I was talking with a friend on Twitter who mentioned she was doing some reading on Wicca and paganism. We’ve talked about religion a lot since we got to know each other and are both atheists now. It got me thinking back to my years following various faiths and I told her that this might now need to find it’s way into a blog post.
I live in a fairly “religious” city. Religious in a way where everyone pays lip service to it and attends church on Sunday but (with a few exceptions) I’m not that convinced that anyone truly believes it. And considering the amount of people at the bars and getting smashed every weekend, I’m reasonably sure I’m right about this. However, the amount of admitted atheists — ones who actually used the word — so far as I know is two. Me and someone I just encountered the other day on Facebook.
Don’t get me wrong, I know plenty of people who admitted they don’t believe in a personal deity. But they’d never use the word atheist. Not that I can fault them as I’ve only been “out” as an atheist since the beginning of this year really. And we ALL know that’s David Silverman’s fault and that he’s extremely proud of that. He’ll be the first to tell you that too. 🙂
Christopher Hitchens made a comment once that you don’t suddenly become an atheist so much as you gradually discover you’ve been one all along. In reflection, that’s about right. I can look down along a path and realize many of the things that got me realizing there was nothing to support the existence of any sort of deity. I was part of the Baptist church as far back as I can recall. There was the normal Sunday school bit and when I was around ten I was part of Pioneer Girls, a church run organization kind of like Girl Guides. I can still start a fire with the best of them. When I was a teenager, I volunteered at the Sunday school helping out with arts & crafts, little kids would want to the one who got to sit on my knee for “story time” (Bible reading), etc. I was part of a group that would go around and sing Christmas carols at the retirement homes and was part of a teen group at the church that studied the Bible. I had pretty much drunk the Kool-aid.
But I can’t say that I ever really believed it. It was the stuff you were *supposed* to do. I heard people talking about their ‘personal relationship with God’ but whatever that was, I did not have it. And I worked at it, did the whole ‘accepting God’ bit that Baptists do…I could at one point recite a fair bit of scripture at the drop of a hat. But whatever they expected me to feel or experience certainly was never there.
When I was nineteen and had my near-death experience, it made me re-examine my life up to that point. I had stopped going to church a year or so before entirely but after that moment, I never went back. But I still believed in something, I just wasn’t sure what. So, I started to read. I read a lot of Freud around that time, a lot on Buddhism, did a lot of meditating and then discovered paganism and Wicca. I read everything I could get my hands on and eventually became a solitary practitioner as an eclectic pagan — one who believes that all pagan traditions carry an element of truth. I read tarot, followed the Wheel of the Year and crafted my grimoire. Though I have to admit, having close neighbours makes dancing skyclad under a full moon…a bit of an impracticality if one wants to stay out of jail.
Pagans don’t so much believe that deities are “real” but more like deity is an energy that surrounds us and infuses everything. That there’s a sort of web of energy that connects all living things, and Wiccans cast their spells or prayers into the “web”. That energy is personified in whatever pantheon one chooses to follow and what name you choose to invoke. Most practitioners these days follow Greek, Roman or Egyptian gods, mostly because they are the ones most are familiar with. But they never really resonated for me. My pantheon was Celtic and my patron Goddess was Brigit, Goddess of fire, poetry and inspiration. I still do pay her honour on February 2nd every year by reading poetry by candlelight. Not a bad way to spend an evening all told. Old habits die hard I suppose.
But what Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins started…crumbled away when Lawrence Krauss entered my life for the first time. What mythology could stand up against that trio? I finally did realize that what I had felt all my life was not a journey to find religion but one to realize that said religion is a crutch. Something that makes us feel better, to feel comfortable much like a fairy tale. But sooner or later we all must grow up and put those fairy tales behind us.