Last week I asked, “Where does compassion belong among Pagans and Polytheists?” Beneath this first question there is another, more relevant question; one that has been nagging at me for several days:
What is the point of your religion?
I think this is a valuable inquiry, and no one has asked me this just yet. Yesterday I enrolled at Marylhurst University, the first step in a course of study that I hope will one day lead to a Masters of Divinity. I trust that during that course of work someone would be inclined to ask this question.
Why do we do what we do? What does our tradition provide us in the way of making the world we live in, the communities we build, the people that we care for, better? More importantly, how does it inform our capacity to love, our ability to experience joy, or, for that matter, our willingness to stand with the full spectrum of human experience? Is our religion pacifying us, or challenging us to go deeper?
Many people responded to my post about compassion with the statement that they, too, felt this subject had been missing from conversations in their community, which leads me to wonder what people are talking about. I think about the Christians I’ve known, and the Christian communities that I’ve been a part of, and I remember countless times when the conversation would move toward a closer examination of the meaning of compassion, the power of our intentions, the relationship between our choices and the well-being of those around us. These conversations, as I remember them, were not laden with guilt, judgement or biblical references, and they had a kind of immediacy that I was electrifying to me. Our religion was, for us, a call to full presence in the world; being a Christian was a call to accountability to the world I was living in.
And now here I am, a Pagan, no longer a part of Christian community, still searching for that same sense of immediacy, that same urgent need to be present to the world and accountable to something larger than myself.
I can only conclude from all of this that there is some undercurrent of morality, or ethics, or a need for “right action” that is pulling at me, and that it matters little whether or not I call myself a Christian, a Pagan, or a Druid. There is something human about this quest. I heard the Dalai Lama on the radio today, and he said that first and foremost he was a human being. He said that, and I think that if someone who is as revered as him can recognize the value in placing ones humanity first and their cultural and religious framework second, then perhaps I should be willing to do so as well.
I feel like there has to be a greater purpose to our religious traditions than providing us with a sense of security, comfort, and personal or cultural validation. We get trapped in our identities, and we build walls around ourselves. I think we want clarity around whether we are Pagan, Polytheist, Christian, or some other such invention, in order to better insulate ourselves from one another. We want to be right, we fear being vulnerable, and we use our religions to protect ourselves.
But what if our religions encouraged us to reach outward, to seek commonalities, to see less distinction between human beings? What if our religions began with the premise that we were all connected, and that we were all worthy of respect, compassion, and love, and that we were each capable of providing those things to one another? What if there was a way to approach this kind of universality without any need to squabble about whose deity is best, who’s laws are true, and who’s cosmology is most relevant?
I wonder what that religion would look like.
My hope is that through the dialogue on this blog, and hopefully during my course of study at Marylhurst, that we might take a closer look at our human experiences, and in the process of doing so uncover something universal within our singularity; that we might dig into our own sacred subjectivity, and throw aside our need to be right. There is no reward in having all the answers; there is only value in learning how to ask better questions.
So with that, I begin.
What is the point of your religion? What tools does it provide to you? Does it equip you for defense or for outreach? Does it lead you to question, or does it encourage you to rest in your knowing?
I look forward to hearing your insights, your experiences, and your perspective!
Excellent question. I think, for myself, I would say that ultimately the point of my religion is connection; connection to other people, to the gods and spirits, to the world and the worlds beyond ours. It is through connection that I gain insight and strength, that I serve my gods and community, that I experience the joy and pain of the world; those are, in a way, the results of living my path. It’s the connection itself that is the ultimate point.
Wonderfully worded, sidhemoonwitch. Thank you for sharing your perspective with us here. It sounds as thought your emphasis on connection and connectivity informs all aspects of your life, which is right in line with the religion I was imagining.
Do you run into challenges in staying connected, or in remembering connectivity? How do you bring your awareness back to Connection?
I think staying connected is still a challenge of awareness for me and may always be, but I see that as a strength. I can’t take for granted something that requires constant care and nurturing, rather it is more precious for the effort invovled. As you say, it is not having the answers but asking the questions, and to me connection is like a perpetual question. One thing I do to bring that awareness of connection is strive to be fully in the moment and totally aware of my senses, because connection – for me – is as much a physical expereince of the world as it is a mental one.
As a teacher at Marylhurst, I immediately started wondering about the connection between what we do in classrooms and what we do in our own spiritual practices. Since you are taking this step, enrolling at an institution of higher learning, I wonder if there is also a question to ask here about the place for religion in higher ed?
Love this: “But what if our religions encouraged us to reach outward, to seek commonalities, to see less distinction between human beings?” This seems so similar to the driving ethic / question behind my own projects as a scholar and pedagogue. For example, I’ve spent the majority of my career thinking about the relationship between students and teachers, and about the relationship between the students I work with in the classroom and the rest of the human beings in the world.
