Is There an Unspoken Pagan/Atheist Alliance?

Is it just me or have you noticed that Pagans and Atheists seem (for the most part) to get along and even agree with one another most of the time?

If you visit atheist or religious forums, the trend seems to be pretty clear. I don’t think I’ve ever had an argument with a pagan or met one online or in person that I disliked. I really started thinking about it after reading a comment about how some Christians feel their religion is under attack. I started wondering – probably for the millionth time – whether that’s true. I then realized that you rarely see atheists arguing with Pagans, Hindu’s, Buddhists etc. You will frequently see them arguing with Muslims or Christians.

Why is that?

I decided to brainstorm reasons and this article is the result. Now keep in mind that I’m going to be talking in general terms for the purposes of this article. So if I say ‘Pagans’ or ‘Atheists’ or ‘Christians’, I’m not saying all Christians, Pagans or Atheists. I’m just talking in general terms.

Blessed be

Some Pagans will end their post with ‘Blessed be’.

Love the saying. And it’s much better than when a Christian says in a condescending manner, ‘I’ll pray for you’.

Ignorance of Pagan beliefs

Personally, I’m pretty ignorant of Pagan belief structures. I don’t know a hell of a lot about them. In order to debate someone, you sort of need to have a grasp of the subject matter. When I run into a Pagan, I’m more filled with curiosity. I want to understand and know more about them. Maybe this works in their favor?

Numbers game

It might just come down to demographics. According to Wiki, neo-pagans make up only 0.02% of the world’s population. Christians on the other hand make up a third of the population and many of them are concentrated in North America.

This means that Christian beliefs are going to impact society far more than pagan beliefs.

Satan and shared history

I’ve never had a pagan tell me that I’m going to be tortured for eternity for not believing in their deity(s). This generally leads to a more pleasant conversation.

I would assume that many pagans have read up on the history of their faith and realize that faiths like Christianity used to burn them at the stake, torture and rape them. Atheists also had to be careful in the past about sharing their disbelief. In fact, pagans and atheists still have to be careful. They might not get burned at the stake any more, but they can face being ostracized from the community.

I also think that some Christians think that atheists and pagans are tools of Satan. This might be another reason why pagans and atheists seem to have an unspoken alliance.

In a recent news article that highlighted the distrust and animosity some people have towards atheists it said:

“While atheists may see their disbelief as a private matter on a metaphysical issue, believers may consider atheists’ absence of belief as a public threat to cooperation and honesty.” In a 2003 study [PDF], 48 percent (the highest of disapproval rating of any group) of Americans said that they would disapprove of their children marrying an atheist.

This distrust prompts one to wonder if believers really do worry that people would engage in rampant murder and mayhem if they thought that there was no vengeful deity monitoring their behavior at all times. In fact, psychological research does confirm that a lot of religious believers do tend to think this way. In light of those fears, one prominent slogan featured on placards at the Rally for Reason, “Be Good for Goodness’ Sake” must appear nonsensical to believers.

I wonder if the numbers would be similar when it comes to pagan beliefs and atheism.

Laws

Christianity has a big influence on our laws. Paganism not so much and I’ve never met a pagan that believed their faith should be legislated into law. You never hear a pagan saying we’re a Pagan Nation or any other such nonsense.

For example, you can easily find news stories like this one:

Newt Gingrich likes to harp on the subject of “religious freedom” as much as the next Republican. Of course, as we have shown here repeatedly, the phrase “religious freedom” is a stand-in for something else: the privileging of Christian belief over all other forms of belief – or disbelief. Religious freedom should mean equal freedoms for all with regards to belief and that is what the First Amendment establishes by prohibiting government establishment of religion, originally applied to the federal government in the First Amendment and later applied to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment in the wake of the Civil War.

And when the separation of church and state is threatened, it would make sense that it threatens the pagan religion as well as atheists.

Perhaps it just boils down to common goals and vision for the future where no religion is given privilege over another and all are free to believe or disbelieve?

Conversion

Islam and Christianity are built on converting people to their religion. Pagans (from what I understand) can literally have thousands of deities and they don’t believe their way is the only way. Pagans don’t attempt to convert people because they think they’re saving a soul from damnation. They may share their ideas and ideals, but rarely (never that I’ve seen) try to force their beliefs on other people by using scare tactics.

These are just some of my thoughts. I don’t know whether any of them are correct or if there really is an unspoken alliance between pagans and atheists or not or if it just seems that way sometimes.

What do you think?

The Horror of Native American Boarding Schools

In the 1870’s, The United States was still at war with the Native Americans who occupied the land before Europeans ever touched shore. In an attempt to solve the ‘Indian problem’, the United States government helped fund religious organizations who then opened religious boarding schools. These schools would heap horror upon the Native American children sent there right up till the 1980’s.

We often hear religious people spout off about how we need religion to be moral – but if these religious boarding schools are examples of religious morality, I can only hope that isn’t true.

Boarding schools were used to assimilate Native Americans and the best way to do that was to wipe out their existing culture – they separated Native American children from their families and from non-Indian students.

