Sunday, February 22, 2009

"The inclusion of Hindu deities by non born Hindu's."

Someone on a board I frequent asked this question.

I ask this question because I feel a bit of a interest in some Hindu deities. Vishnu, Shiva, Kali, etc.

However, I'm under the impression that it is pretty explicit in Hinduism that there is no conversion. That your born into it, not invited in, etc. There is a purification type ceremonies for those that converted to Islam/Christianity as an effort to get back to come back to their born faith, but there is no conversion process.

However, does this prohibit the worship of deities? Is that considered innapropriate??
My reservations when it comes to add-mixing with Hinduism are that it's a really colonialist thing to do, appropriating bits and pieces of someone else's religion, chucking the original embedded meanings, and creating your own out of symbols that (to Hindus) probably didn't actually mean anything to you to begin with.

It's not merely that it's difficult to convert. It's also not merely a matter of "being a poser is bad, mmkay." It's a matter of having enough respect for a nation and a culture that has had its ownership of itself taken away by British colonialism, and is still working hard to get that power back. I would feel like I was shoving them backward in that struggle by appropriating their religion without paying extreme care to respect for the original cultural context.

A good example: There are a lot of Western Kali-worshippers who don't really actually care how Indians revere Kali. They may know one or two stories about her that sounded kinda cool, and she's sorta dark and scary which is how they feel sometimes, but Kali will be nice to them so it's not like they'll really have to deal with her wreaking havoc on their lives. Right? I mean, their Kali isn't at all like that scary indiscriminately-destroying goddess of violent transformation. Their Kali is theirs.

But this is disrespectful to the culture in which it came, the role that Kali plays within that culture, and if you believe that the gods are literally and actually real, it's disrespectful to Kali (since it entails uprooting her from her context, ignoring who she is, and telling her she needs to start being someone else).

It's possible to do this respectfully, and I have finally found some who do. But it's something to be very very careful about. Indians and Hindus have spent long enough in history being told that their culture, history, and traditions do not rightly belong to them. It's important for cultural outsiders not to participate in that by claiming what is theirs for ourselves.

More responses to this are at the thread here.


A question came up on a forum I frequent.

Is it Wrong to stray from specified guidlines within a path? Will doing so tarnish a given practice? Will doing so show disrespect to those that have "done the work"? Should we adhere to the rules? Conversely, does holding onto the traditions from maybe thousands of years in the past keep us from moving forward? Should we take what we like, what is of use, and discard the rest?

Here's what I think. This is an easier question to answer with religions like Islam that have a core statement of faith. If you believe that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet, that's all you have to believe. The other Pillars of Faith are all about action. So whatever else you believe, that one statement is your criterion. As I understand it, if you're on board with that, you're on board with Islam. If not, you're not.

Religions like Hinduism, Wicca, etc. are much trickier. A hard statement of faith like that--while extremely useful from a perspective of creating and sustaining a cultural identity for the group--is difficult precisely because excluding what is "not us" from what is "us" is contrary to what many Pagans want to see happening. Which basically means that developing any kind of coherent cultural identity within the group is contrary to what many Pagans want to see happening.

Christianity is somewhere in the middle. There are certainly statements of faith ("Jesus Christ is the son of the One True God and he died to redeem us from sin" or the like), but because there are so many definitions with their own interest in developing a unique core identity (which means they allow and exclude beliefs or believers based on criteria of their own in order to keep a coherent definition of their group)... there is a lot of fuzziness there. For example, multiple schools of thought about the nature of Christ.

There are the Nestorians, who feel that Jesus the man and Christ the son of God are effectively two different essences, even though they're centered around one guy and one name. Catholics are obviously not down with this (since whether the Virgin Mary was mother to just the human nature of Jesus or whether she birthed the whole kit and caboodle is kind of an important disputing point for them).

What I'm saying with all of this is that there are a lot of Muslims who meet the clearly-defined criteria set out by Islam, and are therefore justifiably defined as Muslim. There are Muslims who fit culturally but may not believe in the Shahadah. Islam has an easier time defining one as Muslim and one not than traditions like the various Pagan groups.

