BOOK REVIEW: GODLESS PAGANISM
Highly recommended. Godless Paganism: voices of Non-Theistic Pagans is the fruit of a substantial pioneering project. The book has 75 chapters, with only a small number of contributors writing more than one. The chapters are arranged in 10 themed sections, with a substantial introduction that surveys the territory as a whole. I think that anyone with an interest in modern Paganism could gain something from this book.
The book exists thanks to the efforts of John Halstead and colleagues at HumanisticPaganism.com. (I notice that, in the text, ‘Naturalistic Paganism’ seems to be the more favoured term). Money was raised by supporters and the book is published by Lulu.com.
Godless Paganism is fresh and alive, and introduces many voices – the voices people who are moving and changing, engaged in experiential exploration, open to new ways of sense-making. Culturally, it has as U.S. centre of gravity, though contributors from other parts of the world are included.
Some contributors report being challenged by fundamentalist Pagans over their right to call themselves Pagan, and this is presented as a problem emerging in the 21st. century rather than an inheritance from the 20th. This may help to explain why Godless Paganism has, for me, a remarkably deity-focused feel. Brendan Myers writes a chapter called The worship of the Gods in not what matters but the book has no overall sense of saying, ‘let’s base our spirituality on a different focus – our response to nature, perhaps, or to suffering’. Approaches like this are represented in the book, but it is more usual for contributors either to present reframed understandings of ‘deity’ and ‘belief’, or to celebrate the play of deity yoga without belief. All fine by me – yet this does suggest a concern with responding to perceived fundamentalist challenges rather than an actual departure from theistic language and theistic frames of reference.
Having said that, I strongly welcome Godless Paganism and what it represents. I hope that it strengthens the confidence and community standing of those who identify as ‘naturalistic Pagans’. I salute the people who have made this happen, and I look forward to future collections on this topic.
John Halstead (editor) Godless Paganism: voices of non-theistic Pagans Lulu.com 2016 (Foreword by Mark Green)
I have it already (because I’m in it) but have yet to read it. I think this is always the issue for atheism, that it has to get beyond defining itself in opposition and start having its own terms – one of the reasons i am a big fan of Alain du Botton’s work is that he spends so much time exploring what atheism might be for, rather than against. That has to be the most fertile line of inquiry.
Or even just non-theist options. Our contemplative Druidry practice is effectively non-theist, initially for pragmatic reasons given that our membership is theistically all over the park. Without having any commitment to atheism, we have developed a non-theistic focus.
I think non-theistic approaches are a must for group work because you can have such wide ranging beliefs in a Druid circle.
You’ve articulated something I haven’t been able to put my finger on about the book (and I’m also in it): it does spend a lot of time, my own bit included, talking about alternative concepts of deity. I think that it is a response to increasing Polytheist fundamentalism and orthodoxy, and a statement that needs to be made to show that non-theist Pagans are here and we’re not going anywhere.
To an extent, that means defining ourselves in opposition to theism, but as a form of defence, not attack.
That said, I think that a collection like this is a first step. The next challenge, as you point out, is to explore a naturalistic focus and foundation for non-theistic Paganism going forward.
I agree with what you say. And it’s a brilliant first step. I enjoyed your review of myth and meaning as a particularly clear discussion of the issues.
Thanks! I look forward to seeing where the naturalistic Pagan community take the discussion next.
Thank you for this great review! I agree that talking about what we *DO* and “ARE* as opposed to what we are not is an important step for the non-theistic Pagan community to take. This is why most of my writing is on rituals, observances and practices, rather than a/theology. Mark Green
Thanks for this comment Mark. I found your foreword to ‘Godless Paganism’ very clear and encouraging – especially celebration of both critical thinking and reverence for a world deemed sacred. I also liked your account, in a later piece, of how everyday atheism misses important potentials within spiritual community and practice.
Check out atheopaganism.wordpress.com for more material on Atheopaganism!
Thanks Mark. I will.
I look forward to reading this book. I call myself a Druid based on experiences with nature since childhood that don’t involve any current or past cultural pantheon. Glad to know I’m not the only one that feels this way.
You’ll find quite a diversity of approaches within this book, too – part of what made it interesting for me.
Feeling a lot of synergy here, as I convene a community on my campus dedicated to contemplative inquiry, and I am also a contributor to this book — and longtime follower of this blog.
I think this review is quite perceptive as to the motivations and ambitions of this book. I think it succeeds on those terms. As others have also noted, an articulation of practice on naturalistic terms is also needful. I’ve attempted to do that in a small way with my new ebook, Spinning in Place. It’s more geared toward atheists who are interested in Paganism than the other way round, but I’m happy to provide review copies for anyone interested in taking a look.
Thanks for your comment Bart. I would be very interested in having a review copy of Spinning in Place. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to send it as an attachment.