Intersections

Exploring the crossroads of religion, culture, and science through a Pagan lens


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Top 10 Pagan Quotes of 2017

2017 felt like being dropped into the bubbling cauldron of a new reality.  After what seemed like many years of progress on important human rights issues women’s rights to LGBTQ+ rights, this year began with women marching for inclusion, a theme that carried throughout the year.  It found the LGBTQ+ community fighting to retain marriage rights, the right to serve in the military, even the right to purchase a wedding cake.

stillProtest

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Always fighting for justice, people of color stood up and knelt, bringing greater attention to their constant struggle against the backdrop of white nationalists angrily carrying tiki torches through the streets of Charlottesville as chants of “blood and soil” rang out.

 

In what felt like a regression to the days of the Scopes Monkey Trial, scientists, of all people, were forced to take to the streets to protect evidence-based truth from attacks against national parks, climate science, even disease control.  With banned words telling researchers what they cannot include in funding requests and renegade national park Twitter accounts opening in droves, the U.S. witnessed the strange dichotomy of modern technology being used as a weapon against a dangerously medieval way of thinking.

funcrunch-20170422-4525

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Pagan community, which has long been involved in most of these issues, found itself alongside many in the mainstream culture as we joined the struggle against repression and for the future of the planet.  That battle occupied much Pagan discourse over the year, so it heavily affected this year’s Quotes of the Year.

 

As usual, these Top 10 quotes are my opinion only based on my what I have read.  If I missed something you loved, please feel free to say so in the comments.  The comments must be made by a self-identified Pagan of any tradition to be considered.  Alright, with the disclaimers and rules out of the way, here are my Top 10 Quotes of 2017…

 

  1. “In whatever form it takes, fake news is a serious concern, and it is one that all of us must manage; writers, readers, editors, artists, and leaders. That is a tall order, especially in a digital world where emotions drive content and where the immediacy of response, absent all discretionary controls, supersedes reasoned research and composed reaction. The speed of digital sharing, the ease of creation, and the ever presence of digital devices is what has made a very age-old problem a supersized monster.”

            – Heather Greene, January 14

  1. “Religions that are based on belief always fracture into different factions…but in religions like Paganism and Judaism, no one cares what you believe. If you show up at the temple and make the offerings, that’s fine. In tribal societies, you wouldn’t have been burned at a stake for what you believed.”

             – Oberon Zell, October 24

  1. What concerns me is that some Pagans in the UK seem to believe that all Muslims are responsible for these acts of terror. It concerns me particularly because we know what it is to have a very small number of people make claims to perform terrible acts in the name of our beliefs. We know there are some who claim their Paganism gives them justification to abuse others, and we know that we reject and denounce their actions in the same way that Muslims around the world reject and denounce the terrorists and their claims that the actions are in any way justified by Islam. We should know better. But it seems some within our Pagan community do not.”

              – Mike Stygal, June 7

  1.  “‘But I don’t want to get my hands dirty! I don’t want to risk something bad happening to me! Can’t I just light some candles and celebrate Imbolc and Brigid and creativity with my circle in peace?’ 

Um, no.”

             – Hecate Demeter, February 3

  1. “Working magic against a figure as powerful as the President of the United States is extremely difficult. He’s supported by the attention of millions of fans and voters, and he’s as charismatic as they come. Attracting the attention of his supporters makes our work that much harder.

          Remember the Witches Pyramid: to know, to will, to dare, and to keep silence.”

              – John Beckett, February 26

  1. “[W]hat the hell did I wake up to this morning where I had to justify not having any effs to give about the delicate sensibilities of Nazis, one of which just killed a chick?  Oh hey!  You know who else is a useless childless sl*t?  Me and many of you!  But I’m supposed to be like, oh no I don’t hate Nazis, I hate what they believe in which is the total destruction of 85% of the people I associate with.  Dude.  I hate Nazis.  I’m not going to run my car into a bunch of them unlike some people but I’m not required to be nice about Nazis.”

              – Deborah Castellano, August 15

  1. “To me, #WeAreAradia says we don’t need a savior, or one voice to save us.  We need to save ourselves, we need to be the teachers.  We need to be the learners and the guides. We need to be the Witches.  It’s a call to stand up for your beliefs.  A message, a call to action to build and use your practices to protect and to empower everyone who needs it.”

