Archives For Aseem Shukla

Top Story: In northern New York state Krista Marie Goley is charged with manslaughter in the stabbing death of her boyfriend Timothy C. Rolland. While there is no evidence that Goley’s religion had anything to do with the stabbing, it’s brought up in a negative light by Watertown Daily Times reporter David Shampine and the victim’s family.

“We had warned Tim to get out of that relationship,” Mrs. Rolland said. “He told us she is bipolar, and she was a Wiccan. He was staring at the devil in the face.” On Ms. Goley’s MySpace page, she lists her religion as “Wiccan,” and for an occupation, she lists, “US ARMY 88M/ Wiccan.” The background of the MySpace page is covered with images of pentacles, a five-pointed star often used as a symbol of Wicca, which is a neopagan religion that utilizes witchcraft.

The question is why did the reporter think Goley’s religion is pertinent in this case? There’s been no sign that the murder was religiously motivated, or that it had ritualistic overtones. You could have just as easily listed the fact that she likes to play Pokemon or that she likes the “Resident Evil” movie. No Wiccan text of any sort I’ve ever read has advocated for murder, so the inclusion of Wicca (which “utilizes witchcraft”) in this article just muddies the water for the purposes of some cheap sensationalism. One wonders if the Watertown Daily Times would have made of point of mentioning her faith if she was Catholic or  a Lutheran. Reporting on a perpetrators religion should involve some pertinent reason for doing so, or else you’re simply stirring the pot because you have nothing else to say.

Glenn Beck, Inclusivity, and Minority Religions: In the wake of Glenn Beck’s religious rally many are trying to figure out what it all means (here are three Pagan reactions over at Pagan+Politics). Over at the Washtington Post’s On Faith site, Hindu American Foundation co-founder Aseem Shukla blasts the “false inclusivity of supposedly ecumenical events” like Beck’s rally.

“…a persistent insistence on Christian-only exceptionalism and a national Christian primacy is raising alarm bells for others. I have argued before that a religious litmus test most certainly exists in this country-and the litmus paper only reads two colors: Christian or the other. Indian Americans recently elected to national office, such as Bobby Jindal or Nikki Haley were forced to prove that they as converts, they were even more Christian than most Christians, and President Obama’s Muslim heritage has been bandied about as a scarlet letter that somehow renders him suspect or unfit to govern. We have experienced before the false inclusivity of supposedly ecumenical events of the far right. There may have been a rabbi or imam at the Beck event, but the overall theme was very much “we are a Christian nation” drumbeat, and Hindus have experienced rejection before when they asked to participate in events such as the National Day of Prayer. This is the paradox of religion in the public square: it means very different things to different people.”

Leaving aside the political implications of Beck’s rally, the event was, in the words of conservative commentator Ross Douthat, “a long festival of affirmation for middle-class, white Christians.” In addition, the prominent inclusion of figures like John “America has become a pagan society” Hagee and David Barton of Wallbuilders (who argues that Pagans don’t deserve the same Constitutional protections as Christians) make it very clear who’s actually welcome in Beck’s quest to restore honor. So long as those who actively work to deny us our rights are under his big tent, I can’t take seriously any argument that religious minorities are truly welcome.

Anti-Pagan Pastor in Porn Scandal: Australian Christian social crusader the Reverend Fred Nile, a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council, has been caught in an Internet porn-viewing scandal.

“The controversy began with the issuance of a report by the Department of Parliamentary Services, which had conducted an internet history audit of government computers that said Nile’s office had accessed adult websites approximately 200,000 times. Coming on the heels of a similar revelation that resulted in the resignation of New South Wales Ports and Waterways Minister Paul McLeay, the news has sent shockwaves through the government. Thursday, in response to the growing scandal, Nile held a press conference during which he denied ever viewing pornography, but admitted that he had instructed his staff to research the issue for legislation that he said he was considering introducing.”

Nile is taking a sort of “didn’t inhale” defense, saying the sites were never actually viewed, just accessed (200,000 times) for research into legislation. Sex Party president Fiona Patten says that Nile just needs to “get over his guilt and shame” concerning viewing porn on the Internet. For those who don’t live in Australia, Nile is sort of the equivalent to Pat Robertson there. He’s taken many socially conservative stances, including opposing legal Pagan weddings.

Christian Democrat Party leader and anti-pagan campaigner Reverend Fred Nile said: “(Handfasting) can’t be in any way acknowledged by the state and should not be listed as a genuine wedding. Our party will do what it can to stop pagan weddings and witchcraft or Wicca activities.”

