Defining (a) Religion

Discussion in 'Belief and Spirituality' started by path_of_one, Feb 1, 2010.

  1. path_of_one

    path_of_one Embracing the Mystery

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    I just returned from the Pagan Studies Conference in southern CA. It was pretty interesting.

    One thing that came up over and over again was the question of how we can define Paganism? How do you define the boundaries of a religion? Why do you do it? If scholars can't even determine a commonly-agreed on definition of "religion" in general, how can we define "a" religion?

    My interested was piqued not only as an academic who is interested in community and identity, but also as a person who has struggled with this issue for years... Am I Pagan because my doctrine/theology and practice are aligned with Paganism? Or am I Pagan because I "belong" to a Pagan group? Or because I just say so?

    I have a personal relationship with Christ... does that make me also Christian? Or do I have to agree to the doctrines of Christianity? Or is it only if I join a church?

    Who decides and how? Is it orthodoxy, orthopraxy, ethics and piety?

    I know Christians who are self-identified as such, who belong to churches (some are clergy!), but whose beliefs are closely aligned with my own... yet my own beliefs are closely aligned with certain strains of Paganism. So what does that mean?

    My own take-home thought based on my feelings during all this debate was that I am a Pagan that has a relationship with Christ, not a Christian who has a relationship with Nature. That was an interesting realization... but at its heart the fundamental challenges of definition remain.

    Your thoughts?

    ETA: I should clarify that though I am referring to Paganism and Christianity due to my own reflections and experience, my overall inquiry is about defining a religion in general... so I'm interested in anyone's religion and ideas about definition.
     
  2. Nick the Pilot

    Nick the Pilot Well-Known Member

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    The best definition I ever heard of religion is a group of people who perform certain religious practices together. Not the greatest definition, but the best I have found so far.
     
  3. wil

    wil UNeyeR1

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    As the boundaries and definitions are all man made....(eg sitting in a conference trying to define a religion that is .....how old?) as they are man made, they get defined differently by each denomination or sect of that religion.

    And then as you or I we see our definitions warp maybe again compared to what others think.

    But thinking as a Christian, Jesus commanded us to love one another, including our enemies. Interesting that he divided us, anyone can love someone who loves him, but truly the challenge is to love one that doesn't. So in his eyes, at that time, according to what was written, we were different yet to be treated the same.

    I think in G!d we are all the same...and all paths EVENTUALLY lead to G!d (some paths may be necessary diversions, required for growth and only temporary ... althought that very same path may lead others straight to G!d)

    I think what I am getting at is that the definitions are for us, to separate this group from that...like Miss Manners defintion of etiquette...a set of rules so one group can look down their collective noses at another group...and when the other group assimilates those rules, the rules change. For some religions definitions state we are better 'the only one and true religion' and for others it is to define us as different from those that think they are better (implying we are better).

    Boundaries....lines in the sand which increase conflict...
     
  4. Dream

    Dream New Member

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    In addition to what Nick said, Whatever history you've got becomes a definition. You have embraced that which has meaning to you, so your personal history is part of it and reflects the entirety in miniature. I think I remember you posted that your journals are like scripture. What about those as a source of definition? Try to put all you've got written in a mythical symbolic format first, then see if that helps you with a wordy definition for all pagans.
     
  5. path_of_one

    path_of_one Embracing the Mystery

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    Interesting comments, one and all. Initially, my thought process on day one of the conference was "Why do we care about definitions? What's the point?"

    Which is what I asked someone who had been in the community a long time during a break. The general explanation is that even though it is recognized as a difficult and problematic thing to define Paganism, we need to do it so we can be counted in census and other survey data and gain rights. We need to be able to explain what we do to other people and have folks realize the media version of Paganism is largely as skewed as the media version of anything else.

    As a social scientist, I could appreciate that.

    But as someone who has walked in the Christian community my whole life, I have also seen how defining a religious identity can lead to division, strife, and general malaise as people decide who is "really" one of them. Definitions take something that is fluid- spirituality- and make it something that is more categorical and concrete.

