Defining (a) Religion

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

  1. soleil10

    soleil10 New Member

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    Here is my definition of religion:

    Initially there was no need for religion. Because of the human fall, religion as a way to return to God came to be.
    In a way religion is a mask that we will discard once we are fully liberated and free from our sinfull nature.
    Religion should be a path to liberation from this fallen world.

    my 2cents
     
  2. path_of_one

    path_of_one Embracing the Mystery

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    Care to share? :)

    More appropriately, I think secularism believes religion is the cause of the problem.

    This would be much harder for them to think if religions were not used as excuses to divide, harm, and kill people. It'd be harder for secularism to take root if religious people actually acted out the beliefs and sacred text they claim.

    No. The rational faculty had error, and overthrew the natural workings of the senses. The senses are valuable and what keeps animals alive. Our intuition and experience is valuable. Human life, which demands sensory input and processing, is valuable and sacred (at least to me).

    Sensory errors can also exist, or perhaps one might see them as windows into the fluidity of reality (such as synthesia).

    Of course it doesn't devalue the religions. That isn't what I'm saying at all. I am saying all religions have, it would seem, at their core- a great deal of work that most people never undertake. You originally posited Christianity as some sort of exception- that it emphasizes reason- and Paganism as some sort of inferior religion since it emphasizes integration and recognition of the limitations of reason for wisdom and ethical action.

    I said that despite any religion's avowed ideals, the average practitioner- and therefore the actual religion, in a cultural and social sense- is not too concerned with reason, study, or deep practice. I am not judging any religion- but simply stating what anthropology finds. Look at what people do and what they have to say about their religion, and the average person in any religion is not very concerned with the higher purposes of religion. People want to get practical needs met, to escape from their fears, to get comfort, to feel a sense of social identity and solidarity, etc.

    It's only the oddball ones like us that put any substantial time or thought into religious issues. That's not a statement against other people, either. Maybe this kind of thing is the purpose of only some people. Or maybe it happens at a certain point in one's journey. Even while I think the ideal is an entirely awakened humanity that all has these concerns, everyone is where they are. Including me, with all my flaws and limitations and resistance.

    That's really part of the work, isn't it? Self-centeredness factors heavily into all sorts of religious decisions. One can only hope that through practice, the light comes through and transformation/integration occurs, and right intention follows.

    I agree. This is one of the reasons why I find Paganism appealing. Its focus is on the immanence of God- in neighbors of all sorts, including human beings. Many Pagans have rather fuzzy notions of deity, and ideas about God often fluctuate as experience changes. But what remains constant is the idea that life itself is sacred- that my neighbor carries the divine within. Obviously, this only goes so far as one allows it to be integrated into one's life. If it is not taken to heart, "Thou art Goddess" becomes "Thou art Goddess if I like you." Sort of like a lot of Christians purport "Love thy neighbor" but their actions say otherwise.

    Walking the talk is a problem universal with human beings.

    While I really appreciate your discussion of Pelagius and Augustine, and find it useful to have a new way to look at it, the issue of humanity being lost is a sort of non-issue in Paganism. This is because Pagans largely believe in reincarnation. People can certainly be lost, even for some time, but they'll figure it out eventually (largely aided by guides, deities, Nature, etc.- so it is not as if there is no concept of divine assistance).

    Certainly, it's a matter of degree and everyone is on the journey they are on. And certainly, my assessment is that most of humanity IS currently lost. I don't mean that in a "doomed to hell" way, but a "forgot to look at the map and are driving in circles" way. Humanity is largely sleep-walking and disconnected.

    However, Paganism largely offers that "deliverance" if you want to use a Christian term, is not a destination. It's a journey. It's a process. A being is awakened, and then chooses to cultivate being awake.

    Even in Christianity, the debate between Pelagius and Augustine is really somewhat false, as both extremes are not supported by the Bible. In Christianity, grace is the grounds for salvation, and there is help from God. But then there is free will and the choice to put one's lamp on the table and not hide it under the bed. Every person who practices Christianity sincerely for any length of time realizes that it is also a lot of hard work to put Christ's teachings into practice and BE part of the body of Christ. It doesn't just happen, all done by God alone. Yes, one receives divine assistance, but it's up to us what to do with it.

    Paganism is, by and large, not so different in this aspect, except that it doesn't posit a hell or a God that needs a certain mechanism to forgive us. However, it does posit that suffering exists, and divine assistance is there to give comfort, protection, wisdom, etc. It's not done *only* by oneself- or else it would be a non-theistic system.

    In the Christian view, perhaps so. In the Pagan view, there is no place to be damned to. So what is important is that beings suffer in the here-and-now. How can we work toward changing this?

    Many of the great religious pracitioners of all time demanded a degree of commitment (I would not say austerity, as that is not religiously universal) that few people live up to. I would not say they "could" not. They choose not to. There is a big difference.

    That said, in the Pagan view, these people are growing over time and there is no deadline to meet in learning all the lessons. So they are not damned, though they may be suffering. Saying that they are saved by grace will not ease their suffering. I've seen it time and again- a Christian believing they are saved and therefore going to heaven, but making poor choices in the now, still suffers.

    So for me, I do not believe people are damned. But I do not believe in abdication of personal choice and responsibility, either. I don't believe in hell, so there is no injustice in saying people must overcome their own suffering- yes, with Divine help... but no, the Divine doesn't seem to do it for somebody in any religion. If the Divine did, then the world would be a very different place.

    Of course we seek to determine the world according to us- what else could we do? This is part of being a human being. We categorize, we organize, we analyze. If we didn't do this, then we'd exist in states of utter spiritual ecstasy all the time, because we wouldn't be able to differentiate between ourselves and anything else. (Ever watch that video on Ted.com of the neuroscientist who had a stroke?)

