Well, those questions I can give some fairly technical answers for. The problem is, that isn’t the question they are asking.
What they are really asking is, “Why follow your God? Why put up with all those obnoxious and intrusive laws and sin, and limitation? What the hell do you get out of it?” If my friends weren’t afraid of being honest, it is probably some kind of variation on that they would actually say.
Generally I would say something either vague and incoherent, or perhaps long winded and technical about the awesomely complex and complete system of thought, the body of knowledge that works from top to bottom, the gorgeous art that tells the truth and the Truth. And all of it established in canon actually correlates flawlessly with all the facts of reality I have seen. Believe me, I put this to the test. I was pretty thorough– because for a time, I did NOT want to become Catholic. I was developing this persistent sinking feeling that it would be inevitable. I hid my interest from my husband to be, lest he sway me through his charisma and kindness alone. If I had to be Catholic, I would not be Catholic because my beloved was. I wanted to do it for my own reasons.
For most people on the outside, these facts about the Faith wouldn’t move them much. For my pagan friends, these days it’s pretty much just another one of my crazy things I become obsessed with. At least two of them had moved away from Christianity because of my “witness” of paganism. I didn’t try to convince them I was right, I simply lived a pagan life that appealed to them without really understanding why I did what I did. Ironically, I kept looking for those reasons in the literally hundreds of titles I read.
I kept looking for the signs of a transcendent intelligence behind the body of works I studied– and I studied many different movements and belief ‘systems’ under the vast and varied pagan umbrella. But mostly it was summed up as vague feelings and ideas cribbed from historical sources, mish-mashed together to make some kind of sense. The internal logic had strange stops and starts, and big gaps I could not attribute to supernatural sources. But if something as deathless and constant as a deity wanted to communicate with humanity, would not it make the effort in a periodic effort over time, rather than relying on one person or a hand full in one generation? Would not said deity want to be perceived?
The more I thought and meditated on these systems, however, the more their flaws came to the fore and left me disturbed. I could not get a handle on a driving force that seemed to me to behind reality in these writings. IF indeed the gods were many, why was there so much order, and such consistent rules in the world? If the world was run by a committee of gods with virtually nothing in common, why weren’t there different sections on earth where the laws of physics would be different, modeled to suit the god (or god family), or indeed those that lived there?
If the god/ess is love, why did she spawn creatures like baby starfish and then leave them here to to suffer and die? If the natural order designates suffering as the ultimate evil– why is there so damn much of it? Why is it that love often hurts so much? Despite this, why can we not live and thrive without it? Why don’t we even seem to know what it is?
Let’s face it– those powerful pagan myths may explain certain things in the natural world half-way decently, and even define things like honor and valor with potency and spirit. But… love starts looking more and more like a tingle, and devotion more some kind mad possession of duty against all sense. It is rich and passionate, but you don’t want to live there. It is primal and active but it does not nurture the soul. Ultimately, the only reasons are materialistic– or some kind of hazy, undefined “learning” we are supposed to do for “the next level”.
We are not given textbooks, road maps or even a hint of what way you go. This so called pagan culture has renounced it’s moorings and borrows whatever looks shiny from it’s former colonies, neighbors and enemies. One can fall exquisitely adrift. With no greater loyalty than to what tweaks your fancy. Riding on this sea of cheese for almost two decades was wearing thin.
The period of dryness I suffered when I moved away from Michigan– the special spiritual places in nature I frequented to feel closer to the transcendent– those enthusiastic if inconstant friends who supported my world view– were all gone. By this fact I was nearly undone. The desolation– despite being in the most fulfilling temporal relationship of all time– was more than I could bear.
I realized vaguely that I needed some kind of community– I had to have some reason to care. Maybe I could still yet find some people who knew more than I did about what was going on. I tried to join a few communities, but in two cases they split before I even had a chance to start- the other had too many secrets for me to feel comfortable, and the last my boyfriend insisted I not take an oath to bind my soul to it.
His point, while it sounds dictatorial, (I was pissed at the time– it was our only truly nasty fight) was actually compassionate, level headed, and ultimately accurate. I did shortly see that I was asking too many deep questions about the disposition of religion in general to make this kind of commitment. I hadn’t ruled out making major changes to my entire worldview. Taking a dire oath to a particular group I did not know much about was a derp move. I was mainly interested in joining because I was lonely and wanted people who would take it paganism seriously than as an amusing curiosity that distracted them until they felt betrayed.
In an online community, I drifted with startling speed into the position of an elder. This despite I was aware of only just having started. I was standing on the edge of a cliff, with no bridge, no airplane and no wings, and an ordinary earthbound mortal. Yet they wanted me to help them fly across the Grand Canyon. The only thing I could think of that I had that they did not was a consistent moral system, and a desire to love others. No one was interested in learning the former, and I had no idea how to teach the latter. The explanations did not even really make sense to me, I just knew at a gut level how it worked.
