Tag Archives: Christianity

For God(s) and Country

I have, I feel I must confess, an unsavory fascination with watching Christians arguing amongst themselves about matters of morality and ethics.

I do try to stay away from these debates.

And mostly I am successful.

But occasionally I’ll find myself caught up in the tawdry spectacle.

And afterwards…,

I usually feel dirty, and a little disappointed with myself. The same sort of feeling I remember coming away with after watching an episode of Jerry Springer, when it first started to get popular and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

Most recently, I found myself reading an article, the link to which had been posted by an old high school friend, in which a Christian minister was trying to convince his extended flock that they ought to stop criticizing Donald Trump. Because ‘the Donald’ is our president, which means he was put there, by God, as all leaders are, for a purpose, and all the philandering, the tax evasion and lying, the caging of children and constant stream of reprehensible comments, is all completely beside the point.  It is the moral duty of every good Christian, he suggests, to fully support the President and his agenda.

Obviously, it was not an article written for me or mine.

No, it was a missive from Christians, to Christians, extolling the current President as an instrument of God for whom any moral qualms should be set aside.

secondcoming

And after I’d made sure that it wasn’t something published by The Onion, I read it again…,

…and double checked for signs of satire.

None.

Ooookay.

The President of the United States was placed in office by the Christian god.

They, the Christians, at least some of them, really believe this.

It seems unlikely, but it does bring up some interesting questions, like…,

How does that work with free will?

I mean, did God work his will upon just enough voters, in the right states, to sway the Electoral College? Should a vote even count if some random deity (who is not even an American citizen, by the way) has his way with your freedom of choice? Or did he work his dark miracle through the nimble fingers of Russian hackers and fake news accounts?

And what was the deal with Obama?

Did the Most High’s omnipotence come up short during those two elections?

Or did the Christian god decide to put the black guy in the Oval Office for those eight years. You know, the secret Muslim who wanted to destroy America, start a race war, throw all the republicans into FEMA Camps, cripple the economy, steal your money to pay for someone else’s healthcare…, THAT guy!

And if he DID put Obama into office, where was all that “He’s the instrument of God who’s failings you should ignore because it’s all part of God’s plan” bullshit that they trot out when it’s convenient for their agenda.

You’d have thought they wouldn’t have cared so much about a birth certificate, if he had a Biblical stamp of approval.

****

Sometimes I wonder how it would be different if we treated leadership as we did with the Celtic kings during pagan times.

The king was chosen not by any particular god, but by the elders of the tribe.

And in assuming kingship over the land, he ceremonially took the goddess of that domain as his wife. And if he pleased her, if he treated her well, with all the proper respect and worship that was due a woman and goddess, the soil would be bountiful, his wars successful, and his people, prosperous.

It’s an interesting line of thought.

But when I begin to consider how those among our present leadership actually treat women, the things they say, the decisions they make…,

No, it’s probably best we leave the true gods out of modern politics. We’re obviously not sophisticated enough for them.  Not just yet.

The time may come, however.

A time for gods and country.

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Sunday Morning Ultimatums..,

“You live, you die. There are 2 destinations. There is no 3rd choice. Believe in Jesus before it’s too late.”

An old friend of mine from high school posted this yesterday morning.

He followed it up with a bible verse, but I didn’t bother to read any further. I lost my taste for Sunday morning ultimatums a long time ago.

And usually, I just let these things drift by, unnoticed and unremarked upon. My social media feed is chock full of Jesus, and it all just becomes so much white noise after a while.

For the most part, these posts and comments are of the “god is love” variety. “God shaped me, Jesus is my reason, God guides my every step…,” And I might occasionally smile to myself and wonder how the poor fellow ever gets anything important done when he’s so busy playing ‘seeing-eye dog’ to a population of folks who are too bloody insecure to get up and walk on their own.

But once in a while you get one of these “believe in him or you’re going to burn” comments, which so perfectly illustrate the lie behind all those other love filled exhortations.

Because, my friends, if you feel like the best you can do is to frighten folks into believing, I have to assume that either you are desperately trying to shore up your own lack of faith, or you’ve noticed that donations are down and that new private jet isn’t going to just buy itself.

The world we live in is not so black and white as they would have us believe. And neither, I am sure, is the next.

We live, we die, we live again, and I’ve little doubt that there are a multitude of realms in between, where we might wander for a spell, before we make our way back.

