Divining the Masculine

This essay on religion, science, gender and the Earth is one of the most difficult things I’ve written.

Part One ~ Part Two

The composition process felt like torture. I fully expected it would require serious revision, but it was accepted and published as-is in the collection Finding the Masculine in Goddess’ Spiral: Men in Ritual, Community, and Service to the Goddess (2016, Immanion Press). It’s been a year, and now it can be republished electronically, so I’m gratified to share this via Return to Mago.

I Think I'm in Love

Step into the Dark

Equinox Sculpture

A year ago I set myself a project, an experiment, a journey, a spiritual quest. I wanted to discover, uncover, delineate and define my religion. I wanted to deepen, strengthen, and integrate everything in my life. I wanted to live with greater intention.

And I wanted it all to happen on a one-year schedule. It sounds pretty silly when I put it like that. But sometimes we need silly conceits to prop up our most serious ambitions.

So anyhow, the year has gone round again. Here we are back at the equinox. The planet keeps revolving around the sun. Our journey is not finished. Not yet.

For me, it’s been a year of baking bread and meditating and writing.

With my family, I celebrated all the seasonal holidays or sabbats known as the Wheel of the Year.

I’ve just read back through what I posted here since the last autumnal equinox. I aimed to post with less frequency but greater depth. And I did that, at least for a while. For the first six months, anyhow. I probably would have done better to break some of those massive posts down into sections and post them in serial fashion. But whatever.

It might seem I lost focus over the summer months. I did indeed get distracted by our travels, and the ROX party, and Persephone’s new school, and Isaac. I wrote about those things, but didn’t explicitly integrate them into the narrative of my quest. It would have required a little more effort to make those connections, and I didn’t make that effort. I got lazy.

But there’s more to it. A key piece of the puzzle, for me, was the question of theology. I published an essay on how my thoughts were evolving, but that was extremely tentative and exploratory. I continued to think and work on that over the summer, but I didn’t write about it. The time did not seem ripe, and my thoughts were far from clear.

Finally, a couple weeks ago, things crystallized somewhat. It was not a soul-shattering epiphany. It was more like a few ideas quietly clicking into place. Yet the ramifications are profound, at least on a personal level. I’m now prepared to make a basic statement of belief and identity.

While I’d like to articulate those thoughts, I’m not sure this site is the best venue. I’ve poured my heart out here for the last eight and half years. I think it’s time for a break. I suspect that if I stop writing here, I will be able to funnel that energy into writing something else, somewhere else, and I have some vague ideas about that. I think I’d like to write fiction for a while.

Every year is divided into a light half and a dark half. From now until the vernal equinox, the nights will be longer than the days. Right now we are losing one minute and 47 seconds of light each day. Over the last twelve months, I found I enjoyed the light half of the year more, but that the dark half was more productive. That dark half begins again now, with the autumnal equinox. Glenys Livingstone writes about the autumnal equinox as a time for “stepping into the creative power of the abyss.” So it felt last year. So again this year. New beginnings require old endings. I feel the need to step into the dark awhile, and harvest dreams.

To My Aunt

BART, you probably haven’t read about this [forwarded message: Why Did Jesus Fold the Napkin?] ––––– you are so brilliant, and I understand how your mind was to reject Jesus, but He is the only way to salvation, He is the only God who died on the cross for our sins–––statues of buddah, baal and Hinduisms and islam and everything else is NOT the way to anything===go back to reading the Bible and before each reading ask God to help you understand. In these last days, you want to be prepared for heaven and the final judgement–––I am so serious, I really hope you understand that I love you and Christy and Persephone––––wouldn’t be much of an aunt if I didn’t at least tell you how important you are.

Continue reading “To My Aunt”

By the Light of the Moon

Moonrise

We gather by the side of the road on the edge of an urban forest. I know the others only because they are dressed like me, in white clothing. We talk amongst ourselves, getting to know each other.

The signal comes at twilight, just as the sun is setting and everything is growing dark. We walk into the woods along a gravel path. We can hear the sound of drumming.

