Some thinking aloud

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately, probably over the past six months or so, actually. Thinking about religious thought, philosophy and the nature of everything. Really, it's a mini-religious crisis, much like the one I had at 15 or so when I started really reading that bible everyone swore told me the answer to everything, and yet it told me the opposite of everything I'd been taught. This time is different, I'll admit, but not by much.

I have thought this in circles, spoke to my partner about it, and now I'm going to meander my way through these thoughts and see where I come out. Well, I guess I already know where it's coming out, but I'm curious to see if it ever makes more sense.

I've been Pagan for many years, almost twenty, actually. In that time I've often thought of the God and Goddess as personification of the creative power, and in many ways, the universe itself, rather than persons. I felt that as humans we can't even wrap our heads around how big a creator-person would have to be, let alone the energy that flows through us, and into and our of the universe at large, so I felt we gave it facets, faces, names much like the Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians all had gods and goddesses who made it rain, but all of them had different names and faces.

It made a kind of logical sense to me: if some thing's too big to get, to really understand, take the part you do understand, and then start breaking down the larger bits as you can grow into that knowing, that realisation. It's the way we learn to read and write, the way we learn mathematics-- a little block of knowledge at a time. So that was how I looked at the creator, the idea of a god, an overall Person Of Great Power Who Was In Charge.

I never thought that the creator was a person who would punish me if I was bad, or reward me if I was good-- so in many ways I understood and intuited the idea of Deism, long before I knew what it was. That a god or goddess might have "wound the universe" then walked away to leave us to ourselves makes sense, too. I mean, one interpretation of the myths of creation could be that the orgasms of the gods that formed us was another way of explaining the Big Bang. That instant that the infinitely dense, hot, tiny dot of matter exploded into a vast cloud of amazing force and energy, that I always thought of as the creator flicking a marble-- click, "there we go! Watch evolution in real time, Oh, let's see, I've got some matter left over from that other universe, let's fold it up and start this one again."

That idea worked for many years, and I liked it. It embraced my love of science, didn't cut out evolution at all, and left room for improvement in my own theory as I learned and understood more. I wanted to be brave, to be scientific about it, and to leave room to disprove myself, so I was careful not to box myself in, on religion. To revise my ideas, to not have my faith be a deeply held belief, that was what I strove for.

I didn't want to believe. I wanted to have a good idea. I wanted to leave room for improvement, and expansion in myself. I wanted to know I could grow.

As time passed I found myself not seeing a creator as a person, so much as a force, an energy, maybe just the electrons of all of us, the bits and molecules that make us, us. So, to me the God and Goddess of my younger times was replaced with a Universal Energy, the Universe itself.

That worked, too. The Cosmos was, after all, our Universal Mother and Father, in the way a God has been personified.

I could handle that, giving the Universe the name God or Goddess. That worked for me. I still felt that I was leaving room for expansion, and growth, letting my love and worship of science have room, and trying to evolve.

I never wanted to be a stodgy person, to stop growing is to die. I want to grow, to blossom, to be inspired!

Then about six months ago, I realised I hadn't thought about God at all, in a long time. I'd been busy with science, teaching my kids, reinforcing the things their teachers have taught them; explaining some of the finger points of evolution, and even explaining my love of string theory with my oldest-- what little bit I understand, that is. I've never shied away from letting them know, "I find this fascinating, even though I don't fully understand it. This is what I do get, and isn't that awesome!"

I realised that I found that same sense of awe staring into the sky that I heard described by people seeing their god. It's a deep sense of insignificance; it makes me gasp, the stars are so beautiful! It's knowing I'm peering back through time, hundreds and thousands and millions of years; knowing I'm seeing the grandeur of the Universe. Knowing that all of this evolved and became now; it's humbling, exciting, and amazing!

When you realise, deep down, that billions of years ago a star formed, whizzing around, maybe it even had planets, too. It spun, lived out a life, and died in an explosive moment of light and matter ejection-- this was necessary for my earth to form, for my species to evolve, for me to be here.

There's no feeling of humility deeper than that. No more thankful feeling. It brings tears to my eyes.

Reading the stories and myths, doing circle work, with and without other Pagans, I've never felt that connection, that sacred feeling of intensity; never felt or saw "the mind of god" the way I do when I stare into the cosmos, pour over photos from the Hubble, read about quarks, ponder the nature of the why and how we're here.

Then I realised that I'd given up on a personal god, and just become comfortable with the idea of Universe as god... meaning that I was worshipping the Universe, and science, rather than a personification of some vast omnipotent deity. I realised I was working to make the world a better place, not because I thought it was a Gaea, but because this is our home, and it's the right thing to do-- if humans have broken this, we need to fix it.

That's what I've been wrestling with for about six months now.

The realisation that I've become a Pagan Atheist, and I'm not sure how to handle that.

It's not that I mind, wholly. I mean, seriously, I have been always very careful to be atheist in my politics, and in public-- my personal faith has nothing to do with the law, and it should not be enshrined in the law anywhere.

