Monday, 8 October 2007

what is religion? part 2

A response to ebonypearl. My original list wasn't in any particular order, and all the points were meant to be interrelated. Nor was it necessarily an exhaustive list.

"Respect all living things" - Numenists expand that out to respecting all of creation - from the air we breathe to the bedrock of the planet to the stars and beyond as well as to other people, trees, opossums, and rotting compost. Not just what lives, all that exists.

Yes I agree with this - spirits of place are worthy of respect too, for example.

"Have compassion for suffering" - Compassion is all well and good, but is better accompanied by action. Small charities is an important part of Numenism - helping those within one's community, whether that community is one's House, one's neighborhood, one's city, state, country, or world (we don't currently have regular access beyond our planet, so we're limited to that for now). We also embrace the flip side of that - having understanding for joy. Our existence is not just suffering, there's a lot of joy and pleasure here, too, and religion should not focus just on the suffering and pain and angst of existence, but embrace and support those who experience joy and happiness. Too often, those things which are pleasurable are viewed with distrust and envy and the most religious people do their best to stamp it out - witness religious prohibitions and restrictions against dancing, music, art, love.

If compassion doesn't result in action, then it's not really compassion in my book - but I should have made that clear. There's no point getting all weepy for the suffering and then not actually doing anything about it! I totally agree with the rest of what is expressed above - of course pleasure and joy are important and should be revelled in - and religions should not forbid dancing, music, art and love. (See "celebrate being alive.")

"Release its adherents from fear and loathing" - I'm not sure about this. Fear and loathing can be useful if it is not applied universally. It's right to fear those things that cause pain, and to loathe things that enjoy inflicting pain. Rather, I'd say here that a religion should teach courage and discrimination so one knows when to rightly fear something and loathe it and act against them if at all possible. I suppose she probably meant something other than what I'm reading in to it, and if so, it's probably because I have only an outsider's knowledge of Christianity. I've never been Christian even though I've spent all my life in communities heavily populated by Christians. It is wrong to fear divinity in any form, or to loathe those who approach divinity in different fashion. It is wrong to fear and loathe those who are different from us, whether by lifestyle choice or by the ravages of living.

Er yes, I meant fear of the divine and loathing of those who approach divinity in a different fashion (and those for whom the concept has no meaning). Yes, fear is a natural response to danger; and loathing is a natural response to adverse stimuli. And I fear fundamentalism and loathe intolerance, for example! So we are in agreement here, too.

"Honour other religions as different perspectives on the same reality" - Hmmm - this is an interesting one. See, I don't believe we share the same reality, so it makes it difficult to parse this statement. We teach honouring other religions because the people adhering to them are inherently divine. But we view the world as being layered, and while our realities may overlap, they aren't the same ones. We each live in our minds and hearts as much as we live in our physical surroundings. We are vouchsafed different experiences and interpretations of those experiences so each of us lives in our own individual reality. In Numenism, we teach that we are individuated corporeal beings who are still integral aspects of Dea Nutrix. And Dea Nutrix is not necessarily singular. That means we all inhabit different realities and are collecting different experiences and knowledge to bring to the gestalt of Dea Nutrix or whatever may be beyond Dea Nutrix.

Interesting way of looking at it. Not necessarily in conflict with my way of looking at it. I certainly agree with "we are individuated corporeal beings who are still integral aspects of Dea Nutrix" - though I wouldn't necessarily put any gender on the divine source, I prefer it to be feminine than masculine, and agree that we (and animals, gods, wights, goddesses, spirits of place, etc) are distinct identities within it. I agree that we are "collecting different experiences and knowledge to bring to the gestalt" of the Divine, too.

"Teach its adherent techniques to connect with the divine" - We are already connected to the divine. We teach senses and skills to experience that connection and offer a layered view that our adherents can use to find their comfort level. This doesn't mean they won't be prodded out of it by divine need or human needs or other events, but they can at least seek it and change it as circumstances dictate.

