Thursday, December 24, 2009

Secular bigotry

What the National Secular Society doesn't seem to realise is that the rise of religiosity is very different from previous such resurgences, as it's much more about individual spirituality and building community and being compassionate than the bigotry which is actually increasingly the preserve of a noisy few. For example: Stonewall did a survey recently and found that most Christians were far more tolerant of gays and lesbians than the doctrines of their churches would suggest. Needless to say this received almost no coverage in the mainstream media, whereas Lilian Ladele etc got loads of coverage.

Research has shown that most people think in terms of "occult" concepts like reincarnation and karma, rather than traditional Christian ones like salvation. Much of the renewed interest in religion and spirituality has gone into non-Christian practices, and even Christians do stuff like yoga and meditation and crystals.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Critiques of the Alpha course

The Alpha Course is one of the most insidious phenomena of evangelism - and it's interesting to note that it has been criticised from inside Christianity as well, because there are still Christians out there with brains and integrity.

The theology propounded by the Alpha Course is not mainstream; it was developed by the same kind of people who 'discovered' the Toronto Blessing. It has been criticised by both evangelicals and liberals.

The course's homophobic stance has been widely criticised, and there is an analysis of it by the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association.

It's also deeply manipulative of vulnerable people, being run in prisons, workplaces, schools, colleges and military establishments:
"It was like to talking to a politician of the opposite persuasion. They were all very nice people, but I came out feeling exactly as I did when I went in," said Jill, who asked that her name be changed.

Among her problems with Alpha was her feeling that other faiths were not given equal status.

"I felt it was biased against other religions, whereas I believe all roads lead to one God," she said.

There was also an element of "therapy" about the style of the course, she said.

"It plays huge mind games with people. You have to be a strong personality to resist, but I did. They were working on me all the time. They said they would pray for me.

"I think they tend to prey on who is vulnerable. The whole thing for people is about being accepted and feeling like they belong.

"It's friendship I want, not spirituality."
It also uses sales techniques to manipulate people:
Debbie Herring, a former Alpha course leader in Sheffield, told the BBC that the techniques she was expected to use were similar to those of door-to-door salesmen.

“It became clear very early on that what Alpha was really about was high-pressure selling of a very narrow evangelical agenda, which dismisses and denies whole swathes of Christian teaching and tradition,” she said.
The course is also mis-sold as an opportunity to explore the meaning of life (which you would expect to offer a genuine philosophical discussion of the various ideas on offer):
It’s at that point you really see what the Alpha Course truly is: it’s not an invitation to explore the meaning of life, but a slickly marketed Christian conversion course. The objective of Alpha is not to educate people about Christianity, but to convert as many people as possible their particular brand of this religion.
The whole thing makes me sick, quite frankly.

Alpha Course is anti-gay

Pink News: More schools running 'anti-gay' Christian crash-courses

There should be no place in schools for proselytising for religion. A person's choice of religion or philosophy should be freely made as an adult, not forced on unsuspecting children. And there should be no place for homophobia in schools either.

Christianity is not inherently homophobic; same-sex marriage was once a Christian rite, and the "clobber verses" in the Bible have been deconstructed numerous times. So there's no excuse for including this poisonous homophobic nonsense in the Alpha Course. I am not particularly surprised that it's there, though, given that the Alpha Course also teaches young-earth creationism. It's all of a piece, really.

One good point about this: being taught this nonsense in school will make kids rebel against it. I recall when I was a teacher, the headmistress invited an evangelical band in to do an assembly, and the kids were rightly completely up in arms about it. I told them I completely agreed with them that it was wrong for them to have religion forced on them in this way.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

2010 Equality Ride

Every day, thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people suffer harassment, violence, and discrimination at the hands of those who do not understand them. This oppression usually hides in plain sight, masquerading as rigid doctrine or timeless tradition. Consequently, it often goes unchallenged and unchanged. Guided by principles of nonviolence, we at Soulforce Q approach these controversial issues with a readiness to meet people where they are. It is our belief that open and honest discussion begets understanding and healing, and that philosophy is at the heart of our work.

The Equality Ride is a traveling forum that gives young adults the chance to deconstruct injustice and the rhetoric that sustains it. It allows emerging young leaders to unite in the struggle for common equality. The idea is this. We get on a bus and journey to various institutions of higher learning. Through informal conversation and educational programming we explore concepts of diversity, comparing the effects of inclusive and exclusive viewpoints. More practically, we share and gain insights about how our beliefs influence policy and culture, thereby impacting society. Our goal is to carefully and collectively examine the intersection wherein faith meets gender and sexuality. Such discourse, especially when it affirms the beauty of our differences, plays an essential role in creating a safe learning and living environment for everyone.

Thus far, the Equality Ride has engaged nearly seventy academic communities. Many have shown considerable hospitality in welcoming us, and our legacy at those schools is one of mutual growth and compassionate fellowship. In addition to panels and schoolwide symposiums, we have joined students in cafeterias and coffee shops, participated in Bible studies and worship services, and given presentations in packed classrooms. Unfortunately, not every school chooses to host the Equality Ride. Voluntary redemptive suffering in the form of civil disobedience may become our avenue towards progress if, and only if, a school ignores the urgency and rejects dialogue.

A Movement in itself, the Equality Ride is empowering future generations to put their faith in action and make social justice a reality.

Donate to the Equality Ride

Interesting religions

A blog thing from Matt Stone, via Jarred, who tagged me.
what religions do you find most interesting apart from your own? Would you pick one of the major world religions? Say Islam, or Buddhism, or Hinduism or Judaism? Or would you pick something more obscure, like Wicca or Taosim or Rastafarianism or Gnosticism? Would you pick irreligion, say Atheism or Agnosticism? Or if you're not Christian, would you say Christianity?

To participate, state your own religion (or irreligion) as your first preference, state the other religions that interest you most as your second and third preferences, then pass onto five others. If you're feeling brave, say why they interest you.
OK, well, I practise two religions, Unitarianism (since 2007) and Wicca (since 1991), so presumably I can't have either of those on my list. I do this partly to remind me that all religions are metaphors for whatever is really going on (and this is made explicit in both Wiccan and Unitarian theologies). It is going to be quite difficult for me to pick three religions, as I find all religion fascinating, so I'm going to pick my favourites that appeal to me most at the moment.

I am fascinated by Taoism - I think the writings of Lao Tsu are the clearest expression of the mystery of life that has yet been formulated. Also, I like Taoism's positive attitude to life and the world (shared by both Wicca and Unitarianism).

I find Judaism really interesting - I love the rituals (though not the liturgy in many cases) and all the baroque twiddly bits. They also have great food, music and philosophy; they love life; and they cleverly integrate ritual and prayer into everyday life.

