Archives For nones

Here are some updates on previously reported stories here at The Wild Hunt.

James Arthur Ray

James Arthur Ray

“Secret”-peddler and New Age guru James Arthur Ray, currently in prison after being convicted of negligent homicide in three 2009 sweat-lodge ceremony deaths, won’t be in jail for much longer. While he could conceivably stay in prison until October, an email to supporters from Ray’s brother reveals that he’ll be released on parole on July 12th. Claiming destitution, Ray is seeking a home in Arizona to avoid living in a halfway house, as he cannot leave the state until his parole ends. Suffice to say, Ray’s critics are not happy about his early release. As Gaelic Polytheist Kathryn Price NicDhàna puts it: “He wants your money; he’ll take your life. Don’t let him ever again have a career at this stuff. Don’t let him sell his deadly fake rituals. Don’t let him lead any kind of ceremony, ever. Don’t buy it, don’t excuse it, don’t look the other way.” It should be noted that despite Ray’s claims of destitution, he’s still somehow paying his lawyers, who are still fighting to overturn his convictions.

PF_13.07.02_ViewsofNones_275x200The Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life has released data from a new survey analyzing how people feel about the growing of people claiming “no religion” (aka “nones”) in the United States. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we collectively seem to be evenly split on whether these ramifications are good or bad (or indifferent). Quote: “The new, nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life asked Americans whether having ‘more people who are not religious’ is a good thing, a bad thing, or doesn’t matter for American society. Many more say it is bad than good (48% versus 11%). But about four-in-ten (39%) say it does not make much difference. Even among adults who do not identify with any religion, only about a quarter (24%) say the trend is good, while nearly as many say it is bad (19%); a majority (55%) of the unaffiliated say it does not make much difference for society.” I’ve written quite a bit about the “nones” and what the ramifications of their growth are for religious minorities. I think it’s important to reiterate that “no religion” doesn’t mean “not religious,” many nones have spiritual beliefs and practices, they just don’t label themselves. I think that religious surveys need to start thinking about what kind of questions they ask, because the way we talk about and experience religion is changing. We should certainly escape the “good/bad” dualism about a classification of people that is endlessly diverse.

Egyptian protests.

Egyptian protests.

The world has been rightly focused on the incredible events unfolding in Egypt, with the military removing President Morsi from power after massive protests involving tens of millions of demonstrators. In the wake of those actions, whether Egypt will remain largely stable as these shifts take place remains to be seen. One aspect of the Egyptian economy that is being impacted by this upheaval is Egypt’s multi-billion dollar tourism industry, some elements of which have been eager to see Morsi go“We need somebody to do something for the people, but now the poor are very poor, and the rich are very rich, there is no middle class. And business is horrible.” Back in 2011 I wrote about reports of growing religiously-motivated hostility towards Egypt’s tourism industry, though the Muslim Brotherhood seemed eager to not disturb a significant part of the country’s GDP (mostly). Tourism had recovered somewhat during Morsi’s tenure, but has taken a “body blow” as Western countries advise against any non-essential travel to Egypt.  There currently isn’t a tourism minister, as he has stepped down, and it remains to be seen how events will unfold. The Wild Hunt is currently exploring several Egypt stories, including this one, and we’ll keep you posted as things develop.

E.W. Jackson

E.W. Jackson

Virginia Lt. Governor candidate E.W. Jackson, who I profiled recently here at The Wild Hunt, continues to clarify himself after coming under fire for saying and writing a number of stock conservative Christian positions on various social and religious issues. He recently walked back past statements he made that implied yoga can lead to Satanism, and now he wants you to know that he doesn’t hate gay people, well, most gay people. Quote: “I don’t treat anybody any differently because of their sexual orientation, but I do think that the rabid radical homosexual activist movement is really trying to fundamentally change our culture and redefine marriage and do a number of things that I just think are not good at all.” So there you go! He just doesn’t like gay activists, or anyone who wants to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples. Jackson claims his critics are applying a “religious test” on him for his views, but I think it’s important for Pagans living in Virginia to know he feels Witchcraft is “wrong and dangerous.” Any candidate, no matter what their party, or their personal faith, has to be able to serve all of their constituents. That includes the Pagans. Can you (would you want to) really serve the interests of someone you think is dangerous?

