Essay:Odinism is more rational than atheism
This is the second version of this essay. The first version is here. Further information about the changes is on the talk-page.
“”Give me that old-time religion,
give me that old-time religion.
|—Old Gospel hymn|
It has recently been brought to my attention that there are disproportionate numbers of Odinists who are editors of this Wiki, myself included. Given that it is "RationalWiki," that might be surprising to some people, because rationalism and atheism have been so conflated that it is often difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins.
This is not good. Although, in my opinion, atheism is a rational religion, it is not the only such rational religion (read the first section, then nitpick about what "religion" is, if you please).
In this essay I argue that Odinism is a valid choice of religion for a rational person who is opposed to the Abrahamic excesses, and show further that it is more rational than atheism in several respects when put into practice.
- 1 Atheism is a rational religion
- 2 Breather
- 3 God did not create man: man created God
- 4 Insensitivity to what lies beyond
- 5 Religious opposition to Abrahamic universalism
- 6 A place for the "spiritual"
- 7 Links to the past
- 8 Values
- 9 Conclusion
- 10 Endnotes/references
Atheism is a rational religion
In order to establish that "atheism is a rational religion," three constituent statements must be established as true:
- It is possible to be rational and an atheist (atheism is rational).
- Being rational does not imply being an atheist (atheism is a rational religion, not the rational religion).
- Atheism is a religion.
What is atheism?
I shall now require a definition of "atheism." There is much controversy over what this word means, so I will quote the most authoritative source that can be found:
“”Atheism is the absence of belief in the existence of any gods.
Weak atheism, strong atheism, and me
This Wiki's atheism article makes further distinctions between weak atheism (limiting itself to the definition above) and strong atheism (which goes one step further to make a positive claim that there are no Gods or other supernatural entities).
I have, historically, subscribed to both of these types of atheism, having discarded weak atheism in favor of strong at the age of 12. This occurred for the following reason.
Logically, either one or more supernatural entities exist, or none do. If one holds the former statement to be true, he is a theist (at least in the sense that if he tries to call himself an atheist, other atheists will likely laugh him out of the house); if one holds the latter statement to be true, he is a strong atheist. Weak atheists and agnostics do not take either position.
But unlike agnosticism, which maintains that it cannot be known which of those statements is true, weak atheism simply leaves that thread dangling, often by conscious choice (such as a belief that the question of the supernatural is "not worthy of consideration"); if one forms any opinion at all about the existence of the supernatural, he is no longer a weak atheist, but either a theist or a strong atheist.
I am known for forming strong opinions on things very quickly and involuntarily, and hence by default became a strong atheist as soon as I started thinking about the supernatural.
Other atheists that I met also espoused strong atheism, leading me to believe that strong atheists were the majority of atheists and further vindicating my pre-teen conversion. Although weak atheists appear to be the majority on this Wiki, for these reasons, I may be biased toward strong atheism when characterizing atheism in this essay.
What is a rational belief?
I shall now require a definition of "rational." Quoting our most-authoritative source again:
“”Rationalism, or reason, is synonymous with a "good" way of thinking.
The rationalism article then defines this "good" way of thinking as follows:
“”Common conceptions of rationalism hold that truth can best be discovered by reason, factual analysis and the scientific method rather than by faith, revelation, religious teaching or other ways of knowing.
I shall take as a given that all evidence as to the existence of the supernatural lies beyond the reach of reason and observation — or, at least, that this statement is true at this time; this is what I believe, and what most atheists believe.
If this is the case, then reason and observation, the "best" ways of discovering truth, are silent on the topic of the supernatural's existence, and gathering of knowledge in this area must be left to other ways of knowing, which are not the "best," but can still be used to fill in the holes left by reason and observation.
Therefore, a rational belief, or set of beliefs, is one that is in line with this rational world-view, i.e., it does not contradict any finding made using reason and observation. Note that any belief claiming absolute truth without demonstrating it is not rational by this definition, since reason tells us that only compound sentences such as disjunctions and conditionals can be absolutely true.
