Mark Green's Atheopaganism Blog

Living an Earth-Honoring Path Rooted in Science

Why is Naturalism Radical?

One of the hottest points of contention between Atheopagans and both theists and hard-antitheist atheists has to do with naturalism. Naturalism is a philosophical position which holds that there is nothing which is not of the physical Universe: that there is nothing which is supernatural, and that such claimed supernatural phenomena as gods, spirits, souls, ghosts, and magic are fictitious.

Theists dispute this out of hand, of course. It makes sense that nontheist Pagans have friction with theists over this point.

But adamant antitheists like David Dennett and Richard Dawkins have conflict with it, too–because they insist that if you are a naturalistic tradition, you’re not really a religion.

This is frankly silly. The only reason that we assume you must believe in the supernatural in order to be religious is because our society unthinkingly adopts the paradigm of religious traditions for whom Belief is a Big Big Deal.

Think about it. If you were going to create a religion today*, there is no way you would start from the standpoint that much of what science tells us is untrue and that instead, fantastical and completely unverifiable anecdotes are the true accounting of the nature of the Universe.

The only reason such anecdotes and beliefs are sewn into the fabric of Bronze Age religions is because they didn’t know any better back then. They were grasping for answers and they made up stories to fit their cultural values and what little they could verify for themselves.

Clearly, cultural inertia is a thing.

I grow frustrated with the likes of Dawkins and Dennett because their arguments against Religion writ large are always REALLY arguments against supernaturalism.

But religion doesn’t have to be supernaturalistic. So their arguments “against religion”—entire books’ worth—come down to straw man fallacies.

Why is it considered so wild an idea that religion need not contain a supernatural component? The only answer I have is that it is because the religions we see around us have not been doing it that way. For centuries.

The insistence that Belief in that which requires Faith is a necessary prerequisite for a religious tradition is basically a monotheistic holdover from the Abrahamic religions, in my opinion. We’ve been steeping in the assumptions of the Judeo-Christian worldview for so long we can’t even see how they have stained us.

Religion isn’t just what you believe about the Universe. It’s also about your values, and your morals, and your religious practices and observances.

And that really isn’t such a radical idea.


*And if you’re an Atheopagan, you actually are, by the way.



  1. I agree with the thrust of the article. Minor point – many dictionaries literally define “relgion” as “belief in the supernatural”, in which case Dawkins et al are completely right. The issue is that the definition of “religion” is in flux, due to Christian privilege defining “religion” in line with Christianity. That definition needs to change – but until it does, it’s a little tricky. I can’t really complain about someone using the dictionary definition. From Websters Dictionary:

    Definition of religion
    a : the state of a religious a nun in her 20th year of religion
    b (1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
    : a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices

    1. Yes–but as I said on FB, I think that if you’re going to go so far as to attack “religion” writ large, you can at least use a definition that is reasonable. By that definition, Taoism and many forms of Buddhism are not religions, when they clearly are. Dawkins & co. are cherry-picking, in my opinion, to create a straw man to beat.

  2. Some really good points.

    I would suggest that The Dawkins Crew doesn’t ONLY have a beef against supernaturalism. I know several atheists who have uncritically swallowed the Western myth of the rugged individual/self-made man (and they’re almost all men) and staunchly refuse to acknowledge the role of anyone or anything else in making them who they are today. To them, all a sufficiently “strong” individual needs in life is their own bootstraps, and that practicing ANY religious system, even a naturalistic one, indicates a “weak character.”

    These people are almost universally douchehats, and I try not to associate with them.

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