How to Choose a Religion VI: Languages of Spirit

In this post I’d like to start exploring religion from a different perspective, using language as a metaphor. I’ve been pulling together my thoughts on this for a couple of months now, and I’ve found that looking at religion in this way resolves the fundamental issues I talked about in my last post on this topic, The Search for Truth, and explains a number of other puzzles about religion such as:

  • What is the purpose of religion?
  • Does it make sense to ask whether a religion is “true”?
  • Are some religions “better” than others?
  • Is it possible to predict the future development of a religion — whether it will grow, change, or wither away?
  • How is the development of a religion changed by contact with other religions?
  • In what ways can religions vary? Are they infinitely variable, or are there limits?
  • Why are the older religions of humanity (shamanism, paganism, etc.) quite similar all over the world, while the newer religions (Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, scientific theories) so different from one another?
  • Why is it that children seem to be natural born pagans?
  • And of course: how do you go about choosing a religion that is best for yourself?
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Carl Jung’s Shadow on the Stairs

A couple of days ago, not long after breakfast, my oldest daughter, who is 8, was coming upstairs to ask me a question when I heard her give a little shriek of surprise. In my house, kids are shrieking and screaming and laughing all the time, so I didn’t think twice about it. But then she came up, all a-twitter, and told me she’d seen an apparition behind her on the stairs.

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Impact of Druidism on Everyday Life: Requited Gratitude

“How has your religion changed your daily, everyday life?”

In my original post on the essence of Druidism, I wrote about how gratitude was the essence of what drew me to the religion — gratitude for our ancestors, our teachers, and our gods. I have found, though, that since beginning my practice, my whole experience of gratitude has changed.

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Robert Anton Wilson

I learned from Blogickal this morning that Robert Anton Wilson’s body has died. (I am in no position to say anything difinitive about his spirit.) He lived his life as an iconoclast — which is not a necessarily unusual thing in this age, but it is rare for someone to do it with such wit, skill, and deep, deep intelligence. In the last fifteen years or so, he’s become a sort of “old sage” to the community (no doubt, he said, because his hair finally turned white). Those of you who read me with any regularity know that he’s been a major influence on my own thinking. More than that: in some of my darkest times, he has been a light when all other lights failed.

Bob, thank you! You were always the morning star. If your light has dimmed, it can only be because the sun is rising at last.

Don’t You Go to Church?

Being a non-Christian in the United States is not always easy. I know, because I grew up here, and I’ve never been Christian.

Zen and the Art of Childhood

comingbackI was raised essentially Zen Buddhist in the southeast, a region not known for its tolerance and open-mindedness. My mother was Zen; my father and his family were Baptist.

When I was in kindergarten, in 1979, my teacher used to lead the students in Christian prayer before lunchtime. She would do it surreptitiously in the classroom, not in the cafeteria, because prayer in a public school was illegal. When my mother found out, she was irate; she demanded that the school put a stop to it. They didn’t. But in a small southern town, you can’t raise too many waves. My mother dropped it.

In fourth grade, I remember my teacher reading stories to the class — Bible stories. Again, there was nothing we could do.

As I approached puberty, the emotion I most frequently associated with religion was incredulity. Whenever the other children found out that I didn’t go to church, or that I didn’t believe in God, they were incredulous. Aren’t you afraid you’ll go to hell? they’d ask. No, I don’t believe in hell. But the Bible says… I don’t believe the Bible, either. But the Bible says… Why do you believe the Bible? The Bible says… (I’m not making this up.)

For my part, I was incredulous about their beliefs, as well. I was amazed that people could just completely believe every word of a two-thousand-year-old self-contradictory book, without, as it seemed, thought or question. Especially when the Bible had so many things in it that were obviously just wrong — things that contradicted evolution, geology, astronomy, etc.

We were children; we couldn’t argue these things out properly. I couldn’t explain my point of view, and they couldn’t explain theirs. The upshot was that I was just too weird to be friends with them. That was ok with me, though, because I thought they were weird.

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Children in Paganism

This past Samhain, my family and I went up to New Hampshire to attend a festival thrown by the Spiral Scouts of Peterborough. The Spiral Scouts are a sort of Boy/Girl Scout group for non-monotheistic children, and the event, to be held in the Unitarian Church, was geared toward all ages, with crafts, music, drumming, a costume contest, storytelling, and ritual. We figured it was the perfect opportunity to plug into the local Pagan community and meet some other families with children that we can build relationships with.

purposethroughcompassionWe succeeded; but I have to say we were also a little disappointed. There were clearly over a hundred people in attendance, but only a dozen of them were children. Four of those were mine.

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The Essence of Druidism

Not long ago Ellen Evert Hopman, a druid priestess with whom I’m acquainted, was asked, “What is the essence of druid practice?”

The asker was a very old friend who had just had a powerful mystical experience, and came to her for help. They talked for most of the day, having tea, walking in the forest, and so forth.

Asking the Priestess

wheredoideascomefromAt first, when he asked her this question, she was speechless. Ellen is a priestess of great experience, a master herbalist and researcher in the old ways; so if anyone knows Druidism, she does. But Druidism is not a cohesive faith. There is no World Archdruid, no Universal Grove; there is no Druid Bible or Founding Father; there are no druid missionaries carrying the True Faith around the world. Each druid is called, one by one, alone, to the path, by whatever gods, guides, or spirits there be. So naturally there’s a certain amount of disagreement about what the essence of Druidism is.

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