    I could see both sides of the coin.

    Personally, I can understand Nick's grounds for definition, and I appreciate its simplicity. But it doesn't really work, at least from the standpoint of a social scientist. This is because part of what defines a religion is how it defines itself, and that varies. For example, over the years I found that even though I have a relationship with Christ and sometimes go to church and take communion, because my ideas about Christ, God, and so on are substantially different from the doctrinal mainstream, I am usually considered not Christian by others. And while Druids have many beliefs and even some practices that are held in common by indigenous animist traditions from all over, no one would say Druidry is the same religion as, say, Shoshone traditions. Practice together, even regular practice, is only meaningful as a defining factor if pracitioners make it so.

    This led me to a whole contemplation about identity in general and the issue of counting/census (as this is a census year, which is exciting for geeks like me who want new stats). That is the issue of self-identifying versus being held to a standard. Anyone can say they are any religion. That has little to do with their actual life, practice, belief, etc. Many older Pagans projected that Wicca will no longer be growing at the super-stellar rate it was on the 2000 census because it sort of became a fad for a while and as it has become more acceptable, this faddishness died off somewhat. Sort of like the wave of Kabbalah Center people, or the wave of using sweat lodges, etc. Religion in the States is business, and there are fashionable religions just as there are fashionable shoes and vehicles.

    All that seems to lead to definitions being relatively worthless. Except that the struggle for tolerance and equal rights is dependent on having a voice as a community, as a single individual is rarely heard.
     
  6. Dream

    Dream New Member

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    I have seen how that works, too. From what you say those that are trying to define apparently have already got the political bug. You would gain some political influence but would also be influenced, and you would experience polarization and division. It sounds like its already broken out though, and you have had a name now for some time.
     
  7. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Staff Member

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    Belief can be a very personal thing, but once an organised religious group is subscribed to the danger is that the beliefs of the individual are replaced by the beliefs of the group.

    Take Catholicism as an easy example - it's a rich and layered tradition that goes back over a millenia, but how much does the ordinary everyday Catholic know about that tradition, its meanings, its influences? How much is the belief of an ordinary Catholic determined simply because they are told that is what is believed by the Roman Catholic Church, as opposed to individual insight and interpretation?

    Spiritual belief tends to be personal centred rather than group centred, with the identification of beliefs tending to be based on a pot pourri of personal preferences that do not easily fall into a specific group-identity category. This is especially the case with a general system such as Paganism where it is arguably a modern reinvention and interpretation of older ideas.

    In which case, Paganism perhaps may be best thought of as a general system with specific unique approaches and common points of identity and thinking, to which individuals may ascribe to a general majority of these but not necessarily all.

    The opening question really reminds me of "What is goth? What defines a goth?" which feels similar, in that there is no general set of rules and demands or agreed criteria, as much as an appreciation that "goth" represents a varied set of beliefs and attitudes, to which individuals will often subscribe to some, but rarely all, of.
    About Goth [stereo] Types - All Types

    The boudaries are perhaps not so important as defining core and main peripheral elements, perhaps.

    Just an initial 2c anyway - sounds like an interesting discussion in general. :)
     
  8. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Hi Path —

    Interesting point.

    Bernard Lonergan made a point about some things are so deep in us, that we can't define what they are, but we know it when we see it, and I think religion is one of them ... I'll dig it out.

    Yes, I rather think it is. The logical point is, there needs to be orthodoxy before there can be heresy.

    The very idea of heresy implies an a priori orthodoxy. Heresy comes from the Greek verb 'to choose', and indicates human nature's tendency towards selectivity.

    Well it could quite easily mean a number of things.

    I believe in nature as good (how can I be a Christian and not?) and yet does that not make me a pagan? I don't think so, because, as I understand it, pagans and I depart from each other's company on certain fundamental issues.

    Thomas
     
  9. Penelope

    Penelope weak force testosterone

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    Hi Path

    Way back, when I was in middle school, my grandmother gave me an ancient copy of Ralph Waldo Emerson's essays. I ate them up.

