Monday, August 23, 2010

When I Speak of Myself 4

Hello friends, and welcome back! I'm going to skip the apology this time around, since you know it by heart by now, and get right into the story. Everyone remember where we were?

I had ethics, I had magick, I had a basic understanding of what a religion is and what components go into a belief system. I also had the desire to be a part of something larger than myself. Something that helps fill the gaps in my days.

And then I had to take my truck to the shop. Hang on, how this fits into the larger picture is coming, don't you worry...

I ended up having to take the shuttle home, and since I was the furthest one away, I was last to be dropped off. Once I had moved into the front seat of the van and we were on the way, the elderly gentleman driving started talking to me... Now some of you might know my gaming habits, and so will only nod when I tell you that I only had a couple hours of sleep before getting up to take my truck in at the butt crack of dawn. Basically what I'm saying is that I don't remember most of our conversation, but I do remember how I felt about it, and what lines of thinking it got me into.

Somehow we got to talking about religion, and/or philosophy, and he asked me some questions. I answered them honestly, telling him some of the conclusions I'd come to over the last couple years. He started challenging me, trying to trap me in my own logic, and how it applies to a Christian world view. I wasn't firing on all thrusters, so I probably wasn't my most eloquent or coherent...but the important thing I remember was that I wasn't upset or threatened in any way.

After I got home and had a nap, I started asking myself why I reacted the way I did to our conversation. He really wanted to shove me off the rock of my conclusions, and I just wasn't bothered. So why was that?

Ok, quick flashback...cue music...

When I was going through Catholic school, I learned quite a bit about faith and belief. One had to have faith to believe in the Church's teachings. Uh...ok...I never much liked that, because it seemed pretty passive to me, regardless of how it is for others.

In jr. high I started reading a lot of fantasy novels. I found lots of stories where the characters come face to face with their deity(ies), and even in one a Catholic priest asks that if he can no longer have faith, what does he have? The answer he got was, "knowledge".

Ahh...I liked that. Knowledge and experience (with things outside oneself) seemed to be a step up from faith and belief. I decided that's what I wanted...

...and end flashback.

How does one go about getting knowledge and experience? Well, I dunno about others, but what I did was claim that I had it. Oh, I was reading a great deal, about philosophy, pagan and otherwise. I was learning critical ways of thinking, different ways of seeing the world. There are layers to the way I see things now. Take the moon for example. As a kid I knew that the Moon could go where the Sun could not, that made her more magickal. As an adult, I have studied astronomy, and understand that the sun is many, many times larger than the moon and that we move around it. I haven't lost my view of the Moon as magickal, and science hasn't destroyed it. I just have a literal way of looking at it, and a metaphorical way of looking at it. The metaphor is still important to me because it helps me to deal with some of my own character flaws.

So I was studying and gaining knowledge, I just needed the experience to go with it. At this time I was participating in a study group that also did rituals during the esbats (the full and dark moons of each month). It was here that I started collecting experience. There are moments when things happened that aren't scientifically explainable...yet. I also had experiences outside of ritual that added to my catalog of moments that might make your hair stand on end.

While I was considering why the shuttle driver didn't make me feel threatened, I realized that all the knowledge and experience that I claimed simply because I wanted it was suddenly real. I added up my memories and felt a moment of arrival, for the lack of a better word. I had attained my spiritual goal and I was very content with it. This was the beginning of my epiphany.

Over the next few months, I kept re-examining how I felt about the conversation with the shuttle driver, and how I would react to other such conversations down the road. I thought that having knowledge and experience, instead of belief and faith, was the end of it. It was the evolutionary step I needed to take and that I was now done with that part of my spiritual growth. Little did I know that there was a step past that, and realizing what it was is what gave me the key to understanding my lack of reaction to a direct challenge to my belief system.