              – Laura Tempest Zakroff, January 24

wearearadia_sigil

Photo credit: Laura Tempest Zakroff

 

  1. “If this had been a pagan event, of course, we would have had a community-wide Potluck and Torch-Making a few days before.

But for the organizers of the Charlottesville alt-Reich event, apparently buying bulk at the nearest minimum-wage Big Box store was good enough.

If this is the Great White Hope of the “white race” (whatever that means), I’m afraid the prognosis isn’t very good.”

             – Steven Posch, September 13

  1. “If intention were everything, there would be little point to studying and learning to properly employ magick. We could simply buy a copy of The Secret and have a life full of everything we dreamed of.”

             – Mat Auryn, April 29

  1.  “I’m going to put my energy and my work out there to try and protect those who need protection. This is not being a “social justice warrior” this is being a damned human being who cares about the people around them.”

             – Jason Mankey, January 20

 

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Newt Scamander, Politics, and the Value of Caring

In “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” J.K. Rowling presents the familiar wizarding world she originated with Harry Potter, but turns it on its head.  Instead of Britain, the film takes place in the United States.  Different laws apply to the witches and wizards of America, a fact which becomes a source of both humor and tension.  Our main characters are not children, but adults.  Instead of spending multiple installments worldbuilding and introducing a magical system, the new series is able to jump us right into a fully fleshed out world where we all know the rules, allowing more focus on storytelling.

But more importantly, our new hero is very different.  Newt Scamander is nothing like the Boy Who Lived.  Where Harry knows from the day he enters Hogwarts that he is marked out as the savior of the wizarding world, Scamander is really nothing more than a dedicated animal lover who seeks only to rescue and preserve the world’s most misunderstood creatures.  He’s a conservationist, not a warrior.

This brilliant article explains it much better than I can.  While Harry was a swashbuckling Gryffindor, focused on courage and great deeds, Newt is a Hufflepuff – a member of the most underappreciated house at Hogwarts.  If the houses are elemental, Harry is a fire and Newt is an Earth.  Harry must focus on strength and justice and the will to fight.  Newt’s goal is to save the earth’s magical creatures, care for them, and educate others about their importance.  He’s much happier digging in the dirt to feed his beloved “beasts” than fighting wand-to-wand with dark wizards.  Hufflepuff’s key word is Loyalty, and Newt is unfailingly loyal to the animals that depend on him (and he’s happy to fight and dark wizards who might happen to threaten them).

Harry exemplifies the classic Hero’s Journey.  Newt’s largest concern is ensuring that his thunderbird gets fed.

Harry Potter. [Source: Playbuzz.com]

Harry Potter. [Source: Playbuzz.com]

Newt Scamander [Source: Warner Brothers]

Newt Scamander [Source: Warner Brothers]

The two heroes couldn’t be more different from each other, but in truth they complement each other.  They represent two different ethical ideas from psychological research: The ethic of justice and the ethic of caring.

Psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg was studied the moral development in children.  His method was to give children a problem, known as the Heinz Dilemma, and ask them their reasoning.  In short the Heinz Dilemma is as follows:

In Europe, a woman was near death from cancer.  One drug might save her, a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered.  The druggist was charging $2000, ten times what the drug had cost him to make.  The sick woman’s husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money, but he could get together only about half of what it should cost.  He told the druggist that his wife was dying and asked him to sell it cheaper or to let him pay later.  But the druggist said no.  The husband got desperate and broke into the man’s store to steal the drug for his wife.  Should the husband have done that?  Why?

Kohlberg would collect the children’s answers and categorize their reasoning.  In his research, he identified a three-level system of moral development with two sub-stages per level.  The first level focuses on following rules and avoiding punishment.  The second is more about social approval and maintaining order.  The final stage is when a person guides their reasoning based on higher, philosophical ethical principles.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

It all sounded fine until Carol Gilligan, one of Kohlberg’s students, noticed a trend.  Young girls and women tended to score on the lower levels of the scale more often than boys and men.  Males were more likely to be scored in the upper categories of moral reasoning.  

This did not sit well with Gilligan.  What she realized was that Kohlberg was bringing a masculine bias – a concept referred to in the linked article as “Toxic Masculinity” – to rate his respondents.  Gilligan theorized that men tend to reason through an ethic of justice, while women tend to utilize an ethic of caring.  She developed the Dilemma of the Porcupine and the Moles to test this theory:

It was growing cold, and a porcupine was looking for a home. He found a most desirable cave but saw it was occupied by a family of moles.

