Show that atheist the door
I had an encounter today that even now, hours later, it sticking with me. I stopped into one of the businesses in my town that I routinely frequent. I was having some special work done prior to the holiday and I got to meet their new employee (new at least since the last time I was in). To say that I am underwhelmed would be an understatement. Turns out, their new employee, while an avowed atheist, wants to join a Heathen kindred. He’s read the Eddas after all, can identify all the Norse motifs on my tattoos, and wants to (and yes, I’m quoting here) “get drunk with a bunch of guys.” Moreover, he feels the ethics of Heathenry are good to live by. Well, I suppose I can give him that last. Of course bring up the subject of Gods and devotion and he was adamant that he didn’t believe in Gods and just wanted to hang out with some [“non-racist”] dudes drinking and living the good life.
I’ve rarely wanted to bitch slap someone more (all apologies to John Halstead).
The work I was having done took some time, and I respect the owner of the shop tremendously. I suppose I had the option of leaving but I saw no reason to inconvenience myself due to the cretin. In retrospect, I wish I had. Not only was he uninterested in Heathenry as a religion, he was openly hostile to it. I flat out asked him, “This is a religion, if you’re an atheist, why do you want to come into someone’s religion?” and he had no good answer, save that he doesn’t see it as a religion. I suppose that’s all that matters: how he sees it, not what it is, not the Gods, not the tradition itself. No wonder I feel polluted (I had to listen to this guy spitting all over my Gods and my tradition. There were other things he said too that I’m simply not comfortable repeating).
I was never thrilled with atheists butting into our religious worlds, but I could still allow for it, provided they didn’t try to influence the tradition in their direction. Of course, that seems to be asking a lot from those who insist that they have a right (and oh they’re quite vocal about it being their right) to come into a Paganism or Polytheism. It’s never enough to come silently though (and if non-believers have a place in our traditions, it’s that: silent. It worked, after all, for the Pythagoreans. Our traditions aren’t for them.), inevitably there is the ongoing attempt to twist the tradition to match their paucity of belief. Inevitably. Were that not the endlessly observed case, I’d happily say the more the merrier.
Let me break this down very carefully. Those with no belief, respect, or veneration in the Gods come into our traditions. They contribute nothing to the furthering of our devotional practices, to the growth of the tradition as a religion (which our traditions are first and foremost) and yet feel entitled to take whatever they want, to enjoy our rituals, to leech off our community, to do whatever else it is that they want to do and then wonder why some of us object. Well, firstly, we object because it’s fucking theft. I might even go so far as to call it a type of mental colonization.
So maybe we ought to have a test of belief before allowing people to worship with us, to join our groups, to ally themselves with our kindreds–nothing difficult just this: do you believe in the Gods? Do you wish to learn to venerate Them as a Heathen? And if the answer is no, show those people the door and quickly. Our Gods and our traditions deserve better and it doesn’t matter what they can contribute to a drinking contest, Heathenry is about more than a good horn of mead.
Therein I suppose lies the problem: way too many Heathens would either happily agree with this dude, sharing the atheism, or see no long term problem with his presence. It’s the biggest issue within Heathenry today, in my opinion.
It’s really sad that these people, these atheist seekers have nowhere else to go, that speaks to a deficiency in our culture at large. It’s lack of initiation rites, of rituals, of ceremonies marking manhood, womanhood, and transitions in our culture. It’s a paucity, in fact, of a healthy culture. That loneliness and isolation inherent in modern existence is terribly sad, but it’s not a reason to water down the religion part of our traditions. (I could point out that without that part, we’re role-playing). I believe it’s time we got serious about restoration and part of that means not eliding the religion to make outsiders comfortable and so long as there is no belief in the Gods, they are – however moral, ethical, interesting, or nice they may be—outsiders to our traditions.
There are those who will argue that ancient polytheism always included a certain number of atheists. Maybe. But those polytheisms had not been attacked, destroyed, corrupted. Those polytheisms were not in their first and second generation of restoration. Those polytheisms existed in polytheistic cultures where the atheists knew better than to attack tradition. WE don’t have any of those luxuries.
It’s a violation of guest friendship when someone comes into our traditions dictating how things will be, demanding that we remove anything theistic. One does not come into someone else’s house demanding that everything be turned on its head to accommodate the intruder. If that happens, said “guest” is quickly shown the door. We need, I think, to have the same attitude toward those who barge into our religion under false pretenses, demanding that the theism take a second place to the beer.