My personal feeling is that traditional groups are including and excluding certain beliefs out of a desire to maintain a cohesive identity. They basically just want to be able to know who they are. This isn't important to some Pagan groups, but out of respect to the ones that do place a priority on it, I wouldn't claim their name unless I fit their definitions. For groups that don't care who claims their name, sometimes I will when I'm intersecting with them.

So for me it's not about needing to define myself "correctly." It's about defining myself in a way that is respectful to the groups I may or may not be a part of depending on how much of a priority they place on being cohesive and how important it is to them to know who they are as a group.

So for me, it's not about an "Old Guard" needing to control their followers. It's about a group controlling their own identity, and if I respect them I'll let them do that for themselves if they need it. I won't take away their power to know who they are by clinging on to the group and muddling things up if the truth is that I'm actually something different from them.

That felt like a long ramble, but I hope I sort of got around to the point in there somewhere.

For other answers to this question, see the thread here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Entertaining twist with the US economic crisis

This is for folk like me who've maintained their sense of dark humor as the US tries to pick itself up during a huge economic downturn. The stimulus bill did pass, and it did so largely on the strength of one party's influence in Congress (both in the House and Senate). A few Republicans crossed the aisle to vote for it in the Senate, but mainly the minority party had no interest in the project because they wanted to concentrate solely and completely on tax cuts, viewing infrastructure projects, state aid, and health care investments to be a waste of time.

Unfortunately, the bill was seriously curtailed before passage as an effort to court Republican support that they declined to give even after having many of their demands met. For a good breakdown of the winners and losers in the final version of the bill, check here. For those folk out there who want to know what the stimulus actually does, I would check that link. It'll give you a good place to start to look up the worth of the individual projects.

The humorous part? Legislators voting against the stimulus and then immediately turning around and bragging to their constituents about all the money coming to their states to help them out.

The final vote on the $787 billion measure broke down exactly as expected.

What's more, it was legislation the minority party wanted nothing to do with. Three Senate Republicans broke ranks, while zero House Republicans backed the plan. That, in and of itself, isn't especially surprising -- there were philosophical differences, coupled with strategic considerations, alongside a desire to embarrass the president.

What is at least a little surprising, though, is seeing some of the same Republicans who rejected the package issue press releases touting the spending measures in their districts. (...)

In Mica's press release about the stimulus package, for example, he not only applauded the spending for his district, he neglected to mention altogether that he opposed the bill. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), who also issued a press release claiming "victory" for an Alaskan contracting program in the bill, also failed to mention that he voted against the measure that he's so excited about.
They're not the only Republicans who are suddenly deeply interested in obligating the federal government to help keep their states afloat. Governors--both Republican and Democrat--had been pushing for the stimulus package to get passed. I know that the list in this article isn't comprehensive, because my own governor is not mentioned and--despite his apparent unwillingness to bail out anybody below him--seems positively thrilled to receive money coming down from the federal level.
In the states, meanwhile, many Republican governors are practicing a pragmatic — their Congressional counterparts would say less-principled — conservatism.

Governors, unlike members of Congress, have to balance their budgets each year. And that requires compromise with state legislators, including Democrats, as well as more openness to the occasional state tax increase and to deficit-spending from Washington. (...)

The National Governors Association sent a bipartisan letter of support to Congressional leaders of both parties, signed by its Democratic chairman, Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania, and Mr. Douglas, its Republican vice chairman. “The combination of funds for Medicaid, education and other essential services is critical for governors as they work to manage the downturn in their states and improve government for the long term,” it said.

Mr. Crist even campaigned last week with Mr. Obama in Florida for the recovery package.

