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.
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.
*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”.