    Emerson was a theologian, but also a philosopher. A minister, but also a poet. He was a popular lecturer on the Lyceum circuit in mid-19th century America. He was not exactly the 'Founding Father' of the American Transcendentalist Movement, but something more like the eldest brother to that movement.

    Traces of Emerson can still be found in Congregationalist and Unitarian ministries, in America. But Emerson was a peculiarly American figure. The line between the secular world and the sacred was indistinct, in Emerson. The distinction between God and Nature was similarly blurred, as if these two concepts were - on some days - interchangeable in Emerson's mind.

    I kind of liked that, at the time. (I still do.) In middle school, I had Christian friends I hung-out with - arguing, speculating, searching.
    (I think sudden religious interest is a common thing for young teens. Personal identity, separating 'me' from association with my parents, and a sublimation of - the confusing onset of - sexual drives.)
    Some of my friends were looking for something more doctrinaire, but I liked Emerson because he looked, first, to his own individuality. And he encouraged others to do the same. He is the least doctrinaire religious figure I ran across, back then (or have since).

    Everything, for Emerson, is a kind of personal Psychology (in a pre-Freudian sense of that word). Everything is about personal inner development and growth. But everything is also about how a person connects, in a rich and meaningful way, with the External World (with God or Nature or Society, or with just the small little details of life which are rich with transcendent meaning) ... i.e., about how a person connects with the larger Ecology.

    For Emerson, that connection was not about groups nor about theological tenets. But it was a 'direct connection' ... person to person. Or 'me' to some fascinating 'detail of the world' (like a sudden, unexpected bird-song). A kind of hyper-presentness, in the moment. Even though Emerson was a supporter of the Abolition-of-Slavery movement, and gave money to other 'worthy causes,' he was not a group-person.

    Connecting to the world - not broadly - but by a thin (highly-charged) wire of connection.

    Himself ... to a discrete piece of God's World.
    Or himself, person-to-person with another human being.
    Intensely so.

    If Emerson thought about Jesus at all, I suspect that this is how he conceived Jesus-himself to be. A person who has taught him or her self the remarkable ability to have ...
    an intense, thin-wire of connection to something - or someone - outside oneself.
    A life-changing connection, for both parties.
    The rare ability to 'transcend' the mundane and factual materiality of things ... during each moment-to-moment encounter with the world.
    To zone-in.

    Not a bad way to re-conceive Jesus.
    To re-invent True Religion - a kind of Theological Anarchism.

    And, possibly, not a bad way to live in the world. If you have the temperament for it.

    (Transcending definition.)
     
  10. Jenn

    Jenn New Member

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    Hi path_of_one,

    You've hit an issue that has been going round in pagan circles for a long time. Six years now (not that long really) I've been intensely involved in different facets of paganism, but have never really gotten into it as a "religion". I was drawn to it specifically for its vagueness, its LACK of orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

    So it's never been about "identity" to me. I grew up devout Christian (devout in the sense, I was totally devoted heart, mind, body and soul and never ever would have thought that I would be where I am today); so when the Christianity fell away, it was bizarre to see that just because I had become disillusioned about the doctrines of my family and religion, I was still the same person. My whole life I thought it was who I was--and to discover that it wasn't, was like finding out your parents aren't your birth parents. When I started down the path of earth spirituality ... I was still me too. As I explored other "religions" like Daoism and Buddhism, once again I was still there through the whole process. So changing my "religion" had no impact on who I was. A lot of people don't get this though. When you change your religion or your political party, people seem to think that you somehow have changed into someone else. Identity is a transient thing. Change is forever happening, and any identity formed will one day die. How painful or easy that death is depends on how much that identity is clung to. The real trick is learning to exist in the world without needing the mask of an identity.

