THE WONDER explores perspectives, rituals, and observances of modern, naturalistic, Earth-revering Neopagan religious paths. Naturalistic Pagans embrace the world as understood by science (that is, without gods, magic, or the supernatural), and enhance our lives with myth, ritual and activism. Hosted by Mark Green (author of ATHEOPAGANISM: An Earth-Honoring Path Rooted in Science) and Yucca (formerly of The Pagan Perspective YouTube channel, now of the Magic and Mundane channel). Named #5 in the top15 Pagan podcasts for 2023! https://blog.feedspot.com/pagan_podcasts/
Monday Sep 26, 2022
Monday Sep 26, 2022
Monday Sep 26, 2022
Remember, we welcome comments, questions and suggested topics at thewonderpodcastQs@gmail.com
Mark: Welcome back to The Wonder: Science-Based Paganism. I'm your host, Mark.
Yucca: And I'm the other one, Yucca.
Mark: And today we are going to talk about cults.
Mark: Of the things that when people choose an alternative spiritual path, one of the things that their friends and family will sometimes start to get really worried about is, oh dear, have they entered some kind of a cult? So we're gonna talk about what cults are and about what naturalistic paganism generally is.
And atheopaganism specifically, and then talk about why, what we're doing does not really meet those, those criteria for what a cult is.
Mark: This, we, we were talking about this before the recording. If you have a family member that is really concerned that you've gone off the deep end into some terrible culty situation, you could consider having them listen to this episode.
Yucca: Right. Yeah. And at the end, we're also gonna talk a little bit about recovering from some of those kind of religious traumas that, that can come along with having been in a cult situation or things that have happened in, in mainstream religions that we wouldn't necessarily think of as a cult, but still might have some of those really abusive behaviors.
Mark: That's right. One thing that you'll notice when we go over the indicators that a group of any kind has attributes of a cult is that many of them apply squarely to various denominations of mainstream religions. So you know, the word cult gets Bandi about to U be used for little splinter groups or for new religious movements, but that's not really fair.
The kinds of. The kinds of problematic behaviors and factors that go into Colt behavior really also include some very large institutions that have been around for a very long time.
Yucca: Right. And these are things that can come along with groups that aren't necessarily just religious groups. Right? These are any time that you have. A structure in which you can have somebody who has power over dominating over somebody else. A lot of these, these risks come up. So,
Mark: There are PTA associations that are dominated by, you know, one or a handful of people who cannot be questioned and run the show. And they're cult-like.
Yucca: Yeah. Well, we're gonna get ahead of ourselves a little bit. Why don't we start off with, so, you know, what do we do? What is this? Atheopagan what's naturalistic, paganism or paganism in general,
Mark: Sure. Sure. Well, naturalistic paganism is the big category, right? And athe paganism is a single denomination within that big category. So if you think about it, like there's Christianity, which is a whole big, huge thing. And then down underneath that there's Catholicism and Mormonism and all the various Protestant religions and so forth.
So that's kind of a similar sort of, you know, taxonomic relationship between naturalistic, paganism and Ethiopia paganism. So that leads us to ask the question. All right, then. Well, what is naturalism? What is naturalistic paganism? So we'll start with naturalism. Naturalism is a philosophical position.
It is the position that all things in the universe are made of matter and energy and that they follow physical laws. And there is nothing supernatural.
Yucca: right. Everything is natural.
Yucca: This is all nature,
Mark: all nature. And it all follows physical laws and nobody gets to break the physical laws. Now we may.
Yucca: of it.
Mark: That's right. We may not understand all of the physical laws right now, but to our knowledge, nothing out there is able to break physical laws. And what that does is it excludes certain kinds of supernatural beliefs like beliefs in gods and ghosts, souls, and spirits, those kinds of things.
They just really don't hold up in an evidential based evidentiary based critically thinking way of looking at the world, which is what naturalism is.
Mark: So you were going to say,
Yucca: Oh, I was gonna say, well, then we have the pagan side of that. Right. And the pagan side that, that Contras up a lot of different kinds of images. And for some people it brings up the idea of the, you know, gods and deities and you know, all of that. That isn't not all pagans are going to be doing that.
And we're not in that group of pagans that believes in God's and deities, because that's not fitting with the naturalist part.
Mark: Right. But what we do that is that we have in common with other pagan groups is we have a lot in common in the way that we practice our
Mark: Um, we celebrate the solstice and equinoxes and the points between them, for example. So a solar cycle of Of holidays. We tend to celebrate our rituals in a circle rather than in kind of an audience and performer format.
We Revere the natural world. We hold that out as, as sacred. And so, the primary players in arranging for our creation and survival, like the sun and the earth and the moon become very sacred for us. Right. And this is true of Pagan's largely universally. The, the truth is that paganism is so diverse and such a catchall term that the only thing that every single pagan has in common is that they self identify as pagans.
Mark: That's that's the only
Yucca: that, that we call ourselves that. Yeah. But there are themes. Like you're talking about that we, we tend to be earth based. We tend to do ritual and celebrate the, the cycle of the seasons and things like that.
