Catholic vs. Other - 2019-01-23 - Mark Green

Author Recorded Wednesday January 23rd, 2019

There are 41 episodes in the Versus:Other series.

Recorded September 21st, 2017

Catholic vs. Other - 2017-09-21 - Tino

Recorded September 10th, 2017

Catholic vs. Other - 2017-09-10 - Judah

Recorded September 2nd, 2017

Catholic vs. Other - 2017-09-02 - William

Recorded October 21st, 2016

Catholic vs. Other - 2016-10-21 - Ben

I met Mark Green on Facebook through our mutual friend, Eric Steinhart. Mark is the founder of Atheopaganism which he describes as a naturalistic Pagan path comprised of a set of Principles, practices and celebrations which embody and express religious celebration of life and the passage of the seasons in fun, creative, and meaningful ways. • Support the CVS Podcast: • Be a guest on a livestream:

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hi this is Mark Greene and you're listening to Catholic verses other tell the listeners a little bit about yourself if you would please who you are what you believe and how you came to believe what you believe okay I am a non-profit professional I've worked as an executive director and a development director and public policy director for various organizations most of my focus has been on environmental protection and stewardship of the earth which is sacred to me I've been an atheist all my life I've never had any reason to be anything else and from the time of my late 20s I have been active in modern paganism so I celebrate a cycle of holidays around the course of the year the so called wheel of the year which includes the solstices and equinoxes and then the points that are midpoint between those and do daily observances with my altar here at my home and and active in the Pagan community I am the moderator and editor of the Ethiopian ISM website and the Ethiopian ISM Facebook group we have a thriving community of people who are not believers in gods but who practice various kinds of pagan paths as a part of their spirituality I'd like you to take us back to your childhood what were the first sort of Inklings that you had the first exposure you had to this idea that some people some other families worship God or have religion can you talk a little bit about some of the earliest memories you have of discovering that there's this thing called religion then there's this thing called God sure actually it never occurred to me there was no one in my family who was religious and it never occurred to me that people in this day and age actually still believed in this idea of God until I was in French class in eighth grade and some member of the class said something about God something or other I literally said you don't really believe that do you and the teacher interrupted and didn't want to get into a big theological discussion and all that kind of thing but that was the first inkling that I had and then I started noticing there are all these buildings around and these people go there on Sunday and they do this thing and that just all seemed very weird to me have you ever been inside of a church or mosque or a temple sure I've been in all of them okay did you ever get some sort of vibe well sure I mean particularly the old medieval cathedrals the Gothic cathedrals they're built to do that for you there's there's very specific sorts of technological innovations they're built very vertically so that your eyes will cast up and you'll feel small the low light conditions tend to augment the emotional parts of the brain rather than the thinking parts of the brain so you know those those folks knew what they were doing they were they were working with the consciousness of the human brain as it is so yes I've definitely got a feeling from some of those places other places particularly the sort of stripped-down Protestant or Mormon kinds of things not so much they don't use those technologies in a way that's effective were you ever tempted to believe in God never never seen any evidence that gave me any reason to think that there is anything supernatural in the universe what if I told you that God lives in a petri dish in a laboratory would he believe me I'm being facetious okay we would have to have a conversation about how we define God well it's not part of nature that's for sure he's not gonna be in a petri dish in the laboratory of the scientist looking for God that's for sure yeah see I don't believe that there is anything in existence that isn't natural I'm a strict natural are you a hard determinist meaning that there is no free will yes okay so you you don't believe that there is morality oh yes I believe there's morality how does that work we have to pretend that we have freewill whether we do or not because we are unaware of the pre-existing conditions that lead us to our deterministic behaviors so it's not possible for us to operate a society for example where you can kill somebody and nothing happens to you because it was predetermined that's not functional yeah the illusion of morality is there just like the illusion of free will is there but there's no reality of free will and there's no reality of morality right because if from your deterministic worldview we're supposed to do everything that we do but the concept of morality is basically that there is a different outcome and eternal outcome that differentiates those who make good choices and those who make bad choices in other words there is in your worldview there is absolutely no difference in outcome between the best-case scenario and the worst-case scenario for any human being based on the choices that they are determined to make they're both headed for complete annihilation is that right oh yes yeah there's no afterlife there's no there's no cosmic judgment there's no moral order order to the universe the universe is an insensate process which is in the process of unfolding according to the laws of physics yeah so when you get all uptight and uppity and feeling morally superior I'm not talking about you in particular but even you