I'm currently really interested in spiritual and Christian atheism, as described by people like Richard Holloway, André de Comte-Sponville, and Andrew Brown. Holloway's books Doubts and Loves: What is left of Christianity, Godless Morality, and On Forgiveness are well worth a read.

Any mystical tradition that is based on a rational footing gets my vote, really: so Kabbalah, Sufism, the Quakers, Christian mystics and the Brahmo Samaj also interest me. And it's not a religion as such, but queer theology is really interesting. I also like religions with plenty of ritual and bells-and-smells (the only problem is that these often have elaborate theology to which I find it impossible to subscribe).

I disapprove of religions that think they have the only truth, or more truth than anyone else. Spiritual truths must be available to everyone everywhere in all times, and accessible by reason and intuition, not special revelation.

I tag Bo, Evn, Pax, D Miley, and James.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Sacrifice not required

From the Tanakh (Hebrew scriptures):
[22] Yea, though ye offer me burnt-offerings and your meal-offerings, I will not accept them; neither will I regard the peace-offerings of your fat beasts. [23] Take thou away from Me the noise of thy songs; and let Me not hear the melody of thy psalteries. [24] But let justice well up as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream. ~ Amos 5:24
From the Wiccan tradition:
I am the Gracious Goddess, who gives the gift of joy unto the heart. Upon earth, I give the knowledge of the spirit eternal; and beyond death, I give peace, and freedom, and reunion with those who have gone before. Nor do I demand sacrifice, for behold I am the Mother of All Living, and my love is poured out upon the earth.
~ The Charge of the Goddess, Doreen Valiente
From the Hindu tradition:
Offer to Goddess Durga the animal, the Pashu, of your inner evil trait of passion, of anger, of greed. Do not kill animals of the external world in the name of Balidana to the Goddess.

She wants your animal-man within. No Himsa should be committed on the excuse that it is for the Devi. You have no right or justification to hurt any living creature for whatever reason.

Ahimsa should be free from all exemptions whether pertaining to class, place, time or circumstances. Ahimsa is a universal vow to be practiced absolutely. No worship, no prayer, no act whatsoever in life can justify injury or harm done to living beings.
~ Swami Sivananda

The Buddha was also against animal sacrifice.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Accidental death in ritual

So Houngan Hector has been cleared of criminal negligence and Lucie's death ruled accidental.

But the causes of death were identified as "the combined effects of 'physical exhaustion, ambient room temperature and an oxygen-depleted atmosphere'". So that's a failure of ritual health and safety, no less negligent than the behaviour of James Arthur Ray which caused the deaths of three sweat lodge participants.

I guess what happened to Lucie could have happened to anyone who uses a lot of incense and does rituals in a warm room with lots of dancing - but everyone needs to make sure that the members of their group do not suffer from any medical conditions which could be exacerbated by these environmental conditions. Even better, don't set up your ritual space so that it causes oxygen deprivation. Just use joss-sticks rather than pan incense, for one thing. And leave the door ajar, and make sure that anyone who has asthma knows where their inhaler is, and that other people also know where it is. And alternate dancing with other more restful activities like meditation.

More safety advice (essential reading for all ritualists):
NB none of the articles below were in response to the Houngan Hector incident

    Gadhimai Mela

    I don't usually disagree with Jason at the Wild Hunt, but on this occasion I have to disagree.

    Yes, it's true that it's hypocritical that people get worked up about animal sacrifice in general but not about factory farming, millions of turkeys being killed for Christmas or Thanksgiving, cruelty in slaughterhouses, and so on. Most sacrifices are probably carried out fairly humanely, with the minimum of suffering to the animal.

    But the animal welfare campaigners are campaigning on many issues (including factory farming), not just the mass sacrifice.

    And Gadhimai Mela is a mass sacrifice that is not carried out humanely.

    According to the Humane Society, the animals are not killed humanely - hence the reason for the protest:
    "Cruelly, the animals are chased and hacked to death with knives in a competition to kill as many as possible within two days."
    Here's an account by a Nepalese eye-witness of the event (takes a while to load, but should be read):
    The sword-bearers cannot chop off the buffaloes' heads at one go because of the thick size of its necks. To make their task easier, the hackers first cut the buffaloes’ hind legs after which the animal falls on the ground. They then start hacking the neck until the head is separated from the body. It takes 20 to 25 swing of the sword to annihilate a big buffalo. The suffering the animals go through is unimaginable.

    After witnessing the Gadhimai carnage, I started having terrible nightmares. I would see blood wherever I turned to look.
    This is not on the same scale as the sacrifice of the occasional chicken in Santeria, where the chicken gets eaten.
    Three to four days after the massacre, people start fleeing the Gadhimai venue because of the nauseating smell that starts to emit. Cars, rickshaws and cyclist start taking alternative routes. It is the people living in nearby localities who suffer the most. While the temple area turns into a breeding ground for disease, many fall sick. It takes months for the smell to go away.
    That does not imply to me that all the meat from the slaughter at Gadhimai Mela gets eaten.

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009

    Alternative history

    You know those pivotal moments in history (the ones that Doctor Who isn't allowed to change)? Well just imagine that we lived in a universe where one of those crucial moments went differently. You can play this game with any pivotal moment you like (it's an amusing way to while away a winter's evening).

    The crucial event I would like to imagine going differently is the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. Picture the scene... Diocletian's reign of terror has only recently ceased. Suddenly the early Christians are no longer united in being persecuted - now they can turn on each other and start weeding out the heretics. Add to the mix the Emperor Constantine, who turns up three days into the Council of Nicaea and is presented with a bundle of papers representing the theological deliberations of the bishops before his arrival, which he promptly chucks on the nearest brazier. One of the most important arguments that is had at the Council of Niceaea is the controversy over the Trinity and the Arian heresy. The Arian heresy is the belief that Jesus was the Son of God from the moment of his conception, not from the beginning of time as Trinitarian orthodoxy insists. It was revived after the Reformation by Faustus Socinus (founder of the Socinian Brethren, which eventually became the Unitarian church in Transylvania).

    The importance of the Arian heresy is that it makes Jesus either semi-divine, or divine by adoption, or divine by birth (rather than divine since the beginning of time). If this is the theological position one adopts, it means that he ceases to be seen as the sole means of access to the "Father" (the Divine Source in Neoplatonic terminology), because if he is a son of God, rather than the Son of God, then there are other sons and daughters. And this quickly leads to Unitarianism - the belief that the Divine is One and can be accessed by reason and intuition, and does not require revelation to be known. That's not to suggest we can fully know the nature of the Divine, but we can see it reflected in the world around us, in other people, and the beauty of the universe. It also means that if we are all children of God, then we all have the potential to develop our inner "Christ" / Messiah / Buddha / Enlightened One.