Mark: Right. Right. And we understand ritual practices as being at the very minimum, personally, beneficial. Some pagans believe many pagans believe that rituals can actually enact magical forces in the world to change the course of events or you know, what's happening in, in the world. We don't believe that because naturalism doesn't really allow for spooky action at a distance. If new evidence comes along, we may change that opinion because part of the nature of being a naturalist is that you have to be open to new evidence all the time. So 100% certainty is not a thing in naturalistic worldview. We could be 99.9% sure that the sun is going to rise tomorrow morning, but.
There's always the possibility that for some reason it doesn't. And then we have to reconsider all of our thinking about the nature of the world.
Yucca: Right. Okay. So that's the umbrella naturalistic paganism. And then we also have atheopagan, which is one form of naturalistic paganism.
Mark: Right. Think of atheopagan as kind of like Methodism in relation to Christianity, right? Christianity is the big umbrella. Methodism is a particular movement that was created by particular people with particular values and practices and principles atheopagan is a, a path that I created. In the early two thousands, which is built around some basic presets and naturalism is one of them, but also naturalism and critical thinking are among them, but also reverence for the earth and a set of four sacred pillars and 13 principles, which we've recorded about before, which are ethical principles for how to conduct our lives and not all pagans subscribe to those, not all naturalistic pagans, subscribe to those, but those that are, that are, are practicing athe paganism do follow those.
Yucca: right. And something very important to say right up front is that, although mark, you created. The atheopagan you are a founder, you're not the leader. Right. We have a large community of people who each person makes decisions for themselves. We also have the atheopagan society council, which deals with things like putting together events and the nonprofit side of everything.
And you are very much involved in the community, but just because mark says something doesn't mean that that's the law.
Yucca: And plenty of times people disagree. And one of the things that I really value about the community is that overall people are very respectful about those disagreements, right?
Mark: yeah, I mean, fundamentally. It is not really consistent with Ethiopianism to tell other people what to do. The principles are guidelines for how to live a life that is kind and conscientious and a life of integrity and a life that will help you to be happy.
Mark: If you don't want to be kind and conscientious or happy, you can make other choices, but you, you know, you probably aren't practicing athe paganism at that point, you're doing something else.
Yucca: Yeah. Which is fine. Right. We're you know, we, aren't out here to say join, you know, join us and we're not out there, you know, evangelizing or anything like that.
Mark: right. We're we're not proselytizing people come to us cuz they want to join. And. We're very clear that everybody has their own spiritual path and they need to define that for themselves. And that's why we encourage people for example, to create their own meanings around the wheel of the year celebrations, because people live in different climates and different things, maybe happening in nature.
I, you know, Yucca, you and I have talked many times about how we live in different climbs. And so our understanding of when spring starts, for example, is radically
Yucca: This many months different. And then what spring actually is for each of us is quite different. Right.
Mark: Yes, exactly.
Yucca: And, and also just to say that many of the people who listen to this podcast, we know many of you do consider yourself a pagans and many of you don't right. And that's again, that's also fine, right? Yeah.
Mark: absolutely great. And that's why, you know, we've been very careful over time to talk about athe paganism and naturalistic paganism, you know, not to assume that everybody that's listening to this is necessarily practicing atheopagan as a path.
Yucca: real quick say what the, what the pillars and principles are?
Mark: Sure. But I'm going to have to pull them up. The, the, the pillars, the pillars, I know by heart, the pillars are love
Mark: beauty truth and life.
Mark: are the things that we hold sacred. And by beauty, we don't mean individual sort of cultural definitions of a person's beauty. We mean the beauty of nature,
The, the, the way that the natural world can move us
Yucca: that? Wow. That wonder,
Mark: Yes the wonder.
Mark: So those are the four pillars. And I should say, you know, we can find lots of you can find lots of additional information about this at both the atheopagan society website and at the and at the atheopagan blog, which is atheopagan.org.
Yucca: Mm-hmm . And also in this podcast, if you just go back through our archives E we've gone, we've done an episode on each one of these topics and we've been doing it a few years. So there's, we've covered some of these multiple times as well. Yeah.
Mark: Yeah. There's.
Yucca: back through,
Mark: There's a lot out there. So the 13 principles and it was kind of an accident that there were 13, but I was tickled by that because there are 13 cycles of the moon in the year. And for many pagans, 13 is a really special number.
Yucca: it's just a fun number.
Mark: a, a sacred number. Yeah. And of course it's prime and all that.
So the 13 principles are number one, and these are not in a priority order, I should say. So they're think of them as bullet points rather than as a numbered list.
Yucca: Mm-hmm, sort of like the seasons, right? You don't there isn't really a first season. They just come after the, and before the other ones.
Mark: Right. So skepticism and critical thinking. , which is the ability to tell the difference between the literal and the metaphorical, because we work with both in our pagan practices, right.
You know, we work with symbolic enactments of things, many times in our rituals, but we understand at the same time that to some degree we're playing, let's pretend we're not, you know, literally talking to an invisible being there or whatever. You know, when we, when we throw our, when we throw our, our fears into the fire, we understand that's a metaphorical behavior.