you're a human being so you're subject to these these movements right sure that's just theater right well I wouldn't say so much that it's theater as that it's it's what we have to do in order to make moral sense out of our universe we we have to condemn what is in just at least I hope we do and increasingly in this society in the United States it's becoming somewhat faddish not to decry injustice in fact to call for it but there's no conceivable way that humans can live with one another in a context where violence and oppression are indulged simply as inevitabilities and we will never know to a 100% certainty whether our universe is deterministic or not particularly because of the nature of quantum mechanics quantum mechanics is a probabilistic universe rather than a deterministic universe although the theory is that if you understand all of the conditions that lead up to a given problem solution you could actually solve the uncertainty principle but because we will never know for certain whether freewill is real or not we have to behave as if it is we have to behave as if we are making decisions and that those are leading to outcomes which can then be judged according to the moral standards of the society that we live in do you think that justice is eternal and objective or do you think that justice is a human construct of some type maybe a social construct justice is a human construct and it's very contextual what qualifies as justice varies from culture to culture okay so it can change over time and over space yes yes I don't want to get into politics but I just want to touch very briefly on the scene that you belong to I mean obviously you're comfortable there you're among people that are like-minded probably for the most part is it safe to say that it's a very liberal progressive milieu that you move it yes and that's by choice I do not have tolerance for people who are bigoted and this takes us directly to karl popper's work which is that if you want to have a tolerant society the one thing that you cannot tolerate is intolerance so yes I'm I'm very comfortable in a progressive environment and that is that is where I choose to place myself have you met any people that are firmly in the center or even to the right of center in your movement to be honest I don't know because the the path of a Thea paganism says very explicitly in our principles that we are tolerant and respectful of difference that we honor the honor and revere the sacred our earth so those are core values and so people that are opting in are opting in to those values okay has anyone infiltrated that you know off you know as long as people play well with one another I'm I'm not policing what people believe I I have yet to see any example of where someone you know suddenly said oh I'm a Donald Trump supporter because he's pro-life I just haven't seen anybody in my community do that what would you say well I would I would point them back to the core principles and say look this is what this particular path is about and if you're not about that then maybe you need to reconsider whether you should be here or not yeah I want to talk about sex how important is it and how kinky does it get among you hey Theo pagans there is a lot of cultural mythology around intertwining of paganism and lots of sexuality and in my experience that's false I've been in the Pagan community now since 1987 and in my experience the primary difference between the mainstream culture and the Pagan community is that the Pagan community is explicitly pleasure positive if you're not hurting somebody there's nothing wrong with whatever you want to do and I uphold that value I do not believe that there are any inherently sinful behaviors that are victimless crimes so-called I think that people should do what makes them happy and they should be with the people that make them happy what would you say if three generations of men wanted to get married and have sex with each other for pleasure like grandpa the son and the grandson what do you think that that's okay that's a particular circumstance that kind of triggers the cultural prejudice against incest but in that particular case nobody's getting hurt and it's not really my business to police somebody else's relational and sexual behavior does it seem kinky and weird to you or does it seem just as wholesome as anything else it doesn't seem kinky to me in the sense of sort of fetishistic sexual behavior it seems very very unlikely I think that the orientations of people and their understandings of their roles relative to one another we don't see parents wanting to marry their children we don't see that happening so it's a hypothetical that I don't think really has much traction with reality what about your relationship with Mother Earth what is it about the environment what is it about agriculture or fertility or what is it the earth is what produced us and it's what sustains us without the earth and the services that it provides in terms of oxygen and food we wouldn't be here and to me that is enough reason for reverence the progenitor of us all is the power of sunlight striking soil and when we lose sight of that we start to move away from sacred and and healthy relationship with the earth which is the unfortunate circumstance that we see ourselves in today what about unity because I'm a Christian and Christian unity is something that we are very very far from achieving it doesn't look like it's gonna be possible but our Lord said that that is the ultimate goal is unity he Jesus Christ prayed that we should all be one but it doesn't look like it's going too well for us what about you do you have a are you striving for unity with the Native American peoples and their relationship with Mother Earth are you uniting with other pagans maybe theistic pagans are you trying to bring about unity no the habit on the part of many who follow Abrahamic religions has been to sort of lump everybody that isn't a follower of an Abrahamic religion into the bucket paganism but indigenous