Yes, we are already connected with the Divine - so I should have said, "Teach its adherent techniques to become aware of their connection with the divine".

"Practice tolerance and forgiveness and peace" - Worthy goals, but I prefer "acceptance" to "tolerance". Why? Because "tolerance" is a power-over word, it implies that the tolerance can be withdrawn at any time and for no reason, the person or thing being tolerated doesn't have an equal footing with the one doing the tolerating. There is no need to attempt to understand something in order to tolerate it. "Acceptance", on the other hand, is more egalitarian. It doesn't depend upon whim the way tolerance does, and it requires thought and reason. In order to accept something, you have to understand it, or at least some of it. There is communication where there is acceptance.

Yes, you're right here as well. Acceptance is a better word. I'm not sure that I would go as far as you in saying that tolerance is a power-over word, and acceptance could be criticised on the grounds of being potentially uncritical of abusive practices on the part of the other.

"Celebrate diversity" - I can't argue with the words here, but I wonder about the definitions. In the workplace, "diversity" has come to mean "minorities" and often specifically minorities of African origin, with all kinds of concessions given to the "diversity" that damages everyone. In Numenism, we use this phrase to mean taking joy in learning about our differences and sharing information - from traditions to fashions to ways of looking at the universe. I am hoping Y meant the same thing I do, and not what workplaces mean.

Yep, I meant the same as you. Celebrating diversity does not mean we should turn a blind eye to abusive practices like female circumcision, for example.

"Be aware that different people have different ways of connecting with the divine" (snipped the last bit because it was examples) - I don't see how we can not be aware of this, at least in America. We're inundated with it because we are a cultural polyglot. I see this as more of a cultural attribute than a religious one. We don't address it specifically in Numenism because it falls under so many other areas it doesn't need a stand-alone statement.

I was thinking of the claims to exclusive truth made by certain Christians.

"Celebrate being alive" - I agree with this. I'd go farther and say we should revel in being alive. We are individuated corporeal beings for a reason, and part of that reason is to experience the physical, material world. Our senses and minds have limits placed on them by our physicality and we need to explore those limits. A large part of that exploration is enjoying the bodies we have and the senses with which we've been gifted.

Absolutely - and "revel" is a good word!

"Be able to discuss theology and philosophy without trying to impose conformity" - This needs a boundary on it. When you are discussing your religion within your religion, to other adherents and to newcomers, you do need to impose conformity, else there would be no way to differentiate between the religions. Conformity itself is not a problem, strict and rigid adherence to conformity is. When there is no flexibility, no stretch, in theology and philosophy, it doesn't grow, but it definitely needs the boundaries of conformity so it can reach beyond them. It's like why we have physical form - we need the shape of our bodies and the limits of our corporeality so we can use it as a touchstone for exploring beyond that. Insert the word "rigid", and I'd agree here.

Interesting - yes we need a framework and a tradition, and also to stretch the boundaries. I was thinking of rigid conformity, actually.

"Honour the contributions of science and the arts" - Do more than honour them, celebrate them! They are sacred acts, exploring the boundaries of our knowledge and experience, providing us with a clearer picture of divinity through its works. Science measures what we know, tests it, and tests it again when new knowledge comes along. There is nothing in science that can contradict the existence of divinity. There is nothing in art that can profane it, either. Both, together and separately, explore our world. We need them.

Celebrate and revel in - yes! And I agree with everything else you have said here too - I especially like "There is nothing in science that can contradict the existence of divinity. There is nothing in art that can profane it, either."

"Cultivate virtue" - define "virtue".

Ah well I deliberately didn't define that - but I was thinking of the 8 Wiccan Virtues, the Nine Noble Virtues of Heathenry, and the Roman Virtues. Each religion has a different set of virtues - but I certainly wasn't thinking of chastity, modesty, or anything life-denying.

"Resist oppressive practices and institutions" - Gotta define "oppressive" first. What is oppressive to one person may be liberating to another. Parenting is oppressive, even the most liberated parenting. Non-parenting can also be oppressive in a different way. Business practices share many of the same attributes as parenting, as does governance. So, we need to define and set boundaries for what we consider oppressive before we can teach resistance to it.