As an educator, I have always thought it part of my mission — an ethical mission — to reach out not only to the people that enroll in my classes but also to a much larger community of learners. My intention with the new program (about the digital humanities) that I’m developing at Marylhurst is to create a learning space for enrolled students and to also engage the community through service learning projects and through open-to-the-digital-world extensions of online courses.
I think Marylhurst is very lucky to have you, Teo!
Thanks for your comment, Jesse. I’m so glad that you’re a part of the conversation here, and I’m grateful to be a part of the Marlyhurst community.
You bring up an interesting question about the relationship between higher education and religion. I think we’re both looking at them as means to a deeper level of engagement. In that way, I think they’re the same. There is also, perhaps, a quality of reverence inherent in both — your reverence for inquiry, process, discovery might look a lot like another’s reverence for ritual, contemplation, divinity. I like thinking about religion and higher ed as frameworks for human experience. Something about that feels right.
I wonder if you see there being a connection between the role of a teacher and the role of a spiritual leader. Are there parallels, do you think?
This last question jives really well with the other part from your post that I almost quoted in my initial reply: “What if there was a way to approach this kind of universality without any need to squabble about whose deity is best, who’s laws are true, and who’s cosmology is most relevant?” There’s something here about disrupting traditional power dynamics that applies also to my thinking about education (where the question of who’s right — who has the knowledge — is often all too important).
I think I displace the role of the teacher in the classroom from the front of the room to a less central position. For me, knowledge in the classroom comes from the students. The role of the teacher is to help encourage the development of that knowledge and to foster collaboration (so that knowledge continues to be shared/networked). Is this also the role of a spiritual leader?
I think so. But, perhaps not the role of a religious leader. There may be good cause to draw a distinction.
Perhaps a spiritual leader is more like a teacher, and a religious leader more like an administrator. Both can do good, and both can foster an environment for learning; but the focus of the teacher remains on the student, while the administrator must consider the life of the entire institution.
As someone who has inhabited both rolls, do you think this would this be a fair comparison?
Yes, this is a really good distinction. But I think it’s a relatively slight modulation (at least for me). Encouraging development and fostering collaboration in the classroom (as a teacher) also require decisiveness and leadership. And, for me, being an administrator is still an act of advocating, not for the institution itself, but for teachers/students (as players at the institution).
Maybe, the work of the administrator is more abstracted from individual students toward thinking about students, teachers, and learning as concepts. Not quite sure, but it might just be a matter of scale.
This, though, comes from someone that has devoted most of his career to both teaching and administration (almost equally), which is rare. The modulations are (or seem like they must be) less slight for others.
Thank you so much for putting this into words. I’ve been feeling something like this for many years. Maybe it is something akin to religion jealousy? The other religions have the organization and the organizations to do great things and affect so much positive change, that I want to be able to do it to.
Thanks again for the inspiration!
A Mormon acquaintance of mine calls this “holy envy.” 🙂
I like that term! Thanks!
I’ve always preferred “steeple envy”. >8)
I’m glad the post resonated with you, pagandad.
We can affect change as individuals. The Pagan Community is not famous for its mass-organizational skills, but we can keep a fire burning as good as anyone else. I like to think that any worthwhile change must begin with the passion and belief of a single person. Perhaps you can initiate that change in the space you occupy.
What ways would like to affect change?
I like to think I am already doing that. From my Pagan parenting blog to my community site for Pagan Families. To my efforts on building community in my local area.
My only wish is to get people organized to effect bigger change.
It sounds like you’re doing great work, and I wouldn’t underestimate the ways in which small change can turn out to be big change.
Blessings to you in your service!
Thank you for your kind words. It is easy to feel like one is not making any progress and getting discouraged.
I definitely believe that the point of my religion is connection. My dream is to open a multi-faith shop/community center where people of all faiths and walks of life can come together in one place and discover how much we are alike instead of focusing on our differences. In order to successfully aid people of different faiths I am exposing myself to as many of them as I can while I am in business school. While I consider myself primarily a Druid, I choose to see the connections between what I believe and the beliefs of others instead of the differences.
I’m so excited for you, Brendan. This is an amazing thing that you’re doing. Is seems as though seeking out the connections is key to forming connection. If you look for them, they’re appear.
I think there is something rather sacred about opening this kind of store. While it is a business, it must also feel like a calling. Is that how you experience it? What do you think led you to this?
I was raised in a family with very little connection. We were not close to each other. We did not have a shared faith. We were strangers related through blood or marriage and that was it. Growing up without feeling connected to the people who should be your first connections made me want to seek it out. I became fascinated at a young age with how religion brought people together and horrified at how it divided. I have had a desire since a very young age to help people focus on how alike we are instead of killing each other over our differences. If I can provide for my family at the same time then that is just a bonus.
“I think about the Christians I’ve known, and the Christian communities that I’ve been a part of, and I remember countless times when the conversation would move toward a closer examination of the meaning of compassion, the power of our intentions, the relationship between our choices and the well-being of those around us. These conversations, as I remember them, were not laden with guilt, judgement or biblical references, and they had a kind of immediacy that I was electrifying to me. Our religion was, for us, a call to full presence in the world; being a Christian was a call to accountability to the world I was living in.”