    I find it interesting that you make giant leaps from cognitive disorder to original sin to the root of a disorder. I don't make such leaps. Our brains work as they do because they evolved to work that way. There are good reasons they have these "disorders"- for the most part, they are double-edged swords. The disorders/glitches are multiple and diverse, and have to do with the way we are culturally conditioned to perceive and analyze input in certain ways. There is no way to be social creatures without cultural conditioning- we lack enough instinct and are too complex to have it be otherwise. The price we pay is bias, prejudice, false senses of self, me vs. you thinking, the tragedy of the commons, etc.

    To me, the fix is for people to become aware of how their own mind works and learn how to be a better self-observer. It is possible. There are lots of good techniques out there from a variety of traditions, religious and not.

    Barring that, I hope that people can have some sort of faith in something that yields ethical belief, even if they remain asleep.
     
  3. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Hi Path —

    I think Christianity offers a certain paradigm, so does Buddhism, so does paganism ... and I think all ways fall short in their members, because people are people ...

    I respect you and your worldview too much to want to continue this dialogue ... I'd rather talk about what our paradigms offer, than draw conclusions from the weaknesses of our respective engagements with it ... that's where I am trying to move to, and put my hands up and admit I started from a rather combative position. We can all point ... so mea culpa.

    I'm wondering if a discussion from alternate positions is even possible ... but then I recall the Dalai Lama's address to the Dominican monks at Blackfriars, when he opened with "I can't think of anything to say, I'm among friends here ... " and further on, marvelled at the power of the Christian idea of one life only as opposed to the Buddhist view.

    I'm sorry as it's me who's drawn you down this alley, but I'm trying to get out of it, and I don't think I've signalled that intention sufficiently ... I don't want to continue walking this way, I feel constantly on the need to defend a truth, rather than share it.

    If you want to start afresh, on another topic, then OK, but I don't think this way is doing either of us any real good pursuing this one.

    +++

    Having said that, and as this is a public forum, the same offer is open to all.

    Thomas
     
  4. path_of_one

    path_of_one Embracing the Mystery

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    Hi, Thomas-

    I'm sorry I couldn't read it earlier that this was becoming a negative conversation for you. I would have stopped sooner. For my part, I was not challenging Christianity so much as exploring how different doctrinal views impact practice. Underneath it, I really find both paths to be beautiful and effective ways toward God. I realize that the Christian viewpoint is generally that there is only one way, and so this can get uncomfortable and require defense. However, for my part, I was not coming from a position of defending paganism as THE way, but A way... a valid way, with its own philosophers and clergy and theologies.

    There is so often a tendency to discount Pagan traditions because they are personal and relatively new and so forth... most people don't know many Pagans and it is easy to assume that "they" are all this way or that, when they are not. Of course, it is the same for Christianity.

    As one researcher on the intersections of Paganism and Catholic holy sites said at the conference, "I am usually defending Paganism to Catholics. Here, I must defend Catholics to Pagans."

    I am more interested, as I said, in working together as human beings that are serving God than I am in difference. But at the same time, I don't ignore difference. The last few threads were more my own exploration of my own theology and the observations I've made about Paganism as a whole, and my intellectual teasing-out of my experience of both religions (and love of each) than any attempt to convince you of anything, or produce defensiveness. I am grateful for the challenge and opportunity, as it is too easy to become complacent and sloppy in one's beliefs when one is surrounded only with people who agree.

    The two religious strains posit very different ideas about deity, humanity, the earth, and so on... but I have met clergy and committed lay-persons in both that are doing the same personal and community work- love, service, humility, peace-building...

    And in that I place my hope. I have a deep hope that people will wake up, no matter what the tradition they wake to, and that God will reach all people, no matter how they perceive of God.

    Starlight Blessings,
    Kim
     
  5. c0de

    c0de Vassal

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    .

    @ Path -aka- Level 10 Druid Queen



    So.... paganism is "relatively new" now???

    heh heh, good one : P
     
  6. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Hi Path —

    I'm hoping that's a good sign. It means my alarms started going off before I started 'alarming' anyone else. I was concerned that it seemed like I was having a 'pop' at you.

    That I would far rather do.

    As above, I think the defence comes in when the Christian 'way' being presented is not Christian at all, but the presumption of what it is.

    Pax et bonum!
    Thomas
    (Pax et bonum, 'peace and all good things', was the signature of St Francis of Assisi, who wrote The Canticle of the Sun, preached to the animals, loved nature and all that is natural, and was accompanied by all manner of experiential phenomena, levitation, etc., — it seemed fitting.)
     
  7. path_of_one

    path_of_one Embracing the Mystery

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    Hi, Thomas-

    I didn't feel it was directed at me so much as you might be operating off some stereotypes of Pagans that were inaccurate and/or incomplete. Please know I thought your writing was totally polite.

    That's what I was trying to elaborate on toward the end there... for example, the issue of reincarnation giving Pagans a different way of viewing the human condition. The flip side, of course, is that ideally the belief in only one life gives people motivation to make the best of it right now. Unfortunately, in both cases, human nature seems to often cause complacency- either because one feels one has unlimited tries, or because one feels that one is given unlimited forgiveness without any work/merit. I've seen both, and neither are doctrinally sound for either case.

    I am always happy to learn new things about Christianity and have my views corrected in terms of what is considered doctrinally right. However, at the same time, as an anthropologist religion is defined by multiple dimensions- including the social-cultural one. So the issue becomes what the clergy know and consider correct versus what the average person thinks and does. Yes, in a sense, the average person may not be "correct," yet they can't really be considered unauthentic. This is part of the difficulty of studying religion as an academic versus as a seminarian. The seminarian can simply say "they are not right in their doctrine/practice/etc." but the academic is left with the question of-- is a religion a set of doctrines and practices, or a set of people and their culture?

