Naturalism, Monism, and the Philosophy of Atheopaganism

Atheopaganism is a naturalistic religion: that is, we believe that all that exists is a part of the natural, material Universe, and is subject to its laws. We revere this material Universe—the Cosmos—as Sacred and magnificent.

As naturalistic Pagans, we do not subscribe to the idea that there is an Otherworld within which reside magical and/or disembodied entities such as gods, spirits, ghosts or fairies. We expect scientifically credible evidence in order to support a proposed idea with our belief, and there simply is none for this Otherworld and its supposed residents.

A part of this naturalistic approach is monism: the idea that the body and the consciousness are not distinct, that there is no “ghost in the machine”. Our selves, our personalities arise from the physicality of our bodies (most particularly, our brains). There is no “soul” that exists separately from the body; when the body dies, the information pattern in the body’s neural net that comprises the mind dissolves forever, radiating away from the body as simple heat.

There is no afterlife. Our lives are a blessed, extraordinary, one-way trip.

This view is in marked contrast to the Abrahamic religions’ dualistic idea of a “mind” or “soul” existing independently of the body. Religions such as Christianity and Islam believe that the body is only a vessel, vulgar and profane, while the soul is the important bit. This has caused suffering on mass scales throughout history, as people have been tortured, enslaved and slaughtered in order to “save their souls”. And it informs the hostility these religions evince towards sexuality and bodily pleasures (and, arguably, towards women).

Ours is a religion that embraces the experience of life as material, bodied creatures. We celebrate, rather than morally condemning (consenting) sexuality; we live in the aliveness of knowing that we are thinking animals, but we are still animals. We celebrate and seek wisdom, yes, and growth, and all the subtlety and grace that a human mind may aspire to, but we know these occur and reside in the oneness of our bodied selves.

Other Pagan paths seem confused on this score. On the one hand, they, too, will say they see that they see the self as an integrated whole, with “the divine” manifest in material reality (immanence).  Yet they will also say they believe in reincarnation or in some kind of afterlife, which necessarily requires that at some point, body and “soul” are separated so that one may “go on” while the other decays.

It’s not a conundrum I have ever heard a good rationale to explain. But…not my path, so not my problem, either.

I don’t write about this sort of “atheology” very often. To me, it’s much more important to develop the practices and implementation of the path than it is to spend a lot of time on its philosophical underpinnings. But Atheopaganism does have those underpinnings, and for those of us who are practicing it, it is useful to be able to articulate where we stand on Big Questions about the nature of the Universe and our place in it.

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