As we get into the full swing of the Christmas season, it becomes inescapable. Which begs the question, in a secular society should one be able to go completely unaffected by religious observances and holidays? Freedom from religion rather than freedom of religion. Given the extreme limitations that would have to be imposed in order for this to become a reality, I think such a system would end more freedoms than it would create. Besides, I don’t think there is anything wrong with people being exposed to beliefs and practices outside their own faith system. It is a chance to learn, gain vital understanding for this global world, and perhaps have a new spiritual experience.
At Christmastime for example, you don’t have to be a Christian to find meaning in the holiday season. The emphasis on family and togetherness can inspire people from all faiths to return to and appreciate their roots. Christmas can inspire anyone to practice ‘goodwill toward men’, to give and be compassionate to those less fortunate. In all the twinkling lights we can be encouraged to seek out glimmers of hope in the darkest times.
Of course, this principle doesn’t apply to just Christmas. The themes of just about any religious holiday can transfer and be meaningful to those outside the related faith system. Rather than get offended by inevitably coming into contact with celebrations of a different culture or faith, find a point of meaning that impacts you. Find a way to make it ‘your’ holiday. With all the negativity and disappointment in our world, we should look for things to celebrate, not things to complain about. If you aren’t celebrating the birth of a savior, celebrate the lengthening of days, the warmth of family, or the innate good in humankind.
I have discussed previously the mixing of various spiritual traditions in New Age practices including the risks, benefits, and criticism from both academics and followers of mainstream religions. I came across an interesting point of view on the subject from a modern-day witch. Silver RavenWolf touches on various traditions in her book, To Ride A Silver Broomstick: New Generation Witchcraft, including yoga, the chakra system, and Voodoun. She encourages practitioners to maintain the integrity of spiritual traditions by learning them in their purest form, and then combining them into a personal spirituality of meaning. Specifically, in relation to Native American traditions, here RavenWolf discusses how diverse traditions should be combined into one’s personal spiritual practice, “The gifts of the Medicine Wheel can be intermingled with the properties of the modern Witch and his or her Craft with fluidity. However, one must study both in their separate forms to practice them in harmony” (205). Here, from a follower of an eclectic spirituality, we hear a solution to help prevent faith traditions from becoming watered down or a global spirituality from forming. Traditions remain intact and separate, but there is freedom for individuals to combine principles from various faiths to create something new and personal.
Further, this framework denotes the continuing need for traditional religions and their degree on separation from one another. Their leaders require continuing support so that in turn they can share their gifts and knowledge with their followers and those on a less traditional spiritual path. Of course, it is important to remember traditional religions do not exist in a vacuum. There is no way to guarantee their pureness, assuming there is anything to keep pure at this point in their very long histories. Officially, the religious organizations would not take part in any mixing of traditions. That would be left to individuals. I think this point of view provides us with a realistic way to serve both traditional and alternative spiritualities.
If you have any experience incorporating different faiths into your personal practice, please comment below. Did you keep the traditions separate or did you allow them to mingle during the learning process? What benefits or disadvantages did you gain as a result of your approach?
RavenWolf, Silver. To Ride A Silver Broomstick: New Generation Witchcraft. St. Paul, Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications, 1993.
‘World Religions’ too often use fear as its primary motivation to not only help ensure ‘right’ behavior, but also to maintain membership across generations. It is effective. But only as people continue to believe that they have something to fear. With advanced communication technology and the global nature of our world, new ideas can more freely spread and take root. Rather than living in fear of Hell or endless lives of torment, people are waking up. They are choosing not to live in fear. Instead, they are thinking more deeply rather than taking others’ answers at face value.
There is nothing wrong with having faith. But when ‘faith’ hurts people or drives them apart, it’s time to evaluate how much of your faith is truly fear. There is no honor or divine nature in fear. Fear is something used to prevent telling questions from being asked. It allows people to hide the truth. Fear is a bully’s way keeping the status quo in their favor. Consider how many of your actions are motivated by fear. This goes beyond matters of faith to include our secular lives. How might your life be different now if you had acted on your passions instead of your fears? How could your life change if this ideology became your new normal?