“Whether it’s teachers or people on road crews helping our infrastructure, those in the health care arena as it might relate to Medicaid, all of these areas are important, all of them can produce jobs,” Mr. Crist said, adding, “Regardless of what your party is, Republican or Democrat, it really doesn’t matter. We have a duty and an obligation to the people who elected us, no matter what our position happens to be, to work together to get through this thing.”
Summary: Republicans in the legislature were under all kinds of pressure to ignore the needs of state and local governments, and even to ignore the requests (demands?) of governors from their own party. So they voted against the stimulus bill, but as a compromise they took good news back home that help was on the way (possibly in the hopes that their constituents won't notice their legislators were willing to let them hang for the sake of pleasing guys like this one, who evidently run the Republican Party now.

That's your update. I just have to laugh at this, because the alternative is to go right the hell out of my mind with indignation.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Pro- and Anti-

The most common way to frame the discussion of abortion is in terms of "pro-choice" versus "pro-life," obviously implying that one cannot value both a woman's autonomy and "life," whatever that means.

I've never liked this way of framing things. Most pro-choice people are also pro-life, but not all pro-life people are pro-choice. The conflict here is over choice. The question here is not "is life good" but "is it good for a woman to choose for herself whether to have an abortion." So the argument is more properly framed as "pro-choice" versus "anti-choice."

But not on BeliefNet, evidently.

After my first post in the abortion discussion forum, I received a warning. My tone was fine, and all I did was point out that--contrary to the OP's rant--there was indeed an anti-choice ticket (since using laws set down by Alaska's legislature doesn't actually say anything about the head of its executive) in addition to the pro-choice ticket.

This violates the rules, the post was deleted by justme333, and I was warned. I sent an email to the mod, and here is the text of it:

I noticed that I was just warned and had a post removed because I did not frame the abortion debate using the terms you prefer.

"Finally, the only terms allowed in the description of positions for this board are Pro-Life and Pro-Choice."

Do you understand why there are many people who object to framing this issue in terms of one side which is in favor of "life" and one which is not? There is a very good reason why I do not describe the anti-choice position as "pro-life," most notably that it is not my life they are protecting.

I find it hard to believe you would not be aware of this issue of terms and why it is important, so I suppose the real question is why you object to this terminology so strongly that you will not even let anybody post using it. It is not offensive, it is not inaccurate. It is, in fact, a well-established and well-accepted way of framing the issue, which scholars in these matters use for a very good reason.

Except, evidently, on your board. Why?

I don't anticipate getting a satisfactory answer. The only reason anybody objects to the terms I'm using is that they resent the loss of a moral high ground they never earned, that of being the side that values "life."

But who knows. Perhaps I'll be surprised. Doubt it though.

I still find it amusing that everywhere I go on the internet, I get into trouble because someone higher up doesn't like the substance of my views, and has no interest in the reasoning behind them. This is a particular problem when I'm forcing a mirror on someone that shows them the way I see them... and they don't like what they see. Rather than give my views a moment to be entertained and evaluated, they just do their damndest to shut me up.

Ah well. This is the internet.

Monday, February 2, 2009

A rare personal entry!

She's going to change the world...
She's going to change the world...
But she can't
change me.

My partner has commented in the past that I have an odd approach to religion, even my own. I view it as a cultural system in which I either want to participate or not. If I gain from it as a person, it's good. If I do not, then I have no use for it and will leave it to the people who can gain.

But what this means is that while I can throw myself into a practice wholeheartedly, throwing myself into the beliefs is somewhat of a trickier proposition. This is simplified by the fact that I don't care about how a religion answers questions of science or fact. I don't care if a holy book says that the world was created in six days or whether an even more ancient oral tradition posits a planet on the back of a turtle (on the back of a turtle on the back of another turtle...). That stuff isn't for religion, and if I make it about answering questions for which we simply have not figured out the facts... well, I'm missing all the stuff it does that matters (and is actually interesting).

Some people reading are aware that I'm a member of a Wiccan circle. We play pretty fast and loose with dogma in my circle, and that was essential to me feeling comfortable there. We draw from many different traditions so that we can attempt to learn or accomplish something new. Thankfully other my circle-mates are also aware of the colonialist implications of picking buffet-style from other religions as well, so there's a lot of respect there and I don't have to smack anyone with various bits of miscellaneous scholarly discourse.

