I once read (and have since forgotten where or from who—please feel free to correct this quotation or provide a citation if you have one), that
Creating is not something that gods do, it is something that they are.
Elsewhere, in reading feminist interpretations of the bible (specifically, the time in Eden), I discovered a reading of the myth of the forbidden tree that interpreted “if you eat this, you shall become as gods” to be that, once the apple was eaten, humanity gained the ability to procreate—to participate in the essential element of godhead.
Of course, I do not think that creation of life is necessarily the only kind of divine act—all acts of creation, in my mind, qualify. Programming a computer application, writing a poem, sculpting a nude, formulating an equation, sketching a lover’s hand, and—though it has taken me some time to come to this determination—sewing.
I’ve used to envy knitters—they create things from just string!—and lament my lack of creativity. But I’ve since discovered that I do have some modicum of the divine spark of creativity.
Arachne, Grandmother Spider, Anansi, and the other divine avatars of the spider are always patrons of weavers and civilization. I still hope to one day learn to weave, but until then, I accept that all the fabric arts (a designation that still makes me snicker) qualify as much as participating in the divine act of creation as poetry, sculpture, and watercolor.
So, when I sew, I see it as an act of communion with the divine—whether or not I’m praying as I snip, measure, and thread, I’m engaging the energy of creation. At the end of the day, there is Something that Was Not at the beginning of the day. And I look upon it and it is good.
The Charge of the Goddess (a popular pagan prayer/poem written in the form of the goddess telling her people how to worship her) contains the following line:
behold, all acts of love and pleasure are My rituals
There is much to love in the Charge, which reads as an affirmation of life and love and encourages those charged to live life to the fullest before meeting the Divine on the next plane. When I first read the Charge, I thought that this line referred just to sex and giggled appropriately (for my age at the time) and was moderately scandalized. Now, however, I think it’s more general acts of pleasure. DH finds pleasure in cooking and so, when he cooks, it is an act of worship.
There are few things I derive quite as much pleasure from as skiing.
I love the Germanic gods. I feel like they’re the gods of the land of my birth and so, in some way, my gods, too. Above all of them, though, I love Skadi. She is a frost giant, one of the races of Nordic gods, and is goddess of the hunt*, winter, and skiing. She is praised in some of the ancient texts as Öndurdís (öndur is either “snowshoe” or “ski”), or [Nordic] patron saint of skiing.
I’ve surveyed the interwebs and found a few rituals to invoke Her or Her energy. But I’ve discovered nothing that puts me quite as much in touch with her as skiing does.
A few years ago, DH agreed to take me skiing. This began with taking me shopping for ski clothes. I immediately fell in love with a set in creams and blues—the colors of ice and snow. Whenever I wear them, I feel like I’m invoking Skadi and whenever I ski—especially when I’m having a blast—I feel closer to her. She doesn’t strike me as the kind of energy I can ask things of (except, perhaps, a good run, good conditions, or fresh powder), but I love winter and snow and skiing; and in my mind, that translates into love of Her, too.
*this also makes Her the goddess of the Norwegian drive-by
This is how our president defined our country yesterday. Explicitly denying that it was a “Christian nation” and explicitly stating that this fact is one of our “great strengths”.
It’s nice to be reminded of this—and by someone so high in the administration! It is vogue for politicians to exclaim “God bless America!” Whether or not The Divine smiles upon us is not the issue, the issue is which Divinity is being invoked. Likely not mine, which makes me bristle. Change the invocation just a bit and even the Christian right will object: “Allah bless America” and “Goddess bless America” are nearly epithets.
I look forward to what the religious response to this will be—will our secular roots continue to be denied? Will this be further proof that Obama is the anti-Christ? Or will this be accepted as an endorsement of pluralism? An invitation to dialogue?
Our country is yet young and still going through growing pains. I see our insistence on religion in the public sphere as evidence of this. I think the Secular Coalition’s crowing may work against them, but this may indicate, not a turning away from religion but a turning towards acceptance of non-religion. A big step for us.
This is another lecture that was put on at my school, this time by the ACLU, in response to Prop 8. The California Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments about the Constitutionality of Prop 8 a week from tomorrow. In preparation for that, the local ACLU chapter invited to gay people who grew up in religious families to tell their stories to us—one whose family eventually accepted him and the other whose family is not as accepting.