And this was it: Mankind’s full value is as a repository and generator of love. Love is given to them from God, and they pass it around as much as possible, because the more love you have the more valuable everyone is. Love is sacrifice, love is willing good to the other ahead of your own. Everything from holding an ice cream cone to rushing into a burning building is an act of love. Sex is not love, but in it’s true meaning is an expression of love. The piece I was missing was this– sex isn’t really a sacrifice unless you are willing to give up the next 18 years (at least) of your life for the next generation to express this great act of love.
These things collided. I could not figure out how love could really work with multiple vectors of creation. I tried the wiccan model, which relied on a sort of primitive powers meets vaguely personified entities who have sex to propagate the fecundity of the world.
So why would they use the same means we did? Were they not gods with infinte power and capacity to do– whatever it is they felt like doing? How did we know so much about what they did and why? Who spoke for them? What was seen? Why would these beings create us in the first place? What was their aim? Beauty and pleasure, we are told.
Um, yeah. So why is it so frequently cold, dirty and ugly around here? Where does evil come from in a system like that? Sin is at least comprehensible and has it’s own logic and meaning. A lot of people used the New Age explanation. This sort of drowned out the traditional Alexandran/Gardnarian explanation, which I don’t happen to have anymore.
Besides, New Age is the glue that fills in all the gaps in various belief systems under the NeoPagan banner it may as well be acknowledged. I don’t like it because of the virulent illogic sorrounding the conception of evil. If we are infinitely good, and capable of infinite things, then why and how is it that we are entirely responsible for the generation of evil? That’s right, there are no such things as evil spirits, or planes where dark things dwell. That’s all just crap you made up… for exactly what reason? Because you are afraid of being infinitely capable and good. Wait, what?!
That’s right. Only if you act perfectly good and equanimical all the time, you can stop needing food, water and live on pure energy and never have a sleepless night, never be stressed out, and everything will go your way. Chances are you won’t even die.
The source of all new age is Blavatsky. Unfortunately, you can’t really write out the parts you don’t like. The bad parts are logical outcomes of the good parts. Even if you’ve never cracked “Isis Unveiled” it’s easy enough to draw the ultimate conclusions.
Back in the Middle Ages, there were a lot of monks doing severe penances. Harsh things. Self mutilation in some cases. Some monasteries were frightful. YOu know why? They thought that they could achieve Christlike perfection through works and mortification alone. This idea was popularized by Pelagius, and unfortunately, some prelates got the idea that this would be a great discipline builder for the laity, too. Their zeal got perverted into inhumanity.
This pelagianism comes up over and over again in human endeavor. It’s the reason why Catholics everywhere were eager to shut down the Cathars in France. They too believed that to be sinless is to be perfect, is to become godlike reflection of God. Today we know that God gives graces to whom He wills. What ever Good we accomplish is the outpouring of grace, not “grace bait” that sops it up like dream catchers. Even Jesus warns us not to go after perceived holiness, but to do things only to please God. And God gets cranky when his creation is mutilated in his Name. Pelegianism, for bonus points, illustrates why dogma is actually important. Tweak certain understandings in the wrong way and they become toxic and inhuman.
I saw those same pelagian patterns playing out in New Age communities on the mental level. IN some groups it even got extreme with Jainist diets and things that delved off into dangerous territory. Worse, it creates an intolerance for the natural flaws in humanity. That leads to a whole host of evil. It can lead to abandoning those members who need that community the most, while embracing those who are most productive and most wealthy– who may have other less obvious flaws that wind up taking over the group.
Believing that your own thoughts are generating evil every time you have a bad one, can also lead to some dangerous stuff. At least Catholicism admits that people do sin, and we have a remedy. With the New Age, the only thing you can do is stop and hope that you’ve learned your lesson this time. Because you are contributing to the destruction and corruption of the Universe by having bad feelings. What is the poor depressive to do? Once again, we are given more excuses to abandon the marginalized and avoid anything that might make us feel bad. Society can’t live like that. People can’t live like that.
The God who made us would not abandon us to try to be what we cannot be on our own. So How do I know that?
Because why would He do this, if it weren’t possible? What’s the point otherwise? I actually find it more implausible for everything we see and everything that exists simply came about by a great cosmic accident. Also, this world designed by committee has too many consistencies to be plausible, and it could hardly work as well as it does otherwise. We’d see zones of different physics and what have you. And if you argue that those other gods made universes that we don’t have access to, then why does propitiating them work, or why would they care that we know who they are?
Living in the wilds with little more than what you can scrape together is a very streamlining process. We moderns have the luxury to lay on philosophy and question whatever we want, and the world does not come to an end. Yet since the beginning of days, humanity has seen fit to have religion. If primitive life is so edgy, dangerous, and real, why do they bother if it’s not necessary? What makes us moderns exempt? The desire to keep all our comforts with an untroubled conscience?
Sooner or later, that catches up with you in a very real way. Nope, not even talking about the Eternal consequences, but the very real hell on Earth that no boundaries and no principles ultimately creates. So many of the horrors of history ultimately stem from explaining away those things that are convenient to ignore for some perceived good or pleasure.