So save your threats, my Christian friends, because if you have to resort to these kinds of tactics, you’ve already lost the argument.

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On the level

I read a story, a few weeks ago, about a fellow who took a carpenters level with him on a cross country flight, in order to prove that the Earth is flat.

His experiment, it seems, was based upon the following argument: If the Earth is a sphere, an airplane pilot cannot fly on a level course, because to do so would cause the plane to go careening off into space.  Therefore, he, the pilot, must correct for the rounded Earth slipping away below him by occasionally dipping the nose of the plane downward, which action would be easily noticeable on a precision instrument purchased at the Home Depot.

I may not be explaining this as clearly as I should, so I whipped up a graphical aid.

Now, I do try to treat “fringe groups” with a certain amount of patience and good will.  Recognizing, as I do, that my own belief in multiple gods, puts me right out on the edge of things, in many peoples eyes, it seems only natural that I treat other groups with the same friendly manner that I hope people will express toward me and mine.

Is Scientology your thing?  No skin off my nose.

You like pineapple on your pizza?  I’ll just pick those off of my slice, if that’s okay.

You preferred the Star Wars prequel movies to the original three?

….ummm, I’m sure you have many redeeming qualities.

I draw the line with Flat Earthers.

If you truly believe that we are all the victims of a “Global Conspiracy” perpetrated by every school, corporation, government, and independent scientific body on the PLANET, throughout over 2,000-years of history since the day when Eratosthenes proved mathematically that the Earth was a sphere (and only missing the actual circumference by a few percentage points), and if you’re evidence for this is “Well, it looks flat to me,” and/or “The Bible doesn’t say anything about us living on a ball,” then I am done with you.

Yes, my flat earth friends, you have been lied to for the last two-thousand years.

Just not by the people you think.

And it’s not even a lie, really.

At least, I don’t think it was done intentionally.

The ancient tribesmen who wrote those chapters of your holy book were working off of their own observations.  And the world, to them, looked flat.

Now I realize that this takes us into a touchy subject area.  Because, of course, a great many of the Christian faithful believe that scripture was written by God through the hands of men.  The “Inspired Word” they like to call it.  So, in their view, the Bible wasn’t written by a bunch of yokels who could have got it wrong, it was written by God himself and no part of it can be false.

And yet there is plenty in there that is demonstrably untrue.

So what to do?

Well, most of the particularly faithful people that I know, have made some accommodation for themselves in this area.

Maybe God only told the people who were writing things down, things that he knew they could understand.  Maybe God showed them the whole complicated mess, and they could only grasp a small portion of its true shape and function.  Maybe he wanted to keep things mysterious for his creation, and so relied upon vague verbiage to keep his followers guessing.

The line, or lines, that these folks draw, between truth and misprint, seem to move and twist with circumstance, but at least they are there.  At least these folks are trying to reconcile a system of belief with the mechanics of the physical world around them.

The Flat Earth Brigade will do no such thing.

They cover their eyes and stop up their ears and they congratulate themselves for the purity of their faith against opposition from every quarter.

But they are wrong.

What they cling to is not faith.

That’s a thing we call desperation, and it is a desperation that seems to be on the rise.

Today, they are taking levels aboard airplanes, and we point, and we laugh, and we shake our heads in pity and disbelief.

But we have all seen the things that small groups of religiously fervent people are capable of, when they believe that they alone hold the truth, and that the whole world is set in conspiracy against them.

We should never rest too comfortably upon the strides we have made.

Any tool made to create, can also destroy, even something as simple as a level.

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Suddenly, a Witch!

Hillary Clinton, they are telling us now, is a Witch.

The truth, of course, is that folks on the Republican side of the American political fence have been calling her a “witch” for quite some time.  I’ve heard it mixed in there, along with every other disparaging word in the misogynist’s lexicon.

But then suddenly, a couple days ago, they started talking about the capital ‘W’ kind of witch.

Specifically, some folks on Drudge and other bottom-feeder websites began claiming that Clinton was a member of a circle of blood-magic wielding, satan-worshipping, cultists.

I mean, come on guys…, I’ve got so many reasons to vote for her already.

You don’t need to sweeten the deal.

Could it be, SATAN?!

Could it be, SATAN?!

For the last year, I’ve tried to keep this blog away from the American political meltdown, providing myself (and anyone who cares to join me), a respite from the insanity.  Plus, I already get dragged into enough political flame-wars, without stoking the fires on my own site.

