Talking with Friends and Family About Your Atheopaganism

It can be tricky. With some of them, it can be impossible.

So my first recommendation, when it comes to talking about our path with those who don’t share it, is to be aware of your needs, and take care of yourself. If your grandparents are rabid evangelical Christians who think anyone who isn’t like them is a hand-puppet of the Devil, discretion is probably the better part of valor.

That said, there are a lot of people out there who are more reasonable than that, and who may be genuinely curious (and maybe a little concerned) that you have taken up a new spiritual direction. Here are some pointers for communicating with those folks so they will better understand your Atheopaganism.

First, I urge you to read this. It’s eight years old now but still contains valuable recommendations. Also this episode of our podcast, THE WONDER.

Beyond those advisories, I encourage you to remember to tell your friends and family that this is something that helps you to be happier: that it enriches your life and brings meaning to the passage of the seasons for you. For the most part, our friends and family want us to be happy and to thrive–that will mean a lot to them.

Finally–because this is always lurking in the back of the minds of those skeptical about alternative spiritual paths–I would be direct in addressing concerns that you have joined some kind of “cult”.

Let’s talk about that.

Here are ten key indicators that a group of any kind has attributes of a cult:

  • One or more charismatic leader(s) who cannot be challenged or questioned
  • Deceptive recruitment tactics
  • Exclusivity: members are not allowed to belong to other groups or faiths
  • Intimidation,  Fear, Shame and/or Isolation are used to punish nonconformity
  • Religious dogma that must be followed
  • Sexual abuse or manipulation: Leaders are sexually involved with lower-status members or sexual acts are expected in exchange for elevated status in the group
  • Emphasis is placed on recruiting vulnerable people such as those who have recently experienced loss, who are in challenging survival circumstances or have health issues.
  • Insularity: encouraging members to engage only with other members, even sometimes to the point of renouncing their families and previous friends.
  • Financial exploitation of members
  • Lack of transparency about decisions and particularly finances of the group

Atheopaganism doesn’t meet any of these criteria. We can debate my “charisma”, but I am certainly challenged and questioned all the time by members of our community, and while I am the founder of this path, I do not consider myself its leader.

We don’t recruit at all: just welcome people who ask to join. Members can belong to whatever other faiths they like, although Atheopaganism isn’t compatible logically with, say, theistic religions.

We’re all a bunch of nonconformists and everyone practices their Atheopaganism differently, so we certainly don’t have any “punishment” for doing it differently than someone else. The only possible “punishment” we could levy anyway is ejection from our online communities, and that only happens to people who refuse to be considerate and civil in their interactions with others.

We don’t have hierarchical “leaders”. While I and other members of The Atheopagan Society Council have responsibilities to the community, that is where our “power” ends. Ours is a service role, not a status elevation. So we don’t have anyone who can use heightened status or gatekeeping of privileges as leverage for the kinds of sexual, financial or other abuses so often seen in hierarchical religious paths.

And our books are always open to the public. As of today, The Atheopagan Society is sitting on a grand total of $4,120.71. We have no paid employees and are entirely operated by volunteers.

In short, with Atheopaganism we are trying to do it right: to give people a rich, reality-based spirituality that can both be profoundly meaningful and joyously playful, while avoiding the pitfalls to which so many religious traditions have been subject.

We’re human, and we may some day fall short in some way, but that is the goal.

I have created a pdf brochure that you can share with family and friends about Atheopaganism, explaining it in broad strokes and simple terms. You can download it here and print as many as you need.

Let us know in the comments or the online communities how your conversations went!

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