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

On the Summer Solstice over 20,000 individuals went to Stonehenge to revel and watch the sun rise (alas it was too cloudy this year to actually see the sun, though that didn’t seem to dim the celebrations). While in the past these massive throngs of travelers, tourists, and true-believers were seen as a charming (or annoying depending on your views) facet of British life, recent demographic upheavals regarding religion in the island nation have some re-evaluating what these crowds represent.

Solstice Stonehenge revelers in 2009.

Solstice Stonehenge revelers in 2009.

“A new analysis of the 2011 census shows that a decade of mass immigration helped mask the scale of decline in Christian affiliation among the British-born population – while driving a dramatic increase in Islam, particularly among the young. It suggests that only a minority of people will describe themselves as Christians within the next decade, for first time.”

So I was not completely shocked to hear that the Anglican Church in England is working to create a “pagan church” in the name of reaching out the kind of folks who like to gather at megaliths for festivals.

“The church is training ministers to create “a pagan church where Christianity [is] very much in the centre” to attract spiritual believers. Ministers are being trained to create new forms of Anglicanism suitable for people of alternative beliefs as part of a Church of England drive to retain congregation numbers. Reverend Steve Hollinghurst, a researcher and adviser in new religious movements told the BBC: ‘I would be looking to formulate an exploration of the Christian faith that would be at home in their culture.’

No doubt certain corners are already hunting “Episcopagans,” but I think this is more like the churches that hold “goth” services. It’s the same Christian theological center, but with trappings designed to make this growing demographic comfortable. Further, I don’t think this is really about Pagans at all. It’s about the millions of people with “no religion,” the folks who take an increasingly individualistic view of religion, and have no trouble attending a Pagan event on week, and (maybe) going to a Christian church the next.

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2011 Britain Census data.

“Compared with the 2001 Census the most significant trends were an increase in the population reporting no religion – from 14.8 per cent  of the population in 2001 to 25.1 per cent  in 2011, a drop in the population reporting to be Christian – from 71.7 per cent  in 2001 to 59.3 per cent  in 2011, and an increase in all other main religions. The number of Muslims increased the most from 3.0 per cent  in 2001 to 4.8 per cent  in 2011.”

Who knows, maybe a strategy embracing a more Pagan-friendly form of Christianity would win some new converts, but I think most people’s alienation comes from something deeper than aesthetics. On Thursday I spent four hours speaking to evangelical Christians who were studying to become clergy and full-time missionaries within their faith. At one point a young woman asked me what theological common ground modern Pagans and evangelical Christians shared. It was a question that stopped me short, and I had to finally admit that there was no theological common ground of note between us. That indeed, Christianity was in part formed in opposition to the then-dominant paganisms of the ancient world. Exclusivity, rigid monotheism, creator-steward dynamics, an infallible central text as ultimate authority, there are things are simply aren’t embraced by the bulk of the modern Pagan movement. I eventually said that instead of searching for theological common ground, we should focus on things that jointly concern us as human beings (human rights, the environment) and work on relationships instead of bridge-building through belief.

I suppose a “pagan” Christianity could emerge within festival culture like the Jesus People did within the 1960s hippie movement, but it’s not something that can be constructed from the top down. Training Pagan-friendly ministers might be nice for certain interfaith interactions, but I can’t see it convincing anyone to reclaim an Anglican Christian identity. What really needs to happen is more authentic relationships across faith lines, not training in how to conform to perceived subcultural norms. A relevant Christianity is one that re-focuses on its core radical message of love and embracing those outcast by society, not one that knows how to drum at Stonehenge during the solstice.

What do you think? Should Christians be more like Pagans, at least aesthetically? Would it matter to you?

On May 8th data from Canada’s 2011 National Household Survey was released, including data on religion. The big headline from this data is that people claiming no specific religion, often called “nones,” now make up around 24% of the Canadian population.

“Observers noted that among the survey’s most striking findings is that one in four Canadians, or 7.8 million people, reported they had no religious affiliation at all. That was up sharply from 16.5 percent from the 2001 census, and 12 percent in 1991. The Canadian trend seems to mirror but even exceed levels of non-affiliation in the United States. A 2012 survey from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life pegged the ratio of religiously unaffiliated Americans at just under 20 percent.”

Pagans from Vancouver, Canada.