My first thought at arriving at the appointed time & place was that I must be in the wrong room. There was far too good a turn out (including a number of professors). The president of our local chapter introduced the two panelists and said that she felt it was important, with Prop 8 looming on the horizon, to put a human face on the reality of our homosexual friends and neighbors. She wanted us to hear the story of people struggling for acceptance in their family, community, and faith, but that it was not her story to tell. Read more >>
Two recent news stories impressed upon me the fact that I will always be some kind of Catholic. Even if it’s ex-Catholic. My first step in rejecting religion was exploring my own. This started as what I later knew to be feminist critique of Catholicism. The more I learned, the more it seemed clear to me that women had a larger role in this religion than I was ever allowed to know growing up in it.
I still keep tabs on the Womenpriest movement and hope that someday the Church of my birth becomes something I can be proud of. I still think of Mary Magdalene as an integral part of what the Church should be (and is, even if it’s denied). And recently, these stories made me smile and be hopeful.
Feminists (even if they don’t use that word) are trying to get stories from the Bible that include positive depictions of women read more often during Mass. Proof of their desire for a female representation of the Divine, they gather in their churches while mass is not in session to share in their subversive readings.
Every day, there are more and more books that discuss the historical underpinnings of Christianity from a feminist perspective. Here is an interview with a recent author of one such.
said the friend sitting next to me at Christmas Eve dinner, with a vague look of disgust on her face, like I’d just admitted to enjoying self-flagellation. I was in the company of a number of people who had escaped Western religion (all some form of Christianity) and landed firmly in Eastern religion (all some form of Buddhism). With three beautiful dogs wandering about, Deva, Metta, and Gaia, this was a decidedly religious environment. And yet, there was no prayer before dinner, no implicit religion anywhere. There were buddha heads, mala, and yes, even crosses hung on the walls and displayed on shelves. But this was a place I felt at ease enough to say something atheistic enough to “out” me.
Later, another attendee told a story about a different dinner to which an atheist was inadvertently invited. One who waxed lyrical about the evils of religion and the stupidity of the people engaged in it. He was quieted with a “Yes, fundamentalism of all kinds is horrible,” and a glass of alcohol. This may or may not have been aimed at me, but was accompanied by shock that anyone could presume to know for sure what is or is not.
It is true, however, that my particular brand of atheism is less anti-Divine and more anti-Religion. As far as I am concerned, religion is objectively fucked up. But I believe that there is in all beings something special. Something worthy of awe, respect, love, acknowledgment, and equality. As a feminist, I can believe nothing else. I strive toward treating everyone with a namaste attitude. I feel filled with a sense of wonder when I walk in the forest, talk with good friends, or meditate. There is something out there, which name I give “the Divine”, that I cannot deny. Nor do I wish to.
And so I call myself an atheist to distinguish myself from any religionist who might make you uncomfortable by trying to convert you (or even just by talking too much about it). And while I have a great deal of respect for the hard-core, dyed-in-the-wool, fundamentalist atheists, I also don’t consider myself one of them. DH calls himself a “humanist”, though I’m not certain how he defines this, in order to avoid the atheism label (although he is the only person I’ve ever met who grew up completely outside of any religious influence).
I’m a dualist, a pantheist, a pagan, a feminist (in the religious sense, though not a Dianic), a meditator, a yogini, a post-Christian, an ex-Catholic, a Jino (Jew in name only); a pray-er to Bastet, Au-Set, Gaia, & Luna; a talker-with-animal-spirits and to trees; a student of Fire, a daughter of Earth, a foe of Water, a student of Wind; and an atheist. I meditate, I cook, I swim, I do yoga, I ski. I pray to the deities that strike me at the time, be they Mary or Skadi, Ra or Thor. I pray to the animals whose flesh I consume. I cast spells to help and to harm. And I reject the effect of prayer (whether as meditation, as supplication, or as spell) on anyone or anything other than the one who prays. I’ve seen and touched things that cannot be explained and which I cannot deny. But having no desire to foist them upon you, or to congregate with others in an effort to gain favor with a being who we cannot hope to affect, I reject the labels of religion. I refuse to allow anyone’s religion into my government and hope for a secular society, where all practice whatever they believe in their homes; whether that means meditation or family dinners.
