Archive for the ‘Religion & Philosophy’ Category

I’m Religious You Stupid Hippo

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

Let me make state this clearly. I adhere to a belief system, a faith if you will. I am a religious person.

I know it’s all a matter of semantics but I’ve fallen into several discussions over the last few days where I find myself insisting I’m indeed a religious person. I think when people find out I identify myself as Pagan they automatically assume, amongst other things, that I’d also consider myself ‘spiritual’ rather than ‘religious’. And, as such, I’m much more fun to have around.

I’ve never been one for this whole ‘spiritual’ vs. ‘religious’ dichotomy. In my opinion, it really isn’t concerned with the specifics of any given belief system but rather it is used as shorthand for a collection of value judgments and assumptions usually held by the person making use of it.

Let me try and break it down as I understand it. Let’s start with the definition of ‘religion’. First, this actually means ‘organized religion’ and, usually, Christianity. Religious people are assumed to exist within a hierarchical structure where those at the top dictate the beliefs of those below them who, without reflection, gobble them up like hippos. (Yes, much like that wonderful childhood game.) Such a system inherently limits personal freedom and creativity and its power structure is usually maintained through a mixture of fear where questioning is not allowed.

On the other hand, ‘spiritual’ refers to belief systems where an individual sits outside of any sort of formalized structure. As such, personal expression and freedom are fully experienced. This in turn breeds open mindedness, self reflection and independence. Furthermore, ‘spiritual’ belief systems allow one to exist closer to nature (or the universe) since there is no intermediary to whom they must go to for answers.

Wrapped up in these definitions are also value judgments which usually become quite clear as the conversation progresses and, when coupled with the above definition, looks something like this:

Spiritual = Non-Christian (or non-Judeo/Christian/Muslim/Buddhist/etc.) = Free Thinker = Good

Religious = Often Christian, (or a formalized tradition) = Close Minded Sheep = Bad

Now, with my breadth of experience with people of various… um ‘faiths’ (was going to say religions GASP) I can honestly say that I’ve met just as many witless, close minded, self righteous asshats amongst those that consider themselves ‘spiritual’ as I have amongst those belonging to ‘organized religions.’ Likewise, I’ve known some very thoughtful, honest, reflective, good people who also happen to be Christians, Jewish, etc. and who value new ideas and are quite reflective about there own.

As such, I find this entire ‘religious’ vs. ‘spiritual’ distinction a load of crap. It speaks to personal bias which cannot be stripped away from a discussion of the specifics of the religious systems being discussed. This sort of thing always puts a bad taste in my mouth.

/WARNING – Rant ahead

Furthermore, the dichotomy is often a nice way to begin Christian bashing. As such, it’s used as a tool to distance the ‘basher’ from those villainous Christians.

“Am I religious? Fuck no! Christians are religious. I’m spiritual! I don’t have anything in common with them!”

To which I’d sometimes like to reply, though perhaps in more pretty, language, “Look asshole. You do have a LOT more in common with ‘them’ than you might think. Aside from the fact that we all belong to a thing called ‘humankind’ and often ask the same big questions, you and your ‘spiritual’ brethren are just as inclined to be as short sighted, close minded, and as likely to be found sucking at the teat of some guru who, while not wearing ‘priestly robes’ may be just as abusive, condescending, irrational, dim witted and malevolent as you assume all Christian are.”

/end rant…


<slight edit for grammar 6.14.2011>

Obligatory ‘Rapture Post

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock and covering both ears I’m sure that you’ve heard something about the Rapture that was supposed to occur this last Saturday. I’ve seen lots of jokes on Facebook and elsewhere. Hell, I’ve even told some of them.

In all seriousness though, this entire fiasco has got me thinking about why some people seem to need something like the Rapture to exist in order for their lives to have meaning. I suppose this sort of contemplation should also include circumstances which also cause and ‘End of Times’ event, such as meteor strikes that annihilate most life on earth, zombie apocalypses or 2012ish world shifting occurrences. I’d support the argument that these are all variations on a theme.

I also wouldn’t be completely honest if I didn’t acknowledge that I too believe that something will happen in the future that will cause the world to be very different than it is now. Anyone who has really sat down to talk with me about my religious perspective or has intently read some of my stuff on this blog shouldn’t be taken by surprise by this fact. Still, I’m hoping this will allow me a bit of insight rather than have a negative impact on this discussion.

