Theology After Google and other Pagan News of Note

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Top Story: The Los Angeles Times covers a three-day conference about the future of American Christianity at the Claremont School of Theology. Entitled “Theology After Google”, the main focus was on how Christian churches need to change with the times, but there was plenty of food for thought for non-Christians interested in the future of religion.

“The consensus: It’s a whole new world out there. Churches will ignore it at their peril. “I think things like denomination and ordination are part of the old system of control and domination that has to go,” [Pastor Doug] Pagitt, 42, said as he relaxed after the conference’s first day at the Theo Pub set-up for participants … Jon Irvine, a 30-year-old Web designer who works with the “emerging church” movement, said the church of the future will have to be less hierarchical and more freewheeling and ecumenical … In this new world, he said, “You can be a free agent. You could start your own church, go to a little faith community down the street, you could go to a mega-church. You could be a Methodist today, Anglican tomorrow — it’s your choice.” That might sound like heresy to some, for whom doctrine is immutable. But it fit well with the spirit of the conference, where nothing with the exception of the corn toss tournament trophy, was etched in anything solid.”

I don’t know about you, but this new post-Google religious ethos sounds suspiciously Pagan-friendly to me. Or, more to the point, modern Pagan communities have been wrestling with ideas concerning religious community in a post-ordination society (or, even more to the point, a society in which everyone is conceivably ordained), and the realities of religious “free agents”, for decades. Having now attended some mass pan-Pagan events it’s obvious that many of us are quite comfortable with the “new” freedoms that are causing such concern among more rigid and hierarchical faith traditions.

To me, when Christian theologians and pastors start talking about dealing with a “post-Google” religious reality, what they are really talking about is a post-Christian religious reality. A world where a potential church-goer can not only  jump denominations, but jump religions, belief systems, or simply start a whole new faith. All the Internet has done is speed up the process in which individuals can enter into a post-Christian mindset. I don’t really know if allowing Twitter in the pews, or creating “Church 2.0” will really stem the slow mass-exodus away from the dominant monotheisms in the West.

Dreher Defends His Anti-Vodou Attitude: Here I was going to praise Beliefnet blogger Rod “Crunchy Con” Dreher for making a whole post about modern Pagans without descending into his usual mockery or prattle about demon-worship, but then he wrote a long USA Today column defending his, and other writer’s, wrong-headed assertions that Vodou is a “harmful cultural force”. He tries to bolster his defense of  “tough questions” by selectively reading essays by scholars dealing with the Haitian religious world-view. He even has the audacity to subtly praise himself at the end of his anti-Vodou apologia.

“A world in which most people believe that reality is governed by the occult caprice of the gods will be a very different place than a world in which people believe events can be explained according to either a Christian or a scientific materialist metaphysic. It’s as legitimate to ask what role voodoo plays in Haiti’s fathomless social troubles as it is to ask the same question about fundamentalist Islam in the Middle East, conservative Christianity in the Bible Belt, or militant atheism in the land of academia. And it’s as necessary. Ironically, intelligent critics of voodoo show more respect for the religion than do its would-be media protectors, simply by taking voodoo seriously enough to fault it.

Yes, that is ironic! Don’t ya think? OK Sherman, I think it’s time to use the wayback machine and remind ourselves of how Rod Dreher was really respecting Vodou by faulting it.

“I think it’s a mistake to see vodou as benign or positive…”, “Haitians would be better off at the Church of Christopher Hitchens rather than as followers of voodoo.“, “I believe these well-intentioned people are playing with fire. Real spiritual fire.”.

Can’t you feel the love? So much respect! I won’t even get into all the “respect” other commentators have shown towards Haitian Vodou, since I’m just welling up with the sheer empathy on display already. You know, asking tough journalistic questions is one thing, and something that I’ve always supported, but being a triumphalist jerk isn’t journalism, and the idea that Haiti is being held back, or actively harmed, by Vodou isn’t supported by any reasonably fair scholar of the religion.

The Living Goddesses in School: I’ve reported before on Nepal’s Kumari, the pre-pubescent girls who are chosen as living goddesses and worshiped until they reach puberty. Some worried that Nepal’s new Maoist government would ban the practice, but the popularity, and tourism dollars, the tradition inspires trumped secular ideology. Considered a “cultural” practice by the new government, the young girls are now required to receive schooling, and not live the same sheltered life, a life that often ill-prepares them for their post-Kumari existence, that had been traditional. Sify News reports on a current Kumari who is now juggling being a goddess with private tutoring and government-mandated examinations.

“One of the many thousands of students appearing for Nepal’s tough school-leaving examinations is Chanira Bajracharya, who is also worshipped in Kathmandu’s neighbouring Lalitpur city as Kumari, the ‘Living Goddess’ of Nepal. The pre-pubescent girl will appear for the School Leaving Examination from the Bhaswara Higher Secondary School, the Kantipur daily reported … Chanira, the Living Goddess’ routine has changed due to the imminent exams. She starts her morning with a two-hour tuition after which she becomes the Kumari again, taking part in her daily worship ritual. The worship is followed by brunch break following which she is required to appear before her devotees. In the evening, she becomes a student again.”

Chanira says she’s interested in becoming a banker once she finishes being a goddess. This will most certainly be a net-positive for the young girls chosen to become Kumari, and provides a striking insight into how ancient religious traditions are adapting to modern expectations and values. For more on the Kumari, I recommend the documentary “Living Goddess” (available on Netflix), which captures a snapshot of their lives just before the Maoist uprising that ended the Nepalese monarchy.

Asatru in Prison: The Ravencast podcast interviews Pagan chaplain Patrick McCollum concerning Asatru in prison.

“This episode may likely be our most controversial one. Patrick McCollum is a pagan Chaplin working with the Cherry Hill Seminary. He works with about 2,000 Pagan Prisoners in California and has run into a gauntlet of administrative outright discrimination. Many of those prisoners are Asatruar, who are looking for some means to worship. We pop a few prison myths about racism and whether we should act at all.”

This interview is a good reminder of why McCollum’s ongoing legal battle with the state of California is important to all modern Pagans, and should be an excellent companion to the recent interview done by Anne Hill. This is a must-listen!

ABC Notices Pagan Chaplain: In a final note, the ABC News “Campus Chatter” blog just noticed that Syracuse University has appointed a Pagan chaplain for its student body.

“Syracuse University has tapped Mary Hudson to be the school’s first pagan chaplain. That makes Hudson, 50, the second pagan chaplain appointed at a U.S. college. The only other known school to have a pagan chaplain is the University of Southern Maine.  Internationally there are a few in Canada, Australia, and the UK.”

That’s not too bad, only a month after the story actually broke. Who says the immediacy of blogging hasn’t changed the mainstream news networks? Still, I suppose good press is good press.

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