Tag Archives: Debate

The Blood on My Hands

There are those with whom I may not speak.
Not because I could not find the words.
But knowing they would not hear me if I did.

I.

The Evangelist is deaf to all but his own voice.
He pounds the cover of the book he holds.
And my voice shall never touch him.

I am a heretic in his eyes, honoring false gods and corrupt traditions.  I have failed the truest tests of righteousness, surrendering my flesh to the Whore of Babylon and my soul to the Flames of Perdition.  My words can only be lies, the frustrated mewling of a sinner, lost in the din of Heaven’s glorious trumpet.  The blood of the martyrs is on my hands, and in that blood I must either find redemption, or be lost!

II.

The Patriot hears only the fife and the drum.
She stands rapt with hand held over heart.
And no pledge of mine will move her.

I am a traitor in her eyes, placing individual truth above the great social contract.  In my contempt for the notion of Manifest Destiny, I ally myself with those who wish only to end the great experiment before the promise of freedom can be fulfilled.  She brands me “hippy” and “un-American” and “tree-hugger”.  If I will not stand with her, then I must be against her, my hands stained with the blood of heroes!

III.

The Vegan has ears only for those without voice.
He campaigns against the ongoing atrocity.
And nary a justification will satisfy.

I am a monster in his eyes, a modern Grendel, ravenous amid my unthinking carnage.  Is this vile consumption rooted in some religious pretext of dominance over the natural world, or do I simply not understand that animals are thinking beings, capable of pain?  No token moderation of these unseemly habits will appease.  No death, however gentle, should be tolerated.  How can I claim to honor nature and respect all living things when my hands are dripping with the blood of defenseless millions!

IV.  The Homophobe…,

V.  The Socialist…,

VI.  The Feminist…,

VII.  The Atheist…,

Did you think your cause was different from the others?  Better?  More noble?

There are those with whom I may not speak.
Not because I could not find the words.
But knowing they would not hear me if I did.

This world is filled with zealots of every stripe.  Their numbers seem to multiply with each passing moment and I am sure you must have noticed them.  But there is a secret that you may not be aware of: If you believe in one singular truth, whatever that truth is, so fervently that you are willing to denigrate or vilify those who think differently, without considering their arguments or perspective, you are probably a zealot too.

Call them fanatics, bigots, or dogmatists, call them by whatever name suits you.  I will call them dangerous, all of them, each one as dangerous as the others, when their cause is bolstered by numbers and hardware and a disregard for their supposed enemies.

They are dangerous because, in someone’s eyes, we all have blood on our hands.

I know I do.

Bloody Hands

1 Comment

Filed under Culture, Modern Life, Philosophy, Poetry, Politics, Religion

“Maybe you shouldn’t live in Texas…,”

It is a phrase which, over the years, has been visited upon me with a dogged regularity.

There are, of course, phrases which turn up more often in debate.  But while a less frequent visitor than that old standby, “The Bible says…,” I find it infinitely more offensive.  At least I know that if someone wants to use the Bible, the Constitution, or even the freaking ‘Daily Shopper’ to debate me, they are engaged in the conversation.

“Maybe you shouldn’t live in Texas…,” is neither argument nor plea.

It is a dismissal.

It’s “fuck off”, disguised as friendly advice.

Excuse me, I’ve gotten ahead of myself.

Allow me to explain…,

The Open Carry Brigade

The above photo was taken by one of my coworkers on Memorial Day and posted to his Facebook page.  You may have seen other photos like it in the news recently.  It shows members of an ‘Open Carry’ group casually strolling around Fort Worth, with assault rifles strapped to their backs.

The purported goal of these guys, and a handful of folks like them, is to demonstrate their 2nd Amendment right to stand about awkwardly, like extras in a ‘zombie attack’ movie, while making innocent passers-by incredibly nervous.

Or…,

Maybe their goal is to desensitize the public to the presence of ridiculously large weapons in the public sphere, thus reassuring us all, that if some crazy starts shooting indiscriminately into the crowd, there will be good upstanding folks there, more than willing to catch you in the crossfire.

Or…, maybe it was something else.  It’s hard to say.  If you watch the videos that these guys take of themselves, it seems as if they just crave attention, only to react belligerently when they get it.

