Building a Real Religion

Jeff Lilly had a Google+ post yesterday (that I apparently can’t link directly to) where he pointed out the tendency of online discussions to degenerate into “a zero-information signal, i.e. a statement that is either unverifiable or just false.” In the Pagan community, he says this

always comes back to (1) discussions of how “real” the gods are, or (2) how persecuted Pagans are. Both of these ultimately concern the issue of legitimacy: is Paganism a “real” religion? [emphasis mine]

If you read through the shouting matches I ranted against on Wednesday, it’s pretty clear that was the core issue: is Paganism a real religion? The simple answer is “of course it is” – it’s real because we’re really practicing it.

Conservative religions think their way is the only real religion. Governments are interested in maintaining order and control. Academics (scholar-practitioners excepted) are trying to understand with the head what must be learned in the soul. And atheists think we’re all crazy. We’re not going to get their approval and we don’t need it for our religion to be real.

What is real? Honoring your gods and goddesses. Learning the stories of your ancestors. Caring for the Earth. Building a healthy community. Having dinner with your co-religionists. Offering hospitality to strangers. Sitting in meditation. Singing, dancing, drumming, chanting. Working for justice.

And the “woo”? That’s real too. It’s inspiring and enlightening and empowering. Sometimes it brings us amazing experiences and sometimes it creates results that can only be described as miraculous. We don’t have to explain it to make it real and we certainly shouldn’t stake its reality on weak or nonexistent claims of “proof.”

My Baptist father used to say “people need Jesus – religion will lead them to hell.” As a universalist I obviously don’t agree with him, but the saying showed the depth of his faith and his lack of concern over whether anyone approved of it. It reminds me of some of the remaining tribal societies who have no word for “religion.” Or if they do, it refers to what’s preached to them by Christian or Islamic missionaries. Their own beliefs and practices are simply part of who they are and what they do.

Paganism is made real by who we are and what we do. It’s nice when other people recognize that, but their approval has absolutely no bearing on the validity of our religion.

If you want your religion to be real, make it real by practicing it: every day, every week, every month, every season.

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About John Beckett

I grew up in Tennessee with the woods right outside my back door. Wandering through them gave me a sense of connection to Nature and to a certain Forest God. I’m a Druid graduate of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, the Coordinating Officer of the Denton Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans and a former Vice President of CUUPS Continental. I’ve been writing, speaking, teaching, and leading public rituals for the past eleven years. I live in the Dallas – Fort Worth area and I earn my keep as an engineer.