    So, let's imagine that the Arian heresy had won out at the Council of Nicaea. Perhaps the word heresy would still have its original meaning of a school of thought, or a choice (from the Greek haeresis).

    There would have been no need to convert most of Europe by force - because, as Jesus said in John ch. 14, other peoples have their own religions (including Paganism) by which the Divine makes itself known.

    The doctrine of penal substitution (the idea that Jesus' death was a substitute sacrifice for humanity's sins) might never have arisen (it was formalised in 1098 by Anselm).

    The story of Jesus' resurrection might have been seen as a triumph over death, or perhaps eventually as an allegory of psychological transformation.

    Islam might not have developed as a distinct religion (it is possible that it evolved out of an Arian group - it certainly holds a similar view of Christ). There would have been no Crusades, because no need to wrest the control of Israel from the Muslims, because they would have been seen as fellow believers.

    The Jews might not have been so viciously persecuted (Unitarian churches have long had good relations with Judaism).

    The Reformation might have been very different: Calvin couldn't appropriate Anselm's penal substitution theology, because it hadn't been written. Nor would he be able to have Servetus burnt at the stake for his Arianism. Indeed, Servetus might have been a major mover and shaker in the Reformation.

    Tolerance of other religions would have been much greater, which would have made the imperialist and colonialist activities of Europe very different. There would have have been no need for evangelical Christianity, because the "good news" that Jesus was killed so you didn't have to be fried for eternity would never have been invented.

    I wonder if there really are multiple universes where different choices were made at pivotal historical moments? It would be so interesting to visit them.

    If my alternative universe is too tame, try Sannion's vision of the Roman empire with zombies.

    Fundamentalist Christianity: the belief that a cosmic Jewish zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him that you accept him as your master, so that he can remove from your soul an evil force that is present in humanity because a woman made out of a rib was tricked into eating a magic apple by a talking snake.

    Same-sex marriages in churches campaign

    Pink News Exclusive: Stonewall to fight for civil partnerships to be held in churches

    Unitarians have consistently argued & campaigned for same-sex marriage to be performed in our churches. Why don't Unitarians ever get mentioned in these articles?
    New-Unity announced in March 2008 that it would refrain from conducting legal weddings until the unfair ban on religious content in civil partnership registrations is lifted. Thus, we will perform blessings of both marriages and Civil Partnerships but will not include the portion of a wedding ceremony where the marriage is legally registered. We are very happy to bless the previously established legal unions for all couples. (from New Unity website)
    I think the amendment to the equality bill would be a helpful step forward for those churches who want to perform same-sex marriages, but it shouldn't be allowed to distract from the campaign for full equality in this area (i.e. civil partnerships for heterosexuals & legal marriage for LGBTs).

    Also, the whole marriage campaign shouldn't distract us from the importance of preventing homophobic bullying in schools and teen LGBT suicides resulting from it.

    Tuesday, November 10, 2009

    White poppy, purple poppy

    White poppy The white poppy is for peace and remembrance, and challenges the war-condoning values of traditional remembrance and related ceremonies. The idea of decoupling Armistice Day, the red poppy and later Remembrance Day from their military culture dates back to 1926, just a few years after the British Legion was persuaded to try using the red poppy as a fundraising tool in Britain. The white poppy is sold by the Peace Pledge Union, which promotes peace through education.

    purple poppy The purple poppy commemorates all those animals who have suffered and died in human conflicts. Animals have been used as messengers, beasts of burden, for detection, scouting, rescue, and on the front line. They continue to be subjected to experiments in laboratories.

    Wednesday, November 04, 2009

    Christian intolerance in South Africa

    Sorry to see that South Africa is about 20 years behind the times in the matter of Christian nutters releasing ridiculous twisted slander about Pagan festivals. And it's a reminder for the rest of us not to remain complacent - extremist Christian slanders are always rumbling along in the background. But it's also important to remember that many many Christians want to live in peace with Pagans and actively promote genuine interfaith dialogue.

    Minority Review - The Dance
    In the southern hemisphere the feast of Beltain is celebrated on the last day of October and the first day of November around a celebratory 'May'-pole. The dance of the Maypole is a symbolic act of fertility magic in which male and female partners, each holding ribbons attached to a central pillar, dance in opposite directions whilst weaving toward and away from the pole, around an erect pillar of wood decorated with flowers. Maypole dancing is an ancient (pre-Christian) and wide-spread form of western European folk dance.

    This year, as every year in living memory in this country under the fascist white Christian Nationalist government, amidst the Beltain celebrations, venerations, joy and laughter in covens and Pagan gatherings across the country, the feint reek of Christian agitation against Pagans once again focussed on Halloween. The agitators? Fanatical followers of Peter Hammond's Africa Christian Action network.

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009

    Eat up your ice-cream

    Ben and Jerry's have renamed one of their flavours of ice-cream to HubbyHubby to celebrate the fact that same-sex couples can now marry in Vermont. Sweet!

    Now you can eat ice-cream for equality. Fantastic!

    Hat-tip to Isaac and Phaedra Bonewits, and best wishes to Isaac for a full recovery from his illness.

    Monday, October 19, 2009

    A manifesto

    John Shelby Spong has issued a manifesto. I love it.
    The battle is over. The victory has been won. There is no reasonable doubt as to what the final outcome of this struggle will be. Homosexual people will be accepted as equal, full human beings, who have a legitimate claim on every right that both church and society have to offer any of us. Homosexual marriages will become legal, recognized by the state and pronounced holy by the church. "Don't ask, don't tell" will be dismantled as the policy of our armed forces. We will and we must learn that equality of citizenship is not something that should ever be submitted to a referendum. Equality under and before the law is a solemn promise conveyed to all our citizens in the Constitution itself. Can any of us imagine having a public referendum on whether slavery should continue, whether segregation should be dismantled, whether voting privileges should be offered to women? The time has come for politicians to stop hiding behind unjust laws that they themselves helped to enact, and to abandon that convenient shield of demanding a vote on the rights of full citizenship because they do not understand the difference between a constitutional democracy, which this nation has, and a "mobocracy," which this nation rejected when it adopted its constitution. We do not put the civil rights of a minority to the vote of a plebiscite.

    The battle in both our culture and our church to rid our souls of this dying prejudice is finished. A new consciousness has arisen. A decision has quite clearly been made. Inequality for gay and lesbian people is no longer a debatable issue in either church or state. Therefore, I will from this moment on refuse to dignify the continued public expression of ignorant prejudice by engaging it. I do not tolerate racism or sexism any longer. From this moment on, I will no longer tolerate our culture's various forms of homophobia. I do not care who it is who articulates these attitudes or who tries to make them sound holy with religious jargon.
    Yes! Yes! Yes!