In any case, back on Facebook, a lively debate sprang up regarding the demonstration.  Was it a brave display of constitutional goodness?  Or, was it a totally unnecessary display, in callouss disregard of recent tragedies?

The conversation was moving along as politely as one could hope for, given the topic (although, in the spirit of full disclosure, I ‘did’ suggest that there might be some disproportionality between gun and penis size among the demonstrators) when one of the participants dropped that familiar old cliché…,

“You know, Texas probably isn’t the state to live in if you are so opposed to the gun laws.”

Ah yes, that old familiar song!

If you don’t like gun fetishists walking the streets…,

…or organized Christian prayer in our schools…,

…or our laid-back attitude toward executions…,

…or the way we treat the disadvantaged…,

If you believe mixing religion and government is unconstitutional…,

…that women should have control of their bodies…,

…that same-sex couples should have the same rights we do…,

…that the place of public schools is to teach science, not scripture…,

…and that there is more to our relationship with the land than seeing how many dollars we can dredge out of it…,

Well then maybe, just maybe, you shouldn’t live in Texas.

Welcome To Texas

“Political progressives,” I have been told on more than one occasion, “have no place in this state.”

“So you’re not christian?  Why do you want to live here?”

“Wouldn’t you be happier someplace where the people think like you?”

And maybe I would.

Certainly, there seem to be enough people who think they would be happier if they didn’t have to share space with people who think and believe and act like me.

Maybe we should all just congregate ourselves into enclaves of likemindedness where we never have to encounter an opinion that differs from our own.

It’s an attractive idea on some levels, and one that I have heard bandied about more than once among my fellow reconstructionist pagans.  Imagine, having our own polytheist communities, set apart from all the dogmatic ballyhoo and funny looks we deal with on a daily basis.  Think of something along the lines of Amish country, but without the eschewing of technology and a wider array of fashion choices.  It would be our own little pastoral, techno, pagan, paradise, where no one need pretend to be something they are not.

Barring that, there ARE places that are friendlier to folks like me.

And I didn’t choose Texas, after all.  My parents did that when I was but a child.

So where then?

Over the years, dear friends have beckoned me to the mountains of Colorado.

More recently, it has been the coasts and the forests of Washington state that have called to me.

And then there is Ireland, so distant, and yet every time I have visited, the land and the people have felt more like home than any other I have ever known.

So why not?

Why not give ‘them’ what they want and just leave?

Well, I have family here, of course.  And there are my friends as well.  And lets not forget the mortgage, the half-finished remodeling project, a job, a hungry cat, remarkably little monetary savings, and an entirely reasonable fear of failure.

There is also, I must confess, a certain amount of determination to make THIS place better.  I want to contribute to a positive change, and the thought of leaving to find a better fit somewhere else just sounds like retreat.

I don’t know.

Maybe I shouldn’t live in Texas, but that’s for me to decide.

Let’s have this conversation again in a couple months when we’ll be suffering through our latest string of 100-degree days.  I may be thinking more clearly by then.

28 Comments

Filed under Culture, Modern Life, Politics, Religion

Enemy Thine

The sun has not yet breached the mist shrouded horizon when, in the distance, the trumpets blare.  As the echoes fade, there is a last moment of silence before the steady throb of marching feet rises, trembling from the Earth below.

The troops are massing beneath their tattered flags; the stink of war is in the air, and with the light of dawn, the battlefield is revealed before us.

Publicly Funded Schools That Are Allowed to Teach Creationism

This map, modeled after one I found at Slate.com, represents only one of the many battlegrounds on which the looming Culture-War may be won, or lost.  Click the image for the full article.

So the Culture-Wars are before us.

Or perhaps we are already fighting them.

Some people certainly seem to think we are.

Bill Nye “The Science Guy” debates Ken “Young Earth Creation” Ham, and the media explodes with commentary about who won in the desperate struggle of Science against Religion.

The Kansas House of Representatives decides to dust off some old Jim Crow laws and use them against the homosexual population while a Texas Judge presides over the unions of two transgendered couples (did Rick Perry’s head explode, I wonder).

And every day it seems like the opinions on social media become more and more extreme and polarized.

Maybe we really are at war.

If it is a war, I find myself wondering, like many soldiers before me, “is it the right one?”

