Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Pagans and Heretics II

Part I of this series

So, what do I mean by Pagan? Most people who join groups, whether pagan or orthodox, don’t go on research projects about those groups. Most people make choices based on personal experience and the experiences of people close to them. There is nothing wrong with this and I will discuss it more in a moment. But this is a blog about examining those things, so here goes.

When I say “pagan”, I am talking about the shamanistic, polytheistic, and animist ways of looking at the world. The word has had many other uses throughout history, some of them not so nice. It was sometimes used to mean “NOT Christian”, usually for whatever indigenous culture the Christians were conquering at the time. To the ancient Romans it was used more like it’s earliest definition, someone outside the culture. The word predates the Roman Empire, from the Stone Age, and Rome fought hard to destroy that earlier culture of nature centered religion. Later when Rome became Roman Catholic, the stories of Dionysus or what are now Christmas traditions such as the yule log, were called pagan rituals.

Religious is an excellent source for information that tries to stay neutral on just about any tradition, including Wicca and Pagans.

Heretic has less of a history, but its connotation is negative. I don’t see it as positive. Martin Luther was a heretic, and he helped to reform Catholicism. The important part of the definition of heretic for my purposes is that they come from within the tradition. Heretics study the classical forms, then see something new, something requiring change. If they are accepted, they are leaders, if not, they are heretics. Brian McClaren, the author of Everything Must Change has said that today’s heresies are tomorrow’s orthodoxy.

There may be other categories you see as a better fit for yourself. But I think what I have to say will map onto them. If I may make a few suggestions:
For Buddhists, you may want to read Confession of a Buddhist Atheist by Stephen Batchelor.
For Scientologists, how much have you been told? Do you know what happens when you reach Thetan level III?
I am not familiar with women’s groups, but if you are involved in anything associated with the Men’s Movement, there should be no dogma. The movement is an inquiry. No one should be demanding your belief or allegiance. Recommend reading would be Robert Bly or Robert Moore. There are many others.
If your interest in spiritual, psychic or paranormal activity is casual, you might be interested the story of Susan Blackmore.

Finally, I will also discuss science. But no need to get too scientific about it. As I stated before, for the most part, our beliefs are formed from personal experience. So your belief system is as strong, accurate and useful as your experiences. Of course we can’t be everywhere or do anything, so we also rely on those we trust, the people close to us. On the more complex issues, we have to trust others. We do this more than we realize. For example, I have never seen my own brain, but I trust brain scientists that it is where my thoughts come from. If I had lived in Aristotle’s time, I probably would have trusted him that the brain is there to provide a cooling mechanism for my blood.

I said I don’t want to get scientific, but there are some basics that educational systems don’t cover very well. One is the idea of proof. Science does not really prove anything. In math, there are proofs, but they are confined to the definitions of math. So you can prove that 2 + 2 = 4, but only as those characters are defined. There are many things that science can’t say much about. Even the things that it can say a lot about, it can’t say it knows for certain. This is starting to move into philosophy so I’ll stop.

The important thing that gets missed in discussing science and religion is that science begins with wonder. The mysteries of the universe inspired people to look for answers. There was no distinction between astrology and astronomy when people first sat up all night and watched the stars move. We continue to look for answers, but if the answers had all been found, there would no longer be a need for science. Somehow religion has managed to claim its place as keeper of the great mysteries, when it is religion that claims to have the answers. Science does not claim to have the answers. It just has a certain method for asking the questions.

Inquiry begins with some sort of anecdote. Something happens that inspires questions. There may also be a premise. Like I presume that I exist and that the laws of physics that can be demonstrated locally apply to the entire known universe. Experiments are done to ask those questions, data is gathered. The experiments are repeated and checked and confirmed. It is usually best to have several people involved. Inductive or deductive reasoning is used to further the study and hypotheses are proposed. Ideas are published, the work is checked again and a consensus starts to develop. When enough testing is done, a hypothesis becomes a theory, and it can be used as a new starting point for further investigation. So, to say that a theory is just a guess is not at all accurate.

This section has been rather dry. I hope some of the links were interesting. Next I will get into why this examination matters.

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