Last week I discussed the functionality behind the structure and hierarchy often found in ‘World Religions’. I suggested that this highly organized structure would encourage and help guarantee the financial stability and longevity of such organizations. Logic then follows that the less structured and organic nature of alternative spiritualities would be a disadvantage in this area. This week, I would like to touch on a few reasons why this method of organization (or arguably lack thereof) makes sense for the New Age world and is even beneficial.
Due to the breadth and variety of New Age beliefs and practices, an overarching system is not practical. To encompass everything under any one structured system would threaten the diversity of alternative spiritualities. and existing with such diversity would make for a slow decision-making process given the different values and priorities likely to be found therein. Further the small size of independent New Age organizations allows for the lack of structure. There is no logistical or functional need for systematic oversight or management. Instead, each organization takes care of itself. They work to create community within themselves and in the larger world by reaching out to network with others.
Lastly, this organic structure is not just the easiest system, it is the most appropriate. The ethos of New Age ideology in regards to the importance placed on personal exploration undermines an rigidly organized system. Individuals are encouraged to find their way through various paths. An organic structure makes this possible and allows for the New Age ethos to thrive. Systems with a set hierarchy are not only unnecessary, but inappropriate.
If you are involved in any alternative spirituality centers or groups, consider how communication flows and authority is vested and policed. Consider how this organization interacts with others in the New Age milieu. Feel free to share!
The structured nature of religion is often attributed to its intermingled history with government. And rightly so. However, I think there may be another practical reason for the hierarchy that often comes with religion: monetary income. This notion came to me as I witnessed the struggle of alternative spiritual centers to bring in the revenue needed to continue, much less grow. The highly organized and structured nature of ‘World Religions’ facilitates the stream of income necessary to perpetuate them. The hierarchy dictates and directs the flow of money through the organization.
New Age groups and centers are independent and less structured. They come and go as interests and trends change. This helps organizations stay current, but doesn’t necessarily do anything to encourage longevity. The loose web of independent but connected New Age organizations does not allow for the channeling of funds from booming areas to struggling areas. While both traditional and alternative faith systems most certainly have their down falls, the income issue will be difficult for alternative spiritualities to overcome. More money in hand often comes with more commercialization and other complications. Too little money leaves one in non-existence or scrounging which stifles the spiritual goals that started the whole venture.
Can spiritual organizations add the structure necessary to be financially viable while maintaining spiritual integrity? Thoughts?
In this time of shorter and darker days, when the leave change color and fall from the trees, as the world becomes more cold, dark, and dormant, it is a great time to ponder and investigate all things dark. Seek out information not just dark in the way of subject matter, but dark because it is hidden from your understanding. You don’t need to investigate the occult to get at the darker things in life. If you follow a ‘world religion’, consider learning about the less known history of your faith, about how your faith is practiced in a different part of the world, or about a mystical sect of your religion. If you are not tied to a specific faith, you may be interested in various occult subjects and practices that do not fit neatly into a designated religion.
Death is often viewed as strange and mysterious, but it’s the most natural thing about life. They are two sides of the same coin. Spend some time exploring the other side of the coin regarding your faith. Shed light on that which is mysterious to you. Enjoy the journey.
Secularism works to push religion out of the public sphere and into private. However, it allows for organized religions in the free, Western world to be contained in buildings dedicated to the faith community. While faith communities and their physical presence is permitted and still a large part of Western society, I feel secularism lends itself to a more intimate sense of faith with respect to the individual and the home.
As the boundary between public and private are constantly policed in secular societies, the easiest and most natural place to take advantage of religious freedom is within the individual and small groups that can be contained in private residences. Take note about the appearance of yourself (your person) and your home. Consider decor, adornment, and items you surround yourself with. What about your appearance do you pay the most attention to? Where do you spend the most time in your home? What have you made physical space for there? Think on all these things and reflect on what might be visible signs of your faith? Go beyond the obvious, not looking just for what is present, but consider what the absence of various things can say about you. Go further considering how you act and what you say. You and your home’s appearance my reflect these deeper levels, maybe not.
In what ‘secular safe’ ways do you practice your beliefs? I’d love to hear reflections of how your spirituality has made its way into your ordinary life. Comment below!