Thursday, March 13, 2008

Maturity in Religion

Op Ed

No ill will is intended towards the Younger Faith Christianity here, and these remarks are directed at those forms of Christianity familiar to the writer, although I suspect others will recognize such traits as well. They may be considered words of wisdom from an Older Faith as good rede to help guide the Younger Faith into maturity. This is specifically an "op ed" piece to set it off from other pieces, and to accentuate that this will be a shooting from the hip personal opinion in the full spirit of heathen frankness.

Heathenism can help you to become a mature human being.

I doubt whether Christianity is usually a religion that can ever help people become mature. I suspect people become mature despite rather than because of Christianity.

Jesus tells us to love, but only the mature person knows how to love, and to attempt to love, with no guidelines, and no maturity, is to bungle love, and love bungled is not really love but folly. And Paul's hundred sets of rules and thou-shalt-not's don't really help.

Christianity may well have worked for Jews, because it built upon their Old Testament. Judaism is a religion that can help someone become mature. It's tribal, it's traditional, and it is realistic about the world. It is not world-denying. A Jew who becomes a Christian truly adds a New testament onto the solid foundation of a much older one.

But some foolish choices were made when Christian missionaries expanded from their Jewish base into the pagan world. A deliberate program of negating the "Old Testament" --- ie., the tribal traditions and religion --- of each pagan tribe was commenced, replacing it with a Jewish Old Testament that didn't fit the culture -- for all its genuine wisdom and value -- and that had never really belonged. In short, it was an imperialistic imposition that gave no official recognition to the older traditions in which the cultures had grown.

Now even if the missionized cultures needed to improve some things -- and there is no doubt they did, for the contact with Rome had overmilitarized many of the pagan cultures -- it is one thing to encourage improvement from within, and another thing to impose it from without, while at the same time encouraging the abandonment of all the old traditions. What a setup for schizoid hypocrisy! To call the older traditions "demonic" simply because they were subject to abuse (as all traditions and religions, even Christianity, are) was absurd and insulting.

Traditions are designed, in part, to help people become mature. They are guided by ideals, yes, but they are realistic and humanistic within a context of larger powers and possibilities. They speak to the real (wo/wer-) man where he or she stands, with the desires and conflicts he or she faces, and the strengths that can be cultivated. While remaining edifying, it speaks to, through, and with the culture itself, and all of its cultural opportunities and temptations, without condemnation.

Christianity is a graft, a stunted dwarf grafted onto what was once a magnificent tree that was hacked down nearly to its roots. It is a graft, like mistletoe. It cannot bring about the health of the body. Not in its present state. Not without recognizing and officially receiving the "Old Testament" of each heathen culture as its Old Testament --- and let the Jews have theirs for themselves, with grace and good will. What Christianity would result would not doubt be a strange one from modern standards --- but there's little worry, as even the most liberal churches are not liable to even consider this possibility any time soon.

It's a shame, really, because a religion of love that emphasizes that a kingdom of social justice and healing can one day reign on this earth is really such a good idea. The core of Jesus' theology is good shamanism, guided by love : healing does come through a vision that reconnects us to the best of the Golden Age, stretching us towards the realization of that in our own lives. Such stretching is not a problem, and quite compatible with a realistic attitude to human capacities. It is, in a sense, a reclamation of what has been lost, on a higher level. We had fairy-doctors who invoked the magical utopia of the fairy-world to inspire healing, so the basic concept is not foreign to Northern Europe.

But Jesus' quite worldly challenge to empire -- an ambition to replace empire with a kingdom of justice and wholeness in this world, even in this lifetime --- was postponed and finally delayed to an afterlife that became so obsessive that this world lost its value.

All of this is Eastern Mediterranean religious and social politics. Why did this need to be imposed upon Northern Europe? Why take your problems and conflcits and export them? We had a Wisdom Tradition, too, and we had our own problems, which needed creative, collaborative problem-solving, not forced importation of other people's problems! Obviously there's something universal in any religion, but that's hardly the point : each religion arises in response to a particular context which it wraps itself around and which gives it meaning. The context cannot be exported ; only the text. But the text has no meaning without the context. And Christianity tried to use its text to eradicate our context! It failed, partially, leaving a largely unspoken context to frame a foreign text it really doesn't know what to do with, and thus gives hypocritical-holy lip service to. It's so sacred, it's so meaningful, ok now let's go live real life, even if we are obligated to feel guilty about it.

