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

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2005
    Messages:
    2,906
    Likes Received:
    0
    The thing is, most Pagans are agnostic in terms of belief. Belief is a very personal thing in Paganism and generally speaking, one doesn't think their beliefs are "right" or "straight" but rather "useful," "accurate to one's experience," and "the best one can do given limitations."

    As one of the keynote speakers put it, "We are not people of faith. We are people of experience. Our beliefs are grounded in our personal lived experience." This is partly why there is little emphasis on unity of belief. People are thought to each be on an experiential spiritual journey that will cause them to change beliefs as they perceive more deeply and widely.

    As Victor Anderson (the founder of Feri Witchcraft) put it, "Perceive first, believe later."

    I take a middle (and I think practical) road on this. I think the Catholic church co-opted deities and festivals all over because it made it a lot easier to spread Catholicism. However, at the same time, I am not entirely cynical and I do think that despite the institutional design of doing so in what I would consider an unethical and sneaky way, your average priest or monk could certainly have been coming out of a space that recognized the truth, beauty, and glory of the cyles of nature.

    That's what I was getting at- the gods/goddesses of various pantheons and the saints, while different in some ways (doctrinal) are very much the same in terms of relating between the Divine and the human psyche. They speak to human need.

    Well, certainly, there are differences between Christian doctrine and the common beliefs in Paganism. However, it is not necessarily so different as you'd think. Quite a few Pagans believe in a Divine Flow that moves in beings to cause harmony and virtue, if such beings allow it based on free will. This is little different from the concept of grace, except that Pagans generally do believe in the immanence of this Divine, and so it is meaningless to distinguish between the sacredness of human (or other) beings and the sacredness of God. Except in the case of "hard" polytheists without a sense of that Divine Flow, which seems to be a subset but certainly not the only one, nothing is the source of its own anything. The Source of everything is the Divine, which unfolds or flows through everything, making all sacred. It's immanence at its fully extended point- singularity becoming/manifesting into all.

    I know that it isn't technically correct. But in practice, it comes pretty close. Personally, it was one of the things that always bothered me within Christianity- the amount of power that many Christians afford Satan. It seems fairly clear that this view is not grounded in Judaism and is likely influenced by Mithraism and Zoroastrianism.

    But just change "Christ" to "Divine" or "Goddess" or "Great Spirit" and it would apply to Paganism pretty well--
    "Paganism expresses the oneness of unity in the Divine, and it is union in the Divine that embodies the unity among the community. This is the principle and primary rite of Pagan groups: that all who engage in it are ultimately of one body and one mind."

    As is common to say: "Thou art Goddess. Thou art God."

    Generally speaking, people do not mean this as an individual deity... but unity in the fabric of the cosmos itself, the Great Spirit. Being of one body and mind in Paganism is not about believing the same things or doing the same things, but rather in recognizing that the diversity is, in fact, the beautiful tapestry of God Herself.
     
  2. path_of_one

    path_of_one Embracing the Mystery

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2005
    Messages:
    2,906
    Likes Received:
    0
    Lovely, and so true. That's about how I see it. The danger of identity is that it makes something fluid into something falsely solid. It causes a risk of stagnation, which of course is the opposite of what Paganism is all about. But without it, can there be community? Can there be equality? Can there be tolerance? Not so much. So it's kind of an odd thing. This is why I never personally thought much about identity as a solitary practitioner. It was only after beginning to engage in the Pagan community last year that it became more and more troubling.

    I think the key word is "consciously." So long as we own our own thought processes and are an awake observer of our own emotions, thoughts, patterns, etc. then we have a chance at maintaining the true "I" that is not an identity, but an unfolding, a process, a state of being.

    I very much agree. I think what is needed is a movement away from identity, which has to do with defining "self" with regard to an "other," toward an acceptance of the nature of reality, which is shifting, changing, and fluid. We need to work toward full awareness of what Thich Nhat Hanh calls "interbeing," which is not just interdependence, but indeed a realization that we only are anything in relation to everything else. We are a process, not a thing. When we realize this fully, we find love for ourselves and for everything. We find the capacity to move beyond our fears. We are able to intuitively desire social justice, sustainability, and kindness.

    Well, of course everyone is different. :) Thank goodness, we all have different paths and gifts to give to the whole. I am not sure that my contributions will come from a single religious identity, but I also have become less convinced over time that my contributions will do much in anthropology. It doesn't have to do with my lack of appreciation for academia or the field, but I have seen so much disconnect between most people's lives and the audience in disciplinary circles that I realized I was unlikely to make a major impact through academic work. And I realized at some point that my primary interest just isn't social theory. It doesn't drive me. It isn't my passion. I'm decent at it and at times it is intellectually entertaining. But my heart isn't in it. When I taught anthropology, what I really was striving to teach was self-awareness, questioning, critial thinking, tolerance. Now where I'll go from here in life, I only have a glimmer of an idea, and I may well end up back in academia after a break- who knows!

    I agree and I think it has much to offer, especially as it relates to connectedness, sexuality, integration as opposed to transcendence, immanence, etc. It really offers a very different way toward self-actualization that is grounded in a literally earthy and universal (literally) attentiveness.

    Oh, who doesn't! LOL I do know of at least one that is excellent... but it's tough. Paganism is a small religion anyway and groups tend to be small- so it takes a lot (and usually publishing a book or two) to have someone even be recognized on a large scale as a leader. And for whatever reason, it seems to be a strain on many people to become a spiritual leader, no matter what the religion. Paganism is perhaps more prone than many religions to self-styled leaders that are really into it for the wrong reasons, since it has no authoritative body. However, it also offers more opportunity to the average person to become more than a lay-person... and in fact, nearly demands it. When you only have a little group of 5 or 8 or 12 people, everyone must take on leadership and responsibility for their learning process.

