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Trevor Stone's Journal
Those who can, do. The rest hyperlink.
That New Academic Religion is Good Enough for Me 
7th-Oct-2006 11:52 am
pentacle disc
My OKCupid profile lists my religion as "Other and laughing about it." In the "You should message me if..." section, I invited folks to ask what the "other" is and just what's so funny. lonelocust asked, and the answer got a bit lengthy. I figured the answer might be of interest to the public at large.

As for my Other... I am a polyathiest: I believe in the nonexistence of many gods. More broadly, I find value in religious practice, which is in large part a communal expression of metaphor. Because it's communal, we come to know and trust each other. Beacuse it's metaphoric, we have mental tools to handle events and situations in public and private life. But I don't mistake the metaphor for the real thing.

For instance, a ritual about Demeter and Persephone provides an opportunity for participants to reflect on changing seasons and harvests using the intimately familiar tools of human relations. So in one sense, I believe in these gods; I tell stories about them. But I don't think that Demeter lives atop Mount Olympus and personally oversees the annual changing of the color guard.

When asked, I typically identify as Pagan (by which I mean Neopagan). I practice with other Neopagans, ranging from an annual festival in the mountains with about 1,000 people to a group of about 10 that met privately two or three times a month during college. I like the attitudes of a lot of my fellow Neopagans and often feel an ecstatic connection to the world in Neopagan-styled ritual.

But I don't limit myself to Neopagan dogma. (It's an eclectic bunch, so there are several dogmae to choose from. And even though witches prefer cats, there's plenty of dogma around.) For one, I don't paint Christianity with a broad brush. A lot of pagans are (justifiably) frustrated with closed-minded relatives, xenophobic evangelists, a thick book where women play a minor role, and 2000 years containing crusades, witch hunts, and suppression of science. But they tend to conflate all Christian people, practices, and ideas under the same umbrella of negativity.

As a polyathiest, I can appreciate the artistic beauty of a cathedral while condemning the practices of the priesthood; welcome Jesus's teachings of love while challenging the focus on the afterlife; have a great time at a Blind Boys of Alabama concert while raising a disapproving eyebrow at lame rock about Jesus; acknowledge Christ's role in Martin Luther King's nonviolence while arguing with people who think war in Iraq is guided by God; appreciate the metaphors of birth, life, and death while being suspicious of the prevalence of sacrifice and savior metaphors in our culture's tradition. Like Joseph Campbell, I'm fascinated by the stories people tell and the rituals they perform, and I don't want a label for census purposes to prevent me from exploring something that might be interesting and fun.

So with an explanation that deep and intellectual, why am I laughing about it? Because I like to laugh about everything of importance. I like to make religious gatherings an opportunity for mirth and (ir)reverence. I include puns and jokes in quarter calls I write. I even led a ritual based on (and set to) Dark Side of the Moon when the new moon fell on April Fool's day a few years ago. And despite the high-level irony and humor of it, it turned into a very serious and moving experience for many of the participants. I also lead non-verbal rituals and excercises which can be both very playful and very serious. I laugh (often inwardly) when having fun, and if religion wasn't fun, I wouldn't do it. (People who practice religion without having fun typically do so because they think God wants them to do it that way. A God who's opposed to fun is a metaphor I choose not to participate in.)

This explanation is unedited and not particularly organized. I would like to write a more formal essay and post it on my website. In the mean time, I welcome questions and suggestions of points that could be clarified or expounded upon. Let's start spreading the term "polyathiesm," the belief in the nonexistence of many gods. I notice mollybzz is on the bandwagon. I think in many situations it's better than "pagan," since there's more in common between Dragonfest and an anthropology convention than a 5th-Century village outside the Holy Roman Empire.
7th-Oct-2006 11:09 pm (UTC)
One of my favorite, possibly self-invented, quotations is "If you can't laugh at it, you don't understand it." or, alternatively, "If you can't laugh at it, it can't be true." I suppose this is a corollary to "SYADASTI SYADAVAKTAVYA SYADASTI SYANNASTI SYADASTI CAVAKTAVYASCA SYADASTI SYANNASTI SYADAVATAVYASCA SYADASTI SYANNASTI SYADAVAKTAVYASCA", at least if you have a sense of humor.

I've been describing my perspective (shared by various family members) as Pagan Atheism for ages. Yes, rituals can be very important on the human level, and metaphor is often the best way to deal with reality, but I'm always amazed by what people claim they believe.
12th-Oct-2006 06:04 pm (UTC)
The Pantheist movement called itself "Rational Paganism" for a while. Or at least, that was one of the preferred terms. At the time it was used most often (judging from all-knowing soures like newsgroups), "Scientific Pantheism" was the preferred term. I think most everyone just uses "Pantheism" now, but I find this an insufficient term because "Pantheism" can include rather different theologies. I still prefer "Scientific Pantheism" or "Rational Paganism".
13th-Oct-2006 06:16 am (UTC)
I run screaming and hiding when I hear people claiming to be rational. People are rationalizing often, but rational seldom.
8th-Oct-2006 08:35 am (UTC)
Every now and then I'm reminded of why I think you're an awesome, amazing, totally freaky wonderful person and I love you. This is one of those times.

I make an effort to remember that I don't perceive anything as it is. That is, what I'm seeing/hearing/thinking is real and fairly useful, but it's never the total Truth of a situation or object, much less a person, relationship, or concept. Even words aren't what they are; they're just symbols and not the thing itself.

Coming from that foundation, it makes no sense to believe anything, and I try not to. But I do find my perceptions useful and/or entertaining, and I enjoy playing with them. I'm compulsively honest, but sometimes the "truth" is best represented by bending a few facts to make a better story. It's a symbol anyway; make the symbol more representative of the experience. So yeah, Cernunnos, Snoopy, the Trash Heap from Fraggle Rock, cassocks and choirs and incense, halos and radiant white feathery wings. Bring it on. As for the Jesus stuff, its common application is suffocatingly thick with literalism and I tend to be reactive to that just out of a craving for balance. The more serious a thing is, the more desperately it needs to be ridiculed.
15th-Oct-2006 02:25 pm (UTC) - ::feels dumb::
so, feel free to mock me for not untill now realising you and I camp at the same festival, seeing as how I found a pink plastic egg with a bear hug and -your name- in it last time I was there. Yep, I'm an idjit.
15th-Oct-2006 04:51 pm (UTC) - Re: ::feels dumb::
Ah! But did you follow your instructions?
15th-Oct-2006 07:45 pm (UTC) - Re: ::feels dumb::
well, I'm saving the bear hug for Ed next year, and I waited untill i got back to Kansas(and work) to do the patting and jumping. Then when I wass asked I handed him (my boss) the paper and told him i was just doing what the voice in my egg told me to.... he laughed. He's a minister and thinks I'm nuts, but we've had some great conversations.
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