Tag Archives: Monotheism

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Philosophy, Proselytizing, Religion

Idolatry 101

Idolatry Eagle

“Why are you all still sitting there?!”

A friend and I were sitting, with about fifty others, in the audience of the Birds of Prey exhibition at Scarborough Faire, a renaissance festival located just outside of Waxahachie, Texas.

I grew up just a few miles from the Faire and have attended at least one weekend for almost every year since it opened back in 1981.  I know the grounds like the back of my hand, and most of the better acts by heart, but mostly I just enjoy dressing up, and spending some relaxing time outside people-watching over a nice cool tankard of mead.

I’ve probably attended the Birds of Prey show a couple dozen times over the years.

I love watching them fly the hawks, or the occasional falcon.

They usually open with a Turkey Vulture and close the show with an American Bald Eagle, and this year was no different, right up until the end.

For some reason, as the trainer brought the Eagle up onto the stage, the love theme from Braveheart was being piped over the sound system.  She paraded around the stage holding the eagle on one gloved hand, with her other hand pressed over her heart.

When she completed her circle across the front of the stage, the head trainer spoke up from his throne at the back of the stage and said, “Let me ask you a question, why are you all still sitting there?!”

Okay, this was new.

“Why,” he continued, “didn’t you rise to your feet and place your hands over your hearts when you saw this magnificent bird, this symbol of liberty and freedom…,”.

As the scolding lecture continued, and the chastened crowd began to rise like schoolchildren who had been caught short, my irritation grew.

The very obvious answer to the gentleman’s question is that we didn’t rise because a bird, even the national bird, is not a flag!   We don’t rise for birds, we don’t place our hands over our hearts for birds.  It’s just not something that we have ever been asked to do.  Nor should we be.

Should I likewise stop along the side of the road every time I pass a field of Bluebonnets (the state flower of Texas) to show my proper respect?

As I sat there, watching the sheep around me lurching guiltily to their feet, it occurred to me that after a couple thousand years of being told that Idolatry was a horrible thing which should be avoided at all costs, people in the western world are just really REALLY out of practice.

I mean, they all still do it, but by and large they absolutely suck at it.

Maybe, I thought, there should be a class, something like a continuing education course that people could take over the course of a few weeks.  Such a class could be taught by folks from within the pagan/polytheist community, as a kind of community outreach.  Something we could do to help out all those unfortunate folks who just haven’t got a knack for it.

And once I’ve had a thought like that.., well, I know from experience that it is just going to fester in my mind until I find a way to get it out of my system and move on to other things.

And so I present to you, my pretend lesson plan for a continuing education course that will never actually exist.

Enjoy!

Idolatry 101: General Course Description

In the classic sense, we think of the idol as a statue usually secreted deep within the bounds of some ominous temple.  Surrounded by cloaked priests and clouds of incense, it is brought forth on special days, whereupon the people may fawn and bow before it, offering up sacrifice to be burned in its presence.  This is a profoundly limited view, influenced by religious propaganda and literary cliché.  This course will seek to expand upon that narrow view, by exposing the student to the many forms and functions of the Idol throughout history and into the modern era.

Week 1: When is a Door not a Door?

Synopsis of Introductory Lecture:  In the holy writings of all three of the great monotheistic religions, there are stern warnings against the practice of Idolatry.  In modern usage the word itself is, in almost all cases, used in a pejorative manner.  But what is Idolatry, really?  While there may be many related definitions, for the purposes of this course, Idolatry will be understood to mean the process by which a tangible, real-world object, is used as a point of focus for the worship or reverence of something otherwise intangible.

History shows that Idolatry is something that is second nature to the human animal, and is present in almost every facet of human activity both ancient and modern.  Furthermore, it is the foundation upon every great religion, including those which so frequently preach against it.

Witness, for example, the sacrament of the Eucharist in which bread and wine are symbolically transformed into the body and blood of Christ, whereupon it is consumed by the faithful as a means of taking the holy spirit of their god into themselves.

Now compare this modern religious tradition with that of the far more ancient cult of Dionysus, which held that the vine of the grape was the mortal embodiment of their god, and that wine was the blood of their god, fermented by his yearly passage through the underworld.  By the drinking of this specially prepared wine the spirit of the god was believed to first enter and then manifest within the devotee, in the form of holy intoxication.

