Back to the Cavalry

Kit Whitfield made an excellent comment on my post about the anti-theist cavalry of the humanist apocalypse. My reply turned out to be some 1300 words long, which is a post not a comment, so I moved it here. It’s still quite long, so here’s a link to the TL;DR paragraph.

The Horsemen of the Apocralypse!In summary, Kit made the point that anti-theist zealots are overwhelmingly white, male, Western and wealthy, and that this makes their frequent internet claims of victimhood somewhat suspicious. It’s worth reading the context, but that’s the broad thrust of it. She also cited this very good article by Natalie Reed, which discussed in passing the problematic nature of people who have such a powerful megaphone choosing to focus on one problem which, by comparison with many other social justice issues, simply isn’t that important except as a method of keeping the spotlight on the concerns of rich white men.

I then started a comment saying: I’m not in a position to address Kit’s main points directly. Firstly, I’m not really on any side here; I may be an atheist (though it’s hard to tell), I subscribe to a religion, and I have the privilege of being white and male. Secondly, Kit makes pretty good points: e.g. the one about theological ignorance, which is covered in the Appleyard article. He specifically pans Grayling for using false equivalence to protect the anti-theists from the charge of writing in a field they don’t understand. The logic being that if theism is a childish delusion like believing in Care Bears or biting chameleons, there is no need to engage with it on its own terms at all.

Where I disagree is with the implication that to the Horsemen specifically, rather than internet anti-theists generally, this is an insidious and ugly type of victim-claiming. Natalie Reed refers to it as one out of many civil rights issues: it is a civil rights issue, in Saudi Arabia or Malaysia, in Texas or Alabama or Louisiana, in Turkey or Egypt. But that’s not the war the anti-theist cavalry want, or the one they are waging. They only seem to care about that kind of civil rights when the misfortunes of poor, female or coloured people around the world provide cheap-shot ammunition for a CNN sound-bite.

Aggressive anti-theisism is, as both Kit and Natalie Reed observe, overwhelmingly white, European / Western, male, wealthy, and very highly educated. The academe, in English at least, treats ‘theology’ as the study, not of gods, or of the concept of deity, but of “our” God specifically. The Horsemen are on a revenge trip. Whatever they may think, claim and fulminate about, they’re not fighting against religion, or even the concept of deity. They’re fighting the Christian God, YHWH, who is also the Jewish God and the Muslim God. They’re battling his egregious servants in the Vatican and the Madrassas; they’re attacking the US televangelist snake-oil shills. They perceive European history as having been dominated by atrocity, oppression and torture solely because of the dominance of organised Christianity, and they’re wrong.

Christianity is only responsible for some of the atrocities, not all of them; one might argue for ‘most’, but I wouldn’t. The Horsemen are anti-theists, in my reading, with three main motivations:

1. They are genuinely appalled at the way the JCI religious behemoth permits spectacular abuses against human decency, and actively encourages those abuses wherever possible for the benefit of the clerical establishment. Think the Blood Libel of Norwich, or the paedophile priests scandal today, or the systmatic rapes of Egyptian women who protested in Tarir Square, or the stoning of nine-year old girls in Israel by men with curly sideburns. The Horsemen perceive themselves, by virtue of being white men, as inheritors of a legacy of horror and shame that is even greater (by its historical breadth and scale) than the shame of slavery in the US. Like US abolitionists and their descendents, they see fighting back as a moral duty, but along the way they conflate the monotheistic triad with all religion. Which is, to be frank, fucking stupid. Daoism, Zen, and Lakotah Nation religions bear no resemblence at all, theologically or historically, to the JCI triad. Virtually no other religions in the recorded history of the concept resemble the religions of the Book as a class. They are genuinely different, which is one reason they became so dominant.