But it’s the last day before the election, so what the hell, while the wackier fringes of the conservative movement are off trying to prove that ducks and witches are both made of wood, I thought I might take just a brief moment to explain my very favorite thing about the 2016 Presidential Election cycle.

It’s not a hard choice really, in the last year we’ve seen a lot of really nasty thoughts and beliefs come slithering out of the darkness and into the light of day – which is, itself, a good thing really, if hard to stomach from time to time.

But there HAS been a good thing come out of this election.

The inborn hypocrisy of the evangelical christian movement has never been more prominently on display.  It’s just there, sitting boldly on a pedestal, under a spotlight, for all to see.

“The Candidate took them to a very high mountain and showed them all the kingdoms of the world, all the schools and courthouses, he showed them the supreme court and a tattered copy of the Defense of Marriage Act, and he said to them, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and vote for me…,”

And they’re doing it, in droves.

They’ll sacrifice themselves to a man that they know is not one of their own, who does not truly believe as they believe, who has built his fame and his fortune upon sin after sin, but who hands them empty promises to give them the power over our society that they so desperately crave.

These are not acts of faith or piety.

These are the votes of cowardice in the face of a world which will no longer bow to the singular lie that provides for them their only purpose.

It would be tempting to watch it happen, if for no other reason than to enjoy the whirling destruction that comes with any big train wreck.  But it is important to remember that this is a passenger train, and many of those folks didn’t know where they were bound when they boarded.

The folks who come crawling from that smoking ruin will need comfort, not condemnation.

And what better time to show them what the Witches are really like.

Get out there and vote, friends.

Our future depends upon it.

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More than Skin Deep

“What’s that say on your wrist?”

Sometimes I miss the good conversations.

The other day I missed a doozy, and by mere inches.

A friend and coworker was chatting with a customer when the woman paused their conversation to ask her about her tattoo.  Well, one of her tattoos, she’s got a whole sleeve of them but I guess the crisp letters on my friends wrist made for an easier point of inquiry.

“Release,” my friend answered, “It’s a tribute to one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs, ‘I shall be released’.”

“And,” the suddenly inquisitive woman continued, “do you know the history of tattoos?”

“Well, it depends on what culture you’re referencing,” my friend managed before…,

“NO!”

“It’s a PAGAN ritual!”

“It’s a PAGAN ritual for the dead!”

(softer now – dismissiveness replacing the forceful tone)

“Sometimes we just do these things on a whim, without realizing the history.  We just don’t realize the importance of history.”

All of this, I was sad to discover, happened just outside of my earshot.

Had I only known, I might, as the Pagan in the room, have interjected on our customer’s behalf.

Because, she wasn’t wrong when she said tattooing is of pagan origin, it surely is.

As, I might have offered, was all the makeup and the hair dye our concerned advocate was wearing.  Also, the custom of adorning oneself with jewelry, that came from the pagans too.  Oh, and agriculture, and roads, architecture, the manner in which we measure time, drama, art, language, mathematics, both democracy and the republic…, In fact the vast majority of stuff that makes her intolerant little life possible, have their origins among the various pagan tribes and peoples of this wide and wonderful Earth, and would have been understood by those people as being inseparable from what we today would call their ‘religious beliefs’.

The good news for our tattoo fearing friend, and everyone like her, is that wearing the trappings of the ancient pagans, be it makeup and hair dye, or a little creative ink injected into the skin, does not make one a Pagan, anymore than going to church every Sunday and reading the Bible would makes one a Christian.

No, it’s not so simple as that.

Paganism is not a thing that one may wear.

It is not a bangle or a bead.

It is not, I think, even a belief or a practice, although we use those words often and all too interchangeably.

Oh, and it is nothing to do with faith.

It runs deeper than that, or it should, and deeper by far than some ink in the dermis.

My paganism hums in me, in my bones and my blood, it shudders at the touch of a breeze upon my skin, reaches down from the soles of my feet into the rock and soil upon which I trod, and it crackles between my fingertips with the approach of a summer storm.

We turn with the great wheel, but the wheel turns within us as well.

Come this time of year it gnaws upon me, my skin feels stretched almost to the point of snapping, my muscles grow tight, and a deep restlessness takes hold of me.  The antlered god, growing older again within his fleshy prison, wants to rake his thorny horns against rough tree bark, he wants to run, to fight, and to rut before the winter comes and the great raven arrives again to pick at his scattered bones.