That's not a literal behavior.
Yucca: but it still is empowering. Right? It's play, but play is meaningful, right? You can still, you can read a book or watch a show and still be moved to tears in the same way, our ritual. We can still feel those feelings and have that impact us.
Mark: Sure. Very psychologically impactful rituals. So the second is reverence for the earth. We are a living part of the earth and and reverence for that source and kin that the fabric of life is to us is really important.
Mark: The third is gratitude for the amazing gifts of life. The fourth is humility, understanding that all humans are fundamentally equal and that nobody, you know, is entitled to Lord and above anybody else, perspective and humor, having kind of a big picture understanding of the world and being able to laugh at ourselves laugh at our religion, laugh at even the tragedies in the world, you know, just in order to stay sane and to maintain perspective you know, it's It's amazing what humor people will find in really terrible, terrible situations. The sixth is practice, which is in enacting regular ritual as a part of the practice of Ethiopia paganism. So a paganism, isn't just a philosophy where it's got a worldview and a set of values. It's also got a practice and that makes it a religion. The seventh is inclusiveness, celebrating diversity and being respectful of difference and and embracing the, the vast diversity of humanity.
The eighth is legacy recognizing and embracing our responsibility to future generations, both of humans and of non-humans.
Mark: The ninth is social responsibility, recognizing that our rights are balanced by responsibilities. And this is something that much of the pagan community is often not very good at.
People are really amped about their, their personal sovereignty, but they're not so much into their personal accountability.
Mark: We are very clear that all of the rights that we enjoy are balanced by responsibilities to one another. And that goes into issues like consent. It goes into all kinds of respectfulness requirements on us, including our requirement to participate in our local societies in all ways, from voting to activism, to contributing to the dialogue of the world in a, in a positive way.
Mark: Uh, the 10th is responsible con responsible sensuality and pleasure positivity. We think pleasure's good for you. We believe pleasure's a good thing. It's nothing to be ashamed of. It's good. Obviously that has to be with people who are consenting. If you're getting pleasure from something you're doing with someone else it has to be with consent.
But that consent is there, we say, knock yourself out. We, we don't care what kind of sex you're having. We don't care. You know, what kind of food you're eating, it's entirely up to you. What, what brings you joy? We, we are a, a projo religion which not all religions are honestly many are about shame and original sin and guilt and all that stuff.
And that's just not us.
Yucca: And the physical isn't bad or dirty or less than below any of those sort. We, we just don't do that. That's
Mark: no. In fact, the most sacred thing to us is under our feet. So we, so we don't, you know, we don't have to look up, even though the cosmos is amazing. We don't have to look up to the higher, more spiritual stuff. The higher, more spiritual stuff is right under our feet.
Mark: The 11th is curiosity, understanding that there is always more to be learned and keeping an open mind to learn more about other people, about the nature of the world about our society, about culture, just keeping a lively mind.
The 12th is integrity. You know, being true to your word, being, being fulfilling your, your responsibilities and being a trustworthy person
Yucca: and honest with yourself too. It not just with others, but with yourself.
Mark: absolutely. And then finally the 13th is kindness and compassion. And the little note underneath it says, I practice kindness and compassion with myself and others understanding that I will not always meet the standards of these principles. You know, we all get mad, we all, we all blow it. We all, you know, fail to clear the bar once in a while, you have to be compassionate with yourself, learn from it.
So you won't do it again. But we are, we are not believers in constantly flogging yourself for something shameful you did 20 years ago. It's just that doesn't do you or anyone else? Any good?
Mark: So those are the 13 principles of atheopagan. Most of 'em are pretty common sensical. But of course I would think that cuz I developed them. It seems like a lot of other people find them common sensical as well. They're like, oh, you know, this isn't painful. These aren't, you know, these aren't terrible strictures that are gonna require me to jump through all kinds of hoops in order to be a, a good atheopagan pagan.
Yucca: Yeah. yeah, no, it's, it's great to have them, you know, written down and spelled out and be like, oh yeah, yeah. I agree with that.
Yucca: makes sense.
Mark: I think most of them are, can be characterized as generally pagan values. The pleasure positivity the reverence for the earth the social responsibility, the inclusivity, you know, all of those are very common in the pagan community. I wouldn't say universal, but they're very common in the pagan community.
And so all that I've done is write 'em down and codify 'em
Mark: you know,
Yucca: So this is us, right? This is we talking about what we are. Is there anything you wanna say on that before we go into what a cult is?
Mark: No, let's talk about cults.
Yucca: Yeah. so we actually have a little bit of a list for this one as well. Some behaviors or things to look out for that really characterize a cult that any one of these would be, would be a real major red flag.
Mark: Right. Right. And bear in mind, you know, as we were saying before, with new religious movements or with small splinter groups, people are often very concerned about the idea that these groups are a cult, but very old, very large institutions can also be, can also have these characteristics that are very cult-like.
You know, we're gonna talk in a bit about the, the recovery the, the deconstruction of reli of, especially like sort of conservative authoritarian, religion that people experience when they leave those religions to become atheist or agnostic, or to become Ethiopia, pagans, or other naturalistic kinds of folks.