2. The Horsemen have been educated in an academic establishment in which for a very high percentage of elite actors, intelligence == atheism. Cf. the Grayling book, the god delusion (or as some might call it, the god experience) is a pure superstition, or an actual deliberate fraud, depending on whether you’re looking at the laity or the priests. As academicians and journalists, they therefore perceive a duty to educate. The logical error is in conflating spiritual experience with organised religion. Neal Stephenson discussed this in Snow Crash; the fact that in time, smart people notice that 90% of what happens in the modern Christian Church is bullshit, means a lot of Western smart people are atheists. It doesn’t mean that the other 10% is bullshit, or that the only possible response to being smart is to be non-spiritual.

3. They genuinely, as far as I can tell, believe that virtually every human evil, from the oppression of women to global poverty to nuclear warfare to AIDS in Africa, would disappear tomorrow if no-one in the world was stupid enough to be religious. And irritatingly, there’s kernels of truth in that; a great deal of oppression of women is directly enforced by the JCI religions. AIDS in Africa is a massively greater problem than it would have been without Dubya’s attempt at Christian moralism. Pharaonic levels of wealth inequality are permitted, excused and actively enhanced by government policy because Christian puritans developed a moralistic attitude to wealth as God’s reward for virtue, and those Christian elites enjoy punishing the ‘undeserving’ poor. Nuclear warfare remains a major threat in large part because a hefty percentage of America and many other lunatics around the globe really believe that someone pressing the button would result in a good outcome for them personally: and they believe this because of their apocalyptic interpretations of Christianity and Islam.

The Horsemen are also blatantly wrong, in that if you took away organised JCI religion people would still find excuses to be assholes to each other.

The Horsemen view the struggle against organised religion, by which they largely if not exclusively mean Christianity and Islam, as one of the most significant battles around. They think (for good reasons, even if they’re in part wrong) that ending organised religion is how you fix more or less all of the other problems of mankind. They see the removal of the pernicious influence of YHWH (and, as collateral damage, all other spiritual paradigms) as a magic bullet. There are no magic bullets, anyone with a bare grasp of history should know that. To me, that kind of wishful thinking, with no empirical grounding at all, is much less intellectually rigorous than recognising that humans experience gnosis and that they need a language to engage with it.

Hopefully it is by now clear that I neither agree with the Horsemen, nor am I defending them as correct. They’re not; though I am prepared to admit that I would have much less problem with them if they were prepared to confine their indictments to the guilty parties. Specific religions have perpetrated two thousand years of savagery, colonialism, torture, child abuse, oppression and cruelty, but I would argue the Horsemen are unwise to extrapolate from that truth the case that all spiritual experience is fraudulent and evil.

Natalie Reed’s description of internet anti-theism is, I think, largely accurate. As such, it bears a remarkable resemblence to internet racism from the EDL, internet misogyny from UniLad, and GOP assaults on reproductive freedom from the hysterical religious right. But I strongly disagree that the Horsemen themselves are fighting out of an attempt to acquire victim status. They’re fighting because, misguided or not, they are at heart Manicheans; they genuinely seem to believe that the entity Jews, Christians and Muslims worship as ‘God’ is the root of all evil.

13 Responses to “Back to the Cavalry”


  1. 1 Kit Whitfield 10/03/2013 at 7:47 pm

    Interesting discussion! :-)

    I think it’s very difficult to know the motivations of a public figure – though common sense would suggest that if one looks at a consistent pattern of behaviour, one can at least reasonably conclude that some motivations seem more likely than others. But as to whether they genuinely believe God is the root of all evil…

    Hm. I think on some level they do. I’m just sceptical, to use a word they’ve beaten to death, of the idea that this is what gives their crusade its real emotional drive.

    For instance: you mentioned in a previous Facebook post that many people can vote Green and think Green without actually ‘living Green’. They do believe that the destruction of the environment is a terribly dangerous thing. It’s just that we tend to act on feelings more than thoughts, and the motivating feelings that would push them to an eco-friendly life aren’t there in sufficient force.