    Paganism, more than any other modern religion, seems fascinated with trying to define itself. In essence I disagree with the idea of paganism as a "religion" and/or the desire to make paganism into a religion. I don't want paganism to have dogma. I think the vagueness of its umbrella is good .... Of course, I also understand that when you try to define something, it is part of the process of forming an identity. An identity gives you a standing, a face to show the world ... something that the rest of the world can interact with. Identities are useful. They act as labels (another thing I disagree with) and in turn lead to stereotypes (even worse) which is how civilization manages to keep chaos at bay, by putting everything into neat little boxes so we don't feel uncomfortable with ourselves.

    I think people who are seeking a religious identity (or any other identity) are doing so to try and control their own inner chaos. Usually (not making a universal statement because there are always exceptions!) trying to find an identity is something people use to hide in and make them feel safe. They have, as individuals, stepped into the unknown. They've never been there before ... and it's a scary place to be! Even scarier is that for the first time, someone isn't telling you who you are or what to do with your life. You have to really LIVE, really go FIND out for yourself, no matter how uncomfortable that makes you, no matter how desperate or lonely or depressed or ill or unhappy that makes you. It takes guts!

    And I don't think people realise what they're getting themselves into. They know where they are isn't good enough. They know there is more to life than what their religion or priest or family (or whoever) is telling them. So they muster up the courage and step over the fence. But it starts to rain and storm, and there are big black vultures circling overhead, and it's dark so they can't really see what might be out there to get them. So they say, "I can't handle living with the raw reality here, so I'm going to build walls, and glass windows, and a roof to protect me." Before you know it, they are so blocked in they have blocked out the whole experience of transformation that they set out to experience, not knowing that the rain and the storm, the vultures and the dark, were actually their friends, were the keys to their "enlightenment" so to speak.

    A lot of pagans who seem transfixed with creating a pagan identity are ex-Christians. They come from a religion that has deeply ingrained in them the importance of orthodoxy and even orthopraxy. It is very hard, as hard as trying to break a drug habit, to let go of that ingrained need for definitions and boundaries. This is a comment, not a judgment.

    But trying to make paganism into something more clear-set and defined will fail miserably, I think .... or it will change paganism into something else completely. Similar to what i,Brian was saying, modern paganism draws from the spiritual components of many ancient cultures. These spiritual components are incomplete in themselves (something not all pagans, like some of the more conservative Reconstructionists, would accept) and it is always up to the practioner to take those components and make them something ... to find a relevance from them for his or her own life. In one sense, that's the success of paganism. That's why I agree with what i,Brian said here:

    So it is a difficult path to trod, living with all the ambiguity. It's my conclusion then that although having a religious affliation or religious identity can be useful getting along in the world ... ultimately it makes no difference to who you are. You can't run from yourself, no matter how many times you change your hairstyle, wear different clothes, change your nationality, your political party, your profession, your wife, your name ... your religion. In essence, this is why I like what Penelope said about Emerson ... about being more concerned with individuality and a personal psychology.

    The real important thing is to cut through all the "identity" crap and face what's going on inside, embrace it, explore it, be open to it. I have found that more satisfying than any religion or belief system ... being alive, as authentically as I can be, and seeing where all that takes me.

    As ancient poet Han Shan said, "No path goes all the way." .... eventually, all paths run out and you have to start making your own.
     
  11. Jenn

    Jenn New Member

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    May I add too something about "who" we are, as we're talking about identity here. The whole point of looking for identities is that really, I think, we are looking for "who" we really are, where we belong. As my previous post explained, I don't think that our true essence lies in different identities. Instead, "who" we are is something much deeper, much more inexpressible.

    I like to think of "soul" as our wild nature. The wild isn't concerned with identity, nor does it need someone to tell it how to be wild. The wild simply is. A seed becomes a tree, because that is its nature. So too, we are who we are ... and we manifest the potential that is in us ... because that is our nature to do so.

    When we get hung up on labels, or trying to identify things, or in ideas of who we think we are ... we are effectively putting our wild self into a cage. We are unconsciously attempting to limit our own potential. We're afraid of becoming the tree because we can't imagine being anything other than a seed. That's why I talk about facing the "raw reality" ... engaging and befriending the process of transformation that happens over and over again.

