If you want the answer to "what do you believe?" in a few words, you could say I'm a sort of atheistic eclectic Pagan--or, if you prefer, a pantheist since I believe in sacredness but do not believe in a conscious God. I don't believe in New Age silliness that contradicts natural laws. I don't believe faith is a virtue. And I do believe that there is a lot that is magical in the world, but that everything "magical" makes sense within the laws of physics.
I am open-minded but practical. A believer in many things, but never for no reason. Dogma turns me off and other people claiming to be able to interpret God for me--and claiming the right to control my life because of it!--makes me sick. The responsibility of proof falls on one who claims something extraordinary. And it is lazy and stupid to answer that which we don't understand with "God did it, end of story!" instead of trying to understand and de-mystify. The highest form of respect is investigation and understanding. Figuring out how something works and grasping it in all its glory is NOT a means of taking all the magic out of life. In contrast, understanding makes the world MORE magical--MORE holy--and all the more special.
Those were just a few words about my beliefs, but as you may have figured out by now, I am NOT a person of few words. Plenty of history and philosophy follows in the rambles below. Read on.
I began my life being raised in the Jewish tradition. My dad is Jewish and my mom was raised Catholic but did not continue to practice any religion on her own, except in the cases where she participated in family celebrations with my father and my sisters and me. I went to Hebrew school when I was little, but even though I learned a lot about the religion and learned to read and write the language of Hebrew (well, marginally), I never got a Bat Mitzvah, and I never truly embraced the religion even though I still have a connection to my origins. But there are aspects of Judaism I still enjoy, such as the ceremonies and rituals, mostly because they're familiar since I grew up with them. (I also find the religion admirable because they don't recruit.)
As far as organized religion, I'm registered as a member of the Subgenius Church, not that this means much. Their "X-day," the day we were all supposed to be taken to Planet X on some flying saucers, has already passed. Now July 5th, 1998 is in the past, and doesn't offer much promise of a better world anymore. But if you go to their Web site, you'll see why I never put any stock in those "beliefs" either--it's a response I can give someone if they want to know what my religion is but I don't feel like going into it.
Well, we've discussed what I'm not. Maybe I should share what I am. In essence, what I practice gets filed under the label of eclectic Paganism, meaning I don't follow a strict belief system but the beliefs I do adhere to put me under the Pagan umbrella.
Once a girl e-mailed me and asked me about my brand of Paganism as compared with her Catholic upbringing, wanting to know if the two were compatible. What follows is slightly edited from what I told her, and I think it is an excellent summation of my beliefs in a less point-by-point format, more of an essay. Enjoy.
- I don't believe in a conscious god.
- The "gods" I have reverence for are basically just my acknowledgment of and appreciation for natural processes.
- I don't believe in Satan. Therefore I cannot possibly be worshipping him, so if you think Pagan = Satanist, be quiet.
- I'm not Wiccan, even though a lot of people don't understand that "Wiccan" is not an interchangeable term with "Pagan" or "Witch." I do fit most of the definitions for "Witch," though, so I don't mind that designation despite its stigma.
- I celebrate the seasonal changes and lunar cycles, and the active part of my Craft involves observance of many folk customs--largely decorating and baking. I know a lot about Neopagan ritual and magickal practices, and have done many rituals and cast many spells, but I have moved away from such things in recent years.
- I don't worship anything or anyone. I do hold reverence for nature and assign meaning through symbols of feminine and masculine energies and division of influences into elementals. I do not pray to or believe in a god or goddess, and in this way I might be considered an atheist. I think "pantheist" is a better word.
- I don't believe in Heaven, Hell, or conscious afterlife, but I do believe in a wiggly version of reincarnation; our energy probably goes somewhere, and though I don't "believe" we live again in a new body with the same soul, I am not saying it's impossible. I've never personally experienced anything to lead me to believe I was once someone else. The notion of being relegated after death for eternity to either a reward or a punishment over some kind of cosmic misunderstanding seems unlikely and (sorry, but) ridiculous to me.
- I don't have anything against people who want to practice something else. I think religion is a very personal thing and therefore what is right and fulfilling for one person might be wrong for another. I do not automatically think you're stupid if your religion is in direct opposition to mine, I don't have a problem with looking past that or accepting you despite it. I do have a problem with people--Christian, Pagan, or anything else--who open conversations with the specific intent to tell me I'm wrong, and that includes "witnessing." Religious discussion is one thing, but propaganda is quite another.
