The Dawkins Delusion

One of my pet peeves is the pseudo-intellectual BS put out by Dawkins and his uber-atheist crowd of New Skeptics. The cheap debating tricks and bad logic they pass off as scientific work has done a lot of damage to the advancement of human understanding. Now, I have no problem with intellectually honest agnostics and atheists, but Dawkins’ crowd are not intellectually honest. They use all of the same sleazy tricks and are guilty of the same poor reasoning as the people they are constantly complaining about.

This has had the effect of making a lot of heathens and other polytheists make one of two mistakes: either try to “prove” their religious and spiritual beliefs scientifically, or to reject science and rational thought as being somehow opposed to and inferior to religious and spiritual thought. Both approaches are foolish. Neither are in keeping with the way the ancient heathens and other polytheists looked at matters.

I have written an article on the subject that has been published in the Walking the Worlds journal. It is here, if anyone wants to check it out, and the many other fine articles on philosophy and polytheism it contains.

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Some Pagans Are Getting Fooled Again

Before bringing the conversation around to a truly unsettling trend in both the heathen and larger pagan communities, allow me a brief reminiscence of my days in college, to set the context for it.

Although I was a science major, I had a keen interest in politics, and got onto the student senate. In those days, at that university, the student senate was responsible for distributing $1 million to student activity groups each year. Each group would make a proposal, come before us, and get operating money. We were mostly a rubber stamp process, and served only to weed out misuses of funds.

When I served, the rest of the senate was composed of liberal Democrats. I, of course, am a radical moderate, meaning that I subscribe to no –ism or –ology, but make up my own mind about issues on a case by case basis. When the Conservative Interests of America group came before us (yes, the CIA), they barely got their pitch out before a senator made a motion to deny them funding, and was seconded. When I asked why, I was told outright that the other senators saw this as their opportunity to shut down Republican-oriented programs on campus, and advance their own political agendas. They spoke as if it was obvious that I should see these young Republicans as the “bad guys.”

Now, I didn’t think much of the CIA group. I found their hawkishness of foreign policy and disregard of collateral casualties repugnant. I found their supply side economics theories as ridiculous as Laffer’s napkin drawing. I thought their opposition to basic assistance to the poor that their business-oriented Randian fantasies had created was hypocritical. I also knew many of them personally, and thought they were mostly %&*@#$!-bags. Yet still, I stood up to defend them. I filibustered for hours, until I had annoyed my fellow senators into giving the CIA its funds.

Why? Well, it was my job to disburse the funds impartially and fairly, for one thing. But there was a larger principle involved. America is founded on certain fundamental ideals that are supposed to be so important that they trump everything else. One is freedom of speech. Everybody, no matter how dumbass or repellant, has the right to speak his or her mind, and advance his or her ideas. Another core American ideal is that we are a melting pot of different cultures and ideas. The American ideal is that of many different tribes, each pulling together in some ways and in different directions in others, working out the answers between them. Because we are different, we have different beliefs. To make the melting pot work, we have developed standards of public, civilized behavior that draw boundaries for conflicts between different tribes.

What my fellow senators did that day was profoundly un-American. You know what else is? The emergence of the new violent extremists on the left. The kind of people you can find all too often these days over at Gods and Radicals. The kind that are increasingly trying to take over modern paganism, and turn it into an extremist political instrument.

I wrote recently about the call for McCarthy-esque witch hunts from some of the Gods and Radicals crowd, to eliminate “wrong-thinking” pagan elements, such as heathenry. I considered that to be the end of the matter, as I had said all I had to say on the subject. Then I saw more of that crowd writing about a whole new batch of truly disturbing things, and now feel I must speak again.

I am not providing a specific link, as I have no wish to start a flame war, and my point isn’t the specific words of one person or another. Anyone paying even minimal attention lately knows the kinds of writings I am talking about. People advocating going to Trump rallies and trying to shut them down. Trying to use violence against Trump rally-goers in an attempt to intimidate them into staying home. People claiming that this is the truly Pagan thing to do, and that it is a form of sacred warriorship.

Bull$&!^. It’s fascism, pure and simple. It is profoundly un-American. Parts of it border on terrorism.

It is also astonishingly hypocritical. These people love to present themselves as freedom fighters, anarchists, and rebels, standing up to the obviously fascist Trump. Yet they use repressive, fascistic techniques to accomplish their aims.

