Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Growth of Neopaganism

It seems that a lot of the controversy that we have here in Montgomery County, whether it's about teaching sex-ed or giving equal rights to transgender people, comes down to a matter of religion. We have the other side saying that they represent those who have "deep religious beliefs" that require them to discriminate against transgender and gay people. Even though, yes, the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever go to several different kinds of churches, almost every one of them falls back on the religious argument at some point: Jesus wants them to discriminate against LGBT people. God orders it.

In recent years though we have seen a rejection of prejudice against sexual minorities, and a deterioration in the power held by the religious right. They still have their strongholds, and you'll still see politicians pander to them, but it's not like it was a few short years ago.

In that light, it is interesting to note this little article in the Denver Post:
Give them that old-time religion - ancient religion - and then watch an exploding population of modern pagans give it contemporary twists.

Their numbers roughly double about every 18 months in the United States, Canada and Europe, according to the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.

Neopaganism, whether a careful reconstruction of ancient practice or a completely modern interpretation of ancient lore, is now among the country's fastest-growing religions.

People, especially teens, are rejecting what they see as the "autocracy, paternalism, sexism, homophobia and insensitivity to the environment" of some more traditional religions, the Canadian group concludes. Neopaganism growing quickly

Doubling every eighteen months -- that's an exponential explosion. It is interesting that young people would be rejecting authoritarian dogmatic religion and turning to a belief system that considers the earth as a living thing, that has spells instead of prayers, don't you think?

This article stresses the diversity of neopagan belief -- there are strictly formal groups and looser, free-form practitioners, prudish pagans and sexually-liberated pagans. There are straight and gay pagans, of course, but paganism in general is extremely accepting of variations in sexuality.

We'll keep an eye on this interesting trend as time goes on. Maybe there is an opening here for spirituality to evolve in a more positive way than what we have sometimes seen, I don't know, let's watch and see.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

As usual, Jim, you're a little late to the party. Paganism many years ago replaced atheism as the main enemy of Judeo-Christianity. More on that later. Meanwhile, here's Dinesh's comments on physics and religion for the week:

"Robert Jastrow, one of the noted astronomers of our time and, as it happens, a former professor of mine at Dartmouth, died earlier this year. This is my overdue tribute to his life and work.

Jastrow was one of the great popularizers of science. One of his books, Red Giants and White Dwarfs, became a national bestseller and conveyed to a whole generation of Americans the excitment and mystery of space exploration. When American astronauts landed on the moon, Jastrow provided expert commentary for the TV networks covering the event.

But Jastrow never permitted popularization to get in the way of serious professional accomplishment. After getting his doctorate in physics from Columbia, he became head of the theoretical divison at NASA. Later he was appointed head of the Goddard Space Institute. In 1992 he became chairman of Mount Wilson Observatory in California.

In addition to medals for scientific achivement, Jastrow also won acclaim as a gifted teacher. At Dartmouth, I always found him friendly and accessible. Later our paths crossed because Jastrow became an energetic and resourceful defender of President Reagan's strategic missile defense initiative, dubbed by its critics as "Star Wars."

While critics like physicist Hans Bethe said Star Wars would never work, the Russians agreed with Jastrow that it would, and they desperately sought to outlaw it. (Obviously if the Russians felt it was a boondoggle they would have supported it, since this would be a great way to waste America's defense budget.) In his last years Jastrow became increasingly skeptical of claims that global warming is destroying the planet. He saw global warming as an effort to exploit science for ideological ends.

One of Jastrow's gems is a little book called God and the Astronomers in which Jastrow, although himself an agnostic, made a startling argument. He argued that "the astronomical evience leads to a biblical view of the origin of the world." Jastrow not only documents his claim but shows why leading scientists including Einstein resisted the new discoveries, because they threatened the dogma that scientific laws enjoy eternal validity. Jastrow showed that in reality the laws of physics themselves came into existence with the Big Bang; beyond or apart from our universe, there are no such laws.

Jastrow's story reads like a detective novel, with the only difference that the facts he recounts are true. And here is his stunning conclusion: "For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.""