Both weak and strong atheism are rational beliefs by this definition. So are some forms of deism and pantheism. Christianity (or at least the Conservapedian denomination thereof) is not, since it holds that YHVH burped the species into existence in 4004 B.C., and ignores all observations indicating that these species evolved over some billions of years.
This definition is in line with this view of what the scientific method can and cannot do:
“”Philosopher Karl Popper has argued for decades that the primary criterion of science is the falsifiability of its theories. We can never prove absolutely, but we can falsify.
|—Stephen Jay Gould, Evolution as Fact and Theory|
The problem of logical positivism
Some people make a tighter interpretation of the above definition of rationalism: instead of deeming reason and observation simply the best ways to discover truth, they would have them be the only ways; to them nothing can be regarded as true/meaningful unless it comes from reason or observation.
This view is held as part of "strong rationalism" or "logical positivism," which has its critics even on this Wiki. I share the position taken in that article, that logical positivism "proves too much," that it is an insensible rationalism that does not recognize the limits of reason and observation.
What is a religion?
The proposition that "atheism is a religion" is the trickiest proposition of the lot, so I have, of course, saved it for last.
- Section moved to Essay:Atheism is a religion
It doesn't matter anyway
As an endnote, this point is somewhat irrelevant to the central argument of this essay; "religion" or not, there are still small parts of both weak and strong atheism that are not based on reason and observation, though both are rational.
I will take a breather here and recap. I have shown that atheism has bits that are not based in reason and observation.
I will now show that Odinism is rational, in that its beliefs do not contradict the findings of reason and observation, and that therefore Odinism is just as rational as atheism. I will also show that due to certain factors that have risen as a result of practicing atheism in opposition to the Abrahamic religions, Odinism is more rational than the sort of atheism that is the most widely promoted.
There might be an objection made to the following: that I am comparing apples and oranges by holding up Odinism in theory next to atheism in practice. In response I can only say that since Odinists do not generally believe that anyone else must play by their rules, any irrationalities in their personal practice do not reflect upon the religion, whereas the kind of atheists I discuss below do believe that everyone else should play by their rules, and these rules become atheism in practice.
God did not create man: man created God
The largest question to be settled is that of the Gods. The question is usually put in this way: Reason and observation fail to turn up even one God; how can a religion claiming an entire pantheon of Gods possibly be rational?
This argument is entirely valid with regard to a God that came out of a holy book, as YHVH did. Those who subscribe to the Abrahamic religions are expected to have faith in a God they cannot see, yea, who deliberately remains hidden; and if they use their eyes and ears and see something that contradicts the holy book, well, it means they have not been reading the holy book enough!
“”When science and the Bible differ, science has obviously misinterpreted its data.
But the Odinist Gods are not of this sort.
Instead of a holy book containing the ravings of a few desert-rats with what must have been very severe cases of heatstroke, the entire Odinist pantheon is grounded in testable observation — in phenomena everyone can see.
Instead of making a God out of the hallucinations of the prophets, as YHVH was made, the pagans of ancient time saw the sun and moon, heard thunder, went to war, conceived children, etc., and made Gods based on what they saw and how they lived: made Gods out of forces and concepts as later their Roman fellows would deify people. One does not have to be an atheist to believe that "man created God."
Instead of a God creating the world and humanity, as is shown in the Abrahamic origin myth, the Norse myths show the world in existence before there were any Gods.
Instead of interacting with the world solely through divine visions (i.e. hallucinations) and through violations of natural law (e.g. stopping the sun in the sky), as YHVH does, the Gods of Odinism act entirely in conformance with natural law, act through the means of the phenomena that caused their creation.
Instead of a set, fixed world-view and system of practice that give rise to massive campaigns to ban any findings of reason and observation that contradict them (the treatment of Galileo, for example), Odinism gives a fluid system. If some observation did turn up that challenged current practice, there is nothing preventing a reinterpretation of the Norse myths or an addition to the pantheon, in an analogous manner to how the body of scientific theory is altered. Some examples:
- We now know that lightning is caused by thermal phenomena inside clouds, that Thor does not literally hurl lightning bolts from a hammer that he stores under his tunic. Does that make Thor any less real, or the peals of thunder at storm-time any less majestic? It does not. What we have gained by this knowledge is how exactly Thor acts upon the world.