    In some ways, I think Paganism draws people (at least the long-term people) who long for a level of study, practice, and deep psychological work more typically of clergy in other religions than of laity. The others seem to cycle through and not last long. Once the new-ness and media-inspired ideas wear off, and one is left with that long dark night you described so aptly, there comes that big decision- do you stay, and befriend the night, or do you move on?
     
  3. path_of_one

    path_of_one Embracing the Mystery

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2005
    Messages:
    2,906
    Likes Received:
    0
    I think they usually do, but they're still cults of personality-- centered around a single (usually) founder. While traditions and offshoots of traditions are often based on a single founder in Paganism, the umbrella holds a bunch of partly-related, partly-independent stuff. Some are wholly independent, others have lineages as you see with Christian denominations (i.e., Catholicism-Lutheran-etc.). But the umbrella has no founder. Perhaps that's why it's more difficult to pick what goes in and what stays out.

    Well, people have been going political in Paganism for a while now. I am not sure of a time when it was not consciously political, actually. There is even literal conflation at times between certain traditions and political views on social justice and sustainability.

    Perhaps what has thus far largely saved it from becoming a monolithic dogmatic tradition is that it attracts people who are largely comfortable in being uncomfortable. And they tend to do a lot of solitary work, even those that practice in a group.

    I don't mind you saying something- it's what we're here for! :)

    It is kind of like crap, which is why I initially thought "what good is this?"

    I don't like crap. But I also don't like people facing a lack of rights, a lack of community, and a lack of tolerance from others. I am unsure of how you can really fix the problems without having a voice, and how you can have a voice if you have no community. When you have a community, it automatically causes others to define an identity for you... if you don't do it yourself.

    Therein lies the problem.
     
  4. nativeastral

    nativeastral fluffy future

    Joined:
    Apr 6, 2008
    Messages:
    1,525
    Likes Received:
    0
    interesting posts Path. I found the uni of Alamaba site defining religions on the family resemblances model helpful; and theres an essay at the end on the politics of classification on this iconic 1963 image :
    [​IMG]

    There can be no doubt that any spiritually inclined person would not be able to separate their religion politics and ecology beliefs into separate compartments despite the divide and rule shenanigans that governments still employ, hence your concern over individual/collective issues, regarding having any voice in this system. We are just waiting for the folk born after 1945 to be in positions of power, those that fully embraced the ethos of the 60's revolutionary ideals of living in and loving gaia immanently.
     
  5. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2003
    Messages:
    10,534
    Likes Received:
    1,512
    Does that not render the whole thing as somewhat utilitarian? I can see that it differs from Christianity, say, as you're dealing with Divine Revelation, rather than personal intuition, or Buddhism, in which the enlightened mind is regarded as moreso than that of everyday man ... I suppose it's the utterly subjective nature of paganism that makes me wonder.

    The assumption being that 'people of faith' don't live their faith, or experience it? That's both naive and, if you don't mind me saying so, offensive ... it's also an elitist means of self-justification, "Ah, if only you could experience what I have experienced... "

    But as 'experience' is the most subject and the most error-prone aspect of the lot! A psychologist would have a field-day with it: A psychotic's beliefs are grounded on personal lived experience, are they not? Without any objective measure, how does one differentiate between reality and fantasy?

    Oooh, Path! that's a very, very, very dangerous concept! Lord, National Socialism rose to power in Germany on that kind of thinking! (BTW — it's also the matra of the cult I was a member of for many years. That founder retired to a multi-millio dollar mansion in Florida.)

    In my cult days, we had people aura-sensing, dowsing, what-have-you, in minutes, and more ... when I went for my Reiki attunement, he used exactly the same language, and demonstrations, that we used ... once people have said 'yes' to that experience, which I do not dispute as real, you can lead 'em where you want 'em. They have the experience, then you shape their perception of it ... every salesman knows, all you've got to do is get the person to hold the pen, and eventually, they'll sign...

    The more you describe it, the more it confirms the conclusions I had drawn through my own somewhat limited experience of pagans, and the distinction between the classical 'eros' experience of the gods as divine intoxication ... as opposed to the Christian idea of the agape of God, which is something else altogether.

    You can read a rather lengthy tract here.

    But Path — are you sure, without for a moment disputing your own experience, that such have led you to view the pagan ideal through some heavily rose-tinted spectacles?

    Thomas
     
  6. Jenn

    Jenn New Member

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2009
    Messages:
    43
    Likes Received:
    0
    Hello Thomas,

    I share your concerns pointed out here:

    There is definitely a danger in the realm of the subjective. Perceptions and "intuition" can be illusory and the perfect platform for supporting psychosis, and more so, neurosis. These get in the way of authentic spiritual experience. One of my criticisms of the pagan movement and the New Age movement, as I've expressed elsewhere on this board, is that it provides the perfect opportunity for people to "escape" from reality ("reality" in the sense of the phenomenal experience of their lives) ... so they turn to looking for magic "powers" like on Harry Potter, or feeling specially chosen by some "god" or "goddess" as his/her chosen messenger. These are extremes but it can happen in subtle ways as well. For example, in the Celtic Pagan community, I have long noticed that there is a kind of glorification of the ancestral past which is not "bad" in and of itself, but for many, it leaves them out of tune with the rest of society and does nothing to heal the fissure between their inner world (the "image" of themselves they have formed) and the outer world (the "image" as they are perceived by the rest of the world). In essence, this is delusional.