    Friday, October 02, 2009

    Right-wing Pagans

    I am horrified to learn (rather belatedly) that the leaked BNP membership list apparently includes a number of Pagans.
    "Window cleaner. Former pig farmer. Pagan prison chaplain. Hobbies: growing mistletoe, rune-making (wood)"; "Active Odinist/member of pagan organisations." A student is "willing to give talks on medieval/dark age subects" and "interested in ... setting up a British pagan group".
    I am also shocked to discover that, if it is true that the window cleaner and former pig farmer is a Pagan prison chaplain, he was not properly vetted by the prison service. And if he is a Pagan-Federation-accredited prison chaplain, the Pagan federation should not allow him to represent them.

    It has long been observed that some Odinists have right-wing tendencies (though by no means all, as the Heathens against Hate campaign demonstrates). The other two Pagans described above may not be Odinists, however.

    There is no place in Paganism for far right politics. Pagans are supposed to be tolerant and inclusive.

    Thursday, October 01, 2009

    Stonewall guide for LGBT asylum seekers

    As part of their resources on immigration, asylum and international issues, Stonewall have produced a guide to help people through the maze of applying for asylum on the grounds of sexual orientation.
    Although claiming asylum in the UK on the grounds of sexual orientation is possible it can be a very difficult process. Asylum seekers may have to prove that they are LGB and that they cannot be "discreet" about their sexual orientation to avoid persecution in their home country.
    Download Stonewall's guide to asylum and humanitarian protection for lesbian, gay and bisexual people.[PDF]

    Monday, September 28, 2009

    Happy rabbits

    4.5 million animals saved from testing

    A mouse among test tubesAt the request of HSI and others, the European Chemicals Agency recently announced that companies will not have to perform duplicative animal tests for some types of toxicity when registering chemicals.

    In that one stroke, approximately 4.5 million mice, rats and rabbits were saved from suffering and death in European laboratories. Read more>>

    Gay parents are just as good

    Study finds no difference between children raised by gay or straight adoptive parents
    (Pink News)

    Kind of obvious, you would have thought, but apparently some people need telling this.
    A study of adoptive parents has found "no significant difference" in emotional problems experienced by children brought up by gay adoptive parents.

    The US research, published in this month's Adoption Quarterly, surveyed 1,384 couples, 155 of whom were gay.

    All were asked about their family structures, the child's history before being adopted, his or her current emotional state and family interactions.

    Wednesday, September 23, 2009

    Community among Unitarians and Pagans

    As a long-term participant in Pagan groups (since 1990) and having recently joined a Unitarian church (for those who don't know, there are plenty of Pagans in British Unitarianism), I have been mentally comparing the two. There is no clear "winner" but the comparison is interesting.

    Pagans are more focussed on individual friendships; Unitarians are more focused on gathering in community.

    Unitarians are better at including everyone in the community, even if they are different from others in some way. (Lesson for Pagans - we need to focus on shared values instead of differing beliefs.)

    In a crisis, Pagan friends will rally round, which is great, but if you want a trained full-time minister, with all that that entails, then you're more likely to find one via Unitarianism.

    In terms of age and class and education, Unitarians are more diverse than Pagans. This is probably because Paganisms haven't been around so long.

    In terms of the values we embrace, Unitarians are much less diverse than Pagans. Even though a Christian Unitarian may differ from a Pagan Unitarian in the mythology they happen to like, their values are remarkably similar.

    Unitarians are better at focussing on values and regarding beliefs as less important. Unitarians have more shared values in common, simply because we are very explicit about what those values are. (Hopefully Pax's recent Pagan Values Blogging Month will go some way towards changing that - and I hope it will happen again in 2010).

    Both communities are inclusive and welcoming and non-judgmental.

    I'd be interested to hear from UU Pagans on this.

    Incidentally, while I am still philosophically pagan, I have stopped referring to myself as Pagan (I now call myself Unitarian and Wiccan) because it is no longer clear what "Pagan" actually means (due to things like the reburial issue).

    Thursday, September 17, 2009

    Soulforce conference

    The 2009 Anti-Heterosexism Conference is open to everyone who cares about the welfare of LGBTQ people and wants to help stop the harm caused by heterosexism, reparative therapy, ex-gay ministries and other sexual orientation change efforts. Conference attendees come from all walks of life and many professional backgrounds, including LGBTQ people, clergy, educators, mental health professionals, and allies. By attending this conference you will learn to:
    • challenge heterosexist attitudes that exist on personal, interpersonal, institutional and cultural levels.
    • speak out publicly against the dangers of reparative therapy, ex-gay ministries, and other "conversion" efforts.
    • build community to advocate for LGBTQ people and support them in leading successful, happy, and productive lives.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009

    Zen teachings

    Do not walk behind me, for I may not lead. Do not walk ahead of me, for I may not follow. Do not walk beside me for the path is narrow. In fact, just piss off and leave me alone.

    Sex is like air. It's not that important unless you aren't getting any.

    No one is listening until you fart.

    Always remember you're unique. Just like everyone else.

    Never test the depth of the water with both feet.

    Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you're a mile away and you have their shoes.

    If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is not for you.

    Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day.

    If you lend someone £20 and never see that person again, it was probably well worth it.

    If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.

    Some days you are the bug; some days you are the windscreen.

    Don't worry; it only seems kinky the first time.

    Good judgment comes from bad experience. And most of that comes from bad judgment.

    There are two excellent theories for arguing with women. Trouble is, neither of them work.

    Generally speaking, you aren't learning much when your lips are moving.
    (received via email)

    Tuesday, September 15, 2009

    A Short History of Medicine

    "Doctor, I have an ear ache."

    2000 B.C. - "Here, eat this root."
    1000 A.D. - "That root is heathen, say this prayer."
    1850 A.D. - "That prayer is superstition, drink this potion."
    1940 A.D. - "That potion is snake oil, swallow this pill."
    1985 A.D. - "That pill is ineffective, take this antibiotic."
    2000 A.D. - "That antibiotic is artificial. Here, eat this root!"

    (just received via email)

    Gods give me strength...

    Pagans March to a Different Drum Circle
    By Jamie Laughlin
    It's time to make a bold decision. The time has come to unlearn everything you've ever believed about pagans, and perhaps more importantly, about pagan celebrations.

    Admit it — until now, you've bought all the silly urban legends surrounding these polytheistic partiers. Virgin sacrifice? Sure. A diet of raw meat seasoned in tears of the damned? Yup. Heck, you even figured that pagan parties ended wildly late — like "9 p.m. to ???" kinda late.

    You couldn’t have been more wrong.
    Oh please. The time to unlearn all that rubbish about sacrificing virgins was at least twenty years ago. Why does every journalist feel obliged to start articles with that sort of thing? Wake up and smell the coffee, people. Pagans of all varieties have been highly publicly visible for the last 50 years, carefully explaining that Paganism is about honouring nature and celebrating life. Anyone who hasn't got the message by now must have been living in a bubble.