Pagans from Vancouver, Canada. (Photo: Vancouver Pagan Pride)

The National Household Survey recently replaced the compulsory census, so the results will be statistically less reliable, but this is the best new data on religion in Canada we can access. This includes information on modern Paganism. According to the new data, there are around 25,495 Pagans, of which 10,225 are Wiccans, making them the largest sub-grouping.  This is a slight bump up from 2001, where the combined number of Pagans was estimated at 21,085. So it seems the Pagan population is growing slowly, or even remaining largely static (which mirrors results in Australia). Related belief system numbers include 1,000 Pantheists, 2,230 New Age practitioners, and 15,125 Unitarians. There were also a whopping 40,195 “others” who didn’t fit any of the religious categories given, so we have no idea how many of them might be nominally Pagan in identity.

An aboriginal elder burns tobacco during a ceremony at Little Norway Park in Toronto, part of the national day of action.(Dwight Friesen/CBC)

An aboriginal elder burns tobacco during a ceremony at Little Norway Park in Toronto, part of the national day of action.(Dwight Friesen/CBC)

In addition to these numbers, a number of non-Christian faiths experienced growth over the past decade in Canada. There were 64,940 practitioners of a traditional Aboriginal spirituality in 2011, way up from 29,820 in 2001 (more on Canada’s Aboriginal peoples here). Hindus grew from around 300,000 in 2001 to around 500,00 in 2011, and Buddhists gained around 70 thousand adherents in the past decade, approaching 400,000. For more numbers, see the Statistics Canada website. On the whole, Canada is becoming less Christian, more diverse, and more individual in its religious choices. The Province of British Columbia could be a bellwether for the country’s future, a pluralistic society where its people are “travelling in several religious directions at once.”

“New data released Wednesday suggests pluralistic B.C. is travelling in several religious directions at once. Many residents are becoming more devout following a great variety of world faiths. But other residents are endorsing secular world views and drifting into private spirituality. [...] Only 41 per cent of Metro residents are Christian, compared to a national average of 67 per cent. B.C. has the fewest Christians on average of any province or territory.”

So, taken as a whole, these are very encouraging trends. But are there really only 25,495 Pagans in Canada? There’s plenty of room to argue that there are more. First, the National Household Survey is “subject to potentially higher non-response error than those derived from the census long form,” so Pagans could be undercounted. Secondly, we don’t know how many individuals who claimed “no religion” or “other religion” may well be “one of us.” It’s conceivable that thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of individual Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists are “hiding” in other categories. Still, it’s good to have some new data on Paganism from our neighbors to the north, and to know that our numbers continue to climb.

We likely won’t know until June what the outcomes of the oral arguments at the Supreme Court over California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) will be, but it does seem clear that a threshold has been crossed. No matter how narrow (or broad) the decisions will ultimately be regarding the rights of same-sex couples in the United States, many will look to 2013 (and the November 2012 elections) as a time when a cultural corner was turned. When marriage equality was now backed by a majority of Americans, when politicians quickly issue statements to be on the right side of history, and when culturally conservative opponents of same-sex marriage are collapsing.

“In 2004, the campaign to prevent gay marriage was in its heyday. The Bush administration had seeded an initiative banning gay marriage in Ohio to mobilize activists and peel off traditionalist Democratic voters. Democrats nationally were running for cover, and even Howard Dean’s pro-civil-unions stance appeared risky. Now the movement is in a state of total collapse, with every day seeming to bring new converts to the gay-marriage cause and the opposition losing all of its courage.”

For many years Pagans have been on the forefront of the marriage equality debate. As a decentralized movement, one that recognizes many different sources of authority and tradition, we have long accepted that same-sex rites (and rights) were a part of our larger tapestry. As thousands gathered in Washington DC to be a part of history of the making, modern Pagans were there too, adding our voices, our support, to the growing movement for full equality.

Pagans in Washington DC, including Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, and PNC reporter/author David Salisbury performing a rite for freedom and justice.

Pagans in Washington DC, including Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, and PNC reporter/author David Salisbury performing a rite for freedom and justice.