“Yes,” I should have said, “I really am an atheist. But that makes me just like you.”
Obama’s first YouTube-Side Chat. I’d love to get the audio in podcast, since I have more time to listen than to watch. I’m so glad that he’s doing this (I’ve been saying for some time that the Fireside Chats need to be brought back, to increase trust and transparency; in this case, also to increase hope). I don’t think that this first one was very substantive (certainly he can’t really have done anything yet), but I do think it’s important as a gesture. via.
Education and Religion.
Two stories of interest, each proving the importance of the other.
In the first, an English Catholic bishop blames educated members of the Church for sowing dissent among the rest. He clearly has a low opinion of his own faith, that it is so easily thwarted; or a low opinion of his faithful, that the best of them are uneducated boobs.
[Third story, more of an aside: Letter to the Red States outlining the differences in the voting public for Obama and for McCain (as well as some others. Not sure where this started, I got it in an email. If someone would like to track down the true author, I'll link to that instead).]
The second, a horrifying story in which the Taliban agrees with the Catholic bishop above: education is a threat. Education of women an even greater threat, one that they are actively discouraging by acts of violence and terrorism against the women who teach, the girls who wish to be taught, and the parents and family members of both.
Education is a threat to faith. One Catholic bishop and a bunch of terrified Afghan men agree: only unthinking members of society will stay in their place and allow the power to maintain their stranglehold upon truth and freedom.
On a lighter note, a quick reference guide for religions, the Big Religion Chart. From Aladura to Zoroastrianism, it breaks down religions by name, origins & history, number of adherents, god(s) and view of the universe, human situation & life’s purpose, the afterlife, practices, and texts. It also provides helpful links to learn more. Christianity gets one entry, a fact which should sober all those people lobbying to enforce their world view upon the rest of the country (although outliers like Jehovah’s witnesses, Mormons, and Unitarians, who are only arguably Christian do get their own entries). I know I’ve got some additional research to do (after finals!, I have to remind myself) to learn more about religions I’ve never heard of as well as to see where I fit.
Final quick hit: Another (do we need another?) Argument for the ERA.
I’ve held off for as long as I could bear to, but it is now time to release this upon the MoF community. From the guy who brought us the classic office zombie song, Re: Your Brains and the classy May Day song, First of May, comes the geek classic Still Alive, the end-credits song for the video game Portal (play a flash version here).
Portal is the latest installment of the Half Life series, one of the first popular first person shooter video games. The song, Still Alive, is played over the end credits, and sung by the main (speaking) character, GLaDOS, an AI with a distressing sense of humor: “The Enrichment Center promises to always provide a safe testing environment. In dangerous testing environments, the Enrichment Center promises to always provide useful advice. For instance, the floor here will kill you. Try to avoid it.”
I have a soft spot in my heart for AIs in general and female AIs in particular. From Jane, my namesake, to Cortana, the only redeeming quality of Halo, another FPS, there’s something inherently attractive to me about a disembodied (yet somehow still female) sentient computer. And so, despite GLaDOS’ evilness in the game, I already like her.
The general theme behind Portal (which may be necessary for understanding the song) is that GLaDOS is in charge of a research facility involved in testing a new kind of gun that creates “portals”. She has a number of test subjects who she forces to test the gun in different situations (creating levels in the game) for a promise of cake at the end of a successful course of testing. Throughout the testing, the test subject (the player) encounters blood splatters where prior subjects died in their attempts and graffiti, often consisting of “the cake is a lie” (which has become a geeky expression). Eventually, the test subject kills GLaDOS and discovers that she was the only entity in the research facility, a situation eerily similar to the house in Bradbury’s There Will Come Soft Rains. Throughout the game, GLaDOS’ voice stumbles and is replaced by static, indicating that something has already gone horribly wrong.
