Archive for October, 2009

The New Atheists

I have respect for atheists. I would far prefer that a person were intellectually honest enough to say that they don’t believe in God, and to move on with their lives than stay in a religious tradition for which they had no love or passion out of a sense of obligation or fear. (With caution, I suggest that God would probably also prefer that attitude over hypocrisy.) The so-called “new atheists”, led by such thinkers as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchins, are a different story altogether.

For as long as people have thought about such things, there have been doubters, skeptics and unbelievers on the religious spectrum. Like I said, I think that’s great. Sure, I think that faith is important, but being without it doesn’t make somebody a bad person, doesn’t mean that God hates them, and doesn’t mean that they’re going to burn forever. It just means that they’re being honest with themselves and the world, and that’s also important. This kind of honesty allows for a far wider range of inquiry than does a cultural assumption or a fear of questioning. There has even been a lot of amusing literature on both sides of the fence in which thinkers of every stripe have poked fun at their adversaries while making useful or interesting points. Just read some Voltaire for a great example. So what makes the new guys different?

The new atheists share their approach to the subject with Christian, Jewish and Islamic fundamentalists. They have latched onto a philosophical system, almost always founded on one or more large assumptions, insist that their system must be taken as a priori factual truth. Experience and observation are of no importance to the new atheists if those experiences do not agree completely with their theoretical framework. Further, just like other religious fundamentalists, the new atheists choose ridiculing and attacking those whom they consider to be their opponents as their first resort. They then go on to criticize those opponents for making use of the same tactics (always forgetting that it is only their fellow fundamentalists who do so, not the more moderate believers and unbelievers out there who make up the majority of both “sides”).

Take, for example, the new atheist holiday, Blasphemy Day. On this day, new atheists the world over commit acts of blasphemy against any and all religions (other than their own) as an invocation of the god of reason, ignoring the fact that reason is a posteriori (that is, reason has an opposite strategy for inquiry to mere assumption). Blasphemy Day was celebrated this year by an art exhibit full of images of Christ in various ridiculous postures. Some of them actually were pretty funny, like “Jesus Painting His Nails” which showed Jesus using fingernail polish on the nails used to crucify him. The capper, though, were other, more significant activities such as PZ Myers driving a rusty nail through a consecrated host.

I can’t even begin to express what that action means to a Christian, and therein lies the problem: I can’t express it because the new atheists wouldn’t listen. If I were to say, “Charles Darwin was completely wrong and evolution is complete shit,” (a statement with which I do not agree, by the way, being a supporter of evolutionary biology myself) it wouldn’t even begin to compare to destroying a consecrated host. I am not here trying to condemn the action as a damnation-worthy sin as many Christians might, but instead as an extremely hurtful and cruel public act on par with repeatedly slapping a person’s parents as they look helplessly on from behind shatter-proof glass. And I’m not even Catholic!

I’m frankly more hurt by this than angry. I would never drive a rusty nail through God Is Not Great; I just choose not to partake of it myself. Can’t the next generation of atheists have similar courtesy for something of significantly greater importance for their neighbors? And there is an additional layer to this issue: I very much doubt that a priest just gave them that consecrated bread and said, “Oh, sure! Have fun!” Did somebody sneak it out of a Mass hidden in their mouth like the supposed witches were accused of doing in the 17th century? Isn’t that just a bit juvenile? I suppose that many of the attendees at Blasphemy Day events just don’t feel like ponying up the cash to join the Church of Satan, so they have to hold their own low-budget black masses without membership cards.

In the end, I can only feel a bit of pity for the new atheists. They clearly aren’t as intellectually rigorous as their forebears, and their philosophical system is entirely reactionary. What’s more, they’re reacting to a reaction! Fundamentalism in religion is what happens when rigidly-minded religious people fail to integrate new information; atheist fundamentalism is what happens when rigidly-minded atheists fail to take account of the good work that moderate and liberal religionists have worked for. I hope that those of us unhateful faithful may befriend the “unfaithful” who are willing to dialogue with us as we, as a species, move forward.