people don't want to be called pagans and pagans don't have a right to claim them unless they choose to self-identify as pagans so I can't speak to that at all all I can say is that to the degree that I understand what some of those paths are liking their reverence for the earth there's a parallel to the way that I feel about the earth the pagan community celebrates diversity we're not all trying to be the same we recognize that humans are incredible diverse in their interests in their passions in their practices and that's all terrific there have occasionally been debates that have arisen in the pagan blogosphere about what's a real pagan and there have certainly been some very conservative pagans who have said well if you don't believe in gods you're not a pagan but generally the community doesn't buy into that stuff very much word we speak of ourselves as a big tent and that's kind of the way the community operates is it easy for you to summarize quickly the principles or the doctrines or the dogmas of your particular branch of paganism sure we have four sacred pillars there are four things to be revered and they are life meaning the biosphere not individual creatures but because we have to eat and all that sort of thing but meaning the the fabric of life on earth truth beauty and love all of those are things that are to be honored and revered and and encouraged in the world and then there are thirteen principles and they are all in the form of I statements so principle one is skepticism I recognized that the metaphorical is not the literal number two is reverence I honored the earth which produces and sustains humanity number three gratitude I am grateful for my life and its gifts number four humility I am humble because none of us is better than anyone else number five I have perspective I laugh a lot including it myself number six praxis I enact regular ritual in observance of my religion number seven inclusiveness I celebrate diversity and I'm respectful of difference number eight legacy I recognize and embrace my responsibility to the young and to future generations number nine responsibility I acknowledge that freedom is tempered by responsibility I'm ten pleasure positive I celebrate pleasure as inherently good so long as others are not harmed in its pursuit and the four pillars are respected number eleven curiosity I understand that knowledge is never complete there is always more to be learned number twelve integrity I conduct myself with integrity in word and deed and finally number thirteen kindness and compassion I practice kindness and compassion with others and myself recognizing that they and I will not always meet the standard and set by these principles sounds good I agree to all of what you said including the four pillars and the thirteen principles oh that's great so I guess now I'm a pagan you can chose what is religion for you because I asked Eric Steinhardt he didn't know well I always start by telling people that among scholars of religion there is no universally accepted definition of religion or of spirituality there's a lot of debate about exactly what that means but I do have a dish definition that I believe encompasses all religions all religions contain three elements the first is a cosmology which is a description of the nature of the universe all of the participating elements of it and how it works and that kind of thing the second is a value set which is a set of descriptions of what is moral and how we should live our lives and what we should live our lives for and then the third is praxis the observances rituals practices holidays all of those kinds of things that are a part of a ritual of actually living within a religion so I believe that those are the three elements that comprise a religion what do you think about the mythical character as you would see it the mythical character of Satan does it play a role in your lore or no no not at all no Satan is a Christian myth I know some pagans who use the symbol of satan to represent freewill and autonomy but most pagans just ignore the christian mythology entirely they don't deal with satan they don't deal with the Abrahamic god they're on a completely different track what do you think about Buddhism can you talk about Eastern religions particular Buddism can you just give me your impression what do you think about it um okay well to start with Buddhism is a big category the differences between something like Zen Buddhism and say Tibetan Buddhism are vast so it's very difficult to meet generalized characterizations what I would say is that Buddhism as a practice is a very powerful set of tools for being able to work with your own psychology people that are experienced Buddhist meditators are able to process their emotions and kind of control their minds in a much more nuanced and effective way than people that aren't in my experience but Buddhism at least some flavours of Buddhism doesn't have any deity in it at all so it's really more of a toolkit than it is a theistic practice but you know then you look at Tibetan Buddhism and they've got all those you know those demons and Bodhisattvas and all that kind of thing and and those are godlike entities so once again you can't really generalize oh this brings me to another one of my favorite topics ancient Gnosticism and then the New Age this new phenomenon of the New Age those are very rich topics I'm sure you have a lot to say but it's up to you go for it I don't have a lot to say about ancient Gnosticism because my religion is explicitly and deliberately a forward-facing religious path we are not drawing on anything ancient from ancient cultures ancient religions any of that stuff ethiopian ism was invented in 2009 and it moves forward from there and we don't make the error of assuming that because something is old it's true the the idea that because ideas are persistent that they're worthy is fallacious it's not it's not really a credible principle so that's all that I can say about ancient Gnosticism as for the new