The Two Paganisms

From time to time I take a pause and stand back from my current life to think about the implications of what I’ve learned, and how it changes the frame of reference I once had as a believing Neo-Pagan.

I do not think this is the same thing as Lot’s wife looking back at the destruction of her home town being smote in flames. It would be more like her thinking about her home town in the context of that God her husband worshiped and how it changed her.  It would only resemble thus if I looked back with the exact same reference I once had– and longed for it.  Ironically, there is more of a risk [for me– YMMV] in reading fiction, than it is of reminiscing on the reality. Indeed, the fiction I write is less likely to trigger the vague whispers of past indiscretions than reading well written fiction by other people.

Fortunately, it’s not Harry Potter so much as James Butcher– even if Butcher is  supportive of a more recognizably Christian-inspired morality.  Indeed, that’s a part of the problem.  I was a moral pagan– that is I believed that my actions mattered– to the gods if not my fellow pagans.

And I noted that even those who claimed that it did not matter and that they took thus as an article of faith– it was displayed in their actions that they believed deeply in that which they detracted verbally.  If they lacked forgiveness, what you did mattered so deeply that it affected your relationship to that person for all time. IT does matter how you act, even if we won’t talk about it, admit it or think about it outside the context of “community relations”, and not being a jerk.

The culture of license has it’s own rules- but it prefers them to be unwritten.  Even then I was somewhat suspicious of this. How can you know what is good behavior if you have to just instinctively know to get along? Why is it that we discourage one set of behaviors in place of others, if we don’t really have a reason for it? If these rules are indeed universal, why is that, and shouldn’t that, in and of itself–mean something?!

These were the questions I wrestled with when I was practicing.  I had no philosophical training, nor did I think that it would help me. [Ed: Go figure.]   However, not a lot of people really even tried looking at things like this.  Indeed, the only group that even tried was a re-constructionist in nature. I was tempted for many reasons by them, even joined at one point, but could not fit myself to one particular culture as per their definition.

I was stuck on the unknown God and the culture I was raised in. I changed my ideas constantly about who that one was, whether one or many, whether masculine or feminine, but indeed– I could not find peace or the center that I was looking for.  Too much was changeable, up for grabs and ultimately un-anchored in the fundimental reality of every day existence. I needed a concreteness in my day in and day out spirituality,  for me to feel that there was an authentic current of the true Author of Creation.  I saw flashes of it that were awe inspiring, but I could not believe that these few crumbs would be what a conscious deity would expect a flawed human to use for spiritual food and drink.

Someone who really loves you won’t leave you battered, bleeding and alone– and hopelessly confused about what is expected of you.

I could not imagine a universe made and maintained by committee with literally NO basis of relationship or things in common.  There was too much going on here that was stable and made sense for the kind of chaos that would entail – especially if the gods are capable of evil– which (somehow) does not affect their nature.

The other problem was– it was no where stated that the gods were good, merely that propitiating them was good and useful.  So what does that say about the kind of universe you live in? The idea terrified me.

Yet– when I went to “pagan conventions” the vast majority of people did not seem troubled by these thoughts.  They assumed that either the gods were good and meant well, or they did not really believe in gods at all– and thought that pagans threw better parties than atheists. Others felt that they wanted some kind of tradition to pass on to their children, even if they did not really believe a word of it.   Sadly, there are plenty of professed Christians who behave this way, as well.

So you have two pagans– Socrates and Lucretius.  It is the latter who hoists the banner flag of our modern era.  Socrates believed that everything means something, and that you could determine that from reason– even the kind of reason that men (and women!) in the agora had access to. All you had to do was ask the right questions, and the answers would follow. That is what we call common sense– an attribute that we enlightened moderns have discredited by tedious hand-waving brought to us by intellectuals with an impressive need to feel special.