Soon we come to a clearing. There’s a circle made of lit candles and strewn leaves. Inside the circle, an altar and a pentagram. There are two women here, also dressed in white. These two I know, a little. One is inside the circle, drumming. The other is outside the circle, singing. She strides toward us. Her voice is beautiful. She reaches out and takes my hand, leading me and all the rest toward the circle.

We are each in turn ritually purified with incense. When all are within the ring of light, the circle is cast by calling the quarters and invoking the elements. And within this sacred space the ritual unfolds, as the full moon slowly rises.

This is an esbat, not a seasonal celebration, and so something new and unfamiliar to me. The heart of the ritual I might describe as energy work and group therapy. H. Gunaratana Mahathera describes Buddhism as “much more akin to what we would call psychology than to what we would usually call religion.” This is not a Buddhist ritual, but I’m reminded of this nonetheless. We are invited to think of some area in our life where we’ve reached a plateau, some area of our personal or interpersonal development where things have stagnated, where we’ve grown complacent or are just plain stuck. We think about ways to release that energy, and we engage in a few activities to visualize that release. Strategic symbolism, perhaps.

This may all sound very solemn, but there was a lightness to it as well, and laughter. We also drink margaritas.

Later, we sit in the moonlight sharing food, drink, and conversation. I hear a voice through through the trees. Soon it comes again, and again, impossible to ignore because the unseen person is shouting. He sounds angry. Then another voice joins the first. A woman. Their exchange becomes a song. Then instruments kick in: accordion, double-bass, sousaphone. The music is lusty and uproarious. There’s a whole band back in the woods somewhere.

After a few verses and a rousing chorus, the song crashes to a halt, and there is a round of applause. Judging by the sound there must be at least fifty people there. A couple members of our party are dispatched to scout out the situation. They report that it’s a gypsy-punk interpretation of Oscar Wilde’s Salome.

Many strange and wonderful things happen by light of the moon.

Photo: Moonrise / Eric Miraglia / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Blasphemers and Apostates

March 14, 2012: International Day of Action to Defend Blasphemers and Apostates.

I suppose I am both an apostate and a blasphemer, at least by by some definitions. I’m fortunate to live in a country where religious freedom, though constantly contested, is guaranteed by the constitution.

But things are very different in some other nations.

On the YouTube page for this video, you’ll find a great list of resources for more information.

Please support this cause.

Making Stock, Taking Stock

Making Stock

We’ve had the habit for many years of constantly making stock. We are always saving any bits of vegetables left after slicing and dicing — carrot tops, onion skins — as well as the occasional bone. We save these in the fridge and, every few days, we boil them in water to make a stock. If we already have a stock on hand, we simply combine everything. The stock grows richer, and darker, and more flavorful, with each iteration. A stock will keep indefinitely if you boil it often enough. Each stock is different, unique. We couldn’t recreate them if we tried. We use the stock to give flavor to rice or greens or other such cookery.

It’s economical, it’s fun, and it also tends to make the house smell nice. I highly recommend it. It seems like a metaphor for something, but I’m not sure what. That’s the very best kind of metaphor, if you ask me.

Maybe it’s a metaphor for what I’m doing right now. As I continue my quest for discovery and definition, I’ve been storing up bits and pieces, ideas and aspects. I want to pause, take stock, simmer in my own juices for a moment, see where I’m at so far.

I can say three things with some degree of certainty. I’m not sure if these qualify as statements of value or just descriptions. This is what my religion or spiritual orientation looks like in broad outline. I’ll unpack each term a little.

