How Oddly “Conservative” of Me!

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Under most circumstances, I don’t like to have all kinds of labels attached to me. For many years, I understood labels as being nasty constrictions on the True Soul which underlies all things, and that to label ourselves was to become “attached” to something in the world, to some aspect of our transient selves.

Laying aside the Buddhist dogma and focusing on things from a practical angle is also an option.

The reality is, practically speaking, that we must necessarily identify ourselves to others in some way if we are to live in the world. This same rule does not apply equally to a monk living in a monastery among other monks.

But I am not a monk. Have I considered it? Sure. But I am not a monk, and I cannot live my life as one.

Perhaps the middle road of labels should be taken as well- accept labels when they are useful, as in social situations, but do not sit around and twiddle your thumbs thinking about the label when you are not socially engaged. Labels are simply reference points of convenience; use them as such.

The preface being said, I’ll get to my point- under normal circumstances, someone might label me as being “progressive” or “liberal.” This holds especially true in south Alabama.

I found myself on the other side of the spectrum concerning a recent situation (early 2009) that happened in, of all places, the Episcopal Church. A woman Priest by the name of Ann Holmes Redding claimed to be both a Christian and a Muslim.

They defrocked her.

(Wait for it.)

AS THEY VERY WELL SHOULD HAVE!!!

There you are, the “conservative” statement that I was planning to make the whole time.

Whereas I feel that a person can identify with the Beauty, Truth, and Holiness of a given religious tradition that is not one’s own, and in many cases, one can adopt certain practices from that tradition and its culture that are congruent with one’s own, I think that it is also intellectually dishonest for someone who is a representative of a particular tradition and not merely a lay practitioner to try to represent multiple traditions.

The situation of the layman varies from this. Depending on the religious tradition, a layman may be able to practice more than one religious tradition. Layman represent the tradition, but not in the same way that the Priesthood does.

True, I think that the core of religious traditions are the same- the internal essence remains the same across most of them, the Holiness, Love, and Bliss that are God.

But think of it this way: Alabama elects Jane Doe to be our Senator, so she goes to the US Congress to represent Alabama.

Not Georgia.

Not Florida.

Not California

ALABAMA.

Now, some might argue that the political situation differs from the religious one, but the point I’m making is that this Priest came from a specific religious “territory” but was attempting to hypothetically represent two different religious “territories,” which in this case are separated by a wide gulf of theological opinions and commentary.

Another situation that is similar but offers a solution is the Kevin Thew Forrester, an Episcopal Bishop who has a decade-long history of practicing Zen Buddhist meditation. Having reading his statement on the matter, the difference is that Forrester was led full-circle to the mystics and contemplatives of the Christian Tradition; in essence, he took a method, found it in his own tradition, and went on his merry way. The so-called “lay ordination” he received merely means that the Buddhists recognize that he’s trying to alleviate suffering in the world, and what could be more Christ-like?

The difference is remarkable, as well- the Zen meditation isn’t exclusively owned by Buddhists, and that particular practice is not incompatible with Christianity, as meditation is a huge part of the Christian Tradition (unbeknownst to many Christians themselves who would argue otherwise.)

This is not about “my God is bigger than your God” or “my religion is better than your religion,” in case you’re wondering. Rather, it is a matter of integrity and consistency; it is a matter of the preservation of certain traditions that we already represent and finding fulfillment in our being representatives of that tradition without having to take on the traditions of others as well.

There. I’ve said my piece.


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Memoirs of My Religion III

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During my post-Christian era, the major religions that came to the forefront for me were Wicca and Buddhism. What I liked about them specifically, I’ll try to spell out here, as they were symbolic of the larger struggle that I experience even to this day.

Wicca appealed to me for the sake of power and by virtue that all was related to nature. Allow me to first back up, though, and bring out something else:

When I was in 5th grade, the movie The Craft came out. Magic had always interested me, specifically the kind you see wizards and witches using (I was obsessed with the Wicked Witch of the West as a child), and The Craft, when I finally saw it, brought out a theological point that I didn’t quite understand.

Namely, that theological point occurs when Sarah asks about Manon.

Nancy explains that Manon is like God and the Devil- that it’s everything. It’s the moon, it’s the rocks, it’s the trees. If God and the Devil were playing football, Manon would be the stadium they played on, it would be the Sun that shown down on them.

And provided, this concept of God resonates heavily with the concept of Brahman from the Hindu traditions, and the reality is that it magnifies God to be much larger and more inclusive than the evangelical Christian idea of God. There’s not a lot of room for argument on that.

