The Square Root of a Square
Article ID: 12744
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: August 10th. 2008
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As any who came from a background of being raised in one of the three major revealed religions that dominate in the USA can attest, there is a fundamental difference between Pagans and nearly all Christian, Jewish, and Muslim followers. Although there are differences of belief and practice, these are not the important part to most of us. Protestants bicker among themselves about details of baptismal rites or other sorts of things and various Jewish sects squabble over behavior and dress codes and such. The divisions in the Islamic faith are sometimes bloody and hard to understand to most westerners. Well, Pagans of all stripes have some rather glaring differences in beliefs and practices as well.
We don’t go to war over them and (mostly) don’t even find them important enough to get upset about. In fact, we often go out of our way to discuss (usually in quite a civil manner) these differences, poking at details, sifting nuances, offering counter arguments and caring little if the other person accepts them. Such conversations often have an air of a cribbage game without the penny-a-point bet. For the most part, we don’t care too much about ‘winning the argument’ as much as having it to test and refine our own thinking.
But sit down with a calm, mild mannered Protestant to have a similar discussion and they’ll quickly condemn not only your ideas but also the very fact that you have an idea! Ix-nay on the onversation-kay!
Why is that? How is it so many people of other religions have a hard time ‘getting it’ about our religion? I don’t think it’s the differences in the beliefs and practices; they’re used to that sort of thing. Okay, they think we’re wrong. No big deal. The real sticking point is they think we’re wrong for reasons that, to us, seem almost ludicrous. And face it; we think they’re wrong because they use these ludicrous (to us) reasons!
(You mean, because it was written down somewhere and you think you know how to interpret it… you think that’s proof?)
And, just to make it weirder, they think that because we don’t use similar ludicrous (to us) reasoning, then we aren’t even able to ‘properly’ support our thinking. Frustrating, isn’t it?
I recently had an experience that caused me to wonder about this sort of thing. I helped write a book, Be All!, in an attempt to answer a set of questions: What is spirit? How do we find it? And what do we do with it? The book is finished, but that doesn’t mean my interest in the subject is over. I will always want to understand spirit better. So, whenever the opportunity arises, I try to engage other people in a conversation about it. Though I don’t expect to find any ‘answers’, I usually get a nice, stimulating dialog going about something of interest to both of us and that’s always a win-win situation. Because really good questions take a long time to develop, every discussion helps me be better at asking about spirit with the next person.
One opportunity came up the other day. A man I’ve gotten to know is a minister for a local evangelical church. He’s well educated in his field and a thoughtful kind of guy. We were at a McDonalds and I asked him to give me his take on what spirit was. He mulled it over long enough to get a refill on his coffee and then launched into a 15 minute mini-sermon on how the spirit is carried by the body during life but then returns to God when we die. He used several quotations from the Bible and it was an exemplary dissertation of his church’s doctrine. Fine, fine I said, but the original question was: what is spirit? He sort of did the deer-in-the-headlights thing for a few seconds and then said that there are some things God doesn’t let us know and we should just accept that.
Oh, for the love of…!!!
“I don’t know, ” would have been okay; I’d have accepted that. But his answer locked my jaw so hard I wanted to scream at him. I didn’t… but I wanted to. To me, his answer smacked of willful stupidity. Later, in a discussion about it with my wife, I began to realize that this is a major difference between Pagans and most people of revealed religions. They believe that a self-generated thought, so-called ‘free thinking’, is dangerous. If your thinking is not doctrinal, Satan or some other entity of evil has probably put it in your head. All the ‘right thinking’ is written in this or that document and if we study it long enough (and put a lid on our speculation and striving for deeper understanding) then we’ll be saved from all that soul-robbing stuff.