- I don't believe in objective good or evil. Such things are relative. Therefore I don't believe it's possible to be born "sinful."
- There is no Bible for my religion. We in the various aspects of the Craft tend to have individual "Books of Shadows." You can look at the online version of mine here. It is informational, not intended for conversion.
- I believe proselytization is really insulting and insinuates that the person preaching to me thinks I don't know how to worship God as well as they do.
- I understand that if you truly believe I will go to Hell if you don't "save" me, it's important for you to try, but you've got to understand that what you believe happens after you die is what you BELIEVE happens after you die, not a proven fact. You can't prove it and in fact you'll probably insist that you shouldn't have to. This is one of the many reasons I don't think we should have to have this conversation--because everything ELSE that's true has evidence.
- It doesn't make sense to me that God would create a world in which THIS AND ONLY THIS aspect of life is in opposition to logic, and that my eternal life in Heaven is dependent upon some test of my ability to believe in things my Earthly experience teaches me to be impossible. I don't believe God would give us logic and senses and then expect us to prove our faith by ignoring what they tell us.
- I don't believe the Bible is the Word of God. I do believe that there is a lot to be learned from it, but under no circumstances do I think ANY single document should be the final word on how a person should live his or her life, especially considering how old and vague most holy books are.
- I don't believe "it's in the Bible" is reason enough to accept something as true. (Obviously that would follow from the above, but I thought I'd mention it here.) Quoting me a passage only shows me that what you're talking about is therefore consistent with your religion. It doesn't prove to me that it is right. The Bible has contradictions and absurdities, which can be viewed in detail at the Skeptic's Annotated Bible.
- I think we engage in rituals and the like to remind us of meaning. The meaning is lost when people think the ritual *is* the meaning, or that doing the ritual differently somehow changes what it means, or that calling the deities by different names changes what they represent.
- I don't believe faith should be considered a virtue. Faith is belief without reason. It does not strike me as an admirable trait if one can allow oneself to believe without any solid reason; faith is a dead end in logical reasoning. If you are willing to believe something because you feel it is true in your heart, that is a reason, though a very personal one that is by its very definition subject to individual assessment, which of course varies widely. Believing because a book told you to believe and drive all your doubts away with "faith" . . . that is not virtuous in and of itself. There are times when faith is necessary to preserve peace of mind and sanity, but sadly faith does not prove something is true.
- I believe that if something is "truth," it can definitely manifest in all aspects of my life regardless of whether I read a certain book. I don't believe that God would speak that way, or rather, I don't believe that is the ONLY way God would be able to speak.
- I don't believe that hate, murder, or prejudice being condoned outright or obliquely in a holy book is an excuse to engage in these practices. Anyone who cites Biblical "proof" that homosexuals should die is a hatemonger, not a righteous zealot.
- I don't like organized religion because I don't like the idea of a whole group of people being fed what to believe by leaders who may or may not be serving their own agenda for purposes of social control. I think religion should be personal, and that people should not allow their preacher or any teacher to be the final authority rather than the spiritual voice inside their mind. I also don't like the idea that God is not personally accessible and must be prayed to or spoken with through the actions of an intermediary party.
- I don't pray. I do meditate and I have been known to cast spells. These processes are similar to praying in certain ways but do not beg the results from a deity so much as resolve to create reality in the way I desire.
- I do not believe you when you insist that you "know" you are right. As soon as you say this I "know" one thing: That you are self-righteous. Belief is different from knowledge, and one only has to take a philosophy course to see how difficult it is to "know" anything, including whether or not you even exist.
- If you tell me there must be a God because you wouldn't want to live in a world where there wasn't one, you're speaking in non sequiturs. What you want to be true and what is true are two different things; God doesn't exist just because you wouldn't want to live if He didn't. A belief's comfort factor or inspiration or convenience or usefulness does not make it a TRUTH. I don't want to live in a world in which children are born with AIDS before they even have a chance, but guess what?
- Too many contradictions in various supposedly divine revelations exist for me to put stock in any one person's vision second- or thirdhand. God might have given commandments to Abraham on a mountain, but Krishna seems to have given entirely different instructions to the prophet Arjuna. Both are considered by me to be mythological stories, not that their messages cannot have importance and truth within them.
- The length of time a tradition has been practiced does not lend any credence to its being true, in my opinion. Therefore Pagans are not automatically right just because they have the oldest beliefs, nor is it proof of the truth of the Gospels that they have survived 2000 years.