  • Celebratory: The main function is to celebrate, not to manipulate. Ritual practices mark our place in the world and the universe, in the wheel of the year and the cycle of life, in family and community. I use the term celebrate in the old sense. It is not a synonym for “party,” though parties are celebrations of a sort. But so are funerals. In New Orleans, of course, it is sometimes hard to tell the difference.
  • Naturalistic and humanistic: The natural world, as revealed through sense experience and through science, invested and storied with meaning and mythology by countless generations of humanity, is sufficient and complete in itself. Deep mysteries remain, but supernatural explanations are best understood as metaphors or thought experiments. Gods and goddesses hold special power as archetypes that emerge from human consciousness.
  • Earth-centered: The planet we live on, our home and mother, is the source of much inspiration. There is wonder in the sun and the moon and all the stars, but the Earth holds a special place of reverence and awe. To experience this place as sacred is a continual challenge for the individual in a technological-industrial society. To recognize and refocus on our participation in the ecosphere is a main purpose of religious celebration.

To these three I’m tempted to add a fourth: Communitarian. I’d like to see our practice connecting us to a larger community beyond the immediate family. I hesitate because this seems more like an aspiration than a plain fact, and I have a certain deep ambivalence about other people, especially when it comes to our most deeply cherished notions of value and cosmology. I’m skeptical of radical individualism even as I’ve lived and breathed it all my life. Civic engagement is important; revolutions of conscience are necessary; our way of being in the world must be transformed; but exactly how all this intersects with spiritual practice is a puzzle that continues to unfold.

All of this is enough to suggest some sort of naturalistic or humanistic paganism, which comes as no surprise. Through the net I’ve discovered many others of like mind. But these are very large umbrella terms. One major question that remains unresolved is whether I’m on any established path or simply blazing my own trail. It is perhaps the main question, a fact which has only become clarified through the process of writing this.

Which is what making stock is all about.

Stock

Context Clues

Bayou Conversation

What’s in an Acronym

I work at an HBCU. That acronym is not recognized by my spellchecker, nor was it in my vocabulary until I came to work here. It stands for “Historically Black College or University,” a term which requires even more unpacking.

In a nutshell, the story is this. Once upon a time in America, people of color had virtually no educational opportunities. Even after slavery was abolished, institutions of learning were for white people only, and remained so for generations, especially in the American South. And so eventually HBCUs were established, and over a hundred are still operating today.

Like me, most Americans don’t know about HBCUs, their role in our history, or their continued relevance. To understand this, you have to come to terms with certain painful aspects of our history, which seem to be subject to a peculiar and selective cultural amnesia. Sometimes we’d rather forget about slavery and its legacy. Or perhaps we’d like to pretend that’s all well behind us, old dead history of purely academic interest. Such a view relegates HBCUs to the status of relics, anachronisms, survivals of a bygone age. The truth is that while we’ve made progress we are still living that history, and racial disparities are still significant. HBCUs still have a role to play. I’ve been learning about all this, and more, on the job.

Book Club

I work in faculty development. It’s part of my job to think and grow together with the people who are actually in the classroom teaching.

One avenue to that end is our Fall Faculty Book Club, which has been running for several years now. This time around, we are reading How Black Colleges Empower Black Students, an anthology edited by Frank Hale Jr. The response has been phenomenal. We had so many faculty wanting to participate that we had to split into two groups.

As I read through the very first essay, “HBCUs in the Old South and the New South,” by Samuel DuBois Cook, I learned a lot. I did not know, for example, that HBCUs were at the forefront of the movement toward diversity and inclusion. Most modern educational institutions now embrace these values — or at least pay them lip service. But in the Old South, this was a radical commitment that went against the grain of the dominant culture, and there were consequences. I’ll cite just one instance: The state of Georgia cut off funding to Atlanta University because they had accepted some white students. Read that again if you have to. Atlanta University had been established as an HBCU, and the idea that white students would be attending classes and rubbing elbows with Black students was unacceptable to the establishment. The university administration held their ground and lost state funding. This was in 1885. The university survives to this day, in the form of Clark Atlanta, but it could not have been easy. This is a dramatic illustration of a general principle. HBCUs have always been inclusive and multiracial, long before the contemporary notion of diversity became popular.

