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.

1 comment:

Qalmlea said...

I can relate to a lot of this. If asked, I tend to describe myself as a "zen taoist," but I find questions of "belief" to be largely irrelevant. I chant because I find that it soothes my mind. I have no idea if some Hindu god is getting a kick out of the chant or not, nor do I care. I practice qigong because it's good for both my body and my mind, and whether or not I "believe" in qi makes no difference to that (and I would probably answer "purple" if anyone asked). It doesn't matter if I believe in the kitchen sink or not; it's still the place I go to wash dishes. If it works for me, I go with it. Best of luck going with what works for you.