    And btw, my closest friend Jason Kirkey was supposed to be at that pagan conference giving a talk on Celtic Spirituality but was taken violently ill with the flu. It's a shame. You might have even heard his talk! His book "The Salmon in the Spring" is very much about our wild natures, identity, etc. Dinnseanchas: Education for Ecos and Psyche
     
  12. path_of_one

    path_of_one Embracing the Mystery

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    I loved that. LOL Too true. And many individuals go back and forth depending on taste and occasion. :) I myself am corp goth, Victorian goth, and Steampunk... depending on mood and opportunity. :p

    That is actually brilliant- that it is about core/periphery rather than boundary. I have no idea why that did not occur to me while I was there. I've actually done a fair bit of research in cultural model theory and one way that people define things is core/periphery. That is, perhaps there is a cultural model (a shared complex of ideas and "scripts") about what "Pagan" is (or insert other religion here- "Christian," "Muslim," "Buddhist," whatever) with a periphery that fuzzes out into other peripheries of other religions.

    I will actually need to work on that some more... I think it may help, though the problem with such definitions is they work fabulously for academia and less-well for giving the 30-second elevator pitch to a co-worker about what being "Pagan" is. Ah, such is life.

    Oh, it's definitely been that way for a while, if not from the beginning of Neo-Paganism. But I think what is perhaps different is that there is increasing perceived need to "define ourselves" before "others define us." What is fascinating to watch, as a social scientist, is the process of self-conscious community building and identity construction. My guess is that most new religious movements begin as cults of personality and are not nearly so self-consciously formed. It's rather interesting to watch religion created by committee.

    I love Emerson too. I wouldn't say, however, that we ought to transcend anything. I've kind of come to a place that I think the answer lies in integrating things, not moving beyond them. The human brain seems to need categories, but the question then is how do we create categories that make sense for theory and action, that serve a purpose, that are reasonably accurate. When it comes to categories about people, there is often a social justice issue involved. I think Pagans in general are more prone to (and happy with) what you're calling theological anarchy, but what I learned this weekend is that there are a number of functions of a spiritual/religious community that depend on organizing a community and not just a bunch of individuals that occasionally donate to a cause.

    Many of the things that churches offer to their congregations and clergy, for example, are lacking in much of the Pagan world- caring for elders, prison outreach, etc. And on top of that, if each person is an individual voice without any attempt to form community, they are often crushed or ignored in US politics. Banding together yields a greater chance at equality, such as victories in military being able to put the pentagram (and perhaps Thor's hammer, I can't remember if that has gone through or not) on gravestones and the Air Force Academy recently granting ritual space for Pagan members (just as they have religious services space for other religions).

    Sad that we can't all just be individually ourselves and still be respected and safe... but unfortunately this is so.
     
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2010
  13. path_of_one

    path_of_one Embracing the Mystery

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    What seemed to be a defining difference between religions like Christianity and Pagan religions is that Pagans largely don't seem to have orthodoxy. Rather, there is more an emphasis on practice. For example, in my little Druid group of ten or so, we have at least six substantially different theologies. We have dualists and non-dualists (me); polytheists (both "hard" and "soft"), monists, panentheists... The differences in our beliefs about the afterlife and what "God/s/Goddess/es" are... these are also substantially diverse.

    However, we can all get together and do ritual just fine- even though we are ourselves writing it. We all agree on most of the facets of practice and differences are relatively easily put aside. We all cast sacred space of some sort, honor and open the elemental/directional gateways, etc. And we value the same things- we have the same core values in things like the sacredness of all beings and all moments of life, the importance of pursuing wisdom and love for all beings, etc. We share a very similar ethical outlook and worldview.

    So far as I could tell, any unifying doctrine Pagans might have would be so vague and general that it would fail to separate them from Hinduism, various animist and polytheist indigenous traditions, etc. And anything more specific would automatically exclude people who everyone agrees are "in." It's a difficult thing.

