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Archive for January, 2008

This is fun.  I’m kind of tired of writing essentially the same angst-ridden religion blog posts anyway.  I kind of wonder if it’s not time to either 1. expand the scope of this blog to start talking about other things, or 2. start a new general-purpose blog.  I have one over at Blogspot, but I don’t like Blogspot, and I haven’t kept up with it in a really long time and don’t really feel like starting it up again.  It’s mostly politics anyway, and I’m just not the angry fiery liberal I used to be.  Anyway, here’s today’s ten:

  1. “Cry of the Black Birds” – Amon Amarth
  2. “Ancestor Cult” – Machines of Loving Grace
  3. “Caleb” – Sonata Arctica
  4. “Learning to Live” – Dream Theater
  5. “Kullervo’s Youth” – Jean Sibelius
  6. “Any Colour You Like” – Pink Floyd
  7. “Little Lies” – Fleetwood Mac
  8. “Amazing” – Aerosmith
  9. “House of Sleep” – Amorphis
  10. “Move Over Darling” – Doris Day

This seems more representative of what I’m listening to right now, except for the random Aerosmith song, not a particular favorite of mine.

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My friend Bryant has been posting iPod Ten posts: you put your iPod on shuffle and post the first ten songs that come up.

  1. “Beyond The Dark Sun” – Wintersun
  2. “Papa Loves Mambo” – Perry Como
  3. “Asteroid Belts” – The Lord Weird Slough Feg
  4. “No Pain For The Dead” – Angra
  5. “The Sacrifice” – Symphony X
  6. “Farewell” – Kamelot
  7. “A Swinging Safari” – Bert Kaempfert
  8. “Anthem” – Kamelot
  9. “The Human Stain” – Kamelot
  10. “The Lady Is A Tramp” – Vic Damone

None of these are really favorite songs of mine, but the bands/singers certainly are favorites.  Lots of Kamelot there, but I ahve like four full Kamelot albums on my iPod right now, so that’s not really a surprise.

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I have some posts I’ve been wanting to write that I’ve been procrastinating.  The new semester has started, and my beautiful and sexy wife is in her busy season at work (as well as fairly far along in pregnancy), and there’s been some extended-family drama.  That’s all to say that I haven;t had time really to sit down and compose myself enough to write about some of the things I’ve been thinking about.  I haven’t fallen off the earth, I’m just kinda busy at the moment.

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So, I thought I was going to be sent to Iraq with my National Guard unit this month.  Turns out it’s not happening.  If you have any experience with the military, you know how things can change at the last minute.  Anyway, I mentioned in an older post that I was reluctant to make any big decisions because of the upcoming mysterious, major life-changing event, and that’s what it was.  Now it isn’t happening.  So life goes on, and I no longer have an excuse for resting on my laurels.  But what do I do now?

We haven’t been going to church for awhile, and I have long stopped praying (since it started to seem mechanical and pointless).  Do I start again?  Do I give Christianity another go?  If so, what kind?  Back to Cedar Ridge?  Back to Grace Episcopal?  Just be a Christian on my own and don’t worry about church?  What does becoming a Christian even mean?  What does one do?  Becoming Mormon is a fairly regimented process: you take the missionary discussions, you read the Book of Mormon, you pray to know if it’s true (and get Your Testimony), you attend church meetings, you commit to live the Word of Wisdom and the Law of Chastity, you get baptized, you get confirmed, you get the priesthood, you go to the temple, you get callings, and you endure to the end.  It’s all extremely structured.  I know how to become Mormon.  But I don’t know how you become Christian.  At what point do you become Christian?  What’s the right motivation for becoming Christian?  What does “being Christian” look like?

Do I even want to be Christian?  Right now, the answer feels like no.  Especially since Christmas is over.

Do I start a candidate year with the Ancient Order of Druids in America?  Do I want to?  Do I really want Druidry as a belief system?  Is it all just New Age flakery?  Do I want my whole life to be Celtic-y?  Do I always want to be thinking about ancient times and yearning for the forest?  Not really.  After I’m done with law school we’re moving back to New York, where we’ll probably stay.  I like the woods and nature, but I also love the city.  I feel compelled to be environmentally conscious and take care of the earth, but I actually think in many ways urban living is the best way to do that (it’s certainly more sustainable than suburban living).

There are a lot of things about Druidry that I find very appealing, but do I want to color my whole life with that crayon?  The answer feels like no?

Do I abandon the journey and just get on with life without God and without religion?  I’ve been sailing for awhile and it doesn’t seem like Byzantium is anywhere in sight.  I’m kind of getting tired of looking for it.  My main roadblock is clear (I was nervous about making any hasty decisions with such a major punctuation mark on the horizon), so what do I do?  Hinduism?  The Qur’an?  What?