Mark: And many of the people that have those experiences are not coming out of little tiny sects, they're coming out of large institutions. Yes, very wealthy, very powerful institutions.
Yucca: Yeah. So let's start the, our first one. Which is one that you definitely see in like the movies and shows and things about this. Is there being usually one or more like a small group of really charismatic leaders who cannot be questioned or challenged, right. That their authority is ultimate, right?
Mark: And you see this in a lot of sort of charismatic Christian sex. You see this in in Hindu guru sex, but when you think about it, I mean, the head of the church of latter day saints is considered to be speaking for God and cannot be challenged or questioned. The Pope charismatic leader who cannot be challenged or questioned, same kind of deal.
Right. One of the, and, and I put that at the top of the list because I think it's, it it's arguably the most important one, but of course these, you know, there are many others that are, are really important as well. I may be the founder of Ethiopia paganism because I wrote first an essay and then a book kind of laying out the thinking of how I arrived at this position and my ideas for implementation of a path of naturalistic paganism.
But I, and you, you can debate about my charisma, but I certainly
Yucca: got a pretty high Christmas score, frankly. If, if we were in D and D I think you'd be a bar.
Mark: okay. Thank you. That's that's very kind. I like it. But I certainly am not someone who cannot be challenged or questioned within our community. That that is not the case at all. And sometimes I'm wrong. And hopefully when I, you know, when I calm down I admit that I'm wrong.
And then, you know, and I apologize and try to make amends and we move forward from there. The, when we created the atheopagan society, the nonprofit organization to help support atheopagan worldwide and help provide resources and networking and events and education for atheopagan. It was important to me that the board of directors, which is called the atheopagan society council not have me as an officer.
It was really important to me that, I mean, I'm on the council, but I'm not an officer of the council. I'm not one of the ranking people in the council. And I feel that that's important. There are other people who can make decisions without me,
Mark: and I think that's great,
Yucca: Yeah. And, and I think it's important to distinguish in this, that we're not saying that if, if an organization has a leader or has leaders that that makes it culty, the, the problem is the not being able to be challenged, not being able to be questioned that it's that power over everybody else. That's the, the real issue at hand, right?
Mark: Yeah. Awful lot of the rest of this. Is really a function of hierarchy.
Mark: And in atheopagan we strive very much not to be built around hierarchy, to have a very, very flat power structure. Even our ordained clergy who are called clerics that's a, a service role to the community. It's not a status elevation and anybody.
Yucca: with the council as well. It's, you know, people volunteer to do a whole bunch of work, basically. That's what it means to be on the council. Is, are you gonna do all this work for free
Mark: yeah, exactly.
Yucca: yeah, none of, and, and with, within the society, we don't have any paid positions. This is all people doing it because, because we see it as, as service and something we want to be involved in and that we really value.
Mark: That's right. That's right now. I wanna say two things about that. The first one is that as fair disclosure, I, as an individual do have a Patreon. And so I have people that make a monthly contribution to me to support my work in Ethiopia, paganism, like the book that I'm writing now. The blog posts that I make, the resources that I create,
Yucca: you do get royalties on your, your book sales
Mark: I, yes, I do. Yes, I do. So, so I mean, there is some money that changes hands, but it's not the atheopagan so society is an entirely volunteer organization.
Mark: The other thing that I wanna say is that and we've mentioned this before. If you want to be an atheopagan cleric, if you can embrace those 13 principles, then you can go to the atheopagan society website, which is the AP society.org.
And you can register as a cleric online. And that is a legally binding ordination. You can perform marriages and funerals and other rights of passage, all that kind of stuff. You can do hospice counseling and all that kind of stuff. And you can do that for free. So, we, you know, we really do believe everybody should be the.
The director of their own spiritual path. And if they want to perform those services, they should be empowered to do so.
Yucca: right. And if we can help, then, you know, we can provide resources and community spaces and things like that. And that's, that's kind of the role that the society's doing.
Mark: right. So there's a lot of, you know, there's an introductory guidebook. You can download, you know, that talks about abuse, reporting requirements, how to organize different kinds of rituals. Working with the dying, working with the family of the dying you know, stuff like that, that will be helpful to you.
As a cleric. So let's get back to our list. If you've, you've got these charismatic leaders who cannot be challenged or questioned, that's definitely a problem. The next one is deceptive recruitment tactics,
Mark: and boy, the church of Scientology really specializes in those. I don't know if you've ever been in the situation where someone on a bicycle wheels up to you and asks you the time.
But asking you the time to start a conversation is something that was chronic in my hometown. And it was always about trying to get you to come on down to the church of Scientology and sign up for their classes.
Yucca: right. And this'll come in a little bit later, but especially kind of going after people in vulnerable positions,
Mark: Yes. Yes. It bears saying that prosperity gospel is one of those deceptive recruitment tactics saying if you pray with us at our church and you contribute a bunch of money to our fabulously wealthy charismatic leader, you too will then be blessed with lots of money is a deceptive recruitment tactic.
Yucca: Right. Yeah.