“Would you mind if I shared your home for the winter?” the porcupine asked the moles.

The generous moles consented and the porcupine moved in. But the cave was small and every time the moles moved around they were scratched by the porcupine’s sharp quills. The moles endured this discomfort for as long as they could. Then at last they gathered courage to approach their visitor.

“Pray leave,” they said, “and let us have our cave to ourselves once again.”

“Oh no!” said the porcupine. “This place suits me very well.  If you’re not happy, then you should leave!”

As with the Heinz Dilemma, what is important is not the answer, but the reasoning.  Gilligan developed a model of morality that placed self preservation at the bottom, self-sacrifice in the middle, and the principle of nonviolence at the top.  She found that female participants scored higher overall than they did in Kohlberg’s model.

 

I don’t believe that the two ethical approaches are as clear cut across binary gender lines as it may seem.  Indeed, two men – Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Ghandi – famously exemplified Gilligan’s highest principle of nonviolence.  However, I do see both ethical models as valid.  And, rather than pitting them against each other, I think we should see them as partners.

The world needs its Harry Potters: the young (or young-at-heart) people willing to risk life and limb for justice. Especially now, we need our activists on the front line protesting DAPL, taking to the streets to advocate for equal rights, and taking to social media to light the fire under under everyone else’s collective asses.

We also need our Newt Scamanders.  We need those who stay calm, assess the situation, and select their battles out of concern for those they care for.  We need our Hufflepuffs who are willing to help those in physical and emotional pain, see to the physical needs of our more vocal activists, and to tame the wild spirit of rage that can sometimes get diffused. We need those who process calmly but get the job done.  As Newt Scamander placidly states while he approaches a dangerous capture: “My philosophy is that worrying means you suffer twice.”  

We are entering into a dark time, both in the Wheel of the Year and in American politics.  Dark times are painful, but they can lead to growth.  Dr. King intentionally led his followers into painful situations to stimulate change.  The discomfort of dark times can stimulate growth and manifest will, but it takes the Hufflepuffs caring for the wounded and as much as the Gryffindors on the front line.

It was Albus Dumbledore, the wisest Harry Potter character of all, who said that Love was the most powerful force in the world.  Love inspires frontline activism as much as nurturing of those who fight and those who fall.  In dark times, each person needs to choose where to focus their love.  Justice is vital, but so is Caring. When the future looked bleak, all of Hogwarts, even the Hufflepuffs, had to come together to defeat Voldemort’s fascist coup.


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Scientology, Mormons, Witches, and Zombies: The Why

Over the last week I’ve had the chance to watch two different takes on alternative religions.  The first was Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, Alex Gibney’s brutal documentary that eviscerates Scientology. The second was The Book of Mormon, the hit Broadway musicals co-written by the names behind TV’s South Park and Disney’s box office blockbuster, Frozen.

Book of Mormon

As much as I enjoyed both of them, I have to admit I have a little tinge of guilt when I see mainstream treatments of alternative religions.  As a Witch and a Pagan, I am myself a practitioner – and I would say beneficiary of – alternate spiritual practice.  I was blessed to be raised with no religious baggage (I was “unchurched,” as they say), but with an interest in the spiritual.  This gave me the ability to make my own choice,  and I chose the path that fed my intellect and inspired my heart.  I admire anyone who does the same, whatever faith they practice.

clear

So, despite my chuckling at Going Clear’s picture of Galactic Overlord Xenu imprisoning his unwanted souls on Earth and seeding them into volcanoes, I was forced to look at the how odd my own spirituality may look to an outsider – any outsider.  Despite reveling in the audience’s reaction to one of Book of Mormon’s most hummable tunes:

I believe

That the Lord God created the universe

And I believe

That he sent his only son to die for my sins

And I believe

That ancient Jews built boats and sailed to America!

 

Or the quick little jab at Mormonism’s relative youth:

 

I’m gonna take you back to Biblical times: 1823!

I have to admit that my own religious practice, rooted as it may be in ancient history and timeless techniques, is a new expression that would look pretty silly to those who don’t have the context to understand it.  Joseph Smith was a mystic.  L. Ron Hubbard was, at least for a while, an occultist.  He hung out with Jack Parsons, one of the sharpest minds of his generation who was also noted Thelemite.  Granted, Hubbard stole Parsons’ wife, but the two were tightly involved in Crowley style occultism for quite a while.  As a Witch, mystical and occult practices are an everyday part of my life.  I can’t just laugh off the work of either man.