Sacred Work

The religious themes in this essay were also striking. These are by no means incidental, as the very first HBCUs were private institutions founded by religious groups. As Dr. Cook notes at the outset,

It was neither accidental nor an experience of minor and fleeting importance and relevance that virtually all of the educational institutions founded to educate freedmen were church-related. Indeed, the church-relatedness of their origin was of overwhelming and enduring significance, meaning, and value. Involved were a theological worldview, formal commitment to the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, and a belief — however insufficient — that ex-slaves and their descendants were human persons endowed by God with intrinsic dignity, value, and worth and were equal in God’s sight.

Furthermore, Dr. Cook refers to the founding and operation of these institutions as “sacred work.” He writes of teaching as a “sacred commitment,” a “divine art and enterprise.” That language gave me pause.

I work at an institution which is not only “church-related” but which was founded by a saint, now canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. The cornerstone of the oldest building here, dedicated in 1932 and built with Indiana limestone, bears this inscription:

God’s greatest work on earth is man.
Man’s master art is the leading of man to God.

Teaching is surely one of those arts that can lead “man to God.” I’ll leave aside my reservations about theological doctrine for the moment, though they are many. As I read Dr. Cook’s essay, I realized that one doesn’t have to be Catholic to participate in this “sacred work.” One doesn’t even have to be Christian. One doesn’t even have to be a theist.

So, in a very real way, I might assert that my job is my religion. Or at least a part of it.

Discussion Group

As I mentioned, interest in this book was so high we had to split into two discussion groups, with my boss facilitating one while I took the other. We had our first meeting on Monday.

In aiming to foster a good discussion, I drew upon a key lesson from last year’s book club selection, The Heart of Higher Education by Parker Palmer and Arthur Zajonc: Start with a story.

We began by going around the table, introducing ourselves, and telling a bit of our story. “Tell us how you got here,” I said. “Tell us the story of why you are here, both on this campus generally and in this particular room. Tell us how you came to be at this HBCU, and also why you wanted to be here reading this book about HBCUs.”

I began with my own story, in order to model the sort of openness I wanted to hear from the others. I won’t repeat that in detail here, as I’ve written about all this before: How my grandfather was a Klansman, how I went to high school with Klansmen. Despite growing up north of the Mason-Dixon line, I grew up in a virtually monocultural suburb where Black people were rarely seen. My point was that the very notion of an HBCU was completely off my radar. I never heard of such a thing until I was searching for a job back in ’99.

Though I’ve picked up some bits and pieces over the past twelve years, I never got a formal orientation to HBCUs, what they represent, and what it means to work at one. Furthermore, my department is responsible for orienting new faculty each year. So by reading this book, I’m hoping to deepen my understanding, to finally get that orientation, and learn how to orient others.

Around the Table

As we went around the table, a couple interesting things happened. First, people really did open up. The stories people told were heartfelt, candid, and emotional. Second, I experienced a sense of humility and honor and interconnection and respect that seemed quite profound — and I’m certain I was not alone in this. I felt some intangible essence reflected back to me from the face of each participant.

I was reminded that dialog can be a spiritual practice.

On my door to my office I have posted a copy of the Tree of Contemplative Practices. After the meeting was over, I consulted it.

Tree of Contemplative Practices

Sure enough, listed under relational practices one finds dialog, deep listening, and storytelling.

How does it work? Just off the cuff, my impression is that when you really open up to dialog you become part of something bigger than yourself. Sitting in that room, listening to my colleagues and co-workers, we became more than just ten individuals around a table. Some sense of shared purpose and identity began to emerge, however tenuous, however briefly. Most every spiritual path seems to acknowledge the idea of being a part of a larger whole.

We had that sense of expanded context doubly Monday, as we experienced a communion of sorts with one another, and also felt our sense of shared mission within the larger scope of history.

Context is everything.


Tangents & Foonotes: In the process of writing this I discovered the Spirituality & Practice website, which appears to be a great resource. For example, check out the section on listening as a spiritual practice, and make sure to use the listed links for related quotations, books, films, art and much, much more.