age I find New Age thinking behavior practices to be ungrounded in reality mostly heavily dualistic and if they tend to believe in a differentiation between the soul or spirit or something like that and the body which I do not believe I'm am honest in that sense and frankly extremely narcissistic I I find that people who follow a new-age path tend to be really self-obsessed really all about themselves they don't tend to have much of an orientation towards making a better world except through improving themselves so it's just it's not a thing that I'm very interested in some new-age kinds of behaviors have infiltrated the Pagan community in some sectors the people doing crystal healing and stuff like that I don't believe in any of that stuff so in in my case it's just not relevant just very briefly is yoga something that a lot of your adherence would be sympathetic to doing the practice of yoga at least on the physical level if not the philosophical aspect of the yes I think so I we haven't really had a conversation about it I've heard people mentioned in passing that they were doing yoga it you know at some particular time but you know stretching and breathing all that kind of stuff is good for your body so just as a health regimen yeah it's probably a good thing I want you to talk about the inner life an example of someone that lived that quest for a rich inner life Carl Sagan I think Carl Sagan's groundedness in science and his genuine or and wonder at the incredible nature of this universe and his ability to communicate that to others would be a really good example of the kind of inner life that we I mean he was clearly a deeply curious and happy person and what ethiopian ism is about is being wiser kinder happier and participating in making the world wiser kinder and happier you said that this was founded in 2009 was it founded by you is that what you said yes this is a particular path there are other atheist pagan paths humanistic paganism naturalistic paganism mine with the 13 principles and the four pillars and that kind of thing is something that evolved over the course of about eight years of my own thinking and when I kind of threw it up there on the internet I all of a sudden discovered that a lot of people were saying this is great this is exactly what I believe I want to be a part of this if it's not too delicate is there any money-making aspect to your organization there's a little bit I have a patreon and so you know I make a few hundred dollars a month off the patreon that kind of helps me to keep producing materials and resources for the website and managing the the various social media environments that we have and and that sort of thing but no I I need to have a real job okay in the course of the ten years that you've sort of been public with this can you just talk me through some of the highs and lows in terms of maybe one or two of the big obstacles you've encountered and how you dealt with it please okay I'll talk about an external obstacle in an internal obstacle the external obstacle was that when I first came forward with a theö paganism to the pagan community there were already other people like John Halstead and John Cleland host and folks like that who had been advocating for non-theist paganism for a while but apparently my program sort of struck a nerve when we kind of made a splash on the Internet and there were some people in the broader Pagan community who are saying no this isn't right you have to worship gods in order to be a pagan and so there was a debate in 2015 over whether we were really part of the pagan community or not which is kind of a stupid argument because there is no authority in paganism that can tell you to go away it's not like we have a pope I mean we're a diverse constellation of paths and I think that what what it boiled down to was that most people concluded that we are indeed a big tent so that just sort of blew over on its own I mean we we stood our ground and said you know this is by any measure what we're doing is pagan we're doing these rituals we're celebrating this this wheel of the year we're revering the earth so you know leave us alone and let us do our thing so that that just kind of blew over on its own the internal challenge is that I have suffered from major depression disorder since I was seven years old and when I get sick it becomes very hard to be motivated about much of anything and you know the voices in your head start saying things like this is all a waste of time and it's useless and there's no point in it and the good news is that those kinds of bouts haven't lasted very long and now that we have this community of coming up on 1,400 people on Facebook we're very mutually supportive to one another and there's a lot of sympathy and caring and solidarity to be found there so you know people kind of help me to pick myself up and and carry on mm-hmm what about suicide what do you think about suicide generally I I think that it depends on context if someone is in pain and is terminally ill I think it's absolutely their right that they should be able to end their life whenever they want to in most cases suicide is a tragedy because people didn't get this port and the resources that they needed in order to get through a bad period so I don't just kind of wave my hand at suicide and say go ahead and do whatever you want what I advocate for is better mental health services better community support less stigma around mental health issues all that kind of stuff but when it comes to terminal illness or people who are living in just extraordinary pain where the quality of their life is so low that there's no reason why they would want to continue it I do feel that people should have the right to self terminate in those kinds of circumstances do you have family and friends like maybe even your spouse that have become interested in the movement if not outright joining your movement too can you talk a little bit about that my wife is a participant she's also an atheist pagan she's been in