An Earth-honoring religious path rooted in science

In Which Straw Men Get Punched —More on Halstead/Green

This is getting silly, but more has to be said in this conversation.

Here is a link to John’s latest response to my response to his response. Links to all the other pieces are listed in that one.

I am frankly tired of John’s putting words in my mouth and then arguing with them. He’s an attorney, he knows about logical fallacies, and he should know better.

Let’s just list them, shall we?

  1. I have never suggested that renewable energy will provide as much energy as industrial capitalism consumes now. I am not a “techno-optimist”, as he had it. I am a pragmatist who understands that energy consumption will conform to energy availability, which is an obvious argument that John completely ignores.
  2. The takeaway from Moore’s film is not to bother with renewables. That is a stone fact, and no amount of tap dancing will dispel it. Promoting Moore’s scrap of yellow journalism does no favors for the Earth, for humanity, or for anyone interested in being informed on these topics. Nor is this “tribalism”. It is a simple fact: Moore’s rhetoric is persuasively directed at dissuading the viewer from supporting renewable energy sources.

    John tries to have it both ways by saying that “of course” he supports renewables, but his support for Moore’s screed puts the lie to this claim.
  3. John hand-waves my point that his supposed authorities on “Deep Adaptation” are nobodies that no one is listening to. But he can’t really argue it. It’s not a movement, and it’s making no effort—UNLIKE the Atheopagan movement, which he slurs in passing—to organize and gather public support. Instead, it offers poison to the public, and then feels smug when the public doesn’t want to buy it.
  4. John derides what he calls “the contagion model of knowledge”, ignoring that it is, in actuality, how cultural change occurs. Pernicious ideas are dangerous, particularly when they are not reality-based, like the Doomer scenario. If you don’t think so, check out QAnon.

    No, you don’t fight racist rhetoric with censorship ALONE, but you sure as hell censor it while putting out anti-racist education. Here, John reveals again that he is accustomed— as an attorney would be—to making a solitary argument rather than conducting public organizing: a realm he does not have experience with, but I do.
  5. John proposes that the idea that doing something affirmative in the direction of a positive vision in the face of a crisis, rather than doing nothing, is “stupid”.

    I think that this speaks for itself. John’s rhetoric, and that of his allies, is overwhelming paralyzing, dispiriting and contributing to despair. People don’t “take a beat” when consumed with despair and then pursue a better world in the face of “knowledge” that there is no hope. They just drink a lot, and then commit suicide.

    I would suggest that taking a shot—even if it’s a long shot—at a better future is better than giving up.
  6. John congratulates himself for “beginning to live his life for real for the first time” through paralytic despair, yet having granted that he doesn’t really know what the future will bring, his claimed “realness” is just as much “a marketing lie” as what I have on offer, except that what I am offering is empowering rather than disempowering.
  7. Yes, actually, John: I do believe that the core values of Atheopaganism will be embraced by a significant cohort of humans in the future, because unlike yours, they already are. The Atheopagan Principles aren’t some wildly new paradigmatic shift that offers no upside to humanity: they are affirmative values that progressives, of whom there are many, already endorse.
  8. Anyone who thinks that highlighting the choice between renewables and fossil fuels presents a “false equivalence” is clearly not using environmental metrics to judge by. I mean…seriously?
  9. As I pointed out, John’s idea of “activism” consists mostly of ineffectual feel-good activities like environmental protest actions. He says he is “still an activist”, but doesn’t really explain how his activities have any traction with the public zeitgeist.

    And this is the root of the difference between John and me: he seems to think that an idea by itself is an action, and it isn’t. The persuasion of a significant number of others to adopt an idea is an action, and he isn’t doing it.

    His despairing, hopeless, doleful product is the equivalent of offering rotten food for sale. There will never be takers for it. John may have found some kind of satisfaction in “being right” about the future of humanity, but it is one he will share only with a handful of curmudgeonly fellows…and he himself acknowledges that he’s not sure what the future will bring anyway.

    It doesn’t matter whether he is right or not. Humanity will go on, driven—like it or not—by more inspiring visions. Yes, collapse will come, but even in its midst people won’t gravitate to the kind of worldview John promulgates. They will, as humans always have, move in the direction of a vision of a better world for themselves, their children and their communities.

    I say it is incumbent upon us to define that better world as not only better for humans, but better for the planet because, as I have emphasized and John has ignored, humans are incredibly adaptable and tenacious creatures. It is highly unlikely that we are going extinct any time soon. We will eventually, but that time is not now and pretending that it is is abrogating responsibility to the future.

    Much of the vision of the “Doomers” isn’t even minimally rational. Some argue that humanity must revert to a “pre-industrial” state, in blank contravention of the fact that we weren’t living sustainably when that was our level of technology. Others—even more wild-eyed—argue that we must devolve to the Stone Age, ignoring the fact that such powerful technologies as agriculture and the wheel (which means the mill, which means the engine) are never going to be forgotten.