    I consider myself a panentheist. I've met quite a few other Christian panentheists. I have also met many Pagan panentheists. Another example is Catholicisms who have faith in and pray to saints. Many of the saints were repurposed Pagan deities (Brighid, for example) and many Catholic holidays were repurposed Pagan ones (Candlemas, for example). When you get down to it, many non-dualist polytheist Pagans' gods/goddesses are extremely similar in function, power, and so on to Catholic saints. It's just the Pagans call them gods/goddesses... yet for a substantial number of people, these deities are still part of one Divine Whole.

    Clearly, a mainstream Christian who is monotheist (though most Christians are actually dualist or close to it because of the belief in Satan) is not the same as a Pagan "hard" polytheist. However, there are considerable numbers of monist and panentheist Christians and Pagans alike! So then, what separates them is practice...
     
  14. path_of_one

    path_of_one Embracing the Mystery

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    Hi, Jenn- what a beautiful, well-written discussion. It pretty much summed up my own thoughts from that part of the conference and the difficulty I have with defining Paganism in the first place- particularly the concerns I have for what that could cause.

    I was also- and like you, I've been involved in Paganism since about 2003/2004. Over time, I found that it varies a lot- there are Pagan groups that are rather rigid in orthodoxy and orthopraxy, and others who aren't. Some are constructed to be spontaneous (comes in handy to deal with change!).

    As I've been working on an academic text of the anthropology of religion, I realized that while I tend to think of myself as "spiritual but not religious," this is not really the case in terms of an academic definition of religion. Generally speak, while I could really care less about my own "identity" and am content as "eclectic," as an anthropologist concerned with cognition, community, and identity-- it is fascinating to me. So I often ponder how my own mind is constructing identity (myself and others) and categories of beings.

    I totally get this. It has been my own experience. I think this gets into how different people experience religion and identity construction. For example, I am not a joiner as a rule. I am introverted and happy to largely be solitary. My reason for joining a larger religious/spiritual community was primarily to learn and to offer what help I could, not to have an identity. But I have rapidly found that being part of a community while resisting identity is quite difficult.

    This is because identity is only partially self-constructed. Whatever I think of myself, my identity is a social negotiation. Others define me and I can contest, manipulate, ignore, and so on... but it is a process of interaction, not self-actualization.

    As you point out, self-actualization is a process devoid of identity. But then one leaves one's home and goes out into the world, and the process of identity construction begins- whether we accept what others thrust upon us or resist or guide it in some way.

    I was struck by the same thing at the conference. I wonder if it is because many Pagans I know are scholars and philosophers at heart.

    I think it would be impossible for Paganism to be a single religion- it is an umbrella term- sort of like "Abrahamic" or "Eastern" religions. At least, that's what I'm thinking makes the most logical sense.

    I concur. What I realized in myself, however, is that while I don't really care about having an identity for myself, my general apathy toward it had allowed me to avoid being counted as a member of a relatively small religious community and avoid censure by other people. In being nothing, I was safe from social consequences of being actively identified as something that some people disrespect and sometimes actively try to harm.

    Seeking religious identity for oneself, I would think, is largely an attempt to find some stability, as you point out. (Though seeking a religious community can be for quite different reasons and is almost inevitably entwined with identity being assumed or thrust upon oneself.)

    But what I realized is that it can also be an act of resistance, fear, etc. to avoid religious identity.

    I agree. There was a fair bit of discussion about this at the conference and, more broadly, it is a phenomenon I have witnessed in Pagan groups. For some, Paganism is defined by what it is not (i.e., I am not a Christian) while still maintaining the underlying features of an Abrahamic religious worldview (duality, purity and sin, guilt, orthodoxy, etc.).

    It reminds me of a conversation I had with another academic who is co-authoring the book with me on anthro of religion- he pointed out that his atheist friend who is Jewish still holds a Judaism-influenced worldview, and the atheist friend who was raised Presbyterian still holds a Presbyterian worldview.

    Even when one never "fits in," it can be difficult mental and emotional work to sift out what one carries from one's childhood conditioning from what one is now claiming to do/believe.