- We now know that the universe began when a very hot point exploded into the cold void. This is captured allegorically in the Norse myths, which relate how the world was made when the ice of Niflheim and the fire of Muspelheim collided.
- Anyone who has ever been wildly inspired to great heights of creativity can identify with the story of the Mead of Poetry.
- One can loop the loop on free will vs. determinism, but "free will" is limited to some degree in the sense that the machinery by which decisions are made — the neurons of the brain — are subject to the laws of physics. In this way the Norns, not we, control our fate.
One objection that can be made to the above ideas is that it is setting the bar too low to allow the possibility of humans creating Gods by the act of worship; what is then to prevent every crank-cum-prophet in the world from making their own God, even their own pantheon? And in particular, how then is the process that gave birth to YHVH any different from the ones that gave birth to pagan Gods?
The difference is as follows. Although the Gods, being in the supernatural realm, are outside the scope of reason and observation, the processes that gave birth to them are very natural, and subject to scientific study. All that needs to be done to compare two Gods is to compare the processes by which they were created using the standards of the scientific method. To be plausible in any way, a scientific theory must be testable, and whether or not a shepherd in the Bronze Age had an hallucination/divine vision is not a testable hypothesis. Sunshine, thunder, and the other bases for the pagan Gods, on the other hand, occur every day somewhere in the world, can easily be seen by most people, and are very testable.
As one person said of Buddhism:
“”The difference between Buddha and the founders of other religions such as Jesus, is that even if the Buddha never existed, what he said would still be true.
Similarly, according to these ideas, the very existence of YHVH rests on the accuracy of certain historic events recorded in the Bible, and this accuracy is not testable. The existence of the Gods of Odinism, on the other hand, rests on documented and ongoing events, viz., natural phenomena and what pagans made of them.
Therefore, the Gods of Odinism have a far more rational basis than revealed Gods like YHVH. Furthermore, since (unlike YHVH) they act entirely in conformance with natural law, the proposition that they exist does not contradict any finding of reason and observation, and Odinism passes the test of rationality that I outlined above.
Insensitivity to what lies beyond
Since Odinism is based on observation, further observation can only refine it and make it deeper and sharper; an observation cannot be "blasphemous" or "heretical" and upend the central tenets of the religion, as one sees with the Abrahamic traditions. This is true even if that further observation should reveal the existence of the supernatural.
This is not true of atheism. Even for those who believe in logical positivism, believe that no truths of relevance lie "beyond" the reach of reason and observation, the history of mathematics shows that our understanding of what is within the reach of reason changes from year to year. As for the reach of observation, it consistently increases both in breadth and precision; Overwhelmingly Large Telescopes, particle accelerators, and paranoia about a secret black hole factory all testify to this. Not to mention that certain truths that can be gained by observation at one time might not be able to be gained at another.
I have heard a story about Charles Babbage, in which he stated a belief that so-called "miracles" could also be the operation of some natural law of higher order hitherto unknown, and demonstrated this by setting his Difference Engine to wind from 2 to 4 to 6 to 8 to 10 to 117. If the world at present is in the state where it is winding from 6 to 8, how could we possibly know that it will or will not jump from 10 to 117 later?
Although — and to some degree, since — individual atheists put much stock in reason and observation and would accept any unambiguous evidence that the supernatural exists, atheism would be entirely demolished as a religion if the proverbial 10-to-117 transition should ever occur. Therefore, the whole belief of atheism (along with its cousin, agnosticism) is on tenterhooks lest some unknown God poke its nose into the world and say hello. Christianity and other revealed religions fall into this trap as well.
By contrast, if some new God did manifest itself, the practice of Odinism would probably go on much as before, just adding a new cult.
Religious opposition to Abrahamic universalism
One problem with being an atheist and against the universal Abrahamic religions is that one has no religious motivation for opposing them: one can simply stay silent and allow them to spread like hellfire over the land, whether for the first time or as a revival burning over the tender sprigs that have cropped up since the last blast of the brimstone.