    ‘God is the root of all evil’ is, basically, an intellectual belief. It could be powered by all sorts of emotional beliefs. Priests are bullies. Hierarchies are threatening. Church is stupid and stupid is revolting. Me and mine are better than you and yours.

    And it’s that latter belief that I see most in the horsemen. The fetishisation of science, the fury at any perceived disloyalty, and above all the bigotry that seeps out of every crack. Misogyny, for example: religion is implicated the oppression of women, to be sure (though the New Atheists don’t make a very good distinction between religion and culture), but when you’re the figureheads of a movement that gets its kicks sexually harassing an underage girl with fantasies of anal rape, you do not get to throw stones. Racism, in the way they target Muslims with the same vigour and stereotypes as any Crusading Christian.

    What I see is not so much cultural guilt about being ethnically Christian men as an ingrained cultural snobbery. Abrahamic religions are what they focus on because they ethnocentrically regard them as ‘a foeman worthy of our steel'; less familiar religions are paternalistically dismissed as silly native superstitions – foolish, yes, but not really worth getting exercised about.

    I shouldn’t speak too much to ‘the horsemen’ without reading more of their works. What I can say is what I’ve seen in their admirers, and what I suspect their admirers see in them, the common chord that echoes from leader to follower. There’s a certain type of straight white man who has, for one reason or another, failed to live as a perfect embodiment of masculinity in a society that rewards the masculine. They weren’t physically strong enough, they weren’t socially skilled enough, they weren’t socially privileged enough, they weren’t likeable or confident enough; for whatever reason, they see the prizes going to the ‘Alpha Male’ types and they feel themselves to be ‘beta males’. Rather than taking a step back and understanding that this is kyriarchy and needs to be undermined for the benefit of all, instead they move sideways. They find a niche in which they can slightly – just slightly – redefine the terms of what makes an Alpha Male, and define them to favour themselves, and occupy the slot they’ve always considered their entitlement.

    There are lots of enclaves of men doing this. But New Atheism, with its canonisation of ‘rationality’, is an appealing one to many men, particularly the men who didn’t get the full spoils because – at least as they understood it – they had too much brain and too little brawn. ‘Rationality’ has been coded male as long as Western culture has existed; a man looking to validate his maleness has a long cultural tradition in his subconscious telling him that to be rational is to be manly. What better than to be more rational than those driven by emotion: to crack horns with other stags over whose brain is the rational one? In my experience, a lot of New Atheist men are driven on some level by the appeal of ‘a kind of burning virility of mind and spirit’, as John Osborne has it in Look Back In Anger. They want to burn. And they want other people to wither in their flame.

    I’m sure they’re sincere in their belief that religion is evil, as far as that goes. But what motivated them to that sincerity, and what allowed men of that degree of intelligence and education to ignore so many obvious problems with it? What was the reward for them in adopting, and then building a life around, that belief? My personal view – based, I’ll admit, on an impressionistic view rather than a scientific study! – is that it’s a far more primitive drive than they want to admit to themselves. They want to be the new chiefs and they are cultivating a tribe whose values favour them, and they’re going after their rivals.

    You know how many teenagers go through a phase of imagining a perfectly just society that, ever so coincidentally, happens to be led by people very much like the teenagers themselves? That’s what I see in these guys. The would-be new philosopher kings.

    Of course, in the absence of a handy periscope into these guys’ heads, all any of us can do is speculate, and I’ll freely admit that I’m all out of the benefit of the doubt towards them. (And also that I’ve almost certainly read far less of their stuff than you, which puts me in a weak position indeed when it comes to actual evidence!) But subjectively, with these guys I see far more chest-thumping than they, with their public commitment to ‘rationality’, would ever be prepared to admit. I believe that people’s beliefs often boil down to simple instincts, and my instincts look at these guys and yell – in all senses of the word – ‘These are not honest men.’