Lucretius was the other guy. He felt that there were no gods, and no god. He felt that religion was the cause of all the worlds problems, and that reason and belief were in an endless war. Does this sound familiar to anyone? Why isn’t he more widely known and read then Socrates? Much of our modern Spirit of the Age comes from the logical conclusions of the cool, aloof Lucretius.  He broke the minds of so many good philosophers it makes one cry.

It is this fallout from philosophy that made it so very unattractive in my pagan days.  I felt that all philosophy ultimately led to one denying the reality of the physical world and deciding that the only truth came from inside your own skull– which you can’t really prove exists anyway.

But then I stumbled on an idea which on it’s surface does not strike one as particularly Christian– but it is the key to understanding true Christianity.

That is, the fact that every philosophy the world has to offer can be boiled down to a single binary idea. Either there is meaning in the world (and everything has meaning) or it doesn’t.

Buddhism, Atheism, and a wide swath of paganisms follow the latter path, and the mindset of the modern era does as well.  Some few modern paganisms follow the former– but only those who have a conversant relationship with history, philosophy and reason. Those people/paganisms are few on the ground, and what they say isn’t particularly popular.  Unless they write novels, of course.

Because, there is one thing that this “modern” paganism doesn’t have– and that’s the ability to tell a story that means something.  And humans are hard-wired for that.  Unfortunately, this modern world succeeds mightily in inoculating modern man from the concept of reality.  We’re fine with reality– just as long as it’s not real. We need to believe in reality, but not act on it.  We need to know it is there, just in case we need to run to a fox hole when we are shelled by life. But don’t let reality get in the way of every day living.  That’s just too much oppression for the modern man to bear.

The irony is– before I converted to paganism– I did not have the sense of pervasive meaning that I developed in the symbol soaked world of the believing Neo-Pagan.  I was ultimately raised Atheist/Calvinist with some crypto-Catholic ideas, such as the definition of Love, and that capability to Love is the core value underscoring human kind. But I believed in a God who was entirely transcendent of the world– like a Gnostic without secret revelation. I could not understand God, so all I could do was faintly hope that I had whatever special sauce God wanted to take to heaven with him.

Otherwise it was annihilation for all time– an annihilation who’s job was never done, enacted by demons.  Yet this was preferable to no God at all– because at least there was a reason— even if it were outside my grasp. This hinted at the notion that perhaps I might see it or find it. After all, science wouldn’t work if God just wanted to play keep-away.

And a world without meaning is the ultimate game of keep-away, perfectly blended with an unholy, unending round of Calvin-ball.  Well, until humans destroy ourselves and the sun collapses in on itself. Oh, joy! Oh, bliss!

So many sad people flocked to me, asking me to lead them. That because I believed in the correct definition of Love,  and had a strong sense of an ordered universe–I had something, something so very faint, but strangely compelling to others. They even told me that it so much more than what they had, which amounted to pile of jargon with no dictionary.  But– in my mind, to truly lead them wisely, it wasn’t enough. I could not take on for the happiness of others, when I knew that all I had was the faint shadow of the true path to the gods. It would be horribly irresponsible, I felt.  So I dropped off the web, never to be seen again.

Especially since, I knew, after I found what I’d been looking for, they wouldn’t believe that I had, based entirely on what they thought I’d become.

I lost a lot of “friends” the day I came out as a Catholic.  I’ve never been particularly good at explaining what happened– not even to my older and more genuine friends.  I mean– how do you explain the process of reading Theology of the Body in one sitting? That melted all my confusion and fears about the theology of sexuality in the Church in an experience more powerful than magic.

Furthermore, I am hampered– fundamentally because I cannot conceive of a reality without meaning. I vaguely remember existing in one at some point in my past- but I was miserable. I also angrily searched for meaning anyway because with out it there was simply no reason to continue.

I don’t even know how to bridge the gap between the two paganisms. The only reason why it worked before is because we all thought we were on the same side. We did not even notice the gaping abyss beneath us separating us totally from true understanding.

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