 

That becomes doubly true when you really look at the documentary and the musical.  The first 45 minutes or so of Going Clear present Scientology’s pseudo-scientific practice of auditing, which ostensibly helps people “clear” their life’s traumas and operate as their own individual and authentic selves.  Sounds like a pretty good goal to me.

 

Despite the rampant satire, Book of Mormon makes constant mention of the polite and friendly aura that seems to surround Mormons:

Liberation!  Equality! Let’s be really fucking polite to everyone!

 

I don’t agree with many of Mormonism’s social policies, but I can say that almost every Mormon I’ve met has been intelligent, kind, and really F-ing polite.  I can’t get into their heads, but they seem to be truly at peace.  Good for them.

 

So then I think, what if one of these writers decided to target Paganism, Wicca, or Witchcraft?  Am I laughing at someone else while silently dodging my own bullet?  Is that bullet coming for me at some point?  Would I have the class that the Church of Latter Day Saints has shown (or the money) to buy three full page color adds in the program for the musical about how crazy and nudist Gerald Gardner was?  Can you imagine a South Park inspired musical on him?

Gerald Gardner

Anything out of context looks silly.  The Great Rite?  Communion?  As a practitioner of a minority spirituality, should I be supporting these other non-mainstream faiths?

 

I think the answer, at least in the case of Scientology, comes later in the documentary.  Over and over, we see people abused for questioning doctrine.  We see those who leave the religion mercilessly harassed in their own homes by “Squirrel Busters” and other pro-church organizations.  We see members of the Sea Org, Scientology’s most elite organization, mercilessly tortured on the accusation of being apostates.  We see websites sponsored and organized by the faith specifically intended to discredit any “SP” (Suppressive Person) who speaks out against them.

Scientology Squirrel Busters

Witchcraft and Paganism, with their focus on seeking your own connection with the Divine, is the antithesis of that kind of cult mindset.  While “leaders” like that crop up at times, a symptom of our decentralized and Aquarian structure, they are often discredited and removed in the long run.  There is no one supreme leader to answer to, and after watching Going Clear, I’m pretty thankful for that.

 

I’ve been to Temple Square.   I’ve sat inside the famous Mormon Tabernacle and listened to its phenomenal acoustics.  I respect an alternate spirituality such as Mormonism.  But the problem comes when they see the need to enforce doctrine by excommunicating women who speak up for their own rights.  The problem comes when they fund laws like Prop 8 in my state, which sought to overturn the law and prevent marriage equality.  For those of us who try to live by the ethic of Harm None, it’s difficult to lend our full support to a spirituality that tends to enforce doctrine over kindness, oppression over love.

 

The most viewed post on my blog is a strange little pop culture piece I wrote comparing The Walking Dead to religion’s tendency toward science denial.  In that post, which still gets constant views even when I’m not writing, I compared Rick’s three questions:

 

How many walkers have you killed?

How many people have you killed?

Why?

 

…to the religious denial of reality.  I asked how your religion helps you, how much it forces you to deny reality, and why?  That post is viewed by new people every day.  I don’t know why, but it has something to do with Google Analytics.  I’ve called it my Zombie Post for many reasons.  It just keeps coming back.  It’s annoying.

 

Yet it expresses a truth about those of us who practice any spiritual path, especially an alternative one.

 

What are we willing to believe?  My practice is one of experience, not belief, so I really don’t care what someone believes. What are we willing to deny and oppress?  When any religion moves into this realm, they risk harming others.  There better be a damn good reason…

 

Why?  If it’s for power, money, or prestige, then it’s not really spiritual.  There’s nothing wrong with any of those things, but if you’re harming others in the name of faith in order to control them, then you’ve been corrupted.  If you believe “God lives on a planet called Kolob,” that’s fine.  If you believe Overlord Xenu inseminated you into a volcano, that’s cool too.  If you use either of those beliefs to harm those who don’t believe or have stopped believing, then you’ve become a zombie.  You’re mindless.  You’re living off of the living.  It’s always the Why that matters, not the What.

 

 

 

 

 


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Painful Truths: The Fear of Discussion

I just wrote a whole post on Ferguson, white privilege, and racism. It was all about overt and institutionalized racism and the difficulty of seeing your own privilege. It recognized my own privilege as a white man and asked people of color to have patience with those of us who have a melanin deficiency as we try to figure out how to handle these successive rounds of evidence of systemic racism in society. Then I threw it out.

