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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Putting the Gods First

One of the more mature and clear thinking polytheists has just posted an important reply to the most recent round of BS from some of the Righteous Radical Social Justice Warrior crowd. It describes the concerns and lives of those who are devoted to the gods first and foremost, and rejects the pernicious foolishness that says that all things, including religion, are primarily political.

Hierarchy as a Religious Concept

Today, it is time to talk about an important, yet increasingly overlooked part of heathen religious philosophy: hierarchies. Ah, I can hear the outraged howls and lunatic rants of the Righteous Radical crowd already. You know who I mean. The crowd that believes that all hierarchies and ranks are inherently evil. The crowd that spends all of its time online ranting about how everyone except for them are fascists who need to be forced to think and behave Correctly. The crowd that starts screaming “Help! Help! I’m being oppressed!” every time anybody expresses an opinion that contradicts one of their own. The crowd that has to spend all of its time foaming at the mouth in cyberspace because it can never get anything real done. Because when they get together, every least detail of every proposal has to be debated by everybody. Because everybody’s voice has to be heard about everything. Because only the person who is holding the Talking Feather at the moment can talk, and there are a lot of people waiting for their turn with the Talking Feather.

When everybody gets to be Captain, nobody’s a Private. Trouble is, Privates are the ones who get the actual work done, and part of the reason why they can get the work done is that only one person is giving them orders. Instead of, you know, an unruly mob of puffed up egos all trying to give orders to each other. The reason that all human societies create hierarchies is that it is stupidly, fatally inefficient to reinvent the wheel for every single problem you face. Experience is required to solve any significant problem, to perform any important task. Not everybody has the right kinds of experience to solve every kind of problem, and the totality of human knowledge is so vast that no one person can understand all of it. So humans develop specialists. Some gain the experience to govern societies, others gain the experience needed to master a science, others learn how to educate children, and so forth. This way, each job can be done well, and there is no need to waste the enormous amount of resources needed to educate everybody about every single thing.

Look at it this way: when the leopards start dropping out of the trees, which group of people do you think is going to survive? The one where one strong, experienced leader instantly shouts out orders for defense, which are instantly obeyed because everybody knows their roles? Or the one where everyone sits down and pulls out the Talking Feather to determine whose vision of a defense strategy should be used?

Odin is the heathen embodiment of the understanding of the need for hierarchies. He is the chief of the gods, the lord of Valhalla. He is the leader of the einherjar and the valkyries. In many ways, Odin is the god of hierarchy. His people tend to not only believe in hierarchies, but to see the spiritual world expressed in a wide array of hierarchies.

Odin is not only a god of leaders, societies, and hierarchies, though, he is also a god of individuals. He is the god of the young warrior trying to work his way up the military or political hierarchy of his people. He is the god of the scholar who seeks to learn and grow enough to work his way up the academic hierarchy. He is the god of the wargs and loners who reject hierarchies and choose to live outside of them. This seems like a contradiction, but in fact it embodies a profound understanding of human nature and the way in which human societies function.

Human societies function because of dynamic tension. A society run by conservatives would be a nightmare. So would a society run by liberals, though in a different way. A society where both conservatives and liberals hold some power, and pull society first one way and then the other? That manages to be almost livable on frequent occasions.

A society which is too rigidly hierarchical tends toward the fascistic, the bureaucratic, the inefficient, the evil. A society which tends completely toward the individual at the expense of hierarchies tends towards the chaotic, the savage, the divided, the unjust, and the inefficient. What is needed is a society that has hierarchies that are counterbalanced by strong individuals, some of whom work within the system and some of whom live outside of it or even fight against it. THIS is a healthy society. The individualism in it restrains the hierarchies from excess, and the hierarchies tame individual excesses.

This is why Odin is god of hierarchy and of individualism both. He represents the dynamic tension that a healthy society needs to survive and even thrive.

