Why I am Not a Believer


I have a new essay up over at Huffington Post. I hope you visit and join the conversation over there - the comments are already coming in!

Here is an excerpt:

To paraphrase Joseph Campbell: I don't need belief because I have experience. I can have profoundly moving experiences of deities, or swimming in a sea of light and connection, or have a deep intuitive insight into someone else. I might come up with theories based on these experiences over time, and test these against other people's. I can hold all of this, and still recognize that tomorrow, some new information may come along to change my mind. I can hold all of this, and know that I am holding one drop in a great ocean. I can set my skeptic aside and feel the power of my experiences of the numinous without feeling the need to build a creed around them.

10 Responses to “Why I am Not a Believer”

  1. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    I very much agree with you, and likewise I think that my own position on the importance of experience over belief or faith (as Campbell phrased it in The Power of Myth in response to Bill Moyers’ question) likewise was stated first in a way that I could understand by Campbell.

    I’m still floored by how many people in modern paganism, including those who are not on the side of thinking belief is necessary or constitutive of religiosity, continue to paint polytheists (for example) who speak about the primary importance of experience of deities, and of practices leading to further experiences, as being “belief-based.” It staggers me, to be honest…

    • Thorn

      BTW everyone, I didn’t see these comments until now because I was so busy fielding comments over at HuffPo.

      Lupus, I thank you for your comment. I have such strong experiences of the Gods and yet feel that my descriptions of them are simply my human way of trying to explain the ineffable.

      Some polytheists feel the opposite from you, of course.

      BTW, I mentioned you this week as a Pagan doing theology!

        • Thorn

          Julian Betkowski was bemoaning lack of Pagan theology on G+. I mentioned you as one person engaging in it. This was during a couple of discussions on his two latest blog posts. I think g+ linked my comments to his blog, which is erosisorosiseros

  2. Syrbal/Labrys

    Thank you for publishing this. It says so perfectly what has, for me, led to much falling out with those who do want “belief” to rule over experience that DOES defy skepticism. And yes, action instead of dogma is what feeds not only the soul…but the world.

  3. Sandy

    I had a student once who told me that she really struggled with the faith part of Paganism. I had no idea what she was talking about because my experience is not one of faith anymore than I have “faith” that people I have met exist and that I had the experiences I had. I have had enough experience with magic and energy work that I don’t hold them in “faith” any more than I have faith that the sun sheds light and warmth and that electricity can be used to power things. That said, I do find myself in the conversation of “belief” sometimes because people ask me about what I believe and they are really asking a larger question – believe is the only phrasing they know how to use to ask it. I think is speaks to our willingness to own knowledge or experience that we can only speak of our spiritual experiences with the word “believe”. It feels more like a cultural failing than a true holding of things in the land of “belief”. Belief means I can’t offend you by seeing the world differently than you do. Unfortunately, it waters down our speaking and our communication so that in the end, the conversation becomes all just “what I think”.

  4. Thorn

    Sandy, that is a really interesting perspective. I want to think more about the cultural failing in communication. I have heard people say “that is just what I believe” in such a way at conversation is cut off from the sharing of differing ideas. Thanks for this thought.

  5. Rowan

    I know this is necroposting, but I really wanted to respond to this idea. I am a “baby Pagan,” having had experiences in just the past year that set me on the Pagan path. As with many, what I have discovered is I was always on it, I just never recognized it until later in life.

    Coming from a science background and a period of my life with strong agnosticism if not borderline atheism after some hard blows my family experienced, I have had experiences that rekindled my spirituality. So, I have found myself trying to quiet that internal skeptic enough to allow myself to be open to experiences. I think the idea of allowing yourself to experience things without trying to sort them into some category under your “belief system” is a powerful idea. It means you don’t have to assassinate your inner skeptic, you just have to strike a balance with it. Recognize it as one of the many tools you have for assessing your experiences, but that it doesn’t need to be your only lens through which you view your experiences.

    In many ways, the idea of belief could be looked at as your breadth and depth of experience. When newcomers to Pagansim like myself mention struggling with belief, it could be what we’re really expressing is a limited assortment of experiences. We don’t have the experiential base upon which to hang a label of “belief” yet. I suppose it would be fair to respond to a question of belief in the ancestral spirits, nature spirits, and deities by perhaps saying something like, “I cannot say whether or not I believe in them. What I can say is that I have experienced them.”


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