    My own path is centered on non-dualism and embracing the mystery of paradox- I find the ambiguity helps me spiritually.

    But academically, it is a nightmare. And saying "but really, it's ambiguous!" won't buy you anything in such circles. ;)

    What really struck me at the conference, however, was that some people had been persecuted and even threatened with violence for their religion. Religious identity, for me, had always been largely unnecessary because I live in a liberal area and few people care. However, when you note that people are being attacked, sometimes physically, for their beliefs- that was a wake-up call for me that these people need religious community and identity for safety and justice of a very real and social sort. At that point, it's not about who someone is, but about how others construct your identity and respond to it. Religious education for tolerance necessitates defining something to educate someone about and promoting tolerance of a certain suite of behaviors, ideas, and labels.

    I love that. I may have to use that somewhere. :)

    Couldn't have said it better myself. :)

    I'm sad I missed that and hope he is feeling better- I would have loved to hear that talk and will look at the website tomorrow. One of my own primary traditions I draw from is Druidry, so a topic near and dear to my heart.

    There were quite a few people taken ill from the conference and unable to make it, or left part way through. At the end of the conference, the group raised and sent healing energy their way. :)
     
  15. friendofbill

    friendofbill New Member

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    Here's a definition f "religion"that I hve found workable:

    Religion: a set of doctrines, plus a set of rules and regulations that are inferred from those doctrines, and a set of rituals (including jargon & terminology) that unite and identify the adherents of those doctrines.

    Spirituality: One's orientation towards or away from whtever or whomever one conceives to be God.

    As see it, Christianity is a religion: Jesus taught spirituality. Buddhism is a religion: the Buddha taught spirituality. There are 30,000-plus sects and denominations because religions are created, designed and sustained by human beings. There is One Truth, and ultimately we will all find it; Meanwhile, smatterings of it are available through the assortment of religions and sects that pervade the planet. For now, the chase is exciting and we know that the goal, though not yet in sight, is there.

    Jai Ram
    Art
     
  16. Snoopy

    Snoopy Active Member

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    How about Ninian Smart's seven dimensions? -


    • Ritual
    • Experiential
    • Narrative / Mythic
    • Doctrinal / Philosophical
    • Ethcal / Legal
    • Social
    • Material
    s,
     
  17. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Hi Path —
    Yes, that has emerged from your own and other comments. I suppose one could say whether one follows one's own way or the way of another, the term orthodox — ortho (right or straight) doxa (belief) — would not really apply only to the latter.

    Well we would say not 'repurposed', but in the adoption of pagan deities and festivals, it is because they correspond to the nature cycle and signify what the Christian would regard as 'true'. Thus Paul can say to the Athenians:
    "I found an altar also, on which was written: To the unknown God. What therefore you worship, without knowing it, that I preach to you" (Acts 17:23). Never a man to sugar the pill, our Paul.

    Personally I am still fond of St Christopher, although patently a myth, and in another context, a minor deity ... but what he signifies is what matters.

    I would tend to disagree ... a saint is not the source of his or her own virtue, nor is sanctity an inherent quality of human nature. So the saints display given charisms of Divine Grace.

    That's technically incorrect. Satan is not the equal of God, so it's not dualist in that aspect.

    The big issue for us is the focus is on Christ. Pope Benedict spoke of this in first encyclical:
    Thus 'traditional' Christianity expresses the one-ness of the unity in Him, and it is union in Him that embodies the unity among the communion. This is the principle and primary rite of the Traditional Church: that all who engage in it are one body, and one mind.

    Thomas
     
  18. Jenn

    Jenn New Member

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    Hello again path_of_one,

    Thank you for your in-depth replies. :) The exceptions you talk about are difficult indeed ... persecution and social apathy are two real-life concerns. Persecution for one's identity is seen regularly, although the rift is more in how the "outside" world identifies and sees you, more than that within (as you noted). Anyone who makes the norm feel uncomfortable or threatened will receive this kind of treatment ... and in our modern world, despite all our "PC"ness and supposed ideas about equality and liberalism, bigotry and prejudice are very real. Unbelievably real.