    Tuesday, August 25, 2009

    Is there a distinctly queer spirituality?

    Contemporary Christianity and LGBT SexualitiesA very exciting thing happened this morning: my copy of Contemporary Christianity and LGBT Sexualities arrived, to which I contributed a chapter comparing LGBT Pagan and Christian spiritualities, to see if there is a distinctly queer spirituality (I concluded that there is, not for any essentialist reasons, but because it is rooted in LGBT experiences). This is my first proper academic publication (yay!)
    • Introduction: saints and sinners: contemporary Christianity and LGTB sexualities, Stephen Hunt
    • The gift (?) that dare not speak its name: exploring the influence of sexuality on the professional performances of gay male Anglican clergy, Michael Keenan
    • Between subordination and sympathy: evangelical Christians, masculinity and gay sexuality, Kristin Aune
    • Common pathways, different lives: comparing the ''coming out'' narratives of Catholic nuns and lesbians in Poland, Marta Trzebiatowska
    • Bisexual Christians: the life-stories of a marginalised community, Alex Toft
    • Transgendering Christianity: gender-variant Christians as visionaries, Andrew Kam-Tuck Yip and Michael Keenan
    • Human rights and moral wrongs: the Christians ''gay debate'' in the secular sphere, Stephen Hunt
    • Christians and gays in Northern Ireland: how the ethno-religious context has shaped Christian anti-gay and pro-gay activism, Richard O'Leary
    • Is it meaningful to speak of ''queer spirituality''? An examination of queer and LGBT imagery and themes in contemporary paganism and Christianity, Yvonne Aburrow
    • Trends in spiritual direction for LGBT people, Derek Jay
    The book is a collection of papers from the British Sociological Association Sociology of Religion Study Group November Study Day 2007 on Religion, Spirituality and Gay Sexuality.

    Thursday, August 13, 2009

    Psychological types and multiple intelligences

    There has been a lot of discussion recently about the intellectual level of Pagans and the intellectual level of the general public. We seem less appreciative in Britain of our public intellectuals than, say, France or Italy, or even America. Indeed, if you asked most people to name a public intellectual, they might name Dawkins - that in itself is a sad indictment of what passes for an intellectual in these islands.

    Now, don't get me wrong: I am all for raising the intellectual standard of Paganism and of our cultural life in general. That's why I am involved in the MetaPagan blog aggregator, to showcase the best of Pagan blogging. It's one of the reasons why I founded Pagans for Archaeology, to show the world at large that there are hundreds of Pagans who support archaeology and museums. It's the reason why I started the Pagan theologies wiki, to get Pagans thinking about theology and discussing our values and ethics and beliefs (not to end up with a standardised orthodox view, but to discuss the issues properly). And it's why I support the idea of Pax's Pagan Collegium site, and why I urge people to read the books of Ronald Hutton.

    But the need for thinking is not the only requirement for a religion (or a way of life, if you prefer) that actually works. Jung identified four psychological types, and we need to develop ourselves in all four areas, not just one. Jung's types (also used in the Myers-Briggs test) are:
    • Sensation (Earth)
    • Intuition (Fire)
    • Thinking (Air)
    • Emotion (Water)
    Most people have one of these modes as a dominant function, and the rest as secondary, with a deficiency in one area. But, I would argue, just because someone has a deficiency in one of these areas, doesn't mean they can't work to correct it. That is what education is for, or should be. I have met some intellectuals with the emotional intelligence of a flea; and people who are primarily emotional types who could do with developing their thinking ability; and so on.

    Similarly, Howard Gardner identified multiple modes of intelligence, which are also relevant here.
    • Bodily-kinesthetic
    • Interpersonal
    • Verbal-linguistic
    • Logical-mathematical
    • Naturalistic
    • Intrapersonal
    • Visual-spatial
    • Musical
    They are probably not reducible to Jung's four types; though there are some interesting similarities. The one of particular interest to Pagans might be Naturalistic intelligence, broadly defined as the ability to survive in the wild.

    Wednesday, August 12, 2009

    interpreting tradition

    Sannion has just written a wonderful post about the issue of homophobia in Hellenismos (apparently a hot topic among the Hellenic community currently).

    One of the many things that is interesting about it, is that it cuts to the very heart of what we mean by religion, by tradition, and by Pagan values.

    According to Sannion (and I would agree with him) ancient Hellenic values at their best were about free enquiry, democracy, questioning assumptions and finding out what makes stuff work. In many ways their society was flawed (e.g. slavery, treating women and "effeminate" men as second-class citizens) and we wouldn't want to revive those aspects of their society.

    In my view (and Sannion's) we need to be selective and reasonable about what we revive of past paganisms, and acknowledge that culture and tradition are multivalent, multivocal, developing and growing and moving on.

    I have come across people in Wicca who say that because polarity was originally envisaged as being primarily a male+female dynamic, that is now part of the Tradition and cannot be changed. FFS, the tradition is only fifty years old; we can expand and deepen our understanding of what polarity means, by listening to LGBT understandings of it. See for instance the excellent article by Lynna Landstreet about it.

    Monday, August 10, 2009

    The problem of historicity

    Regarding the historicity of Pagan traditions. Given that we know next to nothing about what ancient druids (if they were really as described by the Romans) got up to or believed, or what medieval witches (who, even if they existed, were probably not pagans) got up to, or what early medieval heathens got up to (a bit more data, but a lot of it written down by Christians), the people who claim that they're doing something because their ancient forerunners did it, and not because they feel it to be the right way for them to be a Druid/Witch/Wiccan/Heathen/Pagan in the here and now - that is what is irritating to the academically-minded.

    You can be a Druid/Witch/Wiccan/Heathen/Pagan because you feel you are one because it fits the image you have in your mind of what a Druid/Witch/Wiccan/Heathen/Pagan is (and I affirm your right to do so).

    But what happens when someone else with a completely different idea about what a Druid/Witch/Wiccan/Heathen/Pagan is, does the same? Then we have confusion...

    What is the solution to this dilemma? I'm not sure that I know. I know that we do need to have discussions about our theology, our values, our worldview, our ethics, and what is distinctly Druid/Witch/Wiccan/Heathen/Pagan about them. We don't want to establish a creed or an orthodoxy, because that could lead to persecution of dissenters. But that does not mean we can dodge the issue and just not talk about it.

    As far as historicity is concerned, the rest of us could learn a lot from Heathens and reconstructionists, who have gone to the effort of reading as much of the available source material as possible, and comparing it with experiences and ideas of present-day Heathens, and creating a synthesis of historical and present-day insights. They are lucky because early medieval heathenry lasted a lot longer and was better-documented than other traditions. They also have a well-worked-out and widely publicised set of Heathen virtues. Wicca also has a set of virtues, but this is not so well-known.