These people are not rebels. They are not freedom fighters. There is nothing sacred about what they do. All they are is closet aristocrats. They do not actually value freedom, as they are proud of denying it to those who do not think as they do. They just want to be the ones who are in charge.

There’s an old song by The Who, “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” It contains the lyrics:

The change, it had to come
We knew it all along
We were liberated from the fold, that’s all
And the world looks just the same
And history ain’t changed
Cause the banners, they are flown in the next war

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again

You know what? These closet aristocrats, these phony freedom fighters, are exactly who The Who were warning us about.

Don’t get me wrong. I am passionately anti-Trump. The man is clearly a racist, crypto-fascist demagogue with an IQ even smaller than his hands. He is a dangerous, petty halfwit who could easy take America down the road Germany went in the 30s, were he to ever get power.

You know how I’m going to deal with that? I am going to vote against him. Like an American. Like a true lover of freedom. I will let him have his rallies. It is his right to.

To the new extremist pagan left, I would say that you have stared too long into the Abyss, and you have not taken care when fighting monsters.

I would also say that you seem to be a load of halfwits. You are doing more damage to the causes you claim to honor than Trump ever could. He was the one with the violent, fascistic rallies. He was the one encouraging un-American violence and suppression of political enemies. He was well on the way to discrediting himself in the larger electorate’s eyes. He was well on the way to showing what he really was, and making a sharp distinction between his toxic politics and the politics of those who oppose him.

Then you Bozos go and change the narrative. You snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. You make it clear that violence and fascistic jackasses come from the left, too, and make Trump seem less of an extremist problem relative to them. You even let HIM take the moral high ground, and publish speeches denouncing the un-American violence of your crowd.

Way to go, losers.

I am a man of Odin. I hear my god calling me to stand by my ideals, and not compromise them in order to score a cheap hit. Paganism is not politics, and it is most certainly not your brand of extremist, bumbling, grandstanding, un-American idiocy.

Heathenry and Philosophy

There is surprisingly little discussion of religious philosophy in heathenry. It is surprising because there are so very many different religious philosophies used in heathenry, that are often argued hotly about. When it comes to heathens, the biggest difference in philosophy is over the nature of religion itself. Do the gods and heavens exist literally? Are they just metaphors for life lessons? Are they Jungian archetypes?

While it might seem to some like this is useless intellectual indulgence, it has some genuine importance. The basic assumptions we make, our fundamental beliefs, shape everything else that follows after. Those who view the gods as Jungian archetypes see the world, and practice their religion, in a very different way than those who believe in the literal existence of the gods. These differences have real world repercussions in the ways that different groups of heathens interact.

Myself, I’m a monistic idealist. The best way to understand what I mean by this is to consider the question “What is real?” Most people would say that “physical” is the same thing as “real.” In other words, the only real objects are physical objects. This would seem to many people to be obviously so, but in reality it is a philosophical position known variously as materialism and materialistic positivism.

When answering the question, “What is real?” materialistic positivists will say that because everything that we can observe is made up of physical particles then physical objects must form the primary reality. After all, mental experiences occur in the brain and the brain is made of physical particles. Therefore it seems reasonable to conclude that mental experiences are the creation of the interactions of physical particles.

This is not, however, the most parsimonious explanation. It fails to take one observed fact about the world into account. The only reason that we know that everything in the observable world is made of physical particles is because we have the mental experience of observing them. There is no experiment on the observable world that has ever been conducted or ever will be conducted that does not end with “… and I know this because I saw/heard/touched/smelled/tasted it.”

In other words, the primary layer of reality as we experience it is mental, not physical. Physical objects, the entire outside world, is at its very foundation a special type of mental experience. Please note that this is not because experiments are badly designed. No experiment, no matter how cleverly set up, can ever change this. Reality is primarily mental.

To be fair, it is still possible that the materialistic positivists are correct. It could very easily be true that there really is a physical world out there and that all things, including mental experiences, are really physical. This explanation does fit all of the experimental evidence. The only difference between it and monistic idealism is that it is not as parsimonious. It makes one additional assumption that the monistic idealist position does not. The principle of Occam’s Razor indicates that monistic idealism should be given consideration at least equal to, if not greater than, materialistic positivism.

Because all that we know of the physical world is a special class of mental experience that is not like other classes of mental experience, all that we can say for sure is that both our experience of the physical world and our experiences of our own mental worlds are mental in nature. This is literally what the term “monistic idealism” means.