The idol, as we will see, may take many forms.  It may appear to us as an emblem, a statue, a natural feature of the landscape, and even the blood of the vine.  But in whatever form it takes, the idol is a doorway to something we understand to be bigger than ourselves.  Unable to touch what lie beyond, the door itself becomes a vessel for our reverence, invested with prayer and worship, with ritual and sacrament.

It is not the business of this brief course to render judgement for or against the practice of Idolatry.  Instead, we seek only to recognize it when we see it, to understand how the practice has shaped the human condition, and to gain insight into the beliefs and motivations of those who openly engage in this practice.

Written Activity: Write a quick (1,500 words) explanation of your personal beliefs regarding the practice of Idolatry and what you hope to get out of this course.

Week 2: And Everything in its Place

Lecture and Slide Presentation:  Moving forward from the previous lecture, we will further expand the perception of what may or may not be an idol, by touching briefly upon the subject of Spiritual Geography.  The accompanying slide presentation will show multiple locations where either a man-made or natural feature of the environment has been invested with spiritual significance.  Special attention will be paid to the concept of the Axis Mundi as a point of connection and focus between the physical and spiritual worlds.

Written Activity: Briefly (6,000 words) compare or contrast any two of the following locations:  The Umbilicus Urbis Romae in Italy, The Kaaba in Saudi Arabia, Mount Kailash in Tibet, The Hill of Uisneach in Ireland, Delphi in Greece, or Teotihuacan in Mexico.

Week 3: Desecration and Empowerment

AphroditeSmallLecture and Slide Presentation: We begin with an overview of the rise of Christianity in the waning days of the Roman Empire and the rising tide of attacks upon both temples and statuary dedicated to the gods of the Roman pantheon.  The slide presentation will detail the ways in which images of the various gods were damaged, including beheadings, the gouging of eyes, and the carving of crosses into these objects.  Lecture will end with a brief catalogue of similar desecrations by various groups through history and into the present day, to include the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by Taliban forces in 2001, and the destruction of the Temple of Baalshamin in Palmyra ,Syria, by ISIL in 2015.

Written Activity: Write a brief paper (2,000 words) exploring one of the following questions:

1.  Is your faith empowered by the desecration of someone else’s holy icon?

2.  Is it possible to desecrate an object that is not already sacred?

3.  Does an act of violence against an object reflect the significance of that object in the heart of the believer, or in the mind of the one conducting the act of violence?

Week 4: Stars and Stripes Forever

IdolatryFlagsClass Discussion: The American Flag is often treated as an object of deep reverence.  Citizens salute it, they pledge to it, they treat the display, folding and storage of it with ceremony and ritual, and will retire a worn or damaged flag in cleansing flame.  Desecration of a flag is a crime in many locals, and people have been known to react with violence to public protests that included flag desecration.  Does this same reverence extend to all manifestations of the American flag, including the little disposable plastic ones that people often wave, en masse during parades and patriotic celebrations?  If not, then what makes those flags different?  What about flags printed on t-shirts, bumperstickers, and the like?  What, if anything, makes one flag sacred and another not?  The instructor is encouraged to keep the debate on-topic but to otherwise allow the discussion to guide itself.

Week 5: Ubiquity and the Profane

Lecture:  A brief explanation of the symbols used by various secret societies to identify members to one another, leading us into a discussion of the Christian Cross.  Once a secreted symbol revealed only to those who could be trusted, the Christian Cross has become an everyday fashion accessory for millions of people in the western world.  In recent years, a number of christian groups, in their defense of large crosses displayed on public lands, have suggested that the cross, through its ubiquitous nature, should not always been seen as a religious symbol, but may have any number of secular meanings.

Classroom Activity:  Break into groups and debate one of the following questions?

1.  Does wearing a cross have any significance in a culture where the general expectation is that any individual you may encounter in your day-to-day movements is almost certainly a Christian of some variety?

2.  Can a holy symbol be made profane though repetition and commercialization?

3.  A non-believer wears the symbol of your faith – empowering or sacrilege?

Week 6: Where does the power come from?