We walk daily among the gods and the spirits of this world, and if we are very lucky we are aware of it, of them, passing near us, through us.

It is beauty and pain made one and it doesn’t happen on a whim.  And it’s certainly not something that happens by accident while having some work done in a tattoo parlor.

We spend so much of our lives dressing ourselves up to meet the expectations of others.  Yet the urge to express ourselves, our loves and our sorrows, is part of who we are.  It’s a human trait, not just a pagan one, and life is too short to just set it aside for the sake of base conformity.

Of course, there will always be those who are frightened by such freedom.

To them I say, “a superficial faith breeds superficial fears.  If a little ink is enough to get your religious fervor going, the problem is almost certainly more to do with you.”

Cernunnos Tattoo

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Thirteen Black

LastBattlefield

I’ve been watching these two guys fight each other for as long as I can remember.

You recognize them, right?

Let me introduce you.

On the left is Monotheism.

And on the right is Atheism.

Or….,

…is it the other way around?

It’s pretty hard to tell sometimes, because these fellows are simultaneously identical twins and complete opposites.  Both inhabit a universe which they understand to be entirely monochromatic, a space where very fabric of existence is composed of either “is” or “not without proof it’s not.”

I peek in on them from time to time.  It’s a strange little world they live in but sometimes it can be fun to watch them bicker.

Most of the time, it is simply aggravating.

And if you try to step in, if you take one aside for a moment and explain how he is using the same arguments, based upon the same faulty assumptions as his counterpart…, oh the look he will give you!

It is the perfect synthesis of confusion and contempt.

Then, after a brief mental reboot, he or she will typically ply you with one of the standard arguments from their rhetorical arsenal, the assumption being that since your words made no logical sense, you must therefore play for the other team.

I’m fairly certain that I’ve heard all of these arguments over the years.

Most recently it was an old number from the 1600’s called Pascal’s Wager.

It goes something like this…,

There is God, or there isn’t God.

If there isn’t God and you worship him anyway, you are silly but otherwise unharmed.

If there is God and you don’t worship him you will suffer eternal torments in a lake of fire.

The safe bet, therefore, is to worship God.

And if the universe is truly expressed as a simple heads versus tales coin flip, Pascal’s Wager does make a pretty compelling argument.

But there are problems, and not just the “if gambling is a sin why are Christians encouraging non-believers to “play lots” with their immortal souls?” kind of problems.

Pascal’s Wager may sound like a valid argument to a Monotheist or an Atheist, but the Polytheists in the crowd know a chump bet when we see one.

If a game is being played, does it seem likely, given the vast and wonderful complexity of the universe in which we bide our time, that everything comes down to some lousy coin toss?

Not very likely.

No, if a game is being played, isn’t it more likely to be something a bit more like Roulette?

Imagine that we each walk up to the table with but a single chip in hand.

The Atheist isn’t going to play at all, and that’s okay.  He’ll pocket that chip and maybe keep it as a souvenir.

The Christian, on the other hand, is convinced that there’s only one number on the table upon which to place his bet.

And do you see again, how each takes the most extreme position possible?

Thirteen Black

BAM!

He slaps that chip down on thirteen-black, acting on faith that when the wheel stops spinning the little ball is going to land safely upon his number.

(Yeah, I know, a good Christian would probably pick just about any other number on the table, but this is my metaphor and I’ll do as I please.)

So there we are, one God, one Truth, and just one Number to choose from.

And you’ve got to admit, that’s a pretty bold play for someone with just a single chip in his hands!

The payout is huge: 35 to 1.  Let’s call that the numerical equivalent of eternal life.

But the odds of hitting that number, or any single number on a roulette wheel is less than 3%.

There are smarter bets.  There are LOTS of them.

Roulette Table

You could split your bet between two numbers, or three, or four.  And each time you’d see your probability of a winning spin increase.  It’s a big board folks, and you don’t have to be EXACTLY right to come out a winner.

With a single chip in the game, I myself might like to play one set of twelve numbers.

Sure, the payout is only 2 to 1 (the numerical equivalent of reincarnation, maybe?) but my odds are nearly one in three, which is WAY better than a paltry 3%.

