Mark Green's Atheopaganism Blog

Living an Earth-Honoring Path Rooted in Science

The Atheopagan Principles Explored: Principle 1–Critical Thinking

The 13 Atheopagan Principles are my take on a code of ethics for atheist Pagans: guidelines for living and touchstone values rooted in the Four Sacred Things of Love, Life, Truth and Beauty. Their derivation is enumerated in Part II of my essay “How I Became an Atheopagan”, which you can read by clicking here.

I thought I’d take a turn through these principles and elaborate on them in a series of short pieces, so let’s start with the first: I understand that the metaphorical is not the literal.

The core of this principle is skepticism and critical thinking: to use reason and the scientific method to determine what is most likely to be true, rather than simply believing one’s perceptions or accepting as literally true what is meant as poetic or metaphorical expression.

This is the most fundamental difference between Atheopaganism and many other forms of Paganism: we do not automatically accept our subjective experiences as having objective reality. We understand that our minds play tricks on us constantly, every day, and that even a very meaningful experience may well have been fully or partially a hallucination.

Does that mean, then, that the meaning derived from such experiences is necessarily invalid? No, it does not—it merely means that we understand that we created that meaning. It was not inherent in the experience.

In my essay, I discuss the foibles of human perception at some length. One of my favorite examples is the experience of driving on a highway, and peering at a far-distant sign. At first, we may see that we can barely read the sign…until, as we get closer, the sign “rearranges itself” to read something else. Our brains, working with little data, have projected an anticipated pattern onto what we see, until more data is available and it can then correct to a more accurate perception.

We do this all the time. We see patterns where there are none (apophenia), and ascribe significance to random events (pareidolia). Doing so unchecked by skepticism can easily cast us into a world where coincidences and random phenomena become Omens and Portents…Someone trying to Tell Us Something.

We developed the scientific method and reasoning logic to help us to winnow out the false-positives that our brains can often produce from real data about real phenomena. It is incumbent upon us as Atheopagans to keep asking, how do I know this? What are alternative explanations, and how likely are they to be valid?

Metaphor, symbolism, poetry, allegory and artistic expression are wonderful things. We use them in our rituals and they enhance our lives immensely. Knowing where they fit in the scheme of things, we can enjoy these benefits while not getting carried away into unreason and likely separation from understanding objective reality.

Photograph is not a flower.

To go on to Principle 2, click here.


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