Final Lecture: In whatever form it takes, the Idol has the power to instill powerful emotions in those who encounter it.  For some, a particular idol may illicit feeling of deep reverence, joy, fear, or disgust, but the question remains, where do these feelings come from.  Is the power that the idol seems to possess over man a function of the object itself.  Is the physical object imbued with a special nature that brings out these feelings in those who come near it?  Does the particular arrangement of stripes and stars on a length of cloth change the nature of the fibers of which it is composed?  Does the wine become the blood of a god, or is it simply a tool which we use to feel closer to the divine?  If entirety of an idols power rests within the hearts and minds of the men and woman who react so strongly (one way or the other) to its presence, does not our reaction to Idolatry say more about ourselves than it does those we might feel compelled to judge?

Final Essay (6,000 words): Expand upon your original paper from the 1st week of class.  Have your feelings regarding Idolatry changed as you have considered the materials presented.  If so, how has your attitude changed and why?  If not, please explain how this course may have reaffirmed or strengthened your previous feelings.

3 Comments

Filed under Culture, Interfaith, Modern Life, Mythology, Religion, The Gods, Traditions

Owlfoolery (awake after midnight)

It was the sound of a mournful puppy that drew me outside.

I’d meant to be in bed an hour earlier, but I just kept finding excuses to stay up a little later.  I wasn’t actually accomplishing anything, of course.  Just puttering around the house, unwilling to give up on a day that was almost over anyway.

11:58pm.

Ugh!

I’d finally decided that enough was enough, and was locking up, when I heard the noise.

Sad puppy, somewhere down the street it sounded like, making a noise somewhere between a whine and a bark.

I turned the deadbolt on my front door.  Not my problem.

The sound came again, and I turned the bolt the other way.

Stepping out, the night air was cool and moist.

The last few weeks, here in North Texas, have seen more rain and thunder than anything else.  It had rained, on and off, for most of the day, but for the moment the clouds seemed to be minding their own business, scudding their way across a grey sky and a few blurry looking stars.

I stepped out into the middle of the yard, away from the porch-light, and as I did, the strange yelping sound came again, and again – close!  And a strange blunt shape hurdled through the air from the side of my house and landed in the low branches just to my left.

Before I could fully register what had happened, the first shape was followed by a second, which flew past its fellow, and into the branches just a few feet in front of me.  The branches, just an arms length out of my reach, dipped low with an unseen weight, and that strange ‘puppy’ cry sounded again.

I turned back toward the first shape in time to see it launch itself toward and then past the second shape, its course curving through the branches, and coming to rest a little higher and on my right.  Its small, compact shape only dimly visible in the reflected glow of my porch light.  An owl.

Owls!

The second owl launched himself high up into the branches, lost completely to my view, until I heard it land, again to my left, very near to where his friend had first touched down, and the circle was repeated.

Once…,

…twice more, before they vanished off into the night, and I was left there, standing alone in my front yard, grinning like an idiot and truly awake again for the first time in months.

Flying Owl

I listen to a lot of National Public Radio, and a couple weeks ago I tuned into a program discussing studies that had been conducted, showing that emotions are not just things of the mind, but that they possess a physical component.

The claim ran something like this: If you are sad, maybe you slouch and shuffle, maybe you frown, maybe you gesture and speak in a certain manner.  These are the bodies physical expressions of your emotional state.  The unexpected twist, is that according to multiple studies, if you slouch and shuffle, if you frown and gesture and speak in a certain manner, despite the fact that you are actually happy, you will BECOME sad.  The connection between mind and body runs both ways, and the mind will respond to the actions of the body with an alteration in mood.

In the days that have passed since I listened to that program (and for the life of me, I can’t remember which show it was), I have read a number of blog posts, from various writers, which all seem to touch, in one way or another, upon the subject of Orthopraxy versus Orthodoxy.

That is, Right Action versus Right Belief.

Certain religions of a monotheistic persuasion, hold that correct belief (i.e. the one true way) is the foundation upon which personal salvation rests.  From this perspective if you believe in the proper things in the proper way, your actions will follow suit and a glorious afterlife awaits.

On the other hand, if you are found to have committed incorrect actions (sins), the likely cause was your own failure to believe properly, or fully enough, to override your sinful nature.