  2. 2 Chris Naden 10/03/2013 at 7:59 pm

    I really don’t dispute the characterisation of the lesser imps that follow in their train. But I have read and watched a fair bit of the work (I actually thought Hitchens Major was better at it than Hitchens Minor) and I do think that a good part of their zealotry descends from a kind of moral revulsion at the sins of their grand-fathers.

    The intelletual dishonesty I don’t like is the one I mentioned in the first article: pretending that they are engaged in something much less aggressive than they actually are. It undermines the authority of so much else they say, and it’s what makes them good cover idols for the internet trolls. And I’ll definitely buy the self-inflationary mini-Alexander complex that’s going on there, it’s at least in part the product of the locker-room mentality of the academe in their disciplines.

    I also do genuinely dislike the conflation of the religions of the Book with spirituality in general. The secular power of the instiutions governed by the JCI religions is pretty much unique in history, and the resultant political and financial interests of the institutions did vast damage in the name of those religions. One of these things is not like the other.

    • 3 kitwhitfield 11/03/2013 at 8:55 am

      Hi again! :-)

      I quite agree, the intellectual dishonesty is a big problem, especially for people whose battle-cry is truth versus fiction. And, unlike my speculations, it’s also much easier to support with evidence, so you’re on stronger ground than me there!

      They show their hands some times more than others, I think, and especially when the target is safe – here, for example, Sam Harris says straight-out that it’s Islam itself and not its abuses that he opposes:

      We are at war with Islam. It may not serve our immediate foreign policy objectives for our political leaders to openly acknowledge this fact, but it is unambiguously so. It is not merely that we are at war with an otherwise peaceful religion that has been ‘hijacked’ by extremists. We are at war with precisely the vision of life that is prescribed to all Muslims in the Koran, and further elaborated in the literature of the hadith, which recounts the sayings and teachings of the Prophet.

      [Source: http://www.truthdig.com/report/page2/fundamentalism_kills_20110726/%5D

      And as that article pointed out, he was advocating pre-emptive nuclear strikes on Muslim countries. Of course, it’s far easier to get away with saying that about the religion of your country’s enemies.

      It’s that kind of thing that makes me so doubtful of the idea that they’re really appalled by the sins of their grandfathers, considering that they’re still committing them; this is just ‘Oriental ‘despotism’ in a different hat. Or if they’re appalled by the oppression of women, where does that leave Richard Dawkins’s ‘Dear Muslima’ attack on a woman for publicly stating she didn’t like to be sexually pestered? The very fact that they lead so monoracial and male-dominated a movement suggests that their legacy and their comfort zone are not poles apart. And after all, if they blame religion for wars and persecutions, and simultaneously claim that the real enemy is people believing the wrong things … well, I find it hard to swallow that the sins of their ancestors appal them, or at least appal them for sensible reasons.

      If we’re talking personal motivations, though, I think it’s hard to exclude money. Dawkins-the-atheist sells to a wider audience than Dawkins-the-scientist, and once you’re a public atheist, there’s a good living to be made by writing more books and publishing more articles and making more speeches. You have a brand you have to maintain – and when your brand depends on an us-versus-them stance, it’s all but impossible not to wind up more and more entrenched, and more and more inclined to neglect the decencies.

      Here, for instance – http://www.richarddawkins.net/foundation_articles/2012/12/22/physical-versus-mental-child-abuse – is Richard Dawkins defending a tweet he wrote in response to the sexual abuse scandal involving the Catholic church.* He responded to the news of appalling, violent and systematic sexual abuse by veering off into speculations about ‘mild sexual abuse’ that had very little to do with the scandal actually taking place, and considering the gravity of the actual scandal it was, at least, in poor taste to derail as he did. But his approach is completely unscientific:

      Anecdotes and plausibility arguments, however, need to be backed up by systematic research, and I would be interested to hear from psychologists whether there is real evidence bearing on the question. My expectation would be that violent, painful, repeated sexual abuse, especially by a family member such as a father or grandfather, probably has a more damaging effect on a child’s mental well-being than sincerely believing in hell. But ‘sexual abuse’ covers a wide spectrum of sins, and I suspect that research would show belief in hell to be more traumatic than the sort of mild feeling-up that I suffered.