I am no fan of those who would encode Christian dogma into the law of the land.  Any attempt to so corrupt the ‘separation of church and state’ must, I believe, be opposed on every available front: Judicial, Political, and Educational.

As a devotee of a minority religious belief, it would be suicidal for me to act otherwise.

Yet, I must confess, that I am unsure of our traditional allies in this supposed conflict.

With only a few soldiers willing to muster beneath our own tattered flags, we Pagans have, for many long years now, thrown in our lot with the atheists and the secular humanists (is there a difference, I’ve been told there was but have never observed it).  We have done so because these groups are able to field the troops and secure the resources necessary for a protracted battle against the religious majority.

And while we have managed to advance our cause, the reality is that this relationship has been a marriage of convenience at best, and at it’s worst, just another case of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend.’

But are they our friends?

Do they act like it?

Over the years I have joined more debates between Monotheists and Atheists than I could safely count.  The pattern of these conversations has almost always been the same.  I begin by supporting the viewpoints of my humanists friends against the unyielding dogma of their Christian opponents.  Eventually, as the debate proceeds, I attempt to open the discussion somewhat, to introduce the very basic idea that religion and spirituality are not defined by the Abrahamic faiths and that there is room for blended, less hard and fast, viewpoints.  And just that quickly, I have joined the ranks of the ignorant and the deluded, suffering the ridicule of the superior humanists.

The first few times it happened I was surprised and disappointed.

Now, I’ve come to expect it.

And coming at these discussions, from a perspective outside both groups, I have come to a particular realization: there are no sides in this war.

In the beginning, I thought of these discussions, as their participants do, as existing on a single axis.  Imagine a grand tug-of-war between two opposing viewpoints, each trying to pull the rope of opinion further and further in their preferred direction.

tug-o-war

But the reality is something far different.

These days, when I happen upon a debate between atheists and monotheists, what I see when I close my eyes, is a single person arguing with their own image in a mirror.

They are the same.  They are exactly the same.

They use the same arguments, exhibit the same blind arrogance and disdain for their rivals, and get equally pissed when you point this out to them.

Enemy Thine

The simple truth is, both groups have chosen a filter through which they prefer to observe the universe.

For the Christian, that filter is the Bible.

For the Atheist, it is the Scientific Method.

They are both filters, just sets of specially treated lenses that provide a false color image of the world around us.

The Monotheist sees a world that shows her only that which supports her particular view of the universe.  She may be aware that there are other things there, hidden in the artificially induced shadows, but her faith compels her to keep her filters firmly in place.

The Atheist, on the other hand, sees only that which is testable or may be modeled and extrapolated through the analysis of various data.  Anything that falls outside that particular spectra of experience, is eliminated as unworthy of consideration.

Both filters have their usefulness, I suppose, but neither represents truth.

Truth, I believe, may only be observed by eyes open and unfiltered.  When you strip away all the artificial filters, the full spectrum of reality, the colors of faith, science, intuition, emotion, imagination, spirit and many more besides, become visible in all their glory.  If you want to understand the universe you have to look at not only the primary colors, but at the subtle shades which are created where they blend.

No, my friends, I grow tired of your Culture-War and your endless, one-sided arguments.

I shall continue to fight for my own rights and beliefs, and for all those who find themselves in the spiritual and social minority, but I will not call another man blind while shading my own eyes to the world around me.  I will ally myself with those who I feel I can trust, those who will have no cause to turn on me when I express a belief that differs from their own.

I suspect it will be a lonely fight, and yet I believe that we few polytheists have a distinct advantage.  Polytheism, at its very core, is a belief-system rooted in our understanding of ‘truth’ as expressed in a dynamic multiplicity of forms.

In a world where the primary options (if they can even be called such) appear to be either stolid reasoning or intractable dogma, I can only believe that our numbers will continue to grow.  I envision a world where both ‘sides’ of the Culture-War lose through attrition as the disillusioned cast off their blinders in favor of a shared reality.

One can hope, yes?

1 Comment

Filed under Culture, Interfaith, Modern Life, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Science

Community?