    But most significantly, what John ignores—which I have cited repeatedly—is the very nature of the human organism, which is not to embrace extinction any more than that is the inclination of a virus or a rat. It’s not “human exceptionalism”, as John claims. Life doesn’t do that. If all you have on offer is a graceful exit for the entire species, as John acknowledges, humanity will not embrace what you are promoting. It will never do so.

    Which raises the obvious question: why do you persist with this reality-divorced nonsense? You could just as well posit that humans flap their arms and fly to another planet: it is as plausible as the Doomer (or “post-Doomer”) scenario and vastly more entertaining.

    The only answer I can come up with to that question is that there is some psychological satisfaction that the doom-and-gloom scenario brings to John and those who think like him. Their “analysis” is not about the actual future, or actual humans, or the actual Earth: it is about relieving stress, sense of responsibility, or sorrow at impending loss. It is an attempt to come to grips with the hard realities that face our species by deciding that the worst case scenario is the “truth”, so they don’t have to live with the anxiety of the unknown.

    Myself, I’ll take the anxiety. I’ll take the bet that humanity can get better. What’s the worst that can happen? Only what John and his gang have already decided to endorse.

What If We Are Screwed?

John Halstead very eloquently and thoroughly puts the question to us in his post “’Everything is Going According to Plan’”: Being an Activist in the Anthropocene”.

Take time to read the whole thing. It’s well worth it.

So really: what if it’s simply too late for any kind of peaceful transition to a sustainable post-disastrous civilization, and a messy and bloody collapse of industrial capitalism and Earth biodiversity in the context of skyrocketing global warming is now firmly set on course?

It could be true. It may very well be true.

What does this mean to us as Atheopagans, when we state explicitly that it is a part of our ethos to be advocates for a better future?

As someone who has devoted his career to public interest work, and particularly in the environmental field, I have wrestled with this question a lot. And I find that my Atheopaganism is both a motivator and a comfort to me in the context of what appears to be gathering doom.

If we ARE completely screwed, there are some things we can probably anticipate. And the primary one—the critically important one—is this:

There will be survivors.

Humans are unbelievably adaptable. We are the species which can live far above the Arctic Circle, in equatorial jungles, wandering as nomads in the Sahara, high in the Andes and Himalayas. We have managed to build a quite reliable global network of resource extraction, food production, manufacturing and distribution, and as destructive as that system is, it is a monument to the sheer ingenuity and logistical capability of our species.

Even with sea levels rising dozens of feet, billions of deaths due to disasters, starvation and unlivable conditions, mass migrations of climate refugees, and crashing biodiversity, there will be survivors. Many of them may be the privileged, but many of the privileged aren’t actually very well cut out for survival. They are pampered, and soft.

There will be ordinary people who survive, too. And it is for them that our efforts can make a difference.

At best, our work to develop and render visible our path is work towards culture creation—establishing principles, values and practices that are consistent with a world kinder and more sustainable than that in which we live now.

Meanwhile, these present a way for us to be happier, and to live better lives.

Finally. let me say this.

If humanity is doomed and billions of living creatures must die off, I would much rather be one of the ones who stayed at the pumps and worked to keep the ship afloat than to ignore the crisis and fool around just indulging myself and having fun.

In that case, I can go to my death feeling I did what was right to do. I stood where it was right and just to stand, when the time came that a stand was required. I lived, overall, a righteous life.

There is so much I grieve. My wife has been known to call me “the man who knows too much” because I can look at a landscape others find beautiful and see only erosion, invasive species, the growing damage wrought by humanity. And as I look at the world of humans, of course, I see the bigotry, the cruelty, the sheer destructiveness for the most petty and greedy of reasons.

But we are here. We are alive. We value life.

We are Homo capabilis, the Human Who Can.

We’re not done yet. Just looking down the barrel of a new chapter.

And we have something to offer.  Our path is worthy, even now.

Even if we’re screwed.

What Makes a Ritual “Successful”?

John Halstead over at Humanistic Paganism has published a rather sharply-worded piece about “10 Signs You’re Half-Assing Your Ritual”. It’s well worth a read, and in general, he’s right: there is a lot of ho-hum ritual out there and many, if not most of us can do a better job of preparing and enacting our rites.

But I think there is something missing in John’s piece, and that is this: a discussion of what we mean by a “successful” ritual.

This is often a moving target. When you talk to someone who has come out of a successful ritual, more often than not what they will talk about is not the activities that took place within it, but about a feeling—and one that is hard to pin down, at that.