I am trying to keep these posts under a thousand words. Trying, and failing.

The Foolishness of Man

I’m not quite in my right mind today, thanks to some cold medicine I took this morning. So this might be the perfect time to revisit The Good News Bible Hour #14.

The always-amazing Eric Spears (nee White) just excavated this video from his personal collection a few days ago, digitized it and posted it online. I believe this was produced in 1993, and I probably haven’t seen it for at least fifteen years.

Got a few minutes? Let’s watch this together.

I suppose it pretty much speaks for itself, but I can’t resist adding a few editorial comments.

The video consists entirely of an improvised performance by yours truly. However, Eric ran the camera and edited the program; he can also be heard lending a voice off-camera. Xy makes a brief appearance here in her “Mary Perkins” character.

Perceptive viewers will note that I borrow a few lines from Flip Wilson via Uptown Saturday Night.

The program aired on CATS (nee BCAT) and supposedly has garnered more complaints than any other video. I suspect that’s because people might think it’s a real televangelist sermon at first, though after watching for a few seconds it’s rapidly apparent that this is satire. That might make a viewer angry enough to call the station.

Of course, it’s also possible that some viewers simply couldn’t view this satire as anything other than an attack on Christianity itself. I can’t speculate on my frame of mind 18 years ago, but as I view this now I see it as a mockery of fundamentalism, which of course is a tendency that can emerge in any religion. I don’t see it as a mockery of Christianity or even religion in general.

Your mileage may vary.

By the way, you should definitely check out Eric’s Daisybrain blog.

The Awakening

Dawn over Mississippi River

It’s been almost two weeks since I got back from POD 2010, and I still haven’t managed to write about it.

But I find I can’t write about POD 2010 until I’ve addressed POD 2009.

POD stands for the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education, and it’s pretty much the big conference for faculty developers.

POD 2009 was my first such conference, and it has proven to be a truly transformative moment for me. In retrospect, I’m tempted to call it a spiritual awakening. That seems funny, but I guess such things happen in funny ways. It was a subtle thing, but at that conference in Houston (of all places) I found myself drawn to sessions on religious literacy, contemplative pedagogy, integrative learning, transformative education and the like. Did I attend a single session on technology? If so, I don’t remember it.

No one could have been more surprised by these developments than me. After all, on the airplane flight there I was celebrating my apostoversary. What business did I have being interested in such matters? Some of my self-definitions were beginning to shift. I have even found myself saying that I went to POD 2009 as a technology specialist, but I returned as a faculty developer. Similarly, I was broadening my understanding of just what religion and spirituality could in fact be.

Of course this turn of events didn’t come out of nowhere. I was ready for it. In fact it was well underway, and I think it would have happened eventually, inevitably, even if the circumstances were different. (But how? Why? Tracing back the roots of this awakening, if I can call it that, is an indulgence which I have not yet fully plumbed. Surely the birth of my daughter played a role, but what else? I could go back decades, I’m sure.) It was a subtle thing, as I said, not the stuff of dramatic revelation, nor did it bear fruit rapidly. Looking back on what I wrote at the time, I can see the profundity of the experience was not immediately evident. It took some months to emerge.

Virginia Lee unintentionally kicked it up a notch back in February. She invited me to co-present (along with 30-odd others) at this year’s “Uncovering the Heart” session at POD 2010. I nurtured a suspicion that she had me confused with someone else, because I had absolutely no qualifications, but I jumped at the opportunity. I knew it would require me to stretch in new and interesting directions — and so it has. Much of my work over the last eight months has been oriented toward learning more about contemplative pedagogy and the other subjects I’ve mentioned.

But these developments have not just been professional. Indeed, the very essence of what I’m on about is the notion of integration and holism. We are all of us whole people; the systems and schemes that fragment our lives can have a dehumanizing effect. In the academy we have a moral responsibility to educate the whole student, body, mind and soul; to teach with our whole selves; to resist fragmentation when it is harmful. (I’m not so ideological as to deny the value of “fragmentation” entirely.) In the broadest context, we all have a responsibility to look after our whole selves, to attend all facets of existence in ourselves, in our families, in our communities.

