Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Being an atheist/agnostic and a Canaanite

I had an interesting thought whilst researching debates and discussions between various groups of atheists, agnostics and theists, including atheists and agnostics from many different religious backgrounds (I was particularly interested in ex-Asatru, ex-Hindu, ex-Shintoist, and ex-Hellenic arguments).  Overall I'd say that there were some interesting points made on all sides, but it had me thinking about something that I want to clarify and talk about.

For those of you who don't know, I consider myself to be an (agnostic) atheist (thank the gods I'm an atheist).  I don't believe in any gods as literal beings of any sort.  I largely consider gods to be a pre-scientific explanation of the universe that couldn't be explained at the time.  This is just my opinion though, and it's not something I agree with fully.  I think that, for example, spirituality and religion go far deeper than that. 

But I am, and always have been, a spiritual person.  I feel a deep connection with the gods of the Canaanites, and have been practicing this religion formally since I was 13, and before that I was also aware of Near Eastern stories and legends, and I confess that I did believe in the gods (especially El, and the goddess, Asherah) since a very young age, possibly as young as 5 or 6.  I just don't believe in the deities anymore.  I grew older and began to doubt.

Before anyone thinks I'm going insane, I will say this.  I am an atheist, and I am happy being an atheist.  I don't feel depressed or confused, and I certainly do not hate religion or seek to destroy it.  In fact, I have always been very interested in religion.

For me, I see no contradiction between me being a Canaanite and an atheist.  I feel a spiritual connection with the gods, goddesses, and spirits.  I worship them in their temples, I give them offerings, I write poetry and hymns for them.  I find the myths and stories entertaining, though I don't regard them as literally true.  I celebrate the festivals of the Shanatu Qadishti, and I feel a close bond with nature and my ancestors, and those around me in my community.  I meditate and enjoy dreams and visions, seeking to discover my inner spirituality and serve the gods who made me.

Confusing?  Yes, perhaps.  I consider a deity to be a natural force, or a concept, or something of that nature.  For example, I will choose the Sun as an example.  Early people saw this Sun that gave them life and warmth, healing, and could mark the seasons (and therefore foretell the future).  They considered it divine, seeing it as female, and portraying it as a human figure.  They wanted to thank this Sun for giving them life, and gave offerings to it.  So humans see the divine qualities present in a natural object like the Sun, and worship it as a goddess.  And so this is what we call Shapash.  Shapash exists, as the Sun exists.  But whilst I honour her culturally, ritually and symbolically with offerings and hymns, I still know that she is a ball of gas that the Earth orbits.  But she is more than that for us mortals, she is divine.  And that is what counts.  By this worship, I feel wholeness and completion.  In terms of an actual supernatural female figure with a human-like mind, I am unsure and skeptical.  I think that nobody knows for sure.

I walk the path of the gods.  I worship them at festivals, and honour them in temple rituals.  I feel a close connection to nature and know in my heart that I am truly at home in this spirituality.  But my rational mind knows that this is just my very human curiosity about nature, and my desire to praise it in its glory, and feel a close connection to it.  My rationality doesn't take anything away for me, and I am still very much a Canaanite, and always will be so.

I wonder what other people's thoughts are on this.  Do you see any contradiction between my worship of the gods at festivals and ceremonies, and my atheism/agnosticism?


  1. There is no contradiction between being atheist/agnostic and practicing a religion. For polytheistic traditions belief is less important than the proper practice.

    I think, from reading this, you might be interested in researching in neoplatonic philosophy, and it's view of the Gods ;-)

    But the physical sun is not a ball of gas, it is a ball of plasma ;-)

  2. Thanks for that Apollodorus. I'll have to look into neoplatonic philosophy. I know the most about Indian philosophy, but I'm also looking into Greek and Chinese as well.

    Gah, sorry, plasma. I should have remembered that from passing Physics last year. At least it's better than writing 'a ball of fire' ;)