Thursday, November 27, 2008

the privatisation of religion

Hell In Little Axe: An Oklahoma Mom’s Chilling Battle With Religious Bigotry (Americans United for Separation of Church and State)

The thing that interests me about this story is that the two mothers who didn't want their children indoctrinated were themselves Christians, but still got labelled as "atheists" by the bigots who ran the school.

The picture here seems a lot more complicated than atheism vs religion -- it's about the privatisation of religion and individual liberty vs state-sponsored religion.

Sociologists of religion (Heelas & Woodhead, The Spiritual Revolution, 2005) have identified four main categories of religious group, which "new" atheists would do well to take note of, since it seems counter-productive to lump all religionists in the same category - many people who practice a religion agree with atheists that secularism is a good thing.

Source: Spirituality in Counselling and Psychotherapy
By Dennis Lines
Published by SAGE, 2006
ISBN 1412919576, 9781412919579

Heelas and Woodhead also identify two main ways of engaging with spirituality: "subjective-life" in which the individual spiritual life is paramount; and "life-as" in which individuality becomes subsumed to the collective identity. These attract different types of people and have very different results. In the past, adherents of subjective-life spirituality were generally regarded as heretics and often killed or persecuted.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

gender bending

According to the Gender Analyzer, there is an 84% chance that Stroppy Rabbit is written by a man. Well, a friend did once tell me that I am a gay man trapped in the body of a woman...

deep, so deep

The Stroppy Rabbit is an INTP, according to Typealyzer, a website that works out the Myers-Briggs personality-type of your writing (spotted by Chas, whose blog is an ISTP):

INTP - The Thinkers
The logical and analytical type. They are especialy attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.

Friday, November 21, 2008

religions as software

Christianity is like Microsoft:

  • It's a large corporate venture, bent on world domination
  • Once you've installed it on your hard drive, it's really difficult to get rid of it
  • Nearly everyone's got it (and they use it in schools), so it has become the default option
  • It is incompatible with other software
  • It takes up a lot of space on your hard drive
  • It fails to conform to international standards
  • But the user interface is attractive and the support is 24/7
Paganism is like Linux:
  • It's dead set against Microsoft
  • It's small and developed by a dedicated community of geeks
  • It comes from Northern Europe
  • The support arrangements are a bit patchy
  • It's eclectic and has lots of shareware
Reconstructionism is like programming via the command line:
Satanism is like a computer virus:
  • It's parasitic upon Microsoft and exploits its vulnerabilities
  • People blame it on the Linux geeks but it's actually done by spotty teenagers with no social life
  • Naive Microsoft users are always claiming there's more of it about than there actually is (there are only about 100 actual Satanists in the UK)
Google is like an insidious cult:
  • It appeared from nowhere and everyone thought it was peace-loving and non-corporate and cool
  • Now it is trying to take over the world by stealth
  • It started with the motto "Don't be evil" but then got into bed with a totalitarian regime
The New Age is like Facebook:
  • Light, bright and has lots of shiny gizmos
  • Uses social networking to connect people
Quakers (Friends) and Unitarians are like Apple Mac:
  • Generally owned by intellectuals and arty types; not corporate
  • Adheres to international standards
  • Great user interface; universally agreed to be cool
  • But hardly anyone actually owns one
Wicca is like Firefox:
  • Wicca discovered the Divine Feminine way before Christianity, and now they're stealing our clothes (so everyone will think they discovered Her) - Firefox invented tabbed browsing way before Microsoft, and now Microsoft have finally adopted it, and everyone will think they invented it
  • Both Wicca and Firefox have a great logo
  • Both adopted by a small community of dedicated users
New Atheists are like teenage computer hackers - they have no clue about what they're trying to hack into or how it works, but they like to create a virus or two (sorry, meme...)

(By Yewtree. If you pass this on to anyone else, please link back here).

See also: Religions as ex-girlfriends by Al Billings

sexual ethics

Just spotted this interesting chart of different religions' attitudes to sexual ethics in 1994. Well, if it was a choice between those seven, I'd rather be a Buddhist. Since they omitted Paganism, here's a summary:

Pagan attitudes to....

Sex between consenting teenagers
OK as long as they use contraception
Sex between an adult and a teenager
Unacceptable (difference of power)
Premarital sex
Blessed ("All acts of love and pleasure are My rituals")
Extramarital sex
Only if both parties to the marriage agree to it
Divorce It's a fact of life (and is provided for in the wording of the handfasting ceremony)
Masturbation Fine
Abortion Most Pagans are pro-choice
Contraceptives Encouraged
Married clergy
Married, single, we're not fussy
Female clergy
Yay! Priestesses are everywhere
Homosexual orientation
Blessed (fabulous actually)
Homosexual sex acts
Blessed ("All acts of love and pleasure are My rituals")
Same-sex weddings
Ordination of homosexuals
Lovely (you just try and stop 'em)

It would be interesting to know if there was any difference between different Pagan traditions on any of these issues.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

"Witchcraft" in Africa

African "witchcraft" has been in the news again recently.

Here is my view of this issue:
  • There are African traditional religions which include magical practitioners. In the 18th and 19th centuries, these practitioners were mislabelled as "witches" by Christian missionaries and colonialists. At that time the word "witch" still had almost entirely negative connotations. When these people's roles are being translated into English by Africans, they don't use the term "witch".

  • African traditional religions have two categories of "witchcraft":
    1. involuntary "witchcraft" which is a disease that the "witch" often doesn't know that they have. This is a complete misuse of the word "witch". (See Witchcraft among the Azande by W Evans-Pritchard for an anthropological study of this type of witchcraft belief.)
    2. sorcery or malevolent "witchcraft" - again, this has its own set of African words which probably don't map precisely onto the European concepts.
    Please note I don't believe that either (a) or (b) above actually exist, certainly not as an organised practice. Unfortunately evangelical Christians in Africa do believe in (a) above (and probably (b) as well), and are using it to get converts and money by stirring up a witch panic and torturing children (many of whom are rescued by the excellent charity Stepping Stones Nigeria).

  • During the late 19th and early 20th century, various European writers began to see witches as just traditional healers who were misunderstood, and so the word "witch" came to have positive connotations in some quarters; Gerald Gardner picked up on these writings and created Wicca (or the people who initiated him did so).

  • This new positive understanding still hasn't reached many evangelical or fundamentalist Christians, who regard all magic as being of the devil. The more enlightened Christians understand the difference between contemporary Pagan Witchcraft, the negative stereotypes of the 19th century, and the magical practices of African traditional religions.

  • In some circumstances, it may help to label traditional healers & magicians as being like Wiccans (where Wiccans are held in positive regard); in other cases, it may not (where Wicca is regarded as just another decadent Western practice, for instance).

  • Labelling all magical practitioners as "witches" is a bit too much like saying that anyone who does anything that looks like shamanism is a shaman, when they may have their own indigenous term and understanding of the practice which is different from that of the original shamans of the Tungus in Siberia. People's practices should be understood on their own terms, and not in terms imported from another context. It is quite correct to say that understanding it in terms of "black magic" versus "white magic" is very unhelpful. I'm just going one step further and saying we should be extremely careful in applying European terms, metaphors, or concepts to the situation; if we do so, we need to understand it in terms of the historical factors which might be causing the situation, and to be aware of the differences as much as the similarities.