I have multiple roles that I engage every day: artist, writer, father, husband, son, employee, faculty developer, friend, citizen, president of a small nonprofit, techno wizard, member of various civic organizations, self-made celebrity — the list goes on. Where and when do we have the opportunity to address all these roles, bar none? When are we most whole? I think that is the domain of religion and spirituality and philosophy. Of course there’s plenty of other stuff that falls under these headings, plenty of oppressive dehumanizing constructs which I don’t find helpful at all. Nevertheless, I am increasingly becoming comfortable with the idea that this is the domain where the biggest and deepest and most important questions are asked. It is this inquiry which I find endlessly fascinating, and inspiring, and rewarding, and relevant.

Perhaps attentive readers will have already noticed this burgeoning interest in my writings over the last year — or even longer.

I am rambling. But at I think I needed to clear this out before I could write about POD 2010 in St. Louis… which I will do… soon.

Dark Green Religion

Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary FutureDark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future by Bron Taylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Here’s a rarity — an academic book that is also a page-turner, at least for me. I couldn’t put it down. This is a broad survey of an emergent global phenomenon which might be called earth worship or nature spirituality or “dark green religion.” Bron Taylor defines religion broadly and looks a range of cultures and subcultures, from radical environmentalism to surfing to Disney films and many more. I was a bit disappointed that contemporary Paganism got such scant coverage — only about two and a half pages plus some scattered references. Perhaps that’s because Taylor seems preoccupied with folks who don’t explicitly consider themselves to be practicing “religion” in the most familiar sense of the word. The term “dark” in the title is supposed to connote a sense of potential peril, but according to the author that mostly seems to be in the eyes of Abrahamic practitioners. He hints early in the book that he might examine the potential dangers of ecofascism, but this is never really explored in depth. I suspect there may be a resonance between racism and “dark green religion,” especially in Europe, that bears a closer look. But I quibble. This is a good one which I recommend to anyone interested in ecology or religion.

View all my reviews

Connect the Dots

Some people criticize the green movement for being almost like a religious faith. Others say the green movement has lost touch with its spiritual roots. Now Dark Green Religion by Bron Taylor has landed on my reading list. I’ll report back if I figure anything out.

Dear Aunt Ron

Dear Aunt Ron,

Thanks for Persephone’s birthday gift. It will probably take her a while to grow into those clothes, but better too big than too small.

I also appreciated the letter you included. Rest assured, I won’t “disown” you for the suggestions you make regarding Persephone’s religious education. In fact I am touched that you took the time to write about this.

Apparently you were disturbed by the picture I posted recently of the girl handling a tarot card. I hope to set your mind at ease somewhat, and was pondering what I might say when Persephone took matters into her own hands, so to speak. Of her own accord she grabbed a Bible off the bookshelf and opened it.

Bible Study

She’s too young to actually read, of course, but I was astonished when she pointed to a verse with great deliberation. It was Zachariah 14:1, “Behold the day of the Lord cometh.”

Zechariah 14

Was she playing Biblical Lot? Only heaven knows what question she had in mind. I tell you it sent an apocalyptic chill down my spine.

In all seriousness, though, we don’t want her to be unfamiliar with the Bible or a stranger to the inside of a church. To the contrary, we want to raise our daughter with a well-rounded exposure to the varieties of religious experience, to draw on all the wisdom traditions of the world.

There are certain things we will not do, of course. We will not pretend to know the truth about life, the universe and everything with absolute surety. Being honest about doubts and the limitations of our knowledge is very important to us. The only thing of which we’re totally certain is our lack of total certainty. And that has profound implications. We’re more likely to say, “This is what we think,” rather than, “That’s the way it is.” Please note that this doesn’t mean a wishy-washy perspective devoid of any moral spine. Quite the opposite. Our acknowledgment of doubt and skepticism springs from a love of honest reason as the best source for moral guidance.