Let’s see, since I don’t want to drag this out too long, I’ll focus on the broad aspects of what these things would bring about, rather on the specifics details about how a specific apocalypse happens. Here we go!

1) It’s a Mulligan – Basically, I find that if something wiped out the majority of the human race it would allow us a lot of room to rebuild society and humankind according to a different morality and value system. Of course, this ‘new society’ would adhere to values that are more pious, less materialistic etc etc… depending on the person holding the perspective. Regardless, it’s a ‘do over’ and anything afterward ‘seems’ possible.

2) Ha! I Knew It! – Not to sound too condescending but the fulfillment of a predicted apocalypse would really support the ‘Truth Claims’ of those giving voice to it. Whether it’s the ‘Follow Christ’ crowd or the ‘Don’t experiment with human genome’ naysayers, the disappearance of several million Christians or masses of marauding zombies, should be enough to give those that don’t agree with them pause to reconsider. Though, it might be too late to do so.

3) Makes One Feel Alive – Many of us, myself included, don’t really feel alive in our 9-5, hand to mouth existence. I mean, if I’m fighting off zombies, trying to rebuild human society after a meteor or nuclear bomb, then the decisions I make really, REALLY, matter. But, all things being considered, what I do on a day to day basis really doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.

I think those are the main three reasons why one would be soooo excited about the prospect of an apocalypse. What I don’t hear much about, unless it’s in the ‘you deserve it vein’, is the suffering that would inherently follow for those effected by such occurrences. Setting aside the entire ‘going to heaven crew’ things are going to royally suck for those left behind. I know that those zombie movies seem cool and get our hearts racing but I don’t know anyone that truly wants to see their loved ones eaten by their neighbor. Nor, do I feel that those living through nuclear fallout would see it as a beneficial way to ‘switch things up’ in our lives.

I’m just not sure the benefits would outweigh the negatives of an apocalypse.

Interfaith Dialogue – Define Your Terms!

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

I’ve come to the conclusion that interfaith dialogue could be greatly benefited by having the participants take a moment to define the religious terminology they use. Not doing so leaves a great deal of room for misunderstandings between those involved and risks simply reinforcing the assumptions already held by the parties involved.

I remember a conversation long ago when I was trying to explain to a person dear to me, who is Christian, what it meant for me to be a polytheist. I believe I started out with explaining that I believed in non-human, non-animal, intelligent beings that have far more influence upon the world than I have. I continued by expressing that I believed these beings to be gods. This belief made me a polytheist. I’m not exactly sure if I received more than a confused stare, but it was clear I wasn’t understood so I started again from another angle. Knowing my listener was a Catholic, I tried to use an example from the structure of that belief system to get across what I meant. I said that if one took the choir of angels and removed God from the picture, you would basically have my polytheistic belief. She paused and the asked, “Which of these ‘angels’ is the most powerful?” In response to my exasperated look she continued, “The most powerful of these ‘angels’ is God.” My reply was that there is no ‘most powerful’ amongst them. The question simply wasn’t appropriate to the perspective I was trying to explain. Still, for her, the question made perfect sense and, if it could be answered, would make my polytheism make sense to her (and monotheistic). I believe from there the conversation sorta sputtered out.

I realize now that we were starting from fundamentally different definitions of the term ‘god’.

Her usage of the term of ‘god’ involved, and was perhaps inseparable from, her understanding of the Christian God. For her a ‘god’ is:

  • A unique being
  • All knowing, all powerful, perfectly good/loving, (ya know the Big ‘3’)
  • Immortal, eternal and unchanging
  • The creator of everything
  • Always worthy of veneration (never an evildoer)

For me the term ‘god’ referred to :

  • A being belonging to a type or category of being
  • A being who is vastly powerful and knowledgeable but not omnipresent, all knowing or all powerful
  • May be long lived, perhaps immortal but not eternal (i.e. they may die or cease to exist)
  • Not necessarily benevolent or malevolent
  • May or may not be worthy of veneration

Sure, after laying these things out, it’s no surprise that there were issues which arose in the conversation. By not defining our terms we weren’t really discussing anything, we were simply talking at each other.

