Paganism: A Naked Rebellion
What is paganism, and how is different from regular religions?
by Brian Dunning
January 23, 2007
Podcast transcript | Download | Subscribe
Today we shed our arbitrary layers of corporate fabric and dance gaily through
the forest glade wearing the suits we were born in — for the theme of
the day is paganism.
Paganism is not well defined.
The definition can be quite broad or progressively narrow. The broadest definition
of paganism includes all religions but the Big Three: Christianity, Islam,
and Judaism. To a member of the Big Three, a pagan can be anyone who is not
a member of their particular church. As you tighten the definition, you first
eliminate the Dharmic religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.
Whittled down to just those who call themselves pagans, you have the Wiccans,
Celtic Druids, witches, Goddess worshippers, and recreations of other ancient
polytheistic religions like those from ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, and the
Vikings. For this reason, the term neopaganism is really more accurate to describe
modern pagans. Neopaganism typically does not include any Satan worshippers,
which is a bit of a popular misconception. In this podcast I'm going to use
the term neopaganism as if it's a religion by itself, which isn't really correct,
but should generally emcompass the beliefs of most of those who consider their
religion to be pagan.
Neopaganism is generally polytheistic, with gods ranging from divine beings
to things in nature. Spiritualism and divinity are crucial aspects of neopaganism.
Despite its separation from the world's major religions, neopagan faith is
very much dependent upon supernatural beings or paranormal forces and energies.
In some cases, neopagans have advertised their faith as a way to reject the
inconsistencies and suspensions of science required by the major religions
and yet still remain a spiritual person. However, this doesn't really hold
water for me. The spiritual aspects of paganism are equally at odds with science.
Pagan gods might be rocks or trees, or they might be Zeus and Athena, or they
might be some other mystical force but they are still unmeasurable and undetectable
paranormal entities. You can't have it both ways. If you maintain a belief
in any spiritual entity, you are rejecting what science tells us about that
Goddess worship is popular in neopaganism. The obvious question that the rest
of us have is "Who is the goddess?" We've all seen the paintings
of the dude with the beard, the white robe, and the Birkenstocks, but never
of a goddess. The neopagan god and goddess are not necessarily specific beings.
Many neopagans believe that whomever or whatever god is, is not necessarily
knowable. But they also believe that the god has masculine and feminine aspects,
which they call the god and goddess. Goddess worship is thus not the worship
of a particular divine female being, it's a more general worship of femininity
itself. Sometimes the goddess is linked to some of the ancient named gods like
Athena, Ishtar, or Venus. Sometimes the goddess refers to divine spirituality
that neopagans assign to maternity, fertility, and nurturing. Clearly the god
and goddess concept is in direct contradiction with Christianity's Holy Trinity,
so the absolute incompatibility of goddess worship and Christianity is an important
distinction. This is another case where some neopagans try to have it both
ways. But I'm not going to sit here and proclaim that this makes their religion
invalid. Everyone is free to have whatever divine beliefs they want, and if
they want to have a goddess that's compatible with Jesus or Mohammad, fine.
It's no more or less valid than anyone else's concept of divinity.
One popular allure of paganism is its embracing of free sex and public nudity.
I've always believed that more people secretly appreciate free sex and public
nudity than are willing to admit it.
Wiccans have even institutionalized nudity, calling it "skyclad."
Is there an obligation for those who are into skyclad self-expression and
disestablishmentarianism to embrace the paranormal by joining a pagan
religion? I don't see that there is. Go to Burning Man, if that's what floats
your boat, or move to Los Angeles. You can have fun and indulge in individuality
without adopting some form of supernaturalism. If the idea is to rebel against
the straight lace church that your parents made you go to as a kid, rebel against
it by recognizing that it's based on hooey rather than adopting some different
but equally silly brand of hooey.
Another great way to buck the trend and be your own person is to use your
own brain, by being rational and employing critical thinking, rather than using
someone else's brain, and joining their organization, be it a neopagan religion,
a radical environmental group, or a Republican campaign. Does the average modern
Celtic Druid truly profoundly believe the doctrine of his religion, or does
he just enjoy the company of a great group of people with a really neat philosophy?
I'm all in favor of hanging out with great people with neat philosophy, even
running around naked in the forest with them, but I don't need to adopt belief in occult magic and reincarnation — fundamentals
of druid doctrine — to
do it. It would be great if joining them would give me magical powers, but
rationality and critical thinking tell me that it would not be so. This
has saved me many full moons of streaking through forests hoping for enlightenment.
Self expression, iconoclasm, impatience with social convention, and free thinking
are all great things, and something that more people should engage
in. But switching from one brand of hooey to another does not accomplish
any of them, and doesn't indicate that your thought process was truly critical
and skeptical, and certainly not independent or unique.
So while you're casting off your robe, cast off some of that joiner mentality
and seek your own answers using your own brain.
By Brian Dunning
Please contact us with any corrections or feedback.
Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "Paganism: A Naked Rebellion." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media,
23 Jan 2007. Web.
29 Sep 2016. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4023>
References & Further Reading
Baring, Anne, Cashford, Jules. The Myth of the Goddess, Evolution of the Image. London: Penguin Books, 1993.
Johnston, Sarah Iles, editor. Religions of the Ancient World, a guide. Boston: Harvard University Press, 2004. 17-31.
Magliocco, Sabina. Witching culture: folklore and neo-paganism in America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004. 23-92.
RF. "Comparison Chart of Wicca and Christianity." Religionfacts. Religionfacts, 30 Jan. 2007. Web. 17 Dec. 2009. <http://www.religionfacts.com/neopaganism/charts/wicca_vs_christianity.htm>
Robinson, B. A. "What do "Paganism" & "Pagan" mean?" Religioustolerance.org. Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 27 Jul. 2007. Web. 18 Dec. 2009. <http://www.religioustolerance.org/paganism.htm>
Strmiska, Michael F. Modern Paganism in World Cultures: comparative perspectives. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2005.
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