The best conversations I ever had concerning “religion” (and non-religion) were the peaceful and intellectual dialogues on the subject with my family doctor; who was a Catholic with admitted Christian principles. The interesting thing about the interchange of ideas and beliefs we discussed was the fact that I am Pagan; and I am on the conflictual side of biblical and christian inspired dogma. To escalate the previously mentioned exchange into the world of peculiarity; I am also considered a pagan witch – and an atheist. I can’t accurately speculate what Doc learned from me; but what I learned from him was that the “key” to the enigma of religious and non-religious doctrine that I was searching for – was ingrained in the concept of “symbolism”. I also learned that it is rare for two people of opposing religious views to amicably discuss significant differences in an entirely benevolent atmosphere; it will be an opportunity I will truly miss – and I will always reflect on it with satisfaction. “You can’t be an atheist, and also a pagan witch”, a gay catholic priest once said hysterically to me. I had to process that quote at the time; before I offered him my response.
The answer, I intrinsically concluded, was that thanks to the 1st Amendment, we can profess to believe whatever we choose; no matter how sane or insane our peers perceive us to be. This constitutional law was conveniently enticing and acceptable to me, and it should have been to him as well.
“It’s a conflict comparable to you being gay – and also a catholic priest”, I eventually stated. “We both contradict the standards, thus establishing who we are. We have a lot in common”.
One of the most profound pagan slogans of ideology I personally adhere to is: “And harm ye none, do as thy wilt”. I do not consider that slogan religious; I view it as exemplary in spite of it’s simplicity and ambiguity. But never-the-less, the ideological slogan works for me.
I also contend that belief in that slogan could possibly have prevented several wars. Tolerance is undeniably an elusive policy in religious differences that have led to historic global atrocities; where the proverbial “grace of god” was apparently invisible.
What also works for me is the utilization of that readily available psychological symbolism; and its concept of omnipotence that Doc embedded in my brain. But symbolism was there all the time; I just didn’t have that special key to identify it for the superlative medicine that it was. Symbols speak to the unconscious mind, and enable us to do fascinating things; irrespective of our differences in religious belief – or non beliefs.
Many pagans I have met are deists, and some are not. I assume most Christians believe in the one identified biblical deity referred to as “God”. Some Christian based religions expand the ideology to include Jesus and the “holy spirit”, or the Holy Trinity. It seems as though this theology represents three deitys to me – a form of polytheism ; bordering on paganism perhaps. However, I’m not a theologian by any formal degree; but therein lies the convenience to their faith based opinions – reliance upon absolute and scientific proof is non-existent. It is also quoted by many of the faithful followers to be “not necessary”.
To be honest, I grew up catholic, and I still don’t understand the theories proselytized by that faith. It appears as though there is a confluence of paganism both overriding, and underlying numerous conflicts in the Bible; and verses in one chapter destabilize theological messages in other verses. Apparently a satisfactory explanation to this existence of literal contradiction in the bible is eradicated by the professed “faith” itself, and the manipulation of esoteric interpretation.
But symbols abound in most religions; and non-religions as well. I learned early in life that most Christians I personally knew were unable to recite what the ten commandments specifically stated; and this fact seemed to not matter to them. What I think really mattered to them was the symbolism of the arguably mythical stone tablet, and it’s ability to appear in constant replication throughout the USA.
Doc explained to me that some of his patients believed that certain “remedies” that those same patients chose by themselves, which were actually placebos – were capable of making those patients believe that they were actually healing. He further suggested an obvious analytical hypothesis: “if it works for them – why spoil it?”. If it enables them to function, and they believed their pain was healed – then “let it go”. I slowly, but conclusively reached an affirmative understanding; but not without the added virtuous ingredient of tolerance.
I finally realized his point: that modern medicine can sometimes mimic ancient medicine; and there was a parallel relationship frequently shared by placebos, symbols, medicine, and certain aspects of religion and theology.
“And harm ye none, do as thy wilt” – that would include yourself.
Now we can add another useful euphemism: “whatever floats your boat.”
Setting aside the arguments for and against God, or any deity, maybe it’s wiser to consider that certain people need a spirituality, or a symbol to enable themselves to feel better; and to be socially and psychologically functional. Whether or not the religion, symbolism, or spirituality is like that placebo-medicine that Doc mentioned – it is irrelevant. If it’s “real” to the person who utilizes it; and it cures, heals, or empowers them to function and be productive – then leave it alone.
Where the religion becomes poisonous, I believe; is when a certain religious adherent insists that others be converted or saved by that religious adherents chosen doctrine. Then multiply this by numerous religious believers proclaiming their doctrine is superior; and belittling countless others who do not agree. The contagious and repetitious persistence of this ideological indoctrination has cross-fired and ricocheted throughout history.
Its perseverance and existence have the capability of tragically developing into widespread destruction, and genocide; irrespective of its original religious intent. When the benign practice of the utilization of symbolism dissolves, and is replaced by an antithetical fanaticism, the original intended cure transforms into the poison.
One can test my proclamation of this potential for poisonous development on the internet; merely enter any social site representing any specified religion, and state that you believe in a different religion or non-religion. Then observe the heated and hateful comments that begin to appear, and the escalation of the bigotry that results when the discussions are not moderated. Spirituality and tolerance disappear within minutes.
So what is the solution for the unification of mankind, to enable all of humanity to accept each others ideological convictions and get along?
I think the revolutionists who started this country had it right in 1776; do not allow government to make any law establishing any religion, or non religion. In spite of this, we can witness religious activists proclaiming in manipulative ways that their particular religion is the established religion of the USA. It is an unfortunate biased view, and it is continuing to grow – and it’s also contained in the symbolism of many modern religious articles and posts.
This undermining of the constitutional intent of religious freedom and the innocence of simple diverse symbolism, prompts us to realize that the potential for that poisonous bigotry is still flowing. The virtue of true tolerance may very well be disguised as the capability to become invisible, deaf, dumb, and blind.
I fear that many people will end their religious prejudices only when the final curtain falls, but we’ll never know if they advance their journey after this life into heaven, hell, or absolutely nowhere. Ironically, at that point it won’t matter what their religious convictions are; the universe has no boundary in sight, and the deceased have never reported scientifically or conclusively to us what they have encountered after their earthly clock has stopped.
On a different note, “there is no such thing as a pagan-atheist-witch”, I have been told. And that is the very reason I find comfort in being a pagan-atheist-witch. In my case – ambiguity is bliss.
Perhaps I really don’t exist, and that supposition may be the the best solution to understanding why I don’t fit into any categorized religious statistic. I always have checked the box that said “other”.
And that “other” place is such a wonderful place to visit; and to escape to as well. My conclusion to all: practice and/or believe in anything you wish, as long as it works for you – and “harm ye none, do as thy wilt”. Whatever floats your symbolic boat.
But above all – let everybody float their own boats; and hopefully intelligence and logic can thwart the shaky government from endorsing any particular boat.