Atheists are particularly vocal about criticizing the Abrahamic religions, but seldom have I heard atheists take an opinion about Wicca. Wicca is a modern pagan religion that draws upon the practices of ancient, indigenous beliefs. Nor is Wicca the only neo-paganist belief system, although it happens to be the most well-known. These faiths believe in a deity like the Abrahamic religions, but with a few key distinctions. While Wicca affirms an ultimate power in the the universe with the power to create, this force is completely and utterly beyond our ability to comprehend. A theistic God listens to prayers and doles out punishment or rewards to followers for their faith; in these religions, followers claim to have a personal relationship God, and some even insist they have talked or communed with God directly. A theistic God is supernatural, existing outside the bounds of time and space and yet He is capable of interacting with the natural world, without leaving any evidence He was ever there. Philosopher Dan Fincke argues that atheist means one doesn’t believe in a “theistic” deity, meaning a personal, supernatural God and does not preclude one from practicing Wicca. My biggest concern with the religious naturalism of Wicca is that it could easily slide back into a state where it more closely resembles the dogmatism of traditional religions than the more progressive ideals of the Sea of Faith, for instance. Certain tenets could become too sacred to question or complicated or unknown scientific ideas could devolve into superstition or mysticism.
However, Fincke also argues that because religions like neo-paganism and Wicca have impersonal, natural deities (although many affirm supernatural phenomena like ghosts, spirits, fairies and the like), these Westernized religions share few of the characteristics that atheists despise in theism. While atheists have much to criticize about the supernatural elements of Wicca and neopaganism, there are redeeming characteristics. The Wiccan deity is not supernatural because it is immanent (as well as impersonal and genderless), which means that It encompasses everything in the material world, but does not transcend it. These religions believe that the ultimate power in the universe is the creative power of reality to change and unfold into new forms through natural processes like evolution. Unlike Spinoza’s God, the Wiccan deity isn’t made of a substance; it is the being-in-itself. And according to Existentialism from Dostoyevsky to Sartre, “Being-in-itself refers to objects in the external world – a mode of existence that simply is. It is not conscious so it is neither active nor passive and harbors no potentiality for transcendence. This mode of being is relevant to inanimate objects, but not to humans, whom Sartre says must always make a choice.”
Atheists find themselves in need of guidance and reverence from time to time, but there are so few resources out there specifically designed for the secular. If atheism is going to become dominant in America, it must be able to fill the void when the Abrahamic religions are cast aside, and this includes the comfort that the religious draw from their religious rituals, ceremonies, and services. But above all, it must not engage in the divine or any other synonym for intellectual flimflam. In order to do this, people would need to search for reverence within the natural world, which can best be found through reason, rationality, science, and logic. A naturalist religion is needed to ease people into a godless way of life without sacrificing the parts of church that truly benefit churchgoers; it’s not the light of Christ that people benefit from; it’s the ability to come together every week for a social ritual. Nothing supernatural is required, and I would argue, it is the supernatural aspects of religion make it a repugnant and detestable institution. So why not throw them out? Keep the parts of religion that work for people and eliminate any supernatural delusion. All people really need is the social environment for the good days and emotional support for the bad days.
The thought of a naturalist church is perhaps most repugnant to me; some edifice propped up into the community where people assemble every week to talk about how their lack of faith is pure and will lead them to everlasting happiness here on Earth. No, a naturalist religion would have to forego a shrine or temple, just as it would have to forego any singular book or text. A naturalist religion as I envision it must be atheistic if it is to be an improvement on the current state of spirituality in the U.S; the natural world is the only source of understanding and we can only arrive at that understanding through reason. So too must the adherents of this religion recognize that this belief system, like all other religions, are not the divine Word of a theistic God or spiritual deity, but merely tools created by people to comfort them through difficult times. So too would Wiccans would need to cut out a superstitious belief in magic.
Many people undoubtedly have a need for ritual, community, and reverence, yet also tend to eschew organized religion and a belief in the supernatural. According to a recent poll, up to 19% of people in the U.S. identify as irreligious. And no doubt that for some people, religion is so sacred that nothing would convince them to abandon their need for comfort that their religion provides. But the need for comfort does not necessitate a belief in the supernatural. Nor does a religion necessitate a belief in the the supernatural. So an atheistic religion would provide all of the moral support an organized a theistic religion could, simply without the miraculous crap and need to accept claims on faith. Instead it would place the natural world as the ultimate source of knowledge, and science, reason, logic, and rationality as the ultimate tools of gaining knowledge. Some call this religious naturalism and it would be a way to reconcile atheism with Wicca. Essentially, adherents would affirm that nature is a source of inspiration because we can see the awesome power that comes from scientific discovery. And this is where our discussion of Wicca comes around again; Wicca is a distinctly Westernized religion that lends itself well to religious naturalism, but only if the mystical aspects of it are discarded. Increasingly, these religions have lent themselves to Unitarian Universalism, such as churches like the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans.
Holidays like Christmas and Easter already borrow heavily from pagan traditions and beliefs, so atheists can celebrate these ceremonies without having faith because these holidays are no longer religious, they are largely about presents and candy and not piousness. Religious naturalism would allow the irreligious in need of support to develop a shared mythology around evolution by natural selection and the Big Bang theory because it happens to be true. But there need to be concessions from both atheists and Wiccans to reconcile these different groups to form a naturalist religious. Atheists who accept religious naturalism would need to accept abstract, metaphysical concepts better than most militant atheists. It would require these non-believers to accept that while atheists can be good without God, even they get miserable and need a source of inspiration from time to time.