The point is, that Blaise Pascal, the 17th century mathematician and philosopher who gave us the Wager, may have been one of the fathers of modern probability theory, but I seriously doubt the guy ever spent any quality time in an actual gambling den.

If he had, he might have hedged his bets.

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Simon’s Son

In the four years that I have been writing here, I have mentioned the Christian Holiday of Easter exactly once, and that time only in passing.

Typically, when Pagans post about Easter, what you get is either a rambling discourse on the pagan influences (eggs, rabbits, not quite forgotten goddesses of the Dawn) still visible in the modern celebration of that holiday, or you get a “correcting misinformation” post which seeks to set right all the shoddy research, presented as fact, that find their way into those aforementioned ‘rambling discourses’.

I have no interest in joining that particular tug-o-war.

It’s just not a holiday that I can get excited about one way or the other.  I find all those plush pastel rabbits to be irksome in the extreme and I can’t fathom why anyone would want to lay claim to them.  Those shopping mall Easter Bunnies, hoisting screaming children onto their laps are the things of nightmares.  And in the grocery store yesterday, I literally saw boxes of milk-chocolate crosses sitting on the shelves.  Who buys that for their child?

No, and thank you!

And as for the Easter story itself…, Over the years I’ve sat through more retellings of it than I can count, and mostly I just feel really bad for Jesus, if not for the obvious reasons.

Here’s a guy who dispenses so much wisdom and just generally good advice, and the entire time you know that generation upon generation of his supposed followers are going to focus on the mythology surrounding his dying and rising, while completely ignoring the vast majority of what he actually said while he was alive.

I’ve never been particularly moved by his sacrifice.  More, disappointed I guess.

No, there is really only one character in the Easter story that I find truly interesting: the Bible calls him Simon’s son, Judas Iscariot.

The Judas Kiss

Did I say character, and not person?

Let us see…, the Gospel of John first calls him a thief, and then explains that the devil entered him and caused him to betray Jesus to the temple priests in exchange for thirty pieces of silver.  One author has him giving the silver back after the deed is done, but in another book he uses it to buy a potters field.  Does he hang himself in remorse for his betrayal?  Or does he fall headfirst over a cliff, landing so hard that his guts burst open, soaking the ground in blood?

Oh yeah, I meant character.

It’s no secret that I’m not sold on an any of the folks in the Bible being more than loosely based on actual persons.  And it honestly doesn’t matter to me if they were real or not.

The story is the story, and the story is incredibly powerful.

It has shaped the world we live in, for better or worse, for the last two-thousand years.

And for me, as someone who was raised in that faith tradition, but has long stood outside it, looking in, I find the character of Judas to be far more compelling than the sacrificial hero that is the focus of the tale.

And the reason for this is that Judas, more than any other character in the Christian Holy Book, truly challenges the notion of free will in the face of an omnipotent god.

Did Judas go to Hell for betraying Jesus?

It is a question I’ve been asking since I was a child.  I actually remember my family debating the issue on more than one occasion, and never to a satisfactory conclusion.

Christians believe that the events leading up to and immediately following the crucifixion were foretold in various prophecies from the Old Testament.  Now, I’ve read some of those verses, and…, if the prophets are made to stand on their heads and jump through several moving hoops…, well sure, I guess you could say that it all kind of fits together.

Admitting, for the sake of argument, that this is true, then all of the events leading up to the Cross are necessary functions of God’s omniscience.  Judas MUST betray Jesus.  If he doesn’t the prophecies are worthless and the blood of the lamb does not wash away the sins of the world.

There is no need to slander his character by suggesting that he was stealing from the apostles money bag.  There is no need to suggest that he was a dupe for the devil.

He was doing his job, as preordained by the knower and shaper of all things.

Or was he?

What if he truly did have a choice.

That means that he could have chosen not make a deal with the temple priests.  he could have refrained from delivering that tell-tale kiss, and Jesus might have made it through his Passover visit to Jerusalem unscathed.  God’s grand plan for the redemption of mankind might have taken an entirely different turn, or it might have been thwarted entirely.

“Ah,” my critics will say, “but Judas DID make his choice, as God knew he would when presented with that situation.”

To which I say, “that’s manipulative bullshit unworthy of anyone calling themselves the ‘Most High’.”  Seriously, that’s right up there with ‘hardening Pharaoh’s heart’ so that he’ll stick it out while his people suffer through yet another plague.

Punishing someone for something you made them do is the height of injustice.