“On March 26th and 27th, two of the most historic cases to ever be heard by the Supreme Court of the United States will begin. One case would overturn Proposition 8, which years ago banned marriage equality for all same-sex California citizens. The second trial would overturn DOMA (the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act”). Depending on how the SCOTUS rules, both of these trials could have major nation-wide effects that would change the course of our movement forever. People from all over the country will be arriving here in the District to rally at the trial on Tuesday. A crew of people (including me) will be sleeping outside on the sidewalk of the Supreme Court on Monday night before the rally on Tuesday. That night I will facilitate a ritual calling upon the guardian Goddess of DC and of the United States, Columbia. We will ask Columbia to bring the sword of victory to our work, leading us in the march to freedom and justice. Before the Tuesday rally, I’ll attend an interfaith service with some of my of my coreligionists and people of other faiths. Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary will be speaking at the service to give a voice from the Pagan perspective. This is all a very big deal.”

Selena Fox and other clergy at a National Interfaith Service in Washington DC.

Selena Fox and other clergy at a National Interfaith Service in Washington DC.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary also took part in a National Interfaith Service, where she and clergy from several other faiths blessed more than 30 same-sex couples.

As we get closer to decisions in these cases I plan to showcase Pagan voices on this issue, including national Pagan organizations, activists on the ground, and the experiences of Pagan same-sex couples. Until then, here’s a selection of past coverage The Wild Hunt has done on marriage equality, which includes many important Pagan voices weighing in on the subject.

DOMA Ruling and Pagan Marriage Rites (October 2012)

“A truly pluralistic and secular government understands that allowing one religious paradigm concerning marriage to trump all others is wrong, and undermines the very rights a free society holds sacred. We no longer live in a solely Christian nation, nor did we ever, really, from the very beginning America was built on a dance of power and privilege that sought to establish dominance for one viewpoint. That can no longer stand, and today’s ruling is not only a positive step forward for the rights of same-sex couples, but is also a step forward for all those who would want to bless those unions.”

Christianity and Marriage Equality (May 2012)

“As a non-Christian I have become increasingly frustrated with the game of theological and political ”hot potato” when it comes to this issue. It’s always “those” Christians over there, not the “good” Christians who are “evolving” on the issue. When the Catholic Pope calls for a grand anti-gay-marriage religious coalition, when our country’s most popular Evangelical leader defends himself from the mere perception of tolerance, you simply can’t pretend that opposition to the basic humanity of LGBTQ individuals is some extremist fringe living in the wilderness. The real, unfortunate, truth is that Christianity is working against the lives of gay men and women, save for a small percentage who have broken away.”

On Faith: Is there a marriage crisis in America today? (December 2010)

“It’s telling that the “solution” provided by many to the marriage problem is to roll back freedoms, and enshrine a trapped-in-amber definition of marriage that is as much an artificial construction as any now criticized by the culture warriors. Just as many “traditional marriage” proponents would blanch at the thought of returning marriage to a time of dowries, land transference, political alliances, and women-as-bargaining-chip; so too do young people today recoil at the thought of marriage being limited to the “proper” genders, a vehicle for reproduction, social stability, and maintaining an illusory status quo. A return to a time when private detectives where required to extricate oneself from an unhappy union, and domestic abuses were glossed over for the sake of social order.”

Pagans and Prop. 8 (August 2012)

“Within modern Pagan communities same-sex marriage is almost wholly uncontroversial. Shortly after Walker’s ruling was handed down, several Pagan organizations and noted figures within the movement reaffirmed their commitment to same-sex marriages and praised the decision. Druid group Ar nDriaocht Fein (ADF) said in a statement they “warmly welcome the decision of the court”, and that their organization has “never believed that the institution of marriage could possibly be threatened by the existence of married people of any gender”. T. Thorn Coyle of Solar Cross Temple and Morningstar Mystery School, speaking to those now recoiling from Prop. 8′s overturn, noted that“we are not trying to change your religious beliefs. We are only saying that we have the same civil rights as you do.” Holli Emore of Osireion and the Pagan Round Table said in a message to The Wild Hunt that we are “living in the last days of the kind of bigotry that would presume to dictate such matters, in my opinion.”

For even more, check out the “LGBTQ” and “marriage” tag categories. You may also be interested in my coverage of Cascadian “nones” in Washington and how they voted for marriage equality.

Here’s to freedom, here’s to love, here’s to equal rights (and rites) for everyone. More on this topic in the coming weeks.

I rarely agree with American Conservative opinion columnist Rod Dreher, not because he’s a “crunchy conservative,” but because his views on religion are so skewed by his evangelical-turned-Catholic-turned-Orthodox Christian worldview that he often comes off (perhaps inadvertently) as the worst sort of smug, triumphalist, man-of-God. The kind of guy who blames Haiti’s condition on Vodou, right after it’s rocked by a massive natural disaster and humanitarian crisis.

Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher

“The kind of religion one practices makes a huge difference in how the community lives — for better or for worse. I suppose it’s at least arguable that the Haitians would be better off at the Church of Christopher Hitchens rather than as followers of voodoo.

The kind of guy who calls Santeria savage demon worship (just like Vodou), who spreads unproven smears against liberal Catholics involving the taint of Vodou and polytheism, who joined the hilarious-in-retrospect freak-out over Hollywood “pantheism” (ie “Avatar” made a lot of money), and who never misses an opportunity to be “funny” regarding the beliefs of modern Pagans (it’s humorless and like Dungeons & Dragons). However, adversity makes for strange bedfellows and all that, there is stuff going down, a Pope has resigned, and the secular “nones” are rising!

Cue the grudging “I guess Pagans aren’t SO bad” re-evaluation: 

“Personally, I find paganism far more attractive than atheism, because pagans, however mistaken their understanding (from a Christian point of view) nevertheless share with Christians a recognition that there is Something There beyond ourselves, and the material world. I can have (have had) a fruitful, engaging discussion with my friend and commenter Franklin Evans, a pagan, in a way that I just can’t with friends who have no spiritual or religious beliefs, or a sense of the numinous.

My guess, and it’s only that, is that some pagans will fall away from the practice of their faith for the same reason many Christians are: because it doesn’t make sense in our scientistic, materialistic, consumerist world. At the same time, I think that paganism stands to gain overall from the unchristening of the West. If you look at the Asatru site, this neopagan religion speaks to longings that are deep within all of us, and cannot be suppressed forever.”

Yes, in the beauty contest of belief we’re pretty homely, but at lest we’re better looking than the atheists. So, go team Paganism? Yay? Here’s the thing though, while it’s inevitable that some Pagans will leave our umbrella for other pastures in our post-Christian future, modern Paganism as a movement has no trouble embracing both “hard” polytheists and, well, Pagan humanists. Most of the faiths under our umbrella have been fine with all sorts of conceptions of the divine, because our movement isn’t centered on a single correct belief. We, and I use that “we” very loosely here, are not all that threatened by atheism, humanism, or other post-theism “isms.” Our conditions of solidarity are practical, political (in the sense of fighting for our shared rights), social, and festival-based. So it’s amazingly common to see Pagan ecumenical gatherings where polytheists and atheists participate in the same rituals. When transformative (sacred/secular) phenomena like Burning Man appear, we are generally of the “what took you guys so long” school than the “does this threaten us” school.

The “spiritual but not religious” people are, for the most part, just fine with Pagans, are are the nones. As I’ve said before, I think their growth provides fertile ground for Pagan faiths, something Dreher also agrees with. Where he truly goes wrong in his analysis is in holding any one group up as representative of the movement as a whole. Paganism, polytheism, indigenous religions, syncretic diasporic faiths, Dharmic religions, these systems endured the rise of monotheism (and sometimes even thrived) because these faiths are, for the most part, decentralized, free of a binding “Pope” hierarchy, and able to change in ways Catholicism and other top-down systems can’t. Yes, monotheism can, for a time, be brutally effective in spreading and changing culture, but that success has to tie itself to the same colonial/militaristic power structure that early Christians condemned. When that power is slowly removed, a million green religious shoots appear in the paved-over theological parking lot.

Even if the Pagan umbrella crumbles some day and our faiths go our separate ways, it will not ultimately impede the growth of this religious phenomena. Some day we may be so popular that “umbrellas” may no longer be necessary, but the religious shift we are harbingers of will endure so long as we are not actively suppressed. Dreher sees the future as a battle between “something” (theism) and “nothing” (atheism)  and thus includes Pagans in team “theism”; but modern Pagans (and our allies) know that this is a false separation. There is no dualistic battle between “something” and “nothing” and our faiths aren’t playing that game. We don’t “fight” conceptions of the liminal that we don’t agree with, we either let them be (so long as they let us be) or find ways to simply include them. Modern Paganism, and similar religious movements are far more complex, and rich, than I think Dreher can imagine, and we are far more ready for the future than perhaps even we are ready to acknowledge.

