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Polyamory and Pagan Woo December 22, 2009

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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This does NOT represent me

I have been involved with polyamory groups for a few years now, both in Philadelphia and Atlanta.  I have met some pretty cool people through these groups, and have had some interesting discussions and learned a lot from people.  But one thing I have noticed in the past, and it is true here in Atlanta as well, is that there is a very significant overlap of polyamorous people and Paganism.

Now, the term Pagan is too large to try and define here, so I will not try.  But there is also a large segment of the Pagan population that is also into certain things which I, as well as many other skeptics, often refer to as Woo.

What is Woo, you ask? Woo is is chakras, vibrations, and astrology.  Woo is metaphysical silliness that uses words like ‘energy’ (but not even close to it’s physics meaning) or even worse ‘energies’.  Woo is the New Age, or as some call it, ‘newage’ (rhyming with ‘sewage’). It is a significant part of the new Paganism, while having little or nothing to do with pre-Christian Paganism.

And at the same time it has its own life outside of pagan communities.  Some of it lives within liberal Christian communities as well.  Some of it lives by itself in psychics, Tarot card readers, and in pseudo-scientific practitioners that use techniques that are proven to not be effective.  Charlatans, unconsciously or deceptively, they all are.   As far as all of the skeptical inquiry into such matters has so far shown, these beliefs are not justified.

In an age of Twilight, Oprah, and the liberal love of spirituality mixed with pseudoscience, it is sometimes difficult to be a skeptic without sometimes feeling cynical.  There are people convinced that vaccines are dangerous, an idea which endangers people.  There are people who don’t take their children to doctors, only to pray while they watch them die.  And while these ideas are dangerous on a personal and societal level, Woo is downright annoying and insipid.

When people start talking about their energies merging with someone else’s energies, with their chakras opening up, crystal power, or something about their quantum Secret, I wonder how bad our educational system is in terms of preparing people for scientific literacy.  I wonder how people can swallow such idiotic crap without even trying to question it skeptically.

One good book that I read recently concerning this subject is Quantum Gods by Victor Stenger.    In this book, Stenger talks about such things as What the Bleep do we Know?, The Secret, cosmic consciousness, charlatan-Gurus who filch millions from credulous people, and the vast misunderstanding (and possible intentional deception by people such as Deepak Chopra) of all things ‘quantum.’

Paired with a few chapters about how physics actually works, Stenger shows how such New Age beliefs simply do not hold up to scrutiny.  Real physics–science in general–is a beautiful thing that does not need to be made artificially more beautiful by adding in chakras or even prophecies (Celestine or otherwise).

Another great resource is the James Randi Educational Foundation, which offers a million dollars to anyone who can prove the reality or effectiveness of paranormal abilities.  So far, nobody has won the money, even though people like Sylvia Brown and Uri Gellar are very aware of Randi and his challenge.  The same goes for chakras, energies, and other New Age ideas; none have stood up to any serious scrutiny by the larger skeptic community.

None.

And so as I navigate the world of polyamory, more so than other areas of my life, I find myself confronted with these kinds of New Age ideas.  In other aspects of my life I find myself confronted by evangelical Christians, people whom are sometimes chastised by Pagans for their views while the Christians see them as Satanic.  Now, the Christians I understand, even if I disagree with them about most things; they were raised in an environment that derives from an ancient book that has cultural grips on them.  It is embedded in our culture and becomes part of them at a young age.

But New Age, despite its attempts to claim its ancient origins, is new.  Quite frankly, I have studied some of the old Pagan traditions and found them nothing like the new religious movements such as Wicca and other communities which I have observed.  And while they tend to be more liberal and open-minded about many social issues, they are muddle-headed about the nature of reality, perhaps more so than many of the fundamentalist Christians I meet.

And what is so frustrating is that because they view themselves as so open-minded, so tolerant, etc, they sometimes take criticism worse than Christians ever do.  I have seen Pagans become enraged at hearing tough questions about their beliefs.  Perhaps because so much of the New Age worldview encourages emotional openness, many of them are thin-skinned because their beliefs are almost never criticized, especially while they are in ear-shot.  They are not as used to the criticism as more well-known beliefs, such as Christianity, might be.

But since I am told that I should keep an open mind about such things (which I do by the way), I will end this little rant with an excellent video by qualiasoup about open-mindedness.

We should keep an open mind, but not so open that our brains fall out.

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