Quick Notes: Sacred Tribes, Kern County Lawsuit, and Gay Vodouisants

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A few quick news notes to get you through your Friday.

Sacred Tribes Explores Dark Green Religion: Sacred Tribes, an academic Christian journal for the study of new religious movements, has released a special edition devoted to Bron Taylor’s book “Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future”. Taylor’s work has gained attention for its thesis that the future of religion may be nature religion.

“…traditional religions with their beliefs in non-material divine beings are in decline. The desire for a spiritually meaningful understanding of the cosmos, however, did not wither away, and new forms of spirituality have been filling the cultural niches previously occupied by conventional religions. I argue that the forms I document in Dark Green Religion are much more likely to survive than longstanding religions, which involved beliefs in invisible, non-material beings. This is because most contemporary nature spiritualities are sensory (based on what we perceive with our senses, sometimes enhanced by clever gadgets), and thus sensible. They also tend to promote ecologically adaptive behaviors, which enhances the survival prospects of their carriers, and thus their own long-term survival prospects.”

The bulk of the special edition is a long interview with Taylor [PDF] that travels through his evangelical Christian past, his entrance into the environmentalist movement, and the religious “social phenomena” of “dark green religion.”

“Such nature spirituality is often rooted in an evolutionary understanding that all life shares a common ancestor, and it generally leads to kinship ethics, namely, felt ethical responsibilities toward and empathy for all living things who, like us, evolved through what Darwin aptly called the struggle for existence. Such perceptions generally lead people to see more continuities than differences between their own species and other ones, and this in turn tends to evoke humility about one’s place in the grand scheme of things. I label such religion “dark” not only to emphasize the depth of its valuing of nature (a deep shade of green concern) but also to suggest that such religion may have a shadow side—it might mislead and deceive; it could even precipitate or exacerbate violence. Since there is no religion without dangerous manifestations, I believe, it is important to be alert to the dangers of religion, of whatever sorts they might be.”

The interview is followed by responses from Loren Wilkinson [PDF], editor of “Earthkeeping: Christian Stewardship of Natural Resources,” and Peter Illyn [PDF], founder of the Christian environmental group Restoring Eden. You may also want to read the introduction to this edition of Sacred Tribes [PDF] by editor John W. Morehead. The material is definitely worth an in-depth read. For a Pagan interaction with Taylor and his material, I recommend heading over to Anne Hill’s wide-ranging radio interview concerning “dark green religion.”

Kern County Victims Seeking Recompense: The Bakersfield Californian and the Associated Press are reporting that Grant Self, who was a victim of a giant dragnet that imprisoned dozens of innocent men and women during the height of the Satanic Ritual Abuse panic of the 1980s, is filing suit  against the County of Kern for damages.

“Grant Self was convicted and spent decades in prison before he was granted parole in 2000. Then he was classified as a sexually violent predator and sent to a state mental hospital, said Chief Deputy County Counsel Mark Nations. Nations, who will defend the county in the case, said Self’s conviction was eventually overturned after the Kern County District Attorney’s office refused to produce the one remaining witness who had not recanted his accusations against Self. “The judge would not not consider his lack of recantation without access to him,” Nations said.”

The widespread abuses of the Kern County arrests, led by the infamous Ed Jagels, were documented in the chilling 2008 film “Witch Hunt”. One of the individuals profiled in that film, John Stoll, won a 5.5 million dollar settlement with the county in 2009. As for Jagels, he has remained unrepentant about the lives he ruined, and remained district attorney until his retirement in 2009. It is my personal hope that Kern County is made to account for all the lives ruined, and years lost, due to these false convictions. Hopefully 2011 will also see more overturning of convictions that were based on little more than discriminatory profiling and moral panic.

Being Gay Within Vodou: Theologian and writer Rev. Irene Monroe has contributed an essay to the New England publication Bay Windows discussing how Vodou has created safe spaces for GLBTQ individuals in Haiti.

“But with the ancestral religious belief that behavior is guided by a spirit (loa), gay males in Haitian Vodou are under the divine protection of Erzulie Freda, the spirit of love. And as a feminine sprit, gay males are allowed to imitate and worship her. And lesbians (madivins) are considered to be under the patronage of Erzulie Dantor, a fierce protector of women and children experiencing domestic violence. Erzulie Dantor is bisexual, but she prefers the company of women. […] poorer classes of LGBTQ Haitians have at least two ways to openly express and celebrate who they are — in Vodou and in Rara festivals. At Rara Festivals, a yearly festival that begins following Carnival belongs to the peasant and urban poor of Haiti. The Rara bands come out of Vodou societies that have gay congregations where gay men are permitted to cross-dress with impunity.”

The issue of sexual orientation and gender identity within Vodou is no doubt a complex one, and I’m sure some of my Vodouisant readers will want to chime in on the issue, but I do think Monroe makes an important point about Vodou creating room within certain societies for the open existence and acceptant of GLBTQ individuals. I also agree that opportunities for this oft-misunderstoond faith to be “lifted up” should be taken.

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