As for Dreher, I’m sure he’d make a lovely neighbor, as Chas Clifton attests, and I hope he continues to travel the road he seems to have embarked on. Maybe he’ll find that all the demons he sees are placed there by a worldview invested in seeing our faiths as demonic, that the future to fear is not the growth of atheists, or Pagans, but what the dominant monotheisms might do to retain their power and influence.

Last month AlterNet published an essay by psychologist (and ex-evangelical Christian) Valerie Tarico that posits the Internet as an eroding force on “right-belief” organized religions. According to Tarico, the Internet destabilizes the “defenses that keep outside information away from insiders.”

Christian adherents as percentage of state population (2010).

Christian adherents as percentage of state population (2010).

“Tech-savvy mega-churches may have Twitter missionaries, and Calvinist cuties may make viral videos about how Jesus worship isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship, but that doesn’t change the facts: the free flow of information is really, really bad for the product they are selling.”

For those of us who exist in faiths outside the dominant religious paradigms here in the West, this is the sort of message that appeals to our own growth narratives. The notion that free access to information will break the shackles oppressive, narrow-minded, faith communities  have placed on their adherents. However, Elizabeth Drescher at Religion Dispatches refutes this narrative, saying that the Internet hasn’t really done that much damage to communities with well-policed borders.

The Mount Soledad Cross.

The Mount Soledad Cross.

Again and again, we see that the promise of ideological cross-pollination and the hope of more robust dialogue through social media participation has not widely been realized. A review of research on political engagement online by Jennifer Brundidge and Ronald E. Rice, for instance, suggests that access to diverse viewpoints and richer information on the internet tends primarily to benefit those of higher socioeconomic status, allowing deeper insight into the political Other without necessarily changing minds. Internet practice among those at lower socioeconomic levels, on the other hand, tends to reinforce like-mindedness. Further, the most religiously active Americans, according to a 2011 Pew study, are no less likely to use new technologies than are their un- or irreligious neighbors.”

As the near-constant stream of image-oriented memes on my Facebook feed tell me, we do a pretty good job of insulating ourselves from opinions we don’t like. We can always “hide” the posts of relatives and friends we don’t agree with, but don’t want to offend by actually un-friending. Drescher also points out that the explosive growth of “nones” mainly comes from the once-robust mainline (liberal) Christian churches that encourage their youth to explore other traditions and viewpoints.

“As I am regularly in the uncomfortable position of announcing to the members of my own declining denomination, progressive churches in many ways form their young people to leave their communities. Teens and young adults of all sorts may well be noodling around on the web encountering new religious ideas and practices. But it seems to be the case that progressive kids—kids whose parents would never for a minute consider taking them on vacation to a creationist theme park, or drill them in apologetic strategies with which to face down atheists—are more likely to be open to new religious perspectives and practices than are conservative young people.”

But what about Pagans? Has it helped us? The Pagan embrace of the Internet has been a much-studied aspect of our modern interconnected communities. Our reliance on social media sites, and the Internet, has become a common feature in many Pagan circles. I would argue that is has allowed us to evolve and grow at rates virtually impossible during the years of letter-writing and searching the bulletin boards of your local occult/New Age shop. It is a tool that is helping us become more visible, and organize in ways that would have been almost impossible 30 years ago.

Solstice Fire at Pagan Spirit Gathering

Solstice Fire at Pagan Spirit Gathering

As for the “nones” I believe their rise, even if it’s at the expense of “liberal” forms of our dominant monotheisms, is ultimately a boon for our interconnect communities. The rise of “nones” and the “spiritual but not religious” give us a safe space, a cultural buffer to grow and experiment in. It destabilizes the narrative of inevitable Christian power, and opens the door to minority faiths having a stronger voice in discussions around religious rights and moral issues that affect us all. It creates the opportunity to visualize a post-Christian culture.

“What happens is that you start to encounter cultures where “nones” dominate, and where spirituality is often shaped by the landscape, and by the people living in it. This can be very Pagan as in the Pacific Northwest, where the authors of “Cascadia: The Elusive Utopia,” note residents are “eclectically, informally, often deeply ‘spiritual.’” Specifically, New Age and nature-oriented spirituality loom large among “nones” here.”

