Thursday, August 18, 2011

Heathenism and the New Atheism

The new atheism is sweeping the planet, powerful, like a broom, cleaning out the old dust. Like every new thing it has spark and life and innovations to share, and yet like many new things, it is not yet fully mature, and what it experiences as a healthy confidence (certainly healthy in the face of tyrannical religions) may overspill into an arrogance which tramples the marvelous. Minds sharpened I admire ; hearts dulled I do not.

Atheism encourages an intellectual approach to the world, which is partial, and tends to exclude the mystical. The poetic expressions of my ancestors' worship may be metaphros, but they are metaphors for real,divine forces in the world that call out for authentic connection and whole-hearted devotion, without which one does not show the commitment necessary to be fully alive. The conventions by which one has faith in love, in strength, in wisdom, in mother earth, may be arbitrary and differ from culture to culture, but that faith itself makes a difference in a life. The automatic exclusion of that fullhearted poetic experience of divinity, for reasons of intellect alone, can become a narrow intellectual supremacy, robbing one of intuitive powers nad existential engagement with the truly mystical aspects of this wondrous, uncanny reality in which we find ourselves.

This is not to disclude the intellect and its grandeur within the scheme of wholeness, but as a separated function that attacks the other functions with an eye to annihilate them, it is unbalanced. Unless we engage with our heart, we become heartless. Unless we approach the future with the history of the ancestors, we become rootless. A simplistic eye ridicules ; a deeper eye seeks to understand. It is easy at times to laugh at the colorful forms of our ancestors, to treat mythology as "nothing but" myths, and simply enjoy the stories as stories. It's fine, of course, to treat the stories as stories, but if that is the only dimension one can appreciate about them, one is losing out on multidimensional treasures the stories can open out.

To open one's heart to the Gods, and give oneself over fully to the poetry of the Holy Powers, is a transformative discipline. It requires discipline. It's not as easy as refusing to believe in anything. Refusal to be mindlessly indoctrinated is wise ; refusal to fall in love (be-lief) is foolish. Heathenism teaches there is so much to fall in love with, and that love can change your life. If you remain solely on the intellectual side of life, and miss out on the transformationally devotional, you may remain secure in your intellectual fortress, but you will lose out on some incredible experiences in life. The Gods are real. The forms through which we approach them may be conventional (although even here, those conventions are so poetic and delightful they themselves are beloved), but the Gods themselves are real. Don't believe me? Open yourself to falling in love, take the plunge into open-hearted devotion, and experience will prove the point.

Atheism is a sharp tool to trim the edges of religion from grime and cobwebs, a carving tool that shapes up as it exposes abuses. It can help liberate people from models taken too literally and not poetically which feel pathological. But in all things, it is important to take the good and leave the bad, and not throw out the baby with the bathwater.


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