Monday, June 21, 2010

When I Speak of Myself 3

I think it is somehow fitting that I tell this part of the story on the Summer Solstice...the longest day of the year. We are drenched in light and heat (well, out here in the desert we are) and there aren't many shadows. Thank you all for stopping by.

You guys remember where we left off, right? So, I was Pagan (or was I?), I had a new understanding of ethics with which to view the world and my movement through it, and even if I didn't completely like my life, things were better and that was ok.

This next part will probably make more sense if I explain a couple more things from my childhood...cue the flashback music...

Somewhere in a history or religion class, I was taught that there was a natural evolution of religion. The primitive people of the past were polytheistic, meaning they had lots of gods, but the modern, enlightened people were monotheistic, and had only one god. In my young brain (the same one that thought the Moon was more powerful than the Sun, because She could go where He could not...) didn't like this concept. For one thing, thinking that one being could take care of *everything*, every single little thing...just didn't make sense. Heck, even at home there were things my Mother did, and other things my Father did. I also didn't care for the feeling that we were supposed to look down our noses at those poor, poor people who still thought there were multiple gods.

No matter how many times I ran across this concept during my school years, I never liked it. It wasn't like going from stone to metal...a natural technological change. Why couldn't people have more than one god? Specially since the other gods I was learning about seemed way cooler than the robed, bearded duder who seemed so far away.

((Just a side note's not my intention to insult those who have a relationship with Jehova, or Yahweh...this is simply how I felt about Him at the time.))

...and end flashback...

Alrighty, so it was somewhere around this time that I learned about Deism. From the Wikipedia page it says, "Deism can be a belief in a deity absent of any doctrinal governance or precise definition of the nature of such a deity." I realize that this only one facet to Deism, but this is the one that I gravitated to and it ended up forming the core of my eventual belief system. It made sense to me that if there was a intelligence or intelligences out there that were capable of envisioning the entirety of the universe as we know it (and perhaps all the rest we haven't discovered too...), then it would be something so beyond our experience as a human being that we couldn't possibly be able to connect to it.

Enter Joseph Campbell. Through studying at home, and seeing his lectures in a couple anthropology classes, Joe has become one of the most influential people I have ever studied, right up there with ol' Aristotle.

From Joe I learned what a religion is, and what a system of belief needs to do in order to be considered a religion. I learned what a metaphor is, separate from the literary device, and how it applies to a belief system. It was the first time I'd heard the phrase, "petrified religion", and it changed the way I looked at the Abrahamic faiths.

He said that believing the words of a book to be the absolute word of any deity was like going to a restaurant and eating the menu, instead of using it as a metaphor for the food you could order.

Woah...wait, let's see if I have this straight...

Ok, so on one hand, I have the idea that the nature of deity is undefinable. And on the other, I have the idea that metaphor is the language with which we communicate to deity.

Which deity? I dunno, it seems that it doesn't really matter...since the intelligence that created the universe is so much more vast than my human understanding.

What metaphors? Well, it also seems that there are so many out there, and most of them have some really good points, so it seems like it doesn't quite matter.

Now hold on a minute here, this is sounding like you're saying that because the nature of deity is unnamed and unknown, the metaphors that we use to communicate with it can be our choice?

Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying.



And that's exactly what I did.

With that, I think I'm going to stop here today. I have a feeling that I raised more questions than I answered, and I really want to be able to go into my epiphany that I have been promising for like a month now, without feeling like you guys are gunna get to the point where it's all "tl:dr".

So I wish each of you a blessed Solstice, and as always, thank you for reading.

Till next time, be well,

Thursday, June 3, 2010

When I Speak of Myself 2

Well hello there! I'm finally getting to the next part of my story, and I'm glad you're here.

So to recap a little, we've covered my religious upbringing, the death of my Mother and how that shaped my ideas of the afterlife, and my transition into Paganism. Now today, I'm going to talk a little bit about magick, ethics and that promised epiphany that took a year. You guys all buckled in? Alrighty then, let's get to it!

I think it's important to note that three years or so before my Mother died I started studying magick. Ardriana was studying (she said it was research for a book...*snickergiggles*...a book...*ahem* that's her story tell anyway...) ...and she was bringing it home to us. The reason this is important is because from the very beginning, magick was the practice of the manipulation of energy to a desired result, and had nothing to do with religion. So yes, in this system, you could be a "good Christian/Muslim/Buddhist/Athiest" and practice magick.

Even today the "work" of magick, while tied into my spirituality and belief system, can easily be separated from it completely. Though to be fair, the step from magick to Paganism isn't very far, and it was a contributing factor in my transformation...specially since magick is generally frowned upon in the Catholic Church. (Hi Red...understatement much?)

So then, I was what? My life pretty much still sucked, but I felt better about it, I guess. Or perhaps I had better tools with which to survive it. In any case, once I'd graduated High School, I was given the option of college or a job. I took college. And promptly withdrew from most of my classes and generally did nothing. This went on for a couple three years until one day I decided to stop wasting my Dad's money. I stopped signing up for morning classes, because I just slept through them. I stopped taking five at a time, because I am generally lazy and wouldn't focus on the ones I didn't like. In short, I tricked myself into actually getting an education in college, and found the class that changed my life.

Since I was picking my classes by time frame, I took whatever professors came up that fit my criteria...class didn't start before 11AM. I was *very* lucky, and met several professors that challenged me in ways that still inform my life. But I think that it was my Philosophy prof that had the most profound impact...

It was an Introduction into Ethics class, using a brand new translation of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics as the text book. Good gods...I finally understood the phrase, "blew my mind wide open", I could literally feel my consciousness expanding, my internals shifting and my view of the world around me changing.

I understood for the first time what being a good person meant and entailed. I was given a step by step process that I could internalize and begin using as a metric for my daily life. Good and bad had real world definitions, and were no longer divinely inspired abstracts that I just simply had to accept. I learned that circumstance changed the amount of blame or praise you lay on someone for their actions. I understood responsibility, accountability and what it meant to be a person living in a civilization with laws.

And even as I stared uphill at the path that lay before me. A path with no handrails, no safety net, and no divinely inspired forgiveness should I mess up, I knew I'd go anyway. I couldn't not. The rewards, freedom, responsibility (how is that a reward?) and understanding far outweighed the work and other costs that this system of behavior came with.

That class was an oasis for three hours, twice a week, and I gulped down the concepts like a starving man gulps down food. I was fundamentally changed by the class...and then Aristotle said that the gods had no place in a system of ethics...

A bolt of lightning speared me through the head. I know that sounds overly dramatic, but that's what it felt like. My whole view of the world and how to move through it *shifted*. I was a different person after I read that line, and the world was never the same. If the responsibility ethical behavior lay with me because I wanted to live within the society I found myself in, and I did good because it was simply the right thing to do, and not because of some hope of reward or fear of punishment...then why did I need religion at all?

I didn't.

Oh, but that opened a can of worms didn't it? And I think this is where I'm going to leave this post for now. I suppose I was overly ambitious when I thought I could tell this story in only two chunks. I really should know better...I am Irish after all.

Thank you for continuing to read, and I promise to try to have the next installment sooner rather than later.

Till next time, be well,