    This is why I feel that paganism in one sense doesn't stand well on its own two feet. Sometimes it's more like it's a reaction against orthodox religion (thus swinging the total opposite way) and this is, from any point of view, unhealthy and does not bode well. I think paganism needs to be balanced out with practice, to root it in reality. If you start to open yourself up to those around you, outside of your elite little group, any delusions or misconceptions you have formed about yourself will be challenged. Unfortunately, such individuals are more likely to view this as a personal attack and clam up as a result. The sort of practice I have in mind is not "ritual" (which, in its most basic sense can be something akin to mindfulness meditation, but in most Neo-pagan circles, it is not approached in this way at all) nor is it ecological activism (which also is excellent, but does not deal with the issue of balancing and controlling the delusional aspect of such an experience/feeling-oriented path).

    I think the real thing that is needed is something like meditation, as practiced in Zen Buddhism. This does not bring with it any "dogma" or belief system and is, as pagans like, firmly rooted in experience. I do think though that there are two sorts of experience. The sort of experience you seem to be referring to is one that is based on feelings and perceptions ... a kind of internalized, easily-magnified experience. It is indeed "error-proned" as you say ... and changes all the time, based on whim, fancy, fear, urge, inhibition, or whatever else momentarily drives it. This is not the only kind of experience out there though. The other kind of experience is based on something bigger than yourself, something which I imagine the thinking mind could easily label as "God", etc. There is nothing to "get" out of this sort of experience, and indeed it's even a bit deceptive calling it an "experience" because there is no substance to it. It just sort of IS. You can't go into it with expectations (as even these will be ripped away). It requires recognizing all of our ideas about the world, our perceptions, our feelings, our emotions, our ideals, our fantasies, our images, etc .... as all just what they are ... as thought-based, or thought-connected superficial experience. These are things that we bring with us, superimposing on the "basic ground" of experience. As you said -- rosy-tinted spectacles. These thoughts are not to be shunned or belittled (heck, we can't help it because it's part of being sentient, self-aware creatures) -- but all that is needed is a recognition ... to stop identifying with all those thoughts and feelings as the only reality. We don't like recognizing this because it totally undermines our egos and the stories we tell ourselves that make us feel important or like we have purpose/meaning/relevance, etc.

    What I'm saying though applies not just to pagans, but also to other religions. Religious doctrine can be good, but it can also get in the way of one's "relationship with God". Instead, we form thoughts and perceptions based on what we are told (by priest, rabbi, pastor, parents, Sunday School teacher, etc) ... which is why then, I can see why some sects put such emphasis on Scripture... personally turning to and being students of Scripture can eliminate the "I believe this because I was told so" problem. At the same time, it's still fallible. Scripture may indeed be the inerrant Word of God, as some faiths proclaim, BUT then the problem is that even then, it is still a human reading and trying to interpret, reason through and apply what he/she reads. We are still forming thoughts, perceptions and emotional reactions. Then such sects bring in the Holy Spirit, as a kind of "authenticating" presence ... which helps us try to discern if our interpretations and understandings are "in line" with the mind of God. This leads though to the mystic path, the experiential path, which is essentially what was being avoided in the first place!

    So once again, authentic experience (I don't delineate between a "spiritual" experience and a "phenomenal, physical" experience because to me, they are interconnected) and interpretation of that experience is not just dangerous for pagans, but for all religions and "thinking" reasoning people. Unfortunately, such is based on a Descartian model of the world. That the phenomenal universe is inherently "dead", that matter is merely atoms bouncing round, that the only way we can know reality is through the safety of "logic", "reasoning" and "science". Authentic experience is dangerous because it threatens the neat, orderly understandings of the reasoning mind. But more than anything, authentic experience is what is NEEDED, however dangerous it is, however much it courts chaos, delusion, insanity, absurdity, and all our shadow sides. Without such experience, then truly the world is a dead, lifeless place. Without such experience, creativity and the true magic of the universe (not "spells" or "magical powers" etc) are repressed. It is certainly a challenge.
     
  7. Dream

    Dream New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 18, 2008
    Messages:
    3,677
    Likes Received:
    1
    Path of one said (bullets):

    • ...While traditions and offshoots of traditions are often based on a single founder in Paganism, the umbrella holds a bunch of partly-related, partly-independent stuff.
    Of course.

    • Well, people have been going political in Paganism for a while now. I am not sure of a time when it was not consciously political, actually. There is even literal conflation at times between certain traditions and political views on social justice and sustainability.
    So we are talking about a mostly political movement?

    • Perhaps what has thus far largely saved it from becoming a monolithic dogmatic tradition is that it attracts people who are largely comfortable in being uncomfortable. And they tend to do a lot of solitary work, even those that practice in a group.
    Yes, your movement attracts those that are comfortable in being uncomfortable; but it is only 50 years old mostly. It is too early to say that it has been saved from becoming a dogmatic tradition.

    I'll pretend you're in charge of the future of paganism: If its going to be political, then make it distinctly political. Make it clear up front that you are in a political party. Make it clear you are not galvanizing believers of such and such into a religious science-ninja family. Let the communities form themselves separately from their voting practices if at all possible.