Anyway, that's not the point. The point is that we negotiate lots of different traditions by acknowledging that different things work for different people. The real question here for many folk (Pagans in particular, though anyone in an interfaith social group will face it eventually) is why.

To some people, all gods are real. Some of these believe that we make them real by creating or coalesce those divine power forces using our own personal power of will. Some of these believe that there is simply one massive pool of divine energy that everybody draws from in the way that best fulfills their needs.

To some people, only some gods are real. They have to be "real" gods, preferably ancient. After all, a religion that sprang up two thousand years ago carries a lot more weight than a religion that sprang up five years ago, or six months (even if a religion scholar would see little functional difference aside from age).

To other people, no gods are real. Religion is best experienced through allegory and metaphor, as a meditative practice that allows for access to multiple perspectives, opportunity to answer questions that many individuals just wouldn't think to ask.

I am personally somewhere between a monist (it's all the same, just with different faces on the divine to break It down into smaller, easily-digestible pieces) and an atheist. How the fuck do I manage that? By not fucking caring whether the facts are verifiably true, instead worrying about the processes. Do the processes of the religion do for me what I'm setting them up to do? Yes? Good! I win at religion!

I don't think this necessarily makes me an agnostic. I'm not ambivalent or indecisive, which is what "agnostic" implies to me. I genuinely do not give a damn at this phase in my life whether god is blue or brown or has four arms or two or a beard or exists at all. For many people the idea of a deity watching over or supporting them is helpful, and is a useful avenue for personal growth. Personally, no answer to that question is useful to me.

If scientists proved tomorrow that there is no divine force, deity, whatever, I'd be stunned that they'd figured out a way to test it... but I wouldn't throw out religion. At least not my religion. I don't fucking care if there's a god/dess, and I don't really tend to petition anything outside myself in the way that many magick-users and praying Christians (though there's not actually any difference if you ask a non-Christian). So why do I care whether someone answers?

Same if they proved there was a divine force, I think. Again, what the hell did they do to prove that one, but... meh. I still reserve the right to disagree with or even ignore a deity if I choose. Free will is awesome, and if I'm not letting a deity tell me what to do... does it matter whether they're shouting their divine heads off without me listening? It's still the same world it was yesterday, and my life would still be my own.

It's not indecision. It's unconcern. It makes no nevermind to me one way or the other. I just plain do not care.

I do care whether I am absorbing a code of ethics and customs that I believe to be useful and beneficial in my life. If I find out conclusively tomorrow that there is or isn't a deity out there, the world will still be the same place it was today, and what works will still be the same as it was today.

This means that I can accept and cherish lots and lots of religious traditions without fretting over whether telling beads really wins Catholics brownie points with God, or whether my menstrual cycle is a cosmic metaphor, or whether I'll be born again after I die. I am doing what I need to do to make my life work, and I assume everyone else is as well.

I think that perhaps someday I might make a useful sort of spiritual-leader-type-person, simply because I'm good at making use of what I've got and seeing the good in what we have. I ask decent questions, and think a little ahead. I could be useful to other people who are just looking for a set of customs and perspectives to fit them better than the one to which they were likely born and raised.

But there are problems. I can't just run out and become a priestess. For one, does anyone really want to talk to a priestess who doesn't care whether the divine force we're all here to revere actually exists? For another thing, I don't know what it would do to my relationship with my partner. I've already had to face the possibility that because I practice a religion, he won't be able to commit to having me in his life. If I became a religious leader of some variety... it might be more of a strain than our relationship can take. While I know he would never demand that I give up any aspiration or dream for his sake, I do have to consider what sacrifices I might be making. Whether they'll be worth it in the end.

I'm still looking. I have a better idea of what I am, and I'm taking steps to get a better handle on that. The question of where I am can come later, but I'll have to chew on it eventually. I don't know how that will resolve, but I foresee emerging a new person. I have to trust myself and assume I will come out of it better. I always seem to do that, and damn it I can do it again.