Don't get me wrong. I like Jesus. Freeing the captives? Pure Freyr. Caring for orphans and widows? An integral part of the Sibbe (clan) system. Restoring Golden Age conditions our cynical and jaded age has abandoned for pitiful, all-too-accepted degradations? We all pray for the return of Baldur. May Frodi's Frith be with us! Love thy neighbor as thyself? Hey, as long as it is accepted that we have a right to have a self that we love, good hospitalitiy, kindness, and frith are heathen values, too! Frodi helped oust the giants through encouraging folk-guilds that spread the practice of mutual aid.

But the pleasure-denying stuff? The moralistic judgements on Who can do What with Whom and Where, that has no connection to their actual feelings, involvements, and oaths? No thank you.

Turn the other cheek? Is this a tactical or an absolute rule? If you mean to keep a cool head and choose our battles, on our own terms, rather than as an automatic kneejerk reaction to someone else's hothead provocations, sure. But we don't like being pushed around, and generally don't think it's good policy to allow that to go on. We say -- You don't let people disrespect you, not without consequences. Do you mean seek the most peaceful means of resolving any conflict? Prudence alone dictates that, and as heathens, we are always advised to exercise moderation. But if we let someone strike us with absolutely no answer, we are encouraging their arrogance. Oh, I'll admit some of us got way too far into that whole vengeance/feud cycle. That was indeed one of our problems. But our wergild system was making good progress on that. I don't ween that absolute submissiveness to aggression constitutes good wisdom, and therefore cannot be a solution to our problem. On the other hand, if the maxim is a tactical guide rather than an absolute rule, could the contextual conditions that would call for such tactics be elucidated for our evaluation? You see, it seems to me that we never got to vote on which verses we were really going to put our strength behind, and that means this was shoved wholesale down our throats. Look what turning that cheek did to us --- it only encouraged the aggression. Such imposition was contrary to our democratic councils.

And loving our enemy? What does that mean? Does the enemy stop being our enemy merely for being loved by us? Surely if they are not merely a rival or an opponent, they are an enemy because they have done hateful things which have aroused our righteous anger. We have a philosophy. It isn’t written in any books claiming to be scripture, but it’s nevertheless good heathen law --- law in the old, heathen sense of the term --- long-layered habits of behaviour. We say, live and let live. We’re happy to love our enemy so long as the enemy stays far away and lets us live. Leave us alone, and we are quite happy with a nice, content neutrality. We don’t have to like you ; just leave us alone, and you take care of your own affairs, and we’re all good. But to not resist an aggressive enemy? Are you kidding? Perhaps you mean to not forget the humanity of the enemy? We know the enemy is human, and like all humans subject to hubris, we’re reminding the enemy of that by pushing back and putting them back into their britches, forcefully if necessary. Or do you mean, be slow to make enemies? Or be cautious about slandering mere rivals as enemies? It is true that hatred can distort perception, but as heathens, we are always cautioned into moderating extremes. That is practically a religious imperative. And only a fool is quick to make enemies, for life is already enough of a struggle without adding onto it unnecessary battles.

When we first encountered your kind, coming to share with us your truths, we listened, because Woden taught us to gain wisdom where we could, regardless of the source, regardless of its possibly foreign context. We’re a tolerant folk when we’re well-fed, unthreatened, and happy. We’ve never had a reason to reject any of the things you’ve said which have made sense --- but we get to decide which of those things make sense, when, and where, and with whom. On our terms. Not on yours. But we’re not allowed to pick-and-choose, are we? If we don’t accept the whole lock, stock, and barrel, we’re to be condemned, right? Strange, because besides the fact that perhaps a tenth of Christians even know the entire corpus, it seems to us that Christians themselves pick and choose, which is as it should be, because it is human and natural to pick-and-choose what seems of value in life. That’s the prerogative and responsibility of exercising judgement. The folk are pragmatic ; they choose what works. At the very least, they choose the workable. Only a fool forces him or her self to attempt the unworkable, and a religion which expects people to go against good, natural, common sense, and pragmatic selection of workability, is an immature religion, plain and simple.

