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.

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Posted on December 23, 2015, in Heathenry, Polytheism, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. I kind of think of them the way of like when you bring a non-Heathen partner or friend to a community celebration that has a faining. It’s a community thing, so partners and kids and close ones are welcome. They eat, socialize, play games and do secular activities, maybe sit in on a class or discussion, bring something to potluck etc but they are guests. They have no place in a blot or faining (or in the religious round of symbel). They have no right to dictate to the faithful how to practice or treat our religion like anthropology. The thing with guests are that they are invited and bound to hospitality. This guy sounds like an asshat. We have no obligation to host random atheist asshats at religious events. Perhaps he’d rather just get his manly drunk on at a black metal show…

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  2. I think it goes beyond mental colonization. I think what several of the more prominent voices in this “movement” within mainstream paganism are doing is cultural appropriation.

    Yes, there are always atheists in religious groups–there’s no small number of Catholic and Anglican and Jewish atheists who nonetheless attend services regularly because they like the social aspects, or they like the traditions, or what-have-you. It has always been argued in modern pagan circles that such people should be welcome in pagan things. To an extent, I can agree on that…

    But what doesn’t happen in a Catholic church, or an Anglican church, or a Jewish synagogue, is that those cultural Catholics, Anglicans, Jews, and so forth aren’t then asked to organize a service, or to preach from the pulpit, and they certainly aren’t given an “equal footing” with theologians, priests, rabbis, scholars, ethicists, mystics, liturgists, and other specialists in those religions to criticize the theistic aspects of those traditions and to make fun of them and their beliefs because “that’s their religion,” which is what some in the Ioannes Humanismus category seem to have decided it’s their “sacred duty” to do, oxymoronic implications aside.

    [And, that’s why I suspect they come to paganism: because of the sloppy notions of some of the early pagan activists, they think that “it’s not about belief” and therefore they should be able to join in…which is true…but rather than joining in, they want to run the show a lot of the time, and be an honored and equal voice amongst those who are actually qualified to be running the show and coordinating discussions and so forth. How would this be any different than a white person coming into, say, Lakota circles, demanding to be given access to every ritual and bit of training there is, then snarking about how “primitive” and backward it all is, while still then looking to identify as a participant in that spiritual movement and to speak for it? We call that cultural appropriation when it occurs in those kinds of situations, and that’s what it is here, too, with the more well-known examples that we know, and with the wannabe Heathens who are just in it for the drink, or the wannabe Wiccans even who just want to be there for the nudity and the sex, etc.]

    That’s the part that annoys me, personally. Believe or don’t believe what you like; but don’t tell me that I need to make my religion more comfortable for you as a participant if you don’t actually have the experiences, or the interpretations of experience (i.e. beliefs) that I do which serve the Deities and the community concerned for whom these rituals are done, and that does have those experiences and interpretations and actual relationships and agreements with the Deities in question.

    It reminds me an awful lot of a person who, years ago (pre-schism) came to the Antinoan group I was with at the time, and said–without even knowing what was involved remotely–that we needed to change everything in our group that was “gay” in order to make him more comfortable as a straight guy with participating. (Forget that there isn’t anything that is “gay” that is required, or even optional, in our rituals…no nudity, no sex, no kissing, not even holding hands…so basically he just wanted us to not call ourselves queer, and not mention that any of our Deities or Hero/ines or anyone else ever had homoerotic or gender-variant experiences or activities, etc….!?!) People of any, all, and no sexual orientations are allowed to attend our rituals, worship our Deities, and so on; but we will not change things about our group, our rituals, or our identifiers, simply to make other people comfortable with what we do as regular practitioners.

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  3. I hear you, Galina.

    What they actually want is to join a re-enactor’s group, where it IS all just fun and acting. It’s pretty damn insulting to just want the parts they like of a religion, minus the deities (aka the most important part of a religion!).

    So many people seem to have this incredible sense of entitlement in modern times!