Richard Pratt was an army officer in 1892 and he founded the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania in 1879. His reasoning?

“A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one,” Pratt said. “In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”

Between 1880 and 1902, about 30,000 Native American children were placed in these boarding schools, where Christian missionaries tried to simultaneously wipe out their culture and Christianize them. Christian missionaries were sent to reservations that were too far away from a boarding school to ‘educate’ them there.

The punishments meted out in these schools was extremely harsh:

At boarding schools, the curriculum focused mostly on trades, such as carpentry for boys and housekeeping for girls.

“It wasn’t really about education,” says Lucy Toledo, a Navajo who went to Sherman Institute in the 1950s. Toledo says students didn’t learn basic concepts in math or English, such as parts of speech or grammar.

She also remembers some unsettling free-time activities.

“Saturday night we had a movie,” says Toledo. “Do you know what the movie was about? Cowboys and Indians. Cowboys and Indians. Here we’re getting all our people killed, and that’s the kind of stuff they showed us.”

And for decades, there were reports that students in the boarding schools were abused. Children were beaten, malnourished and forced to do heavy labor. In the 1960s, a congressional report found that many teachers still saw their role as civilizing American Indian students, not educating them. The report said the schools still had a “major emphasis on discipline and punishment.”

Wright remembers an adviser hitting a student.

“Busted his head open and blood got all over,” Wright recalls. “I had to take him to the hospital, and they told me to tell them he ran into the wall and I better not tell them what really happened.”

Imagine the idea that being ‘entertained’ meant having to watch your own people being killed on screen. Yet this is only the tip of the iceberg.

These religious boarding schools weren’t just meant to civilize and Christianize Native Americans, but to create a generation that would be more willing to cooperate and sign their land away to the government. Some reservations were sitting on coal and oil reserves and the government wanted it.

These schools used brainwashing techniques in order to achieve these aims:

Indian boarding schools were blunt tools: they rank among the most heavy-handed institutions of socialization, indoctrination, and even brainwashing ever seen in North America. From the late 1800s through the twentieth century, scores of such schools throughout the western United States and Canada enrolled Indian students, generally against their will.

Scholars have described the residential boarding schools as “labor camps,” or experiments in modified slavery, run in the grueling, regimented manner of military schools. “My grandparents were taken from their homes and put in boarding schools,” says Daniel Moya, of the Pojoaque Pueblo outside Santa Fe. “Whenever they spoke their native language, they were beaten and made to eat soap.” Emotional and physical abuse was routine, and the curriculum explicitly indoctrinated students with the idea of the superiority of the dominant culture and the inferiority of native traditions.

Children were forced to cut their hair, prevented from speaking their native language or engaging in their sacred rituals, sometimes forced to wear military uniforms, beaten and sometimes raped.

In a Huffington Post article we can take a peek at what this sexual abuse entailed:

“All goes along quietly out here,” one priest wrote in 1968, with “good religious and lay faculty” at the mission. There are troublesome staffers, though, including “Chappy,” who is “fooling around with little girls — he had them down the basement of our building in the dark, where we found a pair of panties torn.” Later that year, Brother Francis Chapman was still abusing children, though by 1970, he was “a new man,” the reports say. In 1973, Chappy again “has difficulty with little girls.”

Some documents are more discreet than explicit. In 1967, two nuns at St. Paul’s Indian Mission, on the Yankton Sioux Reservation, also in South Dakota, had excessive “interest in” and “dealings with” older male students, says a report to Church higher-ups. (St. Paul’s, pictured below, was renamed MartyIndian School when the tribe took it over in 1975; 2008 graduation tipis are shown in the foreground.) Another nun has “too close a circle of friends, especially two boys.”

What ex-students describe as rampant sexual abuse in South Dakota’s half-dozen boarding schools occurred against a backdrop of extreme violence. “I’ll never forget my sister’s screams as the nuns beat her with a shovel after a pair of scissors went missing,” said Mary Jane Wanna Drum, 64, who attended a Catholic institution in Sisseton, South Dakota, for the children of her tribe, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate.

And here is a news report that explains some of the abuse Native Americans endured under the tyrannical eye of priests, nuns and government officials:

Native American boarding schools is a modern example of cultural genocide. What happened in these institutions was pure evil.

I have heard people say that Native Americans are lazy, drunk, welfare bums who complain about past injustices. This is only a small taste of what native Americans endured. We have systematically tried to pillage, rape and destroy Native American culture with a cross in one hand and a rifle in the other. We took a proud, noble people with a unique heritage and laid waste to them. Yet, Native Americans endure and try to rebuild from the smoking ruin we visited upon them.

That isn’t lazy – that’s courageous. We should be doing more to assist rather than belittle them. We may not be able to fix past injustices – none of us own a time machine that would allow us to stop these tragedies before they happened. However, we can learn from the past and never let it happen again. We can hold our hands out in friendship to the Native Americans who survived our ancestors brutality and help them rebuild.