Mark: The next on the list is exclusivity members are not allowed to belong to other groups or faiths. This is not true of Ethiopia, paganism. You can belong to whatever other faiths you want. Although if, if you belong to other faiths that believe in literal gods as being out there in the world, how you figure that out with your Ethiopia, paganism is a mystery to me, but if you can do it more power to you, if that works for you as a, as a path,
Mark: The, the whole idea of and we'll talk about this later on as well.
The whole idea of trying to, to keep you away from people who don't believe the same thing as the group is very problematic. It's a real red flag.
Yucca: Yeah. And so in atheopagan, and, and I think most forms of naturalistic paganism in general, you don't belong to anybody. You aren't owned by the group. Right. You're your own. And nobody gets to tell you what you get to believe or not believe or who you get to associate with or any of that that's, that's nobody's business, but yours.
Mark: Many religious traditions put a big value on submission.
Mark: Paganism generally. And atheopagan specifically does not, we, we do not believe that submitting or humbling ourselves before some higher power, any of we yeah. You know, fearing the, the supernatural beings. We don't believe any of that. And what that means is that our path is one of spirituality with personal agency,
Mark: rather than out of submission or fear or domination.
Yucca: right. Well, and that leads us to our next one, which is the use of intimidation, fear, shame, isolation that are used to punish somebody for not conforming, not going along. That's, that's something that is. a really classic sign of, of cult behavior,
Mark: Yes. Yes. And we in atheopagan we encourage nonconformity in the form of individually tailored holidays and ritual practices. So it's quite the opposite, you know, we, we don't do what I do, do what you do, cuz that makes you feel good. That's that's how we would prefer it to work.
Yucca: and we're not telling you that if you don't do it our way that you're gonna be unhappy and go to hell or any of that, it, we're not worried about that. It's okay. You know, you just do you. That's awesome. It works for you. Fantastic.
Mark: Yes, exactly. And at that at, at this point, it's probably a good thing to point out that in naturalistic, paganism, generally speaking, we don't believe in an afterlife. So there's this idea of the world as approving ground for some sort of future judgment just doesn't exist. Our life is about this life.
It's about how we conduct ourselves in this life. And it's about how much joy we can both celebrate and create in, in the world around us.
Mark: So, so it becomes really important that people's practices are individually tailored because the point is for it to work for them, the point is not for it to work for an institution.
Mark: So the next point is religious dogma. That must be followed and. You know, we all know about those that, you know, they can be, they can be dietary requirements, they can be requirements to go to religious rituals or services a certain number of times a, a day, a week, a year. Yes, dress codes, various kinds of sort of shaming behavior to get people, to, to follow what the expectations of the religion are.
And, and a lot of beliefs that you have to subscribe to generally, I mean, in various kinds of fundamentalist Christianity, you are required to literally believe the stories of the Bible. Even though they kind of fly in the face of, of critical thinking. You're expected to believe them literally. And if you don't, then you get intimidation, fear, shame, and isolation from your community.
Yucca: right. So another really kind of problematic indicator and in any situation which is sexual abuse or manipulation So, especially when there is that charismatic leader and those leaders are sexually involved with lower status members. And that is expected as some sort of cha like as an exchange or for elevation in the group or you know, to be able to stay part of the group, you're gonna have to do these things.
Mark: Right. Right. And and of course we see that kind of abuse in religious traditions all over the world. It is rife. In all cases where you see it, the hierarchy is the issue, the power imbalance, because I, you know, in atheopagan we don't care if two members of our group who are
Yucca: or more,
Mark: or, or more have sex yeah.
Have sex with each other. We don't care about that at all. But we don't have any like insider knowledge or special status or initiation into an inner sanctum. We don't have any of that stuff in our religion. So there's no way to hold those things out as kind of allure to try to get people to have sex with you, non consensually.
Mark: There are there, has there have been problems with sexual abuse in pagan communities? You know, we need to, we need to say that. And they have generally been pagan communities where there are charismatic leaders who cannot be challenged or questioned and it's, and there's a hierarchical power dynamic and people get abused and it's not right.
Yucca: And I wanna say this is something that happens outside of religious communities as well. You know, there's been over the last few years, quite a lot of talk about that in Hollywood and in different, you know, businesses and moving up and, and, you know, corporate structures, all of that. So wherever you've got that, that hierarchy of the, the power over, there's a, a risk for that.
And it's something that we have to be really careful about. And so the, the way that we structure our communities helps avoid that in the first place.
Mark: Right, right. And so far so good. As far as we know we have had, you know, no, to my knowledge, we have had no incidences of, of problems with this.
Mark: So that's good. But we are new, of course the, the atheopagan community just celebrated a 10 year anniversary. So we're relatively new and we're far flung.
So much of our interaction is online, but We do have, we have had in person gatherings and do have in person gatherings. And so far, those seem to have been respectful and conscientious and we have not had any reports of any kind of, of abuse.
Mark: So the next, oh, go ahead.
Yucca: I was gonna say, and I, and I'm, I'm very confident that if we did have something that we did have conflict like that come up, that I've been very impressed by the, the people involved and think that overall people would really try and do their best to resolve the issue in a very respectful and, you know, With lots of integrity and, and really just be very present with that because that's built into our values.