Categories: Blog Posts

Seasonal Power

Halloween falls on October 31st every year, and is the evening before Hallowmass (Hallow’s Eve). Samhain, or true Halloween, however, falls on November 7th this year (and a different day every year; check a good Witch’s calendar or astrological calendar), the Saturday following the secular Halloween. How does true Halloween (which I will call Samhain through this article, for the sake of clarity) differ from the secular holiday?

The first answer depends upon your current religion, and your religious background. For most adult Americans, Halloween is just a way to indulge in the “dark and spooky” without social stigma, and for children to indulge their sweet teeth during the increasingly cold and dark half of the year.

For those who practice magic, divination, ancestor veneration, or anything similar, Halloween is an effective time for all of the above due to its cultural associations. The actual tides themselves have not changed to suit modern proclivities, but enough cultural energy has built up around the night of October 31st (and the day of November 1st for Roman Catholics) that it serves as a particularly effective time for all of those aforementioned activities. It is also close enough to the actual date of Samhain (which, again, changes yearly, but which is never far off of Halloween) that it naturally partakes of some of the Samhaintide energy.

Samhain itself is, of course, an even better time for magic and all things “dark and spooky” (as defined by modern Western culture). The natural tides are in motion at this time of the yearly cycle, when the Sun enters 15 degrees Scorpio, in such a way as to very literally thin the veil between the planes. The planes, it must be remembered, are not separate in the same way that one room is separated from another by a solid wall. Instead, they are segments of a continuum which runs from the physical to the spiritual. The segments are useful for defining the areas of the continuum which tend to interact more directly with one another, but are not absolute. For instance, the “lower astral” and “higher astral” are just the more and less dense sections of the astral plane; as different as they can be, they are still just “the astral plane” because they have more direct interplay with one another than either of them has with, say, the spiritual plane. Ultimately, though, everything is made out of the same “mind-stuff”, so neither the physical plane nor the spiritual plane, nor anything between, is firmly separated off from the rest.

I will be honest in saying that I don’t really understand the mechanism by which the planes “become closer”. Maybe the lower planes become less dense, or maybe the higher planes become more dense, or maybe something totally different happens; I don’t know. Experience shows, though, that this is what happens, and because of it many different metaphysical operations become a bit easier to perform.

Divination is the traditional activity for this time of year. Tarot readings, scrying, rune-casting, whatever it is that you do (or whatever you can have done for you) should bring you clearer answers with less effort this time of year. Take advantage! Samhain is not the only good time for divination, of course. Any time of year will do, with waning moons typically best. Still, Samhain, Yuletide, and Beltain are typically the best times for it. Along with divination, astral projection should also be easiest at Samhain, and easier throughout the dark half of the year than the light half.

General spellcasting can also be done to better effect at this time of year. The energy is flowing more freely all around, and messages get here and back with less resistance, so go ahead and do some magic (or have your friendly neighborhood spiritual worker do it for you).

Of particular interest on and around Samhain, too, is evocation. Because the planes are in closer communion, it is far easier to evoke a being to either astral presence or physical appearance. The higher beings, such as archangels, angels, and the greater spirits of the elements and of nature, are generally not too difficult to a well-trained summoner at any time of year. Samhain, then, is best for the evocation of “lower” elemental entities and demons, as well as for necromancy (the evocation of the dead). Now is a great time to set up a shrine to your ancestors, or to begin to befriend the spirit(s) of your home and the surrounding land.

The created gods, especially the earthy variety, are also much closer to us at this time. Cernunnos, Herne, Herodias, Habondia, Aradia, Osiris, Hermes Cthonos, Hel, Hades, Pluto, and so on are much easier to contact around Samhain, and throughout the dark half of the year. Light candles to one or two of them to whom you seem to be drawn in particular and ask them for their presence in your life. Don’t ask for anything until you have a real relationship with them; just talk to them and try to become friends. Friendship is its own reward, apart from any favors you may do one another.

I’m sure that other people have a lot of different ways of taking advantage of the season, things that I’ve never thought of. The above should give the interested some ideas, though.

Happy Halloween!