Polytheists, on the other hand, reject the concept of ‘personal salvation’ and tend to be more Orthopraxic in nature.  When you believe in more than one god, and when the wants and desires of those gods vary, sometimes to the point of being contradictory, believing in anything like ‘One True Way’ is problematic at best.

What’s more, as pointed out in this excellent post over at the Shrine of Antinous, Polytheism is, “Not About Belief. Belief may flow from experience, and may impact practice (in fact, it should!); but, belief does not delimit experience nor determine practice.”

Experience and practice should be the root of belief.

Without action, belief is of little value.

We are what we do, and if we stop doing anything, what are we then?

***

When we act like we are sad, we become sad.

And when, to please others, or to mollify certain hurts among our loved ones, we set aside the things that we do and say, the things that inform our beliefs and make us who and what we are…,

…we sleep, and our beliefs become mere dreams, unfulfilled.

I have allowed myself to fall into this restless slumber.

The connection I once felt with the natural world, and with the otherworld beyond, has faded through lack of use.

I was worried, for a time, that it had vanished completely.

Until a few nights ago, when a pair of screech owls decided to play a game of leapfrog in the trees above me, turning circles around me in the night.  They were only there for a few seconds, and then they were gone, my laughter following them into the darkness.  But they left me awake to something I had almost forgotten.

It is time to start doing things again.

It is time to start being again.

It’s after midnight, and I’m wide awake!

6 Comments

Filed under Culture, Modern Life, Nature, Philosophy, Religion, Spiritual Journey

Small Problems

They bring me their problems.

There is a glitch in this program.  My screen looks funny.  Why is it so slow?  I can’t find the essay I was working on.  It’s never made that sound before.  Where are all of my pictures?

They bring me their problems and it’s my job to help them.

Often they are frantic, or disgusted.  They might be angry on occasion, even belligerent.

And when we are done, if I have solved their problem, some of them are genuinely thankful.  More often, however, they seem somewhat detached from the experience, almost dismissive.

I think it has to do with the fact that they believe this thing that happened to them, shouldn’t have happened.  They should not have had to come to me at all, and I am, whatever my efforts on their behalf, tainted as a result.

It’s not a big deal, people don’t like going to the doctor either.  I understand, and for the most part, I don’t even notice.  Because I’m already moving on to the next customer, and the one after that.

And then you meet someone different, like the little old lady who came to me last week.

She was smiling and pleasant, and far more patient than she had any right to be.

“Hello,” she said, with a warm light in her eyes, “My name is —–, I have a terminal brain tumor and only a few weeks left to live.  This is my computer and I’d like you to erase all of my information from it, so that my husband can use it after I’m gone.”

I spent about forty minutes with her, trying to squeeze a little more life into a computer that was, itself, not in the best of health.  As I worked, she spoke in snippets about her own life, things she thought I might be interested in, like her adventures as a young woman in the workplace, using the sort of computers which most of us have only seen in old movies, the kind that would fill an entire room.

Here I was, fighting to take up as little of her precious time as I was able, and she, in turn, was doing what she could to make those moments count, by sharing her own experiences, by forging a connection with a complete stranger.

I did what I could for her, which, I am afraid, wasn’t much, and then she was gone.

And with the passage of a few more weeks, I suppose she really will be.

Gone and gone, except for the memories she left behind, of which I am now privileged to carry a few — her knowing smile, her laugh, and a handful of nostalgic remembrances of a technology which was as remarkable in those days as moon landings and the polio vaccine.

In the days that have passed, it has been difficult to care as much about all the little technical issues which people bring me.  Their all too frequent indignation seems misplaced and misspent.  And I wonder, if they knew how much time they really had, if they would still choose to squander it the way they do, with so much energy focused on such small problems.

I mean, it’s not as if every one of them isn’t dying as well.

****

We live in a society which, for the most part, sees life, the actual business of living, as a means to an end.  For several hundred years now, the dominant belief has been that we are born, live and die as prelude to an eternal afterlife.  The shape in which we find that ever-after, is determined, or so we are taught, by our actions in this life.

If you are a bad person, you will spend eternity suffering for your misdeeds.

If you are a good person, you may look forward to a euphoric hereafter.

