Monday, September 17, 2012

Response: A Pagan Finds Religion

Today, Timothy Dalrymple posted an article "A Pagan Finds Religion" and addresses his recent meeting and subsequent flight with Star Foster. Dalrymple discusses Paganism in the context of comparing it to Christianity, and also talks about Foster's "spiritual but not religious" experiences. 

While some of his article makes good points and is pretty well written (particularly the first five paragraphs), it started to rub against me starting in the first sentence of the sixth paragraph. Dalrymple is right; Pagans tend not to like being told that our spirituality is a negative reaction towards the Christian community/Church with which the majority of us grew up in. Personally, I did not turn towards my Pagan path because of some "failures" of the Catholic Church (which I had been Christened in and had gone through Communion and Sunday school and the whole nine yards). I turned to/was guided to Paganism because it fit my soul and filled a hole in my heart that Christianity never could. Yes, I had issues with the Church. Yes, I don't agree with the things that the Church does. Yes, there are failures and excesses in the Church. No, I didn't leave them solely because of their pitfalls (although it did make it way easier). 

The kick in the teeth for me was this:
"I find the historical scholarship of the Pagan communities sorely wanting, and the philosophy and theology behind it all is not yet mature. Although it’s always harder to hear an outsider say it, I think most thoughtful pagans agree (and many say openly) that there is, quite naturally, a lot of growing left to do."
..... Uh? So tell me, how is it a religion that is based off the historical scholarships, philosophies and theologies of an even older religion, older than your religion, is not yet mature or is sorely lacking? And a related question, why is it that a great majority of what the Old Religion taught is preserved within Christianity if it had been lacking beforehand? As to the growing, for a great many traditions, the whole point of their religion is growth. Nature grows, why shouldn't our beliefs? Nothing remains the same, so embrace the change and revel in its delight. 

Paganism is both new and old. Many are of the opinion (me included) that Neo-Paganism is a continuation of the Old Ways, before Christianity forced its "death," but it is also new in that it picks up customs of other religions (excluding the Reconstructionists who strive for the original, unblended religion of their particular path) like meditation or Karma. Decisions of whether or not to pick one deity or honor (I don't like the word "worship"; it conjures a negative image and isn't something that I want in regards to my Gods) a deity is a personal one and has nothing to do with Paganism's "newness." Did you know, in ancient times, many people would pick which God or Goddess was their patron, or would inherit via family ties? Many people would dedicate themselves to a deity, but that didn't stop them from honoring other Gods in their pantheon. So no, it isn't "new."
Vestal Virgins, anyone? (source)
"Personally, of course, I don’t want Pagans to find religion, because I want pagans to recognize that the great God above all gods become incarnate and communicated his love and reconciliation to the world through Jesus Christ, the God-man."
It is condescending, bullshit attitudes like this that contribute to the rebuke against Christianity in the Pagan community. That's all I have to say about that. /end

Spirituality isn't something that solidifies into a religion. Spirituality deals directly with the spirit or soul (typically a personal thing), not needing doctrine or institutions to help it. Dictionary says spiritual means "of, relating to, or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things." It is contained completely inside, an internal development.

Religion, on the other hand, requires doctrine and institutions for it to function as a cohesive whole. Hindu, for instance, has in common the beliefs of "Avatar Vada, Ekeshwaravada (One Supreme Divine Reality), Veda Praman (Authority of the Vedas), Atman, Karma, Yoga, Ahimsa, Four Puruṣārthas, Varnashrama dharma and Punarjanma (Reincarnation)" (source) but differ internally by which face of the Supreme Divine they worship (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and Kalika, etc.) and how and when and why. Dictionary says religion is "a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs."

Therefore, someone can be spiritual but not religious, religious but not spiritual, spiritual AND religious, or none of the above. One has nothing to do with the other and are separate. Personally, I feel like I should be both spiritual and religious, as both have good qualities.

The larger framework is something I have been thinking about for a while. I cede that it is hard to express something so personal that you can't find the words to even describe it, mostly because your language doesn't have the words you need. It is hard to describe exactly what it is that your particular deity wants when S/He shows you what S/He want in complex emotions, compound pictures, and hidden symbols only you can even begin to comprehend. This is what we call a Mystery. Describing how the color dark blue tastes or how the growth of an entire forest sounds or how the falling footsteps of a tiger feels or how a particular musical note smells is easier to relay than a Mystery. 

However, that doesn't mean that you won't be understood anyway. Tell a Pagan that the color dark blue tastes like 9pm in the countryside skyclad at Lughnasadh, and we will believe you and relate to it. Being different isn't wrong, not trying is. If being separate and distinct makes you feel isolated, try expressing yourself to others. Someone will get it, and it will probably be more people than you think. Again, this goes back to the whole idea of a Community of Solitaries is also a Community of One. There is a cohesiveness in our community, and it revolves around being distinct and different. 

As a last point, I leave with this picture that grasped me a while back ago. I still love it. 

EDIT: Other responses! 

Joseph Bloch over at Witches and Pagans wrote a response, "Grieve Indeed the Growth of Neo-Paganism" and says what I wanted to in much more colorful words and a little more bluntly. (Originally posted on GOPagan)

EDIT #2 - Star Foster has now joined the conversation. Her response is worth reading, as she expresses the other side of the fence.


  1. I've not only posted a reply over at my blog (, but also left a comment on the original site.

    I doubt that it will see the light of day, as comments there are moderated. It said, in effect, that we as Pagans and Heathens would be in a much better position of scholarship and maturity had Christianity not engaged in systematically suppressing, oppressing, legally sanctioning, and obliterating our heritage.

    What a condescending, presumptuous dolt.

    1. You said what I wanted to say in a way that I would have gotten smacked for. I admire your tongue! Condescending is exactly the word I thought when I read the article. However, I am more saddened than angry, in that someone who claims to have high degrees in philosophy and religious studies could be so very far below the "amateur" philosophers I talk to on a regular basis. He very much makes everyone else look bad.

      And a quip: if he isn't as insulting as he says he is in person than on his blog, it's probably because he knows when to shut his mouth in person. Just sayin.

  2. Joseph, was sharing this with friends but now your page is unavailable?

    1. Try the GOPagan link, at the bottom of my post. That should work.