In which I wander among many topics

Was looking over my site stats, as I do sometimes, and I saw a referral from Daily Pagan News, who promoted my post “Curses“. Thanks for the link!

One of the first things I saw from DPN’s home page was this.

Gave me a chuckle. It was sourced to another tumblr page called teenwitchwendy. I’m not going to check that one out just now, because that leads to link-jumping all night and I have stuff to do. But the name made me think.

When I was a teenager, I knew a lot of pagans. Some Wiccans and Druids, but most of them weren’t so structured and simply called themselves “Pagan”. They were a diverse bunch, happy to agree on the broad outlines of the universe and just sort of fudge the details.

More than once somebody, usually an older person who was kind but not really “part of the group”, expressed the opinion that this whole “alternate lifestyle” thing was just a phase and everyone would grow up and become conservative Christians just like them. Now I haven’t kept touch with most of those people, but as far as I can tell that hasn’t happened. Sure, we all grew and changed, but I’m not aware of anyone who actually did that.

Not only have the pagans I’ve known failed to convert to Christianity, but the young Christians I’ve known have increasingly been very tolerant, accepting people. There’s some selection bias there, of course, but it does seem to be a trend. The dogmatic authoritarian religions seem to be dwindling, increasingly regarded as hateful and small-minded relics of a bygone era by young people who have been exposed to a much larger world.

Take a look at any conservative mega-church, you know, the ones who still think of natural disasters as the wrath of god and blame them on the gays, and try to guess the average age. I’m betting it’s over 60. This isn’t just Christian sects, either, I’m talking about the sort of unthinking dogmatic religions that reject out of hand anything that conflicts with their preconceptions. This is almost entirely Christian in the United States, but I’m also aware of Muslim, Jewish, and Hindu groups with the same dangerous blindness. I’ve little doubt that you can find such sects in any religion, I’ve seen atheist groups with the same mindset, and at least one “militant agnostic” who seemed to be in the same ballpark.

In the last few years we’ve seen more and more extreme rhetoric from these authoritarians, and I’m starting to feel cautiously optimistic that this is because they’re losing and know it. Whenever someone speaks of the internet as a bad thing, I wonder if they’re reacting to that agent of change.

I really do believe that the internet is eroding old dogmas by showing us a broader world. When you see people living their lives in a very different way that you’re used to, see them with their strange customs and funny clothes, see their joy and tears and laughter and see that for all the differences they’re still people, still complex beings full of life, well, it’s just a little harder to think of them as less important just because they’re different.

That sentence is an atrocity and I should probably be punished for writing it. Can’t bring myself to fix it though, it’s just so horribly beautiful.

My point is that it’s easier to accept differences in people when you see them as people. Living with diversity leads naturally to humanist ideals, and it’s really hard for me to imagine a way that more humanism could be a bad thing. I suppose if there really is a cruel petty tyrant god ruling us it might lead to reprisals, but that’s not a failing in us.

Humanism, at its core, is the philosophy that people are more important than gods or the supernatural, and that tradition and ideology should be a lower priority than the well-being and happiness of people. There are many variations of humanism, some with manifestos and things, but really this simple idea is the important part. Frankly I think anything more than that is a little superfluous.

Although secular humanism is the most talked about these days, there’s really no reason it can’t be combined with almost any religion. Certainly the more authoritarian flavors have a problem with anything being held above their rules & hierarchy, but Wikipedia has pages on Jewish, Buddhist, and Christian humanism, and the Wiccan Rede is halfway there right out of the gate. Offhand I can’t think of a religion that couldn’t easily split off a humanist form.

Many atheists are humanists, but not all. If you’re wondering how that can be, well that’s why I included “ideology” in my short definition of humanism. Also there are some who believe in the supernatural but not gods, but I’ll leave it to you whether they count as atheists or not. If you’re thinking that an atheist who’s not also a humanist sounds like kind of an asshole, well, honestly I think you’re right. I’ve only really encountered this in a few libertarians who seem to treat economic theory as a physical law, or perhaps a holy commandment, rather than a model of complex, dynamic forces. Most memorable was the one whose answer to a famine starving the poor in Russia was to raise food prices, thereby increasing supply. Where, exactly, this additional food was expected to come from was never explained.

I also recall someone, who was apparently a fairly big name in certain circles but has slipped my mind completely, talking about how animal populations always stabilize with their environment. He seemed oblivious to the mechanisms behind that stabilization, which include starvation and death by exposure. And of course, sometimes species go extinct, and then the remaining ecology stabilizes.

Getting back to my point, each successive generation seems to be more humanist than the last. Maybe not by name, sure, but in practice. This is a trend I very much want to encourage!

One of the easiest things we can do is simply talk to each other. Talk about our lives and our thoughts, our clothes and customs, out ideas and ideals, our hopes and dreams. Because no matter who you are, to somebody you’re a strange, mysterious foreigner with weird clothes and habits who talks funny.

If we can show each other our humanity, start to see each other as people rather than strange aliens who get gunned down by the good guys in the third act, maybe we can leave behind a better world for future generations. Hell, if we really work hard, maybe we can even live in it ourselves for a while. It sounds like a goal worth pursuing to me.

This post started out as “thanks for the link, this pic made me chuckle.” Three days and 1,100 words later…

About Leo Tarvi

Mostly fictional.

Posted on April 2, 2012, in Daily Post and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. My pagan phase ended in about 1999, but I didn’t become a Christian, either. I went back to being a humanist who’s theology lies somewhere between Deist and Agnostic.

    • You’re one of the people I was specifically thinking about as I wrote this. I gotta admit, the thought of you becoming a fundy Christian is a little terrifying!

      • My fundy phase lasted for about a week in 1992. Desperate to find something, I finally let myself buy into the whole “You must receive Christ’s grace or face eternity in burning in hellfire”-schtick. I recited a prayer in the back of this little orange bible I got from a guy who used to hand them out just outside my high school, and then I proceeded to try to read the tiny print cover to cover. They lost me at Leviticus. I skipped to Ecclesiastes, which is kinda trippy, and ended up in the Gospels. What I read in the Gospel of Matthew directly contradicted the behavior of every Evangelical Christian I knew. A week later, I was over it.

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