    And when I spoke of Christians and the "one way," what I meant is that it seems many Christians (and Muslims) are uncomfortable with religious pluralism because there is a widespread belief that belief/faith in their particular religious tradition is what is necessary for salvation. While there are polite ways to put it, I will put it bluntly: others are dismissed as (at best) being lost and hopefully someday to come into the fold or (at worst) as doomed to hell.

    This is not a condemnation of either religion. But surely, you can't argue that there isn't a widespread belief among Christians of "my way or the highway." This seems to make interfaith dialogue rather charged at times, as it seems that the "right" way must be defended sufficiently to bring all the stray sheep back home again. Really, I don't think Christianity needs defense, nor do I think Paganism needs defense. There are people in both that show evidence of what Christians call the fruit of the Spirit, and that would indicate to me that both paths, if followed with dedication, lead to something good.

    I *love* the Canticle of the Sun. It's long been a favorite. More broadly, I always loved St. Francis, ever since I read "The Little Flowers of St. Francis."
     
  8. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Hi Path —

    Quite. I wonder if we can discuss this further? The Christian view of reincarnation, or rather the rejection of it, is shaped by the idea of the 'person' ... not to get too granular at this stage, would you be open to discussing what it is that reincarnates, from your pov?

    That's interesting. When the Vatican removed St Philomena from the list of venerated saints in 1961, my mum was somewhat disturbed. My big sister is named Philomena.

    The situation resolved itself when 'a golden woman' according to my mum's account, appeared at the foot of the bed, to let her know that all was well. My mum pulled the covers over her head ... when she peeked again, the woman had gone, but mum is in no doubt it was St Philomena.

    Yes, they do. (big sigh).

    OK, OK! Another sigh ...

    Ouch! Alright already! Sheesh! :eek::D But you're right, I can't. As for us Catholics, if some of us actually bothered to read our Catechisms (it is the club rulebook, after all), it's quite specific that the good get to God whatever route they take ...

    As an aside, on a different level, I am still evolving my idea of what the Catholic idea of Mystical Body and Eucharistic Body means and how that offers a definition of what the 'Church' ought to be, or should be perceived as. There's a very real and necessary function that the individual cannot fulfil nor exemplify, nor make present ... to do with communio ...

    Pax et bonum —

    Thomas
     
  9. juantoo3

    juantoo3 ʎʇıɹoɥʇnɐ uoıʇsǝnb

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    May I jump in the middle with some observations, path?

    I think in some ways both your walk and mine share similarities. I too cling to my Christian roots, and yet still feel there is...something more?, or perhaps different?...that mainstream Christianity fails to address.

    At the same time though, I really can't help but question the *need* for ..."political affirmation"... of what as an outsider I see as another contrived subculture minority vying for yet another slice of the gummint pie. I am trying to approach this delicately, but Lord knows PC ain't my strong suit.

    Here's my quandary, and it really does go back to power and political sanction. Thomas and I have had this discussion before, and from what I've read here it seems to me to be paid a passing lip service, but the reality comes down to political sanction.

    As an outsider, it doesn't take much to look at the history of the modern Pagan movement to see that it really is a motley collection of intellectual hodgepodge that is far removed from the "real" Paganism of even two hundred years ago. I think modern Paganism *by and large* is a whitewashed and sanitized and romanticised version of the Paganism of old. Modern Paganism seems to me as an observer to be *generally* more of an attitude of distancing from Christianity...like modern western atheism...than it is about reviving something lost in one's ancestral past. Modern Pagan ideals seem to me to be informed more by Harry Potter and Disney, Witches of Eastwick and Charmed, and other mainstream media than any real ancestral heritage.

    That said, I understand I am speaking in ignorant generalities, and there are sure to be exceptions.

    Nature religions by and large today are sanitized of a lot of their root core praxis...and to a great degree this is probably a good thing. Do we really wish to reinstate human sacrifice? It is bad enough we have sanctioned gladiatorial mock combat, do we really wish to reinstate blood rituals as well? I think a lot of people entertain the notion of "nature religion" as fireflies and fields of poppies without realizing it is also hurricanes and tornadoes, wildfires and tsunamis, and is *very* red of tooth and claw.

    Granted I only speak for myself, but I do believe I share many of the same reservations expressed by others, particularly other Christians. Seems to me, historically speaking, that we spent a great deal of time, energy and blood of our sons to civilize ourselves beyond Paganism...that to allow a return, with political sanction, is a slap in the face and a big step backward.

    I expect a lot of negative repurcussion from my comments, but I am only airing some sincere and heartfelt views, views I know are not mine alone. And you know I am far from a traditional Christian.

    Were I to seriously consider a nature based religion, it would be of one of the Native American tribes included in my ancestry and heritage (most likely Cherokee). I do not see anything of value in most modern Pagan paths.

    Please do not misunderstand. I do not fault or criticize anyone for following whatever path floats their boat. I have not mocked any person of Pagan persuasion for being Pagan. Still, I have gotten nothing of value out of reading cards, tipping tables or reading palms. The Ouiji board doesn't like me...it won't work.

    That is not to say I have not had mystical experiences or times when I have interacted with the Divine as I understand it. But these times have *never* been at my instigation, they always "just happen," out of the blue.
     
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2010
  10. juantoo3

    juantoo3 ʎʇıɹoɥʇnɐ uoıʇsǝnb

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    I just want to expand on this thought a little. I think the American ideal of a cultural patchwork quilt is at the same time it's greatest asset and most telling liability. On the one hand, we can get Chinese, Mexican, Greek and Persian food all on the same street corner. On the other hand, we've lost sight of who we are and where we are going...and are blissfully apathetic and quite happy to be that way. We don't know, and we don't care. That is unlike any other great society in history. I think that is probably the only reason this confusion over religion even exists to begin with. It isn't even a matter of consideration anywhere else, and there isn't any real need to consider the matter anywhere else. The whole religion/politics/culture blanket is very comfortable everywhere else, it is only here that the blanket is seriously unravelled.
     