    Thomas, by way of his link, raised a very good example that the church was from the beginning about progressive social activity and not about politics. That is partly how it avoided the distinction of dogmatism for so long. Another part is that I think it began as anti-dogmatic, not dogmatic. If your movement has similar aims than you want to keep those at your center. I think orthodoxy is something you have to believe exists in your midst without any evidence of seeing it directly. For example, there is a shepherd in heaven, who cannot be seen. If the shepherd is in heaven, then there is already recognition that those on earth are going to wander about and occasionally need redirection, yet there is also orthodoxy. Where is the orthodoxy in this picture? The orthodoxy is that they stay close to the shepherd. Who knows whether your pagan movement will be dogmatic in the future and whether the church will become less so? Politics!
     
  8. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Staff Member

    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2003
    Messages:
    6,532
    Likes Received:
    8
    That does not seem an argument, though - all human experience is subjective, and any claim of objective measures demands a degree of faith - sometimes far more than others, and never universally accepted?
     
  9. path_of_one

    path_of_one Embracing the Mystery

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2005
    Messages:
    2,906
    Likes Received:
    0
    Well, yes, in a way. But all religion is somewhat utilitarian when viewed from a scholarly perspective. It is only people within religions that refuse to look at themselves from an "outside" point of view that fail to see religion's usefulness. I think it is fairly self-evident that usefulness of belief is a big part of its retention in society. I can point out many cross-religious examples if you like.

    As Brian points out, everything in everyone is subjective. Human cognition itself is subjective. No one escapes conditioning, personality, strengths and weaknesses, limitations, etc. Doctrinal and mythic agreement, as one finds in Christianity, can put a veneer of objective standard on what are deeply problematic divides in experience, personal belief, ethics, and so on.

    Most Pagans I know, including myself, do think that as one does the deep work of magic- the transformation of consciousness and impact in the world- that one becomes better at perceiving reality as it is, or at least in a way that is more beneficial to humanity and the whole of the universe. However, of course this is a subjective process, just as enlightment or salvation is. It is an interior process, and therefore exterior judgments and conceptualizations of it are necessarily going to be somewhat lacking.

    As for personal intuition vs. Divine Revelation- what is the difference? Pagans don't say that no one experiences Divine Revelation, quite the contrary. But what they typically say is that one person's Revelation is not necessarily a trump-card on another's. There is an expectation of mutual respect despite disagreement. In that sense, no one person's Revelation becomes canonized as THE WAY. And in this, there comes to be a great deal of diversity, yes. But it is also a significant protection from abuse of authority and intolerance.

    Without dogma, without centralized authority- no one can tell another person they deserved to be killed, persecuted, or excommunicated for their thoughts about the Divine (which is what doctrine/belief is). You are well aware that the Catholic church, without such protections, has frequently engaged in extremely unethical and sometimes violent conduct through the ages. This is not to say that it has no merit, but there is a significant danger inherent in investing in centralized authority and dogma.

    No. The assumption that "people of faith" first put their faith in an authoritative text and/or religious leader, regardless of whether their lived experience matches it or not. I myself have experienced this countless times in diverse Christian churches. If my lived experience conflicts with what is considered authoritative, I am expected to disregard my own experience in order to conform to a set standard of belief. I came to find this deeply dishonest with regards to myself. It put me in a position of either being heretical or being a liar. That's a rather uncomfortable position to be in.

    Experiential belief is not a matter of self-justification, nor does it lead to the view that others would or should believe as you do or have the experiences you have. On the contrary, experiential belief is a method of recognizing one's own limitations and changing nature. It is a sort of reverent agnosticism that says honestly, "I experience the Divine. I think my experience means XYZ. But really, I'm limited and so I also honor your experience of the Divine, and what you think it means for you."

    As a result, most Pagans respect any person's religious experience. What is not considered very valuable, in general, is blind faith based on authority. But then again, this is also considered dangerous and psychologically damaging by scholars in many of the social sciences and humanities. So it isn't as if Pagans are alone in their concerns for religious or philosophical lemmings.

    Really? And investing one's beliefs in the authority of some other person's experience, whether written as sacred text or as a religious leader- this is any less error-prone? Or does it simply abdicate direct responsibility for one's beliefs?

    I've seen an awful lot of people comfortable with blind faith because they don't have to be personally responsible for study, for struggling with paradox, for deep critical thinking, for putting it into action. To me, this is like an ostrich putting it's head in the sand.

    It's just as prone to error, if not more so, but since it is not grounded in one's own experience, the odds of self-awareness about it are slim.

    Personal experience may be prone to error, but at least it's my own error. I can learn to be a better observer of myself, a more self-aware person. I can work on my own complexes and thought patterns. I can become aware of my biases.

    Are you really serious? I would say, as a cognitive scientist, that the importance is not in differentiating between reality and fantasy, but in being able to function fully in the world. We all live in a fantasy in a sense. We live in an interior cognitive world that is filled with conditioning, false limitation, linguistic structure, cultural models, on and on. It's a total non-issue to me, and indeed an entirely specious claim, that somehow Pagans are more prone to mental illness because they honor their own experience rather than having faith in an authority. In fact, that makes no sense whatsoever, because if you have faith in an authority, then you are trusting *that* person's experience... and on down the line. At some point, you give up your own capacity for Divine Revelation and believe in another person's. But just because someone or some text is viewed as authoritative does not make it any less prone to the reality/fantasy issue.

    Case in point- Revelation in the Bible, to a psychologist, could well look like the ravings of a total madman. If I brought that in as my journal entries to a therapist, I would probably be considered seriously mentally ill. Yet Revelation is considered by yourself and other Christians to be an authoritative sacred text because a council of people two thousand years ago decided it was. How is that any less prone to error in perception than my beliefs that are grounded in my experience today?