But I think that all of those feelings come down to a particular state of mind: one of focus, presence, sensory awareness, creative flow and fervent dedication to the activities at hand. It is what I have previously termed the Ritual State. Many Pagans also refer to it as trance.

Here at Atheopaganism, I’ve written somewhat extensively about the Ritual State (in fact, there is an Atheopagan Ritual Primer that is all about how to provoke and maintain it). I believe it is a particular brain state that is well known to artists and musicians, but may be less familiar to others, in which the prefrontal neocortical Talking/Thinking Brain relinquishes its usual driver’s-seat role in the operation of the brain to the limbic or Feeling/Creating Brain. The Thinking Brain is still present, and may chime in with recognition of metaphors and symbols that contribute to the Ritual State, but it is the Feeling Brain, which remains firmly in the present moment rather than going off into memories or speculations about the future, that is the primary system in charge.

The primary hallmark of a successful ritual is that it succeeds in bringing participants into that fervent, present, awe-inspired creative state, which can be intensely moving and joyful. Each person is different, of course, so some techniques which work for one person may not work for another, but there are approaches to induction of the Ritual State that have worked for most people for thousands of years: repeated rhythms, dancing, chanting or singing, low and flickering light conditions, and beautiful and colorful Focuses or altars, to give a few examples. See the Primer for more details.

Getting into the Ritual State is a learned skill for participants, too. Experienced ritualists are usually able to suspend the internal chatter and critical voice of the Thinking Mind more easily than newcomers to the art. As simple an act as lighting candles on a Focus and saying a brief word of gratitude and devotion can be enough, with practice.

But the key point is that a ritual is an inductive journey: a set of steps designed to bring participants into an experiential state of holy Presence. Succeed in that, work within it, and then ground it out so participants “land” back in an ordinary state of awareness, and your ritual will be a success.

Key ritual facilitation skills such as singing, public speaking, drumming and ritual movement are worth cultivating. They are deeply helpful in ritual leadership, as they can help lead participants along into the Ritual State.

Preparation can make a big difference, and John’s warnings are worth taking seriously. But in experienced hands, even impromptu ritual can be highly successful.

It isn’t just about having a map, and learning it. It’s about knowing where you intend to go in the first place.

Godless Paganism declared “The Pagan Book of the Year!”

I was so proud to be a part of the creation of John Halstead’s Godless Paganism, and wanted to let all you Atheopagans know that Megan Manson of the Pagan Tama blog on Patheos has rated it the top Pagan book of the year!

If you still don’t have a copy, you can pick it up at save money and paper and buy the e-book at

Lulu has a 20% off sale going through the end of the year, so get yours now!

Atheopaganism at Pantheacon 2017

John Halstead and I have two events on this year’s Pantheacon schedule—plus a social gathering! This conference/convention, held in February each year, is the largest gathering of Pagans in North America and an important driver of cultural development in the Pagan community: four days of workshops, panel discussions, rituals and performances. It is held at the Doubletree Hotel in San Jose, California; in 2017 the dates will be from Feb. 17 through 20.

It’s also lots of fun! Much socializing and many parties. It’s an opportunity for people who don’t get to see one another often to catch up and work together, as I am looking forward to doing with John.

I hope that as many Atheopagans as possible are able to join us for these events. They are:

  1. Dancing Without Deity: A discussion of non-theist Paganism. Held at 3:30 on Friday in the Silicon Valley Room. We welcome you to join us for a conversation about non-theistic Pagan beliefs and practices. Both curious theists and non-theists are welcome. Moderators John Halstead and Mark Green will discuss the different paths to and within non-theistic Paganism, and will invite others to ask questions and share a little about their paths. This will be an opportunity to foster greater understanding about this increasingly visible part of the Pagan community in an open and mutually respectful environment.Following this event will be a Non-Theist Pagan Mixer, in the Fire Family Suite (room number 241).  Come say hello!
  2. Living Earth Devotional: A Non-Theist Ritual of Commitment and Connection. Held at 11 pm on Saturday in the San Jose/Santa Clara rooms. Devotional rituals can be some of the most powerful forms of rituals. But ritual devotion is not limited to theists. Join us in a rite of devotion to the Earth itself, to the life-giving miracle of the soil, water, air, and sun which sustains us all. The ritual will culminate in an opportunity to take a vow — simple or life-transforming — in service of the Earth and the living beings to which it is home. Both theists and non-theists are welcome. This will be an opportunity for those curious about non-theistic Paganism to experience non-theistic ritual in a non-confrontational environment.

I’m so excited and grateful that the Programming staff at Pantheacon saw these events as worthy additions to the con! There’s a lot to do between now and then, but it’s joyful work and I look forward to it.

Your input is welcomed! If you have ideas for the devotional ritual, use the Contact page form to drop me a line. No guarantees that we will use all ideas, of course, but we will consider all of them.

I hope to see you there!

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