It was way too “Great White Father.” I was speaking to the white community, not the African-American community, but it still smacked of power and privilege. I can afford to sit down and think about these things because they don’t affect me. That’s privilege.

Yet I still want to get beyond the immediate injustices because they are symptoms of a much larger problem. We are afraid to talk to each other. People of color fear having their very real problems marginalized (again). Their white allies fear to say the wrong thing, knowing they can never fully understand the Black American experience, so they censor themselves. Plus, people of color need white allies to be vocally on their side. And that is a huge problem in all of this: we need to communicate, both to each other and within our communities.

In my presentation at the Pagan Activism Conference, I proposed this elemental model of activism:

elemental model

Fire represents that immediate, get out on the streets and march element of seeking social justice. That is a vital element, but there is so much more to it. At some point, the different combatants in a dispute need to talk to each other. They need to understand each other’s problems. Otherwise one side sees only the angry picketers and burning buildings that the media shows them on TV and the other side sees only privileged, smug silent observers sipping their Cabernet as others fight for their basic legal rights. If no discussion happens, the sides don’t understand each other. The problem escalates.

We need that lesson of Air. Communication includes both speaking and listening. Argument is good, but screaming over each other as if we are guests on Fox News is not. Going forward in this fight for justice, I hope people of all opinions can quench their fire enough understand that there are real people suffering. Listen to their concerns without becoming defensive and without belittling their true experience. Speak your beliefs in a way that helps the other side truly understand your point of view.

There is so much pain in all of this. Listening to the voice that has hurt you will not be easy. But successful movements must convey their message to the other side in a way that helps them understand it. Protests bring attention to an issue, but it is negotiation and clearly framed messaging that changes hearts and minds, especially the way our media covers these events.

privilege

Crystal Blanton

Crystal Blanton

We who live with privilege can no longer ignore it. This constant denial of the basic rights of safety from harm that our brothers and sisters of color suffer cannot continue. It’s not one instance; it’s the pattern.  The Wild Hunt’s Crystal Blanton, a stalwart advocate for real equality puts it so poignantly:

The fear that I carry as a mother of Black children is not different than the fear of mothers from any historically oppressed population. On Monday night, as my son walked out of the door, I stopped him to tell him not to wear his hoodie on his head and to put his dreads back in a ponytail. The fear that he may be mistaken for a thug because people will see him as a Black man first is a sad reality for many parents.

 

That’s not OK. Experiences like Crystal’s need to be communicated to those of us who are free to wear hoodies with impunity.  We need to see and hear and understand these little bricks of privilege. The problem is clear, but let’s begin to focus on communication and healing for the long term.

Sometimes that may include that may include uncomfortable choices like writing a blog post you’re afraid to post or keeping a racist friend on Facebook so that you can scrape away at them with messages like Crystal’s. But then, if that’s the most uncomfortable decision you make in all of this, you’re ahead of a lot of other folks who are afraid to go to the corner store in a hoodie.


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The Theory of Everything: Trapped body and liberated mind

Imagine a doctor breaking this news to you: “Your brain isn’t affected. Your thoughts will remain the same, it’s just that eventually no one will know what they are.”

Devastating. You will still be you, but very soon, you will be unable to communicate anything you are thinking to another person. You will be trapped inside your head.

Now imagine that your “unaffected brain” is one of the most intelligent brains in human history. You are way off the charts of statistical outliers. You are, potentially, the smartest person alive today; your name is routinely mentioned alongside names like Einstein and Newton. And within two years all of that amazing thinking ability will be locked up in a body that has no ability to communicate its thoughts.

This is the painful realization that lies at the heart of The Theory of Everything. The film is a biography of world renown theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking from the point of view of his first wife, Jane Hawking, but really it goes deeper. It asks us to contemplate the universe within as well as the one without. The universe is silent with its secrets, and the most qualified human to interpret those secrets for us battles daily with the ability to speak.

Stephen Hawking

Professor Stephen Hawking

Yes, the film is a biography, but more than that it is about being trapped.  Hawking’s groundbreaking ideas are trapped within his ALS-ravaged body. He hits terrible lows on his journey, but is always lifted up when some new ability liberates him. His wife, Jane, is trapped by her love for him. She commits early on to be his full partner, and that commitment becomes more and more difficult on her. The secrets of the universe are trapped somewhere inside mathematical equations that only a mind like Hawking’s can comprehend, and yet the physicist himself is trapped by the tyranny of his disease.