And we can set aside here, the question of what happens to good people who don’t believe the right way.  Because, it is the basic premise that is important here: life as proving ground for afterlife.  That idea which has come to shape the very structure of our lives.

We work throughout the day with the expectation that once the clock hits that magical hour, we head home, or out on the town, or wherever it is we think of as our due reward for the last few hours of toil.

The days run together and everybody’s working for the weekend.

Or that next spot of vacation.

Or retirement.

Work now and play later.

Suffering = Reward.

All based on a promise that no one has ever been able to actually verify.

There are, of course, competing philosophies.

Atheism, for example, does not believe in any ultimate reward, but neither does it aspire to truly reshape society in any particular way.  The atheistic world view is pretty much just the monotheistic one, subtracting the God and all of its trappings.

You’re still working for the weekend, only, without church.  So, you’ll have a little more time to relax.  The world is still the world and you’d better be willing to work and conform to everyone else’s expectations of what that looks like, if you want to get along.

I suppose, without the dogma attached, the average Atheist might be a little less tolerant toward actual suffering.  There is no greater purpose to be found in the bad things that happen.  No deity tossing Jobian hardships your way as a test of your faith.

In the other extreme, there are those Eastern philosophies which have gained a certain momentum in the West over the last century or so.  Almost the exact opposite of the Atheistic world view, the Eastern thinker, sees the material world as an illusion, cluttering our minds and blocking our way to spiritual Nirvana.

All the day to day bullshit we go through, is exactly that, bullshit.  And meaningless.

Just close your eyes and let it all go.

Which is all very cool, but I don’t really see a philosophy based on ignoring the material world, making any huge impact upon it.  Even if we were counting the nationwide rise in the volume of yoga classes, we’re still talking less about a path to enlightenment, than we are, mom’s little reward to herself that she can fit in during the afternoon, while the kids are at soccer practice.

Atheism and Eastern Philosophy are just tiny eddies in the torrent which has formed at the conflux of the rivers Monotheism and Capitalism, and most who try to swim against that current are doomed to drown.

****

So here’s another philosophy for you to consider, another way of looking at the world, just a single drop of water in the deluge.

What if there is no everlasting reward or punishment, and no good and evil vying for our souls?  What if this life is neither a proving ground nor a distraction?

Imagine for a moment, that there is no distinction between the wholly physical world of the Atheist and the wholly spiritual world of the Buddhist, because those worlds are one and the same.  No closing our eyes and ears against the mathematical without blocking out the mystical, and vice versa.

What if we were beings of flesh and spirit in equal measure, and our actions, how we treat ourselves and each other, have the power to shape our experience of this world and all those worlds which exist just beyond the borders of our sight?

In such a world, there would be no distinction between those actions which are holy, and those which are, in our culture, seen as mundane.

Once, there were many who understood the world in this way.  For a time, they ruled the world from the British Isles, through what was once Gaul, and a patchwork of shifting boundaries that stretched eastward across Europe as far as Asia Minor.

That way of thinking, for the most part, died out long ago.  Put to the sword, first by the Legions of Rome, and later, by a new hybrid religion which took root in the death throes of the old empire, and then spread far beyond its borders.

Some would say that if the Celtic way of seeing the world had been correct, it wouldn’t have been so easily forgotten.

That may be so.  But I’ve never been one to equate popularity with truth.

Life is not a test.  Life is a quest.  Everything we do, every kindness and misdeed is but a step upon a path that we can never see, except when we occasionally turn and look behind us.  There is no heaven or hell, no final reward or judgement, and no true finality, as death is simply a passage over the horizon to a realm which is just beyond our sight.  And if our ancestors spoke true, there may be more worlds beyond that.  Or perhaps the path doubles back from time to time, and we find ourselves here again.

But whatever lies beyond those horizons, we are hear now, and the time we have is precious.

There is no sin in this world, unless it is the sin of missed opportunities.  I look around and see a world of people who are just milling about, waiting for the curtain to rise on some final act that is never going to come.  The inertia is tangible, I can feel it holding me in place like some ancient insect caught in amber, and by all the gods I am terrified that I will never escape.

