Saturday, May 16, 2009

How to label myself re: religion - Quaker Pagan Atheist Pantheist, what? (maybe Buddhist too)

So, in my last post which really didn't say much, Pax commented and asked/said:

"I am curious though that you do not consider yourself a Pagan, is this because of your Atheism? Yet you also describe yourself as a Pantheist?

I guess I am confused, or perhaps intrigued, by your use of the word Pantheist..."

Ah, words, I love 'em and I hate 'em.

First let me say that words don't play a part, any part at all, in my spiritual experience. I sort of assume that's true for everyone, but it's easy to forget.

I would guess that when I am having a particularly spritually "in tune" moment, it might well be measurable in various ways (though I've never tried) - my heartrate, my breathing, what my skin is doing, etc., but, at least so far, there are not words inherent to that experience.

They come later, to try to communicate with other human beings about what happened, and if it's similar for us, or different, or whatever. Sometimes I wonder if this is even a useful practice, but there it is, I do it.

So, various words and how they might or might not apply to me.

Pagan- I think I goofed, and what I really meant is that I'm not a Wiccan. I don't have a chalice and a blade, I don't do coven-y things. I marched with the pagans in an earth day parade about 20 years ago, cause they were the most fun group close to where I was standing, but that's about all I can say. I don't find myself desiring to celebrate pagan holidays with the people I see around me who self identify as pagans (though I do tend to acknowledge solstice and equinox, and occasionally the ones in between, whose names I'm worse with - but sometimes with just a word to a friend, sometimes with a picnic, the bonfire idea intrigues me, but I've never done it as a holiday thing)

So, am I a pagan? I don't think so, but I'm not so sure. I'm a non-christian with a sense of spirituality, does that count? I find forests and lakes more spiritually infused than churches, does that count? I don't apply the word to myself much, though I toy with doing so as a kind of short hand for, well, "earthfreak" really :)

Atheist - by this I mean, first, that I don't believe in the god I thought I believed in when I was a child at catholic school. I don't believe in a father figure god, I don't think there's a guy (or a person of any sort) I can pray to when I need something (though when I'm desperate I have been known to do so anyway)

I mean second that I have not replaced him with another god, not the horned god, not zeus, not athena for that matter.

I mean third that the word "supernatural" just seems downright silly to me. Plastic might be outside nature (I"m not sure) but I'm sure as hell not gonna worship it. As far as some force that is inherent in reality/the universe/being being somehow outside nature, that seems like the stupidest contradiction in terms I have ever heard of.

I also HATE the term, "higher being" or "higher power." I absolutely reject the hierarchy inherent in the religion I was raised with (and in the vast majority of what I've been exposed to since)

That does not mean that I think I am the highest being/power, or maybe it does. I have toyed with the term "broader power" - I can believe in the spiritual relevance of the interconnectedness of life and being, and the power inherent in the whole that we are all a part of.

But I don't think it's supernatural. I think what's amazing and compelling about it is just how damn basic and natural it is.

Pantheist - I have actually settled on this as more true for me than "Atheist" -

What I still recognize, that I used to think was "god" is everything, is life, is the world and the mystery and wonder of it all.

What I was praying to when, at 6 or 7 at that catholic school, I wrote in a notebook (was it an assignment? I don't know) "Dear Lood, thank you for my cat and my dog and love" (is it telling that the only word I misspelled was "Lord"?) - turns out that feeling wasn't "Lood" it was my cat, and my dog, and love.

Makes a lot more sense that way, at least to me.

So that's how I'm a pantheist.

How I'm an atheist too is, I don't know if it's honest (since, going back to the beginning, the word "God" is not part of my spiritual experience, but part of trying to talk to other people about it) If "God" is everything, if God is love and life and being and the universe and all that is and mystery, then

Is it useful, and is it honest to use a word that so many people use to mean something very different? To mean something OUTSIDE or beyond of all of those things? I don't feel that it is.

I was on some Quaker forum/list/thingy years ago where the word panENtheist kept coming up, and to some (the majority) of people there is was VERY important to distinguish that God is IN everything, but transcends it too, that God is supernatural, that God goes beyond nature, it is VERY important to me that that's not true (not that I'd be that upset if it were true, though the God of the Bible is a meanie, in my opinion) but it seems very much not true, again not in a way I can argue with words (though I might give it a shot another day) but in a way I know without words.

And Buddhism, which is sort of an awkward tagalong topic here, but felt dishonest to leave it out for the sake of some sort of efficiency...... I don't identify as a buddhist, and I don't tend to follow buddhist practice very much at all. When I studied comparative relgion in college it "spoke to me" the most of anything I studied, but I also had an advisor who was adamant that one can't "be" a religion outside the contact of the culture that religion belongs to. Americans often pick and choose what they like from "foreign" religions, and to me there's something very cool about that, and also something really annoying.

I have heard Buddhism described as an atheist relgion, and that makes sense to me. It is a religion in that it seeks to address the mystery and in that it is about how we should be in the world (should is the wrong word there, I'm at a loss) but it is not theist in that is does not appeal to an outside source to answer any of those questions for us. It is about practice, not about believing something in particular. That makes sense to me, as does most of what the buddha (the one we talk about anyway) is quoted as having said, so there's that.

Interestingly, I am quite aware that buddhism has its practicioners who are all about superstition and not at all about how to be in the world, just as christianity (oh yeah, christianity....) has its followers who are all about how to be in the world (following some really good suggestions attributed to Jesus) and not at all about superstition really.

In fact, I was describing my atheism to a christian quaker a few weeks ago, and he kept insisting that what I was talking about wasn't atheism at all, but true christianity.

It's damn confusing.


Anonymous said...

"It's damn confusing."

Too true, madam, too true! That's all any of us spiritual and religious types can do is to keep trying to unscrew the inscrutable!

I know some Pantheist folks who when discussing what others might call God use the term Spirit, depending on your audience that might help... or is it to close to personifying this great metaphysical whatsis?

I'm not joking here, using humor yes, but serious. I am a fairly wildly theistic person because some of my own experiences and understandings have left me that way; but I really would like to understand.


earthfreak (Pam) said...

heh, thanks Pax! I used to use the word spirit a lot, but I avoid it now (not well, but I'm veering that way) - it's overdone, or something, not necessarily too close to "god" but too vague, namby-pamby, meaningless. Can declare "I'm a flake" more than "I'm saying something about this"

I find I'm most successful when I make a point of trying to find the right words. Sometimes "connection" works really well, sometime I get babbly, sometimes I just use "God" (with people who know I dont' mean what they'd tend to think I mean) sometimes something like "god-thingy" to emphasize that it's a stopgap measure and the beginning, rather than the end of an explanation.

who the heck knows? not me

Anonymous said...

I found your blog as I was googling "pantheist Quaker," which probably is the most accurate self-description I have found yet. I'm still Seeking, though, and trying to understand. I've been attending a Quaker meeting for about six months, and it feels like home.

Mind if I add you to my reader?
Austin, TX

leftistquaker said...

Hi Pam,

I found your blog through your comment on Jeanne's blog on alcohol.

Anyway, we've been Facebook friends for a while, but I've been trying to figure out if we've ever met in real life or traded thoughts via an online forum prior to FB.

Anyhow, your religious perspective Pantheist/Nontheist/Buddhist-curious works for me, too. Of course all of that is enfolded into my Quaker participation.

Peace! Charley