As for the bigger question…”What if our religions began with the premise that we were all connected, and that we were all worthy of respect, compassion, and love, and that we were each capable of providing those things to one another?”
All religions begin with the premise that we are a part of something bigger and that requires …simply… faith. The naivete present in your question does not take into account the shadow side of humanity..which is nicely wrapped around the ego. We have to be the vision we seek. This means loving, respecting, showing compassion to the most horrendous of our species. AS long as there are humans, there will be the need for power over, for right thinking, for oppression, for darkness, etc…it is the nature of our broken existence. This is the dualistic reality of the earthly plane and the very reality that invites us all to grow into the fullness, the wholeness…of who we’ve been created to be.
Always love your questions…good stuff..
Thanks for the comment, Tammy. I’m glad that the post resonated with you.
You’ve made some definitive statements about the nature of the human condition to which I don’t quite know how to respond. I’ll try to frame my thoughts as questions in the hope that you might unpack a little further what you mean.
Do you think that it is necessary to accept dualism, as you’ve framed it, in order to grow into fullness? Must one affirm brokenness in order to be whole? Must the shadow be synonymous with evil? Can one develop a healthy relationship to the shadow?
Aren’t you going down the path of instrumentalizing religion? If you want to make a religion that dissolves boundaries, why would you ever start with paganism when you have two incredibly popular flavors of universalist religion, Christianity and Islam, right there as examples? Paganism, on the other hand, for all its many fine qualities that we would agree on, is also strongly individualist to the point that we’re like herding cats who sometimes won’t even admit they are cats.
But let’s take a concrete example: consider money. Star Foster was just talking about how hard it is to do community projects without a steady funding stream. Can you imagine a pagan equivalent of Islamic zakat, or Mormon 10% tithing?
Thank you for your comment, Smuttny77. You ask great questions.
I wonder if there is a relationship between the instrumental and the intrinsic that is worth acknowledging here. Our religions provide us with experiences that are worth something to us, and they do something to inform the way we move through the world. I’m not sure we can separate those two things, just as I’m not sure that you could ever have orthopraxy without orthopraxy. There is a dialogue happening between these ideas.
I’m not sure how to respond to your question of money. Before discussing shared funding, perhaps it’s worthwhile to discuss shared need. For example, what is the purpose of the community project, and how is everyone served by it?
Again, thank you for your contribution to this conversation!
(For more clarity on how I arrived at Pagan, which is an ongoing process for me, I’d encourage you to browse through the Post Archives. There are a few posts written specifically about that journey.)
What is the point of your religion? For me, it provides a way to connect with spiritual forces and deities that guide my exploration of my incarnate life. My purpose in living is as a data collection device for the divine. As the divine I work with cannot experience what life is like to live in a wholly human form, I am able to provide those experiences. On the other hand, there may be specific things they wish to know about, and so they explore that which is creation from my living of life.
What tools does it provide to you? Primarily it provides the same life tools that can be found outside of religion. How to live, live well, be good, and be good at it. I just happen to like the particular format that I receive those tools through my religious practices.
Does it equip you for defense or for outreach? Neither. Some of us are introverts, and are more defensive by nature. Some of us are extroverts and are more focused on outreach by nature. The religion that I follow doesn’t make a judgment call one way or another, save to say that we are witches for the world. Whether we interpret that as the world of human interaction, the world of natural forces, the world of cosmic identities, or whatever is up to the individual.
Does it lead you to question, or does it encourage you to rest in your knowing? Both. Just as humans we need a wake/sleep cycle to maintain our physical health, for my religious practices, there are times to question and there are times to rest with the knowledge that you have. Neither is better nor worse than the other.
Thank you for your comment, Marienne. I appreciate that you’ve taken the time to express your perspective, and I welcome your voice in this conversation.
One thing I might clarify: When I think of “outreach,” I think of interaction with individuals, institutions, facets of our communities. I was using the term to describe what it is to branch out into the world and form relationship. Our religions, I think by nature, inform how we go about doing that. We either are instructed by come religious tenet, or through the example of a mythological or religious figure. At least, this is how I conceive of it. Perhaps I’m reaching for a discussion about ethics, or right action, and it was with that in mind that I used the word, “outreach.”
“What if our religions began with the premise that we were all connected, and that we were all worthy of respect, compassion, and love, and that we were each capable of providing those things to one another? What if there was a way to approach this kind of universality without any need to squabble about whose deity is best, who’s laws are true, and who’s cosmology is most relevant?”