So if the Christian God is a being both omnipotent and morally just, Judas was equally as important to the great plan as Jesus himself, and no punishment should be given.

If the Christian God is not omnipotent, Judas had a choice and may indeed be suffering eternal torment, but the whole grand plan for the salvation of mankind is reduced to a series of unfortunate events, and that’s not going to go over very well with the faithful.

So which is it?

Are the characters in the Easter story simply unwitting cogs in someone else’s melodrama?

Are we all?

Or does each of us have the godlike power to shape the course his or her own destiny, while the gods themselves sit and watch and hope for the best.

I wonder sometimes, if that kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane revealed more and deeper truths than the authors, whoever they were, might have hoped.

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A Strange Kind of Sacrifice

I am reminded of a summer afternoon several years back.

I was working as a designer in the offices of a magazine located some miles north of Fort Worth.  It was a slow day, just past lunch-time, when someone burst in excitedly to tell us that there was a guy walking down the freeway, bearing a cross.

“You mean like a little cross, or…,”

“No, like it’s a full sized cross!  Like ACTUAL size.”

There was a moment then, when we all kind of looked at each other and a silent communication passed around the circle, “well, it’s not like we have anything better to do.”  And so we piled into a couple cars and went to go see the guy with the cross.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, of course.

In a perfect world we might have found Trigun’s Nicholas Wolfwood wandering in from No Man’s Land.

Wolfwood Trigun

What we got instead was a bit more like this.

Wheeled Cross

Not this guy exactly.  I didn’t have a camera on me at the time (these events transpired in that misty age before the smartphone).  But it was a guy very much like the one pictured above.  There are, apparently, a lot of them out there, wandering the roadways of America.

Certainly the cross was the same.

When we caught up with him, he talked with us about the message he was hoping to give folks as they passed him on the freeway.  He told us how he hoped that his sacrifice would remind them of the one which Jesus made for them on the cross.

“My sacrifice,” he said.

I remember looking at the apparatus he carried on his shoulder.  The padding where the planks of wood intersected, the wheel…,

His cross had a wheel!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it was heavy.  Long before the gig at the magazine, I worked in construction.  I’ve spent long days hauling lumber around in the hot sun, and I remember how it makes you feel at the end of the day.

Now I think about it, might have been less work for us all, if the lumber had come with wheels.

So, as I continue to hear more and more about Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refuses to issue marriage licenses to gay couples…, as I see people who I otherwise respect crying out over her jailing for contempt of court, and calling her a modern martyr in the ongoing War on Christians…, in my minds eye I see that silly little wheel rolling through weeds and gravel along the side of a busy highway.

And I think to myself, “what a strange kind a sacrifice.”

And I wonder, “is this what you think martyrdom looks like, in the 21st Century?”

Because there are places in the world where Christians really are persecuted for their faith, but the United States of America is not one of them.  But if you need a reminder of what martyrdom looks like, I’d have you think back to the events of a certain painful morning, some 14-years ago this week.

We have seen innocents sacrificed by religious fundamentalists who believe that our secular culture, with its hedonism and moral relativism, is degenerate and cursed in the eyes of God.

9/11 Memorial

These folks seem so harmless, just pulling their little wheeled crosses around the highways and byways…, stage a protest here, fiddle with a textbook there, milk the 15-minutes of fame you get for refusing to do your job…,

It would be all too easy to ignore them, and even the gods must know just how very tired I am of talking about these people.

If only their rhetoric were not so chillingly familiar.

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A Prayer for Baalshamin

There are madmen in the streets.

These men burn and loot the ancient temples, destroying the ancient symbols of belief.  The statues and engravings, the urns, the altars and even the great stone columns are toppled from their foundations.  History and tradition are rendered into broken fragments, reduced to dust.

There are madmen in the streets.

These men kidnap, and torture, and execute any who do not believe as they do.  The priests of the temple, the men of great learning, and those unfortunate women who do not dress with the proper modesty, of course they all must die, publicly, painfully, for such are the wages of sin.

There are madmen in the streets.

These men shout religious slogans while waving their weapons in the air, and still our leaders stand by, paying lip-service to their role as keepers of the peace.  With each new Emperor comes harsher decrees against the old ways, and the Christian mob is emboldened to even greater acts of violence against the innocent.

That was then — this is now.