****

I’ve never really spoken about my job in these pages because I don’t see it as part of my spiritual life.  Maybe that is my fault.  Maybe I’ve fallen into the same trap as everyone else, and I’ve come to understand the world as a polarity that does not actually exist.  I’ve got the mortgage and the car payment, I’ve got all the little creature comforts and tribulations that are supposed to distract me from the fact that I’m being pushed downstream along with everyone else.

And it’s so hard to swim against that current, when the small problems weigh me down.

But I want more for myself, than life on a river to nowhere.

I’m that guy who makes your technology work again, who pays his bills, and votes in the elections, and donates to charities, and comes over to help you build some shelves, and writes a blog, and who can never find the time to complete his remodeling projects, and wonders what it would have been like to have had children, and wishes that he’d sacrificed more for his art, and, and, and…,

Life is a quest, and I’ve come late to that knowledge.

But how late is too late?

And how will I find my path?

1 Comment

Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Culture, Death, Interfaith, Modern Life, Philosophy, Religion, Spiritual Journey

Oh, but we do!

We were sent a message a few weeks ago.

On a mountaintop in Northern Ireland, a six-foot tall statue of the Irish sea god Manannán Mac Lir was stolen by vandals, ripped away from its foundation overlooking the place where Lough Foyle meets the North Atlantic.

Manannan Panorama

For many of the people reading this blog, this is already old news.  It may even seem strange that I have waited so long to write about it, when the story has begin to grow cold and our interests have moved on to other things.

But I believe that this sort of message demands a response from each of us, and I wanted mine to come from a place other than sorrow and anger.

As an artist, I mourn the wanton destruction of any work of art.  I cannot fathom the impulse which drives people to destroy what others have labored so hard to create.

As a devotee of the ancient gods, as someone who has stared into the crashing waves and whispered prayers of my own into the gusting winds, this attack feels very personal.

And I know a great many others who feel the same way.  Indeed, the global outpouring of grief and rage over this crime has been very encouraging.  It is nice to know that we are not alone, even if it sometimes takes a senseless crime to remind us so.

So yes, there is the sorrow and the anger.

But we have been sent a message, and that message deserves an answer born not from grief or rage, but from conviction!

We’ve seen things like this before.

And we will, without a doubt, see them again.

A work of art designed to raise up the ancient spirit that still burns within a people and a place is desecrated.  The symbol is utterly destroyed and in its place a large wooden cross, with these words writ upon its surface…,

“You shall have no other gods before me.”

A line from the Bible, from Exodus, Chapter 20.  It is part of the first Commandment which the Hebrew god gave, through Moses, to his people.

Here is the un-abridged version for you…,

“I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.  Thou shall have no other gods before me.

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.”

Now, there is a tendency, within certain circles, to only count the part that I highlighted above as the actual commandment.  But the first sentence and the second paragraph, both serve to modify that statement, thus forming a whole.  What it comes down to is, “You dance with the one who brought you, and just leave off with the golden calf stuff already.”

Which is all well and good if you happen to be descended from that subset of Hebrews who are said to have been enslaved by the Egyptians in the 1st millennium B.C.E., but that’s a mighty thin line in an awfully big world.

Of course, we are also told that Jesus is supposed to have opened that Covenant up to everyone, or supplanted it, or possibly both, depending upon which interpretation of scripture you want to go by this week.

But even then, it only counts if you accept Jesus as your savior, and believe that his father is the one and only god in the heavens.  Which is where those of us with polytheistic tendencies, just nod politely and step outside for a breath of fresh air.

Because it’s not our business what the monotheists get up to, as long as they leave us to our business.

Which is where our statue stealing, cross leaving friends, come into play.  Turns out they think that we should, all of us, take that first Commandment, with its various prohibitions against other deities represented by graven images, a bit more seriously.  While most monotheists are content to simply ignore us, some few think it only fair that everyone follow the same rules.

And while I can understand their position, it’s really hard for me to take their dedication to the 1st Commandment all that seriously, when they so blatantly demonstrate their willingness to break the 7th along the way.

“Thou shalt not steal.”

Yeah, sorry guys, but I’m just not impressed.

Manannan Side View

“You shall have no other gods before me.”

And to them, our answer is and must always be…,

“Oh, but we do!  We have before and shall again in the days to come.”