I think that’s why I have always shied away from religions in general. I knew as a teenager that all I wanted to answer to the question of “what religion are you?” would be “the religion of love and respect for all,” but I never said that, because such a religion didn’t exist. And even if I started using that phrase now, knowing as I do that one *can* just make up a religion and be its sole priestess, it would be untrue. Because in order to be a religion, it does need more than that fundamental understanding. It does need rules, cosmology, an opinion as to whether deities exist in plurality or not at all, etc…if you just say “love and respect” that’s more a philosophy than a religion. So there you have it, I still have no religion and hope I never do, because it would mean setting rules and standards rather than being simply guided by an inner goodness or moral compass. Religion, in my understanding, means having to assert one opinion about the universe, its creation and its meaning, even if it accepts or tolerates others as well. I think that’s what most people would deem as necessary constituents of a religion, anyway.
Thank you for this comment, Elysia. I’m glad you’re a part of the dialogue here.
I understand where you’re coming from, and I respect your position. As someone who feels that philosophy is more fitting than religion, how do you approach your philosophy? Do you approach your study of ideas in any one particular way, and does that process bring you an experience of enrichment? There have been, I’d wager, many people who have chosen philosophy over religion, and had a rich life for that decision. I’m curious how you practice your philosophical study.
I have always defined Paganism as a religion of relationships. It is based on relationships between myself and Nature, myself and Deity/Source, and myself and all other sentient beings. This is the web of life.
Teo, you mentioned having religion teach us to look outward, but I find that I have the most spiritual growth when I look inward. I admittedly combine elements of Eastern philosophy and Tantric practice within my Druidry. I am also a Process Theologist, which means that my conception of deity is rather different than most other Pagans. I see deity as a singular, evolving process that encapsulates the universe within its body, a form of panentheism. Deity evolves over time based on the cumulative experiences of biologic life. Imagine that deity is the ocean and that each biologic process is a drop of water. Every drop contributes to the whole. In this paradigm, the only purpose of life is to experience. There is no right or wrong experience.
The purpose of religion, then, is to maximine our embodied experience and to make it as pleasurable as possible. This is not a call to mindless hedonism, but rather where I see Tantra making a valuable contribution to my own path. Tantra is the inward journey that ultimately reveals the unitive nature of life and fosters a profound love between oneself and the rest of the world. Every experience becomes a sensual connective recognition of deity within eachother.
The purpose of religion is going to depend on what you think the purpose of life is and how you conceptualize deity and the universe. For me, the purpose of religion is the fostering of profound relationality, connection, and intimacy between oneself and the world until we are unified in a blissful orgasm of unitive experience.
First off, I have to tell you that I find your description of deity to be quite compelling. Something about that rings true to me.
There’s also something wonderfully succinct about your last paragraph.
I’m going to have to sit with this for a while.
Thank you, Ben.
Your description of deity sounds like Process Theology to me. You’ve described it beautifully.
Funny that you came to mention the Dalai Lama in your article because as soon as I saw your mention of “compassion” with regards to faith, I thought immediately of him. I am presently reading his book “A Simple Path” and am humbled by his wish to place a genuine compassion for all life before anything else. And when he speaks of the various religions existing in this world, he gives great insight, saying “Whether or not we like the philosophy of other religions isn’t really the point… the point is that through these different traditions, a very negative person can be transformed into a good person. That is the purpose of religion. This alone is a sufficient reason to respect other religions.” And to that I would add that this alone is sufficient reason to respect other humans. Period. We all have the potential to develop a good heart. It just is likely to occur via a differing path.
I love this: “We all have the potential to develop a good heart.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Thank you for taking the time to comment, Em, and for being a part of this dialogue.
Its interesting that you mention this because our local Interfaith Council actually asked me to be on a panel discussion on the topic of compassion in faith communities at our annual dinner last year. It was a really interesting combination of panelists. We had a social worker from Catholic Community Services, a Baptist Religious Studies Professor, and a Druid Priest (myself).
What we all arrived at is that no one religion has the corner on compassion. It isn’t a religion trait, its a human trait, one that we are all capable of exercising regardless of our faith or spiritual path. For me it comes down to the reciprocity between beings, sometimes called hospitality by ADF Druids. So maybe reciprocity is our “compassion”?
Remembering that what others need or want isn’t always the same as what I need or want, putting myself in their place and being empathetic to their position is all part of hospitality for me. I know that not everything I do for others is coming back to me directly, and I don’t expect it to, but being kind and understanding to others is still fulfilling the expectations of the reciprocal nature of human interaction.
This is definitely something to reflect more on though, Teo. Thank you for bringing it up.
My pleasure. Thank you for being a part of this conversation.
I love that you served in this role, and I’m glad to hear that there was a place for you at the table. I also like this: “no one religion has the corner on compassion.” I couldn’t agree with that more.
I’m curious, though, if compassion and reciprocity are interchangeable. I see the way in which your understanding and practice of reciprocity is broad, including such things as empathy and understanding. Perhaps there’s a way of integrating compassion into a practice of reciprocity.
You speak of not expecting things to come back to you, and that you recognize that the act of care and hospitality is an extension of healthy human interaction. I would suggest that your stance toward these ideas and practices is evidence of, and perhaps even an exercise of compassion.