    Identity can be useful. To some extent, identity originally assists in dialogue as shown in interfaith discussions, campaigns against prejudice, social and governmental appeals/work, community work, etc. Appendaging oneself to a certain identity and its cause is the main way of advancing change and trying to make a difference socially. Identity is like an archetype. It is merely a channel, a form for the essence to flow through. It is an interface, a bridge, a liminal boundary as found in myth and story. Having thought about it some more since my last posts, I can agree that identity is, shall we say, a necessary evil. Just like the ego/personality --although not our fullest or truest nature, the ego and personality or persona are integral ways of interacting with the phenomena of our existence.

    The question then is not living without a personality or an identity, but first understanding that it is not a fixed feature of "who" we are ... and then being able to in some respects, manipulate the structure of personality or identity, for greater purposes. Thus ... consciously becoming part of a movement or group identity as a way of helping mobilize something much bigger than yourself can be an important expression of one's own fuller nature. I agree whole-heartedly and say more power to people for this!

    Identity is just a tricksy, shape-shifting place to be ... and it can only take you so far, whether that "you" is an individual, a group, a social movement, a nation or in our case, the human species. Humanity is at a place where it needs to make an identity shift ... towards more eco-centric ways of being in this world. What we can learn about how to handle identity will have very real implications in the future of our human race.

    I suppose my thing is that I don't feel called to make my contributions through a single religious identity. My own leanings are more towards the fields of psychology and anthropology (where I'm more likely to have a definite single stance or take up a cause) because to me, that is where I know I can make a stand, one where I see a definite need.

    So I suppose in some regards, it would be excellent if modern paganism could bring forth an identity which would then bring certain taboo ideas and subjects into everyday discourse ... (much like Buddhism brought the ideas of karma, reincarnation, enlightenment and meditation to the West--however misunderstood or misinterpreted these topics can be). What I think modern paganism needs are leaders who are consciously shaping that identity with these things in mind ... not as a reaction to established religion and egotistical self-infatuation or self-aggravandizement ... but from a desire to help society evolve and grow by and large. Leaders such as this are few and far between though. It takes some pretty special people to manage this ... they are out there, but man I wish they'd hurry up. ;)
     
  19. Dream

    Dream New Member

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    Thanks for your reply. I think cult personalities appear after the fact, but you could be right.

    I think if you folks 'Go political' it could eventually end your movement or at least concrete all of your green grass. Strange things will happen: Going political will enable the clever among you to benefit from controversies, on both the winning and losing sides. Fears will appear over small items that previously didn't matter, but instead of common sense you will rely upon those among you that make you feel secure. It will be impossible to identify who or what is causing all of the anomalies and distrust, yet these will increase. People will wonder what happened, but they will get used to this happening and accept it as being part of paganism. It will be impossible to get rid of. Right now, you face these challenges in very limited quantities compared with what you are about to step into. It is a big pile of steaming crap, and I thought the whole point of your movement was to avoid crap. Don't you want to avoid crap? It doesn't even affect me, so maybe I shouldn't be saying anything. It sounds like crap.
     
  20. path_of_one

    path_of_one Embracing the Mystery

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    It works, but then again, it works to define what might be termed religious traditions within the larger umbrella. Each of these dimensions is somewhat to extremely different for each tradition within the umbrella. For example, ritual differences range from minor (casting spheres vs. circles, crossing the quarters or not) to major (practicing possession and trance state vs. orderly liturgy). Each tradition can have entirely different pantheons and even ways of perceiving of deity, ranging from dualist to monist to panentheist to polytheist. Where they come together is, perhaps, an overall focus on Nature and the goal of self-actualization, in a sense, of divinization.

    The core-prototype/peripheral-extension definition along these lines might work, with caveats that skew the umbrella toward ethics, experiential, social, and material and away from the substantial diversity in myth/narrative, doctrine, and ritual.
     

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