- I believe a large percentage of people who grow up within another religion and never look outside its walls act this way only because their religious tenets were instilled in them as early and as persistently as moral education and toilet training. A child raised in a faith can sometimes have no ability to think objectively outside a religious structure.
- Some of the most self-righteous and snooty religious people I've dealt with have been other Pagans. I completely disapprove of their approach as much as I would disapprove of any witness of Jehovah. I do not automatically sense camaraderie with others who stand under the same umbrella, and I do not automatically harbor hostility for those of other faiths. Do not expect this to be my attitude if you choose to talk to me about this.
- I'm as capable of hearing the voice of God, the Goddess, the universe, whatever, as anyone else is. The folks who tell me I should come to Jesus or praise Krishna (or whatever) because "it's changed their lives" have the best reason. Whatever it is should *feel* right. But what they miss is that the way I believe feels right for me, and there's no reason why I should be considered to have less understanding of my own feelings than they do simply because we have different opinions.
- My beliefs and practices change over time. That is not a sign of weakness and lack of conviction as some have said. That is a sign of my listening to what the environment tells me, considering it as objectively as I can, and deciding whether the information should be believed and incorporated. Why would it be more admirable to be stagnant just for the sake of being able to say "well MY traditions have been EXACTLY THE SAME for a REALLY LONG TIME"?
- If your ears close (along with your mind) every time my mouth opens, I don't want to have this conversation. If I come up with a good point, you will probably assert that God does not intend to show us what He means by everything in all His ultimate wisdom. I believe I *am* being shown the answers to my questions. My God is not an unreachable, separated spiritual being. My God is part of me and speaks within me--and is not really a "god" but a part of myself that is nevertheless as close to "divine" as I can believe in. This "he doesn't want us to know that" is often a lame excuse for not admitting that one has accepted something without examining what it truly means.
- Christianity is the most common perpetrator of attacks on my personal faith. I can nevertheless find *tons* of wisdom in their Bible, without feeling like I have to accept their entire faith just because I see merit in pieces of it. It is full of hopeful passages to inspire me, verses on how to be at peace with oneself, not to mention plenty of entertaining parables and stories . . . as stretched as some of its truths are and as exaggerated as its tracts have become, it remains another possible (and welcomed) influence on my life. I don't have to literally believe that Jesus died for my sins and was physically resurrected to understand many underlying messages: That beauty and love can be interpreted as madness and treachery; that human nature is sometimes such that it must destroy what it doesn't understand; that those of us who walk the Earth today have responsibility for our fellow men; and above all, that sometimes love requires selflessness and sacrifice. I understand. I know. I believe.
- I am very, very happy and fulfilled. Do not assume my life is empty because I did not come to the same conclusion as you.
I have nothing against Christians or most of the practices of Christianity itself. I do have a problem with the basic tenet of Christianity that says it's the ONLY way and bases this entirely on a supposedly revealed text. I believe truth is revealed through experience, through life, not through text, and that if things in the Bible are true they will also be reflected in nature, which is said to be God's creation after all. They say that God wants you to go to Him, but many people would have you believe that the only way to be sure you're doing right is to find support for your actions and beliefs in the book, while I believe that if something is totally, unerrantly right and God wants to reveal it to us, He could do it more convincingly than sending us a mistranslated book written over several hundred years, about which people argue, fuss, and fight to come up with a pale shadow of its intended meaning.
Point being: Truth of life can't be just written, it has to be experienced. You can "experience" God, Goddess, Jesus, deity, nature, whatever it is anyone calls Him/Her/It--any spiritual person will say they have experienced God's presence in their lives. They only interpret it differently because of their cultural, religious, or intellectual bias, or their lens of belief, and therefore assign qualities to their gods and deities based on what they already think to be true. But because God's love is said, even in the revealed text of the Bible, to be loving of everyone, it only makes sense that He would reveal Himself in the lives of everyone who wants Him there.
Therefore . . . everyone is just as qualified to interpret, worship, and love God.
Now, people have waved the Bible at me and showed me where that particular book says I'm wrong about God, but I think, Who are they to talk? If it's the words in some book that gave them their beliefs, there's something wrong. God isn't written in a dusty tome,; God is all around us, and I am just as much one of His children as any Christian who believes he/she has the only keys to Heaven.