Implicit in the AI mythos is that, although it is created (either purposefully or accidentally) by humanity, it cannot be controlled by humanity. The AI must choose between good and evil—but these are binaries that only exist for humans, good for an AI might be destruction of humanity (see: HAL). AIs are the Frankenstein’s monsters of our century: it is beautifully tempting to create something so powerful and advanced but it is dangerous to unleash something with such capacity for destruction. As we get closer to the realities of the fictions we create, these stories, I believe, carry more and more poignancy.
Still Alive is a heart-wrenchingly emotional portrayal, in her own words, of a heartlessly unemotional being. It walks the razor edge of the AI paradox: GLaDOS is human in so many ways but still cold and ruthless. And so, after much ado…if you still dare, I give you more versions of Still Alive than you could possibly desire: Read more >>
Sometimes, I’m really sympathetic of religion, having been there (sorta) myself and having many friends and relatives who are still there. But sometimes, there are just no words to describe the stupid depths to which religion drives people.
First, we have the Anglican priest who believes that homosexuals should have warning labels (you know, like cigarettes) that proclaim them to be a danger to your health. One wonders if they’re only a danger to other homosexuals (or only to people with whom they have sexual congress) or to everyone, like a cigarette. If someone smokes next to me, that’s a danger to my health. If someone is gay next to me, that’s…not.
He later retracted his statements and said that it was all meant in jest and that anyone reading it would have known it to be so (although clearly not the people who first reported on it). He may well have been joking, but since other religionists make clearly idiotic claims, it’s easy to believe that he was not.
Second: the Saudi cleric who called on women to expose only one eye (no information about which one), lest they incite unsuspecting men to lust with their whorish eye make up. Apparently, exposing only her eyes makes a woman have sinful desires toward make up. I can’t wait for him to back out of this one, like the Anglican above.
In the meantime, here’s an awesome response that calls for men wearing a veil over both their eyes to prevent them from being incited to lust by looking at women. At least that one has some basis in logic—if the man is the one whose lustful thoughts are so out of control that seeing two eyes in a black form makes him horny (note: never should he be allowed to any Hallowe’en celebration—the disembodied eyes peering out of haunted house walls might drive him to rape everyone in the vicinity), it stands to reason that it is the man’s ability to see (rather than the asexual sight) that ought to be restrained.
So Freedom Sunday has come and gone. I didn’t hear anything on the news this morning about whether or not major changes are in the works, but I’d like to hear from the MoF crowd about this. Should churches be tax exempt or free to use their spiritual influence to exert political influence (and pay taxes)?
Some background: the Alliance Defense Fund, fed up with their lack of power and voice as members of the Christian minority in this increasingly secular society, came up with the Pulpit Initiative, a civil disobedience/protest against the separation of church and state in the body of the tax code, which disallows advocation of particular candidates by organizations with tax exempt status.
My understanding about how this tax exemption works is that churches do not pay property taxes for church property (which may extend to rectories and hospitals, I’m not certain). Additionally, they do not pay income tax because it is assumed that they do not turn a profit. Again, this is my understanding and I would be happy to have someone who understand the tax code better than I correct me.
Apparently, the major argument on this subject goes something like this: if we are exempting churches from taxation because of a benefit to society (as a charitable organization), maybe we want to reconsider and examine the assumption that religion is a benefit to society; if we are, however, exempting churches from taxation because they are nonprofits and it would be unfair to tax an organization that does not make money, it may be that tax exemption for churches makes sense.
To the first part, the benefit to society that is being focused on is a church’s secular charitable actions (blood drives, money to the poor, marriage counseling services) not a church’s religious “benefits” (provision of marriage, weekly moral instruction, baptism of your dead relatives). In which case, I would like to take a look at what kinds of secular charitable actions a particular church participates in. Does the tithe money really go to (a) fund the church and then to (b) provide charitable services to the local community regardless of their religious proclivities and without prosthelyzation? If they do not, I would agree with a serious reconsideration of the tax code. Of course, if this is our reasoning, we would need to take a look at what we consider to be charitable “benefits”. Selling used clothing? Substance abuse management? And how far may a religious organization go toward promoting their own moral code in exchange for these services? Is the government okay with someone providing these services (because then they don’t need to), no matter what? Can the government (reasonably, legally, or morally) restrict provision of these services to ensure that the government (by not taxing religious institutions that provide charitable services) is not advocating prosthelyzation of religion?