But part of me does mind; I hold the idea of a Creator in very high esteem. I want not to mock the idea of a god, to be serious and certain. That's why I took the long way from Christian to Pagan. I wanted to search, to find, to know.

In the years that I was Pagan, worshipping the idea of a Goddess felt more comfortable than the person of Goddess. I like the idea of a female energy, rather than the idea of a person. It's easier, and so very much harder, more infuriating, you have to be really ready for ambiguity.

Unlike many people, the older I get the less set I am.

I know many people become more religious as they age, because they're afraid of dying-- or of their families dying. We, as humans, want to know there's something else, something more, and that we, in our ego-centric ideas will go on forever because we're so awesome that way. It's the way christians have been duped into paying millions to churches while living in abject poverty-- it's the excuse the RCC, ROC and mega-churches have: it's OK, suffer for a little while and in heaven everything will be lovely.

I never accepted that. If this god above loves me so much, and loves all the world, then why are babies starving in India, and why are they dying in Africa of AIDS before their seventh birthdays? Why are people raped and murdered every day? "God's ways are mysterious" never cut it for me; it was a cop out, an explanation to excuse the inexcusable.

I won't say I'm ready to die. I've got a lot of living to do. But I am not afraid.

I'm not afraid of my Dad dying-- although the thought makes me cry. I love him so! I know that the part of my Dad, the bit that makes him so wonderful will go back to the Universe, and his molecules will join the origin of us all. That part of him goes on in me, and my children, and my niece and nephews-- and will again in their own children... that Dad won't really die.

None of us really do-- our matter just changes forms.

Now, that's not to say I won't be heartbroken-- but that's my own selfishness. It'll be the same way if my husband dies before I do-- I'm a selfish bitch! I want them here, with me, not part of the Universe, not yet. I know that death is a part of life, it's a cycle that gave me life, and will some day accept me in death-- and then someone else can have my matter, and be alive!

See, no one really ever dies.

But, no, I'm not afraid of death; I'm not ready, but when time comes, I will be. Until then, I want to explore, like I said-- to grow. In order to do that, you can't get more set in your ways, you have to be open to new and odd, and different. Accepting the unknown, and loving it for the questions, rather than pat answers has been something I've found exciting, and I love it more every day.

Just the act of asking the questions, just wondering, just pondering, these are sacred acts, to me. I don't know that I need answers... just the asking is OK enough right now.

And so, that's where I am now. I'm ready to embrace that ambiguity with my entire self, rather than just part of me. I'm ready to intellectually accept that while my philosophy is Pagan, my beliefs are not. I'm not a person of faith any longer.

I never went into Paganism looking for the answers to all my questions. I didn't dig into science for that, either. I went looking for more questions, because sometimes asking one, leading to ten more, eventually your original question is answered.

Part of me feels kinda silly, I've had this identity for years now, as a Pagan; I hope this doesn't make me a hypocrite. I feel as though continuing to fully identify as a Pagan, complete with Gods would make me a hypocrite, and I can't be like that. I have to be honest, even if it means changing a part of who I was for many years. Now I'm shedding the religious part of it, and will probably accept a more heathen part.

Not all Pagans believe in a god, in fact, many don't. Now, I am openly joining the ranks of those who don't.

I still think the earth is home, and it's our duty to love and protect her.
I think we need to leave the earth a better place than it was when we got here.
I think we need to be excellent to each other.
I think we need to be peaceful, loving and kind; that lying and stealing are wrong, and that we ought to always treat people with the love we want in return.
I still think science is amazing, and wonderful.
I still love faerie tales, myths and the "sacred stories".
I think shamans are needed, but that we're not all peering into the face of a god, but into the face of the Universe.
I think that I'll let the afterlife take care of itself-- whether there is one, or not, I've got to be concerned with now. Full Stop. I can't do anything about then, it's not here yet.

Hi, my name is Em, and I'm an Atheist.


  1. Nothing new in my comment to you, but for others that may ready this, it can be difficult to come to this decision. Growing up in religious homes and having the dogma drilled into you, only to start doubting these "teachings" later on is much like having to learn the world all over again. No longer is everything black and white. You finally see the gray, and realize there are for more answers than right and wrong.

    At the same time, you realize that your relationship with your family will never be the same. You will be looked down upon or shunned because you no longer share this common bond with them. You don't condemn them for their belief, but they will condemn you. Such is the nature of most religion. Things like that make it even harder to give logical thought to your decisions.

    In the end, whether one chooses to stay with a religion, keep part of the spirituality, or to give it up completely, any choice is the right choice. You've done what you feel is best for you, and that is the most important thing. You're not hanging your decision on anyone else opinions. you're not trying to make others follow in your footsteps.

    I've generally stayed agnostic (as you are well aware) only because I can't disprove that there may have at one time been a living deity guiding our tribes. I tend more towards atheist due to feeling evolution has a far greater amount of proof compared to creationism. If a religion ever catches my attention long enough and can answer my questions truthfully and without ever saying "it's God's way (tm)" then I may look into converting. Until then, I'm with you in that stars had to die in order for me to live. And that, my friend, is a far more impressive birth than any ambivalent creator snapping a finger to bring me into being.


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