We’ve seen it all before, those of us who have been around long enough. Yet another controversy rocks the Pagan Community, yet more outcry from those who feel oppressed and slighted, and yet more exhortations to divorce ourselves into separate and unrelated enclaves and be done with the misguided idea of a “community” entirely.

Yep, been there – done that – own the t-shirt.
I think I’ve got an entire closet of ‘em stashed away by now.

If the Pagan Community is good at anything it’s building mountains out of mole hills.

And arguing. Sometimes it seems we do nothing but.

We try to present a united front to the outside world, but I think we do so more for our own conceit, rather than any illusion we may have that those around us are fooled. We are like an old married couple, circling each other eternally, picking at the same emotional wounds for years on end, just waiting for the next round of shouting to begin.

Today we bicker about “Pop-Culture Paganism” and tomorrow we will undoubtedly find a new source for our drama and infighting. It makes little difference, because it’s all just window dressing for the same damn arguments we’ve been having for years.

What is the nature of deity?

What is the nature of our relationship to deity?

Tradition vs. Inspiration.

Religion vs. Spirituality.

Usually, I try to stay out of these debates, knowing as I do, from wrenching experience, that they seldom lead anywhere productive. Sometimes however, the temptation is too great to ignore. “Superheroes as objects of worship you say?” Yeah, I’m a hard-polytheist and a comic-book nerd, like I could help but weigh in on THAT topic!

I knew that what I wrote would not be popular with many people because I dared to say outright that I think certain beliefs are “wrong”. I didn’t couch it in the tired old, “while that may be right for you, it’s not right for me,” which while polite is also meaningless.

Plain speaking can get you in trouble pretty quickly in this community, but I’ve never been one for equivocation. So I was not in the least surprised to find my opinion being mocked (however gently) by a fellow blogger on a Pagan forum.

Which brings me to another of the things we like to do: we talk around each other. He talks to people that think like he does and she talks to people who think like she does and be both get the friendly nodding and clapping that tells us that ours was the winning argument. Congratulations: We have a failure to communicate. Well done!

So, having come this far, let’s break it down, just one more time.

Repressed

Help! Help! I’m being Repressed!

One side of the argument goes like this: All beliefs are valid and beautiful except for the belief that not all beliefs are valid and beautiful.

Take a second if you need to, and read it through again.

As logical arguments go, it’s right up there with: There is only one God because the Bible says so and the Bible is infallible because it is the word of God. It’s 95% pure refined hypocrisy cut with just a dash sanctimony, and it’s the go-to drug of those who choose to cast themselves both as “rebel against orthodoxy” and “victim of oppression”.

Lately I’ve seen a lot of, “What gives ‘X’ the right to say my beliefs are wrong?”.

The question I’m asking in response is “Why do you need ‘X’ to validate your beliefs?”.

Why this need for a community where everyone agrees, or at least says that they agree while giving you the big fake-smile?

We can’t all agree. Indeed, to believe in anything at all, you must do so at the expense of literally millions (perhaps billions) who have, do and will believe differently. If you don’t believe in anything strongly enough for someone else to be wrong…,

…I can’t even imagine how you function in the day-to-day world.

Community Chest

And then there are the Surrenderists.

On the other side of the argument are those who expend great amounts of energy and time explaining to anyone who will listen how these arguments prove that we shouldn’t be part of the Pagan Community at all. Mind you, they have been explaining this for no less than twenty years (by my personal count). One would think, in that amount of time, with that much determination, the divorce would be final by now. Instead, I don’t think we have even filed the preliminary paperwork.

But still we make all the angry noises. We stomp around the house in a fury and shout about how we’ve stopped calling ourselves “Pagans” and will call ourselves “Polytheists” until someone decides that word means something that we don’t like.

It seems strange to me that it is those who, like me, yearn to see temples and communities of worshippers honoring the gods, are the first ones to give up and retire to their isolated little enclaves. We come from warrior cultures but we do nothing but capitulate and give up ground.

Perhaps what we need is fewer people grousing about what we call ourselves and more who are willing push back against the tide.

“We’ve made too many compromises already; too many retreats. They invade our space and we fall back. They assimilate entire worlds and we fall back. Not again. The line must be drawn here!”