If this scandal means the political and social downfall of Nile, I’m sure there aren’t too many Pagans down under who will be complaining about it.

The OTO Showing Pagan Pride in Utah: The Salt Lake Tribune does your typical “meet the Pagans” story with a couple twists. First, the piece profiles a local OTO/Thelemic group Ordo Gnostic Templar (I couldn’t find a listing for them, but they could be a newer group) along with several colorful pictures, and secondly, it seems the paper used Patheos.com as an information resource.

“More than a million Americans now practice some form of Wicca, or traditional witchcraft, Ceremonial Magick, Hermeticism, Shamanism, Asatru (German/Nordic religion), African religion such as Voodoo and Shamanism, according to patheos.com, a multifaith website.”

It’s nice when a paper steps a bit outside of the Wiccan box to show how diverse modern Paganism truly is, and prints generally solid information. Now if only more such articles would follow suit. We’ll soon be entering the Halloween/Samhain season, and that usually means a small flood of “meet the Pagans” articles, here’s hoping this piece is a good harbinger of coverage to come.

The Order of Light for the Establishment of Global Fraternity: OpEdNews features the latest investigative installment from Georgianne Nienaber and Mac McKinney on post-earthquake Haiti, this one featuring a look at Vodou religion and the history of Vodou in the country.

At this point the discussion segued into the reality of Haitian Vodou until, rather suddenly and casually, Raymond revealed that he himself was a Vodou houngan, or priest, and that he belonged to a Haitian religious society called The Order of Light for the Establishment of Global Fraternity, actually an almost Masonic, even Theosophical title invoking one of the key words from the motto of the French Revolution of 1789: “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”, hardly what most people, prone to all the stereotyped caricatures of Voodoo in pop culture, would expect.

Raymond, acutely aware of the gross and fraudulent Hollywood image of Voodoo as nothing but zombies, black magic, curses and human sacrifices, went to considerable length expounding that this is indeed a absurd misrepresentation of real Vodou religion. He did point out, though, that there are two streams of Vodou as it is practiced in Haiti, what he calls the Vodou of the Peristyle, and the Vodou of the Temple.

I wasn’t aware that Vodouisants split themselves into “peristyle” and “temple” varieties, could any of my Haitian Vodou-connected readers confirm this for me? Is such a distinction common? In any case, the essay makes for fascinating reading.

That’s all I have for now. Stay tuned tomorrow for a Pagan community news round-up, and have a great day!

Hello! It’s good to be back home at The Wild Hunt, and I hope all of you enjoyed the week of thought-provoking and insightful guest-posts. I would like to thank Lee Gilmore, Kulasundari Devi, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, Jordan Stratford, Matthew Ellenwood, and Christian Day for their contributions, and I hope you’ll continue to follow their work in the future. I’d especially like to thank Cosette Paneque for stepping up and running the site while I was away, as well as writing news updates; her efforts are greatly valued, and I’m glad to call her a friend and colleague.

Pagan Spirit Gathering was an immense experience, an intense immersion into a fully Pagan world that leaves you changed in the process. The Pagan Newswire Collective (in partnership with the Proud Pagan Podcasters and Patheos.com) gathered hours of audio interviews from that trip, and as we sort through it, I’ll be sharing some of it with you here, as well as writing about my experiences. You can also experience some of PSG on an upcoming episode of T. Thorn Coyle’s Elemental Castings podcast, and my own A Darker Shade of Pagan podcast. I’d like to thank Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary, and all the Pagan Spirit Gathering organizers for inviting me to the event, and for taking such good care of me once I was there.

It may take me a couple days to get fully on top of things again, but here are a few news items I wanted to share with you today.

The Maetreum of Cybele’s Legal Battle: The Daily Mail has an update on the upcoming court battle in upstate New York between the Maetreum of Cybele, a Pagan temple and convent, and the Town of Catskill over tax exemptions.

“They declared war on us and we’re bringing it to them,” Platine said. “If we file a federal suit we will be looking for punitive damages. We want to send a message loud and clear that you don’t do this to a minority religion,” she said. “They woke up a sleeping giant.” Platine said she has had great support from the pagan community nationwide and was receiving donations to pay the Maetreum’s legal fees. “We just want them to give us back our exemption,” she said, “and leave us alone.”