And more than sixteen-hundred years after the stoning and burning of priests and women, after the toppling of temples and the destruction of art throughout the Roman Empire, after the surrender of governance to barbarity, and the abdication of civil law to religious authority…,

There are still madmen in the streets.

A few days ago this latest band of religious extremists blew up the Temple of Baalshamin in the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria, and an important piece of history was lost forever.

Ruins in Palmyra

We have so little of our past left to us, intact.

Baalshamin appears to have been a sky-god among the Semitic peoples of Syria.  There is evidence that he was part of a trinity of Gods, with solar and lunar deities as his counterparts.  He also appears to have had some symbolism in common with the Greek god Zeus.

An ancient sculpture depicting Baalshamin (center) along with his Lunar and Solar counterparts.

An ancient sculpture depicting Baalshamin (center) along with his Lunar and Solar counterparts.

I do not know him.

He is a deity in a pantheon far removed from my own.

And yet, on this day, I offer him my prayer.

It is the same prayer I offer to all the gods and goddesses who have had their holy places desecrated at the hands of those who believe that there is only one right way in which to worship, and only one god worthy of that praise.

I ask them for their forgiveness, that we could not do more to protect the sanctity of their holy places.

I ask their guidance for the spirits of those who have fallen to the sword and the torch while seeking to preserve ancient knowledge.  Lead them safely to a place of honor in the lands of the dead.

I ask that they lend us the wisdom and courage to lead lives of tolerance and acceptance, even as we stand against anyone who would lead the world once again into an age of ignorance and religious persecution.

Baalshamin, on this day, and in your name, which in the language of your people meant ‘Lord of the Heavens’, I ask that you hear my prayer.

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Filed under Culture, Mythology, Religion, The Gods, Traditions

Identity Crisis: Who Are You?

There has been a lot of fussing and fuming within the greater Pagan community, just lately, over Facebook’s policy regarding names.  The specific cause of this upset, is a recent change in that policy which has resulted in the closure of several accounts that did not utilize a legal or ‘true’ name, according to the Facebook terms of Service.

I’ve seen a number of people alleging that this policy amounts to discrimination against religious minorities, on the basis that many of those folks interact with each other, sometimes even publishing, using spiritual or ‘magical’ names that do not otherwise appear in their ‘mundane’ lives.

There are also those who only feel free to be themselves online, when using an assumed name, for fear that friends, family, and business associates will turn against them if the truth about their beliefs is revealed.

I feel like I have covered my feelings on these topics here before, and from a number of different perspectives.

For the most part, I wish people would just be upfront about who and what they are and let the chips fall where they may.  What little advantage we have as individuals, hiding in the shadows, teaching our children that it’s not okay to express our beliefs in mixed company, is far outweighed by what we have to gain, as a community, by letting the world see how many of us there really are, and that we are not the frightening creatures they have been led to believe in.

Whatever strides we have made, as a people, in the area of civil rights, or equal rights for women, or the newly won equality in marriage rights for homosexual couples, these things did not come to pass because people where skulking about, in superficial safety, using assumed names.

This not-so-sudden identity crisis certain folks are having, dovetails nicely into some thoughts I was trying to express here back in 2012, and which I feel could use repeating in the here and now…,

Who Are You?

It seems like a simple question, but try to answer it anyway.

Did you answer with your name?  Is that who you are?  Because with a few exceptions, that name was picked out for you and is the least likely thing to say anything about who you really are?

Are you defined by your familial relationships: parent, child, brother, cousin, aunt?  Or could it be that your friendships and romantic entanglements will sufficiently outline your identity?

Perhaps you are defined by your job?  Does what you do for a living explain you?  Or maybe it’s your hobbies and interests that we should be looking at, the things you do to escape from the day-to-day grind of existence.

Is it your political or religious affiliations that delineate you from those around you?  Are you a Libertarian or a Socialist?  Do you believe in the Hebrew God, the Resurrection of Jesus, the Blessed State of Nirvana, the Majesty of Zeus or do you eschew belief in that which you can not see and touch.  Are these beliefs enough to set you apart from your fellows?

Now let me ask you one more question.  Why is it important?

Why are we so fixated on our special and unique individuality?  We strive so hard to be different from everyone else, to have our own things and the freedom to decide every little thing for ourselves but what does it gain us in the grand scheme of things?