      The words he uses: ‘I would be interested to hear’, ‘My expectation would be’, ‘I suspect that research would show’, ‘probably’, are all the language of somebody who has no evidence at all, nothing but belief – but is pushing his opinion anyway.

      Now, in this case he’s referring to a sexual assault he experienced at the hands of a teacher, and undoubtedly this must have been a frightening and upsetting experience for a little boy, so he is not an untraumatised and level-headed observer here. I feel for the little boy even if I dislike the man. But there’s also something … well, brand-specific about the response, something staying-on-message about it: in a situation where priests had done something that was both horrifically wrong and undoubtedly more cruel than any doctrinal teachings, he decided to reroute the conversation back to his beef with the doctrinal teachings because … why? The fact that this is his brand may not be all of it, but as we all have to make a living, I find it hard to believe it wasn’t part of it. (Yes, I have no evidence here either.)

      Really, intellectual dishonesty makes for a more flexible brand, one that you can adapt according to the target – let’s nuke the Muslims over there, let’s criticise the Christians over here, let’s not forget that the real enemy is belief rather than actions – and it’s a profitable brand. Once you’re engaged in a war of words, your supporters are much more likely to feel they have to buy everything you write just to keep abreast of the permanent crisis.

      *”Is it child-abuse to teach about hell? Might such mental abuse cause longer-lasting trauma than mild sexual abuse?”

      • 4 Chris Naden 11/03/2013 at 9:28 am

        And in a side-note: actually, yes, I think teaching children about Hell in the way that the Puritan West does it, i.e. American-model Calvinism, fire and brimstone, is child abuse. I’ve been a happily functioning Druid and probably an atheist for years, and I still get woken up by actual nightmares, full-sensory scale, derived from my mother’s descriptions of hell when I was a little child.

        In so far as my religion teaches about Hell, its an underworld not a torture-chamber, and every legend which deals with it is specifically about how you get yourself out of it once in it (usually voluntarily!). To the post-modern reader, it also looks remarkably like a metaphor for clinical depression, which the Protestant Hell certainly does not.

        • 5 kitwhitfield 11/03/2013 at 9:42 am

          Oh, I wouldn’t argue that there’s such a thing as abusive religious teaching. Undoubtedly there is. My issue with Dawkins really was that it was the wrong time to make that point because it came across as minimising or changing the subject from the sufferings of the people coming forward – and considering that there were plenty in the Church eager to minimise or change the subject from their sufferings as well, his timing wasn’t kind.

  3. 6 Chris Naden 11/03/2013 at 9:24 am

    Here’s an admission for you: I’d never heard of Harris or Dennett until this conversation, I was extrapolating what they were like from my readings of Dawkins, the Hitchens, and several other figures who don’t appear in Appleyards list. I’ll also say this: the period of time I spent a lot of time reading Dawkins and company was when I was an Evangelical Christian. I.e. at various points between 1989 when I first found out about him and about 1998 when debates about YHWH largely stopped being my problem. Having read your rather more up-to-date anecdotes, I’m more than happy to believe that the Horsemen are less rational now, than they were when I formed my opinions about them!

    Certainly not going to contest the money motive. Very clearly, Dawkins sells more as an anti-theist than as a biologist.

    • 7 kitwhitfield 11/03/2013 at 9:32 am

      :-) I suspect you’re still better read than me.

