Essay:From atheism to paganism

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Recently, a question was asked of atheists here on the Wiki: "If you had to pick a religion to follow, which would it be?" As an ex-atheist who actually did this (although in my view it was switching religions rather than taking on a religion), I suppose I should share.

First, some background. I will be referring to the philosophical dichotomy of the Apollonian and Dionysian as formulated by Plutarch and reformulated by Friedrich Nietzsche, which illustrates a contrast between the more-or-less rational ideals embodied in Greek philosophy and the thoughts of persons who are engaged in a Bacchanalian orgy. It is my understanding that the RationalWiki community falls largely on the Apollonian side.

I probably would have become a pagan quite a bit sooner than I did, had I realized there was another sort of paganism besides that peddled by the Dionysian freaks with their brain-deadening dope, mystic mumbo-jumbo, and pantheistic pig-swill; this, as I am sure most of us agree, is not a religion for people with anything functional between the ears.

Leaving aside any metaphysical questions, Apollonian paganism has quite a bit in common with such of our practical atheism as has not been infected by communist dreck, which is also Dionysian in nature.[1] Examples of these commonalities include an enthusiasm for gaining knowledge and wisdom, a temperate and rational way of thinking (cf. the "golden mean"), and a solid common-sense approach to morals. But Apollonian paganism offers some added benefits as well, such as a large dose of humility as far as nature and the world are concerned, its status as the oldest of old traditions (forming the very basis of Western philosophy and science), and of course a much more sensible approach to the implications of Gödel's incompleteness theorems.

For these reasons (though I would not have been able to articulate them in these words at the time), I selected Apollonian paganism as my new world-view; it only remained to pick the specific cult. It is not possible, in that tradition, to create one's own personal pantheon, as many "neo-pagans" have done; this allows irrationality to creep in by denying the "sanity check" provided by adherence to a long and evolving tradition that has been practiced by many people.

The natural choice for me, as a Minnesotan of the old line, was Odinism. I had always been fond of Norse mythology; furthermore, a study of syncretic influences on Christianity alerted me to the fact that large parts of the old cults were still alive and well in the Lutheran and Anglican churches, constituting most everything I had ever enjoyed about visiting church. As G.K. Chesterton said, "If any one wants to hold the end of a chain which really goes back to the heathen mysteries, he had better take hold of a festoon of flowers at Easter or a string of sausages at Christmas;"[2] I do not attend neo-pagan blot (some of which, I have on the authority of a Swedish professor with some enthusiasm for studying the Viking Age, use Coke for a libation), but church dinners, which are a much more legitimate heir to the traditions.

So, I became an Odinist; a much more comfortable religion for me, as I had always been rather a reluctant atheist. If I had to pick a new religion I would probably adopt Greco-Roman paganism, or failing that, join the Lutheran or the Episcopal church.


  1. It is important to note, however, that communism in practice, especially Stalinism and Maoism, was largely Apollonian; though this massive inversion (which paralleled a similar phenomenon in the early development of Christianity) was necessary for those communists to accomplish anything at all, it most likely contributed to the mass hypocrisy observed among the nomenklatura, whence sprang so much death and destruction.