Eddie Redmayne is spectacular in the role of Professor Hawking. Redmayne helps us really feel the progression of Hawking’s life and his disease. Early on, he helps us see that glimmering and active young man Hawking was at the age of 21, overly brash in his mental superiority yet not in the condescending way we so often see in movies about geniuses. This portion is vital, because as his physical abilities deteriorate we can still see the young man and his brilliance become ever more trapped inside his ailing body. Less and less able to emote or even speak, Redmayne counts on our love for him early on. It works.

Redmayne young Stephen Hawking

Eddie Redmayne as a young Stephen Hawking

Felicity Jones is Jane, his vital link to the outside world. She plays the role with a quiet, determined strength that nevertheless allows us glimpses into the prison into which she trapped herself. Jane has her own dreams, and her dedication to her husband – albeit willing – presents its own trap as she tries to live her own life. Even as the tension rises, Jane’s gushing love for her husband always shines through.

Felicity Jones Jane Hawking Theory of Everything

Felicity Jones as Jane Hawking

This love story is told against the backdrop of something most theatergoers would see as decidedly dull – physics. Equations, graphs, and discussions of spacetime are a constant feature, but just as Hawking’s book A Brief History of Time seeks to explain complicated astrophysics to the layman, all these discussions of theoretical black holes and the mathematical nature of time provide a moving and exciting canvas for the love story to unfold.

Another theme that permeates the film is the tension between science and spirituality. Yet, just as Stephen the atheist and Jane the Christian find a way to make their partnership work, we are left feeling that maybe the grand unified theory can unify both of these two seemingly paradoxical pillars of cosmology. Hawking describes the study of cosmology as “a religion for atheists,” and each little thread of the film seems to tie the two fields closer together. Or maybe, paradoxically, those ties liberate both science and spirituality from their prison of exclusivity. Why be trapped studying one or the other? Much like the two pillars of physics, we should unify both.

Every situation we find ourselves in had an origin. As we live through our lives, we rarely notice just how profound each moment can be, but our life is a sum of each and every decision we have made. If Professor Hawking had never met Jane, it is quite possible that his illness would have prevented the world from the gifts his intellect has to offer. We have those moments too.

The Theory of Everything asks us to take a step back and examine what brought us to that point where we are today. Where are we trapped? And, since time has no beginning or end, it challenges us to escape our traps like radiation escaping a black hole. Even black holes can’t trap everything. We can swirl around in our own defeats, or we can burst through that which seeks to trap us and make Everything we can out of this Brief Time we are given.


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No Service

“No service.”

That’s the terrifying and baffling message that so many iPhone users saw at the top of their smartphone last week.  Many people who updated their phone’s operating system to the new and highly publicized iOS 8 as soon as it came out found that the new software, great as it may be, had one rather significant bug: it disabled their phone service. It prevented your device from connecting to your cellular service. It made your phone no longer a phone.

To be clear, I’m not one of those Apple haters. I love my iPhone (which I haven’t updated yet). I love my iPad (tried to update it, but got an error message). I don’t care what kind of phone anyone out there uses, but I’m fascinated by the idea that the company that essentially invented the smartphone created an operating system that negated such a basic function.

I have a theory as to how this happened. I can’t prove this theory. I have no evidence for this theory whatsoever. Those who actually know anything about the tech industry or computer code would probably laugh me out of the room. This is just a guess. I think that Apple’s software developers were so focused on the sexy new features they were working on, so pressured to get their new system out to meet deadlines and get in front of the competitors that they completely forgot about the bare bones basics, the lowest part of the Maslow phone pyramid: making phone calls.

It’s not a rare thing. We do this often in our lives. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in competition for goods, having the nicest stuff, or proving how good we are that we forget some of the very basic things about living an effective life.