    Personally, I feel that we are also the heirs of the Renaissance, Reformation, Enlightenment, and Romanticism, and we cannot just ignore the intervening centuries and pretend they didn't happen. This is one of the reasons why I am interested in Unitarianism.

    Wednesday, July 29, 2009

    We are the Pagans who have moved on

    We are the Pagans who have moved on.
    We do not pretend that our traditions stretch back into the mists of time.
    We do not use custom or tradition as justification for our actions.
    We do not berate the Christians for stealing festivals that our predecessors invented in the 1950s, or for ancient persecutions or wrongs, actual or perceived.
    We do not pretend that we know what ancient pagans believed, or thought, or did.
    We do not appropriate the culture of others.
    We do not leave litter at sacred sites.
    We do not hold heterocentric or hierarchical rituals.
    We do not pretend to be better than others
    - everyone has something to teach, everyone has something to learn.
    We do not pretend that we are the holders of arcane secrets.
    We do not mistake our personal truth for universal truth.
    We do not tell others what they should believe or value or do.

    We leave these behind and move on,
    not in arrogance, not unaware of tradition’s worth,
    not creating new conflicts as bad as the old ones,
    or so we hope!

    We find the divine in all nature
    - in place, and animals, trees and birds, and human beings.
    We hold love, compassion to all beings, and wisdom as our highest ideals.
    We seek and honour the truth wherever it may be found.
    We tread lightly upon the Earth.
    We seek to live in peace with all beings.
    We seek to cultivate virtues in the garden of our own souls.

    We are the Pagans who move on.

    (inspired by a meditation by Cliff Reed)

    (if you want to copy this to your own site, you are welcome to do so but please retain my authorship and the acknowledgment of Cliff Reed, and link back to this page)

    Monday, July 27, 2009

    Stand up, stand up for Dawkins

    Dawkins sets up kids camp to groom atheists - The Reason Project
    Richard Dawkins launches children's summer camp for atheists - The Telegraph
    Dawkins sets up kids’ camp to groom atheists - The Times
    Atheist camp will not brainwash children - The Times

    I’m all for reason and the freedom to believe or not believe whatever you like, but from what I have read so far, this camp is just a not-very-subtle form of indoctrination. Liberal religion is not about belief, it’s about values. The insistence on belief in a set of unbelievable concepts is a Christian weirdness; other religions are more about values and practice and culture. I think it’s a pity that the debate has polarised to this extent.

    Admittedly if it was a choice between sending my kids to Dawkins’ camp or sending them to the scary Jesus camp, I’d choose Dawkins’ camp every time. Fortunately that is not the case and there is a huge spectrum for people to choose from. (I don’t have any kids though.)

    But the point is, kids should not be indoctrinated into anything, whether it's atheism or religion. They should be given the tools and concepts to decide for themselves when they're old enough.

    Unitarians, Pagans, Wiccans, and other liberal religious types don’t believe in indoctrinating children, but giving them the tools and concepts to choose their own spiritual path (or not, as the case may be).

    Many atheists seem incapable of understanding the difference between liberal religion (which is about values and spirituality and community) and the rest.

    I tried to look at Richard Dawkins' website to see what his take on the whole thing is, as he has apparently said that the Times article was biased and gave the wrong impression, but I can't get into his website at the moment due to a connection error.

    UPDATE: I have now managed to find Richard Dawkins' letter, in which he says he abhors the indoctrination of children. However, giving them a biased view that all religion is about having daft beliefs, and that reason is the ultimate arbiter of everything, is a form of indoctrination.

    Friday, July 24, 2009

    God is not your bitch

    This just in: It is hugely unlikely God cares much about your sex life
    by Mark Morford

    Absolutely awesome article by a guy at the San Francisco Chronicle. Now here is a writer who really does get what religion should be about.

    He writes:
    I, for one, am utterly delighted at how Sanford has effortlessly reduced the grand concept of timeless, universal divine metaconsciousness down to a bit of a tool, essentially making God his own personal knave. What a fantastic conceit! What glorious gall! We should all try that someday.

    In fact, most major religions encourage exactly that. I find I am in a constant swoon of giddy amazement at this universal phenomenon, the fabulous, hubris-loaded idea that God is not actually an unfathomable river of cosmic energy to be supped from like liquid light, while you still take complete responsibility for your own life and choices. Nor is God simply the idea of universal love and compassion, coursing through all things at all times everywhere. How silly to think.

    No, God is, apparently, actually far more like some sort of heavyset, hectoring grandmother who reads your email and pokes through your underwear drawer and hates your girlfriend and is, for the most part, very, very disappointed in you. Great!

    Really, it almost does not matter in which God you believe, what sect or major denomination. Nearly all are of the same idea, offer up the same unquestionable truth: Of course God cares what you do, who you screw, upon which sliver of dust-choked holy land you live, how high you raise your flag and which statue you kneel before. This is the greatest wonder of all: In the impossible vastness of time and space, God cares most desperately, most fanatically about this particular swirling blue dot of inconsequential dust we call home. Hey, we invented God, right? We can do with Him whatever we want.
    Exactly. Religion should be about connecting with the Great All through whatever set of symbols you find most resonant, and trying to behave considerately towards other people, and hopefully having a few peak experiences along the way.

    Hatch and match liturgy

    Church of England unveils a two-in-one wedding and baptism liturgy today as it seeks to make peace with families "living in sin"

    If they can do joint weddings and baptisms, why not same-sex marriages? Otherwise, it's one rule for the heterosexuals and a different rule for LGBT people. According to fundamentalists, the Bible says not to have sex outside marriage (in fact it doesn't say any such thing, though it implies it in several places). Certainly that's been the teaching of the Church of England, alongside its insistence on heterosexual sex only. So if it can countenance this new "hatch-and-match" liturgy, which doesn't fit in with its teaching, why not do same-sex marriages as well? Or change the teaching to something more sensible.

    Personally I think Christians should stop worrying about people's sex lives and worry about climate change, war, mass species extinction, etc., which are actually life-threatening.

    Monday, July 20, 2009

    A bisexual penguin

    Gay Penguins Split In Love Triangle Shock

    Harry has left Pepper for another "more attractive" bird at San Francisco Zoo - sparking outrage across the blogosphere. …More

    Harry and Pepper were in a six-year gay relationship. Now poor Pepper is heartbroken because Harry has left him for a female penguin. Clearly Harry is bisexual. And all the Christian fundamentalists could find to say about it was that "nature prefers heterosexual relationships". The heartless, cold-blooded, evil bastards. Have they no sympathy for poor jilted Pepper? And what would they know about nature? It's not like they get out much...