the Pagan community for longer than I have but similarly has you know come around to the recognition that there's a lot of chaff with the with the wheat when it comes to stuff that the Pagan community does and believes so you know she definitely comes along with me on this stuff and yes many of my friends have come to our rituals and participated in our gatherings and that kind of thing although still because we are a subculture of a subculture we're very thinly spread around the world and it's hard to put together in-person events really quick question about food is there any thing to talk about with food and your particular movement everybody needs to make their own moral choices about what they eat I choose not to eat veal for example because is it they torment the animals in order to make the veal and I won't eat it I won't eat apex predators of any kind like sharks you know eating a shark is like eating an eagle it's just it's not the right thing to do for an ecosystem I am an omnivore but I try to source my food locally and as with as minimal of footprint as possible I know that there are other folks that are in our group who are vegans or who have other sort of dietary conditions but ours is not it's not a path of rules it's that's just it's it's not an authoritarian set up that way can you just talk about ritual you just give the listeners a little idea about your rituals yes why don't I tell you about a ritual that my ritual circle does every year at Halloween time and Halloween or Hallows is the the festival of death it's the festival of endings and it's the beginning of winter so what we do is we start in a circle around a fire which is unlit and so we have an altar set up with all kinds of various symbols and it's lit only by burning jack-o'-lanterns the the candles on it haven't Bittle it yet so we're mostly in darkness and we talk about the year that's happened over the course of the previous cycle and what we've appreciated about it and what we feel ready to let go of or to be finished with and then when everyone is ready we take a walk down through the woods to a very dark area which we have designated as the land of the dead and then we speak to those that we are grieving for who we've lost over the course of the last year or who were still feeling grief about and we talked to them we tell them that we love them and we miss them and we wish them well and of course this is all a metaphoric old man if that doesn't mean that the ritual isn't very impactful on us psychologically it makes it a big difference to us so we spend some time with our beloved dead and then we proceed back up to the circle and we light the fire and we sing songs together about how we are alive and we share wine and chocolate and enjoy one another's company around a nice toasty fire and feel the feeling of having been returned to life again and then when we're done with our ritual we go inside and we have a one feast and that's a ritual that we do every year and it's profound it's very very moving I wouldn't say that it's like any of the other rituals that we do because each one is kind of tailored on its own but I love all of the eight holidays for Varrick for for their varying qualities and well we're about to celebrate the point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox which in my a theologian cycle because a theö pagans tend to develop their own cycle of holidays based on the climate of where they live so that we're connected to the fabric of what's happening with the earth at the time that we're doing the celebrating so for my celebration at the beginning of February I call it river rain it's the festival of water because where I live this is when all the rain comes for the whole year January in February is when we get almost all of the rain that we have for the whole year and so it's the celebration of water and flowing and deep emotions and poetry and then comes the spring equinox which I call high spring and that is the celebration of childhood and innocence and new initiatives and planting things colored eggs and candy and we play childhood games and that kind of thing then comes May Day which is the celebration of adulthood and sexuality and responsibilities and then comes summers and at the beginning of August which is the celebration of work and technology and effort because it was the time when the agricultural people really had to do the hard work in order to start bringing in the harvests September is the autumnal equinox which we call harvest and that is kind of like pagan Thanksgiving it's the harvest time when all the vegetables and the wine and so forth are all coming in and we we celebrate that with a great big feast and then comes Hallows which I already talked about which is the beginning of winter and the celebration of Jeff and endings so that's that's the site oh I'm sorry and I forgot Yule Yule is the first one we is the winter solstice and it's the festival of lights and the returning of of the the growing Sun and that's the time for celebrating friends and family and community and huddling together to get through the dark winter months so I don't know if you know but at the end of all my interviews I asked my guests to give the closing thought so what sort of positive message could you give just as a final closing thought the good news is that life is long however hard it is there's always an opportunity for something new to happen and this is the thing that I've learned as I've gotten older when I remember the trauma of like a relationship breakup when I was 20 years old I didn't have enough life experience to know that things get better you can come in to times of terrific happiness after having had terrible losses that you feel like you'll never recover from we have a bumper sticker for a Theo paganism that's available on our zazzles store and it just says four words and that's really what our path is about and it's what I hope will come to every one of your listeners and those four words are love kindness reason and Wonder