— Jean-Luc Picard (future Pop-Culture hero figure)

For years I have watched the Pagan Community twist itself into knots through pointless arguing and sloppy communication. I have often wondered if there was any point to the whole exercise, if maybe it wouldn’t really be better to just be done with it and go our separate ways.

And then I think about the people who live across the street from me…,

I call them the “snooty neighbors”. They live in the big nice house across the street and I think they have spoken maybe ten words to me in as many years. I see them occasionally, standing on their porch, surveying the weekly efforts of their hired yard service. I lift my hand in greeting, but only a cursory wave comes in return. They don’t really care for me, I can tell. Maybe they think that I let my grass grow a little too high before I mow it. Or perhaps it’s that my house could use a new coat of paint.

Then there is the older woman who lives in the next house down from me. She is a very pleasant sort and we chat from time to time about the little things that neighbors do to pass the time. She works at a church and believes that God chose this country to lead the world by Christian values and that President Obama is determined to steal all of our freedoms from us.

Sometimes we talk about the neighbors a few houses down. They are very friendly folks who always wave at me as I drive by. We have even exchanged pleasantries on a few occasions and I’ll sometimes see them out in their yard, watching their children peddle around the street on their bicycles. Beyond that, I don’t really know much about them, except that every so often (and I have not precisely worked out the schedule yet), they have loud parties with live Tejano music that persist into the wee hours of the morning.

I can only wonder what the “snooty neighbors” think about accordion music after midnight.

The guy at the end of the block is concerned about the welfare of the various stray cats which roam the neighborhood. He walks the street twice a day, morning and evening, leaving little piles of kibble on the curb in front of each house. Unfortunately, this means that some of the feistier neighborhood strays are more likely to come into my yard, troubling my own cat. It’s something I’ve been meaning to talk with him about.

We are all very different people, with our own likes and dislikes, our own beliefs, political ideologies and cultural backgrounds. We live in the same general area but we spend only a fraction of our time together, if any at all. And yet, despite all those differences, we have some shared experiences and commonalities as well. What’s more, after watching the events of the last few weeks in Moore, Oklahoma, I am absolutely certain that, should some disaster strike, I could count on every one of them to help dig through the rubble.

We are a community, not a tribe. We do not need to think, believe, and act as a unit for this to be true. As upset as I may become over late night parties, or trash blowing onto my lawn, I’m not about to shut my doors like some kind of recluse and pretend that the rest of the neighborhood doesn’t exist.

We all just need to do a better job of talking to each other.

We’re pretty dysfunctional as a community, but we are still neighbors.

5 Comments

Filed under Culture, Interfaith, Modern Life, Religion

Belief

I have written before about both the power of words and the way their meanings can be distorted through misuse over long periods of time.

“Mythology” is such a word.  “Pagan” is another.

These are words which have been twisted by the dominant culture to a point where their popular usage is typically in a negative connotation.  For example: calling something a “myth” is almost universally understood to indicate that it is a falsehood rather than the more proper understanding that it represents a greater cultural perception of truth.

There are many words like these and others that seem to be joining their ranks.

One of these unfortunate additions is “Belief”.

The word has taken on a plaintive air, as if to use it, automatically assumes that you know you are alone in your convictions.

“I believe in this company…,” as the stock prices tumble.
“I believe in my client…,” who is under perjury allegations.
“I believe in the gods…,” when you can’t show any hard evidence of their existence.

“Belief” has become a weak word, to be pounced upon and eaten by the unbeliever.  A belief is seen as little more than opinion and worth nothing at all if not backed up with “facts” (a word with it’s own set of problems).

An excellent book for any polytheist interested in countering the arguments of both monotheists and atheists.

And so…,

A polytheist will have his beliefs called into question by a Christian who will rest her arguments on the “facts” presented in the Bible.  That same Christian may have her facts challenged by an Atheist who will assert that the scientific method rules out the possibility of many of the historical events described in the Bible.  Meanwhile, the polytheist will rightfully point out to the Atheist, that when properly used, the scientific method keeps an open mind to those things which it hasn’t the ability to measure.

An Atheist may “believe” that the scientific method rules out the existence of things which are untestable, but it does nothing of the sort.  The attempt to make it do so is a gross misuse of a perfectly good philosophical principal.

Belief

By now you may be wondering what got me to thinking about this poor maligned word?

