Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I'm Just as Hard on my Religion

I have a reputation as someone who is "hard" on Christianity. Because I refuse to accept many of the claims in the New Testament at face value, I've been accused of being antagonistic towards that particular faith.* Just because you refuse to accept a particular belief doesn't make you an enemy of anything. Critical thinking is something to be applauded, not vilified.

I've always been curious about religion, and refuse to accept any claim at face value. Just because something is said to have been written by the Apostle Paul doesn't make it literally true. If you are going to tell me that a guy was born from a virgin and then rose from the grave, you had better have some pretty hard evidence if you want me to believe those things in a literal fashion.

You see, my religion believes many of the same things. Dionysus was said to have been born out of the thigh of Zeus, which is just as miraculous as a virgin giving birth. Of course I don't believe it's literally true. Zeus was able to produce children because it served the patriarchal needs of Greece at the time, it had nothing to with the actual origin of the Wine God. Jesus was born of a virgin because the idea played to the pagan worldview at the time, and because someone didn't quite understand the book of Isaiah. It's no more literally true than the story of Dionysus, and both tales have an equal number of facts supporting them: none.

This is the problem most Christians have with me. For me research means more than just reading a text and perhaps some opinions other people have about it, it means understanding everything that was going on at the time it was written. It means questioning what I've just read, and reading sources contrary to my own opinions and conclusions. It also means looking at things from a rational perspective and not just accepting something because it's in front of me. Human beings are generally curious creatures, and being curious means exploring and looking at something from every angle. I also don't believe in throwing something out because it's not literally true either, something can have meaning and not be a real event. The power of myth is a strong and should never be dismissed easily.

I'm skeptical enough that I sometimes even rationalize my own religious experiences. Did my High Priestess really "Draw Down the Goddess" (have deity inhabit her body) or is it some sort of trance state brought on by the brain? Did I really channel Dionysus or did I just drink too much mead? Does it actually matter whether or not something is a trick of the head or a tipple of the bottle? I don't think that it does, as long as the experience is real to you. While I'm quick to discount statements like "he was THE prophet of God," or "he was the Son of God," I don't discount the religious experiences. Those are just as valid as mine, if not more so, since anyone who believes that the world was created in seven days probably does a better job of turning off their rational mind than I do.

I've never accepted anything in Paganism at face value. Long before Ronald Hutton released "Triumph of the Moon" I had serious doubts that Wicca existed in an unbroken chain for hundreds of years before going public in the 1950's. The idea always seemed absurd to me, and it does now. My rational journey has convinced me that magical systems can exist for hundreds of years absent from religion, but I don't buy whole religions lasting in secret with no paper trail for a thousand years.

Most people today have no idea how big discounting the foundational belief that Wicca is "old" was just ten or twelve years ago. I got kicked out of a circle once for stating it, it threatened people's beliefs that much. I can certainly see the romance in the idea that my religion was passed along in secret for hundreds of years, and that the women executed (murdered?) during the "Witch Trials" of the Renaissance** were my spiritual ancestors, but it's just not literally true.

While I used to scoff at the whole idea, the older me sees the validity of the "myth" though not the Margaret Murray account of the whole affair. The "Witch Trials" tell us to stay vigilant, and remind those of us in a minority religion that things can go south very quickly at any given moment. The world is not puppies and rainbows, people are capable of cruelty so its best to be vigilant. The "witches" of the 1500's are not my spiritual descendants, but their sacrifice has value to me today because of what it teaches me, and warns me about. So while I don't accept it as a "Foundational Truth" I accept it as a "Foundational Myth" and have found a place for it in my faith.

Maybe I'm so hard on Christianity*** because I've met so few Christians who are as hard on their own faith as I am on mine. The gods gave me a mind, that mind questions, I believe in putting it to use.

*For the record I am antagonistic towards a whole lot of people who claim to be Christians, but my problem has never been with the religion, just those who use it as an excuse to be close-minded, or not pay taxes.

*If you look at the real numbers, most of those executions took place during the Renaissance and later. The "New World" was being colonized (stolen from the Native Americans) during most of them.

***There's this really weird idea out there that anyone who is a liberal (like I am) gives Islam a free pass in religious debate. That's a ridiculous notion. The reason why I don't talk about Islam very much is that no Muslims read this blog or my facebook page. It's also not something I'm exposed to very often, and I don't know as much about it as I do Christianity (my former faith) and Paganism (my new one). Makes sense to me. If I lived in a European country (or Dearborn Michigan) with a large Muslim population I'd probably write about it more.


  1. Nicely said. There was a pagan comic strip that coined the phrase, "Wicca, pretending to be an ancient religion since 1958."

  2. I'd probably place it a little earlier, maybe 1900? Though I'm not sure it was called "Wicca" at that date. I'm reasonably convinced that Gardner was initiated into a tradition in 1939; that doesn't mean the tradition was hundreds of years old.

  3. Ok gonna try this agin, now that I'm logged in.
    Most BTW now accept that Wicca is not directly from an underground anciant cult. As i like to say it is Pre Christian pagan wishful thinking , with a smattering of CM, Theosophy and our interpreation of a a mystery religion