As for baptism, you will be happy to know we performed such a ritual on the banks of Bayou St. John last year. I wish you could have been here for it. You can experience the next best thing, because I wrote about it, and there are pictures and even audio of the complete ceremony. I hope you can give it a listen.

And you certainly are welcome to come and visit us in New Orleans if you should ever get the chance.

Love,
Your nephew

Podcasting

Check out my new podcast, Anonymous Informants. I started this to learn more about podcasting, improve my interviewing techniques, and explore some issues that I find interesting. I’ve done two episodes so far, and clearly I’ve got a lot to learn. But that’s the point.

Rev. Jeremiah Wright

Regarding the current foofaraw being raised over remarks by Obama’s former pastor, Xy made the following observation:

If I could hear preaching like that, I’d go to church more often.

Amen. Indeed, it’s our feeling that the real shame here is not the remarks Wright made. The shame is that Obama feels the need to repudiate them.

Christmas Questions

A question to all the Christians out there:

How would you like to see non-Christians act with regard to Christmas? How can we be both respectful to you and true to ourselves?

Clearly we can’t celebrate the religious aspect of the holiday, so would you rather we not participate at all? That doesn’t seem quite fair, since there have been celebrations around the winter solstice since ancient times, long before the birth of Christ. It would be a real bummer to be surrounded by people who are celebrating and not join in the festive spirit.

But if we celebrate an entirely pagan Yule, will Christians find that offensive? Won’t it be construed as an aggressive attack on Christmas itself?

Would you prefer we join in a watered-down secularized version of Xmas, accentuating Santa and eliminating Jesus? If I was a Christian, I’d certainly be concerned about the rampant commercialization and secularization of this religious holiday. I don’t want to contribute to that. It’s a Christian holiday, and I respect that.

So what options are left?

Seriously, I would like to know what you think, because Christmas is a very confusing time for me.

Pandering

So last night, in his big “religion” speech, Mitt Romney warned of nefarious forces bent on “establishing a new religion in America — the religion of secularism.”

Meanwhile, a new poll reveals more Americans believe in the devil than Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Those results hardly suggest a rising tide of secularism. I’m forced to conclude that Mitt was pandering.

Church

Xy and I did something today that we’ve never done together before: We went to church.

Oh sure, we’ve gone into church buildings together. We have even attended worship services together at least three times, but those events were occasioned by obligations either to my family or her employer. I don’t count them as legitimate expressions of religious interest.

Today, we went to a Unitarian-Universalist service. Both New Orleans UU churches were flooded, so they were meeting in combination at a Presbyterian church in Jefferson Parish.

One of my principal objections to participating in worship services has been stuff in the liturgy I don’t agree with. Some people don’t understand this objection. They think I should just “go along to get along” but I disagree. There’s nothing “respectful” about mouthing words I don’t believe. That it makes a mockery of the whole practice. That’s hypocrisy.

I was happy to discover none (or very little) of that in the liturgy of the service we attended. Nothing we said, nothing the minister said, none of the lyrics we sang struck a discordant note. Nothing seemed wrong or false or objectionable.

However, the whole thing was a little — how shall I say this? — boring. While nothing was offensive, by the same token the whole enterprise doesn’t seem particularly necessary. “Not wrong” doesn’t equate to right; “not false” doesn’t equate to true; “not objectionable” does not equate to compelling. Obviously that’s in the eye of the beholder. I am happy for those who find the experience worthwhile.

The idea of being part of a faith community is attractive. As we contemplate possibly becoming parents, I think I would like my child to be at least somewhat familiar with religious practices.

We are going to have to keep looking.