This is why Jews and Nonconformist Protestants have done far more of the grunt-work in aid of religious tolerance within Christian lands than atheists have; they could not in good conscience pretend to practice the majority religion, and unlike atheism where such a conscience is based simply on personal convictions, it was grounded in something far more unshakable.
Digression: It is for this reason that I find the argument of Thomas More in Utopia, in favor of stigmatizing atheists, an absurd one. The argument runs: "Since atheists do not fear hell, there is nothing to prevent them from violating laws and morals in secret; therefore, atheists cannot be trusted." Unfortunately for that argument, there is also nothing to prevent an atheist lying about his atheism, and pretending that he is a theist. Stigmatizing atheism, therefore, has the effect of making pariahs out of honest atheists and welcoming the stinkers of that persuasion to the fold.
Odinism provides this more solid basis for opposing the Abrahamic religions, without falling into the trap of being universal itself. It is not a religion for everyone, and in pagan times, varying degrees of adherence were accepted in theory as well as practice (see below).
By contrast, there is a certain universal quality to atheism; the pipe-dream of many atheists is a world in which myth and superstition have been banished beyond the pale — see below.
A place for the "spiritual"
One could say that the rationality of a religion is measured not by how loudly its theory proclaims the excellence of being rational, but how well its system of practice accommodates those of the rational persuasion: the proof of the pudding being in the eating, not in endless chatter about pudding.
Atheism falls short here, because its system of practice provides no place for those who are of a particularly religious bent — the so-called "spiritual" people. Although a rational analysis may indicate that these "spiritual" people have their heads jammed where the sun does not shine, they are nevertheless with us in society.
In a system that frowns on "spirituality," they will rebel; if they latch onto a universal religion, they will start insisting that everyone can either: (1) be as "spiritual" as they are, or (2) go to hell (literally).
A religion with a system of practice that allows people to be just exactly as "spiritual" as they want would accommodate both rational people and not-so-rational people with very little strife at all; also, historically, in pagan lands there were a diversity of cults at the disposal of the curious spirituality-seeker, which greatly lessened the number of people who had to look outside the system to indulge themselves. In Odinist practice, for instance, one could become a Berserk or a magician.
Links to the past
One argument made against atheism by wingnut Christians is that atheism flies in the face of tradition, trying instead to carve out a new and untried world-view. This is rather a ridiculous complaint for Christians to be making, since Christianity once flew in the face both of Jewish and of Greco-Roman tradition; however, Odinists can make it with more credibility, since Odinism was the original tradition and never had to fly in anything's face.
That being said, a religion that draws on the past, on tradition, on the collective wisdom of the ages, is completely invulnerable to that sort of criticism. A widespread return to the practice of Odinism would not be a revolution, but a reaction, a reaction against the Christians' sanguinary revolution that they are so eager to forget.
Although it is not a fault per se not to incorporate tradition into a system of religious practice (and "tradition for tradition's sake" is a poor principle, demonstrably fallacious in the case of inconsistent traditions), neither is it wise or rational to throw away the past because it is perceived to slight the principles of the new religion, as Christianity did to pagan traditions.
Practitioners of any religion that flies in the face of tradition have the tendency to do this, and too often, atheists show a hearty categorical disrespect for tradition and for old things; for example, I have caught ridicule from an atheist for my taste in music, on those grounds, the exact phrase being, "Do you have to listen to that sanctimonious cr**?"
Atheism is, pardon me, agnostic on the subject of a value system. This is a difficult thing for most people, who expect their religion to provide them with a value system, and have trouble with the prospect of hashing out their values for themselves. It is also an open invitation for some people to put forth twaddle of this kind.
I will discuss here some specific problems that, again, do not pertain to atheism in general, but have arisen as possibly necessary consequences of many atheists' opposition to Christianity.
