Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Blood of Jesus Washes Over This Blog

Over two centuries ago Shelley offended Keats by commenting on "that detestable religion, the Christian." Today Christianity remains a hot topic in the blogosphere, with several recent posts debating the Really Olde Religion.  I hope to touch on this subject a bit more in an upcoming interview with Galina Krasskova. But since the topic is currently hot I thought I'd comment on a couple of interesting observations.

Jason Miller pointed out:
The big problem for Episcopalians as well as other Christians who are not fundamentalist nut jobs that think the world is only 6000 years old, is that they mostly mind their own business and do their own thing. Because of this their religion, and mine, is being usurped by hateful, anti-science, neo-conservative wind bags who actually know nothing of the Bible or Theology.
I would add that the Christian = Frothing Fundamentalist identification also does Neopaganism and occultism a disservice. It allows privileged folks the luxury of feeling persecuted ("She gave me a dirty look when she saw my hubcap-sized pentagram necklace! She's persecuting me! Burning times! Burning times!"). But it also prevents them from considering the ways in which Christianity - the dominant religion of our English-speaking culture - has shaped their philosophical and religious views.

We have Reconstructionists who treat "Lore" as Holy Writ and criticize anyone who might deviate from its tenets. While they may no longer qualify as "people of the book," they have retained their reverence for holy texts from the Golden Age: they have replaced the New Testament with Homer and Snorri Sturlson.  We have many more Pagans who wish to replay the Manichean battle of Good and Evil. Sometimes they simply change sides, turning "the Christians" into a diabolical force seeking world conquest and domination and the suppression of the all-loving benevolence of the Goddess and Her followers. In other cases they recast Pagan myths as tales of good and evil, bowdlerizing their favored gods while blackening their tricksters or their death gods. (And let's not even get into the idea that "no real witch would ever cast a curse" or similar comments which reek of the Christian moral code against "sorcery" or low magic).

Historically witches and sorcerers have drawn from the dominant religion, then reshaped it to suit their needs. The influence of Christianity on Haitian Vodou and Hoodoo is well-documented: it is not a "perversion" of African beliefs but a syncretization  by practitioners which uses the imagery and philosophy in a uniquely Haitian and African-American way. I submit that many American occultists have the process backwards: they try to distance themselves from the dominant religion's symbols but incorporate most of its preconceptions into their worldview.

Balthazar describes "hard evangelizing" thusly:
It is part protest, part performative devotion. They know they are pissing off people and making fools of themselves and that is the whole point. It is the very ordeal and the shaming in the eyes of the hegemony that becomes the quintessential expression of faith and commitment to their conception of the divine. It could quite plausibly be compared to a mystical ordeal rite of some sort.
This raises an important question: what benefits accrue to the missionary besides promises of celestial real estate? What is the appeal of calling the world out on its shortcomings? Why would someone willingly become a member of a group which expected them to knock on doors, sell flowers in airports, or donate large chunks of their income? These are not idle questions. Consider the explosive growth of Evangelical Christianity in South America, or of Wahhabbism throughout the Islamic world: consider the decline of  mainstream Protestantism and other faiths that sought to create an inclusive, tolerant and easy path to the Divine.

I wonder if we might not learn something from their example. We might do better not by being more lenient but by being more strict and less welcoming. Spiritual seekers may need the experience of being a people set apart.  We don't have to condemn outsiders as damned to hell or advocate violence against abortion clinics. But if we treated our beliefs as life-changing - and if we had the guts to believe that they were worth sharing with others - I wonder what our next generation would look like.

I've seen fear of "Fundamentalism" used as an excuse for lazy thinking.  We respond with non-committal politeness to any comment or assertion, no matter how hare-brained it might be.  Having a strong opinion becomes a sign of dogmatic rigidity. To believe passionately in the Gods is to be a Christian in disguise (as if Christians were the first or only people who ever loved the Divine!) G.K. Chesterton, the great English Catholic writer, was onto something when he said
It is foolish, generally speaking, for a philosopher to set fire to another philosopher in Smithfield Market because they do not agree in their theory of the universe. This was done very frequently in the last decadence of the Middle Ages, and it failed altogether in its object. But there is one thing that is infinitely more absurd and impractical than burning a man for his philosophy. That is saying that his philosophy does not matter...
[The old Liberal view] was that cosmic truth was so important that every one ought to bear independent testimony. The modern idea is that cosmic truth is so unimportant that it cannot matter what anyone says. The former freed inquiry as men loose a noble hound; the latter frees inquiry as men throw back into the sea a fish unfit for eating.

5 comments:

Jack Faust said...

"Historically witches and sorcerers have drawn from the dominant religion, then reshaped it to suit their needs."

... Yes. Yes, that's pretty much exactly right.

And this post was awesome. I demand six or seven more by the end of the week, or we'll lay you off. (Kidding!)

Although I disagree to a degree with Brotha B. simply because when, say, a Jehovah's Witness hands me a pamphlet and I start laughing half-insanely and say, "you're kidding me, right?" ... They run away quite fast rather than reveling in the "shame" oriented result I've handed out.

Balthazar said...

Great post. I think you have confused me (Balthazar) and Frater Barabbas however. The names do sound similar!

Kenaz Filan said...

@Balthazar: sorry for the confusion. I have corrected this misattribution!

nutty professor said...

"This raises an important question: what benefits accrue to the missionary besides promises of celestial real estate? What is the appeal of calling the world out on its shortcomings? Why would someone willingly become a member of a group which expected them to knock on doors, sell flowers in airports, or donate large chunks of their income?"

...could the answer to these questions point to ideological or structural differences? People willingly do these things because they are COMMANDED TO, either by their deities or scriptures. Freethinkers simply don't respond well to authoritarian structures, do they? Who wants to be told what to do by their religious leaders or their gods? such is anathema to our western and modernist conceptions of libertarianism, individualism and "freedom."

Brother Christopher said...

"We might do better not by being more lenient but by being more strict and less welcoming. Spiritual seekers may need the experience of being a people set apart."

I like this, and I like this, because that is how I treat my faith and my devotions, which does seem to set me apart from some of the people I have met and talked with. In my experience and it seems alot of other people, there is also that moment of feeling, "set apart" in some way. It seems anyone who comes into a religious or spiritual practice who really seizes upon it has to experience that. That is part of the reason why the Catholic Church has it's priest take vows of celibacy, to set them apart from everyone else, who is expected to marry, have sex and bare children, at least how I understand it originally. It is why British Traditional Wicca (Gardenerian and it's relatives) had vows of secrecy, and both an Inner court (for the iniatiated, who were dedicated to it) and the Outer Court, both as a way to prepare future members for the inner court, but also as a means to work with people who may not desire to be initiates. Or in Hoodoo (at least as how I came to understand it) the idea of being "Gifted" for the work. Everyone has gifts, but not everyone can do a spell and have it succeed. Those who are gifted (in whatever way) are set apart, sometimes in obvious ways, sometimes in not so obvious ways.

But there is a definite tendency, in books found in new age sections, and in some movements, that everything is (or should be) accessible to everyone, and some people don't like it when they are told "NO" and don't understand why they are being rejected. But I think there are spiritual pracititoners who are coming about, with strictness, and less leniency, and expectations of being able to perform to the very high bar that has been set. But I think they are more quiet, and less vocal and "rabid". It often seems to be that the people who are the loudest, are often the ones who seem to know the least.

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