Mark: I agree. I agree. Yeah. Yeah, I, I think I'll leave it there. It One of the things that has been so gratifying to me with a Theo paganism, because I did originally develop it just for myself, is that the people that have gravitated towards it have just been these really remarkable, very grown up, very creative. I mean, everybody's working with their wounds. Right. You know, we, we're all, we're all working on our stuff.
It's the nature of things. But just a lot of kindness, lot of open-heartedness just really fine, fine people I've been, I've been just delighted.
Mark: So, let's talk about the next point, which is that in a cult or a cult-like institution, there is emphasis placed on recruiting, vulnerable people.
Mark: So like people that have recently experienced a loss, like a death or a divorce people who are struggling with survival, like maybe homeless people or unhoused people, I should say homeless is not really liked anymore.
And you know, or who have health issues, there's, there's a, an emphasis on trying to find people who are in need and then plugging the religious path into whatever need they have in order to claim that it's some kind of an answer.
Mark: And not only is that very cult-like, but I would say it's really shitty.
Mark: That is just truly awful behavior it's predatory. And I just can't imagine. Being a part of anything like that.
Yucca: Right now that isn't to say not trying to help people who are vulnerable, but trying to sell them the religion as taking advantage of their situation to try and recruit them into this, whatever your thing is.
Mark: Right. I, I think of soup kitchens where people are required to pray for their fed, you know, that's just awful.
Mark: who does that? Well, I, we can name some names,
Yucca: that happens. Yeah.
Yucca: that? You know, the, the example works because that it's so widespread. So yeah. oh, go ahead.
Mark: no, go ahead.
Yucca: Well, I was gonna say the next one would be kind of this isolating, right? The really encouraging members to only engage with each other. Um right. Even sometimes to the point of excluding and not disowned family members or previous friends just saying, and that no, we've gotta be really insular.
Right. It's us. Don't go to an I outside, you know, don't go to a therapist, don't go to anyone else. You know, don't have other friends, so that they're really just wrapped up in this one world view without any outside perspectives.
Mark: Right, right. Yeah. That kind of insularity is very widespread in Christianity. I, I would imagine it probably is in Islam and Judaism as well. And I know it is in Scientology as well. But I mean, particularly in conservative branches of Christianity, like, latter day saints, or, you know, some of the evangelical churches, it's like, if you don't belong to our church, we don't want anything to do with you,
Mark: or we're telling you, you shouldn't have anything to do with people that are not a part of our church.
And that's just harmful for a lot of reasons, for one things, because it's turning spiritual practitioners into prisoners,
Mark: which is kind of scary. But for another thing, being exposed to the diversity of humanity is a good thing.
Mark: One of the reasons why we see such incredible narrow mind and bigotry among evangelical Christians, at least in the United States is because they're not hanging out with anybody other than people like themselves.
And it's very easy for them to decide that people that are not like themselves are somehow less or subhuman and that their needs concerns and welfare can safely be ignored. And that's just a dangerous, dangerous path to go down.
Yucca: right. Well, and, and when they're isolated, it's harder for someone to challenge that unable leader. Right to know that some of these behaviors are not normal behaviors and that they're not healthy behaviors, that that's not just how it is everywhere.
Mark: Right. And it creates a tremendous social cost to leaving.
Mark: If you decide this is not okay, and I've gotta go. And what that means is that your entire social circle disappears and, or your family disowns you
Yucca: maybe your survival, right. Not just at an emotional level, but the, that that may be you're survival net.
Mark: that's right,
Yucca: How are you going to feed yourself? How are you going? What are you gonna do when you know, you've gotta go to the hospital and someone needs to take you. And all of those things just evaporate,
Your childhood friend, your dog, your, you know, your kids, all of that stuff.
Mark: Yeah, it's some of the stories are just terrible. I mean, it's just as bad where people get ejected because they're gay or they're trans, or they're just different in some way. And they get ejected from the group because the group doesn't approve of who they are and suddenly they have no social resources.
It's just terrible. So the next one is pretty obvious, but it needs to be on the list. And that is financial exploitation of members,
Mark: um, requiring tithing constantly strong arming people to be paying for, you know, the, the church fund or the, whatever it is, you know, constantly, you know, pressing on people to be giving money.
It's exploitative. It doesn't take into consideration the varying levels of resources that people have available. And honestly, it doesn't let them make their own decision about where they wanna invest their money.
Yucca: Right. Well, and, and you could make the argument, oh, they're choosing to, but when this is in the context of all of this other behavior, it can be really difficult to not do that. Right. And they, you know, the suggestion may not just be a suggestion,
Mark: Exactly. Because the word will get around that you did not that you're not tithing. Right. Everybody else is tithing, but you're not tithing. And so judgements begin to be made and decisions get start being made about where you sit in the hierarchy.
And finally, we can say the lack of transparency, right? So in, in an organization like this, the decisions may be made in secret,
Yucca: People don't even know what the decisions are made especially when it comes to finances, but not just finances, social decisions, all of that sort of stuff that there's not a way to track it.