Thus, Wicca was in. In the more orthodox sense of Wicca (if such a statement can be made), there is actually the worship of a God and a Goddess. They are, however, synonymous with Nature in most cases, and the question of whether they’re actual anthropomorphic spirits, personified energetic currents, archetypes, or symbols is often a moot point in the actual practice of Wicca.

The structure of Wiccan ritual was neatly defined. The theology was laid out, and as far magic and casting spells went, this was largely left up to the practitioner.

There’s an entire blog I’ll have to write about the politics within Wicca and the larger Pagan and Neo-Pagan community, along with the realm of arguing who is and isn’t Wiccan and who is and isn’t a witch.

Naturally, as a teenager outside the mainstream, using the edgier term “witch” was totally in with me. Also, I had a tendency to be drawn more towards spells and spell-books, and naturally I missed the deeper spiritual current that existed in Wicca.

The other majorly influential religion at this time was Buddhism. Buddhism was and is part and parcel of Japanese culture as well as the culture of East Asia in general. Buddhism also afforded me something that seemed more realistic- the concept of Nirvana, a state of being in which one experiences bliss, compassion, and wisdom. The ethical arguments of the Buddhists, the principles of meditation and the rational explanations that were given appealed to my highly skeptical mind.

But Wicca and Buddhism had serious theological conflicts. Now that I look back, I see they are in reality not as conflicted as I thought, and I have managed to gather what the crux of the problem is, glossing over it in other entries.

In the end, it went something like this: I was Buddhist as my religion, but not Wiccan as my religion. I practiced magic, yes, but not in terms of a religious structure.

Around this same time, a former friend, the same one who introduced me to comparative religion and the Astrotheology I had been so avid about a few years before, began to pursue Sufism because of his philosophy teacher.

Sufism, in a nutshell and by most people, would be classified simply as Islamic mysticism. The current of Sufism my friend brought was not quite like that.

Sufism was all about love. Love, Longing, and God. God was everything, and everything was God. The concepts were highly analogous to Buddhism but made use of Western religious words and imagery. The Sufis largely were everything that the fundamentalist Muslims were not- loving, embracing, tolerant, filled with a love for God and all mankind and wanting peace in the world.

The current of Sufism affected me, somehow. I’m still not sure when it took, when it began to happen, but I firmly believe even now that God cried out to me then in a way that I had never heard Him.

Then came the dark era. The same friend introduced me to a website called the Actual Freedom Trust. The AFT claimed to be a new, non-spiritual way to find liberation. Their leader, Richard, claimed to have found a state no one else had ever been in and developed a method to find that state.

Somehow, they really brought me to a point of fear, a point of, “What if when we die, we really do just stop existing?” that caused me to become one of their blind followers. The only solution, if we just die when we die, is to seek out this state Richard’s talking about!

This was my next real experience with cults.

My critical thinking skills were not sharp enough at the time, and inability to question authority except in extreme cases of abuse led me to swallow huge amounts of Actual Freedom “dogma.” Intuitively, I knew something was wrong, though I was unable to articulate exactly what it was about the AFT that bothered me so much.

I fought against their concepts but felt the pressure of the authority prevented me from thinking for myself.

At this time, I declared myself an avowed atheist, I became more arrogant and self-righteous than I had ever been (after all, I suddenly found the “right” religion again), and I was literally more miserable than I had ever been before.

Off and on again there was an internal battle with Actual Freedom, and finally at the beginning of 2006, I managed to completely shirk the 3 year long battle and move on with my life.

One of my first assessments of the AFT prior to my swallowing their dogma was that they were simply parroting mysticism of old, and even though it was repackaged and resold teachings of all the world’s traditions, they acted like they had something new- but it wasn’t. It was simply mysticism put in extremely materialistic terms. Numerous people would say things to get approval, and numerous other people said stupid things to try to explain to the poor idiotic fools who didn’t agree with them just why they were wrong.

Making an open comparison between Actualism and Mysticism was tantamount to heresy and created all kinds of ridicule of just how wrong people were.

Eventually the abuses, the lies, the contradictions, the blatant superiority complex of Richard and his followers, and failure of the method to deliver what it promised it would deliver to me caught up with me, and I rightly left that path.

That brings us almost into the modern era of my spirituality- almost, but not quite, which is to say we probably have two or three more blogs on this subject.

Beaux


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