In the musical Bedknobs & Broomsticks, Angela Landsbury sings:
“You must face the age of not believing
Doubting everything you ever knew
Until at last you start believing
There’s something wonderful in you”
Some of the most passionate beliefs of the 21st century are actually disbeliefs. It seems that we have collectively taken skepticism to a new level; to a point where people are willing and eager to disbelieve anything. There’s nothing new about monotheists desperately disbelieving in all but one deity, or about atheists disbelieving in that deity as well. Now, though, we appear to be conditioned to disbelieve all sorts of things, no matter the contrary evidence.
There are people – intelligent, educated people – who have told me they “disagree” that there were Saxon druids. As if their disbelief somehow obliterates the records of the Anglo-Saxon dryas that have survived in Old English documents.
There are people who do not believe the Holocaust ever took place. Most of these are young people who never knew the men, now dead, who opened the concentration camps and released the surviving victims at the end of WWII.
Just the other day I received a letter from a man who has been wrestling with his “rational doubt” in respect to the old gods. The gods have called to him, but he has been having trouble believing in them. So…you know what I told him?
DON’T BELIEVE IN THEM!
And by this I meant, also, do not disbelieve in the gods, for disbelief is just another form of belief. There is no evidence I’m aware of that belief (and disbelief) are especially significant in any indigenous European religion. What matters are your actions, not your beliefs. Piety is a pattern of behavior, honoring the gods and giving them their due.
Some Christians will claim that their forebears were persecuted in Rome because of their “beliefs”. This is a lie. Why would the Roman government care what they believed? Rome acknowledged literally countless gods and goddesses; one more was like adding a grain of sand to Daytona Beach. No, the early Christians were prosecuted – cruelly, because Rome was often cruel – for their actions. It was their beliefs that they used as an excuse for an assortment of crimes, and their polytheist neighbors were understandably unimpressed.
Yes, I believe in the old gods, but not in the sense of “blind faith”. I believe in them because it’s the only thing that makes sense, given my experiences - and the experiences that thousands of other people have had for thousands of years. It might be more accurate to say that I do not disbelieve in the old gods, because my “belief” is simply acceptance, nothing more or less.
Belief is not necessary or even especially desirable in polytheist religion. What matters is that you set aside disbelief, which, as I have pointed out, is itself a form of belief. Once we get past that “age of not believing”, we really do find that there is something wonderful, not only within us, but in the universe around us.