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I remember a poignant moment in one of the vignettes from Steve Martin’s book, The Cruel Shoes, in which the narrator tells about how his uncle told him he was sorry that he (the narrator, as a young person) had ever heard of the word “God.”  This resonated intensely for me when I first read it, which was something else considering I was a true believing Mormon at the time.

I wonder is life really isn’t easier, simpler, and better without God in it at all.  I’m not making any kind of vast prescription for society or the world here, and I’m not even really advocating atheism (certainly not the strong kind).  I just think maybe existence might be a hell of a lot better if I just completely stopped worrying or even thinking about God and just got on with living my life.

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1. I think religious institutions, especially centralized, hierarchical ones, are either inherently oppressive and abusive or else so open and prone to abuse that human nature nevertheless makes abuse and oppression inevitable.

2. I have a hard time feeling like religious belief is valid without the stamp of approval from an authoritative religious hierarchy.

Thank you, Mormonism.

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If God exists, I think God is so far out of our field of experience and frame of reference as to be essentially incomprehensible to humans.  All of the world’s religions appear to be obviously objectively false.  However, I think that humans make sense out of the insensible by thinking in metaphor, sort of like putting masks that we understand on God so as to deal with something which we do not understand.  I think religion, religious belief, and religious practice can be positive, productive, and extremely useful both to society and to the individual, even if it is not objectively true.  In fact, sometimes I am inclined to think that people can actually in many ways be better off with religion (though not all kinds of religion: a sort of Taoist awareness that “the thing that can be talked about is not the actual eternal thing” is incredibly important, and serves to neuter our dangerous–perhaps even insane–fundamentalist impuses).  Since all religions are false but religion is nevertheless positive, I should be able to simply pick the one that appeals most to me and self-consciously run with it.  However, I seem to be completely incapable of doing so.

(For what it’s worth, alternately, if God does not exist outside the human psyche, then none of this changes.  We can label the unfathomable parts of our own existence and psyche “God” and essentially move on.)

Why am I incapable of picking one and just enjoying it?  All kinds of reasons, really.  Fear of commitment as a holdover from bad experiences with Mormonism (and a knowledge that “just trying it out” is actually a kind of commitment that can result in sliding down to total conversion if you’re not careful).  Persistent gut feeling that the objective truth of religion matters (another holdover from Mormonism).  A nagging feeling that all religions are equally, pitifully inadequate when it comes to accounting for all of life and existence’s complexities (even leaving cosmological models completely out of it), and a concurrent distaste for the idea of flavoring my entire life with any particular religious belief’s seasoning.  Nervousness about the ease of self-brainwashing.  The desire for some kind of mystical experience as a catalyst.  And plain old reluctance, like when you’re about to jump off of something tall and your legs seize up and your body just won’t let you do it.

There doesn’t seem to be anything I can do about any of this, either.

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I don’t love the idea of agnosticism, but I think it’s where I’m going to end up.  I like religion, and think it would be great to have one, but it seems like they all do such a terrible terrible job of coming even anywhere close to capturing the ups and downs and complexities of “life, the universe, and everything.”  They’re all too simple.  Existence is too complex.

I don’t really think I’ll ever be able to simply adopt a belief system, and I don’t think it’s really possible for me (or anyone else, for that matter) to figure one out on my own that would be anything other than a sham.

I spent my whole life with a solid belief system to fall back on, and now I don’t have one and I don’t think I’m going to find one.  I don’t think Christianity’s going to work for me.  As much as I would love Druidry to work, I don’t think it will either.  I’m sure religions can work and do work for some people, and in fact I honestly think people are better off when they do, but I just don’t see how it can happen.

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When the calls and conversations
Accidents and accusations
Messages and misperceptions
Paralyze my mind

Busses, cars, and airplanes leaving
Burning fumes of gasoline
And everyone is running
And I come to find a refuge in the

Easy silence that you make for me
It’s okay when there’s nothing more to say to me
And the peaceful quiet you create for me
And the way you keep the world at bay for me
The way you keep the world at bay

Monkeys on the barricades
Are warning us to back away
They form commissions trying to find
The next one they can crucify

And anger plays on every station
Answers only make more questions
I need something to believe in
Breathe in sanctuary in the

Easy silence that you make for me
It’s okay when there’s nothing more to say to me
And the peaceful quiet you create for me
And the way you keep the world at bay for me
The way you keep the world at bay

Children lose their youth too soon
Watching war made us immune
And I’ve got all the world to lose
But I just want to hold on to the

Easy silence that you make for me
It’s okay when there’s nothing more to say to me
And the peaceful quiet you create for me
And the way you keep the world at bay for me

The easy silence that you make for me
It’s okay when there’s nothing more to say to me
And the peaceful quiet you create for me
And the way you keep the world at bay for me
The way you keep the world at bay for me
The way you keep the world at bay

-Dixie Chicks

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In thinking about faith systems like Druidry, Asatru, and (Neo)paganism in general, the issue of Reconstructionism comes up.  It seems to me that there is a kind of dogmatic rift among Neopagans between the Reconstructionists and the whatever-you-call-the-others.  In Druidry the term is usually Revivalists, but that has a specific meaning to Druidry that doesn’t necessarily correspond to other branches of Neopaganism.  For the sake of discussion, I am going to call them Contemporists.