  • We do it when we get so wrapped up in work and our to-do list that we neglect to put effort into our most important relationships.
  • We do it when we neglect our body’s basic needs because we’re always hurrying from one commitment to another. We neglect to eat right, take care of health problems our bodies scream at us about, or get enough sleep.
  • We do it when we assume that, as spiritual people, it is somehow wrong to be financially secure. The truth is, when your finances allow you to meet all your needs without worry, you are in a much better place to work on your spiritual needs.
  • We do it when we become so convinced about the “rightness” of our spiritual path that we look down on or are openly hostile to others. This happens both underneath the Pagan umbrella and outside its bounds. Some people within the Pagan community are just as likely to make fun of a Wiccan as they are a Christian. Both serve no purpose in your own spiritual growth. Plus they make you look like an asshole.
  • We do it when we think of ourselves as so advanced in our path that we neglect its essentials like meditation, ritual, daily practice, and reading.

It’s so easy to seek out attractive extras in life. They make us feel good. Sometimes they are even convenient excuses to ignore some of the basic functions in life. How convenient it is to say, “I don’t have time to meditate,” when really you just want to sleep a little longer, or use “I’m too busy to make dinner, I’ll just go to [fill in name of your favorite fast food joint here]” as an excuse to indulge your unhealthy craving.  Every choice like this brings short term pleasure but slowly wears away at your physical, mental, or spiritual health. They eat at your personal operating system.

Maybe you can think of some things you do that aren’t on this list, but qualify. What are your sexy but destructive behaviors and ideas? As we approach Samhain, maybe it’s time to put those fun but harmful habits into their graves. We all have them. Me included. To pretend otherwise would be just another self-destructive deception. This is a good time to recognize them and start working on a new system that may be less attractive but transforms us into happier, healthier people. As we move toward the Witch’s new year, maybe it’s a good time to ensure that, when the Wheel turns, you don’t get that dreaded message:

“No service.”


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A response to Mohler’s “moral crisis”

On June 27, R. Albery Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, posted this article to CNN’s Belief Blog. In it, he laments last year’s Supreme Court decision that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and, in effect, made marriage equality legal. He also praises Justice Antonin Scalia, calling him a “prophet,” while also expressing his commitment that the marriage of two gay people is a “moral impossibility.”

I have to hand it to Mohler, his tone is remarkably even-keeled. There is no histrionic whining or the type of vile anti-gay language that those who take his position are noted for. Of course, it has to be that way. He loses easily otherwise, for our country has lost its taste for bigoted catch phrases like Westboro Baptist Church’s “God Hates Fags.” He has to make his position appear logical so that he doesn’t risk being identified with WBC’s inane extremism.

Nor does Mohler couch his argument in scriptural citations. This is an obvious attempt at credibility. Mohler knows that the First Amendment both gives him the right to express his views, but it also prohibits the U.S. government from favoring any one particular religion. Therefore, any Biblical arguments would fall either on the ears of the choir, or on entirely deaf ears. To sway public opinion, he must appear logical outside of scripture, at he makes a good stab at this.

The trouble is, if you look behind Mohler’s slick words you find that his actual arguments depend upon the slippery sands of terrible assumptions, vague definitions, and a complete misunderstanding of what it means to be married. What at first appears to be a reasonable person’s defense of denying fellow Americans essential rights (as if there really could be such a thing) turns out to have about as much substance as damp cotton candy.

 

Christian ≠ Anti-Gay

The essential question Mohler asks is, “Where does that leave committed Christians?” In starting his argument this way, he walks a tightrope of assuming that all “committed Christians” dislike both homosexuality and marriage equality. This is simply not true.

Just this month, the Presbyterian Church of the United States changed its definition of marriage to include “two people” rather than a man and a woman. Their change allowed Presbyterian ministers to perform gay marriages in states where those marriages are legal if they choose to.

The post just below Mohler’s discusses the Catholic Church “softening its tone” toward the gay community.   While the Church remains doctrinally opposed to homosexuality, they are shifting toward a loving agreement to disagree rather than the vile antagonism it, for example, advocated here in California during the Proposition 8 campaign.

Many other Christian sects are decidedly pro-gay. They focus on Christ’s message of love and forgiveness rather than the Old Testament’s litany of laws against everything from homosexuality to eating shrimp. I know a number of “committed Christians” who are perfectly fine with gay people, advocate for equality, and believe in equal rights for all Americans. I know gay Christians. They are just as “committed” as any other Christian, even those who choose to try to impose their beliefs on everyone else. It is presumptive and just plain incorrect to assume that all “committed Christians” are bigoted against the gay community.

 

Marriage ≠ Sex

Mohler makes two statements that reveal a profound misunderstanding of what marriage is. While speculating about government forcing churches to perform gay marriage ceremonies, he worries about our country crushing his religious liberty in the name of “erotic freedom.” Later, he wrings his hands about how his fellow anti-gay folks can possibly be good people when they see the rest of society hurting “human flourishing in the name of sexual liberty.