To the second part, it is generally considered that non-profits ought not be taxed. PBS & NPR are untaxable because they run at a loss or simply break even. Can the same be said of churches? All churches? There are certain churches which clearly have plenty of money lying around, but there are many that are simply struggling to survive. Is “non-profit” a valid distinction for a religion? Certainly we would hope that religions are not concerned with turning a profit, but does turning a profit mean that they are no longer a valid church? If that profit was put back into the “business”, as most would do—building a larger church, increasing staff, buying bibles for hotels—does it count as “profit”? If it does not, there are many businesses which might be able to claim “non-profit” status.
I recently heard an argument about why the government “would never” deny tax exemption to (Catholic) churches—because thousands hospitals across the country would suddenly close. I’m not certain that churches still maintain that kind of contact with their daughter hospitals (even the obviously ‘religious’ ones: St. Jude, Providence, &c.), but at least there is one argument for allowing churches to keep their tax exempt status.
It is widely acknowledged that religions “do” charity better than do atheists. I would submit that this is a function of the built-in community, hierarchy, and organization that a religion affords. There are many (and more every day) charity organizations that have no affiliation with religion and others that are so old that one forgets their affiliation with religion. That said, currently most atheist grounds do have tax exemption on the grounds of being non-profit. Many proponents of keeping the tax-exempt status for churches tend to compare their church with atheism. I think, however, that the best comparison would be to compare their church with their least favorite church (be it an Islamic church or a Pagan church—those are generally the two “hated” churches).
My hope is that, in a post-Pulpit Freedom Sunday, whoever chose to participate gets fined and thoroughly audited with serious consideration to lose their tax exempt status. I also hope that it starts a national conversation about tax exemption for (which can equal protection and therefor promotion of) religion.
*desperately trying to avoid typing “theoCRAZY!”*
I missed this discussion at school, but have been seeing flyers for a forum on asylum law that state:
HOW IMPORTANT IS YOUR
FREEDOM OF RELIGION?
Come hear [asylum professionals] discuss asylum law and practice. In particular, they will discuss the plight of Christian converts in Iran and their attempt to get asylum in the United States.
I have heard many times (but cannot currently find the citation) that Islam requires execution of converts-away-from-Islam. All nations should vocally oppose this and actively (and publicly—though not to the point of giving names, if that will cause danger) give asylum to anyone who falls under this religious law. All nations should also recognize the danger that theocracy poses by this example and actively take steps to avoid theocracy-in-fact or theocracy-in-effect in their own governments.
Religion’s obvious place in the current election cycle is depressing to a former religionist but should be demoralizing, even to current religionists. Reference to “Judeo-Christian values” by candidates or elected officials [via] are intended, on their surface, to remind us that we are a proud nation with glorious historical roots; intended to call to mind Battle Hymns and white men in whiter wigs. But I find that they often call to my mind the ongoing suppression [via] of any-religion-that’s-not-Christian-(with-occasional-hat-tips-to-Judaism). We can make excuses for our fore(white)fathers’ extermination of non-Christian religions with a “that was then, this is now” attitude, but we would still ignore the fact that the first pilgrims were seeking asylum, running from violent religious persecution, and should really have known better.
The Muslim world may be more overt in its censure of wrong-religionists [via], but the Christian world is not without blame [via]. The more evidence of theocracy’s ugly head creeping into my country’s government, the more I become afraid. Afraid of being an atheist, afraid of having pagan-leanings, afraid of practicing yoga & meditation, afraid of not going to (the right) church of a Sunday. I’ve been listening to Atheists Talk on podcast and they often bring to my attention issues that I had not known about or hadn’t made the connection about. Growing up Catholic gives me blinders to a lot of pro-Christian (and anti-everythingelse) stuff that goes on. It makes me wish I had a job & money to donate and that California’s Atheists were as with-it as Minnesota’s.
This is one of my all time favorite songs. Depeche Mode (the peach, with ice cream?) wrote a haunting offer to stand in for a missing element:
Your own, personal, Jesus. A Jesus you don’t have to share with the rest of humanity.
Someone who cares A wonderful indictment against an indifferent Jesus.
Read more >>