  11. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Staff Member

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    One thing stands out to me from the different comments in this thread is that a core difference is one of collective authority vs personal authority.

    One element that perhaps defines modern Paganism the most is the lack of controls, and the focus on individual experience and choice on what to believe - it reminds me very much of what people were trying to define as New Age in the 90's.

    Where as with institutional systems the parameters of belief are clearly defined.

    So one definition of Paganism may wish to focus less on the individual elements that may up an individual or even collective group belief, as much as the fact that any potential boundaries to belief are fluid or even non-existent.

    Of course, it depends on the stand point being taken as to what is accepted as Pagan in the first place - my understanding is that it could be suggested that in fact Christianity defined Paganism as anything that was not obviously monotheistic, even though Animist system are often so in the first place.
     
  12. nativeastral

    nativeastral fluffy future

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    who knows how paganism would have panned out ['naturally'] without the 'civilising' influence of Christianity, bearing in mind other cultures outwith that ambit did away with sacrifices and 'bestiality' and other such 'pagan' practices [eg Hindus and their offerings of milk and flowers superceding animal sacrifices]; the mediterranean being so heavily populated did this so much earlier [the Greek democracy], though apparently according to this documentary Iceland had one of the first forms of government when the Vikings landed there.

    Pagans - 4oD - Channel 4
     
  13. earl

    earl ?

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    Defining what constitutes a religion? Guess, while interested in dogma, creeds, theologies, etc. to some degree, I tend toward the experiential-how one's "religious" approach or practice affects one & I see it as a feedback loop between experience and belief. But keeping it simple, think the latin etymology of "re-ligare" works just fine: to bind or rebind together. Religion works to knit us back together with ourselves, each other, and the world/cosmos at large whenever we've come a bit undone in our experiences of self-other. Whatever knits us back together therefore can by effect become a "re-ligare" practice. Just had a nice brief workout at the gym with a swim and somewhat more "ligared" than I was before I went.;):D earl
     
  14. path_of_one

    path_of_one Embracing the Mystery

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    In my own experience, what reincarnates is memory and a certain energetic frequency that remains the same from life to life. I can't offer a clearer visual than a mystical experience I had in which I realized that I was a particular sound within a very complex song, which was the unfolding of the manifest many. So personally, I do not believe in a "self" that is the same but new-and-improved version of the me I am now. I believe there is an essence of "me" that is the unique creation/manifestation that flowed from God Herself. However, this essence has virtually nothing to do with my current personality, hobbies, interests, intelligence, etc.

    For me, serving and uniting with God is consummation. There is no "person" in me I am trying to preserve, nor do I think union is a sort of paradisal place where I never have to work, never get sick or die, and get to live in a mansion (as I've been told at some Christian churches- I know, not doctrinally sound, but it happens).

    What reincarnates is the essence of who I am, the relationships I have built over time (as these create entanglement between myself and other energetic essences), my sense of purpose related to my essence (the details of which change over time, but the overarching drive does not), and my relationship to the Divine. Somehow, for me, memory carries over at least a bit. But I don't think it is common or necessary.

    Ultimately, what drives me is to serve God and I am not very interested at this point in reward or permanence. I pretty much am content with being a sound, that happens to right now have all this complexity in layering of the soul as an incarnate being-- my life-energy that, like my body, will "reincarnate" as part of the earth and other beings; my consciousness, which is likely to be so substantially different when I'm not in a human brain and body that I'd hardly recognize myself; and my connection to the Divine (including my essence within that whole), which is likely to be the only thing that is stable from life to life.

    I don't really believe in karma in the Buddhist concept. I have a somewhat different idea of how actions and intentions shape the individual being, rather than thinking reincarnation operates mechanically.

    And to be honest, I believe that perhaps many people do not reincarnate at all. I think different beings may end up with different kinds of trajectories. So I sort of think there probably is a Christian heaven and folks go there. And perhaps a Summerlands and folks go there. I don't think everyone must share my own path in this broad sense. When I worked with the dying in hospice, it seemed that people's experience of dying and what lay beyond was all over the map... but each was sincere. For me, that was the start of giving up specific ideas of the afterlife, and yet owning my experience for what it is rather than shoe-horning it into a paradigm that didn't fit.

    :)

    That has always been my belief, grounded in the Bible, as well. I sure wish churches were better at teaching it, though. The damage from the "my way or highway" attitude among laity (and some clergy) is enormous. Most atheists I've known, and I know many, were in part atheist because they became so sickened with the "you're going to hell; you're not a real Christian" game. It would do wonders for Christian PR if people would quit it.

    I am very interested in this. Although many Pagans are solitary, there are serious problems with being so- I have experienced them myself. Furthermore, my own frustrations with any religion largely have to do with my deep-seated desire for religion to be tied to social and environmental justice, with service to other beings, with peace-building. I believe that whatever one calls it, the work of manifesting Divine grace and love through oneself, of being a unique vessel for God Herself, of being Christ's body- quite literally, Christ's hands to comfort and hold, Christ's eyes to witness injustice, Christ's words to stand up for peace- this is a communal effort and I want a community in which to do it.

    So far, the closest I have come is an informal interfaith network of people- scattered far and wide- that are unified only in that I work with each of them in some way. I have not found it in any church, tradition, or specific group. It always seems swallowed by petty arguments, identity snafus, and jockeying for better social positioning.