      One thing I’d say from personal experience is that once you’re in a war of words, it’s all but impossible to wind up doubling down and entrenching and generally getting more extremely committed to positions than you ever intended to be. I’ve done it, and then later stepped back and thought, ‘Hang on, I don’t actually think that at all.’ But at the time I did genuinely mean it, or at least, it was the best way I could find to formulate and rationalise the genuine belief that the person I was arguing with was really, really on the wrong side here. And if you’ve said it in public where it’s on permanent record, it’s all the harder to take that step back, partly because you’re more committed to it and partly because there will be other people criticising you for saying it and making you feel too cranky to reconsider. Probably there are scientific studies on all of this. There may be smarter, cooler-headed people than me who don’t let that happen to them, but I suspect that the ‘horsemen’ are not among their august ranks. I’m not wildly sympathetic, because I think they go out of their way to provoke the situations that lead to that kind of polarisation, but I at least feel a bit familiar with the dynamic.

      • 8 Chris Naden 11/03/2013 at 9:50 am

        There may be smarter, cooler-headed people than me who don’t let that happen to them, but I suspect that the ‘horsemen’ are not among their august ranks.

        No, indeed. The active pursuit of and glorying in conflict is part of the difference between the atheist and anti-theist positions.

  4. 9 Chris Naden 11/03/2013 at 9:48 am

    To the comment at 9.42: no argument there!

  5. 10 Gareth Thomas 12/03/2013 at 2:54 pm

    One thing I am quite interested in is your description of the Druidic conception of hell. I have often wondered, actually, what sort of starting points someone would recommend reading for modern Druidry. I have a copy of Ronald Hutton’s BLOOD AND MISTLETOE, which is superb but very much holds the worldview of Druidry and paganism at arms length and approaches issues as an historian. Also, as someone with a Welsh father, I’m aware of and have read various versions of THE MABINOGION. But I’m quite curious about what someone who actually practices this stuff sees as the foundation of their metaphysics, ethics etc.

    I suspect that this kind of curiosity about other faiths is probably the last thing that Dawkins and Hitchens would want to have wanted, which is something I find oddly satisfying.

    As regards Hitchens, have you read Richard Seymour’s attack on him – UNHITCHED?

    • 11 Chris Naden 12/03/2013 at 4:57 pm

      One thing I am quite interested in is your description of the Druidic conception of hell

      Well, mainly I was saying there wasn’t one. There’s Annwn, which exists in two paradigms; the legendary one and the cosmological. The Annwn of the Mabinogi is a place vaguely analogous to the Summer Isles bordered by a very nasty mountain range full of unpleasant things. Narratives usually involve going into it to do something or find someone, or are about getting out of it once there through no fault of your own. Lloyd Alexander turned some basic stories into a five-volume fantasy confection in the 60s.

      In modern Druidry, Annwn exists in relationship to Abred and Gwynvyd as a concentric model for human experience. Annwn = underworld = Jungian view of subconscious. Abred = Midgard, mortal world = physical reality. Gwynvyd = Otherworld = state of inspiration and perfection, nirvana, reached via the

      awen

      . There isn’t really a hell in that cosmology. That structure is basically Iolo Morganawg as reworked by Ross Nichols.

      I have a copy of Ronald Hutton’s BLOOD AND MISTLETOE, which is superb but very much holds the worldview of Druidry and paganism at arms length and approaches issues as an historian

      Yes, absolutely. He does provide his reasons for stopping short when Ross Nichols showed up, but I do wish he hadn’t. Have you read Triumph of the Moon? It’s as important for a student of Druidry as for Wicca. In that, he provides a very thorough context and langauge for the Enlightenment occult revival as a whole, and how it intersected with anti-industrial Romantic pastoralism to create the Woodcraft Folk and Gerald Gardner. But then he goes on through to the 1990s, providing an extremely valuable and well-crafted chronicle of the first 5 decades of Wicca, and alongside it the Pagan movement more generally. His character sketches of the major players are delightful and well-researched, and I really do wish he’d provided the same level of detailed investigation for modern Druidry.

