Pagan activism


I was at an office meeting the other day, and one of the presenters, in the middle of an endless PowerPoint presentation, made some idle comment about the “pagan ceremony” that some of the university students were carrying out on campus.  He chuckled nastily. “I shouldn’t say that,” he said.  “I am given to understand that there are actually pagans here, and they might be offended.”



Well, I bridled at that. Why shouldn’t there be pagans?  There were in that room, almost certainly, people who believed that a talking snake convinced the first human beings to eat the one thing on earth they shouldn’t eat.   Also people who believed that God spoke to one of their early leaders through a flaming shrub. 



Pagan.  Hmph.  Pagan looks good to me a lot of the time.  Burn a few candles, dance around the room.  What’s the difference?  I used to sing hymns in a little Protestant church in Washington state; they’d have been much livelier if we’d been allowed to dance around the altar a little bit.



Please don’t get me wrong.  I’m still an atheist.  But I’m still human.  Certain aspects of faith – pounding on stones, dancing in a circle – are still powerfully attractive to me.  A recent book on atheism took exactly this point of view, saying that there was no reason that atheist couldn’t have rituals and holidays too, even some like the current ones.



And the pagan stuff definitely has its attractive points.



If you’re gonna shove your talking snakes and burning bushes in my face, I can certainly do a little hula on the vernal equinox.



Fair’s fair.



Atheists and why you should avoid talking to them


I found the most delightful piece of Sunday-school instructional material on Tumblr recently (see illustration above).  It’s a sketch of an atheist – “Mr. Gruff” – drawn as a goat, wearing a bathrobe, holding a cup of coffee.  “Bah!” he says.  “I don’t believe in anything!  I’m staying home on Sunday!”

Most thrilling of all are the instructions given below the illustration.  TELL YOUR PARENTS OR PASTOR IMMEDIATELY, we are told.  This is an advanced case, well beyond a child’s powers of conversion.  Atheists try to turn you away from God’s Word, so stay away from them!

My favorite bit: “Atheists such as crochety old MR. GRUFF think they’ve got it all figured out . . . But then why are they always so sad?”

Well, sometimes (as in my case) they have kidney stones, and sciatica.

Other times (such as right at the moment), we are moderately cheerful. 

I don’t know.  Am I an atheist?  I’m certainly not a Christian. It’s too complicated, and I just don’t believe all that stuff.  I’m not quite a Buddhist, because I haven’t given up all my attachments to the material world.  None of the other world religions hold any interest for me.  (Well, maybe Baha’i or Vedanta.  We’ll see.)  I am partial toward the polytheistic world of Hinduism, with a god for everything and everyone, cheerful and somber and serious as the occasion warrants.  But I wasn’t born to Hinduism, so I can’t really commit to it with any real feeling.

So I guess I’m Mr. Gruff after all.  

C’mon: he’s kind of cute, with his bathrobe and coffee cup.

Even if he is going to hell.­­

A fine secular Christmas


Neither Partner nor I practices any particular religion.  I spent a couple of years in the mid-2000s trying to recapture my Catholicism, but found it ultimately futile.  Partner and I talk about Buddhism a lot, but I am uneasily aware that Buddhism is easier to talk about than practice.  (For those of you who use “Zen” as an adjective, I recommend a wonderful and very acerbic book called “What Makes You Not A Buddhist,” by a wonderful Bhutanese lama / film director / author (!) named Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse.)



So how did Partner and I, both filthy heathens, spend this Christmas season?



Let’s see:



        We saw “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” on Christmas Eve.

        We exchanged gifts.  Partner gave me a lovely sweater and two lovely shirts.  I like pretty colors, but am often confused by the bright lights in the department stores; Partner corrects my fashion sense, and I invariably get compliments when I wear the things he’s bought for me (so long as I wear them in the combinations he very carefully specifies).  I gave him, among other things, a mounted 1957 one-dollar Silver Certificate.  (I was born in 1957, before the Space Age, so it was a little symbolic.)

        Next morning, we sleepily wished each other a Merry Christmas.

        After some discussion, we went to the closest casino, Twin River, in Lincoln, Rhode Island.

        We left at 1:00 pm with considerably more money than we arrived with.  Merry Christmas!

        We went to a Chinese restaurant and ordered everything on the menu. 

        We ate until we were sick.

        We took our leftovers and went home and napped a bit.

        In the evening, I baked cookies.



This is the perfect secular Xmas, as far as I’m concerned.  And here’s why:




        We both spent it with someone we loved.




And that’s all it takes.



Happy holidays, kids.



Rick Perry: Call him! Call him louder!


You know I am seldom political – here, in this blog, anyway. I would hate to alienate anyone, especially you, my dear reader, whom I have wooed so carefully with my natural sweetness and Mark Twainish common sense. And if you are a dirty conservative, well, I forgive you, and will look the other way discreetly while you see the error of your ways.



I will also forgive you for your error if you are religious. In my lifetime I have tried very hard to be religious, in several ways (both Protestant and Catholic). I have failed. It’s just too difficult to believe in ridiculous things; I don’t care to expend the energy anymore. As I’ve said elsewhere: if Christianity were more colorful and entertaining (like Hinduism, for example), I’d be tempted, just for the sake of aesthetics, to suspend my disbelief and jump into the worship business. But the Christian god is not a million laughs: he is sometimes well-meaning, but he is often an unholy bore and a prig, and he serves (sadly enough) as a ventriloquist’s dummy for every bigot and charlatan who comes along. The bigots and charlatans all look into their hearts, and pray, and what do you know? God always agrees with them! No matter what! No wonder they love their prayer breakfasts. God always confirms their prejudices! What do you think about that?



Anyway: sorry. I’m ranting, aren’t I?



I have been bemused lately by the snake-oil-salesman posturing of new Presidential candidate Rick Perry. He says outrageous things for the sake of outrageousness; he seems to think he’s still running for governor of Texas, where you can say things like “Let’s secede from the union!”, or “Ben Bernanke is a traitor!” (Ben Bernanke! Of the dark eyes and kissably soft beard!), and get away with it. See, Rick, the cautious use of words is often considered an asset in a president.



Also: this is the Rick Perry who has held two big prayer vigils since the first of the year. One was to end the Texas drought. The other was to remedy the current fiscal crisis.



Neither one worked.  



Can we find some Biblical precedent for this?  Oh, most certainly we can.  I got lots of gold stars for memorizing Bible verses, back in the nineteenth century.



From the First Book of Kings, chapter 18 (King James version):



  • 26  And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Ba’al from morning even until noon, saying, O Ba’al, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made.

  • 27  And it came to pass at noon, that Eli’jah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.

  • 28  And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them.

  • 29  And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the eveningsacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.




For those of you who didn’t grow up with the KJV: in this passage, Elijah has called upon Jehovah to punish Israel with a drought. The priests of Ba’al try to pray it away. Nothing happens. Elijah mocks them, since – obviously – if their god were real, their prayers would be effective.



Get it?



Get it?



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