Outgrowing? Really?

Jan 12, 2009
It seems everyone who is anyone is still exploding over the end of deo's shadow and, more importantly, deo and Mandy announcing a conversion to atheism. And since part of the reason you start a blog is to stake out your own little soapbox to say whatever you want, I see no reason why I shouldn't contribute (although I certainly don't consider myself "anyone" of note).

Here's the thing: I've tried to read their relevant blog posts, and I just can't. It causes me too much emotional anguish. Possibly some would say that this makes me one of those people who is just in denial about their true rationalist nature, but that's not it at all. Quite the opposite, really.

It's all this talk of "outgrowing" that gets me first. However well meant, and however well it may describe personal journeys, it's condescending. Just like the conversion story, it's a cliche that carries more baggage than most people probably intend it to. Mostly, though, it's just condescending, and I've been paring condescending crap out of my life for a while now. Good-bye hardcore feminist blogs, political opinion columns...and atheist conversion stories.

Just like Jeff at Druid Journal, I am Pagan not in spite of its irrationality but because of it. And this is not in contradiction to my scholarly self: The more I learn about my brain and my culture and the world I live in, the more that irrationality seems to be supported. Discussions filled with anecdotes about why magic does or does not work seem to me to miss the point. The Universe, left entirely unobserved (if that were even possible), does not make sense. We, as living, thinking, spiritual beings, can make it make sense, with physics, with anthropology, or with religion. All of these things make sense in different ways. You can't travel to Mars with anthropology, but you can't talk to the Martians with physics. And I don't want to say there are things in this world you can't do without religion, because there's a quality of mind that atheists have, too; and I don't want to call it spiritual, because that has all the wrong connotations, but it's what gets you through three o'clock in the morning on the longest night of your life, and what carries the conversation at three o'clock in the morning when you're surrounded by friends and don't want to go to bed. And that thing, whatever it is, is important. It needs to be acknowledged, and spoken to.

I have a secret to tell you: I've never had an earth-shattering Mystery Religion Moment. I've had many small ones, but never That One that so many people seem to have. So that's not why I'm Pagan, either. It isn't because I was raised in it, or because I want a comfort zone of undemanding spiritual fluffiness, or because I'm immature enough to believe in magic (please, dear readers, read that last clause as full of sarcasm, because it is). I believe that the gods are real, although I cannot pin down a definition of "real" that works in that sentence. And I believe that I owe them something.

No, modern Paganism is not really very like ancient Paganism, nor could it ever be. I don't know that I could ever spill enough pixels on how much I dislike the idea that ancient Paganism is the authority for everything we do. No, modern Paganism is most often not rational or scientific. There is nothing wrong with rational and scientific, but that is not what we do. We do that stuff that happens at three o'clock in the morning, and we do it the best we can with a little history and a little imagination and a framework someone patched together about a century ago, because there is nothing wrong with irrational either, and we need it, too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Third to last paragraph:

That three-in-the-morning mindset can be fairly enough described as an altered state of consciousness. Clinically it's a submania for a lot of people - when you're sleep-deprived you can hit a little pocket of it, and psychologists use this method to trigger mania in susceptible individuals for therapy purposes - but most artists, musicians and other thinkers just call it inspiration, because it tends to be the truth. And it is important. To see the world from another perspective, to be removed from the way we usually see things, can give us a look past the things that usually sit in the way of one little comprehension or another. The feeling of coming across so many little revelations can frequently coincide with feelings of a brush with the sacred; you're seeing little bits of truth, and it's powerful. Religious or not, or minds are built the same way, and we tend, as a species, toward liking it when things make sense. You said elsewhere that we're pattern-seeking, story-telling animals, and that gods are stories; when we see those patterns, we might just as well be seeing gods. And some of us are. But we all feel gratified by the comprehension, and it often leads to the sort of reflection that helps people in the long run.