      Places to start: well now. Obviously, Ross Nichols’ Book of Druidry is ‘the manual’, in so far as there’s only one, but Nichols was an excellent mystic and a very bad scholar. Philip Carr-Gomm has systematised Nichols’ work into OBOD, and their book list will point you to the best primers from that perspective. I’m finishing my Bardic degree in the British Druid Order, and I would argue that Emma Restall Orr’s stuff is a pretty good starting point: both the original early 90s book and the ethics one (http://www.druidry.co.uk/ has a book list). I would also recommend taking a look at the more robust strand of hedge Druidry represented by King Arthur and the LAW. The best book for that is called The Trials of Arthur and is available via Amazon. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to mutter about Drudry, that was fun :)

      • 12 Gareth Thomas 13/03/2013 at 11:59 am

        Thanks! I liked the Druidry.co.uk link – it seems nice and really rather honest of them to say, as far as I can see, “well, we don’t actually have that much historical evidence, so we’re going to fill the gaps with other stuff that seems appropriate”. Creative and, in its own way, as reasonable as anything any historian does when trying to understand the motivations of politicians from five centuries ago in a more conventional work of history.

        I loved THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN as a kid, despite being aware that they were pouring Welsh myth into a Tolkein shaped mould. TARAN WANDERER is probably one of the books I have felt most passionately about – both loved and hated – in my entire life. And I loved the use of Welsh mythology in THE DARK IS RISING series, too. We used to drive past Cader Idris many times a year, on the way to my parent’s cottage in Wales, and I would always stare up at it from the car and wonder…

        I also have THE TRIUMPH OF THE MOON and have read it several times. I was very interested in occultism as a teenager and attempted various works of magic etc. largely to no end, so I picked up Hutton’s work as soon as I saw it.

        That King Arthur book sounds absolutely charming. I’m probably predisposed to slot him into the “great British eccentric” pigeonhole – I’ll have to add it to the ever-increasing reading list, along with Nicola Tesla’s writings, Nate Silver, The Act of Creation, Dover Art books etc. etc. – there are far too many interesting things in the world for a slow reader like me ever to keep up with. :( I’ll probably just end up binging on scanlated manga recommended by Something Awful! Anyway, thanks again, there’s something tremendously likeable about modern paganism, so I’m always glad to learn more about it.

        • 13 Chris Naden 13/03/2013 at 12:35 pm

          Compressed down quite a long way, Druidry started being created in teh 1790s by Iolo Morganawg, in part from real sources but also in part from inspired poetry and cosmology that Morganawg passed off as medieval scholarship. What Nichols saw in the 1950s was that Morganawg’s own inspirations were as good a seed for a modern religion as any ancient poets’ might be.

          Re. Taran Wanderer: objectively, it’s by far the best book of the quintology, because unlike any of the others it actually follows a real myth cycle, relatively closely. Alexander simply didn’t understand the myths he was working with, or the characters that populated them. Susan Cooper, Alan Garner and Mary Stewart, on the other hand, did understand the myths and their context, and produced much, much better retellings as a result.

          Triumph covers some of the rise of Druidry, due to the working friendship between Gardner and Nichols.

          There is no question that John the Hat (King Arthur) is a great British eccentric, but he’s a much more robust sort than normal. He’s indirectly responsible for Siks being allowed to wear the knife in public. He’s directly responsible for the slowly granted access to Stonehenge. He’s also a world-class nutter, but that doesn’t stop him being a very effective Druid chieften.

          Modern Paganisms are ‘likeable’, I would argue, because they are extremely unusual in the modern religious landscape; they were revealed to or created by people who think like us. People who were educated like us, grew up in our landscape and rode our trains and buses, watched television, saw the birth of the internet rather than the printing press, drank the same beer as us and heard the same music we listen to. They are in that sense modern religions, as naturally suited to the modern world as Gnostic Christianity was suited to the Greek world of the 1st Century, or as Daoism was to the ancient Chinese Imperium. They are religions which grew out of the reality of this world, rather than religions which have tried gamely to keep up with the world as it changes under them. For now, anyway :) It would be a foolish theologian indeed who belived any answer can be eternal; the questions keep changing.


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