There's not a way to know. And it's just, it just comes down. Right? The decision is made.
Mark: Yeah, exactly. And. To me. It's just, it's a part of that whole non-hierarchical approach to things that, I mean, you have it because the way that the laws of the United States are organized, they can't even comprehend the idea of a non-hierarchical organization. So we have to have a board of directors in order to have a non-profit organization.
Right. But the idea of that group not aggressively soliciting the input of the broader community and communicating out whatever decisions it makes based on those. Just, it's just appalling the idea, especially that these very wealthy institutions could be doing stuff like that is you know, when, when Joel Ostein needs another private plane,
Mark: you know, Basically he and his cronies are making that decision on their own without any transparency with the rest of the community.
It's just it's wrong. And it's really culty,
Yucca: Yeah. Well, and I mean, the, the reason that we're bringing this up is, again, emphasizing this isn't what fits our beliefs and values, right? There's a lot of groups doing activities like this and this particular list, mark, you would put this together out of several different lists, right? And these are the ones that any one of these is a problem where some of the other lists, you found things that are like, eh, kind of iffy, but maybe it's like, okay, but any one of these, these issues is, is really just a huge, huge red flag.
Mark: Right when I was doing, oh, go
Yucca: I was gonna say, and they usually don't come.
Yucca: you've got the unable leader, then you probably also have the dogma and the abuse and the, you know, those things. Usually you're gonna have a lot of them together.
Mark: Yeah. When I was researching to, to first write on this the there were some lists that were, you know, if you score four or more, then you, you may have a problem kind of lists. And I, I just, I just took out the, the sort of iffy ones and compiled them, you know, compiled the 10 worst, most egregious concerns into a bullet list.
I think it can be said with some confidence that if you don't have any of these things, you're probably not in a cult.
Mark: You know, you're, you're probably in a reasonably health healthy, reasonably open kind of spiritual path.
Mark: So we wanted to talk a little bit about deconstruction and recovery,
Mark: In the atheopagan community. We have an affinity group that meets once a month on zoom of people who are deconstructing from other religions and feel the need for support. You know, people have real horror stories about ways that they've been treated in a religious context.
And I really honor those people for their bravery in pursuing a new spirituality, instead of just saying I'm done. I'm, you know, I'm gonna live a life without spirituality because I don't, I just don't trust any of that anymore.
Yucca: right. Because the spirituality really can. Can give us so much in our lives. Right. And really can fulfill a very deep instinctual human need that we have.
Mark: Yes, and bring so much joy and gratitude and appreciation and such a sense of warm, shared community. I mean the, the danger is that even in very culty kinds of contexts, people still have that sense of community and they will stick around for it.
Yucca: Well, that's why they're sticking around.
Mark: That's right.
Yucca: Right. That's you know an abusive relationship, whether it's abusive relationship with a partner or with. Different family member or larger community or religion, there's still something in there that is feeding you. And that's why it can be one of the reasons it can just be so hard to, to remove yourself from
Mark: To let go.
Yucca: Right. Because there is that beautiful part. There is that wonderful part. And then there's the not right. Then there is the manipulation and then there's the exploitation and there's all of that. And so, you know, there's, I think that it's, it's really important to have a lot of compassion for people who are in these situations and, and recognize that that it's something that, that we can all relate to on some level or another.
Mark: Right. In the, in the development of Ethiopia, paganism as a community and as a, as a. A spiritual tradition rather than just sort of my individual path. One of the things that I remain really cognizant of is that there are people coming into this community who are gonna test because they've been burned before.
Mark: And so they sort of poke with these questions, right? It's like, well, what about this? You know, what about money? Well, we accept donations to the atheopagan society because we do have some expenses. But you don't have to be a member. We don't have members and you don't have to be a member of it in order to be call yourself an atheopagan and practice the, the, the path.
Yucca: and we won't announce if you, you, it's not gonna be an, if you decide to donate, we're not gonna announce and give you special status. And, you know, we'll
Mark: We, we will, we will list you on the, on the patrons list. On the website, if you want to be, if you wanna be anonymous, then we won't,
Yucca: but you're not gonna get like a badge if you're on the Facebook group that says, you know, I'm,
Mark: I'm a donor.
Yucca: I'm a donor. Yes. I'm a class, you know, a class supernova donor or something like that, right? Yeah.
Mark: that's right. Because people have, you know, at times been you know, very sharp in their interrogation of me, you know, what's your role, you know? Aren't you, the final decision maker of all the things the council does, you know, all, all that kind of stuff and no, I'm, I'm not, and I don't want it that way.
What I want is to do this right from the very beginning, my vision has been, what if you did, what if you did an earth based reason based. Spiritual path and you did it, right. You didn't step into any of the pitfalls that have plagued other religious paths. You know, if you are really open and really flat power structure and really transparent open your books to the public so they can see, you know, the money and where the money goes, all that stuff.
And that's what we're doing so far.
Yucca: Yeah, right. And that's, and you know, that's not just, that's not just Mark's vision, that's the broader vision. Right. And that's, that's part of it. So.
