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Thursday, 12 January 2012

Is there such a thing as a Pagan Atheist?

First of all we should establish what the term “Pagan Atheist” means. Let's break down that title into it's respective components, and look at their definitions in modern English:

1. An adherent of a polytheistic religion in antiquity, especially when viewed in contrast to an adherent of a monotheistic religion.
2. A Neopagan.
3. Offensive
a. One who has no religion.
b. An adherent of a religion other than Judaism, Christianity, or Islam.
4. A hedonist.”

One who disbelieves or denies the existence of God or gods.”

(definitions take from www.thefreedictionary.com)

Looking at the information above we can ration that Pagan Atheist may indeed be an accurate description of someone who holds hedonistic values and believes in no god(s). However, as this term seems to be appearing more and more this is often not the way in which it is used.

If you run the term “pagan atheist” through a search engine you'll find many different definitions and views.

One of the common ones is that it describes people who view pagan gods as metaphors for the different forces of nature that they do worship. Although they very much atheist, in so much that they do not worship a god or gods. But, are they Pagan? Well if we look at the top two definitions above then, no they aren't. The worship of nature as the divine is not Paganism, it's a belief system called Pantheism, however some people shy away from this term as some sources define it as meaning “worshipping all gods” rather than “worshipping the god in all”. Some people also dislike the term because in most definitions the term “god” is used, however it does not imply a “creator god” or powerful beings, it refers to a divine force. A similar belief system is Animism which although doesn’t denote the belief in a god figure, but refers to the belief that all things in nature have a spiritual side and all have a “soul”.

Another common view is that “Pagan Atheist” refers to someone who although doesn’t believe in Pagan god(s), classes themselves as Pagan on a cultural level, and lives there life in a way that holds to Pagan ideals. Although this doesn't strictly fit with a dictionary definition, to me this makes sense. Many people will describe themselves as Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, etc. Not as a way of identifying their beliefs, but as a way of describing their heritage. With the rise in Paganism, and more children being brought up in Pagan families, this is a use of the term I feel we will see more of in years to come.

What these two examples illustrate is that “Pagan Atheist” is a perfectly suitable term for describing someone’s culture, heritage and values. However, it is not - (in my humble opinion) - an accurate description of a spiritual path or religion.

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