Now, I’m sure there are some that would look at this post and simply shake their heads thinking that I’m simply pointing out the obvious. But, am I really? I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen potentially beneficial dialogues tank because one person was saying “I’m a witch” when describing herself as a Wiccan and the person across from heard heard “Hi! I’m a baby eating, Satan worshiper.”

Deep Talk – WOOT!

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

This weekend I found myself in several awesome conversations with some good friends. There were numerous topics covered but most of the time was spent talking about religion in its various forms. I miss being able to have these conversations on a daily basis with a wider group of people. If given the opportunity its something I could probably spend a good amount of my time doing.

Still, to be honest, there are times when the conversation doesn’t go as well as I had hoped. Sometimes this occurs due to mistakes on my part. For instance, I’ve made claims that later turned out to be ill informed or simply wrong. I’ve forgotten to inform my listener of the foundation of what I’m saying, even if it’s as easy as saying “I’m assuming…” I sometimes come off a bit preachy. Oftentimes, I just don’t know when to shut up and listen.

Whether or not the conversation went well, I always run the risk of learning something that makes me call into question my metaphysical/religious worldview. I’ve lost count of the number of times this has occurred, but dealing with it never gets any easier. First, I have to admit that I was wrong. *GASP* Then, I have to lay everything out and rework all the things I thought I had firmed up. And finally, I have to find the courage to use the new information to develop yet another understanding to adhere to knowing full well that the same thing could happen again. (I hear the theme for “The Never Ending Story” right now…)

So, why the hell do I do this to myself? Why risk either looking like a fool or being proved one? Simply put, an unexamined life isn’t worth living… I’m gonna live the hell out of life. Otherwise I might as well just sleep through it.

Christ’s Two-Faced Love

Friday, October 29th, 2010

I always find it interesting that I can have a positive relationship with one Christian pastor while at the same time being spit upon and condemned by another. Yes, yes… I’m quite aware that there are different Christian faiths but I’m told, by Christians themselves mind you, that one of the defining aspects of Christ’s teachings is to ‘love thy neighbor’.

As an outsider, well nowadays anyhow, I find this a little disingenuous, especially given the situation mentioned above. Furthermore, if I were to jettison all the knowledge I have of the Christian tradition, i.e. the historical developments that led up to and continue to influence its doctrine etc. , (and, really why the hell not, Christian practitioners don’t seem to be too concerned about their own history these days) I think I’d find a very two-faced Jesus.

On hand, we have the Christians who seem to really take the ‘love thy neighbor’ thing to heart. In my dealings with these sorts of Christians, the emphasis is on having a positive beneficial relationship with their neighbors, even if they *GASP* aren’t Christian. These Christians seem willing and able to discuss ideas about the world and to undertake this journey we call life with their neighbors. While there may be evangelical elements that give rise to some of their actions, these Christians seems to have a respect for their fellow human beings. In essence, these Christians seem secure enough in their faith to live without the need to have others adhere to their worldview. In essence, they are comfortable with loving or assisting others unconditionally.

On the other hand, you have Christians that seem to take ‘love thy neighbor’ as grounds to abuse and insult those that are unlike themselves. ‘Love’ here is the reason for their evangelical fervor. It appears somewhere along the line Christ said something like; “If they aren’t like us or question our truth then they need to be brought in line. It’s for their own good!” If you don’t have Christ in your heart they’re simply okay with writing his name on a knife and putting it there. (Okay maybe that’s a little overboard but I think you get my drift) Such Christians see little use in dialoging with their neighbors because they don’t feel that they have anything to really offer. After all, such Christians already believe that they follow Christ infallibly, or at least are already well on their way to doing so. Their concern is convincing their neighbors to follow in their footsteps. In essence, ‘love thy neighbor’ means to make them like themselves.

I’d argue that these two ways of emulating Christ are inherently contradictory. If I put back in my knowledge of Christian history I can see that these two viewpoints have clashed many, many times. Do I have a solution? Nope. Nor do I need one. It’s not my problem. This is simply something I find interesting.

Still, I do think it’s something Christians themselves should consider. I sometimes wonder if they really have a good understanding of the way they are presenting themselves to their neighbors.

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