    I can at least say definitively that my own journal entries are no crazier than John's. :)

    Explain, please.

    I find it fascinating that your experience is so different from mine. I find that myself and most of the Pagans I meet are rather skeptical, even of our own beliefs. I see my own experience as just that- my experience. It could change. I hope it grows and becomes ever deeper and wider. To be honest, I am entirely perplexed about how aura-sensing leads to a cult of personality, unless people are really quite desperate for something/someone to follow. All you mention, to me, are just tools and skills... and ones that almost anyone can pick up easily. It's like saying a cult of personality forms around someone who can drive a car or balance a checkbook. I am totally confused as to how you are relating these skills to authority and cult of personality. I can only conclude, on limited knowledge, that the problem was more to do with people deeply desiring a leader than with the practices themselves, since I've seen that overwhelmingly, this is not generally the case.

    But with sheeple, anything is possible. I jest, but I do see it as a serious issue that people could be so desirous to give over their personal power to another. This is generally very undesirable in Paganism, though in any religion you will get unbalanced individuals.

    Hm... I can't say I agree. At least not if you read mystics of both traditions. It is clear that many Christian mystics experienced a sort of ecstatic state, which you might call divine intoxication. And, in turn, Pagan mystics experience a deep love of all beings, a deep sense of service to the Divine and all beings, that could be called agape.

    I think you wish to reify differences that falsely shore up your own religion as somehow immune to error, to unbalanced individuals, to the limitations of human perception. Especially with this last comment, it would seem that on rather limited experience of Pagans and Pagan traditions, you desire to view their experience of divinity as different from your own.

    I am not sure there is "a" Pagan ideal. And I certainly maintain quite a few things I've learned from all religions, particularly Christianity. But I must say, with all its issues, I do find certain things valuable in Paganism. I find the work toward not being static in belief, allowing for growth and change, skepticism balanced with acceptance of spiritual experience useful for avoiding problems of large-scale unethical action and mobilizing of religion-justified force that larger, authority-based religions have. I find conceptualizing God as immanent and working toward integration and transformation rather than transcendence, of the sacredness of everything and every moment, as having very exciting implications for people being able to truly love other beings and themselves.

    All in all, I think like all the other religious traditions, Pagan traditions have significant things to offer humanity as a whole, and sundry challenges and problems.

    Anyone who couldn't see their own religion this way would be, to me, a person who is really wearing rose-tinted spectacles... or perhaps is completely blind-folded.
     
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2010
  10. path_of_one

    path_of_one Embracing the Mystery

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2005
    Messages:
    2,906
    Likes Received:
    0
    A few of my thoughts...

    I entirely concur. However, this is also a problem one sees frequently in other religions as well. For example, many Christians seem to escape from the reality of life's problems (and particularly facing death and serious social and environmental problems) by focusing heavily on the End Times. I know Christians who literally are praying for the End Times. To me, that is really a very disconnected and delusional space. It is a denial of the phonemenon of living, of the joy and beauty of the world and one's body and breath.

    The thing is, in Paganism, people who join for Harry Potter type powers typically don't last long. Once they find out that it is like any religion, except with a smaller community and fewer resources, it rapidly grows old. They may retain the label for a while so as to feel special, but most people in it for the long haul seem to be dedicated, like any religious person, to a process of transformation of some sort and to the same things that cause others to be religious, including ethics, community, and so on.

    Definitely. I think this is true of any religious person. One only needs to look at the Religious Right to see this in action.

    I am not sure about Wicca, but my own Druid tradition teaches a form of sitting meditation as one of the first skills to learn and it is expected to be a part of one's regular practice. One of my teachers, who is herself eclectic but out of Feri, teaches Zen style sitting meditation. One just sits. It is encouraged to be practiced daily for at least a half hour. The practice is encouraged so that one can view one's own thought patterns, complexes, etc. and to reach a state of emptiness (I am forgetting how she puts it, so I'm using the Buddhist terminology).

    Yes- this is what I was trying to point out to Thomas, but you said it better. :) What Thomas is doing in his argument, which is rather biased to me, is to privilege the experience of his own religion's saints as the second sort (Divine Revelation) while negating the Pagan experience as the former. I'm saying- that's all quite subjective, isn't it?

    I find that it helps to think of myself as an interconnection, a web of relationships, a process, rather than a thing. I am not just "a" being, I am being.

    On the other hand, I do think I have meaning and purpose. And I think every being, every existence, has this. I am no more and no less than anyone and anything else. That I am, at least for now, a unique facet of divine unfolding, doesn't mean that I must see my "self" as anything more than transitory. In recognizing my own impermanence, but my own sacred and glorious being in this moment, I realize that I am sacred because the sacred flows through me. And everyone else is sacred for the same exact reason.

    LOL- laid out brilliantly, I must say.

    Indeed. The reward for the danger is a sense of being truly alive, of finding a deep sense of connection to what people may call Spirit, God, the Divine. And in that connection, the capacity to really love.
     
  11. path_of_one

    path_of_one Embracing the Mystery

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2005
    Messages:
    2,906
    Likes Received:
    0
    No. But like almost all religions throughout time, it is related to politics. This is nothing new. The barrier we might posit between politics and religion is largely an artificial construction from the first world scholars.



    Well, no one can really know what will happen in the future. It seems pretty difficult for dogma to arise, though, without centralized authority. When people practice as small groups of 5 or 10 individuals, it's kind of tough to get any kind of orthodoxy.