You are right – this subject is something worth spending some time with. Perhaps it will come up in conversation at 8 Winds!
The purpose of Hellenism, (Ancient Greek Recon) is to allow us to experience beauty. In all it’s aspects, even the beauty behind our trials and failures because behind those things is learning and all learning is beautiful. One of the Delphic Maxims says to “Always learn or gather knowledge” One of Dionysos’ aspects is “the Mysterious One,” an aspect that embraces the mystery that is part of the darkness, He is also the lamplighter as well. So out of the darkness, out of the mystery there is light, (enlightenment) is that not beautiful?
That’s Epicurean isn’t it?
Forgive me, Star, but I’m not completely familiar with what Epicurean is. Could you explain what you mean?
The founder of the philosophy Victory White espoused, which Cicero critiqued in his essays “On the Nature of the Gods”, is Epicurus. Thomas Jefferson espoused that philosophy, but I wouldn’t characterize it as pan-Hellenic.
Yes… that is beautiful. Thank you for your comment, Victory.
I like this idea that seeking beauty is central to your practice. Would you say, then, that the “point” of Hellenism is to foster a love of beauty, or to encourage the cultivation and experience of beauty?
Are there any other themes in Hellenism which are as universally applied?
This is a very thought-provoking subject, but I find myself tempted to re-frame your question as, “What does your religion do for you?” I find myself re-framing it as such because your initial question, “What is the point of your religion?” is like asking, “What is the point of a tree?” It simply IS, it doesn’t really need a reason to be.
I think that religions fill a very specific need in sentient, social species; the need to belong to a group, or to belong to something greater than themselves, especially if drawn from mythic or heroic imagery/archetypes. Religion can both connect us to our ancestors as well as grant glimpses towards a (hopefully better) future for our descendants. As a surveyor, our state professional association’s motto is “An eye to the future, a foot in the past,” – the same could be said of religion.
What does my religion do for me? Honestly, I’m not sure. Its certainly something I’m going to be thinking about in the next few days, you can be assured – I’ll probably come back with more thoughts in a day or so.
You’re certainly free to re-frame the question if that seems meaningful to you, Eran. With that said, I do not think the two questions point to the same thing. The question I posed is an attempt to examine what our how our religions prepare us to live outside of a religious system, which I think yours is more focussed on how a religious system accepts us internally. Do you see what I mean?
I’m also not sure I agree with the statement that a religion “doesn’t really need a reason to be.” The whole point of this post, and of my own personal exploration of these traditions, is to uncover what, exactly, that reason might be. Interestingly, you go on to acknowledge that religions fill a need, and my question is — what need are they filling, specifically?
In any case, I’m eager to read whatever you bring to the conversation. If you feel inclined to answer the question you’ve posed, so be it! 🙂 Either way, thank you for being a part of this dialogue.
I’ve re-read this a couple of times now, Teo, and I find it very interesting that each time I glean a bit more from it.
This part, though, keeps me coming back to it: “And now here I am, a Pagan, no longer a part of Christian community, still searching for that same sense of immediacy, that same urgent need to be present to the world and accountable to something larger than myself.”
Why do you feel the need to be accountable to something larger? A good deed is its own reward, and an ill deed carries its own burdens. Going back to your previous posts about ‘Theological capitalism’, if we do things solely in hope of reward, either through pleasing our gods or some defined beneficent afterlife, instead of simply doing good because it is the right thing to do – to me, that seems…wrong. (I apologize for this last sentence; its terrible, but I can’t think of a better way to write it.)
You wrote: “The question I posed is an attempt to examine what our how our religions prepare us to live outside of a religious system, which I think yours is more focussed on how a religious system accepts us internally. Do you see what I mean?”
Unfortunately, I’m not sure I do. I’ve heard morals defined as “How we act when no-one is watching.” The concept of ‘outside a religious system’ doesn’t really occur to me; my gods are with me wherever I am, I can call on Them at any time. My path guides me on to correct action, via the Nine Noble Virtues and the Nine Charges – is this more what you were speaking of?
As I had said, I think that religions fill the need of social beings in that they create a sense of belonging to both a group, and to connect with both the past and present, beyond one’s mortal lifespan though the continuation of that group. I’m a fan of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and I see religion in fulfilling (or helping fulfill) many of the needs Maslow identified: security, belonging, morality, etc.
What if our religions began with the premise that we were all connected, and that we were all worthy of respect, compassion, and love, and that we were each capable of providing those things to one another?”
i wanted to answer this seemingly rhetorical question first. i think, at least in the many pagan paths, there IS a premise that were all connected in a much greater and deeper way than we perceive. i also believe that the star encompassed by a circle touching each point is a symbol expressing that connection or bond. its not just about the 4 elements; a star has 5 points. some think of the fifth, topmost point as “spirit.” as do i, but i think the concept of “spirit” cannot only be of the individual, but of the plural sense, too. also, spirit in the plural sense could very easily be replaced with “humanity” since it is the umbrella for all of the god’s creations…including us humans.
now onto the good stuff:
What is the point of your religion?
the “point,” i guess, is to feel whole. without it i feel empty, disconnected, and unbalanced. it allows me to focus, become closer to my family and the world around me, and it lets me slow my life down by taking the time to do rituals and teach my child and consider the beauty of the created world and the blessings the gods have provided us all.
