I just finished reading this article by IanC over on Into the Mound. Ian is giving his general take on Atheist Paganism (yes, it is a thing), and I pretty much agree with him. Hop on over and read his article for details on his view; I’m going to talk about mine here.
Also, thanks to Morpheus Ravenna for the link to IanC’s article.
I’m not overly concerned with what you believe in your heart of hearts. What matters to me is whether or not we can find a way to practice together, should we care to do so, without either one of us feeling preached-at or hypocritical. If you want to debate theology, fine, I love that sort of thing. Meet me in the bar after the ritual. From my point of view, it’s disrespectful of our honored guests (you know, the gods) to squabble about unprovables when we’re supposed to be hosting. Your point of view may differ, but I think in practice we can agree that it harshes everyone’s mellow to use ritual as an opportunity to weaponize our theology.
This does bring up the question of why we might want to do so. For me, it’s bout maintaining the diversity of the larger Pagan community. We could swear off dealing with people whose metaphysics are incompatable with our own, and I certainly see many good reasons for having at least some part of our practice be reserved for worshiping with people who do believe as we do. But to circle only with same-minded folks, aside from enhancing any echo chambers, invites a certain social distance, and strengthens the us/them feelings that polarize communities.
A diverse community is a resilient community. A diverse community is capable of coming at the same problem from multiple angles, and is not restricted to a limited tool set when dealing with issues that arise. Many of my personal realizations about my own practice come from comparing it to the practices of others. Not in a “whose is better/more authentic/more theologically correct” way, but using the comparison to understand my own practice from angles I might not have thought of without the contrasting example.
When we can come together in common ritual practice, in a way that leaves no one feeling pushed aside for believing or not believing a certain way, we reinforce the awareness that, while we are not identical with one another, we do have common ground and common interests. We have things to share with each other. Hell, if we can find something useful in historical and religious scholarship by non-Pagan atheists (not to mention scholars writing from within one of the dominant Abrahamic religions), surely we can find something to share with those who are part of our larger Pagan culture, despite our theological disagreements.
There have been atheists, as near as I can tell, since long before the dominance of the Abrahamic religions. So it seems that Athiest Pagans are on good historical ground, at least insofar as the idea that one can have a Pagan practice and yet not honor (or even believe in) any gods. These ancient atheists were part of their communities, just like everyone else. I don’t see why modern Pagans and Polytheists can’t accept Atheist Pagans in the same way.