July 01, 2008 10:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jastrow is talking about, of course, the consequences of following the equations for the electroweak force back to extremely dense and hot state of the universe predicted by the expanding view of the universe. At a certain energy level, those equations break down, and don't serve to inform us on what went on before that point in time. So, if you follow this model, "science" can not answer the question, "what happened before this point in the history of the universe."

If you want to, as Jastrow and Dinesh did, you can infer from this lack of a scientific description that there is a creator of the universe, intelligent design, God, all of that; that is, you can say that if "science" can not answer a question, we must posit the existence of the supernatural.

Or, if you wish, you can conclude from the fact that "science" can not answer a question, that the question is unanswerable, and move on to more practical things.

It depends on what you want to do; Jastrow, Dinesh and Anonymous want to believe in God, so they do.

Dinesh's is confusing Einstein's original disagreement with the expanding universe model, which he later accepted, with his discomfort with the Heisenberg uncertainty principle: supposedly, Einstein said "God does not play dice with the universe." One of his colleagues responded, "Albert, don't tell God what to do."

I went to a Radical Faerie New Year's Eve pot luck this year; it was nice, but my personal impression was that the prayers people said reminded me much of the prayers I heard in my Baptist background. It just seemed like religion to me.

July 01, 2008 1:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If you want to, as Jastrow and Dinesh did, you can infer from this lack of a scientific description that there is a creator of the universe, intelligent design, God, all of that; that is, you can say that if "science" can not answer a question, we must posit the existence of the supernatural."

They didn't say that at all. They said that the claim that some scientists have made that science has made the whole idea of a creator ridiculous is flat wrong. Scientists long held that the universe was eternal and theists said it had a beginning. Science was wrong.

Of course, there are further hints in the composition of the universe that there was a purposeful design.

Scientists long resisted the idea of the Big Bang because they knew that it showed a clear instance of revealed truth being superior to fallible human deduction. Thousands of years ago, Genesis said the universe began with a sudden outburst of light. Scientists snickered. The scientists were wrong.

That's the facts!

July 01, 2008 2:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neener neener neener!

July 01, 2008 11:07 PM  
Anonymous Kathleen Sage said...

We have no definite answers about the origins of the world and all the things in it. One thing is certain, we hypothesize, assume, and piece together items and make them useful. Useful to cause separation mistrust and war. It does appear that prior to the use of domesticated animals, irrigation and building of town housing, there was less evidence of wars. The Neolithic history in Old Europe dating back as far as 30,000 years BCE seem to have a place for veneration of women and men with an emphasis on the woman Goddess because of consideration of the Earth as the one who gives all the things necessary for life, and by extension women with swelled bellies and eventual birthing were considered part of that great intelligence of Life Giver...Mother Earth. Men were important as hunters and protectors of the women and there appears to be no findings of slavery or subservience UNTIL things were muddied by invasion around 5,000 BCE by nomadic tribes such as the Kurgans from northeast Europe through India and Old Europe. These were the lighter skinned and included Hittites and Mittani in the Fertile Crescent. Even the Hebrews brought with them patriarchal gods of war and thus the birth giving abundant Earth Goddess (and with her women) became supplanted by a dominating sky god who was creator of all and who demanded worship and tokens and sacrifice. Eventually this trickled down into the societal changes created by use of domesticated animals. Once animals were used and economy along with capital gain was begun, there were imbalances in agrarian family society where each one was as great as the other and gave of their skill to support the all. Slavery ensued and women became packaged goods to produce heirs and/or more slaves. Neo-pagans today study world history and find an ideal in the predawn of capital gain economy, yet they recognize that we can not go back. We can appreciate the balance of Men and Women and we can adore and celebrate the bounties and power of Mother Earth. Yet we do not claim to have answers about our origin. I want to point out that Pagans in the USA, do not want to supplant any religion. We believe that everyone has their own path and we find common ground in the fact that we all do not have The Answer. We all are born and we all die and we MUST WORK TOGETHER to sustain a peaceful supportive environment for survival.

November 21, 2013 10:19 PM  

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