    But for me, as important as personal daily practice is, and a solid solitary core to any religion (because this is what carries one through each day and causes development)- I long after the energy found in a group. The power for standing up for those whose voices are silenced, for serving those in need, for being a witness to injustice and putting faith into action in an effort to transform the self and the world.

    It isn't that I think we "can" or "can't." To me, the question of grace and works is irrelevant, as is the question of whether or not humanity is irretrivably flawed on this planet. We ought to stand together, encourage one another, grow together, and serve together... because God is God. Because we are all members of God's manifestation (or creation, depending on your point of view). Because, at our core, we each carry the light of God within us- the grace, the love, the justice, the wisdom- we need to be opening to this light.

    It isn't a matter of results. It's a matter of right intention, thought, and action... given freely as the only gift we can give back to the One from whom all came and all returns.

    The only thing we can really give- individually and as a collective- is our choice to serve. Our choice to be consumed, refined, and placed where God wills. I am not able to give it every moment (yet), but it is my ultimate calling and I have moments I succeed. I am committed to trying. And yes, with all my heart, I wish for a community that had this at their core. It is, after all, an endeavor to transform the whole of humanity... It starts with individual practice, because we can't give what we don't have... but it is truly about the whole.
     
  15. path_of_one

    path_of_one Embracing the Mystery

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    Sure! :)

    It's OK. I'm not that into PC. Basically, the problem is that the majority groups generally see subcultural minorities as "contrived" and after limited resources. However, tolerance, compassion, freedom to practice one's religion and have it recognized as valid, freedom from persecution and threats, the ability to take one's holy days off from work, and so on... these aren't limited resources. Educating people about religious diversity and expecting people to be reasonably accommodating and knowledgable is, in my mind, desirable for all religions.

    Unfortunately, the US ignores groups unless they claim an identity and start political involvement in some way.

    You could take out "Pagan" and insert nearly any religion and the statement would remain true, except for those religions that are cults of personality. Even Catholicism, with a single authoritative leader, has changed a lot since 200 years ago and contains within it a tremendous hodge-podge of actual belief and practice.

    Further, "real" Paganism vs. "fake" Paganism is a false argument. That's like saying Christianity has changed over time, so it is no longer "real."

    If religious change means a religion isn't "really" what it is, then no religions are currently "real."

    Finally, 200 years ago wasn't "real" Paganism if what you mean is the original polytheist and animist/shamanic religions of Europe and the Middle East. You'd have to go back to before Christianity.

    What modern religion isn't? And would we want to go back?

    Christianity used to execute people for heresy- do we want the "old-time religion" or the new, sanitized version?

    This entirely depends on the tradition. Paleo-Pagans and Reconstructionists are entirely after reconstructing ancestral religions and are heavily involved in bringing stuff in from archaeological research. Wicca, Druidry, and so on generally are after a modern animist polytheist religion that is grounded in small-group practice, accepting of individualism, and pulling from particular polytheist ancient religions. But they are definitely new takes on the old material. Then some are definitely of an "anti-Christian" flavor- but not as much as you'd think. Almost all the Pagans I know were once Christian, and unlike atheists, many of them have had personal experience of Christ and some maintain a personal relationship as I do. Pagans are largely not anti-Christ, they are just anti- being told they are going to hell, being proselytized to, and being misunderstood.

    In my post above to Thomas, I elaborate a lot on my ideals. These are ideals that are informed by my practice in and teachings from Druidry and Feri Witchcraft. Perhaps you could point out what they have to do with these media shows, since I am unfamiliar with them- only saw HP once. Additionally, perhaps you could explain how Wicca and Druidry, for example, arose during the mid-1900s before any of these media were available if they are mostly informed by them?

    I am being pointed, yes. But quite frankly, my impression (and that of religious studies scholars who study Paganism) is that the average person in the US is totally off-base in what they think Pagan traditions entail. It is the non-Pagan who thinks they know something about what Paganism is, and assumes it has something to do with these media shows and movies they've seen. This is actually a big issue in the traditions because teens and young adults will wander into traditions thinking they will become Harry Potter and then realize it is actually a religion like any other- requiring hard work, daily practice, meditation, etc. to get much out of it- and never causing one to levitate or predict the lottery numbers. That is when the fun ends and the real work of religion begins, and most people leave and the serious ones stay.

    If you'd like, I can recommend some books and web articles to read, particularly in Druidry, that elucidate how the ancestral heritage materials (including archaeological conclusions, literature, places, etc.) are used today. There are oodles of volumes on it, actually, including transcriptions of various myths, legends, and place-based histories.

    If you're saying Paganism is largely some sort of Harry Potter fantasy for the vast bulk of Pagans out there... I think the exception would be the rule. I don't want to be persnickety, but how much of the Pagan literature have you read? Not the fluffy stuff in Barnes and Noble for popular consumption, but the nitty-gritty stuff written by the long-term scholars and clergy?

    I mean, yes- there are plenty of fluffy crappy works out there, and probably people believing it.

    But I used to work in a Christian bookstore, and let me tell you that statement could be made for Christianity as well. Fluffy crap and lack of serious commitment or study among practitioners is a universal attribute of human organizations.

    So does a Nature religion have to not change in order to be authentic, valid, or useful?

    Or can it be allowed to change and drop the barbarism that humanity *everywhere* used to display (and often still does)... and still be considered valid?

    Christians aren't burning people or drowning people anymore. They let folks read the Bible in their own language. People don't buy their loved ones' way out of purgatory. A lot of graft and corruption has been shaken out.

    Yet we don't say Christianity is unauthentic or less real or less valid. We say it grew out of things that weren't necessary or upheld by its ideals.