It has been my experience that one of the reasons people defend their faith so violently (sometimes literally), is that they don't want to be revealed as a fool or a fraud. If science came out tomorrow with proof beyond a shadow of a doubt that god (any god) doesn't exist, how crushing would that be for people? Whole lifetimes of hard choices made in the name of religion would be made worthless. To some anyway.

I asked myself how I would feel. My answer was a shrug. Seriously. I shrugged and knew it wouldn't crush me. That's a pretty strong response to a very fundamental question and it made look to try and see why.

This is when I discovered the step beyond knowledge and experience. It's choice. Conscious, self aware, fully engaged choice. Every day I wake up and choose the spiritual path I am on. And because I choose, I am not ironbound into anything. If part of my belief system no longer serves to help me be a better person, then it needs to evolve into something that does.

I joke now that I have spiritually and philosophically become like the Borg, if I find something that I like, "I will add your distinctiveness to my own". With this point of view, the possibilities for evolution are nigh limitless. I will never be in the position where I feel the need to defend my beliefs. I also never feel the need to tell anyone my beliefs so that they come to believe the same as I do. If someone asks me to explain my belief system, then I will, but my goal is to simply inform, not to convert. If there's something in what I say that works for you, great. If not, that's ok too.

It's almost impossible to convey here what a fundamental moment it was for me when I discovered the power of choice. The reason why the shuttle driver couldn't shove me off the rock of my belief is because there wasn't one. My beliefs are water, or the wind, they shift and move and I move with them.

With the power of choice comes the strength of evolution. With evolution comes a sense of security that nothing, not even myself, can shake.

I think I'll leave it at that today. There's some pretty nebulous ideas in this post, and I'm sure I'll have to do a "4a" at some point to answer questions. ^^; Thank you for wading through this post, I appreciate everyone who reads my words, whether or not they find value in them. Next time I'll lay out the particulars of my belief system as it stands now, and hopefully that'll complete the story I set out to write all those months ago.

Till next time, be well,

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

When I Speak of Myself 3a

It seems lately that I always start with an apology for taking so long. You'd think I'd learn from this and, well, post more often. Ah well, we'll see how it goes.

And to be fair, my life has been more than interesting of late, what with car troubles, illness, temporary census much so that when I sit at my puter at night, the last thing I want to do is try and be informative on my blog. You guys deserve, at the very least, coherent sentences. ;)

So I had quite the conversation happen after my last post (I have some awesome friends). A few questions were asked, and I thought I'd put them together here instead of trying to put them in the comments.

Diedre said:
"Maybe I'm overstepping here, but I couldn't quite grasp what you feel about this statement you have made about deity being beyond our experience. Do you feel comfort in this knowledge, or insignificance, or freedom, or simply satisfaction in being able to articulate the way you understand deity? Or something else? Anyway, I'm just curious how this makes you feel. Or perhaps the answer would contain spoilers for your next post..."

You're not overstepping at all, and it's a very good question. So good in fact that I had to seriously ask myself and try to hammer an answer together. Let's see if I can get it...

There's a part of me that reacts to it like I would a star going nova, or the Yellowstone Supervolcano, a detached awe. I cannot effect this in any way, so it is relegated to knowledge in the back of my head. When I do bring it forward to think about, it's scary, beautiful and humbling.

There's another part that reacts to it with hope. The human experience *now* isn't the same as it was 1000 years ago, and won't be the same as the one 1000 years from now. I have had experiences where I've touched something other, something greater than myself, and while I don't know what exactly it is, I like to think that it's some little facet of deity. As we look farther out and deeper within, we learn more about what's possible and we become capable of *more*. Hopefully a time will come when humanity grows past its infancy and becomes able to communicate more directly with whatever it is that's out there.

Then there's the sense of security. I have found a definition that fits me. I like it, it makes sense to me. This is a very basic and selfish part, as it's completely about what makes me feel best about my life and the events that have happened in it. It's also fluid and evolving, so I don't feel the need to defend my view when challenged.