I’ve been covering this legal saga here at The Wild Hunt, and the outcome could have profound effects on how minority religions approach tax exemption issues, especially if the case goes to the federal level. In the meantime, while Catskill seems to dislike giving property tax exemptions to isolated Goddess temples, mega-retailer Wal-Mart seems to have no trouble getting a big tax break. As a result, the Maetreum’s Reverend Mother, Cathryn Platine, has become something of a local anti-tax icon. I encourage you to read the entire Daily Mail piece, which has lots of interesting details, and I’ll be keeping you posted concerning the court case once I have more information.

Why Are Australian Political Parties Speaking at Christian-Only Events? Bruce Wilson at Talk To Action notes that representatives of Australia’s two dominant political parties recently participated in an event that was closed to non-Christians and broadcasted only to Christian churches.

“Last Monday, the leaders of Australia’s two biggest political parties addressed the right-wing Australian Christian Lobby in an event that excluded non-Christians and was broadcast solely to Christian churches across Australia. As the event website asked, “What values will define the nation after the election ?” Among the issues discussed was government funding of religious schools, which both party leaders support. Banned from the event, the Australian general public couldn’t formulate opinions about positions that Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott, both devout Christians, espoused. Now, only a few days later, Rudd has been ousted from his position as Prime Minister in a Labor Party revolt that has installed Julia Gillard as Australia’s new Prime Minister. It’s unlikely she’ll be a favorite of the Australian Christian Lobby – Gillard is unmarried and rumored to be an atheist. News coverage of Rudd’s ouster has mentioned many reason for his ouster, but Monday’s “Christians only” event does not seem to be on the list.”

The event seems like a slap in the face of all minority faiths, all but making that country’s Christian political power-brokers the de facto king-makers. It is especially troubling when you consider that Australia just recently hosted the world’s largest interfaith gathering. One would hope that such an event couldn’t happen here in the US, though Wilson does remind us that both Obama and McCain willingly participated in a discussion about faith at a conservative evangelical mega-church during the campaign. Reminding all Americans that “religious issues” in this country, at least for the time being, largely means “Christian issues”.

The Religious Litmus Test: To further underline my previous news item, Aseem Shukla, co-founder of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), discusses how the political rise of Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley (both raised in Dharma religions) has gone hand-in-hand with repeated assertions of their Christian identity and rejections of their minority religion roots.

“As any observer knows by now, say what you will about Haley and Jindal, but don’t say that they are not Christian. Ask about the Dharma religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism) of their childhood and their parents–Hinduism for Jindal and Sikhism for Haley–and be referred to Haley’s website where she writes of “living for Christ” or Jindal’s own striking testimonial on his conversion to Catholicism.

This year, eight Indian Americans, most of whom are Hindu, are running for national or statewide office–a record number–and the questions of faith become increasingly urgent. The media storyline–”Haley and Jindal triumph despite questions about their faith”– leaves millions of America’s adherents of Dharma faiths stone cold: What is so miserably wrong and unelectable in being a Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist or Jain?”

Shukla notes that while Haley and Jindal’s successes are a positive step for racial plurality in America, it still leaves religious minorities with the message that the US isn’t ready for our full inclusion in the political process. I should also note that Shukla, as he did in a previous post for On Faith, once again includes Pagans when speaking about religious minorities in the United States.

Another Pagan Candidate: In a final note I’m happy to announce that our community has another openly Pagan candidate to root for! Erin Lale, a Gythia of Asatru, is running for a seat on Nevada’s State Assembly on the Libertarian ticket.

“Lale believes in getting government’s eyeball out of your window and its hand out of your pocket. In the last session, the Nevada State Assembly couldn’t agree to balance the state budget by either cutting programs or raising taxes, so instead they raided the budgets of local agencies: cities, counties, water districts, and school districts. They raided the Clark County School District’s capital improvement fund, which was money raised from Clark County homeowners intended for renovating aging school buildings and replacing portables with permanent buildings, and they put it in the general fund to spend who knows where on who knows what. They raided the Clean Water Coalition of $62 million from hookup fees in Clark County intended for wastewater treatment, resulting in a lawsuit. Lale plans to introduce legislation to define fees in Nevada law so fees collected for a specific purpose must be used for that purpose or given back. Her plan to balance the budget is to end marijuana prohibition so we can tax that, spend $500 million less per year on prisons, free up police resources so we put more cops on the street without spending more money, bring parents back to the community which will help kids do better in school and break the cycle of poverty, have less gang violence, less border violence, and more tourist money in our economy.”