    Why is Paganism forced to be an unchanging religion for it to be valid or real? This is also what many indigenous religions get from the European/Abrahamic Big Three, by the way. Quite frankly, in anthropological theory such attitudes are demonstrated to be leftovers from colonialist prejudice... extended into a backlash against Europeans who fall from the height of reason and virtue (Judeo-Christianity) to the "primitive" traditions.

    To be honest, I don't know where to begin with this. I am not taking offense as a Pagan, but having my brain fried as an anthropologist. There is so much latent prejudice, colonialist bias, and first-world arrogance in this statement that I can't even start.

    I can point to one example to start you on the real history of the matter. In many Celtic lands, pre-Christianity, women had relatively equal rights with men. They were leaders, both political and spiritual. When the "civilization" that accompanied Roman Catholicism entered, it brought with it restrictions on women's rights that would carry over to many cultures and impact women's freedom and status for another 1600 years.

    That is only one example. And to me, THAT was a step backward. The initial blood of those sons yielded fewer rights for women, an issue that wouldn't be resolved for over a thousand years later.

    We live in a society that has its advantages and its disadvantages when compared with the old ones.

    But to me, that is neither here nor there. Pagans are not arguing for bringing back an exact replica of society from 2000 years ago. But in your model, it's a sort of catch-22. You are setting up an argument that presents false assumptions and limitations- that Paganism that doesn't behave like 2000 years ago is not "real," but Paganism that behaves like 2000 years ago is undesirable. I'm saying Paganism can change just like any religion, and it's changed to a gentler state, just like most other religions. And just like other religions, it's as real as it ever was, because "realness" is not defined by being frozen in time.

    That's OK- I hope you realize this is constructive criticism and I realize your views are unfortunately common. I've recognized (as have many scholars of Paganism and Pagan people themselves) that most Americans are fairly prejudiced about their assumptions- treating the extremists as the norm and the norm as exceptions. It happens to Christians too, by the atheist community. The Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons are treated as the norm and the average Episcopalian is the exception. Same prejudice and bias, different situation. Unfortunate all the way 'round.

    How seriously have you studied anything in most modern Pagan paths? How widely and deeply have you read, discussed, engaged?

    That said, Celtic Paganism and many Native American traditions are not all that dissimilar... right down to power animals and such (and sometimes the same power animals). My own beginning in Paganism was feeling very "at home" when I read the ethnography "Make Prayers to the Raven" about the Koyukon indigenous people of Canada.

    However, my ancestry is Celtic, not Native American. And Native Americans are generally not really keen on outsiders coming in and participating in their religion. Druidry and Feri are traditions open to the likes of me, and that share many of the same worldviews.

    The view that Native American and other indigenous traditions are OK and Paganism is undesirable is largely due to an odd sort of leftover from ethnic bias. Again, this is an issue that goes deeply into anthropological critcism of majority views of the "noble savage" and all that- and it's something I have not the time or energy to get into right now. But underneath your argument throughout this post has been assumptions about continuity of tradition, desirability of change and no change, ideas about Native American traditions as somehow escaping any kind of barbarism or negative aspects, ideas about European indigenous traditions as being primarily these barbaric and negative aspects, etc.

    If your views are substantiated by literature, I'm all ears. But it isn't what I've found, either as a Pagan or as an anthropologist.

    I don't think any of those things are particularly Pagan. I don't do any of it.

    What me and many fellow Druids do (and consider part of our spiritual work): daily/weekly practice of some sort (sitting meditation, guided meditation, prayer, etc.); study (many of us through particular 3-5 year coursework); study some more (read, read, read); psychological work (self-assessment, observation, reflection- noticing one's psychological patterns, complexes, barriers, and biases- OBOD Druidry and Feri are both quite Jungian); honing focus and the will (using one's self-knowledge to generate greater capacity to focus on particular intentions and work with energy); communicate with the Divine (via guides, gods/goddesses, Light, etc.- sort of like prayer); communicate with other beings (animals, trees, ancestors, etc.); honor our heritage (studying more, visiting sacred places if we're able, calling on ancestral spirit, studying ancestral languages, etc.); making art (dance, music, poetry, story-telling, etc.); trying to generate change in the world through activism and intention (social justice, environmentalism and green living, etc.).

    Magic is often a part of Paganism, but it isn't what people often think it is. I can supply some good resources if you are interested in what Pagan traditions actually entail and what deep magic is actually about.

    Do you never pray and reach out to the Divine?

    Don't know if it's a normal trajectory, but for me, I have gotten better at communing with the Divine by learning how to observe myself, still my thoughts, slow down, etc. It is similar to Buddhist practices in which one trains the mind and becomes a more aware self-observer. While I sometimes stray, my coursework and teachers in both Druidry and Feri have both recommended a minimum of 5 minutes per day of sitting meditation, and say that more than 40 minutes is ideal. The more I sit in what I think of as contemplative prayer- open, willing, self-aware, still- the easier it has been for me to connect. And yes, the out of the blue happens to me too- usually a feeling of overwhelming light, love, and gratitude.
     
  16. Penelope

    Penelope weak force testosterone

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    path of one:
    I can point to one example to start you on the real history of the matter. In many Celtic lands, pre-Christianity, women had relatively equal rights with men. They were leaders, both political and spiritual. When the "civilization" that accompanied Roman Catholicism entered, it brought with it restrictions on women's rights that would carry over to many cultures and impact women's freedom and status for another 1600 years.

    The farther back in pre-history you go, the more true women's equality appears to be. Goddess worship in the Neolithic world was no fickle Freudian mother-love. Women likely had the lead role in the domestication of grains and fruits (though there is little hard evidence out there to prove it, one way or the other). But this planet's first great civilization, the Sumerians, did feature women in leadership roles.