I believe that materialistic positivists make a mistake when they try to claim that they know for a fact that everything is really physical. They are making an assumption, a guess, for which there is no evidence, for which there can never be any evidence, and trying to pass it off as a fact. I think instead it is better to observe Socrates’ famous dictum. When I don’t know something I do not pretend to knowledge that I do not possess. Instead, I simply say “I know that I don’t know.”

Many many people throughout history have reported experiences of various gods and other spiritual beings. Have any of them proved that they have the truth about life, the universe, and everything? No. Of course not. However, as the experience of the physical world is just a certain class of mental experience, I have no basis for dismissing the experiences that people have of spiritual beings. Those are just different classes of mental experience.

Because I do not know enough to say that one of these views is true and the others are false, I do not claim that any religious belief is false. As a consequence of this, I accept all religious beliefs as provisionally true, at least until I get any better evidence one way or another. Therefore, I believe in Odin and the gods of Valhalla. I believe that Jesus died for my sins. I believe that there is one true god, and Mohammed is his prophet. I believe that Buddha was enlightened and that Lao Tzu achieved great comprehension of the Tao. I believe in the lwa, and the orisha. I believe in the flying spaghetti monster. I even believe the atheists are correct.

We all have a small part of the truth. Nothing more. To claim greater knowledge than this is hubris, the act of an egotistical fool. I follow the way of Odin because I have a powerful connection with him. That is all. I do not expect anyone else to see the world the same way. Nor do I really care whether they do or not.

Does Valhalla Still Matter?

Over the years that I have been an active member of the heathen/Asatru community, I have often been questioned concerning my focus on the afterlife, on Valhalla. Many modern heathens seem to regard the idea of Valhalla or any other aspect of the afterlife to be superfluous, not relevant to life as a modern heathen.

This attitude has always puzzled me. If you have an actual belief in the literal reality of the gods and the afterlife, then having some thought for the afterlife does indeed matter. If you do not have an actual belief in the gods, or if your belief does not include the concept of an afterlife, both perfectly valid heathen paths, then having some thought for the afterlife still matters.

I do not actually have any solid belief in an afterlife one way or another. Having no direct evidence for or against the idea, my own philosophy holds that forming an actual opinion on the subject is unwarranted and intellectually dishonest. I do not focus on Valhalla because I have some real hope of one day going there. I focus on conducting myself in a manner worthy of someone who hopes to be chosen to go there because it makes me a better person in this world. I focus on Valhalla because I believe in the ideals of Valhalla, of Odin.

The einherjar, the chosen slain, seek perpetually to develop themselves. They train each day to better their arts and abilities. This drive, this desire to change for the better, is an invaluable tool in any and all endeavors I will ever pursue. The einherjar do not shy away from fear or from pain. The ability to face my fears and endure even great pain gives me great courage and confidence that will grant me victory in all of my endeavors. The einherjar know how to party, how to play. The ability to relax, let go of my inhibitions, and truly enjoy myself give me the ability to endure great hardship. They allow me to focus and work hard when I am at work. They give me a sense of humor, and the perspective to see that most things that seem like problems don’t really matter, and this makes me a better person.

It doesn’t really matter to me whether I go to Valhalla someday or not. But that won’t stop me from trying like hel to get there. When I accepted Odin’s path, I accepted it all, instead of picking and choosing the parts I liked. That includes the goal. It’s made all the difference in the world to me.

Heilsa

Heilsa. I am Wayland Skallagrimsson, author of the Uppsala Online website and several books on heathenry / Asatru. I used to be very active in the heathen/Asatru community. I took part in several forums, ran my own forum, published books regularly, and attended heathen gatherings and celebrations. In recent years I have had to drop almost entirely off the radar. The economic recession hit me pretty hard, and I have had my hands full just with survival. And frankly, I’m just not a social person, in any way. I am the solitary wandering type of Odinist, and I have my own path, my own work. However, a number of friends have pointed out to me recently that I could retain some involvement while keeping space for my own path by starting a blog on heathen issues. This seemed like a good idea to me, as it will allow me to write on a number of topics I had wanted to write on but didn’t necessarily have a place for. So welcome to my blog. The topics covered will be random, just whatever occurs to me when I sit down to write, but most will be related to heathenry in some way or other.