    Others have more sympathy. The Friggin Loon blog and its commenters were gutted on Pepper's behalf. Also there are millions of gay animals; one bisexual penguin is not evidence that nature prefers heterosexuality. In fact, gay animals contribute to the wellbeing of the species by looking after orphaned young.

    Thursday, July 16, 2009

    Thor's response

    New experiments in fiction has posted a cartoon about a prayer to Thor. This is what happened next.

    Your prayer has been placed in a queue and will be dealt with shortly.

    [sound of Valkyries singing]

    Your prayer is important to Asgard Inc. and will be dealt with as soon as possible.

    [sound of Valkyries singing]

    You are moving up the queue, also known as Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge.

    [sound of Valkyries singing]

    All our deities are busy right now, but one will be available shortly to answer your prayer.

    [sound of Valkyries singing]

    You have asked for a specific deity. Your prayer will now be routed to your chosen deity.

    [recorded message]
    Hi, this is Thor, I'm out shagging and drinking right now - go fix your own problem, Heathenry is meant to be a religion for the self-reliant.

    [listens to answerphone message]

    You'll be good? What kind of namby-pamby Christian crap is that? Oh wait, mead? Meeeaaadd? Now you're talking! Oh wait, YOU'RE gonna quaff the mead? No, no, no and no. You give the mead to me, that's how it's supposed to work.

    [glug, glug, glug]

    Mmmm, mead. Now, what was your request? A car? No! I shall give you a chariot. Drawn by goats. And with knives on the wheels. Yarr!

    Tuesday, July 14, 2009

    39% Calvinist? Surely some mistake

    Hmm, 39% Calvinist eh? Only because some of the values mentioned are mainstream...

    39% You are somewhat of a Calvinist. Some of your points of view make you look like a Calvinist. However, you live your life in a lighter way than Calvinists do, which allows you to enjoy it more.
    Work43%Really, you don't have a Calvinistic working ethos. You mainly work for yourself, and you don't see a reason to work much harder
    Strictness20%You know how to enjoy life. You don't always spend your time in a useful way. Mind the balance!
    Sobriety33%You were not born to be a Calvinist. Catholicism suits you better - slightly hedonistic, loose and emotional.
    Relationships0%In your relationships you are not very reserved. One might say: uncalvinistic. You let yourself go too easily to be a Calvinist.
    Beliefs0%You are an unconcerned believer, who doesn't worry too much.

    Play is useful too!

    Also Calvin was a very bad man, because he had Michael Servetus burnt at the stake.

    Thursday, July 02, 2009

    Naomi and Ruth in art

    The Jesus in Love blog has a new painting of Naomi and Ruth, the very close friends (and possible lesbian partners) whose story is told in the Book of Ruth, part of the Ketuvim.
    And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried.

    Ruth 1:16-17
    This subject has been popular in art for centuries. There's an Old Master at the Art and the Bible website, by Pieter Lastman ca. 1583–1633, entitled Ruth Declares her Loyalty to Naomi (1614). There's another in the Sudley House collection in Liverpool, by Ary Scheffer. William Blake got in on the act too:

    Naomi entreating Ruth to follow Orpah (detail),
    Illustration (1795) by William Blake (1757-1827)
    Victoria and Albert Museum, London

    There's a nice little picture of them on Monkey Mind, probably taken from an illustrated Bible:There's also a sort of quasi-Classicist depiction of them by Thomas Williams Rooke, entitled "Naomi, Ruth and Obed" (1876): There's a nice modern drawing, unattributed, with Hebrew text:This next one, from a blogpost entitled Ruth and Naomi: The Bible on Lesbians, is nice (and I like the pinky desert landscape). It looks as if they are just going to kiss...
    Ruth and Naomi, Orpah departing, 1902
    by Philip Hermogenes Calderon (1833-1898)

    Police raid gay bar on anniversary of Stonewall

    This is terrible.

    Police Raid Gay Bar in Fort Worth, Texas
    on the 40th Anniversary of Stonewall

    Late last Saturday night, June 27, Fort Worth Police Officers and Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) officers entered the Rainbow Lounge in Fort Worth and arrested seven (7) people. One was critically injured during the raid.

    The story quickly spread to major news outlets such as the Metroplex, CNN, The Rachel Maddow Show, The Michaelangelo Signorile Show, The Daily KOSS, and The Huffington Post.
    Video of the raid.

    Fort Worth Raid

    Our friends at Equality Texas are encouraging LGBTQ supporters to contact Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief to demand a full investigation.

    This raid is yet another stark reminder that there is still so much work to be done to end bigotry and prejudice in America and around the world. Soulforce remains committed in our efforts to end the political and religious oppression of LGBTQ people that leads to such violence.

    Source: Soulforce newsletter, 1 July 2009.

    Friday, June 19, 2009

    Is this discrimination?

    Jason over at the Wild Hunt has a post about a group of British Wiccans who tried to book a Catholic social club.

    They didn't know it was a Catholic social club when they tried to book it, and they were completely honest that the booking was for a group of witches (the event was called the Witches' Ball). The man who initially took the booking said that the social club was a business and only tenuously attached to the Catholic Church. He was then overruled by the diocesan authorities.

    The comments on the article in the Stockport Express explain what went on:
    When I called to book the venue which had been recommended and which I had used many times I new it as The Flint Street Social Club, I never knew it was run or attached to the Catholic church and when the Gentleman, who was very nice by the way, answered with Our Lady's I then told him who I was, what we wanted and who were were, totally up front and said that I did not want to compromise them in any way. he assured me that this was a totally separate Buisness venture and that anyone could book the room and then 'do what we want in it' . I would not have continued with the booking had he said any different. I required a room large enough to take in excess of 150 people plus a stage where the nights entertainment Abba Fusion an Abba Tribute Duo could perform in complete safety with all there stage equipment.

    The Witch's Ball is a family event with dancing, games etc just like any other party. The difference being that some of us Walk the well worn path of The Old Ways, ordinary people, with ordinary lives.

    It is such a shame that all religions cannot accept each others ways as we respect every other religion.

    The man who had to also tell me that we couldnt have the room was very apologetic and said embarrased at having to tell me they wouldnt let us have the venue.
    I guess they have a right to veto certain events (like arms' dealers conferences, BNP meetings and the like) but it's not as if the Wiccans were planning anything other than a family party at the venue.

    I hope that dialogue rather than litigation will be the result of this, but I think, as another commenter points out, it's quite likely that other events at Catholic-owned properties could include Wiccans, Muslims, lesbians, gays and so on. So the line should be drawn at what is illegal (i.e. hate speech) not what the Catholic Church considers immoral. That is the rule that applies to discrimination against LGBT people wanting to book Christian facilities, so the same should apply here.

    Is this discrimination? Yes, I think it is.

    Tuesday, June 16, 2009

    What's so great about Gerald?