What tools does it provide to you?
my religion provides me with the tools to better myself, better show my child the greatness around her and in her and yet to come, and the tool [gift] of reflection. reflection is something a lot of people speak of [no matter what religion or cultural background], but i see very few people actually engage in. i see people make the same mistakes repeatedly and wonder why they dont reflect and learn from those mistakes. i was like that once, too. but my path requires me to reflect, and reflection allows me to learn and makes changes when applicable.
Does it equip you for defense or for outreach?im not quite sure. i guess, it keeps me to myself since im not required to be assertive in any sense outside of myself and my family. but it provides me opportunity for outreach when im ready. although, it also gives me strength to defend myself, my beliefs, and whats important to me. so, in a sense, i could explain it as, neither and both at the same time.Does it lead you to question, or does it encourage you to rest in your knowing?im naturally inquisitive about everything. everything has to have a reason. so i search for the knowledge to quench my thirst. however, not everything can have a reason, and sometimes i have to rest knowing that i wont get an answer at this time, or maybe ever. i dont always rest easy without knowing, but then i reflect, learn, and continue. i call it a path [as opposed to religion] for a reason…because im always continuing on, not confined to a set of rules or regulations, and im free to take either fork in the road or discover side paths depending on where im at in my life. it may not be as organized as other religions, but i find it more fulfilling than the religions ive explored in the past. 🙂
Thank you, Lynn, for sharing this comment. I love the way you process through your own perspective.
Something in this statement is interesting to me: “I guess, it keeps me to myself since I’m not required to be assertive in any sense outside myself and my family.”
When I think about “outreach,” I don’t necessarily think about there being any requirements for it, although that interpretation has come up several times in this thread. I also don’t think of “outreach” as being an assertive gesture. It’s more about the impulse, inclination, desire to do for others. I see the you feel that drive with your family, and that’s a good thing. I’m curious if there’s anything in your practice that encourages you to look outward for opportunities for “outreach” as I’m describing it.
For me, religion is tied to the concept of “faith,” which I think belongs at a much more basic level than creedalism. The focus of all faith is a simple question: is the world a good place, or a bad place? Is my life in this world a good thing, or a bad thing? Do I celebrate my life, or endure it?
There is no incontrovertible evidence for either answer. I don’t think there can be any such evidence. It’s a glass-half-full question. An interpretation. A matter of faith.
I grew up in a religion where life was to be endured. I’ve rejected this idea, though I constantly struggle with it, because my attitude was bent from childhood in the direction of looking at the world as a suburb of Hell: the Devil is the landlord, and the whole thing is scheduled for demolition in fire; we are born to suffer. Credo in deum omnipotentem et crudel.
In many ways, I would prefer to abandon religion entirely. But our secular alternatives are also steeped in Abrahamic mythology, in the idea of expulsion from Eden — whether it is the idea of Darwinian selection through bloody competition, or the artificial scarcity imposed on us by our economic system, or the perpetual drizzle of Bad News from the media. These things all tell us that Life is Hard, Life is Miserable, Life is a Bad Thing. We no longer live in the Garden.
That’s why “sanctity of life” issues are so strident, especially coming from the Right. They have to scream about the “sanctity of life,” because the theology claims that life sucks, and has sucked ever since Eden, and will continue to suck until the world ends.
Screaming in rage about the sanctity of life isn’t good enough for me. Nor is squatting in Satan’s tenements until they are all burned down in the Apocalypse. Nor, for that matter, is waiting for the next kick from Brigit because I don’t “get it.”
The Jews have always argued bitterly with their God. The Greek heroes would take up arms against the gods when the gods got too petty, or too corrupt and unjust. I get deeply angry at injustice, but I would prefer to avoid the conflict by avoiding petty or corrupt gods. I’m not interested in arguing with them, whether they are real or imagined.
Religion is, for me — and to the extent that it works for me — is a way of framing the world in a way that I can say to myself that life is a good thing.
Thank you for commenting, Themon. You reliably give us much to think about, and your insights enrich this conversation.
This last part: “Religion is, for me…a way of framing the world in a way that I can say to myself that life is a good thing.” — I think that really says something. Religion, as I see you describing it, can provide you with tools to appreciate your life, the world, the beauty and complication of it all. A movement toward religion is a movement toward a deeper appreciation for everything around you.
Is that a fair characterization?
as others have mentioned. The main point about my religion is connection. becoming aware of the connection between all things, and the nature of those connections, and how to work along those connections.
