Modern religions that are derived from or inspired by the indigenous polytheistic traditions of Europe (I’ll call them Neopagan) have experienced a great resurgence in the last couple of hundred years, and especially in the last fifty or so. This is surprising, because prior to that, everyone pretty much thought they were gone for good.
This post is going to be rather more controversial than most. I’ll be getting deep into politics. But this is at the forefront in my mind and conscience, and the shape of government and society is a spiritual issue for me.
The Fall of the Empire
The name of America tells a tale. Phonosemantically, the sounds in America seem to parallel the history of the United States. The first syllable, “a”, is pronounced “uh” and indicates both freedom and thoughtfulness, and is appropriate for the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers. Its primary syllable, “mer”, is similar to the Middle English mere of mermaid, and Latin mare of maritime — “the sea“ — and suggests a manifestation of strength and power, appropriate for the military and economic strength of the United States as it extended its domain across the continent. The next syllable, “ric”, is similar to rich, reach, and Reich, and indicates solidification and containment of power, appropriate to America’s imperial ambitions. The final syllable, “a”, is pronounced “ah”, and indicates a return to Source energy. This corresponds to nothing in America’s history so far. We can only hope.
Furthermore, each phase of America’s history above corresponds to about one hundred years. The short “a” syllable pairs up with the end of the 1700’s; “mer” is the 1800’s, and “ric” is the 1900’s. Now we’re at the beginning of the final “a”, which means the American Empire — by which I mean our dominance in the economic and geopolitical sphere, despite the fact that our borders haven’t changed much since the 1800’s — should be ending.
And it is — though this may not be obvious.
Once again I’m delighted to participate in an interfaith blog conversation held by Mike (writing from the Mahayana Buddhist perspective), Jon (a Protestant Christian), Sojourner (pagan/UU), and Matt (an evangelical Christian) and myself, a Druid. Every month (or thereabouts), we write on a topic of interest to us all. This month’s topic is gender:
What does gender have to do with divinity?
The links to the other articles in the conversation will be updated as they are posted:
[Mike’s Essay] [Jon’s Essay] [Sojourner’s Essay] [Matt’s Essay]
The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls
My wife and I just picked up some amazing books on “girl bullying”, as explained in the bestseller Odd Girl Out and other follow-up research by Rachel Simmons. The gist is that bullying is common between girls — at least in US American culture, between the ages of about 10 and 18. From the LA Times review:
The code is unwritten, a conspiracy among girls to turn on one of their own. Secret pacts made among middle and high school girls to ruin reputations, to humiliate–whisper campaigns that so-and-so sleeps around; barking like a dog at another girl in the hallway; shifting to exclude someone from her usual lunch spot.
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.
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
I 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.
We received a most interesting Christmas card from a family friend recently. (Our family friend doesn’t yet know about our religious affiliation…) The card had a lovely picture of a family bringing home a tree in a sleigh, and inside the card was a remarkable story about the origin of the Christmas tree:Continue reading “On the Christmas Tree”
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?
What made humans intelligent? What is the source of our remarkable reasoning powers? Why don’t other animals share them?
Just because I’m a spiritually-minded guy doesn’t mean I don’t believe in evolution. There’s too much evidence to ignore it. But if evolution is right, then there must be answers to the questions above.
Last week I had lots of opportunity to look at a map of South Dakota. Notice the shaded areas that represent the Sioux Indian Reservations. Go ahead, look. I’ll wait here…
Did you notice? A full one fifth of South Dakota belongs to the Sioux. This is an area about the size of Wales. A chunk of North Dakota is theirs, as well.
I wondered how it was that the Sioux had managed to keep so much territory in the face of everything the United States threw at them. Surely it was not because of our government’s bighearted generosity.
I wondered if the land there was so awful that the white folks didn’t want it. Ha! It turns out most of that land is just fine for ranching and farming. The US would have taken it if it could. (In fact, large portions of these reservations are now owned or rented by whites.) Compare that to West Texas or Arizona, where the land is much worse, but there are no reservations of comparable size.
So how did the Sioux manage to keep all that land?