But Christianity we’ve never really had a problem with. It’s Christian Supremacism we have a problem with, and we have a big problem with it. (Actually, supremacism of any kind is naturally our enemy.)

The problem is, Christianity --- for the most part, in its official forms, with some exceptions --- is Christian Supremacist. It’s like trying to take white supremacy out of Nazism – it really won’t work. That may sound harsh, but Christianity’s official policy is that it is the only way, and all other paths are not only deluded, but even demonic! And historically it has demonized every other approach. Yes, I know that this is not the case for good ol’ modern liberal Christianity, which is more enlightened --- but not from any impulse emerging from Christianity, mind you! Modern conditions have merely allowed healthy doses of good sense to re-emerge which makes fundamentalism appear to be the narrow nastiness that it truly is. Christian Supremacy is arrogant and invasive --- and it is our enemy, and we will love it by pushing it back until its hubris calms down to realize the sanity of live and let live. That’s really the only heathen value we wish to impose by force if necessary.

Christians who are willing to observe that rule we welcome to the table. We’ll listen --- and measure --- the wisdom you have to share --- as powerful, autonomous equals, wh you can neither shame nor put down.

But we suspect that if you’re mature enough to do this, you’re probably heathen underneath your Christianity anyway, as most Christians have been. A conceit, perhaps, but we suspect it is true, because only indigenous and realistic tradition can make someone mature. Although we say it half-jokingly and in good spirits, don’t think there’s no seriousness at all when we say – will you be a hypocritical heathen, or an authentic one? Will you be in the closet or out of the closet? Those aren’t the only choices, for the heathen ethos teaches that life seldom reduces to two choices (contrary to the thought patterns of some supremacisms), but it does make some deep thought for dialogue.

Why do I say that heathenism can help make you into a mature human being? In a certain sense, heathenism is nothing but common sense applied to spirituality. Myth and scripture are just an articulation or explication of deeper, more implicit and inchoate but nonetheless real, aspects of living a common sense spiritual life, and thus are never to be applied literally and unintelligently, but always with the intention of unlocking and awakening wisdom. One does not need to separate spirit and matter, this world and the next world, selfishness and altruism. All you need, in essence, is worth-ship and wisdom. Worth-ship is both the practice of developing your own worth, and demonstrating worth where you find value. So beginning right where you are, within your own life’s interests, passions, and pleasures, you begin applying common sense to the process of becoming the best human being you can be for your kith and kin, and you utilize the worship forms to find and fund the worth in yourself and for all the nine worlds. You stay realistic, rooted in the earthy and pragmatic, but like a tree, reaching for the stars. That is a mature approach. And its goal is not to create someone perfect, nor to castigate anyone for not being perfect. Perfection is irrelevant. The goal is not to create impossible standards that have no relationship to real life, and then to disparage when those unworkable impossibilities can't be met, but to create and strive for worthy goals and standards. Those standards may require struggle and stretching, but they are not impossible. The goal of mature religion is to help create good, whole, mature human beings, who accept their limitations, and make the best of them for themselves and the world.


Blogger SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

I talked with someone about this recently, and she suggested that "Love Thy Enemy" was actually a protest against bigotry, pointing out that families or territories enter into long-standing feuds that go on and on until no one can even remember what the original conflict was about it was so long ago ; and therefore, what Jesus was suggesting was that we look to the humanity and individuality of each person we meet, rather than automatically throwing them into the garbage bin label of "enemy" because of guilt by association. If this is indeed what Jesus meant (and perhaps the Middle East might take note of it), it does indeed have a good amount of sense to it. If this is the meaning, Shakespeare explored it romantically in "Romeo and Juliet", where a man and woman from opposing feuding clans fall in love with each other. From this interpretation, "love thy enemy" is not being interpreted personally, as in someone who has done you criminal, malicious harm, but rather is being interpreted collectively : you don't have to hate every one of the criminal's kind with inhuman contempt. From that standpoint, we do have to be careful about anything inhuman we cultivate in ourselves, because ultimately, if we allow that to go too far, we can lose our own humanity. But one wishes that if that were what Jesus meant, the context could be made a little bit more clear.

7:55 PM  

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