There’s so much interesting blogging going on in our community. I want to highlight a few items from last month (in no particular order) that stood out:
1. A Multi-Centric Paganism. John Beckett concludes a great four-part series in July on his commitment to each of the four centers of contemporary Paganism: nature, the gods, the Self (which John defines as “excellence”), and community. It is inspiring to see someone working to bring these multiple foci into harmony. About his commitment to the gods, John writes:
“Our goddesses and gods are not the ‘totally other’ god proposed by the monotheists. Like every other living being in the Universe, they are part of the unity of all and are therefore related to us. But they are not us – they are older, wiser, and far more powerful than we are. Our relationships with the gods should be reciprocal, but they are not equal. Their concerns and priorities may be very different from our concerns and priorities. Your comfort and convenience is not likely to be their highest priority”.
Although John is a theist and I am a Jungian, his description of the gods resonates with me. I see the gods as archetypal “others” who are part of a psyche that extends infinitely beyond the boundaries of my individual consciousness and ego-self — both in space and time — and are indeed “older, wiser, and far more powerful” than what I ordinarily think of as “me”.
2. Mormon Feminist Rituals? Caroline Kline at the Feminism & Religion blog calls for Mormon feminists to create their own rituals “like Quaker-style clearness committees and matriarchal blessings”. I would be very pleased to see this. But I wonder if Kline realizes how radical her suggestion is. It goes far beyond extending priest[ess]hood to women. Giving Mormon priest[ess]hood to women would still be operating within the bounds of Mormon the hierarchy of Mormon authority; it would be just extending that hierarchy to include women. But creating rituals outside of that hierarchy would be direct challenge to the idea of sacerdotal hierarchy itself. In any case, more power to you! (Literally.)
3. The Prognosis for Progressive Religion (Part 1). Connor Wood reports that liberal Protestantism is dying, which he says “is too bad, because the theology of liberal Protestantism is pretty admirable.” He lists “[o]penness to the validity of other traditions, respect for doubters and for skeptical thinkers, acceptance of the findings of science, pro-environmentalism” among its admirable traits. The reason for the decline? Liberal Protestantism is too easy on its flock. Religions that demand sacrifices of their followers have more staying power. What’s interesting is to see Wood draw the logical conclusion of this for religious liberals: “What if liberal Protestantism flexed its muscle, stood up straight, and demanded its own standards of commitment,” asks Wood, “to service of God and other people, to the dignity of women, and to radical environmental protection? Parishioners would have to make real sacrifices in these areas, or they’d risk exclusion.”
4. The Prognosis for Progressive Religion (Part 2). But, wait! Good news! Jason Pitzl-Waters reports that religious progressives are on the rise. According to the Public Religion Research Institute, “the percentage of religious conservatives shrinks in each successive generation, with religious progressives outnumbering religious conservatives in the Millennial generation.” What’s changed? Well, probably nothing. The earlier data on the decline of religious liberalism referred to church attendance, while the recent survey addressed religious attitudes only. The good news for progressive churches: Your congregation is out there just waiting for you to demand something of them.
5. A Pagan Quaker Among Christian Friends. Cat Chapin-Bishop addresses a deeply moving letter to her Christian Quaker Friends about her being a Pagan “Friend-but-not-a-Christian”. “[T]he same spiritual integrity that made me show up and keep showing up for Quaker meetings–because I was called, and I knew it–has also kept me loyal to and part of the Pagan community that formed for me a soul capable of hearing a spiritual call in the first place.” The intersection of Paganism and Christianity is always interesting to me, no doubt because I am deeply ambivalent about Christianity myself — on the one hand, embracing a reactionary Paganism (by sometimes defining Paganism as Christianity’s “other”), and on the other hand, being still too “Christo-Pagan” for some Pagans (by sometimes incorporating Christian mythology and iconography into my Paganism).
But even more importantly, I think the advice that Chapin-Bishop gives to Christian and non-Christian Quakers — to “listen in tongues” and “listen where the words come from” — is equally good advice to theistic and non-theistic Pagans trying to communicate with each other:
“Luckily, it turns out that Spirit is a magnificent translator. To those of us who are also staying low and open, also being courageous and present, She will grant the ability to listen in tongues. (This I know experimentally. I have lived this one many times… and ‘I love to listen where the words come from.’ Trust the Spirit That Sent You.)
“And we are equally called upon, we non-Christian Friends, to be faithful. Even if we share no names for the Spirit that draws us all into fellowship in this body, many of us do share the experience of being gathered by it. It is our job to be faithful to it, with or without matching vocabulary, and to speak out without apology when we are given words to speak.”
6. Paganism (Not So) 101. Liz Williams published a great three-part series on contemporary Paganism for The Guardian in July. She introduces modern Paganism, and discusses the diversity of Pagan belief, and the Wheel of the Year. Unlike most introductory articles on Paganism, Williams manages, in a short space, to give a feeling for Paganism’s diversity of belief and practice and also avoids being overly romantic about the movement.
7. Ritual That Just Is. Teo Bishop challenges the notion that ritual — in addition to fostering, reverence, piety, and connection with the divine – should accomplish something extraordinary in the physical world (i.e., through magic). Bishop offers one of the best descriptions of the purpose of ritual I have ever read: “Rituals [...] are ordinary, poetic acts that, if done well, draw people into a deeper awareness of the extraordinary reality that already exists everywhere around and inside of them. The rituals themselves aren’t fabricating the awesomeness; they’re simply reminding you that the awesomeness is already there.” Awesome!
8. A Course on Miracles for Atheists. Sigfried Gold at the Spiritual Naturalist Society asks whether an atheist’s “faith” can be shaken by meaningful coincidences (i.e., “miracles”). He concludes that an atheist or naturalist can subjectively experience coincides as meaningful without thinking about them objectively as intentional: “I haven’t allowed an amazing coincidence to override my judgment, but I have allowed myself to act as though the universe had spoken to me in deeply meaningful way that could change the course of my life, despite my conviction that there was no intelligence or intention behind the events that spoke to me so clearly.”
9. Ungendering Divine Polarities. Over three posts in July, Áine Órga describes her evolving conception of divine polarity from one which genders the divine to one which does not, and instead now describes the polarity in terms of Creation/Manifest/Order and Destruction/Unmanifest/Chaos. In another post, she writes about the creative side of this polarity, and I am looking forward to the follow-up post about the destructive side. Parenthetically, in the comments to a post at Humanistic Paganism, Áine associates the creative side with “Nature” and the destructive side with “God”. This unusual pairing is something I took note of in Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Talents and wrote about here.
10. Losing Religion and Reconnecting with the Real. Lupa gives up all the trappings of formal religion, reimmerses herself in the world, and recovers her “deep, abiding link to the nonhuman world” and her “place as a human animal”. Lupa writes that she no longer cares about belief in or the reality of nature spirits:
“I ceased caring whether they even existed outside of my own deeply rooted imagination or not, because I only needed them to be important to me. [...] I still honor my totems and other spirits, but as a personal pantheon carried inside of me. They are what gives added vitality to the world around me; they embody my wonder and awe, my imagination and creativity, the things that I as a human being bring to the relationships I have to everything else in this world.”