Polysectarian Monotheistic Prayer and other Pagan News of Note

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Top Story: The issue of sectarian prayers before government meetings may be heading to the courts again, this time in Lancaster, California. After the ACLU of Southern California demanded that the Lancaster City Council stop having sectarian prayers before meetings, a local ballot initiative was overwhelmingly passed in support of the prayers.

More than 75 percent of voters in the Antelope Valley city gave their OK Tuesday to Measure I, which sought public approval for officials to select clergy of different faiths to open meetings with invocations “without restricting the content based on their beliefs, including references to Jesus Christ.”

But something being popular doesn’t make it constitutional, and even though the invocation process is supposed to be random, a legal fig-leaf to ward off lawsuits, the overwhelmingly Christian population of Lancaster has meant that most of the prayers have been to Jesus Christ. On top of this, recently re-elected Lancaster mayor Mayor R. Rex Parris made it abundandtly clear what sort of community he feels he is leading.

“We’re growing a Christian community, and don’t let anybody shy away from that,”

Those comments came in the wake of Lancaster City Councilwoman Sherry Marquez saying that beheadings were “what the Muslim religion is all about”. So to say that things are tense in Lancaster, religiously speaking, would be fair. In an opinion piece published today by the Los Angeles Times editorial board, they discusses the inevitability of a lawsuit, the current tangle of legal precedent regarding religion in the public sphere, and why the Lancaster invocation program is unconstitutional despite its randomness.

“People of varying religious beliefs should be able to attend council meetings, or any other legislative sessions, without feeling marginalized … given the dominance of Christian congregations in almost all corners of the country, a rotating guest list is going to result more often than not in Christian prayer … Though a nondenominational prayer might satisfy the vast majority of Americans, aren’t atheists, agnostics, members of polytheistic religions and, for example, Buddhists — whose faith does not include a belief in a supernatural-related God — entitled to feel equally comfortable at these sessions? … there is no getting around the fact that what the courts call nonsectarian prayer is actually polysectarian monotheistic prayer. To someone who isn’t from one of those faiths — primarily Christianity, Judaism and Islam — this sure looks like establishment of a particular religious belief.”

I applaud the LA Times for actually acknowledging the existence of polytheists when pondering sectarian invocations and various permutations of ceremonial deism. You can bet that I’ll be keeping track of this (inevitable) case as it works its way through the courts. As for the Lancaster City Council, they are supposedly going to begin a series of discussions to promote “greater intercultural understanding”, but I’m not going to hold my breath for any major changes in the attitudes of local politicians.

Millennials and Post-Christianity: USA Today reports on a rather explosive survey conducted by LifeWay Christian Resources that suggests most young adults, even Christian-identified young adults, aren’t really interested in Christianity or its religious institutions.

Most young adults today don’t pray, don’t worship and don’t read the Bible, a major survey by a Christian research firm shows. If the trends continue, “the Millennial generation will see churches closing as quickly as GM dealerships,” says Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources. In the group’s survey of 1,200 18- to 29-year-olds, 72% say they’re “really more spiritual than religious.

Only around 15% are “deeply committed” to Christianity, around 8% belong to “non-Christian” faiths, and most young Christians just aren’t interested in proselytizing. This data, if it holds true, could mean that post-Christian future I keep talking about may be here a lot sooner than we imagined, making the legal maneuvers by conservative Christians to enshrine Christianity in the public square nothing more than a desperate rearguard action.

That Bones Episode About Witches: Remember how I mentioned that forensics/cop dramedy Bones would be airing a special Kathy Reichs-penned episode, “The Witch in the Wardrobe”, that will air on May 6th? Well, here’s the teaser video.

Leaving aside for the moment Booth’s crack about people you don’t want to see naked, and the various stereotypes that will surely be dragged out, I am cautiously optimistic about this episode since Reichs has sympathetically tackled Wicca before in her novels. So I’ll be tuning in, and will let you know what I thought of it.

Livingston Parish Still Doesn’t Like Pagans: Remember Livingston Parish in Louisiana? You know, the place that passed an obviously religiously-motivated ban on fortune-telling, were taken to court by a local Wiccan, defended the law against the advice of their lawyer, and then lost? Well it looks like Perry Rushing, chief of operations for the Sheriff’s Office, is on the same page as the Parish Council.

“A scheduled pagan festival is under the scrutiny of the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office. “Obviously, we don’t like this type of activity, but if they are following all of the laws to the letter of the law, then we can’t do anything about it,” Perry Rushing, chief of operations for the Sheriff’s Office, said Thursday. “We vehemently oppose this type of activity in Livingston Parish.” The pagan festival is scheduled to be held the last four days in May at Gryphon’s Nest Campground Inc. at 19306 Bull Run Road in southeastern Livingston Parish.”

Here’s a tip to the Sheriff’s Office, you better make sure that festival isn’t harassed, either by you, or by trouble-makers who think your comments mean you won’t be on the job. You see, you’re now on the record as being “vehemently opposed” to the event, opening up your performance to outside scrutiny. I’d keep in mind what idealogical rigidity did for the Parish Council and act accordingly.

What’s Wrong With a Black Heimdall? Some folks are up in arms over the decision to cast a black actor, Idris Elba, in the role of Heimdall in the Thor movie. You see, Nordic gods are supposed to be all white (except Hel, of course, who’s literally half-black)!

At the beginning of the month he told a media conference that he saw his casting as an encouraging step. His view was not shared among the more vehement of fans. ”This PC crap has gone too far!” wailed one. ”Norse deities are not of an African ethnicity! … It’s the principle of the matter. It’s about respecting the integrity of the source material, both comics and Norse mythologies.” Fellow fans were quick to nod their horn-helmeted heads. ”At the risk of sounding like a bigot, I think this is nuts!” said another …  Elba, who shot to fame as the erudite and thoughtful gangster Stringer Bell in the critically acclaimed television series The Wire, has addressed such concerns in recent interviews. ”There has been a big debate about it: can a black man play a Nordic character?” he told the British magazine TV Times. ”Hang about, Thor’s mythical, right? Thor has a hammer that flies to him when he clicks his fingers. That’s OK, but the colour of my skin is wrong?”

It should be pointed out that this is an adaptation of a comic book, and not, say, an adaptation of the Eddas. Not to get all nerdy here, but to echo someone else’s point, the Marvel comics gods are extra-dimensional alien beings, they aren’t “Nordic” in any cultural sense. Further, the comic books have strayed from the “lore” so many times that anyone trying to make an argument about fidelity to a cultural pantheon in the real world is seriously barking up the wrong tree. Besides, I always thought the gods could appear in any form they wished, even “white” Nordic gods.

Thorn’s Podcast Pledge Drive: In a quick final note, author and ritualist T. Thorn Coyle is holding a pledge drive in support of her excellent podcast Elemental Castings (full disclosure, I’ve been interviewed for it), which she has professionally produced at a recording studio.

“The quality that so many of you have remarked upon comes partially because the podcasts are recorded by professionals in a studio, rather than on my computer at home. This costs money. Inspired by the Wild Hunt’s Winter Pledge Drive, my hope is that if you enjoy the podcasts, you will make a Beltane pledge to donate $1-2 per episode so that we can keep providing these amazing conversations to the magickal community for purposes of education and enjoyment.”

All the details you need to donate can be found, here.

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