So the question of whether the Internet will “harm” organized religion might be the wrong one. Perhaps the question should be is if the Internet empowers religions that were usually kept out of the cultural spotlight, and that it is this empowerment  that will ultimately “harm” religions that try to enforce a single cultural moral norm for everyone else.  But what do you think? Is the Internet a boon for Pagans? Does is harm organized religions directly, or does it simply re-create our current world in a virtual feed?

My Life as a “None”

Heather Greene —  February 3, 2013 — 16 Comments

Before I started writing for The Wild Hunt, Jason suggested that I introduce myself.  I never did and time scurried away.  So today, I’m going to share with you a personal revelation – an admission, of sorts.  I frequently write about my Jewish upbringing.  But now I must confess that I was really only Jew-ish.  In actuality, I was raised a “none.”

antique photograph

Photo courtesy of Flickr’s curtis4x5

As I child, I lived in a wholly secular family environment. We didn’t have a mezuzah.  We didn’t belong to a temple. Religion had no place in our lives. Words like “prayer,” “faith” and “God” were foreign terms used by other people. Existence was explained through science and philosophy. Ethics were harvested from history, art and experience.

And so it was, my life as a “none.”  Before I continue, let me be clear. We were not atheists, agnostics or humanists.  We were nothing.  We just lived in the world as it presented itself; which, as it turns out, was very religiously diverse. While that eclectic environment was fundamentally excellent, the diversity eventually became a problem.

Everyone around me had a religious identity linking them to a community filled with rich tradition and heritage. Through these identities, they had a defined relationship with spirit.  Some kids went to CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) classes and others to Hebrew school. Some missed school for Yom Kippur and others fasted during Ramadan.

While I felt the presence of spirit, I had no means of accessing it. The few Jewish prayers that I knew were spoken in a foreign language; rendering them spiritually useless.  I was left standing alone outside the religious speak-easy with no password to enter.

This void became my burden and my quest.  I clung desperately to the small trickle of Jewish culture that was accessible.  In doing so, I did find my cultural heritage but, unfortunately, I found no suitable relationship to spirit.

Astronomical Clock in Prague Courtesy of Anthony Dodd

Astronomical Clock in Prague
Courtesy of Anthony Dodd

As the wheel turns, life changes. I am no longer nothing.  My quest led me to Wicca and my burden was left at some doorstep long ago. Interestingly enough, I can also now say that I was never nothing.  There is finally a label for what I was: “religiously unaffiliated.”  I was a “none.”  According to Pew Forum, the “unaffiliated” population has now grown from 5-10%, in the 1980s, to today’s 19.8% of the overall population. This growth warranted finally giving the group a name.

What has fuelled this growth?  Harvard Professor, Robert Putnam told NPR, “this young generation has been distancing itself from community institutions…” Putnam goes on to relate this phenomenon to the heavily polarized socio-political landscape with regards to religion. While that may be so, I’d also suggest that this increase coincides with our transformation into an independent “do-it-yourself” society.  (e.g. Home Depot, You Tube, TiVo, eTrade.)  We now have “do-it-yourself” religion.

While that sounds as if I’m mocking the concept, I’m not.  Remember, I was raised a “none.”  As such, I’ve always participated in creative, off-beat religious expression.  One year, we renamed our secular Christmas holiday to “Peacemas,” celebrated with Jewish friends, Kugel and Pictionary. 

Additionally, secular culture is increasingly able to fill the void that plagued me as child – one of connectivity. Of course, the internet plays a big role, but outside of that, “nones” are connecting in the physical world.  Just this month, the First Church of Atheism opened its doors in the U.K.  Founder Sanderson Jones said, “We want all the things that are good about bringing a community together and make us better people, just without God being involved.”

Similarly, Calgary boasts the new Calgary Secular Church.  Founder Korey Peters explained, “We are a small group of a-religious or atheist people who want the community and celebration we used to have in our Christian (or Mormon) churches.”  These “nones” are searching, as I did, for the community connection that only comes through one’s relationship to spirit; whether that spirit be through humanity or other secular modalities.

