How to Choose a Religion IV: Common Pitfalls: Community, Fear

If you read the summary of this series available at Shift Your Spirits, you saw the list of ways you should not choose your religion:

DON’T choose your religion based on details like food.

A ritual is participatory drama. If the drama speaks to you, resonates with you, it’s a good ritual. If it provides yummy calories, that’s completely incidental.

DON’T choose your religion based on convenience.

Life isn’t supposed to be “convenient”, and a convenient religion is one that doesn’t challenge you enough.

DON’T choose your religion based soley on your community.

If you’re becoming a Christian (or Satanist, or Buddhist) to make your parents happy, you’re just doing it for them, not for you.

DON’T choose your religion based on spite.

If you are becoming a Satanist (or Christian, or Buddhist) to make your parents angry, you’re still doing it for them, not for you.

DON’T choose your religion based on fear.

“If you don’t believe in Jesus, you’re going to hell!”
“If you don’t believe in Santa Claus, you won’t get any presents!”
Grow up, people.

DON’T choose your religion based on guilt.

You can’t reach the kingdom of heaven if you’re standing there kicking yourself.


Don’t choose your religion based on the search for “truth.”

It’s a noble purpose, but it’s a red herring.

In this post I’m going to look at a couple of these in a little more depth.

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How to Choose a Religion III: Why Be Religious?

Why choose a religion?


This post is addressed to agnostics — those who haven’t decided what they believe, or who have decided not to decide. If you believe strongly that there is no God, or that science is the ultimate answer, then I count that as a religion too (see this post for why). But if you base your worldview on the scientific method (which requires a stance of permanent doubt), then you’re agnostic, and this post is for you.

Agnosticism is like riding a bicycle.

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How to Choose a Religion I: Intro

This is the first of a series on how to choose a religion.


It’s a remarkable age we live in. At any time prior to this in human history, your religion was chosen for you. Your religion was simply the common knowledge of your tribe. Everything your tribe thought it knew about the universe was its “religion”. Choosing another religion was practically unthinkable (unless, of course, you joined another tribe).

Nowadays the opposite situation holds. You must choose your religion, if you want to have one. Even if you grow up in a family with strong religious convictions, at some point you have to decide: am I going to keep with the family tradition, or am I going to go my own way?

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One Little Taboo Word…

Quite some time ago I wrote about taboo words and euphemisms, and what they can tell us about a society. The gist is that a taboo word is one which causes offense, for whatever reason. If you identify the taboo words in a languge, you can find some of the more sensitive parts of a society.

The power of the taboo word was demonstrated quite forcefully in the recent Senate race in Virginia. The Republican candidate slipped up and used a racial epithet in a speech. The race in Virginia was close enough — decided by fewer than 8,000 votes — that the candidate’s loss can certainly be attributed to the outrage caused by that taboo word. And the balance of power in the Senate was close enough that the single Republican loss led to a switchover in Senate control, so that now, for the first time in twelve years, the Democrats control the Senate.

Read up on all the juicy linguistic details here. (Warning: the article contains the taboo word in question, as well as some even less savory ones.)

..oft evil will shall evil mar…

Samhain 2006

Samhain, the old Celtic pagan holiday underlying Halloween, has recently passed. It’s the old New Year, and it’s a time of endings and beginnings. It’s also a time when the residents of the other world — gods, sidhe, and the dead — are more able to reach out of their realm into ours. For most modern pagans, Samhain is a time to honor ancestors and teachers who have passed away.

We took our children to Celebrate Samhain, a gathering hosted by the Spiral Scouts in Peterborough, New Hampshire. The price of admission: nonperishable food items or winter clothing in good condition. (The Spiral Scouts, which you can learn more about here, is an organization analogous to the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts, but you don’t have to be monotheistic to join.)

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Predicting the Future

Someone once famously asked, “Where we all going? And what are we doing in this handbasket?”

Predicting the future is an old game. It’s popular because it’s fun and frequently profitable, especially if you are sufficiently vague or incomprehensible. The Book of Revelation is a good example. John’s vivid accounts of horn-blowing angels, floods, devastations, numbered beasts, and a harlot riding a 10-headed monster (only to be devoured by it) has been popular for nearly 2000 years, though I wouldn’t recommend it for children’s bedtime reading. People have a great time trying to figure out what he was talking about; they’ve suggested everything from Nazi Germany to Al Qaeda. Most biblical scholars agree that a harlot was actually a reference to the Roman emperor Nero, who was alive at the time Revelation was written, and that the ten-headed beast was the Roman Empire itself. John, they say, was simply writing a prophecy of what he wanted to happen: Nero to be overthrown and Christianity to prevail within the Roman Empire. But where’s the fun in that?

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The Eight-Circuit Tarot Deck II: Medium and Message

The other day, I said to my anima, “Look — I need to talk to the guy who wants me to make this Tarot deck.”

She nodded. “All right,” she said. “Sit down, and let’s get started.”

interviewfrankmaceowenI’ve been able to talk directly to my anima during meditations for about a month now — ever since I realized what she was. She is always very helpful to talk to, not least because she is a medium. It’s rather odd that my anima is a medium, and I am not; but there you go. It may be that she is only communicating with other aspects of my subconscious — but even if so, that’s pretty handy.

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