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  4. Wow, as if the racists weren’t problem enough. Heathenry has some challenges ahead.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Yes. So unbelievably true unfortunately, I also find some people exclude the Gods and just focus on their ancestors, which I’d part and parcel if things, but it 2as never meant to be the entirety. I also find a small portion of those that ficus on the ancestors do so from a very self centered place if ego and bragging, and it’s insincere. There’s no real veneration there.

    We also suffer from far too many who can’t even articulate the religion, who if they acknowledge the Gods at all it is an afterthought, as really they just want to party with some dudes too.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. I fairness to the people who understand the gods differently from myself- them I can share a horn with. Differences in opinion and interpretation happen and I don’t think that they are necessarily a bad thing. That said… I’m not sure I’d be comfortable sharing a horn with someone who doesn’t think the gods exist at all. There’s something just… empty… about that gesture.

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  7. I see not only rudeness but a lack of creativity in this guy and many others. Looking for meaning/community/inspiration/ethics and they see religion as an “easy” way to fill those holes? (But Gods are just too hard!) But they’re not even willing to be a respectful participant on the margins, they want to be welcomed all the way in. Individual freedom- also means freedom of association which means an individual is not entitled to membership! There are plenty of secular hobby clubs they can join, a hiking club for generalized nature spirituality, in my area we have the Sons of Norway, the Swedish and German American Institute. (Though this guy it sounds like would probaby piss off the Lutherans as well…) Go be a devout Star Wars fan, whatever.

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  8. If he just wants to “get drunk with a bunch of guys” (sans women? As if Heathenism is just some fraternity…?), I’m sure there is no lack of gay bars in his area! Just sayin’.

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  9. Great article. It has got quite the lively discussion going on my polytheism page. Thank you & merry Yule!

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  10. I’ve met plenty of ‘Heathens’ who are just like the guy you had to deal with. They love the Eddas, think Vikings were the coolest thing ever, and want to live by Norse morals, but don’t actually believe in the Gods. Now I can’t honestly object to someone wanting to live by Norse morals as long as it’s genuinely improving their lives and making them better people. Even that level of receptiveness to our traditions can help open someone up to the Gods in the long run. However, if someone just wants to act like a Viking, drink mead until they can’t stand up, and shout things in Old Norse, why not just have a Viking themed party? I know plenty of guys in the SCA who would welcome them with open arms and lots of booze.

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  11. Very, very tired of lazy atheists trying to worm their way into religions and make them godless just because they’re too lazy to come up with their own traditions, rituals, and party days. Their lack of creativity is not an incentive for me to water down my religious practices.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This is a problem I’m coming up with as I try to build local community (in my case, I’m using meetup.com). I described my group as a general pagan group, because I didn’t think I could get enough members limiting myself to Heathens. I’m OK with joining forces with Wiccans, Druids, Hellenists, etc.

    I cringe a little bit when the Wiccan members talk about such and such a goddess is “an aspect of The Goddess” or such and such god is “a name of The God,” but oh well at least they believe in SOMETHING. The real problem I have is not with details of theology, but with people showing up like this guy who think that being a Heathen means drinking mead and playing with swords, or people who think a pagan group is a good place to find swingers or people they can have threesomes with.

    There are other meetups in the area for that kind of stuff. I know, I checked. If you are an environmental activist, there are groups for that (I’m in some of them!). If you like playing Viking, you can join the SCA or a number of other similar groups in the area. There are also BDSM and polyamory and swingers meetup groups in the area if you’re looking for that kind of thing. (Though sometimes I wonder if some of the people who show up to my meetup group were rejected from those groups for being too creepy.)

    One of my New Year’s resolutions is to clarify on my Meetup what I mean by paganism (like how it’s a RELIGION) and maybe even start charging a small membership fee to start weeding people out (and to start reimbursing me for paying for the website dues out of my own pocket this whole time). Paganism doesn’t mean, “anyone and everyone who doesn’t fit into mainstream society,” but I’ve found out the hard way that a lot of people think that’s exactly what it means.

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    • what just boggles is that they see nothing wrong with appropriating our religion. I think you need to just be very, very clear exactly what you mean even if it goes against the grain (and common sense) to have to do so. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

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