Reason Rally

Summer Reason Rally in WDC
Courtesy of CNN.com

Now there’s even a movement.  I suppose someone stood up and said, “Hey, wait!  There are a lot of us.  What can we do with that?” Dale McGowan, director of Foundation Beyond Belief , told CNN:

Part of it is trying to consolidate … cultural presence. That has something to do with politics, but it is also more generally cultural…Much as churches and synagogues foster and nurture communities, Atheists can do the same to gain clout and broader acceptance

On January 26th in Atlanta, the eighth annual Heads Meeting took place. It was attended by leaders from various secular organizations such as; The American Humanist Association, Foundations Beyond Belief, The Center for Inquiry, and American Athiests. They met to discuss the socio-political future of the “non-affiliated.”  Dale McGowan explains:

These groups operated separately from each other and sometimes at odds with each other. There was a realization that we should meet once a year and come together on the goals that we have in common.

What makes a “none?”  How do they distill all that diversity into one single word?  What is the defining point?  Simply put, they all check “not affiliated.”  That’s it. That’s what binds them. That’s what makes them “nones.”

I relate this to art. The “nones” are the negative space – the environment around the meticulously drawn picture. Good artists always carefully consider their negative space because in visual imagery, nothing is always something. As a child, I was defined as nothing.  Now, the “nones,” are embracing that definition; being defined by what they are not.  They are the negative space filling 20% of the collective social canvas. They are something.

Many years ago, I left the life of “nothing” and found a spiritual path, a deep connection to humanity through the language of Wicca.  I went from being a “none” to being a Priestess; from the negative space to the positive.  Why are the “nones” important to me now?  Why should they be important to Pagans?

The “nones’” cultural evolution appears to be running almost parallel to the Pagan movement.  Just as they did, many of us looked up one day and said, “Hey, wait! There are a lot of us.  What can do with that?”  We are asking similar questions. Do we need to organize?  Should we build institutions? How can we foster community? Do we need leaders?  And most importantly, how do we define “Pagan?”  Where is the checkbox on the form?  We have much to learn from the “nones.”

BeachGirlAs for my personal journey, I can now better appreciate my childhood.  My parents’ secular path allowed me the freedom to eventually build my own relationship to religion; to become a spiritual artist.  Where once there was angst and frustration, there is now respect and gratitude.

To this day, my life as a “none” colors my Wiccan experience. I enjoy drawing the sacred out of the secular and finding the magick in the mainstream. While I have yet to do a full moon ritual with Broadway music, I can see the creative possibilities. For me, the lines between the secular and the sacred are blurred, colored by the language of Wicca. I do still check “unaffiliated” and will continue to do so until Wicca or Pagan has its own check box.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

spirits

 

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of them I may expand into longer posts as needed.

This week the 113th Congress of the United States of America convened, and while this is a routine part of our government’s normal functioning, both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate saw some historic firsts that should appeal to those hoping for a more religiously diverse representative body. Perhaps the most high-profile is Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu to be elected to Congress, and the first person to swear their oath of office on the Bhagavad Gita.

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

“I chose to take the oath of office with my personal copy of the Bhagavad-Gita because its teachings have inspired me to strive to be a servant-leader, dedicating my life in the service of others and to my country.” – Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

In addition to Gabbard, Sen. Mazie Hirono, also of Hawaii, became the first Buddhist elected to the U.S. Senate (she had already served in the House), and the first Asian-American female senator.

Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii

Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii

“I don’t have a book [...] But I certainly believe in the precepts of Buddhism and that of tolerance of other religions and integrity and honesty [...] It’s about time that we have people of other backgrounds and faiths in Congress…”Sen. Mazie Hirono (in 2007)

A third first comes from Arizona where Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, the first openly bisexual member of Congress, also happens to be the first explicitly religious “none” elected to Congress.

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema

Democratic Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who was raised a Mormon, is religiously unaffiliated but does not describe herself as an atheist. Her campaign was unavailable for comment to Whispers due to the swearing in, but spokesman Justin Unga told the Religion News Service in November that Sinema favors a “secular approach.” He told the New York Times the same month that Sinema “believes the terms ‘nontheist,’ ‘atheist’ or ‘nonbeliever’ are not befitting of her life’s work or personal character.”

There are other interesting religious facts about the 113th Congress, but I think these three women are representative of the shifts happening in the United States right now. Specifically the rise of “nones” who aren’t necessarily atheists, but also don’t claim a religious identity,  and the ongoing growth of non-Christian minority religions. We are fast approaching the day where hot-button moral issues in this country can no longer be discussed solely within a Judeo-Christian context, and we are already seeing the end of the “white Christian strategy” in national politics. It’s a new dawn, one that started with the November elections, and is now enacted with this new Congress.