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.
Why do ritual as a Naturalistic Pagan?
One of the most common sources of confuzzlement about naturalism is ritual. If you don't believe deities are literally real, then what's the point of ritual? Isn't it just empty play-acting?
Nothing could be further from the truth.
But that may not hold water for many. So here's a second reply:
Most affirm that ritual, whatever its primary intentions, comes with a whole suite of positive secondary effects: group cohesion, self-discovery, cultivation of virtue, motivation to activism, and so on. Naturalists simply take these "secondary" effects as primary.
Effects of ritual
First, the hypothesized psychological and social benefits of religion in general, in which ritual plays a key role, are many. Some of the most academically well-traversed are:
- facilitation of group cohesion and cooperation
- unification of individuals into a moral community
- establishment of powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations
- management of anxiety
- coping with death, lack of control, and loneliness
- facilitation of individuation
- a "felt sense" of connection through embodied cognition
Arguably, none of these preclude a naturalistic view. The scientific, psychological, sociological, and anthropological literature is rich with studies on them.
In addition, religious practicioners often claim specific effects of ritual. The following are exclusively from Naturalistic Pagans, gleaned through links or personal conversations:
- connection to something greater than ourselves
- enhanced awareness of the world around us
- facilitation of personal change
- sense of re-enchantment of the world
- controlled dis-integration and re-integration of the psyche
- sensuous involvement in non-mundane activity
- enhanced sense of gratitude
- feelings of expansion, meaning, contentment, and empowerment
- bolstered investment in environmental and humanitarian concerns, leading to increased activism
- exposure to and contribution toward social diversity, other ways of thinking
- enhanced self-knowledge yielding confidence, humility, patience, honesty, integrity, compassion, and other traits that make us more effective agents of change and more generally pleasant people to be around
- transcendence of ego through participation in at least three things: nature, community, and mind
Connection to something greater? Really?
Most of the effects above are probably fairly easy to understand, but the first on that list might cause a double-take. How can naturalists connect to something greater, if they don't believe literally in deities or spirits?
The answer: easily.
There are many things greater than ourselves. Three I find most inspiring are: nature, community, and mind. The individual ego appears lonely and small, until it discovers its interdependent participation in the natural universe, the community of life, and the deep unconscious. Beholding such a vision, we connect to something greater than ourselves.
Why talk of benefits at all?
Even after all this, some may still object to the very idea of focusing on benefits. Ritual isn't about us, they may say, it's about the gods. I respect that opinion, but as a naturalist I cannot agree. What I do agree with is that ritual should not be self-centered.
Looking back at the list of benefits above, there isn't a single one that does not potentially make for a better, more virtuous, more responsible citizen of the universe. Such benefit is not self-centered; it benefits everyone.
Still skeptical? I'd like to hear what you have to say. Drop me a line in the comments!
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