Saturday, January 10, 2009

Re-Membering Theology: Part III

Now this is the story all about how my life got flipped turned upside down, so I'd like to take a minute, just sit right there, and I'll tell you how I became Priestess Sparklepony.

Part III: The Everyman Spirituality

Nah, just kidding. Where was I? Ah yes... It seems believing in a Savor just isn't part of my spiritual make-up. So it goes. But even now, this is a fairly recent realization about myself. You would think that, having been raised in a religious tradition to which salvation was a fundamental belief, I would have noticed sooner my basic disinterest in the idea (and instead run headlong for the hills that sang to me). You would think that, but you'd be wrong. Being part of a huge "poor Irish Catholic" extended family was simply part of my heritage, part of who I was, and growing up in a fairly small, fairly conservative area (blessed with farms and woods and vast stretches of open land that have since become strip malls) meant that almost everyone I knew just happened to be Christian, and those who weren't just happened not to be--without the threat of real diversity always looming, no one found it too much to accept warm-heartedly the three Jewish girls or the one kid who fasted for a month and prayed facing Mecca.

Yet not all of the Christians I knew were the Savior-needing types. There was plenty of diversity of personality; some, like myself, were grateful and happy and amazed by the world, we were the ones who sat in church and said "Praise be to God" like we meant it (but only ever mumbled "we are not worthy to receive You" half-heartedly). We didn't moan and worry ourselves over being sinners; we didn't lose sleep at night about going to Hell when we died. It was easy to get away with simply not thinking about these things. Everyone else took our healthy-mindedness to be the natural result of having the "right" religion. Obviously, a good relationship with God (i.e. through Christ) manifested in positive ways in a person's life. My childhood was pervaded by the sense of Christianity being the Everyman's religion--a religion that anyone could believe in, no matter who they were. Which is not to say that everyone should or ought to believe in it. But nothing stopped them. A Christian who studied physics or biology? Sure. A Catholic lawyer? No problem. A doctor, a philosopher, a horse-groomer, a dentist, a bricklayer, even a soldier--Christianity was the come-one-come-all faith. It didn't ask you to turn off your brain, it didn't ask you to condemn others, it didn't ask you to grovel or weep. All it asked was that you allow yourself to be saved. Such was the Christianity I was raised to believe in, which it took me so long to leave behind.

Which brings me, in a very round about way, back to the current murmuring roar throughout the online Pagan community (which may or may not be a community, though that's certainly a handy term for a bunch of people who all get together to talk about things, exchange ideas and debate about whether or not they constitute a community*). In some ways, the more or less all-accepting anything-goes attitude of the Pagan community reminds me a lot of the Catholicism I knew as a child. I still have conversations with my father sometimes, when he asks me what it is that I believe. Interconnection, compassion, love, creativity, inspiration, truth, justice, freedom, all those big, vague words that can move mountains or fall flat. Inevitably, these discussions end when he smiles and insists, "Well, you can believe all that and still be a Catholic!" And I smile back and say, "I think the Pope would disagree." Recent blog posts wondering sadly "what we [the Pagan community] did to lose" deo and other intellectuals remind me of my kind-hearted, well-intentioned father. It also reminds me of a Simpsons' quote (no, not the "everyone is stupid except me" one), the one where Rev. Lovejoy cries out to God what he did to lose his flock, and God replies, "What did you do to keep them?"

People leave spiritual paths for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the conflicts are deeply ingrained and apparent from the beginning, making a particular path insufferable for even the shortest time; other times, a creeping sense of disjoint or struggle comes over a person after years of traveling a spiritual path. And sometimes, a person simply loses interest, loses that sense of connection and ceases to find anything worth the staying. It seems to me that the very first thing we as a community need to think about, is: what do we do to keep the intellectuals and philosophical types? What is it, in other words, that Paganism offers? If it offers merely the appeal of the exotic and the strange, then it is unlikely to satisfy for very long. Likewise, if all it offers is a broad tolerance of everyone, without being able to articulate a specific worldview that is uniquely "Pagan," I think we will always feel slightly at a loss when people drift away or slowly lose interest. If the Pagan community is to hold onto and truly encourage its diversity, if it is to develop a philosophical depth and intellectual rigor, it must offer something more satisfying and more substantive than mere permission. It must offer something worth the struggle, worth overcoming the sense of disjoint, worth working through the boredom and disinterest and distraction that can so easily crop up for anyone in any spiritual tradition. I believe that Paganism can and does offer something, though what exactly that is may take a long time to fully understand.

*"Network" is such a computer-age word; social "networks," business "networks"... I prefer more organic metaphors.


  1. Plenty of intelligent, thoughtful, well-educated, observant, even intellectual folks are STILL Pagans. I'm not worrying about any intellegentsia jumping off the sinking ship of Paganism.

    But I'll confess that I'm still trying to wrap my comprehension about how going atheist is somehow growing intellectually up...

    As for Catholicism, what I've long been puzzled about is the stubborn way that many Catholic intellectuals--Commonweal types--will not give up being Catholics--even when they pretty much hold most of the Church and its leaders and its doctrines in contempt. That's way different from one-time Pagans departing for brainier pastures.

    P.S. I'm happy to call myself "Rusty BuzzardSkunk!"

  2. "I'm still trying to wrap my comprehension about how going atheist is somehow growing intellectually up..."

    O, I agree. I actually made a fairly snarky remark about it when I first heard the news, noting how experienced deo and Mandy must feel in their wise ol' thirties (not that I'm even thirty yet, so I really shouldn't be so glib).

    The Catholic Church, especially in recent years, has gotten pretty bad. For some, it has always seemed really bad. But my father was raised in a very poor area, fed and clothed by the local Catholic community while his father drank and his mother slowly lost her mind to bipolar disorder. He still tells me stories about how in Catholic school, they held debates about the Vietnam war, civil rights and feminism, always emphasizing that Catholicism was always about giving a person the tools (which included, above all, love and hope) to confront serious issues and make your own choices based on what you believed was right (a far cry from today's Church renouncing feminism and practically rejecting interfaith dialogue as theologically impossible). For my father and many other Catholics he knew growing up, as well as many I've known in my life, the religion provides the most basic "Law of Love" that comes down against war and oppression, and very strongly in favor of generosity, understanding and solidarity with the poor and marginalized. For its many good qualities, I have yet to see the Pagan community produce as strong a movement towards these goals--with the exception of gay rights, perhaps.

    So it's very easy for me to understand why intellectuals and philosophical types stay with Catholicism. It provides the cultural and personal support that much of atheistic/"intellectual" society often forgets. Plus, it can provide endless hours for puzzling out theology and the many complex thoughts and theories produced by thinkers over two thousand years. ;) My father and most of my relatives (many of whom married outside the religion) would never think ceasing to be Catholic, even if they hold leaders in contempt or disagree with some interpretations of doctrine. Instead, they hope that, like the President, tides will turn and we'll have better luck and better leadership in the future. My father likes to claim: "Catholics don't convert, they just stop practicing." ;)

  3. P.S. I only just discovered your blog this evening, Pitch, but I'm really liking it. :) Annoyed I didn't know about it sooner!