They can pull down the images of our gods.  And we will just raise them up again.  And really, what are they going to do, burn every museum and gallery, the statehouses, the courts and libraries?  Because that is what they would need to do, and it’s not like it hasn’t been done before.  Those vandals, skulking around a mountaintop in Northern Ireland are no different than the Taliban who used dynamite to demolish the great Buddhas of Bamiyan, or the mobs who wandered the streets of 4th century Rome, destroying everything in their path.  They are and have been, all of them, driven by fear.

That is why we must have the strength of our convictions.  Because they do not, or their fear would not drive them so.

Let them come, and we will stand against them.  And when the smoke has cleared, the memory of the gods will persist, as it always has.  Because their blood runs in our veins, and their bones are the framework upon which our society is built.

Yeah, tear down our statues.  Go ahead.

We’ll just build bigger ones.

3 Comments

Filed under Art, Culture, Ireland, Modern Life, 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

The Devil May Care…,

…but I don’t.

My head hurts too much to give it much thought.

My sinuses feel like they’ve been filled with molten slag, the burden of which weighs my head down.  My neck bends forward to its utmost.  My chin rests uncomfortably against my chest and it feels as if my eyelids droop and bulge from the pressure behind them.

I have no strength today for banging my head against the walls of religious privilege.

I try to rest, to catch a moment of sleep, but I can hear them bleating still.

Oklahoma Baphomet Story

Why do I feel like I have a better chance of reasoning with the Weeping Angels?

Ahhh, crap!

And in the last few days my Facebook feed has filled with reactions ranging from light-hearted references to the Weeping Angels of Dr. Who fame to the far more frightening pseudo-militant “call-to-arms”…,

Okay, so let’s break it down as quickly as possible…,

• Christians erect a monument to the 10 Commandments at the Oklahoma State Capital.

• Humanists and people from other religious groups cry foul, citing (quite correctly) the non-endorsement clause of the U.S. Constitution.

• Oklahoma responds to the accusations of religious favoritism by saying “nuh-uh!” and then claiming that any religious group may petition for a monument on state grounds.

And the floodgates, they were opened!

It seems that a Hindu group has applied for representation.  And also, an atheist group calling themselves the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (I love those guys).  And not to be left out, the Satanic Temple of New York.

I’m really surprised that there have not been more.

Funny how no one seems to be making much of a fuss about the Hindu or Pastafarian efforts.

No, the big outcry has been all about The Devil.

Except, it’s not.

The Devil, I mean.

The proposed statue is actually a representation of the god Baphomet.

And Baphomet is…,

…,

wait for it…,

…,

FICTIONAL!

The name Baphomet was acquired, under torture, from Knights Templar, who were accused of worshipping “pagan” idols.  The word is almost universally understood to have been a mispronunciation of Mohammed, the inference being that the good knights picked up some nasty habits from their Saracen enemies.  Aside from that there is no mention of the name found anywhere in antiquity prior to the 11th century.

Baphomet was never a god and was certainly not the Christian Satan.

Levi BaphometHe – is – not – real.

Even the image upon which the proposed statue is modeled is nothing more than a fabrication, drawn from the mind of occultist Eliphas Levi, in the 19th Century.  It’s a fictional rendering of a god-that-never-was.  It’s not ‘The Devil’.  It’s not even ‘a’ devil.

It’s a thousand year old case of mistaken identity.

Your Devil, my Christian friends, does not exist, except that you make it so.

You give your Devil life when you twist the laws of the land to give yourselves special favors – like allowing only words from your holy text to be depicted in stone on public soil (covetousness).

You give your Devil life when you sneer at the shrines of the gods while pretending that giant marble reproductions of the 10 Commandments, or statues of our war dead and presidents, do not count as idolatry (bearing false witness).

The Satanic Temple of New York may be trying to goad you into doing the right thing (taking down the Commandments memorial) by proposing that ridiculous statue, but they’re not the ones who are truly honoring Satan.

It’s not the Humanists either, or the Pagans, or the Hindus.

No my friends, it’s you.

It always has been.

Your greed.

Your fear.

And it makes my head hurt.

8 Comments

Filed under Culture, Interfaith, Modern Life, Proselytizing, Religion