Revenge of the Son of the Bride of the Culture War: Part III

I think I am starting to get sick of Gods & Radicals as an organization. They seem to have a toxic, overprivileged culture that keeps leading members to say some really inappropriate things. The dust from Rhyd Wildermuth’s declaration that all pagan religions that do not toe the Gods & Radicals line be viewed as potential or probable right wing fascist fronts has not even settled, and another member has posted THIS little rant.

Is a left wing, multicultural Asatru possible??? SERIOUSLY???

Mr. Burley, you are clearly not a heathen. You clearly haven’t bothered to meet any actual heathens, or actually get to learn our lore or history in any way. You are doing nothing more than hijacking our traditions, and using us as a prop in your stupid little political efforts.

Not cool. In fact, you have taken it to truly bigoted levels of cultural appropriation.

The KKK had always been devoutly Christian, and claim the Bible’s sanction of their bigoted beliefs. Do you ask if a left wing, multicultural Christianity is possible? Do you ask the same thing of Islam because of a few terrorists? Do you believe that because there are some Jewish people who are heavily orthodox and insular that you must ask if multicultural Jews can even exist? Do you believe that nativist Buddhists in Myanmar mean that all Buddhists are knee jerk, right wing, nativist fanatics?

You have clearly never actually met any heathens, Mr. Burley, or you would be aware that, although we have our own problems with right wing fascist nativist racists, just like many other religions, most of us are not like this. Your asinine question indicates that you are not aware of MAJOR elements of our modern history.

As you seem to think it appropriate to make judgments and condemnations of us without having bothered to do even minimal research, let me provide the history lesson you skipped. The modern heathen/Asatru movement was pretty disorganized in the eighties, the decade it really got going in. Anyone who said they were heathen was accepted as such. Then there was a series of schisms around the end of the decade, into the nineties. One of the most major of these, the one you could not have possibly missed if you had done even a cursory amount of research into us, was the schism between Folkish and Universalist heathens. And also Tribalist heathens, but they were more of a minority at first. The other two groups were dominant.

In other words, the movement that birthed the Folkish heathens also birthed the other major camp, the left wing, multicultural heathens. You know, the ones whose existence you doubt.

Today, both Folkish and Universalist heathens have moved into the background in favor of the more common Tribalist heathens. We are neither left nor right wing. We are not fascists. We reject racists. WE are the dominant form of heathenry, if you look at the actual numbers.

So your snide little comments about “the clear association between Heathenry and an openly racialist subculture,” and “But what is it about Asatru that creates a trajectory towards the folkish interpretation,” are, at best, disingenuous, and at worst actual lies.

Our religion, our gods, are not props in your political struggles, Burley. You use us. You insult us. You misrepresent us. Fuck you.

I have been in the heathen scene for a long time. I have written a lot, and run groups. I have spent a lot of that time and effort in fighting fascism. Like any true heathen, I have stood up against the right wing and fascist elements in my religion. But that does not make me left wing. I also stand against you and your left wing brand of fascism, Burley. You and your Gods & Radicals buddies are every bit as bad as the right wing variety. And I will take just as strong a stand against you. We don’t need Folkies stealing our traditions and pushing their own agenda with it. And we do not need a load of crypto fascist anarchist neo-maxi Zoom dweebies doing it either.

The Culture War Part Two: Electric Boogaloo

A couple of years ago I published an essay to this blog titled “The Culture War: One Heathen’s Perspective.” Events in the last couple of years have pushed me to revisit the topic, and take up some of the points I discussed there from a different perspective.

Two things have been bugging me lately. One is a growing thing that I can only refer to as a form of cultural imperialism in the larger pagan community. What do I mean by this? I mean a point of view that functions as a way of creating and maintaining an unequal relationship between the dominant pagan culture and all other pagan cultures. I mean a refusal to understand things as people mean them, and an insistence on interpreting all other things, all other beliefs and cultures, through the narrow lens of one’s own, and an insistence that all people, all members of other cultures, must adopt and conform to their beliefs.

Take, for example, the recent hysterical idiocy over the Sanders’ campaign’s “Bern the Witch” slogan. A bunch of people got very upset over the fact that this slogan was used as part of a Halloween theme last October. Seriously, people?