I don’t know one Pagan who thinks that way. We usually want to chew on subjects until our jaws fall off. We’ll often mull over things until we’ve come up with at least five different ways of looking at it and two dozen more questions about it. When it comes to our spiritual concepts, most of us are happy to consider other ways of looking at them, sometimes adopting several viewpoints at the same time even if they seem to contradict each other. Our spirituality is a living, growing, and an always-in-motion thing. It’s hardly ever in the same place twice and that suits us just fine, thank you. It doesn’t make us uncomfortable that others believe differently; we expect it. We also accept that we will probably change our own spiritual concepts at some time in the future.
We don’t follow a doctrine because we don’t think any of us are so smart that we can say we know ‘The Truth’. We usually have some unflattering thoughts about those who say they know The Truth and are willing to cram it down our throats. In fact, we have several terms for that kind of behavior. We call it arrogant, irresponsible, immoral, self-righteous, and just plain bad magic! We believe that to impose our will on another, to be so egotistical as to believe we know what’s right for others is about the worst kind of magic you can do.
We caution our students to steer clear of doing this because it inevitably leads to more problems for everyone. We might even tell them to watch Star Wars and consider what ‘the Dark Side’ really is and why it’s such a bad idea. And we have little respect for people who have so little confidence in themselves that they are willing to give over all their decision making to a handy book full of beautiful words and ideas… but not use their own God (dess) -given powers of thought to figure what those words mean in our lives. We don’t accept that there are some things we aren’t supposed to think about or try to understand.
But hold on. Isn’t it possible to think wrongly about things? Isn’t it conceivable that we can be led astray by incomplete information, wrong methods of analysis, and common stupidity? (Hey, if you believe in there’s such a thing as ‘common sense’, you’ve got to acknowledge that there’s also a possibility of ‘common stupidity’, right?) Well… yeah, we can. Isn’t that called life? Aren’t we all subject to such problems… all the time? We’re unable to directly experience a great deal of the universe and even what we can experience, what we supposedly ‘know’, is not simply experienced but interpreted by a mind that is famous for getting things wrong a lot of the time! Face it; even at our best we hardly ever get things completely right. So maybe those guys have a point. Perhaps our ‘free thoughts’ are so bad, so off the mark that we shouldn’t allow our minds to run free and inquire into all that mystery stuff.
Hey, just kidding… just messin’ with your mind.
I, and I think most Pagans, believe that even though our thinking is undoubtedly flawed, it’s our best way to become better… to make ourselves into whatever the gods have designed us for. But let us never forget that this is our decision, our way of handling the situation. Those who believe we are influenced by sinister forces are handling it their way and we aren’t likely to change their minds. We all are trying to get it as right as we can but in all probability everybody is pretty far off the mark. And though that is certainly grounds for humility, there is one thing for which I believe we can be proud: As Pagans, we know we don’t know The Truth. To us, The Truth is a mystery, something we are perhaps designed to understand incompletely.
Just like what spirit is to my minister friend.
But I won’t accept that I should stop thinking about such things. I won’t allow my inadequacies as an incarnated being to restrict my striving for understanding of anything and everything. Even though I know I’m limited, I don’t believe any of us will ever approach all of the boundaries in just one lifetime. I will place no limits on my questions. I refuse to accept the notion that to have a different idea, one that doesn’t conform to some doctrine, is evil or immoral.
And I won’t condemn others for their beliefs. I may oppose their actions, but I hope I will never be so arrogant, so small in my own thinking that I will attempt to label other people’s ideas as evil. So if you happen to meet me at a McDonalds and I ask you a weird and crazy question about spirit, don’t be afraid to think. I won’t take your answer any more (or less) seriously than I do my own. We’ll have fun and maybe… just maybe… we’ll both get a little closer to something like truth.
Copyright: copyright 2008
Location: Everett, Washington
Bio: Blacksun has been an initiate of Wicca for over 30 years and HP of StarWyrm Coven for nearly that long. He and with his wife, Shadowhawk have written The Spell of Making, a book that completely covers ritual making (currently out of print) . Blacksun has served as a representative to the Washington Interfaith Council and was the Director of Religious Affairs for the Aquarian Tabernacle Church for several years. He lives in Seattle, WA.
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