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!