There are so many things wrong with this that I don’t even know where to start. Firstly, “witch” is an astonishingly broad term. It does not mean “pagan.” It does not mean “woman.” It has been used by both pagan and Christian cultures for many hundreds of years to basically refer to a stock boogeyman of fairy tales: the creepy outsider who traffics with dark forces. Yes, there was a period when it was often used to persecute those with pagan beliefs, or at least vaguely pagany-sorta-looking beliefs. It was sometimes used as a cover for discrimination against women. More often than either of these, it was used to disguise naked seizures of one’s neighbor’s land or to justify harsh political measures that would be less palatable without a scapegoat.

Pretending ownership of the word in order to pursue your own agenda is pretty lame. Dirty pool, even. Pagans do not own the word. Just because it was sometimes applied to them does not let them ignore all of the other uses of the word. Just because it was sometimes applied to women does not mean that somebody can claim the word to mean “woman,” and ignore the far longer history of different uses.

“Witch” is a popular culture term that has, these days, far more to do with cheesy costumes and candy than anything else. Being so myopic as to insist that only the way you use the word is proper, and that all other uses of the word must be judged by the standards of your own beliefs and political agenda is plain old cultural imperialism, wearing a new mask.

Then there is something even more disturbing. The best example of it is the recent post on Gods & Radicals on “Confronting the New Right.” The author, Rhyd Wildermuth, basically drew up a list of all of the kinds of paganism that don’t “think correctly,” and need to be viewed with suspicion because of their supposed tendency to go fascist. This list includes devotional polytheism, reconstructionist paganism, druidry, heathenry, and any tradition with a hierarchy or secret mystery traditions. He declares that “hierarchies are artificial,” and that they are a warning sign of New Rightist tendencies. Egalitarianism, he rapturously declares, is the One True Path. Just like in nature, he effervesces, where there are no hierarchies at all, and all plants and animals help each other out of a sense of friendly brotherhood.

Gag me with a spoon.

Mr. Wildermuth, and his devoted followers, are astonishingly blind to hypocrisy, irony, and the definition of fascism.

So let me provide it for you, Mr. Wildermuth. “Fascism” comes from the old Roman symbol of the fasces, a bundle of sticks. You see, each stick alone is weak, and can be broken. But tied together in a bundle, they are strong. In other words, Mr. Wildermuth, fascism is all about enforcing uniformity of belief and behavior in order to be strong, and to advance your particular set of beliefs and ideals.

Mr. Wildermuth, you and your supporters in the Gods & Radicals crowd have started a McCarthyist witch hunt, an attempt to ferret out the “wrong elements” from our culture, and enforce your astonishingly limited perspective onto paganism as a whole.

Do you condemn traditional Chinese folk religion? It is BASED on hierarchy. Its core belief is that the world takes the form that it does because the Celestial Bureaucracy has ordered it to take that form. Do you condemn Kemeticism? It is based in hierarchy, too. Much of the religion, both ancient and modern, is centered around its own divine hierarchy, as mediated in the person of the pharaoh.

You are not the popes of paganism. Your view of paganism is not one held by many historical forms of paganism. Your declaration that people who put the gods first, or believe in hierarchies, are to be looked at with distrust and suspicion is downright insulting.

I am a neo-tribalist, Wildermuth. I am a heathen. I have fought long and hard against the racist, Folkist elements of my faith. I do not need people like you coming along and declaring that I and all people who believe like me practice what is “generally considered the most problematic” form of paganism. Mr. Wildermuth, can you guess which finger I am holding up?

Hierarchies abound in nature, Wildermuth. Wolf packs. Chimpanzee social groups. Ants. Chickens. Have you seriously never heard the term “pecking order” before? Anyone practicing a traditional, pagan, nature-oriented religion has every right to respect, honor, and benefit from such natural constructs. You have no right to claim that these are signs of right wing activity. You have no right to dismiss our beliefs.

And you know what? Hierarchies and anarchy are not mutually exclusive. I am an anarchist. And I believe that hierarchies are useful, necessary, and have their place. What, are you king of the anarchists, now, too?