In this section, Mohler takes a giant step backward in time. We are not arguing about sodomy laws and other unjust statutes that ban homosexual sex acts. That argument ended long ago, a fact he acknowledges early in the article. Today’s arguments, and the argument he had been discussin up to this point was about same sex marriage, yet he clouds his point by discussing “erotic freedom.” Based on his own words, I can only conclude that Mohler is equating marriage with sex.

Marriage is about a lot more than sex. Marriage is a lifetime partnership. Marriage is about companionship, mutual love and support, and commitment. Marriage is about being by a person’s side through thick and thin, in the words of the traditional vow, “for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health.” Married people lend a shoulder to cry on, a party for happy times, a loving ear in troubled times, and financial support when money is running thin. Marriage, any marriage, is not simply about “erotic freedom” to have sex with your partner.

Besides, people are having sex whether they are married or not. Heterosexuals are not all waiting to put a ring on it before sleeping together. The gay community is exactly the same, except that, if Mohler were to have his way, there would be no marriage to “legitimize” their sexual behavior. That wouldn’t stop gay sex. It’s not like same sex couples suddenly started having sex as marriage became legal. Marriage equality only allows those couples a legal opportunity to commit to each other and enjoy the many other benefits of marriage that we heterosexuals enjoy. Plus, when a couple chooses a monogamous marriage, they’re actually limiting, not expanding their “sexual freedom.”

 

What exactly is “Human Flourishing”?

 Central to Mohler’s article is his argument that “human flourishing” requires the “honoring of marriage exclusively as the union of a man and a woman” and any other definition of marriage is “a grave threat to human society and human happiness.” He never defines this term “flourishing,” nor does he explain how allowing other people to marry will somehow magically harm humanity, yet he continues to base his views upon this nebulous concept.

 

The idea of “human flourishing” is a weasler, a concept with no definition that can get the author out of jams in logic. As long as he never specifically define it, he can go on to alter his definition and his argument to fit any situation. You can’t challenge his premises if he never nails down a specific definition of his primary point. Mohler continues the slipperiness when he goes on to say that he does not believe that any damage to society inflicted by two guys loving each other will not be “immediately apparent.” He must have been relieved when he though up that one! Now, when he is asked to point out the awful damage gay marriage has done to the country in the last year, he has a quick and easy way out – “Some random flourishing is not occurring, and I never said we’d actually be able to see the damage,”

So what might he mean by this chimeric idea of “human flourishing”? Certainly he isn’t referring to reproduction. There is no lack of humanity in this world. Our earth is overpopulated and already struggles to provide enough resources to support everyone who depends upon it. More couples in happy relationships who are fulfilled in life but unable to reproduce could actually be exactly what our planet and humanity in general need to “flourish.” We don’t need to multiply and consume more resources to be happy. We aren’t viruses.

As a married heterosexual who has no children, I take offense at the suggestion that happiness depends upon reproduction. But there’s another note in Mohler’s article that is even worse. When he says that our his undefined concept of “flourishing” depends upon outlawing same sex marriages, what seems to be suggesting is that our human happiness relies on discriminating against our fellow human beings. According to Mohler, we can’t be happy as a species unless we can maintain a class system in which those who love others of the same sex are systematically and constitutionally denied the same rights we heterosexuals enjoy.

No. My marriage and my happiness absolutely do not depend upon denying others rights. No, our ability as a species to “flourish” is not dependent on keeping our heels grinding into the backs of the gay community. Quite the opposite, my happiness is enhanced when I know other people are happy. It makes me unhappy to see others in pain. It certainly does not make me “flourish.”

 

It must be hard to be on the wrong side of history. It must be difficult to have beliefs that pin your “flourishing” to keeping other people oppressed. It must be hard to see the rest of your country move toward justice and equality all around you. I’m sure those who fought to stop interracial marriage felt the same way at one time, and they used scripture to support their arguments as well.

Justice is justice. Religious beliefs do not play into it. That was the guarantee made by the Bill of Rights when our country began, and as we continue to work toward achieving that goal there will always be those who stand alone against the tides of reality. As we learn to treat each other equally, there will always be stalwarts against “equality and justice for all.” Fortunately, they are becoming ever more isolated and their arguments begin to sound ever more desperate.