Mark: Right. I mean, if you can characterize the atheopagan community At all. It says a group of people who have all kind of come together to say, let's do this really well. Let's do it really well for ourselves and really well for the world. And just, you know, let's do this at a very high level of integrity.
Yucca: mm-hmm and just very thoughtful. That's something that just comes up again and again is just how thoughtful people are about all of this.
Mark: yeah, I agree. Now there are downsides of that for somebody like me, I'm not making a mint on this. But I'm. I'm so happy with how this is all proceeded. The idea of, you know, having to have this be something that I can leverage for a lot of money, just really doesn't cross my mind. And I, to be honest, I think that if I tried the community would vanish, just, just vanish.
Yucca: I don't think they could build this kind of community on that. Right. Certainly communities can be built on those types of principles, but this particular community. I think the reason that we're here, the reason that we, that we're doing all of this is, again, it goes back to what we were talking about before with the principles and the pillars is that we share those things.
Right. And those aren't really compatible with the list that we just gave of, of red flags. That's not that isn't compatible with religious dogma and with, you know, deceptive recruitment tactics and things like that. That just doesn't line up with what we're searching for and trying to cultivate and grow.
Mark: Right. We don't endorse exploitation. We don't endorse exploitation of the planet. We don't endorse exploitation of one another
Mark: and a willingness to indulge. Various kinds of exploitation is characteristic of the sorts of organizations that get into trouble with things like that are on this list. You know, people in our community, they're, they're pretty quick to say if they feel like they've been treated unfairly or if they if they don't feel hurt or if their feelings are hurt and we talk about it and To the best degree possible, we make it right.
Mark: It's just a different approach to things. So there are some resources for people who are deconstructing from religion, who don't necessarily want to be naturalistic pagans or whatever. There is the recovery from religion foundation,
Mark: um, which is a great organization and they have online groups and a variety of resources for people who are deconstructing from religion.
Encourage you to look into that. And
Yucca: Whether you're interested in non theos, paganism or not. Right.
Yucca: so it could be, it could be useful in both cases. Yeah.
Mark: There's also the freedom from religion foundation, which is more of an advocacy organization for separation of church and state. But they do also have resources for people who are leaving abusive religious contexts and are are seeking support. So, encourage you to look into both of those, you know, if that's your situation.
And also of course, we invite you to, you know, join our community. If you think that these values are things that are consistent with what you wanna do, and you can be a part of that recovery meeting that happens once a month. I think it's the first Tuesday, maybe first, Monday. I'm not sure I'm in a lot of these meetings.
Yucca: Yeah. Well, and also some of the stuff that we, you know, we didn't talk too much about it, but the ritual practice and things like that can really help in healing processes. Right. Whatever it is, whether it was a religious trauma or childhood, or those often go hand in hand actually or whatever it is that, that that you're dealing with, you know, part of what we're trying to do is, is. develop lives and practices that support ourselves and develop the tool sets that help us to be able to do those things in whatever way matches us as individuals. Right? Yeah.
Mark: For example I know people that have done full. Funerals and burials literal burial in a hole in the ground of their religion, of their, the religion that they've left. And that sounds like it might be kind of silly, but it's not, it's very serious. And they feel really different after it's been done going through those symbolic activities to, you know, psychologically divest yourself of something that has been hanging over you for a long time can be really psychologically impactful.
And those are the kinds of practices that we learn how to do in naturalistic, paganism and that we do for one another and that we share.
Mark: So if, if this is the first episode of the wonder that you've ever heard, because you're being, you're just joining us or you're A family member or friend said, Hey, you should listen to this because I'm doing this atheopagan thing or naturalistic pagan thing. And I know you're worried about it. So here, check this out.
Welcome. And there is plenty more information about atheopagan at the Ethiopia pagan society website, which is the AP society.org or, and, or at the Ethiopia paganism blog that I do, which is Ethiopia, paganism.org. And there's a YouTube channel. There's this podcast. There's a Twitter feed.
There's the Facebook group. Yes, there's, there's a lot of different places where you can meet others and talk and ask questions and all that kind of stuff.
Yucca: And as we mentioned before, we're, we're pretty young, so we're just growing, but there are some affinity, local affinity groups, which are starting to form, so for different areas of the world or the country. So there might be, you know, people in your local area as well for, you know, face to face conversations and not just over the keyboard.
Mark: Right, right. Yeah. So, thank you for this conversation. Yucca. This has been a good one. I feel like.
Yucca: There's a lot here today. Yeah.
Mark: yeah, and, you know, there are so many just sort of assumptions that we make about how we're going to do our business that we don't really talk about explicitly. And I think bringing all of those out is really important.
So people see, you know, the kind of people we are and the kind of thing that we're trying to build.
Yucca: and yeah.
Mark: Yeah. Yeah.
Yucca: yeah. Well thank you for this conversation. So, and next week, we're, we're gonna be in October already and we have a lot of really fun topics coming up
Mark: fun topics like death and decomposition.
Yucca: Yes, well, and, and cauldrons and ancestors and all of that good stuff. So, yeah.
Mark: It's gonna be great.
Yucca: All right. Well, thanks everybody.