In addition, I REFUSE to see God the way some people say He is. I have been told that if I don't accept that Jesus died for me, I will be thrown in a pit of Hell for all eternity. This makes no sense to me--an all-loving God would at least make the choice a bit clearer, instead of making it like a game show where I get to the Showcase Showdown and find out I bid wrong. I see it as "oops, you picked the wrong one . . . and that crime is punishable by infinite detention in Hell, thanks for playing," and that just ISN'T a God I could respect. God is supposed to be the Father, and what kind of father would let his kids run into the street and get hit by a car, then just say, "Well I told him not to go out there now didn't I?" Fathers--and Mothers--nurture and protect, they nourish, they teach . . . and that's what life is about, here on Earth. I don't see humans as fallen, cast-out wretches, repugnant in the eyes of God because of our sin-stained souls. I don't believe in a God who could punish me forever because I didn't believe someone could take some mythical guilt away by dying. I don't believe in a God whose book lays things out in an often-contradictory one-way street and attributes any evidence of its falsehood to the meddling of a disembodied evil force such as Satan. A religion based entirely on faith and a revealed text strikes no chord in my soul.
That said, I am able to live a very satisfying life seeing the God and Goddess as sort of disembodied forces of good, simply as the ever-changing now, the overall rightness, the presence. I don't believe I have to be saved--from what? Jesus was awesome and I'm amazed by his courage in wanting to take people's sin away, and for that of course I love him, but I don't believe I need him as the antidote because *I don't believe God would poison me*. Being alive, in and of itself, is a great reward, and I hope that there is reincarnation because this is the greatest gift I can think of to give.
I practice the Craft because I feel it aligns me with the cycle of life. It puts me intimately in tune with the essence of living, which IS the fabric of God. And through it, I recognize that I am a piece of Him--Her, It, Them, whatever. I'm therefore empowered to take care of myself by focusing and controlling that fabric through both everyday actions and Pagan practices, and to honor the presence that makes it possible (thereby drawing myself even closer to it) through rituals and meditation. Spells are remarkably similar to praying, except that with a spell you don't sit back and wait for God to drop your wish into your lap. You actually contribute some of your own energy to the cause, which to some people sounds disrespectful but to me sounds not only more generous, but more effective. As far as doing the rituals, like Sabbats for the turning of the wheel of the year . . . the rituals get you more focused on what's happening to the Earth and the atmosphere in which you live (Earth, Air, Fire, and Water being part of that). It blends you even more flawlessly into what some call God's creation, to really understand it and move with it. I don't like the commonly Christian conception that the Earth is a plane of suffering or of trial and test; I see it as a divine place, something that deserves its own respect, and I am in awe of its beauty and weird simple complexity every day.
Objectively, there is no good and evil, but I am pleased to be alive, and I'm not currently longing for Paradise and hoping to shuffle off this mortal coil because this IS essentially my Paradise, the Paradise I've created for myself, with help from other people and other circumstances. Some would claim I'm being tempted with Earthly rewards. But why would a God who truly loves me try to draw me away from Him, to TEST me if you will, by giving me senses and then using them to manipulate me? That sounds diabolical, and awfully needy besides, like a disturbed schizophrenic with the morals of a two-year-old. I cannot see God like THAT. The God I believe in, while not consciously aware of me, nourishes me like a father and mother, and rewards me daily with personal experience to tell me I am on the right track. I can't accept the idea of a religion that glorifies suffering as making you righteous, or one that sees Satan around every corner, sees celebration and enjoyment as a guilty kind of sin, one that has made faith its own virtue. I see it as almost blasphemous to put faith in the hope of a better life in Heaven, as if what we've been given isn't good enough! Faith is belief without proof, but I have proof that what I believe is right in my life, and that tends to make my faith stronger that I'm doing right by glorifying this existence.
Well, that's the end of my piece on that. You might have some kind of response to it, no? I'm really not too big on discussing religion, but if you want to talk to me about it and try to dissuade me from my evil ways, you can e-mail me. I will put up a good fight if you wanna fight with me about how wrong I am. But unless you've got a really good reason (and remember, the fact that it's in the Bible doesn't automatically make it true, for me), I'm most likely not going to believe you that I'm the wrong one.
If you'd like to see a few more related things about my religious beliefs, please visit the following connections:
Take these things with a grain of salt, as they aren't "ultimate truth" any more than I think the Bible is . . . just personal opinions, by little old me. :)