And last, but not least, is an overwhelming sense of awe (not the same as the detached awe above) that I have touched or been touched by something so vast it defies comprehension. I feel that deity wants us to grow, learn, change...become the very best we are capable of, and will help us if we but become perceptive enough to notice. It is this connection that helps me put my feet on the floor on the bad days, and makes the good days all the brighter.

I hope that helps explain did for me! ^^

Diedre then said:
"I googled "petrified religion" and didn't come up with any good explanations. I could wager a guess, but could you explain what you mean by this?"

A petrified religion is one that does not change with the society. A simple example of this is when the "Great Mother Goddess" became an agricultural deity after farming was invented. The religion and the deity(ies) involved changed as not only the culture, but as science did.

The Abrahamic faiths have been tied to their respective books for thousands of years, and each change that happens is often seen as a massive dogmatic shift that results in a sect breaking off to remain with the "good old days".

The books still say things like, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live," (gee, thanks...), "Man shalt not lie with man as with a woman," there's all sorts of "shalt not's" that frankly have no place in this modern world. We shouldn't even be having the conversation about gay marriage, but because the book says, we are. There are people who believe that dinosaur bones were placed by Satan to trick us into believing the world is older than the Bible says it is. Really?

Not being able to reconcile what's in front of our faces with our spiritual systems of belief just leads to a lot of unhappy people.

Mr. One Eyebrow Priest says:

"And finally the resurrection completely ruined it for me. I think I may have asked my sunday school teacher about it. I don't remember the answer if there was one. I asked "If Jesus is God, then he can't really die, can he?" I remember at some point being told how wonderful it was that God was willing to experience death for us. But that didn't make any sense to me either. If you give your life to save mine, you do it for keeps. God wasn't playing for keeps, he got to take back any marbles he lost and go home. What is the meaning of sacrifice if nothing is lost?"

I really just wanted to comment that most of Christianity shares echoes with religions of the past. There are dozens of "So In So's descent into the Underworld" stories from different cultures around the world. There are also a ton of sacrificed son/sun deity stories too. Most often the Son was the symbol of the eternal changing of the seasons, birth in spring, youth in summer, maturity in fall and death in winter to return again in the spring. My problem with the Jesus incarnation of the story is that it became a linear, one time event, instead of remaining cyclical.

(Please don't mistake my dissatisfaction with the Christ story with my feelings for Christ as a person, real or otherwise. As a teacher, he had some truly wise and amazing things to teach, and if more people truly strived to be Christ-like, meaning that they love one another as he loved us (as a god is capable of love), then the world would by necessity be a better place.)

Descent into the underworld stories always bring something to the deity that takes the journey. One of the most famous stories is that of Inanna from Sumer. She learned the "darker" side of her powers, which was probably a metaphor for the necessity of death to continue the life cycle of life/death/rebirth. Odin hung on the World Tree for nine days and returned with the runes of power for his people.

Jesus earned the ability for humans to go to heaven through his descent, reversing his Father's decision at the garden of Eden. The issues I have with this story stem from how petty and jealous Jehovah seems. He got mad when the first people gained the knowledge of good and evil (essentially becoming like him, which was three hims to many), and condemned the species to eternal damnation. Later, after drowning the world, smiting a bunch of people, pillars of salt, death of the first born, etc, etc, he decides that he'd rather give people the chance at salvation. So instead of just changing his mind, he goes through the complex process of making a part of himself human, then has himself killed.

Now humanity has the opportunity to go to heaven, but not only do we have to be good, but we also have to make sure we keep god appeased. In other stories about the underworld, a person simply had to live a good life, their relationship with their deity(ies) was separate. You did the dance, killed the chicken, lit the candles, yadda, yadda, yadda, you were good with them. In Christianity, even the "virtuous unbelievers" go to hell. I do not like that.

Well, that went on way longer than I expected, but it was fun, and I hope you enjoy reading it. I also promise to try to get to the rest of the stuff I promised a while ago (heh) sooner rather than later. And as always, thank you for reading, I appreciate it.

Till next time, be well,