    & & &

    In my own backyard, the hunter-gatherer Native American tribes obtained one-sixth of their diet from fish and from meat of wild-game (brought in by male tribesmen), five-sixths from seasonally gathered roots and fruits (women's work). The building of kilns to dry them for winter eating was a major operation of every inland NW tribe, and with most tribes this activity was organized and controlled by women only. In these (pre-plant-domestication) Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest, women were honored equally with men and had equal say.
    (Which was not always true elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere. And certainly not after Whites came, when only male-centered martial cultures could stand-up convincingly to White martial power. These were large expansion-oriented, empire-building tribes. In the 19th century, migratory horse-riding hunter tribes.)

    & & &

    The Biblical story of Adam and Eve, itself, derives from a serious re-writing of the Sumerian original. The tempter, the serpent, is not Satan ... but an earlier god than Yahweh. An older authority.

    Adam and Eve are hunter-gatherer people, living in harmony with nature, before they make the jump to agriculture. Notice that it is Eve (not Adam) who makes the jump to this new (and arrogant) way of life. She heard the voice of a god which told her how to domesticate fruit. With agriculture, Eve becomes a "Creator" - just like each nature-god is a Creator.
    (This is the arrogance of agriculture - the arrogance that comes with domestication of plants and animals. You transform the natural world into something other than what it "naturally" is. You make nature productive. You make nature your servant.)
    Note, it is unimaginative Adam that, eventually, follows Eve's technological lead.

    So, even while the Israelites re-slant the Garden of Eden story in a Patriarchal direction (bad Eve, the disobeyer of Yahweh) in the Book of Genesis, the REAL STORY is still visible there. Eve listened to a different God(-dess).

    & & &

    It's right there in the Bible, folks:
    Women had more to do with the initiation of civilization than did men.
    (Our only mistake was in giving men an equal place in that civilization. Competitive as men are, they bit-by-bit hijacked our birthright ... and, and alongside this, our equal rights.)
     
  17. Penelope

    Penelope weak force testosterone

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    Henry David Thoreau:
    In wildness is the preservation of the world.

    Thoreau's writings were read by philosophers, but not written for philosophers. How Thoreau experienced reality - the manner in which he grasped the natural world before him - by implication, dismantled classical philosophy and the metaphysical dualism it is based upon. Seen thru Thoreau's eyes, Plato's ideals look patently ridiculous and Aristotle's conceptualizations appear severely limited. In the natural world around him, Thoreau locates no ideal forms nor golden mean organizing and giving meaning to the details of nature. Only wildness and a kind of tough beauty.

    Thoreau was a modern philosopher. Or anti-philosopher, might be a better way of thinking about Thoreau. More like the first theologian of a brave new world.

    The other great modern philosopher/anti-philosopher/new-theologian of the 19th century was Charles Darwin. He gave the humanism of classical philosophy a hard dose of reality, which broke that humanist mold. It not merely put the human-being back into the animal kingdom, it put humans back into their natural incubative ecology - as products of their formative environment. (Dissolving Plato, and leaving Aristotle squirming.) Darwin is the other place where a new theology begins - a theology of modern human experience.

    & & &

    It has been argued, here (by Thomas) and elsewhere, that Paganism does not have a history of great and highly sophisticated philosophy to back up their theology ... specifically, when contrasted to Christianity (and to Judaism and to Islam) which do have a highly sophisticated philosophy to shore up their religious beliefs. But this supposed "lack," clearly, is no longer the case. (Even if you do not claim Spinoza for Paganism.)

    Thomas Berry:
    The historical mission of our times is to reinvent the human - at a species level, with critical reflection, within a community of life-systems, in a time-developmental context, by means of story and shared dream experience.

    Jason Kirkey highlights this quotation on his website. Kirkey is a product of Boulder CO's Naropa Inst., and is just one of many smart individuals connected to the Eco-Paganism movement. Kirkey takes the Buddhist practice of 'nullifying mental-forms' as a framework for seeing reality - allowing an egoless individual to see the details of the planet just as they are - and Kirkey then identifies this alternative-reality with the hyper-reality of Celtic dreamtime. Kirkey calls his particular brand of 'direct experience of reality':
    'silver branch perception'
    (the term is derived from the late Irish philosopher John Moriarty).
    And Kirkey, fairly persuasively, uses this concept to link modern scientific theories (deep ecology, ecopsychology) to old Irish myth-making practices and the Druid religion.

    Classical philosophy, I think will find itself at a loss to, legitimately, find flaw with either Kirkey's grounds or with his aims. Speaking for, and to, all human-beings on our planet, Kirkey's theological formulation is as sophisticated and as contemporary as you can get:
    We need
    1. A coherent organizing story about the universe and our place in it,
    2. A method in practice of examining and discovering the subjective nature of reality first hand ("the universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects" - Thomas Berry),
    3. A practice of expressing, embodying, and becoming dan {Irish Celtic word meaning: 'poetry,' 'destiny,' 'skill at living genuinely'},
    4. And a form of spirituality - devotional and contemplative - which recognizes the nonduality of spirit and nature: right management of the watershed and right management of the soul are intimately related.
    {from Aontacht interview, pages 10-17}

    So, while I have strong disagreements with where Kirkey (and others in this movement) take Darwin and Thoreau, I believe there is weight and profundity to Kirkey's ideas (philosophically and theologically).

    & & &

    These considerations need to be taken seriously by anyone who considers themselves a modern (planetary) human-being ...
    And who believes that religion still has a place in people's lives.
     
  18. juantoo3

    juantoo3 ʎʇıɹoɥʇnɐ uoıʇsǝnb

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    Great answers, Path! Thanks.
     
