Saturday, April 07, 2007

Reflections on Religious Guilt vs. Spirituality

My best friend was a CHRISTIAN most of her life. She was raised by a woman who felt that the church they attended was not Christian enough. She never wore slacks, and took "till death do us part" so seriously that she finally ended up in a Christian (of course) mental hospital because she wanted to end her marriage so badly that she thought suicide was the only way to do it. But of course, suicide is as much of a sin as divorce. Her journey from there was long and arduous, but she now worships the Goddess Aphrodite and is the one of the most loving and guilt-free people I know. One of her declarations of independence is dyeing her bangs green. Even if she has to scrimp for food, she still manages to keep her bangs a bright, lime "Kardia" green. She changed her name from Karen to Kardia—yes, as in heart. One of the things that helped her come to terms with her guilt was a series of books called "Conversations With God" by Neale Donald Walsh. This is not a Christian guilt book, although it does purport to be based on conversations a man has had with God who presents Him/Her Self as easy going with a sense of humor who basically tells people that as long as we don't hurt each other, we can pretty much do as we please. Hmmmmmm...... "An it harm none, do as ye will."

I personally believe that there is a power greater than myself, that that power has both masculine and feminine aspects, and that it presents itself to people in a way that matches their culture. I don't believe it matters what name you use—Yahweh, Allah, Zeus, Ra, Odin, Brigid, Aphrodite, Athena, Freya or Rhiannon—it's the same energy. I've noticed that pretty much every religion in the world has three basic tenets: 1) there is a power greater than ourselves; 2) there is life after death; and 3) we should be kind and loving toward each other. (Yes, even the Koran says that somewhere.)

I also believe that Jesus' teachings were heavily edited by the Counsel of Nicene in order to consolidate the political and economic power of the clergy and that the Bible as it has come down to us since the fourth century presents teachings vastly different from what Christ was actually saying. If he was the "only son of God" why does the prayer he taught us start out "Our Father?" Eighteen years of his life are missing from the Bible and many scholars now believe that he traveled to India and the Orient with Joseph of Arimethea and was teaching Eastern beliefs, such as individual responsibility and reincarnation. Protestants will try to tell you "but that's the Catholic Bible that was edited" but what King James translated was the Catholic Bible. It was edited a good eleven centuries before Martin Luther read it and realized that the Popes had created their own rules and were sitting on coffers of gold that they had collected by selling tickets to Heaven and that, according to the Bible (even the Nicene Council's version), there was no such thing. At that time, only the clergy could read Latin, and therefore only the clergy could read the Bible. The rest of the populace learned what they knew of the church from their priests, not the book itself. King James translated the Bible into the language of the day and made it available to everyone, thus cementing the Protestant movement begun by Martin Luther—who wanted to bring the Church back to the Bible, not create a new religion.

My own journey began in the Lutheran church, in one of the easier-going synods where I was taught that "God is Love." My own guilt came from my mother and has more to do with my level of housekeeping than original sin. I married a Catholic and my parents had stressed that families should go to church together. Putting me on a bus to church would have been unthinkable. Our church was the basis of our social life. We were the potluck/"cookies and coffee in the basement" kind of church and my parents jumped in with both feet, as did I. Until I joined the Navy, I never received Communion wine that wasn't poured into tiny little cups the day before by my father, or without helping my mother wash all those tiny little cups afterward, while Daddy helped count the offering. Daddy also followed Pastor around picking up the tiny little cups during Communion. After my dad died, I couldn't hear his favorite hymn, or surrender my little cup to someone else without bursting into tears. In fact, the first time I took Communion at home without Daddy, I was on leave for the Fourth of July, at church in uniform, and I started crying at the altar, then turned around and the whole congregation was crying. I asked Mrs. Lalowski why everyone was crying and she said "we're crying with you, Dear." I asked how they knew I was crying and she said "the tail on your hat was bobbing." It was too painful to remain Lutheran and it hurt to watch my husband and baby going off to Mass while I went to the local Lutheran church, so I decided to turn Catholic.

At the same time, I was taking an Eastern history/philosophy course at a junior college in Pearl City, Hawaii. I was learning about reincarnation and what purgatory was really about both at the same time, and they seemed pretty similar. As I was reciting the Nicene Creed at Mass, I had already reached the conclusion that reincarnation and purgatory were the same idea, just expressed differently—you have to work off a few demerits before you can enter Heaven/Nirvana. And of course, now I realize how many of the Christian church's customs and holidays were adapted from the Pagan church—especially Celtic traditions in the British Isles. How Easter comes from Oestara which is all about fertility and the coming of spring. What do bunnies, eggs, and spring bonnets have to do with crucifixion and resurrection? Why is the holiday called Easter (from Oestara) rather than Resurrection? Because instead of fighting the Pagan traditions, the early church joined them.

Since then, I've participated in 12-Step groups, read many books, including Shirley MacLaine's books, the Seth books, and Kardia's precious "Conversations" books, and progressed from Lutheran to Catholic to New Age and Pagan. The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley, is another good book. It's a novel, but it talks about the struggles between the pagan beliefs in the British Isles and the efforts of the Catholic Church to convert the populace. And how they finally accepted that the Goddess needed to be represented and did so by deifying Christ's mother, Mary. But of course, in a church tradition that was so solidly patriarchal, there was no way she could have the same rank or power as the masculine God, and instead of correctly representing the holy trinity as Mother, Father and Son, they represented it as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I admit I still have a soft spot in my heart for the Lutheran church. I still love the music and who can resist a good potluck with casseroles and jello molds, or "cookies and coffee in the basement"? I guess the Lutheran church is as much a part of my Norwegian heritage as Odin and Freya. I suppose I haven't strayed that far from my roots. The Pagan rituals I've attended have mostly been followed by potluck meals and Pagan Night Out takes place in a coffee shop. I do, however, miss some of those homemade cookies we used to have at our church. I think that when I die, I want people to have a potluck dinner at my memorial. With casseroles, jello molds and homemade cookies.


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