    So far as I know, no religion works this way except perhaps the Amish, who avoid politics altogether. Inevitably, just as you see in Christianity, people who have similar ethics and views will gather together. The distinction between politics, ethics, worldview, and religion is a false one. These are all inter-related.

    I don't think it avoided being in politics very long. Only until Constantine chose it as a state religion. That was a mere 300-ish years. And as soon as it was a state religion, it moved from being a religion of the downtrodden to a religion of conquerors, who promptly began to take it into other lands and conflate "saving" people with killing them. There are already issues with dogma by the time of the debates between Pelagius and Augustine in ca. AD 400.

    Perhaps you and others see a few hundred years as some amazing marker of time. However, relative to the thousands of years in which people were animist and the religions that avoided dogma for thousands of years (Hinduism, for example), 300-ish years of avoiding dogma is not very impressive.
     
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2010
  12. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2003
    Messages:
    10,534
    Likes Received:
    1,512
    Hello Jenn — and welcome, by the way ...

    In my view contemporary paganism is primarily an offshoot of the Romance Movement of the late 18th/19th century — it was a revolt against the dehumanising and desacralising effects of the so-called Enlightenment and especially the Industrial Revolution ...

    ... the revolt I endorse (as much as I critique my own Church for not standing against it), it's the fact that in so doing 'philosophy' was seen as part of the establishment, and was booted out also, which I think has cost pagans/wiccans/new agers their foundation.

    Not the doctrine, the transmission of the doctrine. There are bad priest and bad pagans, and there will always be casualties.

    But the doctrine itself, no, far from it, religious doctrines have produced the great mystics of their traditions ... and the great philosophical insights ... and have brought countless numbers to God.

    Er, no, I think you're wrong there. The great mystics have all risen within doctrinal traditions, not outside them, and the idea that they somehow rejected the doctrine is a New Age myth.

    But this is so far from Catholic doctrine, for example, and Buddhist, and I think Jewish and Moslem ... and this is my point — and this is when I end up contesting with pagans — because they're building an argument on a false premise.

    In Christian metaphysics, for example, there is a three-step movement:
    Mind - Reason - Senses.

    It seems to me that paganism focusses on the senses — the experience — and doesn't reason its experience (rejecting reason from below) and so never rises to mind: to the One. This is why it seems so obvious to me that pagans embrace pantheism, panentheism, etc, because there is no process of theoria that contemplates the theophania ... and I am quite ready and willing to accept that pagans can and do have theophanic experience, but that it stops there.

    Furthermore, without the theoria, there is no way of determining whether one experiences a theophania, or phantasia ... nor do I see signs of an understanding or a contemplation on things beyond the veil of appearances, but rather the appearance or veil is invested with the full reality of the thing it conceals.

    The sensible experience is all that matters.

    In a sensible religion this is fine, because it is the case ... but if the religion is a call to transcend the senses, then paganism should be cautious about making pre-emptive judgements.

    (And the discreet assumption that every other mode of religious experience is inauthentic, or non-existent.)

    Thomas
     
  13. Dream

    Dream New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 18, 2008
    Messages:
    3,677
    Likes Received:
    1
    I am making the argument that there needs creating, rather than positing, an artificial barrier, just as we create an artificial bond between ourselves and people that we've never met. It is artificial, but it still makes life better for everyone.

    I have already met one pagan who has learned most of the known rites. All he'd have to do is write a book. As sure as rain and fungus on the porch, politicians will be born that can dogmatize you.

    Ok, so they affect each other. That is why I am not impressed by 50 years without dogmatism. They just haven't noticed you until recently. (They have, at least since the Obama election.) Maybe that is why you are worried about being defined by outsiders? Christians already knew who they were well before dogmatism, but their meanings simply became handles to grasp them by.

    I know its not impressive amount of time in hindsight, but it was no less beautiful an idea and a beginning. I'm not suggesting you do things exactly the same way. I'm saying that Christianity was attacked with dogmatism as a result of being noticed by the authorities, and I'm saying that it is still fighting that dog even now. You cannot simply sidestep dogmatism anymore. You were invisible, but now you are visible. Brag to me in 100 years.

    Hinduism, for example, is no less dogmatic despite its variety. Many of them believe very strongly in burning widows and other dogmatic things. I don't think they avoided dogma. The point is to fight it, I think. That is why I am suggesting the barrier.
     
  14. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2003
    Messages:
    10,534
    Likes Received:
    1,512
    Everything ... and that is the point, I think.

    Thomas
     
  15. path_of_one

    path_of_one Embracing the Mystery

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2005
    Messages:
    2,906
    Likes Received:
    0
    That's a non-answer, Thomas, and you know it. You must realize I am not inquiring as a rhetorical question, but a real one. I am asking you to define how you can reliably distinguish between the two- and challenging you to do so in a way that is not subjective and serves your own belief system, but is able to be fairly universally applied.
     
  16. path_of_one

    path_of_one Embracing the Mystery

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2005
    Messages:
    2,906
    Likes Received:
    0
    In its most recent forms, yes, I think so. Icelandic Heathenism seems to be quite old- perhaps 1000 years. It isn't my area of expertise, but some of the Nordic traditions are less new. Modern Druidry goes back to the 1700s-ish.

    That's "the fact," eh? Can you explain how you came to this conclusion, and provide evidence in the literature? Are you implying that Pagans have no philosophy of their own, or avoid philosophy? Because I have met many Pagans that, to the contrary, had studied philosophy rather extensively, some of them in university, and were rather interested in it.

    I would also offer that new age is something quite different from Pagan.