Secular humanists and other sanctimonious atheists
Many atheists are thin-skinned when it comes to this sort of thing, which gets on their nerves so much that in their desperation to beat Christians at their own game and prove that "atheists can be moral too," they end up signing onto a good deal of the more saccharine side of Christian morality, the side that does not involve locking anyone up in jail but still manages to make more cynical people reach for the vomit bag. A common moral precept with them is to "affirm the equal dignity of all human beings;" one can almost hear them working up this philosophy: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in ... um ... er ... HEY, WHAT DID WE SAY WE WERE GOING TO REPLACE 'CHRIST JESUS' WITH?!" Many use religious phrasings such as "see the light" to refer to people coming around to their views on a certain matter.
And too often atheists try to spread these precepts in conjunction with their atheism, as if the two were inseparable; the Council for Secular Humanism is an institutional culprit here.
When I was an atheist, it was simply because I believed the metaphysical premise of atheism to be a true one. This apparently made me unique among atheists; every other atheist I talked to was either an apathetic apatheist who had not bothered to think out his position, or an axe-grinder who had renounced his previous adherence to Christianity on the basis of moral or political differences, then adopted atheism and taken up other atheist arguments.
One person epitomized this approach by describing how she converted to atheism. During her conversion, her thoughts, she said, ran as follows: "I don't like Christian morals; therefore, God does not exist." For this argument to hold up one must believe firstly that the Christian moral code is wrong, and secondly that no other Gods exist, even allowing, for the purpose of the argument, that YHVH might. This is essentially circular reasoning, not very rational at all.
“”[I]f the word God is not to become completely useless, it should be used in the way people have generally understood it: to denote a supernatural creator that is 'appropriate for us to worship'.
Another example of this is atheists who make use of communism, or some derivative of it, as a system of morals, whining on with one of the endless variations on the phrase, "Religion is the opiate of the masses," and harping that all theistic religion is "oppressive" — whether that "oppression" be of workers, freedom of thought, etc. — and ought to be abandoned so as to enable humanity to "solve its own problems." Atheism is then seized upon as the solution with little thought as to whether its metaphysical premise is true or not; actual evidence for the truth of atheism is brought in after the fact simply to bolster what has already been ordained as the proper belief, as described above. We see this kind of thing all the time.
And, of course, whenever they can get away with it, communists do not bother to use actual arguments against theism; gun barrels suit them just fine. This is approximately as rational as concluding that 2+2=5.
Odinism does provide a value system, but it is much more rational than those of the Abrahamic religions. To compare atheism and Odinism in this manner is rather like comparing apples and oranges, but for the above reasons, the Odinist value system is also more rational than those of many atheists:
- Its moral principles generally take the form of advice, rather than high-handed commandments or precepts. This is more rational because such principles do not pretend to come from observation, and reason alone does not give us any absolute statements of this sort.
- In the same vein, its morality mostly considers context; for example, one is advised to visit true friends often, lest the friendship fall by the wayside (Hávamál 119). This is more rational because there are far fewer conclusions that can be drawn using arguments in vacuo.
- Much of its morality is just common sense; most people do not need a holy book to see that it is bad to stab one's friends in the back or that it is good to be modest, for example. There is a certain rationality about common sense that does not show itself in high-handed proclamations.
Every religion has bits that are based in reason and observation and bits that are not, just as it has rational and irrational adherents. This is true of atheism as well, and I have demonstrated several points on which Odinism's rationality is greater than atheism's, especially when considered in the context of opposition to the Abrahamic religions.
If anyone would like to take the bother of showing facets for which the opposite is true, I would like to hear about it.
On a similar note, this essay now has a parody that is in need of some expansion, and in the right hands could probably be made into an excellent piece of ribald religious satire.
- Otherwise known as Asatruar, heathens, Germanic neopagans, Norse pagans, etc. I am not going to be politically-correct here and use all of these terms.
- Though if one lives in the desert, thunder would probably not make such a deep impression on them: this is one reason why Odinism is not a universal religion, as described below.
- Possibly in consequence of this, I sometimes find myself speaking up in defense of rationality while atheist acquaintances remain silent.
- Although Christianity did incorporate Odinist and other pagan traditions into its practice, this was done "under the radar" and caused a real mess centuries later, during the Protestant Reformation.
- Galatians 3:28.