Semi-Random Roundup

  • Viriler. That’s the word I used as the first play of our first game of Scrabble last night. (It was four-way Scrabble: Xy vs. me vs. MaPó vs. Martin, whom we had over for basil burgers.) Because it cleared my tray, it was worth 70-some points, and of course awed my opponents. A pretty good word, I thought: the comparative form of virile, of course. You know, virile, viriler, virilest. No one challenged it, and I won the game easily. Only it turns out that viriler is not in the dictionary. I guess more virile is the preferred form. How embarrassing.
  • Thru Flickr and my blog, I’ve made the acquaintance of one Todd A. Price, who happens to be the food critic for the Gambit Weekly. He just published an article about his job in the Chronicle of Higher Ed. Anyway, I got a chance to tag along on his recent visit to a po-boy joint in the Bucktown vicinity, and it was supercool fun, because he has to stay under cover and use a fake name. It was like being a secret agent, only without the risk of being shot. Mission: Fried Pickles! I’ve read restaurant reviews with an almost religious fervor since moving to New Orleans, so I got a real kick out of this.
  • Speaking of culinary experiences, I had lunch at the Marigny Brasserie today with the science fiction club. First time I’d ever been there. I had the Oyster BLT. Check out the description from their menu: “Crispy Fried Oysters, Applewood Smoked Bacon, Romaine Lettuce, Ripe Tomatoes and Horseradish Remoulade Dressing served on Toasted Brioche Bread.” Also had the truffled mushroom and pork confit. Damn, that’s some good rich food.
  • Ned used one of my Flickr pix on TanqueLogue to head up a rant about graffiti in Bloomington. He even mentioned the “No @nswers” tag in front of the church on Kirkwood! What a cranky old man.
  • A blogger made the front page of the Times-Picayune this morning, which may be a first. Seems the author of the Daily Ablution exposed a Guardian columnist’s affiliation with radical Islamic groups. Also seems the blogger, Scott Burgess, is from New Orleans.
  • Lee Harris has written a thought-provoking article titled “Do We All Worship the Same God?” which contrasts two different atheistic perspectives on the religious experience. I don’t necessarily care for the author’s views on other subjects, but I like where he’s coming from here. Essentially he seems to be arguing for an atheistic perspective which doesn’t simply dismiss religion but attempts to understand it. And it ends with a great one-liner: “Few things matter more than how men choose to deceive themselves.”

Update: As of 2012, the Lee Harris article has gone missing from the address originally cited but can still be found on the web.

Why I Never Go to Church

We’ve just about fleshed out the itinerary for our upcoming trip, and I realize now that we’ll be at my parents’ house on Sunday morning.

As a rule, this is something I’ve tried to avoid in recent years, as it brings up the sometimes awkward matter of going to church — or not going to church, as the case may be.

See, I haven’t gone to any sort of church service for many a year. The reason is simple: In every church I’ve ever visited, there is no provision whatsoever for nonbelievers. The worship services are designed with worshipers in mind, and everyone is expected to sing along with the hymns, recite the liturgy, stand up and sit down and pray together.

And that’s how it should be. Worship is serious business, at least to those who believe. I don’t fault churches for this. I don’t expect them to accommodate me. I certainly don’t expect an observation gallery for nonbelievers to be erected in the back.

But this means there’s no place for me in church. Worship services are for worshipers, not for skeptical observers. I don’t wish to go through motions and mouth words which I don’t believe. I have more integrity than that, and furthermore it’s disrespectful to the true believers.

I’ve had arguments with friends, relatives, even Xy about this. Some people just don’t understand where I’m coming from. Even if they’re not religious themselves, they think that the polite or somehow “correct” thing to do is to go to church and go through the motions. Sometimes they justify it as keeping the peace in the family. Sometimes they justify it on grounds of convenience, as the path of least resistance.

I can’t roll with that. To pretend toward a religion one does not embrace is hypocritical. It makes a mockery of sincere religious practice. I don’t know how grown people can do that and still respect themselves. Perhaps they’re just insensitive to the religious experience. But I’m not.

I do worry that Mom might interpret my refusal to go to church as a form of disrespect. Nothing could be further from the truth. To the contrary, I don’t go to church because I respect the religious tradition — and myself.