Pagan, Naturally: Reverence in a Naturalistic World
You've heard of Pagans who are naturalists, humanists, atheists, agnostics, or the like, but what's it all about? Discover the wonder of a naturalistic path rooted in science and myth.
Nature is who we are
Nature is self-caused, both source and manifestation of all matter, all experience, all thought, all emotion, all life, and all death. We were not created by nature; we have emerged within it, as integral parts of it. In short:
We are nature.
Yet nature is also transcendent, extending far beyond us. We are one tiny yet significant part of a vast immensity.
Nature is who we are.
Embedded in nature
Naturalistic Paganism views humans as embedded within the same natural systems as the rest of the universe. We are not privileged causal agents, not magically able to will ourselves without being caused in turn. This follows as a consequence of naturalism.
On the one hand, that makes it difficult to justify the old myth of free will (contra-causal free will, at least). Some may find this a jagged little pill.
On the other hand, it has an appeal all its own...
Before birth, we were here
When you think about it, it makes us one with the universe. The story of our behavior doesn't begin with us; it follows the chain of causes back before we were born. The story of the cosmos is our story. The epic of evolution tells us who we are.
After death, we will remain
By the same token, our story doesn't end when we die. The cosmos, of which we are and always have been an integral part, goes on. Death is only the end of this shape we have taken; more await as our influences on other people reverberate through society, and as our atoms recombine into myriad new entities.
We are greater than ourselves
To the extent that we balance identification with the small self (our conscious, ego-directed self and its personal biography) with that of the Big Self (the social, cosmic, and unconscious whole of which the small self is a part), we attain a transcendent yet thoroughly plausible perspective. Further, as we come to identify with something greater than our small selves, we discover the intrinsic value of society and nature, and thereby motivate behavior conducive to individual, social, and ecological ends.
Looking inward is looking outward
We discover the transcendent Big Self by looking outward, but also inward. When we consider the mind, we must admit that our conscious, ego-directed self is but the tip of the iceberg. Out of the depths of the unconscious come forces as strange, awe-inspiring, and utterly beyond our control as the furthest nebulae. Thus, by looking inward, we can explore the transcendent within our very selves.
Many of the practices that make Naturalistic Paganism distinct from other forms of Spiritual Naturalism, such as Pagan myth, ritual, meditation, and so on, aim at discovering the Big Self not only outside but also within. The common Neopagan dictum applies: "As above, so below. As within, so without."
This view conduces to three kinds of religious experiences. First, the vast gulf between small self and Big Self evokes a numinous experience of Otherness. Second, the essential identity of small self and Big Self enables a mystical experience of Oneness. Finally, awestruck wonder at this paradox inspires a visionary experience of meaning.
Who are you?
Some have found naturalism bleak and empty, a jagged little pill. As for me, I can think of nothing more abundantly meaningful.
Thanks to nature, I know who I am.
Image credit: Playa De Chipiona, by Ponce 2007
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