You can find out more about candidate Lale at her MySpace profile, which includes a cat-centric campaign ad. If there are any Nevada Pagans of the Libertarian persuasion reading this, I’m sure she could use some local support. I’ll be following Erin Lale’s candidacy in future posts at The Wild Hunt.

That’s all I have for now, I hope you have a great day!

As the Gulf oil crisis continues, people are turning to religion and religious leaders for answers, guidance, and comfort. I’ve been keeping track of Pagan reactions to this catastrophe, and there are two new instances worth noting. First, Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary is interviewed along with several other religious leaders by the Religious News Service. In the article, reporter Nicole Neroulias notes that nature-based religions are welcoming the growing recognition that our planet is sacred and that we cannot blindly continue down the path we’ve been traveling.

“Nature-based religions welcome this growing recognition that caring for the environment is a spiritual calling, and that the oil spill is “a wound in the earth,” said Selena Fox, a high priestess at Circle Sanctuary, a Wisconsin-based pagan resource center. Fox said she has been meditating and conducting outdoor prayers several times a day, lighting a pentacle of ritual candles to channel her energy toward five areas: stopping the leak, helping the cleanup, healing the impact, learning from the disaster, and hoping that people become more respectful of the circle of life.”

Meanwhile, at the On Faith site, Hindu American Foundation (HAF) co-founder Aseem Shukla weighs in on the welfare and value of animals affected by BP’s negligence and our country’s lack of regulation.

“For panentheistic Hindus, who with many Dharma faiths and Pagan traditions worship Earth as a manifestation of the Mother Goddess, divinity is found within every part of nature just as it transcends an earthly realm. The suffering animals endure in our blind pursuit of black gold to support a craven addiction will bear the brunt of the consequences of karma. It is empirical that every action has an equal and opposite reaction; while today the shrimpers and oyster harvesters are enduring for our collective sins, we must know that all of us will be affected as the dominoes of suffering fall.”

I think it’s encouraging that Shukla is expressing solidarity with modern Pagans in his column, and it hints at a possible fruitful alliance between Hindu and modern Pagan organizations in matters of mutual interest. Perhaps this terrible tragedy has caused some rethinking, even our president said recently he grew up with the notion that the ocean is sacred and that he “understands the emotional connection” people have to it. That kind of language, even in passing, hearkens to a time when America’s nature religion was more fully expressed in our leadership. We can only hope the (righteous) anger and concern evolves into a new ethic of care for our planet (and there is some evidence that this may be happening), instead of collapsing into cynicism and despair.

If you want to do something to aid the Gulf in this crisis, here’s a list of suggestions, and here’s one more. For those wanting to do spiritual work, Lorna Tedder has some suggestions.

Through much of April a very public debate has been raging over the practice of Yoga in the West, and whether its Hindu origins are given proper credit and acknowledgement by those who profit from it. One on side of the debate is Aseem Shukla, co-founder and board member of the Hindu American Foundation, on the other mega-selling New Age author Dr. Deepak Chopra, who seemingly bristles at calling himself a Hindu, and is trying to “sanitize” Yoga because there’s a lot of “junk” in the religious tradition from which it originated.

Some of yoga’s best-known—and most entrepreneurial—purveyors concede they’ve consciously separated Hinduism from yoga to make it more palatable. “The reason I sanitized it is there’s a lot of junk in [Hinduism],” explains Deepak Chopra, the New Age guru whose latest book, co-written with Marianne Williamson and Debbie Ford, is The Shadow Effect. “We’ve got to evolve to a secular spirituality that still addresses our deepest longings … Most religion is culture and mythology. Read any religious text, and there’s a lot of nonsense there. Yet the religious experience is beautiful.”

The Hindu American Foundation released a position paper on the subject, saying that there is no way to entirely de-link Yoga, no matter how secularized, from its Hindu roots.

“While HAF affirms that one does not have to profess faith in Hinduism in order to practice Yoga or asana, it firmly holds that Yoga is an essential part of Hindu philosophy and the two cannot be delinked, despite efforts to do so.”

In a Newsweek editorial published yesterday, Lisa Miller, author of “Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife”, ultimately backs HAF’s stance (despite a truly bizarre opening paragraph), and talks to religion professor Stephen Prothero, author of the new book “God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World–and Why Their Differences Matter”, to bolster that position.