I’d been knocking around how to approach this topic for a few weeks when Brendan Myers’ guest post appeared over on the Wild Hunt.  In his post, Dr. Myers details his thoughts on the growing popularity of “Humanist Paganism” within the greater Pagan community.  Unfortunately, at several points in his post, the language Dr. Myers uses to describe the differences between Humanistic Paganism and the more traditional Theistic forms comes across as rather derisive toward the latter.

What’s more, at one point in the article he seems to draw an imaginary line between Humanist and Theistic Pagans with the following description of the Humanist sort:

“…but will approach the matter with a critical, scientific eye. And speaking of science, they tend to be interested in astronomy, quantum theory, evolutionary biology, and the like, and will take inspiration from Neil DeGrasse Tyson and from Bill Nye right alongside Starhawk or Crowley. Those whom I have met tended to be in their 30′s or older, educated, earning a lower-middle class income …. (As an aside, a lot of them are cosplayers too!) Social, political, and moral causes tended to be more important to them than supernatural ones…,”

“Bloody hell,” I thought, “that’s me right down to the cosplay!”  I must admit that, on it’s first reading, the article felt very much like an attack.  A certain cognitive dissonance comes into play when I see a laundry list of my own interests paraded out as evidence that another group is better than me because they don’t believe in the gods and I do.

Frankly I prefer the casual charm of my childhood hero Carl Sagan (left) over Neil deGrasse Tyson’s carefully crafted “cool” (right).

As the proper response to this perceived slight fomented in my head, I became involved in a discussion group among some friends on Facebook discussing the following quote from Sam Harris:

“The belief that certain books were written by God—who, for reasons difficult to fathom, made Shakespeare a far better writer than himself—leaves us powerless to address the most potent force of human conflict—past and present. How is it that the absurdity of this idea does not daily bring us to our knees? It is safe to say that few of us would have thought people could believe such a thing, if they did not actually believe it.”

Now, while I’m obviously not a big fan of the monotheistic varieties of religion which Dr. Harris is attacking here, I tend to believe that old fashioned grasping over land and resources has always represented the most potent force of human conflict.  Religious motivations usually provide little more than a convenient excuse for social or political violence that would have happened anyway.

Now, I often enjoy debates on topics of this nature because the participants predictably take positions on either end of the Atheist/Monotheist axis.  By presenting a polytheistic perspective I can usually broaden the discussion beyond the tired old “either/or” arguments.  Maybe, just maybe someone will hear something new and interesting.

This is assuming, of course, that the other participants actually want to hear something other than their own voices.

On this particular occasion, a couple of the Atheists involved started throwing around their imagined intellectual weight.  What started as a respectful debate ended up as an exercise in philosophical asshattery and not-so carefully couched insults.  Tempers flared (mine foremost among them) and harsh language was exchanged.  I’m not proud of my behavior, but I’ve got a short temper and little tolerance for disrespect.

To be fair, Dr. Myers has since apologized for the unintended perceptions many of his readers were left with due to the indelicate way in which he presented his arguments and I have mended fences with most of those involved in the Facebook fracas.

But still, the underlying reason for the tension is there.  I typically get along very well with Atheists, but sometimes, they can be every bit as difficult to talk with as the most hard-core evangelical Christian.  I appreciate the dedication to reason, ethics and the provable which form the core of Humanist thought.  I just think it is an unnecessarily limited philosophy.  Particularly when it so emphatically ignores personal experience.

I sometimes (perhaps unfairly) suspect that the most vehement and insulting Atheists are more upset that they cannot “see the sailboat” than they are any perceived crimes committed in the name of religion.

Belief

It gets a bad rap but it’s actually a very strong word.

I believe that the Earth orbits the Sun.

I believe that the universe began with a Big Bang and that life as we know it evolved in fits and starts over billions of years.

I believe in the gods who walk among us, in the spirits of the land and the souls of our ancestors.

These things neither contradict each other nor do they require my belief in order to be true.  They do not cease to exist if I choose not to measure them or if I am not wise enough the find the stick I could measure them against.  I believe in all these things because I see the evidence for them in my daily life even if others do not.  It would be irrational for me to believe otherwise.

1 Comment

Filed under Heroes, Modern Life, Religion, Spiritual Journey