That is becoming a theme, Henry, and I’m happy to hear it. I’m also glad that you’ve shared your perspective here. Thank you for being a part of this dialogue.
What is the point of your religion?
The Gods are the point of my religion – my religion guides my worship of them, opens me to more closely approach them and (hopefully) guides me to be a better human being because of it.
Thank you for your comment, Harmonyfb. I’m glad you’ve joined this conversation.
I think it’s the last part of your comment that intrigues me most. This: “(hopefully) guides me to be a better human being because of it.”
I think I’m interested that this desire to be better is placed second to your worship of the Gods. That sounds like the motivations of a mystic, someone who seeks communion with the divine first and foremost. Does the word “mystic” resonate at all with you?
Does the word “mystic” resonate at all with you?
I don’t know. I know that I’ve sought them since childhood (I had a profound encounter with the Horned God when I was very small, and it has colored all of my spiritual life.) So, maybe I am a bit mystical. I just think that without the Gods, there is no religion (at least *mine*.)
I’m loving the depth of the questions you’re asking here and I want to come back to this when I have a little more time (and a real keyboard).
Now that I have a real keyboard in front of me, I can formulate some kind of cohesive answer without technology getting in the way (I hope).
Anyhow, as a non-Epicurean Hellenic, I would like to go back to the idea of humble arete. If it is that the Theoi want humble excellence from us, then that means so much more than acquiring skill at your job, your hobby, or whatever your passion may be. Those things are important – Olympic runners don’t become Olympic runners without pushing to be the best in their field, but it is even more important to become skilled at being an adult human person. This means existing in right relationship with other human persons, even strangers. You’ll find stories of the gods disguised as mortals rewarding those who are hospitable or kind. To really be skilled at being human, it’s important to learn how to be kind, gentle, compassionate, and hospitable, not because the stranger you help might be a god in disguise, but because it’s the right thing to do. There’s a purity of heart there that’s the important thing and I believe that when one reaches the highest level of skill at being a human person, that’s enlightenment. That’s the best we can be and the closest we can come to the perfection of the Theoi.
That was a bit babbly, but I hope it made some sense.
Going from Christian to Pagan isn’t just going from one religion to another. It’s also retiring, relearning, disposing, etc. of one faith and all it’s trappings. If more converts to the different branches of Paganism sat down with indigenous or 2nd/3rd generation Pagans they’d realize that they left one faith but brought the previous faith’s mentality and baggage with them–shooting themselves in the foot every two steps.
For example this: “…our religious traditions than providing us with a sense of security, comfort, and personal or cultural validation. We get trapped in our identities, and we build walls around ourselves. I think we want clarity around whether we are Pagan, Polytheist, Christian, or some other such invention, in order to better insulate ourselves from one another. We want to be right, we fear being vulnerable, and we use our religions to protect ourselves.” is sadly a very Christian American mentality. In fact most of what you ask is something I hear many Pagans who come from Christian backgrounds ask. Maybe it’s because these are the questions that you have been taught to ask and would not know how or what else to ask.
I was raised with the beliefs of my People (Hawaiian), so maybe I can be of assistance, like how I suggested above. Instead of “What is the point of your religion”, it should be “Why is your Religion?”. Less self-focused questions like, “What can we do with what we have in our faiths that we can better/improve for the generations to come?”, “What needs to cleared away so as to do better by our Gods and ourselves?”.
Being a Pagan is already accepting that you don’t have to be any specific faith to be a good person. You do what you do because in your Na’au (Hawaiian, loosely translates to ‘gut/stomach’) you can feel, it is proper and Pono (Hawaiian, loosely translates to ‘Righteous’). You need no other provocation to do what it is right because… it’s the right thing to do. You do not do things that are not Pono because it is foolish/arrogant and foolishness/arrogance is self-harming, self-harm always spreads to harm of those around you, and so on and so forth. Pagan faiths aren’t generally supposed to be an ‘opiate of the masses’, nor make you happy–happiness comes from right action regardless of Path.
I hope that helped.
Thank you for your comment, Lamyka. I’m grateful to have you perspective be a part of this dialogue.
What I read in your comment, though, is that perhaps I, or those who share a similar perspective, are asking the wrong questions. I’m of the belief that there are no wrong questions. My line of inquiry may betray something about my upbringing, and I’m not sure I’m completely in agreement that my movement into a deeper Pagan practice requires me to dispose of anything. Perhaps retire, if it seems appropriate, or relearn when it becomes clear that a way of doing things is ineffective. But, again, I’m not sure how I would come to that conclusion without first asking these kinds of questions.
In a way, I see my inquiry into the nature of the effectiveness or relevance of a religious traditions — perhaps, in this case, a Pagan tradition — as intrinsically connected to your sense of “Pono.” How can one know what is righteous without first taking a closer look at the connections between our actions and their repercussions?
I’m not sure that I’m disagreeing with the way you’re working with Na’au or Pono — in fact, I think we may have more in common than you may think. I’m a believe in right action, and I think that religion has a responsibility to provide the space for examining what right action might look like.
