You know, one of my favorite blogs is Secular Blasphemy. Some have remarked at how surprising this is, given my religious proclivities, as a pretty strident atheist authors SB. I don’t think there’s any contradiction at all, and while I certainly don’t consider myself one, I believe it’s perfectly possible to be an atheist Asatrurar.
First off, most of the voices of atheism these days tend to direct their critique against Christianity or Islam more or less specifically. It’s a lot harder for them to go directly after hard polytheistic religions such as Heathenry, simply because we don’t have a sacred canon to refute.
We will freely admit that the gods themselves did not dictate the Eddas, and that the Sagas are not recordings of real history. We know that some of the sagas were probably entirely fictional. We understand that our myths can be interpreted as metaphor or analogy without doing any violence to their core meaning.
Furthermore, it is in the very nature of Heathenry itself that our gods and goddesses do not exist outside of nature – they are part of nature. Thus, our deities are not “supernatural”. They are born, they get married and have children, they fight and bitch, wheel and deal, lie, cheat, steal, love, give, play games, get drunk, play games and file lawsuits. And they die. They also demonstrate tremendous courage, and a loyal diligence that boggles the imagination. Some are paragons of honor, some craftsmen beyond compare.
There is wisdom in the Eddas and sagas – the wisdom of men, perhaps inspired men, perhaps inspired by the gods. Or perhaps not.
Among Heathens you will find, rather than a monolith of belief, a patchwork quilt. Some of us believe that the Shining Gods and Goddesses exist as literal, corporeal beings; others believe that they’re best viewed as a metaphor, as the agreed collective belief of a tribe or a people.
There are Asatrurar who hold that Asatru itself is not a “religion” at all – and that our gods are our ancestors, literally.
And there are, and apparently always have been, atheist Asatrurar.
In the sagas a group of men, warriors, is reported as having spurned the gods, preferring to trust in their own “might and main”. Some say these references are a Christian interpolation, an attempt on the part of the monks to make their ancestors less Heathen. But I think it shows a remarkable consistency with the evolution of modern Heathenry.
These men would still practice the religion, at least to the extent of boasting in sumbel of their deeds and their worthy ancestors. When these men fell in battle, their skalds would still compose the funeral oration and poetically send their souls to Valhalla – despite their avowed atheism.
Why would someone who doesn’t believe in the gods want to be Asatru? The same reason that those of us who do believe in the gods want to be Heathen: for the wisdom, for the community and the “Folk”, and for the cultural context it adds to our lives. Asatru promises no generic “after life” experience – our beliefs in this area are as varied as our beliefs in other areas. Most would hold to a “rebirth” or “Hel” theory of the survival of the soul, but many will make scientific arguments in attempting to back these positions, some of which actually aren’t bad. Most of us don’t really pay all that much attention to the “after life”, as we’re concerned with the right way to live this one.
So I don’t consider Jan (the author over at Secular Blasphemy) an “enemy” because he’s an atheist: I consider him a fellow traveler! It helps a bit, I think, that he’s a Norwegian – some of the old ways still live in the cultural psyche. He’s a smart cookie, and keeps a sharp blog.
He even acknowledges (in Some Thoughts On The Origin Of Religious Ideas) that his primary target is anti-scientific monotheism. And Heathenry is neither anti-scientific nor monotheist.
Atheists don’t threaten Asatru at all – it's perfectly possible to be both.