“My friend the Boston University religion professor Stephen Prothero has just written a book called God Is Not One, which argues that the good in any religion (e.g., yoga) necessarily comes with the bad (caste systems). By seeing religion as a single, happy universal force, we blind ourselves to tensions of great consequence to individuals and to history. “America,” he says, “has this amazing capacity to make everything banal. That’s what we do. We make things banal and then we sell them. If you’re a Hindu, you see this beautiful, ancient tradition of yoga being turned into this ugly materialistic vehicle for selling clothes. It makes sense to me that you would be upset.”

But, Prothero points out, Chopra has a point. The American creative, materialistic, pluralistic impulse allows religion here to grow and change, taking on new and unimagined shapes. “You can’t stop people from appropriating elements in your religion,” Prothero adds. “You can’t stop people from using and transforming yoga. But you have to honor and credit the source.” Prothero’s bottom line is also my own. You can read from the Dalai Lama in yoga class. You can even read from the Sermon on the Mount. But know where yoga came from and respect those origins. Then, when you chant “om,” it will resonate not only in the room but down through the ages.”

I suppose it all comes down to respect. If you practice and benefit from Yoga, it’s only decent to acknowledge that you are benefiting from a practice that has sprung from Hindu religion and philosophy. To do otherwise would seem to cheapen and insult the practice. What about you, my readers? Do you practice Yoga? If so, do you acknowledge it as a Hindu practice?

Halferty Unrepentant: A few quick notes for you today, starting with an update on the high school industrial arts teacher in Iowa who has been put on temporary leave after telling a Wiccan student he couldn’t build an altar table in shop class. Teacher Dale Halferty of Guthrie Center High School, claims he was simply enforcing separation of Church and State, but now that he’s been informed that current local, state, and federal law allows independent religious expression by students, he’s falling back on demonizing the religious “other”.

“Personally, I think it’s offensive to worship rocks and trees,” Halferty said of Wicca, a religion based on ancient beliefs and a reverence for the Earth. “I am just trying to be moral. I don’t know how we can profess to be Christians and let this go on.”

What happens next is up to Halferty. If he refuses to obey the federal guidelines that specifically allow students to engage in projects like that altar table, he could be labeled “insubordinate” and brought before the school board for disciplinary action, turning himself into a would-be martyr for his faith. While anyone who understands law can see that Halferty is clearly in the wrong for his actions, I fear this is going to be held up as a case of “Christian persecution” by the usual suspects. I suppose we’ll find out on Monday.

The Not-So-Good News: Aseem Shukla, co-founder and board member of Hindu American Foundation, weighs in regarding On Faith’s panel question about the problem (if any) with proselytism overseas by U.S. religious groups. Shukla eloquently explains why there is a fundamental “asymmetric force of the proselytizer” due to the very different natures of pluralistic faiths (specifically referencing Dharma religions, Paganism, and Native religious traditions), and that proselytizers specifically target pluralistic traditions because they don’t offer the resistance that other Abrahamic faiths do.

“…there is the fact that the evangelical community can only “pick on” the pluralist societies. India, Nepal, Cambodia, Taiwan and much of Africa where indigenous traditions still hold sway, are among the targets today for the next “harvest.” The “Muslim world” rewards conversion away from Islam with death, and in China, Russia Burma and others, autocracy, the Orthodox Church or military junta proscribe missionary work.  And so, the very democracy and openness of pluralistic societies becomes their vulnerability–a poison pill as they face the onslaught of the proselytizers. Today, the Native Americans of the U.S. and Canada, the indigenous progeny of Latin America and Mexico, the Aborigines in Australia are silent witness to lost religions and decimated traditions that fell historically to earlier iterations of these onslaughts.”

HAF has been calling for adjustments in the language of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that would explicitly protect pluralistic religions from aggressive and predatory proselytizing. I recommend reading all of Shukla’s editorial, and also checking out the response from Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, who says that “proselytizing is an ever more dangerous religious idea”.

Should UUs Respect or Reverence the Earth? In a final note, Nancy Vedder-Shults at the Tikkun Daily Blog discusses the ongoing debate over revising the language of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s seven principles (an ongoing and oft-contentious process). In this instance, whether the seventh principle, “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part”, should have “respect” changed to “reverence”. Vedder Shults, a Pagan UU, realizes that the idea of “reverence” for the earth may be uncomfortable for many of the UU Humanists and atheists, so she offers a third option.

Then our seventh principle would read: “we covenant to honor and uphold … our need to love and care for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”

Vedder Shults invites feedback at her blog, I’m sure my Pagan UU readers will want to chime in.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!