Advice from a Caterpillar

For most of human history the concept of personal identity was subordinate to the place we held in society and the universe around us.  Ancient societies were composed of collective groups which functioned as a whole.  Today we may call them tribes or clans but structurally they were groupings of people who functioned as an interconnected unit.  The individual was there to support the tribe.  He or she may have been a hunter or a shaman, warrior or storyteller.  The point is that each person had a role to play and each role was important because, for the tribe to function, everyone had to be doing his or her part.  Identity was a function of the place you held within the tribe.

Expanding this idea outward, the tribe as a whole, held a place and function within the natural world.  Most (what we arrogantly call) primitive societies understood themselves to be an important part of the physical and spiritual landscape around them.  It was important that the tribe fulfill its role in the proper time and manner, to guarantee its own survival and discharge its duties to the land.

The gods were known to be a tribe of their own, with power and responsibilities greater than those of mortal men.  The local tribe was a physical reflection of this divine configuration and each of these tribes (gods and men) depended upon the other to accomplish its goals.  As an individual, you knew that if you failed your tribe, you endangered not only the survival of the family unit but the natural and spiritual order as well.

Setting aside simple tribal society and looking at the far more expansive Roman Empire, we can see that there was little change to this way of thinking.  Although the shear size of Roman civilization reduced the importance of any particular tribe or family within the state, a Citizen of Rome was understood to be a functioning part of an ordered society.  The standing of a citizen within the social hierarchy was integral to the success of the greater society and a benefit to the gods themselves.  Citizenship gave the Roman many individual rights that other men and women did not enjoy, but these rights came with certain expectations and obligations that guaranteed security and well being for all.

This all started to change as monotheist beliefs began to seep into the fabric of the Roman world.  As Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire, the goals of the individual citizen began to shift and the social fabric of society was turned on its head.  Instead of a family or a tribe of gods to emulate, there was now only a single deity to mimic.  The importance of having a place within the tribe was diminished as personal salvation became the ultimate spiritual goal.

In a world that was going to end at any moment, only to be replaced by an eternal existence without pain or hardship, the immediate needs of the tribe became less vital.  Our place in the now became an afterthought, replaced by our place in the world to come and a growing fixation on our own narrow wants.

Today we find ourselves living in the sum product of that revolution.  We are a rapacious consumer society where the primary focus of each individual appears to be on their own selfish ends.

Who are you?

Look at the world around you for a moment.  Pull your attention away from your computer screen, and your smart phone and all the little toys and games you use to distract you from the universe outside and ask yourself if you really like the world you see.  If the answer is “yes” well good for you!  I appreciate your reading this far and you are welcome to keep going, but this next bit really isn’t for you.

If, like me, you do not like a lot of what you see, then you have the answer to the question I’ve been asking.  The world is a mirror of the self.  Who we are is what we see out there looking back at us.  Ad if it’s not a very pretty sight, we have only ourselves to blame.

Now I don’t want you to get the wrong idea here!  I am not against individual rights and freedoms, both of which are things to be cherished and fought for.  This is about living our beliefs, not just for ourselves but for the world around us.

Every single thing we do contributes positively or negatively to that world.  From the products we buy to the food we eat and the way in which we get ourselves from point A to point B, it is all reflected in the universe around us.  The way we live our lives has a direct effect on people, places and events far beyond our vision.

Were your clothes stitched together in a sweatshop?  Is your lawn green at the expense of drinking water downstream?  Did your chicken sandwich fund a hate group?  Will the chemicals in those AA batteries you tossed into the trash leech into the soil?  Will children go without medical care because you don’t like the government taking your money?  Do you know the answers to those questions?  Do you care?

To know thyself is to know your influence on the world around you.

If you say that you support local businesses, maybe you should embody that support by frequenting them instead of Wal-Mart and Amazon.  If you like fresh foods, find a farmers market instead of buying food out of season that has been shipped halfway across the world and pumped full of preservatives.  And if you honor the gods and traditions of your ancestors, than you should do that too, boldly and with fervor!

“Be the change you want to make,” is not a cliché, it’s the reality of the world we live in and it always has been.

If you are thinking that one person can’t possibly make a difference, you are exactly right.  Yet, what one person can’t do, a community can.  We just have to make the effort to do it together.  We must expand our focus beyond our narrow little selves and re-join the tribe of humanity.  In short, lets start giving a damn about each other for a change!

The question is not who you are but who we can be.

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Filed under Culture, Modern Life, Philosophy, Religion, Traditions