  19. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Hi Path –
    From my point of view there are two things at play here. Memory is associated with an individual experience, whilst energetic frequency can be attributed to the universal aspect of a common nature. In Christian esoterism memory can have a transcendental aspect. A mystical experience can be the individual apprehension of a prior collective or even individual experience. In both the Jewish and Christian traditions, the idea of memorial is that the person is living in the past — is subjectively there — rather than simply recalling a received story. Adrienne von Speyr, for example, recorded the interior life of the soul of a number of saints.

    We would call that a theophany.

    We would differ on the idea of 'new and improved' in the sense that the eternal nature of the soul is one, and perfect in its foundation. It is one vertically, in its union with God, and horizontally, in its union with all life.

    I would still argue however, that the song needs a singer. The choir is made up of numerous voices, that manifest in time and place, but the song is the same.

    Quite, we say that is the soul. It arose in God, and its end is in God. The question is whether one absents oneself from the choir to pursue other interests. The soul has but one interest, and in itself is never absent from the choir, but one can be absent from one's soul, which is sensed as the absence of God.

    To push the analogy, the song is the Word, the singer is like a note that makes up the song. But in singing one's note, as it were, one is drawn in to the eternal song. Not all the choir is singing at once, and each note, and each silence, combines to make the song, which has an order, a rhythm ... it's not just white or meaningless noise, nor is it a cacophany.

    We don't see it in the sense of preservation of the self, or the person, but the participation of the many in the One. Reincarnation speaks of 'n' number of lives towards the one perfect life, but then the individual life itself, it seems to me, loses its meaning and significance, its reality. Life is realised in the living of it ... and something has to live it.

    All the world's a stage, as Shakespeare said. Without lived lives, there is nothing to make an entrance or an exit; the stage is set, but nothing happens.

    God is the One that alone says I am, in creating life in His image, that life is able to say "I am" also. What God is, God gives to His creature, by its participation in what God is. In our view, if the person does not exist, then the world does not exist. Eckhart would go further, if I do not exist, then God does not exist.

    I know. The work is the song of creation; the soul perceives the song in its entirety, but each soul from a different and unique perspective, that is its mansion. Each soul sees the whole world, the whole cosmos, beyond time and space, the same as every other soul, but from a different perspective.

    For us the essence of humanity is one thing, the "I am" is an instance, an individuation, of the essence, but not separate from it. It subsists, but it exists at the same time ... if it didn't, then the essence would not.

    Each person is wholly human, but each person is not the whole of humanity. But if you lose the person, it seems to me you lose sight of human nature, or you devalue it ... in theory human nature could be summed up in one person, but then that would deny the idea of number ... one God, one person, job done. In theory, one person could reincarnate in each generation towards the perfect person, all the rest are disposable ... billions are disposed of along the way, to produce one end product ... If every person reincarnates, then all the persons prior are less and not of the same nature as the end product, and the possibilities of that end product are not available to the prior persons. It seems to me one posits a person, and a super or meta-person that is a conglomerate of all the others, but not the same as the others in itself ... in fact it is not itself, but a conglomerate of other selves ... it is something, with nothing at its core, it is neither itself in essence, nor in substance.

    That's the way I see it, anyway ... in the Greek tradition, theosis is not the unification of the person with God, but all humanity ... if humanity is one thing, in many instances, then the many instances have to be included, because the idea of 'person' is not individual, every individual human being participate in person-ness, so the theosis of the person requires the theosis of all human beings to be a complete and perfect state.

    I would say that is the particular in relation to the universal ... but I'm getting into deep waters here ... we say "Where Christ is, there the Church is", I am in the Church, but I am in Christ, so I am the Church — I am not the whole Church in the I am of me, because the Church is a unity, not an individuality ... we're into the Mystical Body now ...

    St Paul said, "we see through a glass, and darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known" (1 Corinthians 13:12). St John said the same "Dearly beloved, we are now the sons of God; and it hath not yet appeared what we shall be. We know, that, when he shall appear, we shall be like to him: because we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2) ... these are staggering texts ... 'he shall appear' when we know Him as He knows Himself, and when we know Him as Himself, only then will we know who and what we are.

    Without me, God is only what He imagines Himself to be. With me, God can know Himself as He is. I am 'real' because what is in the mind of God is real; God is real, and perfect in His self-knowing, because He suffers no illusion, which is an imperfection.

    In one way, to deny the reality of me is to suggest that God cannot realise what He knows, cannot realise what He is. The contra argument is that He has no need to, which we also assert. He has no need to, but He chooses to.

    And shaped by lived experience, if if they cannot put it into words. Many dispute the mystics on the basis that their experience is shaped by their carnal experience. They have to put that experience into words, into forms, and then they can only use the forms they know, experientially ... God is beyond forms, and beyond words, so they can either remain silent, or try to put it into words. As soon as they deploy words, you're into linguistics ...

    You and me both! In fact Pope Benedict said so, quite recently. He deplored the poverty of homily in the Church.

    I know ... I know ...

    In a sense one goes one's own way and settles for less out of a sense of frustration with one's neighbour.

    If you find a solution, btw, let us know, we've been trying for years ...

    Pope Benedict's three encyclicals are about Love (Deus Caritas Est), Hope (Spe Salvi), and Social Justice (Caritas in Veritate) ...

    ... but who listens?

    Thomas
     
  20. wil

    wil UNeyeR1

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    Namaste Thomas,

    I think that is a point that fits the title of the thread. Some churches have had their definitions made clear in the eyes of the public. And after hundreds of years of experience and preconceived notions it will take more than a few speeches to redefine beliefs. JP went a long way toward that change...and current perception is that this has slipped.

    Right or wrong, justified or not, the brand is what it is. And today many of the faithful gladly continue to fulfill the stereotypes....but you know...you know..

    And that could be exactly the answer....some committee or group or mission statement or speech cannot define anything, it is the followers/congregants/believers/faithful... they define it byu their words and actions and interactions with others...
     

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