    Gerald Gardner (the founder of Wicca) was a Conservative, and whilst he professed a deep reverence for women, the view of women he espoused was that of Jacquetta Hawkes, an archaeologist who popularised the notion of the Great Mother Goddess and promoted the idea of women as goddesses of the domestic hearth.

    Doreen Valiente had to argue with him when he tried to get her to step down as High Priestess because she was "too old".

    Also, according to Lois Bourne, Gardner was deeply homophobic (though this is perhaps surprising given his interest in alternative practices such as naturism).

    Of course, we have to remember that he was a man of his time, and make allowances for some of his attitudes. He also had many fine qualities - wit, charm, originality, etc. And there are several things I am eternally grateful to him for:
    • he did not insist on being reverenced as Our Glorious Founder, and would make adjustments when people argued with him.
    • he gave out different Books of Shadows to different High Priestesses, so there could not be a canonical version of the BoS (no matter how much some people want to turn it into the Wiccan equivalent of the Bible).
    • he encouraged his covenors to use the bits of ritual they liked and not bother with the rest
    If we compare him to other founders of religions, both ancient and modern, we can see that their religions either declined after their deaths or became rigidly dogmatic. So it is much better to have a flawed and human founder whose opinions you can question, than one whose every word is taken as a divine utterance. So he was great - and Wicca is a flexible and adaptable tradition - precisely because he was flawed.

    Saturday, June 13, 2009

    metaphors for religion

    Religions as languages - the idea that religions are languages, each with their own dialects, discourses, and ability to spread through trade and conquest. This metaphor is a very helpful way to understand religions, though it's not the whole picture. Wittgenstein's concept of language games could also be useful here. Jeff Lilly explores this metaphor in two excellent articles, The Future of Neopaganism in the West, Part I: Prestige and Stigma and The Future of Neopaganism in the West, Part II: Going Organic. Similarly, Andrew J Brown likens religions to irregular verbs:
    Christianity is an irregular verb par excellence (as too, of course, are all the other world religions). To speak it and understand its hopeful message you simply have to learn them, live them, always use them in the context of the world in which you find yourself. They are never reducible to a set of simple unifying, rational rules.
    Religions as vinegar tasters - there's a Taoist painting of Confucius, Buddha and Lao Tsu tasting vinegar; only Lao Tsu is smiling and enjoying the vinegar for what it is. The vinegar represents life, the world as it is. Another article by Jeff Lilly explores the idea of the vinegar tasters.

    Religions as software - if your brain is the hardware and your mind is the operating system, religions are the software installed on it (and sometimes it's really difficult to uninstall them). My article, Religions as software, explores this idea.

    Religions as ex-girlfriends - Al Billings' hilarious article (update: sadly no longer available) explores the idea of religions as ex-girlfriends, which means they naturally have opinions of each other:
    [Wicca] complains about your “kablahblah” and rolls her eyes while mumbling about patriarchal power schemes. She can’t stop talking about Roman Catholicism and how wrong she was for you… in fact, she seems pretty obsessed with her sometimes.
    Religions as explanatory tools for various situations - like why shit happens (surprisingly accurate); why your web page cannot be found; and of course, how many adherents it takes to change a lightbulb (there are Christian lightbulb jokes, Pagan lightbulb jokes, Jewish lightbulb jokes, Buddhist lightbulb jokes, and there may be many others that haven't been discovered).

    Religions as cities - this one's been popular ever since someone dreamed up the heavenly Jerusalem, and Augustine burbled on about the City of God. Nevertheless, not a bad metaphor; different denominations can be different suburbs. As Evelyn Underhill famously said, ‘the Anglican Church may not be the city of God but she is certainly a respectable suburb thereof’. Andrew Brown has a lovely article on religions as cities. If Christianity is a city, is Paganism another city (possibly with more trees), or is it the surrounding countryside?

    Religions as receivers of frequencies - it occurred to me the other day that each religion has its own frequency for tuning in to the numinous, and that in between the frequencies, there is static (but perhaps one day a new radio station will appear there). Or perhaps one religion is tuned to light, another is sound, and another is radio waves, and so on -- so each religion is a different type of receiver for detecting the emissions from the numinous.

    Religions as colours - each religion has a different set of colours representing the philosophical and cultural ideas within it.

    Religions as rhizomes or river systems - Deleuze and Guattari's idea of the spread of ideas as being like the growth of rhizomes could also be useful here. Similarly, religions are discourses, so the idea of discourses as rivers could also be useful. R Diaz-Bone (2006) describes discourses as an 'expression, indeed part of a certain social praxis, that already defines a certain group of possible texts, that express that same praxis, indeed can be accepted as representatives of that same praxis.'

    Religions as trees: Tolkien described the Catholic Church as a big tree growing into time with its roots in eternity; and regarded the Protestant Reformation as an attempt to chop down that tree, with all its interesting gnarly bits, and start again with a new sapling. Regardless of what you think of his particular religious politics, it's a great metaphor. Trees grow in a particular place and are nourished by the soil and shaped by the winds that blow, so each religion is shaped by its environment; but all trees are recognisable as trees and have some features in common, by which we can compare them, so this metaphor gives you essence (the quality of treeness) and particularity (type of tree, environmental conditions).

    Tuesday, June 02, 2009

    Tuesday, May 26, 2009

    A theophany

    Christian theologians (especially Orthodox ones) love to point out that Pagans are worshipping the creation, whereas they are worshipping the creator.

    It is one of the first rules of interfaith dialogue to listen carefully to what others say they believe, rather than telling them what they believe.

    This creator and creation thing is a bit of an old chestnut and not really true (it may be so in terms of some Christian theological systems, but it doesn't translate into ours).

    In other words, Mu. (A Japanase word meaning, "your question is irrelevant in my paradigm"; kind of like "meh".)

    Most Pagans see the Divine as immanent in the Universe, not necessarily as identical with it (and yes, don't tend to pay much attention to the unknowable, or believe in the transcendent aspect) so the categories of creator and creature are a bit meaningless, really... in fact I personally find the idea of an external supernatural creator offensive, because to me the Universe was born, not made. It is a theophany: a manifestation of the Divine.

    As Sam Webster wrote in his 2007 article, How Close the Gods? Transcendence, Immanence and Immediacy in Pagan Religion (given at Pantheacon 2007):
    Immediacy is a more modern term for wrestling with this problem, although one can find the idea discussed in the deep past. It is a subtle idea but its implications are vast. Here we would say, "the Goddess made the Tree and is present AS the Tree (not just IN the Tree)." To touch the Tree is to touch the Goddess. She is immediately present. Nothing is between us and Her. The whole World IS Her, made BY Her and OF Her, and by implication, there is Nothing BUT Her.
    In this way of looking at it, it is not that we are focussed on the creation instead of the creator / creatrix: the two are identical, and so making a distinction between them is meaningless.