I want to preface this post by confirming that I’m an atheist and don’t believe in any of the supernatural or metaphysical claims made by any religion out there. I’m not turning to religion; I’m merely acknowledging one religion that is subjectively — from my own experiences — better than the others.
Methods of determining eligibility
Again, this is from my own experiences in the US, but I think these are decent methods for determining the social merits of a religion of which you are not a part:
- Is the religion used by its adherents and state lawmakers to determine policy?
- Is the religion used to make social arguments for the establishment of social norms?
- Could the use of religious practice instead of medicine in times of medical crises sometimes lead to tragic consequences?
- Does the religion have an absolute doctrine regarding knowledge?
- Does the religion have an absolute moral doctrine?
- Does the religion exclude people along established discriminatory lines?
- Do members of the religion exclude others outside the religion?
- Is faith more important than deeds in the religion?
And the winner is…
Modern Paganism, or Neopaganism, answers “no” to 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8. Furthermore, I have found no branch within the umbrella Neopagan system that puts much, if any, emphasis on faith (although it can be an important personal element to the individuals’ beliefs). This is especially true in the sub-umbrella Wiccan system. Indeed, I know many atheists who practice Wicca as a philosophical exercise in getting to know themselves. I might be wrong (please correct me if I am), but it appears from the various conversations I’ve had with theistic and atheistic Wiccans that a relationship with the gods is unnecessary and indeed impossible without first knowing the self.
Furthermore, I’m very pleased with the Wiccan Rede, which is phrased in many, many different ways, but the simplest, most contemporary saying is:
Do what you will, so long as it harms none.
This single sentence implies volumes of individualistic freedom, social responsibility, communion, and moralistic/ethical integrity. Additionally, the saying does not explicitly delimit our responsibilities to people. It doesn’t say “Do what you will, so long as it harms no one.” It merely says “none,” as in “nothing” (the meaning of which is arguable, but still). In this case, the Wiccan version of the Golden Rule makes the argument of “do no harm” to animals too and, by extension, perhaps, the environment into which we humans and animals have evolved to survive.
Referring to the above list of criteria I used, unfortunately sometimes Neopaganism answers number 3 in the affirmative. This might be more so true of theistic Pagans than non-theistic Pagans. Sometimes we find occultists who put a lot more emphasis on “natural” remedies, holistic approaches to medicine, magical spells, or (god forbid) homeopathic “medicines.” For example, from my personal experiences, I know a man who came down with a very, very awful cough. Instead of seeing the doctor, he placed a few rocks on his chest and carried them on his body in a way that kept it in direct contact with his skin. Eventually the cough went away. He, of course, credited the talisman with his recovery. In reality, he just had a sufficiently strong immune system to take care of whatever was causing the cough.
Some might argue this was his decision, but it was a religious decision that could’ve put others at risk. If his cough were the result of a communicable disease, I would argue he has an ethical duty to see a doctor, who might choose to isolate him from the general public. I could write a lot more on this, but I think this type of phenomenon has been discussed in the media so much over the last decade that I don’t need to make any further arguments.
The runner up
LaVeyan Satanism came in at an extremely close second. The only problem is that LaVeyan Satanism isn’t an actual religion. It’s a social branch of philosophy that fills in a lot of the “oughts” atheism leaves behind. LaVeyan Satanism does, paradoxically, make a couple supernatural claims, for example: “Acknowledge the power of magic if you have employed it successfully to obtain your desires. If you deny the power of magic after having called upon it with success, you will lose all you have obtained.” But that’s not why it didn’t win. It didn’t win strictly because I like Wicca’s message better.
What about Buddhism?
The problem with Buddhism is that it still has a lot of discriminatory practices. The gender divide in Buddhist societies is much better than the gender divide in Abrahamic Middle Eastern societies but falls way behind Western Christian societies (which falls way behind Neopagan concepts of gender equality).
The take away
There you have it. If the US suddenly became a theocracy overnight, I’d sincerely hope it was a Wiccan society. Besides, Wiccans and other Neopagans can handle it when you make fun of their religion.