Saturday, September 16, 2006

Yep, Beltane makes me squirm.

A humanist response to Joel's post on Humanism vs. Theism played out in the church in Rhode Island having a controversy over the church hosting a pagan festival.

This isn't sneering, but I always dreaded Beltane when I was in a congregation with a critical mass of pagans.

I didn't like the costumes or the chanting or the maypole or the Queen of the May election all out on the church lawn in a big festival. I always thought it made us look sort of silly. And whatever the pagans do is reflected on us. As I sat at the toasting table and tried to play along, I was nervous as I watched people walk by on the sidewalk and stare.

And pagans who invoke the four directions without using a compass make me nuts. "North" is not the front of the church. It's a real direction. Find out which direction it is and point that way for goodness sake.

Id disagree when Joel writes I’ll tell you old-school UU Humanists out there something: you should thank Bertrand Russell that you don’t always get what you wish for... if all the UU Christians and UU Pagans left, the average age of the average congregation would approach triple digits, and the membership list would drop down to double digits- and half of them would be Buddhist. We irrational, superstitious psychotics are keeping your doors open; the least you can do is sneer at us behind our backs instead of right in our faces.

The people who strongly identify as Pagans and the people who strongly identify as Christians and the people who strongly identify as humanists have always seemed to be in roughly equal numbers in the congregations I've attended, and all minorities compared to the larger group of people who are just want to be Unitarians withour adjectives.

All that said, there's no way I would have signed such a letter. (And there's no reason to believe that all that many people did sign. If the letter had a lot of signatures, the reporter would have mentioned it. This whole controversy could be the work of one crank wrote wrote a bunch of letters and called a newspaper editor, who told his reporter to go investigate and come back with a story. This stuff does happen.)

I think it is telling that the local news article Joel cites calls the situation "Unitarians" sparking a controversy and the story never makes it clear which Unitarians are doing the sparking or that the distinction even matters. Though we aren't always the best of friends, we're indistinguishable as far as the rest of the world is concerned, so we should do our best to get along.



Suzie Ridler said...

I am very amazed reading your experiences, I'm a solitary so for me the group dynamic doesn't really exist but it's fascinating to hear about it. I can't imagine doing a Beltane ritual in a church, that makes me squirm. The part about the directions was hysterical, I guess nobody owns a compass, LOL.

I love meeting spiritual people and am so glad I came across your blog.

Joel Monka said...

I'll freely admit that sometimes Beltane makes me squirm, too, just as the Southern "make a joyful noise" style of worship made me cringe as a young Baptist. But I didn't want to throw them out of the church just because they weren't dour, puritan New Englanders.

And yes, if you're going to call the quarters, you should take a moment to figure out what direction you're facing- it really isn't that hard.

I'm sure I was probably overreacting with my post, but it gets tiring to keep the peace by sitting down, shutting up, and never letting anyone suspect I have religious beliefs. If the UU's cannot covenant to stop ridiculing each other, who can?

Jason Pitzl-Waters said...

I didn't like the costumes or the chanting or the maypole or the Queen of the May election all out on the church lawn in a big festival. I always thought it made us look sort of silly.

Hey, that's cool, singing songs from the UU hymnal that have been edited or reworded to remove references to God or Christian ideas always made me feel silly.

But I wonder, was it the way they were acting that made you feel nervous or was it because there were Pagans on the front lawn? Would you have felt less nervous if this were a Christian group doing something attention-drawing and colorful on the lawn? Would you have been more forgiving if a Humanist group had an event on the lawn and one of them mixed up their directions?

I used to be pretty hard on my fellow Pagans for being kind of lame and for screwing up their directions or forgetting their lines. Then I realized that I was laughing at them for being human (and placing myself above them in the process). That they were making mistakes made by all human beings no matter the belief system.

In a couple generations, Pagan clergy and local leaders will most likely be more formalized and professional. A little less colorful perhaps, but surely more acurate in invoking the four directions. We may then get to the point where non-Pagan UUs don't feel "dread" when our holidays are observed in public on the UU lawn.

Chalicechick said...

I'm not crazy about rewording hymns, either.

And no, I wouldn't like a big tacky Christian festival. One of the lesser things I like about humanism is that we don't throw big tacky festivals.

If they are making a mistake, I don't mind. I don't bring a compass to church either. But the assumption that north was the front of the church had me thinking that they didn't care which direction was which and that the directions ritual was totally divorced from actual directions, which bugged me. Perhaps irrationally so.


fausto said...

Ritual divorced from its meaning is what has turned countless people away from one form or another of Christianity, too.

It's ironic when some of them find their way here and then proceed to adopt different, but similarly meaningless, rituals instead.

It's not that I'm saying there's nothing of value in Pagan spirituality. To the contrary, I think it has a lot to offer in terms of reconnecting our lives with the natural processes on which we all depend for our existence.

However, when a ritual or practice is followed for its own sake without true reverence for the deeper reality toward which it ought to draw our attention, it is an empty show, it is affectation rather than worship, it is Pharisaism rather than devotion. And it is so whether it is a Mass served by child molesters or a Beltane led by fluff bunnies.

Chalicechick said...

Yeah, what he said.


Joel Monka said...

There is much to what you say, Fausto, but the letter from the UU Humanists (which was the original issue) made no such distinction between fluff-bunnies and serious people of faith- to the "anti-theist" school of humanism, being more sincere just makes you more psychotic. It is the belief in anything at all that they are calling irrational- they would be much happier if it were only an affectation that could be set aside.

Anonymous said...

it is Pharisaism rather than devotion
OK, gotta stick up for the Pharisees here... they do come in for some bad press in the New Testament, but it's worth bearing in mind that there is a fairly direct line from the Pharisee movement to modern Rabbinic Judaism.

*And* getting back on topic... :)

CC, you might like the Yule services our UU pagan group puts on; we celebrate the actual Solstice (albeit, admittedly, on the closest Sunday) rather than some Wiccan Oak/Holly King thing, and last year's service was organized on the "lessons and carols" model (and no, we did not use filked "pagan carols").

Robin Edgar said...

And whatever the "Humanists" do is reflected on U*Us too CC. . .

Chalicechick said...

Ummm... Yeah. That was my point when I wrote:

Though we aren't always the best of friends, we're indistinguishable as far as the rest of the world is concerned, so we should do our best to get along.