Below is an email I recently wrote as part of a larger thread on the Non-Theist Friends email list. There are a couple of reasons why I'm sharing it here.
The big one is that I'm tired of people ranting at me without actually being in conversation/community with me or the other people they're ranting about.
I've heard a bunch of random comments and outright rants over the last few months from people who just can't understand and just can't support the presence of non-theists in the Society of Friends. These statements, when I've asked these folks, have been based on what they think a non-theist Friend is, and have not been based on conversation with non-theist Friends or on the real, lived experience of non-theist Friends.
On both the Non-Theist Friends email list and in real life -- including the interest group I facilitated at FGC Gathering -- I've heard and read a bunch of rants implying anyone who's either a mystic or not a complete a-theist isn't rational and can't be a scientist. Paired with that have been comments and rants about Pagans' (and Christians') (I hear a Dar Williams song now...) irrational belief in the supernatural. This one often has me scratching my head; but you'll read what I have to say about nature and the supernatural and science and the supernatural in a moment (if you keep reading), so I won't rant in advance of my rant.
Another reason I'm sharing what I wrote in this email is because I don't talk very frequently about what I actually believe; about why I identify as a Pagan; or about why I identify along the non-theist continuum, much less how I'm too theist to fit in with many non-theists, and too non-theist to fit in with most theists. What's more, I just facilitated an interest group where I was rather insistent that we talk about our own experience -- not just about what happens in our Meetings or about the dynamics in our communities when we talk about our own experiences.
So, here it is.
(Please remember this email is taken out of context, and refers back to an email thread not presented here.)
I've just returned from FGC Gathering, and I'm sure I'll have more to share once I've had the chance to ponder what's been written so far and let it simmer in my brain for a bit, like a good stew. But I did want to say that for me, there are a couple of important things in here:
a) There's a big difference between the either/or of theism/atheism, and a *continuum* of theism/non-theism.
When I hang out with people who believe in a creator god who is all-knowing and all-powerful, or with people who toss reason out the window and are satisfied with the explanation "It's God's will / because God said so," it's pretty obvious to me I'm not a theist. When I hang out with people who have no room in their lives for anything science can't prove yet, or with hard atheists, it's obvious I'm not an atheist.
Put another way: if there are only theists and atheists, and if non-theist is a polite way of saying atheist [as someone asserted earlier], then I guess I don't exist. *laughing*
(And the babelfish disappeared in a puff of logic, a la Douglas Adams.)
b) Science and mysticism or spirituality are not by definition incompatible. I'm trained as a scientist. If you can't conceive of what science doesn't know yet, you literally can't *do* science; you can't use scientific method for scientific inquiry if you can't imagine things that don't yet make sense. Many things that have seemed supernatural in the past make sense now thanks to science. Many things that we don't understand now are simply things science can't explain yet. What's more, many of the scientists I know are deeply mystical people -- and some are deeply religious. So to say science and religion are incompatible is factually untrue. It may be your or my opinion; but that doesn't make it a fact.
b1) There are no controlled, randomized, double-blind studies, and there are no well-designed scientific experiments, that prove that any specific spiritual practices (such as prayer, meditation, or magic) "work" or "don't work." [Someone had earlier asserted, forcefully, that prayer doesn't work.] What little research there is doesn't, or can't, define clearly what "work" means, or completely isolate every variable (such as who is affected). There *is* some interesting research that demonstrates certain things, such as brain changes during meditation. But anyone who claims science proves spiritual practices do or don't work is factually incorrect.
c) There's more than one way to conceptualize the Divine / God / Deity / That-Which-Is-Sacred. To insist on conceptualizing it only in certain ways, and to insist on reacting against or defining one's self against only those conceptions, is to give those conceptions primacy and power.
Some non-theists may choose to reject religious and spiritual language completely because for them it's completely tainted by one conception of Deity. Some of us choose to use it in ways that for us are true, accurate, and have integrity.
I can say, with perfect truth and integrity, that the Earth is the Goddess to me. This doesn't mean, remotely, that I subscribe to a belief in an all-powerful creator deity, or that I'm ascribing such characteristics to the Earth. It means that I name the Earth, exactly as it is, to be Divine.
d) This also means that being somewhere along the theist/non-theist continuum, or being outright theist, does not automatically mean ascribing supernatural powers to one's Deity. My Deity is *nature*. You can't get ANY LESS supernatural than that. The Sun doesn't do anything supernatural. Neither does the Earth. Nor do the Stars, the Air, the Water, human beings, my cats, or the danged squirrels who have eaten their way into our car's engine. To say, as Witches do, "Thou art Goddess. Thou art God," is to say that the Divine is right here, in this world, is this world, is you and me.
Compared to some folks, this makes me a theist. Compared to others, it makes me an atheist. To me, it's a pretty meaningless distinction, b/c that concept of Deity is not one that has meaning for me to believe in or not believe in. I don't BELIEVE in a Deity -- I don't believe in the Earth, or the Air I breathe, or the Sun above, or the Water I drink, or the food I eat, or the cats I cuddle, or the rain that falls, or the rocks I carry in my pockets. I EXPERIENCE them.