Reconstructionism as I understand it means a good faith attempt to actually reconstruct an ancient religious belief system.  In practice it probably isn’t completely possible (since most ancient peoples didn’t leave detailed written records of their theological bliefs and a how-to-manual for their rites and practices).  Therefore, Reconstructionists are generally willing to “fill in the blanks” with contemporary or invented practices or ideas, with the understanding that such a practice or belief is a provisional place-holder and is subject to change as more historical information is uncovered.  Reconstructionist religion tends to go hand-in-hand with a keen interest in history.  Good examples of reconstructionist Neopagan faith systems are Asatru and Ár nDraíocht Féin Druidry.

On the other hand, Contemporist faith systems (like Wicca or Revival Druidry) are those that are inspired by ancient belief, myth, and practice, but that have (relatively) contemporary origins.  Their practices and beliefs seem more likely to be syncretic, and Contemporists seem generally open to innovation in both theology and practice.

Reconstructionists often accuse Contemporists of having a “made-up religion.”  As a teenager, my Neopagan interests were strictly reconstructionist, and I looked with serious disdain on belief systems like Wicca.  The irony of course was that I was raised Mormon, which by any measure other than that of the hardcore true believer is a contemporary “made up” religion as well.  Nevertheless, I was raised to believe that Mormonism was an ancient faith that had een restored, and my preconceived notions about absolute truth precluded me from accepting religious innovation as valid in any way.

Now, I see things differently.  In fact, these days I have no interest in reconstructionism whatsoever.  I understand that it floats some peoples’ boats, but not mine.  Here’s why:

1) I don’t believe that full reconstruction is really possible, and that some things are simply lost to the mists of time.  Thus, a reconstructionist, no matter how zealous, will always be complementing his “authentic” practices with contemporary innovations or borrowed material.  So for practical purposes, only his attitude makes him different from the Contemporist.

2) That attitude means the reconstructionist must be willing to abandon what may be useful and meaningful spiritual practices and belifs when they are later discovered to not be in conformity with ancient religion.  To me this seems a pointless waste: if something works, don’t stop doing it.  A spiritual practice’s validity has nothing to do with age, but with whether or not it works.  Every religion was “made up” at one point or another, and the fact that it was made up a long time ago or its author is anonymous doesn’t make it osmehow more real or more valid.  Granted, if a spiritual practice has been in continuous use for a long period of time, you can infer a high degree of validity because it has stood the test of time.  However, an old practice/belief that is not longer held or is long abandoned may no longer be useful–that may be why it was abandoned in the first place.  Either it was no longer useful, or it was supplanted by something else more useful.

3) I’m not an ancient person.  I don’t live in the Bronze Age.  My life isn’t the same, my concerns may not be the same, and the world I live in may be very different from that of ancient people.  What they practiced and believed may have been relevant to them, but that doesn’t mean it is relevant to all people in all situations, and that means it may very well not be relevant to me.  Although I have no problem with drawing on ancient sources for beliefs and practices, I see no reason at all to assume that the ancient practices will always be better for me than a more contemporary alternative, especially when the study of history means that that ancient practice would itself be provisional, subject to change, revision, and even dismissal as our historical picture is fine-tuned.

4) I personally see no real need to believe in a Reconstructionist religion if I don’t believe that said religion was absolutely, objectively true.  And I don’t believe that any existing religion is absolutely, objectively true, or that it’s even possible for human beings to ever be compeltely sure of what absolute, objective truth is.  I will grant that it probably exists, but it seems to me that the nature of epistemology means that asically everything must be subject to doubt.

5) I feel no personal pull to practice or believe in a Reconstructionist religion.  I haven’t had a mystical experience with ancient deities where they commanded me to take back up the old ways (and as I don’t really believe in literal personal gods anyway, I don’t really think that such a demand on the part of the gods is likely).  I am not a historian who specializes in one particular ancient people to such a degree that it fills my life.  Honestly, if I practiced a reconstructionist religion, I think I’d always feel like I was LARPing.

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