    Your statement is dependent on your subjective assessment of who the great mystics were, though, isn't it? Also, doesn't it limit "great mystics" a bit to religious traditions with particular doctrines? For example, Hinduism has its mystics, but since Hinduism has no dogma and its doctrines have a very high level of diversity (and not infrequently, mutual exclusivity)- so this would negate your argument. I have no doubt that many mystics arise from within particular doctrinal traditions, but I do doubt the universality of saying "all" have. Without some sort of systematic survey to demonstrate what makes a "great mystic" and then to figure out which ones really were within doctrinal traditions and which rejected the doctrine, it's all sort of based on nothing very substantial.

    I think your idea of "experience" and my own (as well as other Pagans I know) is quite different. You are still speaking of experience as a sensory thing, as if this is somehow different from "reason." But this is not how human cognition works. It is a false distinction. When I speak of experience, I speak of an integrative event. To me, the chopping up of the human being into categories and the assumption that these things are in some sort of linear order is deeply problematic. It reifies a false distinction between the body/senses, the intellect/reason, and the higher mind- the part of us in communion with God. This is not how human beings tick. Furthermore, it ignores the wisdom inherent in the body as an animal being and puts reason on a sort of pedestal. There is an assumption that reason is somehow, well, reasonable. The literature on how humans reason indicates that "reason" is not very reasonable at all. We have all sorts of cognitive glitches, biases, and so on.

    I'm sure your extensive survey of the Pagan community has led you to this conclusion, not the privileging of your own point of view. :rolleyes: Because, of course, if Pagans had theoria, then they would see God in the same way you do. Of course, the Catholic or Christian contemplative practice and "vision" of God is necessarily the standard to which all people should be held- and so it follows that if someone holds beliefs and philosophies that are heretical by Christian standards, they must not be contemplating and seeing God correctly. :rolleyes:

    Again, you keep equating senses to experience. I believe Jenn already gave an excellent discussion of the distinction between sensory experience and mystical experience.

    So far as I know, Paganism largely does not advocate transcending the senses, but rather integrating the whole human being.

    Likewise.
     
  17. Dream

    Dream New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 18, 2008
    Messages:
    3,677
    Likes Received:
    1
    This statement about hinduism is ignorant, and it not related to dogmatism. Looking around I see your point.
     
  18. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2003
    Messages:
    10,534
    Likes Received:
    1,512
    No. I also admit that my exposure to pagans I have been told that 'philosophy' is only valid if it is the personal evaluation of personal experience. My father-in-law is a artist-pagan, who rejects all creeds (but his own), and dismisses all traditional religious systems with some vehemence.

    Yes it is, and it does, so I apologies for that unfortunate 'dogma'. In consideration, I regard Plato as a mystic allied to no particular tradition, and certainly established a doctrine of his own. Mea culpa.

    And I think that is key to the idea of defining a religion, if we can get mack to the question. It's a matter of paradigm.

    I suppose what I am saying is cannot we (in which I include myself) look to the paradigm, rather than straw-man other paradigms based on the externals and assumptions?

    As I look at the world, and the increase of what I call secular fundamentalism (that does not allow any spiritual experience, moral or value) I wonder why do I clash with the likes of you, when I should be celebrating the fact that here's another person I have met who sees the spirit too?

    paradigms and semantics.


    D'you think so?

    But then we would always be right, in everything we do, surely?

    I'm sorry, I think one of the profound sources of social ill is that the sensible appetite overthrows the reasoning order: most addictions work that way, surely? Law works on that assumption, so does morality and ethics.

    Thomas
     
  19. path_of_one

    path_of_one Embracing the Mystery

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2005
    Messages:
    2,906
    Likes Received:
    0
    I hope you do not take offense when I say that I think the problem is that you haven't enough exposure to Pagans. It seems you base a good deal of your assumptions on a relatively limited pool of people. On the other hand, I do tend to pick events and groups that are rather intellectual, so I fully admit that my sample may indeed include those that are rather like clergy and academia of a religion. Perhaps what we're drawing from is the distinction between laity and clergy, or its equivalent in Paganism.

    :) Just sayin'. Surely, there are mystics that fit all molds. Now, assessing whether they are of personal value is an individualized manner. I hope I never come across as saying any self-styled mystic is a valuable source of spiritual teaching for myself. So we all have our standards. It's just best not to make our standards "the only way" and to keep in mind our own biases.

    I think at the heart of our boundaries and semantics is fear. If we can see that others see the spirit, yet have very different beliefs and practices from us, what does that mean about the human capacity to connect to the Divine? What does it mean about our ability to know Truth? What is Truth? What is this God I serve?

    Yet, I really think that an answer to what you are calling secular fundamentalism, and what I'd call a profound widespread disconnect from the Divine, is that people of all faiths begin to put down their weapons (sometimes literally) and their battles with each other, and begin to see that if we work together to create a world that is filled with spirit... we stand more of a chance that humanity will act ethically, grow spiritually, and be happy. I always keep returning to the question: Can we put down our "identities" and defining characteristics just long enough to serve our God(s) together, through serving other people? Can we get beyond our fear to a space in which we recognize that we are each precious and that each of our connection to spirit, to Divinity, is valuable? Can we trust that the God(s) we serve are powerful enough to bring every sincere seeker into the Light of Truth in their own time?

