A middle way

Middle Path (image from Creative Commons)

Middle Path (image from Creative Commons)

There was some discussion generated by my last post, Choosing not to choose, after John Halstead kindly shared it on Facebook. John Beckett, one of my favourite Druid bloggers, posted the following comment:

This is not choosing not to choose. This is choosing a particular compromise that rejects some elements of the supernatural but accepts others. And that’s fine. But it’s not choosing not to choose.

Perhaps rather than “choosing not to choose” another way of phrasing it would be finding a “middle way” between the certainties of religious literalism, and the equal certainty and religious illiteracy of some forms of hard atheism. Druidry, based as it is in practice not belief, can provide a third way, a way that allows for acceptance of science and evidence but yet expresses a deep sense of the Sacred in, through, and as Nature (whether you name and personify Nature as various gods or not).

John Michael Greer (this is the third John mentioned in one post…this is getting confusing), in his Druidry Handbook, writes that the founders of the Druid Revival in the 18th and 19th centuries lived at a time when society was torn between religious fervour and the new materialistic sciences. Greer writes:

The forced choice between murderously dogmatic religion and spiritually barren materialism drove many people to look for a third option.

For some then and now, Druidry was that third option: a spirituality, a philosophy, a way of life (and for some a religion) that neither demanded assent to an irrational creed, nor sacrificed the Sacred on the altar of Descartes’ “mechanical philosophy”. Druidry saw the Sacred in the natural, and rejected the “forced choice” as a false one.

In that sense, taking the third way can be seen as making a conscious choice not to choose “one side” or “the other” in the endless and futile religion/atheism debates. Or, as Facebook commenter Liz Morgan suggests, it might be more accurate to say that it is “rejecting the dichotomy as false”.

I would also like to quickly take issue at John (Beckett)’s use of the word “supernatural” in this context. While for some (most?) theists, the gods are by definition “supernatural”, above Nature, in my own naturalistic Paganism, they are very much natural. Indeed, I see them as Nature personified:

For me, Taranis (or Thor, when I’m feeling Norse), for example, is not just a “god of thunder”, but is the thunder itself, in all its fierce majesty. Brigid is the hearth-fire, Sulis is the sacred well, the Earth-Mother is the Earth in which we live and move and have our being. The gods are the land, sea and sky and are not apart from, much less “above” Nature. If Nature is all, then nothing that exists can be apart from it.

As a naturalist, I don’t reject some elements of the supernatural and accept others: I reject the whole concept of “supernatural” as meaningless! But that doesn’t have to mean rejecting the Sacred, or the names and myths of the ancient gods.

This naturalistic way of viewing the Divine is not theism. Not in the traditional sense at least. But it isn’t atheism either. Not really. Perhaps it is “choosing not to choose” or “rejecting the dichotomy”. Perhaps it is a way of thinking that reconciles a binary into a ternary, a Druidic triad of sorts.

Or perhaps it’s just muddled thinking, and a way of having my cake and eating it too…

About Wrycrow

Queer nerdy Pagan librarian, training with Druid College UK.
This entry was posted in Druidry, Paganism and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to A middle way

  1. I’m giving this a “like” because I like the fact that you chose to respect nature and the way it works– rejecting materialism. I have chosen Christianity (a difficult, laborious choice made with deliberation and study about 6 years ago) and I find God’s words revealed to us ridiculously true. I am a philosopher first and spent many years in another culture where I found a contrived existence did not work well for the population let alone me.

  2. tgedavis says:

    I think your refusal to be pinned down is very valuable. A childhood home, the place where you first met someone you love, a letter from a deceased relative, the unconsciously ritualistic way we wash, adding up a bill, the overwhelming beauty of a natural landscape – these are not just thoughts, but the interplay of emotions, memories, habits and beliefs. You can make a very naturalistic, or very super-naturalistic, explanation of your belief system and leave out a large portion of what makes you who you are – imposing categories on thought and disregarding certain parts of your experience. A truly integrative, inclusive description of what it is to be human in the world is bound to be difficult to grasp, muddled and contradictory on first impression. I think music and painting can be part of that description too.

    • Ryan C. says:

      Beautiful description, thanks! Absolutely music and painting can be part of that, the bardic tradition is very important in Druidry after all.

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