also in maintaining a respectful attitude to those with a quite different view, i.e. polytheists. As I mentioned to Lupus there are many ways to be non-theist, and of course many ways to be theist.

  5. I personally feel thrown under the bus. I consider myself a naturalist (who is deeply curious how that could be considered a misnomer), who also hasn’t called themselves a Pagan but has been widely considered one because of my earth-based practices to the point of being invited to write for different places that self describe as Pagan, and yet is thrown in with the othering terms of “they” painting a very broad brush that everyone who is associated with Paganism and Atheism is like this. The practice I follow is immensely open in form that these criticisms simply wouldn’t stick, and yet I get painted with this? I think it is poor practice to take everyone with a certain outlook and say they are all the same – more general terms like, “some”, “many”, “those I’ve read” would be more respectful. Otherwise stating specific individual examples, like the atheo-paganism site was, would provide a clearer message on who is being addressed. If I am mistaken about that, please provide reference to how that is? I would sincerely like to know.

    1. Did you read what I wrote or just scan through? It is addressed to and starts with a quote from Atheopagansim’s blog. I also nuanced it with “atheopagans practice, at least the ones I’ve read,” so I don’t know why you would ‘take it personally’. I’m not “throwing anyone under the bus”. I am saying, if you base your practice ONLY on truths of materialist science, then you need to really be aware of the cultural and social situatedness of science (hell, I think we all should be as it is the West’s dominant narrative). I extensively quoted and paraphrased Donna Haraway and if readers have a problem with her that’s their problem. What I wrote is in particular a response to those who have a condescending attitude toward animists, polytheists, all kinds of theists, or even of a-theists who find more to the world than that which is told through scientism. Certainly, not all Humanist and Atheist Pagans are like this, John Halstead being an example. As for dropping more names, I won’t do it, as in the last few years these tend to come in on private channels and I don’t think it’s fair to broadcast them publicly—but this is quite common. Yet, polytheists are supposed to take this without umbrage and hang out in the ‘Pagan Big Tent”, apparently remaining silent about any issues. And anytime when I mention the slightest critique of science, (and by the way I love the insights I get from science, which makes this whole thing even more ironic) I get these angry responses. Which in turn pisses this poet and devotional polytheist off.

      1. From your own article, “I’ve noticed that atheist pagans, whether they call themselves humanist, or naturalists (something of a misnomer I think) want to claim they hold the truth, a unitary truth that they label science. This is not only privileged before all other ways of knowledge, including those of art, sacred traditions, myth, dreaming, cultural forms of knowledge, indigenous practices—but which are often even further denigrated as superstitions, or mere entertainments, or the productions of childish minds. Just a few decades ago the term ‘savage’ would’ve been lobbed too.”

        I personally am not in favor of naming names either, that is just one way of going about it. I am not angry with your criticism, some of it I find are fair assessments and have seen it myself – no qualms about that. I simply don’t agree with the generalizations presented in the above quote.

  6. I appreciate the perspective offered here, in particular the recommended reading which I have added to my list. Indeed, my only quibble is taking one person’s writing as a sample of “their” thinking. I generally like his writing, but he is only one person. Despite identifying with the same labels, I don’t agree with everything he writes. It’s not a sample of *my* thinking. I admire his community-building efforts, but to be clear: he speaks for himself, even when he writes in the plural. That’s just a rhetorical flourish. I think he’d agree with that analysis. Anyhow, thanks again.

  7. Sure. I’ve had some other people come at me with very similar views, but yes, it’s easy to get overly into the flourishes, as you aptly call them from both directions.

    Haraway has a lot of amazing work out. I was blown away by her The Biopolitics of Postmodern Bodies: Determinations of Self in Immune System Discourse.

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