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.