Again, thank you so much for this comment. You’ve added much to this conversation.
Blessings to you.
I understand somewhat what you’re trying to communicate about my comment. Don’t look too deeply into the use of the words ‘right/wrong questions’, it’s not more important than the message I was trying to get across (without writing a dissertation), which I think you understood. It was more to share from the perspective of a Pagan who never had any of the background and/or hang ups that I see most new converts have.
Each faith asks different questions just as each person asks different questions, I would only fear running out of questions! I didn’t address many of your questions because I felt they were technical questions that you could very well apply to any faith, much like you would hear in interfaith work. I tried, instead, to tackle the more elusive ‘grand questions’ because those come directly from the heart and mind (mentality) of those speaking. If I had to sum up the spirit of what I was trying to communicate, it is that language is more than its vocabulary it’s the mindset behind it and the people it envelopes, to learn only the words from the mouth and none of the spark behind the eyes is an empty endeavor.
Malama Pono & Lady Bless,
For me atleast i came into Paganism from being an agnostic , and a near death experience . Having been out of Christianity for a few years , becoming a pagan was a reawakening . Was quite a learning curve finding my way around and thru the pagan community. After all was a long , sometimes painfull journey , i have felt more vunerable , emotionaly naked than at any other point in my life . But as they say that which dosen’t kill you , makes you stronger.Over a period of over 20 yrs i started out sorta wiccan , have ended up a Sinnreachd Warrior . For me my religion is a way of life , how i conduct myself and live. Is also part of my Cultural Identity.The Warrior Honor/Conduct code dictates how i live and treat others i encounter and are part of my life . Besides being a religion Sinnsreachd is a way of life and Culteral identity. Kilm
” … what if our religions encouraged us to reach outward, to seek commonalities, to see less distinction between human beings?”
Then they would be more like the Mystery schools, or the Neo-Platonic/Hermetic traditions that some see as the last great flowering of Pagan spirituality before the Dark Age. One thing I am working on at the moment is integrating the insights of J.M. Greer’s amazing _Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth_ into my practice (http://freemanpresson.wordpress.com/2012/04/05/review-of-mystery-teachings-from-the-living-earth/).
Frankly, I see a lot of momentum toward this type of Paganism, no matter how many of us might have initially been drawn to the glitter of thaumaturgy.
Freeman , the only problem with your comment is alot us particularly in the recon faiths are looking for a religious /ethnic identity. What we see as a problem in American society is it has no real culture . In our Recon based Faiths that is what we are looking for , preferrably from our own or an adopted ancestry.We are not looking to isolate ourselves we are just looking for something that fits in with our own hearts and souls . But it seems unfortunatly different religious groups don’t tend to mix . What your talking about is a utopian idea that in real life doesn’t work . What really needs to happen is widespread religious tolarance and acceptance. For American and others to be the land our founding father intended it to be . The American model if we can make it work as intended is a good way to live w/ others of a different faith . Kilm
I’d also like to add my faith , Sinnsreachd , teaches us how to live and who we are . We follow the Celtic Tuatha de Dannon , who gave our people a way to live and act . The Tuatha de Dannon [family of Danu] contains most if not all of the well known Celtic dieties. Thru what we call the triads we learn what we need to know about Honor and the correct way to act and treat others . How to live honorably , responcibly, w/ tolerance and grace.We also have an honor code within Sinnsreachd , this is a CR faith.A tribal mindset/ way of life. We also follow Brehon Law . Kilm
IN some sense, the “point” of every religion is the same – to help live full human lives. Of course many religions fall woefully short.
You sound like a Unitarian. =) I am both a pagan and a Unitarian. Pagan for my views on spirituality and Unitarian for my social connection, activism with social issues, and discussion of morality and other issues with peers.
As a pagan, the lens that I view the world through is focused on nature, as it is everywhere. All life that is around us was around before we got here and will be around long after we are gone.
It seems that a lot of what you are discussing in your article, the viewpoints of being right at least, stem from the Christian viewpoint of the right way and the wrong way. For many religions, there is only the way we worship and the way you do it.
But seriously, look into the Unitarian Universalist church as they believe exactly what you seek in your post:
“But what if our religions encouraged us to reach outward, to seek commonalities, to see less distinction between human beings? What if our religions began with the premise that we were all connected, and that we were all worthy of respect, compassion, and love, and that we were each capable of providing those things to one another? What if there was a way to approach this kind of universality without any need to squabble about whose deity is best, who’s laws are true, and who’s cosmology is most relevant?”
[…] Steven T Abell. I asked questions about the point of our religions, and it led to some of the most amazing comments yet on Bishop in the Grove. These questions I ask of religion and spirituality are useful. Or they […]
I still intend to address this soon, I’ve just been either busy or feeling too awful to deal with thinking, much less writing. The combination of the two is not happymaking. Anyway, I haven’t forgotten this.
Here’s my response, Teo.