The wonderful thing about polytheism is all the variety. There are many paths, many beliefs. There are many ways of knowing. This makes us strong, because alloys are strongest. You want to talk about “real” pagan thought, Wildermuth? Let me share with you what real polytheism looks like. I helped organize and moderate a group of berserkers for many years. For those of you who do not know what a berserker is, which is most of you, a berserker is a person who practices a martial art that is much like Shaolin: a combination of martial art and spiritual tradition. Berserkers tend to be heathen, and use heathen spiritual practices.

Over the decade plus our group was together, we got all sorts of members. Some were hard core conservatives. Some went to the point of holding beliefs that I found repugnant. One even insulted both of my grandfathers, accusing them of being part of the “moon landing conspiracy,” because they worked on the Apollo program. Some were serious left wing types. Some of these held beliefs I found idiotic, or even repugnant. Many of these people did not hold similar beliefs to each other, and did not get along.

You know what, though? We believed that the gods were not sock puppets who held the same political beliefs that we did. We believed that the gods are vast, and beyond human comprehension, and that each of us only had a corner of the truth, not the whole thing. We acted respectfully to each other, so that we could be about the business that we came together for. We learned things from each other. We all benefitted from this. This is why polytheism is awesome. We are many, who can work together at need, and go our own ways at other times. None of us sets himself up above the others, saying that he has The Truth.

You know what, Wildermuth? I believe a lot of the same things that you do. I think that fascism is a bad thing. I think that the New Right is indeed a danger. I am an anarchist. But, unlike you, I do not blindly assume that the gods think as I do. I am a devoted Odinist, and you know what? The Old Man and I disagree about a number of things. I do not, for example, approve of his support of waging war for glory, or power. But I can disagree with him without rejecting him, and without pretending that he really agrees with me.

This is the other thing that has been bugging me over the last couple of years: an increasing tendency to put the gods last. Wildermuth’s group at Gods & Radicals seem to be putting politics first, and using the gods only as a means of furthering their own political agenda. They are trying to open up a new front on the culture war: setting up their form of pagan belief as the One True Way, and purging all wrong-thinking elements from pagan society. They are pagan cultural imperialists. This kind of blind, unthinking, pagan cultural imperialism is privileged bullshit. This kind of pagan crypto-fascism needs to be stopped.

 

PS The subtitle to this post is a joke that probably only members of my own Generation X will get.

Too Casual a Climate

 

Back in the mid nineties, my best friend in the world was a Lokian former street kid named Steve. Mad as a hatter, and also one of the most intelligent people I ever met. He had a complex, Kauffman-esque sense of humor. At one point, he started learning how to paint in an old-fashioned, realistic style. He wanted to develop a high level of skill and then do one, and only one, painting. He wanted to do Odin and Loki, in oil paint, sharing a bong, with Loki’s eyes and cheeks bulging out as he tried to keep his hit in. Subject matter like a poster from Spencer’s, in the medium of da Vinci. After that, he said, he would never paint again. He thought it would be the ultimate sacrifice, to Loki, to put so much work into developing a skill that was then never used but for one frivolous purpose. The ultimate absurdism.

You know what? His sacrifice could not be made today. You see, he thought that the whole point of the painting was that it was really transgressive. He thought that depicting the gods in such a casual, frivolous manner was really inappropriate, and not respectful enough. He was doing it because, as a Lokian, he viewed it as his duty to cross certain boundaries, and break certain taboos. Doing such a painting in the climate of his day would have made a real statement. Today? Not so much. Today, this kind of casual, frivolous representation of the gods is commonplace. Serious, supposedly devoted Asatruar put such images up on their websites, and share them on social media. Today, far too often, the gods are pictured as laughing stocks, as if they were just people.

I think we have lost something in finding such an attitude to be acceptable. These are our gods, people. These are our revered, ancient, ancestral traditions. They deserve a little respect.

And you know what? It’s a lot easier to cultivate a spiritual state of mind, and reach out for genuine contact with the gods, when you keep the space you devote to them in your head as something special.