    All the research I have read in cognitive science indicates this, so yes. People primarily make decisions based in emotion and various mental short-cuts that screw up a reasonable process. There are a lot of cognitive limitations that largely thward people's capacity to really be reasonable. What people think is reason is largely delusional- they simply fail to awaken to their own biases, assumptions, limitations, and emotions. It takes a great deal of effort and often discomfort to really be an awakened self-observer. The vast majority of people just don't want to do it, nor do they know how or want to learn. So saying that people in any religion are largely using "reason" is not accurate.

    If I had to pick a religion where there is probably a higher number of people using reason, it would be Buddhism, since it is heavily psychological and focused on precisely the issue of training awake self-observers. But even then, from what I've gathered, the masses are not really concerned with this, but rather just getting a better life next time 'round.

    So there are very few people that are even prepared to really reason. And the people who are generally realize that these things are integrated, which is why it requires practice to make them work together and know each other, rather than to pretend one can leave certain parts behind (i.e., ignore emotion and rely on reason). That latter tendency is a mark of still being stuck in a totally unreasonable mental space- because one can't even see one's own holistic thought/being processes.

    No. Because a truly integrative event and ongoing work is incredibly difficult. If we are truly integrated in a particular moment then, yes, we would do, think, and feel the right things. We would be in harmony with the flow of the Divine through us. But these events are uncommon, and require a good deal of cultivation and hard spiritual work to fan into a relatively constant, steady flame.

    It's sort of like sainthood or theosis. Really being integrated and connected to the Divine is a lifetime of work- perhaps more. Grace may be what triggers the process, or allows it to be possible (I certainly think it is), but there is no way around the fact that becoming a truly integrated person so that one is in constant communion with God/Divinity and this permeates all parts of one's being... this is a result of hard work over one's entire life, a high level of commitment, and a deep-seated primacy of the desire to serve God fully and completely.

    No. I don't think so. Addictions are not solely due to the sensible appetite. In fact, they aren't even largely due to this. Addictions are largely due to underlying glitches in the mental process, the reason, that make little "holes" in one's psyche that are temporarily filled with certain hormone cascades from substance abuse or certain behaviors. For example, anorexia nervosa is somewhat like an addiction, and it is not caused by the sensible appetite, but rather, a psychological glitch in which the person wishes for greater control (generally speaking). The behavior and its bodily/sensory feedback loop is simply the secondary manifestation of an underlying problem with the mind.

    Further, whether or not law is based on restraining the sensible appetite (which I think it is not), it is clear that this simply doesn't work. The reasonable application of social restraint is the worst possible method for combatting human tendencies toward greed or lust because people don't make decisions that way. This is clear, because the legal system has not substantially changed people's behaviors and ends up being largely punitive, which means it isn't working to enforce ethics in the first place. This can be compared with societies in which "law" is absent but social sanctions are in place that work with emotion. For example, the United States, despite science and law, is lousy at getting people to cooperate. People try to cheat all these systems all the time. Why? Because there is no personal emotional investment. It is when people feel emotionally invested that they make better decisions. This is why all those Feed the Children commercials show video of starving children- to pull on the heart-strings, our visceral response, and get us to make an ethical decision based on it. We all *know* there are starving children, but our reason and intellect (by and large) doesn't yield any kind of ethical action.

    Ethics and morality, then, are actually grounded in emotion and relationship-- when they work. People act ethically when they feel connected on a visceral level- to God, to each other, to the earth. And when they are disconnected on this visceral, experiential, emotional level... they largely find ways to cheat the system, live with cognitive dissonance, and reason their way out of charity/love. Look at any time in human history when the most catastrophic of genocides take place, and at its core, you will find people who acted out of reason but without feeling and without connection. Reason without experience of the worth of life (human and otherwise), without a visceral feeling that beings are valuable, without personal connection to some kind of Bigger Something (even if this is just the earth)... this is very, very dangerous.
     
  20. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2003
    Messages:
    10,534
    Likes Received:
    1,512
    I tend to think there's more to it than that.

    Again, I don't think secularism is a problem due to faith ... if all the religions in the world agreed, I don't think the secular would simply say "OK. You're right'.

    Secularism believes that 'the divine' is the cause of the problem.

    My point, the senses have overthrow the rational faculty, because of an error arising in the rational faculty.

    But that does not alter nor devalue the core idea of Buddhism — nor should it be a reason no to attempt them. On the same basis, most people critique Christianity not because they know what Christianity is, or even what it says, but because they make critical judgements about other people and things like 'doctrine', 'dogma' and so on, without really understanding fully what they're talking about.

    I'm sure people make the same ill-informed judgements about pagans.

    Christianity is, after all, the religion of reason, as its founder is the incarnate Logos of the Divine.

    My point.

    And also because most people pursue them through selfish motives, although they don't realise or care to admit it.

    Love of neighbour is a truly integrative event. If most people put a little more effort into loving their neighbour, and a little less into loving (their idea of) God, then the world would change in a twinkling.

    I think it's a matter of degree: Or at least, if what you say is true, then the vast majority of humanity is lost.

    The dispute with Pelagius was along similar lines. Most tend to view it as a dispute between freedom (Pelagius) and dogma (Augustine). Actually it was between ego (I can do it by myself, thanks) and grace (let me help you).

    If Pelagius is right, then the vast majority of humanity is damned — as Pelagius, who was a monk, demanded a degree of austerity that few could live up to.

    Actually, you're right, and that's my error ... Addictions are due to the disordered reasoning faculty, as you say, and that is what Christianity says, and that is where the 'fault' with man is located, the 'original sin' is that we are all born subject to this disorder ... and the root of that disorder is we seek to determine the world according to us.

    Thomas
     

Share This Page