Setting boundaries (as parents do) is not oppressive - but putting boundaries where some people cannot possibly conform to them (e.g. telling gays they're not allowed to have sex, even in a loving consensual relationship) is oppressive in any system of thought.

"Stimulate all the senses" - I'm not sure where she's going with this one. In Numenism, we teach that humans have 9 distinct and functioning senses that can be honed with practice. Most humans only recognize 5 senses, so by definition, all non-Numenists are haphazardly connecting with the 4 senses that are not commonly recognized.

I was thinking of those religious practices that only really appeal to the right brain or the left brain - also I get spiritual stimulation from smells and sounds as well as words. Also sexual/sensual and spiritual feelings overlap. Do tell me about the nine senses, that is interesting.

"Honour sexuality in all its consensual forms as a divine gift" - I left the brackets out because I feel they shouldn't be there. Sexuality is only a part of it, too. I'd broaden it to "sensuality", which goes well beyond sexuality and may or may not include sex as part of it.

Yes, sexuality and sensuality certainly! I only put in the brackets because if you say to a Pagan, "honour sexuality", they know it means "in all its forms" and don't need telling, whereas if you say it to a Christian, you have to add it in so they know you're talking about all of it.

"Relax and let go" - hmmmm - again, I'm not sure where she's going with this.

It was based on the Taoist idea that all you have to do is relax, not strain to achieve enlightenment.

Now, moving beyond her list and to the paragraph below, I'd like to address three things:

"So if the Divine source is everywhere and in everyone, then we must reconnect with each other as well as with the source. " - not "reconnect", but recognize and acknowledge the connection that is there.

Agreed, "recognize and acknowledge the connection that is there" is better.

"The Divine is both immanent and transcendent, so it's not good enough to say that the physical world is illusory or fallen - we must be aware of the Divine presence within it." - I can't address this on the same level because the physical world is not illusory or fallen, it's a part of divinity. That, by our definition, means it can't be illusory unless divinity is illusory. It can't be fallen because as divine, it remains fully within grace. We need to move beyond awareness of divinity and into acceptance, integration, reveling in divinity and the world in which we exist as individuated corporeal beings.

Agree strongly!

"And we must be aware that our perspective is finite, whereas the Divine perspective is infinite and seen from all points simultaneously." - I agree we must be aware our perspective is finite - it's part and parcel of being corporeal and individuated - but being aware of being finite doesn't mean we can't push those boundaries and make our finitude broader. I disagree that the divine perspective is infinite. We don't know that. We can't even make educated guesses about that. We can agree that divinity's perspective is broader, wider, less finite than ours, but we can't say it's infinite.

Agree strongly.

Now, having looked at Y's list and gone through our Numenist dogmas and teachings, I want to say there is no such thing as a "proper" religion. Religions are social constructs, addressing the needs of the society within which it exists. There can be false religions created by individuals by which they hope to profit materially - these are usually called cults. There are religions that can be hi-jacked by unscrupulous people and used for their ends rather than the goals established by the founders of the religion - and all religions have human founders. Even when they claim divine inspiration, in the end, the adherents are attracted by the human(s) proselytizing for it.

Yep, agree with the above, too. The "proper religion" thing was meant to be tongue-in-cheek.

Any religion which promotes greater recognition and connection with divinity is a "proper" religion. That is the single and only attribute of religion that makes it religion and not government. Everything else attributed to religion is societal, and subject to the needs of society and the times in which the people live.

Yes, this is very true, but religion needs reforming sometimes to get rid of oppressive practices (but see discussion above about what might constitute oppression).

In response to elfwreck's comment, yes, incest is a bad idea (even between consenting adults) because of the psychological damage caused by it, and if offspring results from the intercourse, genetic damage. Ability to consent - tricky question - usually begins (legally) at the age of consent, but I'd still be concerned about huge age differences in relationships, just because of the difference in power between the partners.

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