Tag Archives: spirituality

Unpacking religion and its associates

It’s an ongoing problem. Someone blurts out something about a religion. Someone else blurts out that they know people of that religion and it’s not true of them. A third person makes an analogy to a different religion and muddies the waters further.

They are arguing, and they can’t even agree on their terms and definitions. That’s no way to do this.

Maybe I can help. At least, I can describe the way I unpack and analyze religious movements and outlooks. It seems to serve me well.

Under the general banner of religion, I detect four subcategories of activity/belief/endeavor. Not all religions include all four; one may wonder whether that disqualifies a belief system from the label of ‘religion’ in the first place. Rational people could differ on that. My four:

  • Spirituality: views on the unseen, supernatural, and the afterlife–things relating to supreme or superior beings. Gods, spirits, souls…all of that. Into this category I also put interactions with supreme beings where there is no intent to influence an outcome. “Dear mighty Cthulhu: I am fine. I hope you are fine too. I hope you are sleeping well with minimal bathroom interruptions as I know you are greatly ancient. I praise you with a massive praising.”
  • Magic: views on mortal people influencing the world. In some religions this is done through prayer; in others, through ritual and/or meditation. Trying to learn the future, change outcomes, gain assistance–all the ways people attempt to shape events. “Dear mighty Cthulhu: please slip my sister-in-law a strong laxative, so that she does not sleep well and has maximum bathroom interruptions.”
  • Philosophy: views on morality and ethics, whatever their source–ancient books, tradition, common sense. What is right or wrong? Encouraged or discouraged? Fair or foul? Obligatory or contraindicated? How should we live?
  • Culture: each movement that is religious necessarily spawns a culture, or cultures, that influence even non-members or those less involved. It may involve ethnic heritage, even merge into same. A Jew, for example, might profess atheism yet remain associated with the cultural aspects of her upbringing’s faith, and insist upon having her son circumcised.

Once I began to look at the arguments this way, it helped me to send the combatants to neutral corners long enough to hush and listen. When one labels or generalizes based on religion, it helps to identify which aspects are in play. If one is going to say that Latter-Day Saints do not drink coffee, for example, very well; this is philosophical and to some degree cultural. (I’m not aware of anything in LDS scriptures specifically forbidding coffee, though I have read up on their applied rationale.) The boundaries will not always be strict, as we can see in this example; culture may be a lens through which people interpret and act upon philosophy.

Many examples exist and I have experienced some. Is there a Wiccan culture? Certainly there is. I never fit into it, but I understand it. I grew up in a Lutheran culture that could best be described as grim, threatening, cruel, and comfortless. I didn’t know of kinder, gentler Lutherans until I grew up, went to college, and learned that I had been raised by religious fanatics in an extremist group. The kinder, gentler Lutherans were the first to say: “oh, yeah, those folks–no wonder.”

Are Satanists religious? Well, I guess that depends on which specific Satanists. Most, I understand, do not believe in a Satanic godhead. They do have philosophies, and at least some engage in magic. I don’t know enough about left-hand path culture to say whether any generalization about that is possible. I’m not sure how seriously the Satanic Temple folks take the religious aspect, if at all, but their actions suggest a culture (and certainly a philosophy) of challenging the majority.

I am definitely not part of that majority. Since I have rather few co-religionists, and am a loner among them, most of my conversations about religion occur with people not of my belief system. In order to process that fact in respectful ways, I need this organization. Perhaps others will find it helpful.

My telemarketer FAIL

This needs some backdrop. I am of the following beliefs/persuasions:

  • Non-Christian, and disinterested in reconsidering that.
  • Committed to leaving people alone about that, if they leave me alone. I thus consider all active proselytizing very offensive and annoying, one of the worst social misbehaviors there is.
  • Some businesses and jobs are not legitimate employment, and that practice of a bad job liberates me from social obligations of courtesy and honesty when it intrudes on my life. I’m not moved by ‘they’re just doing their jobs.’ So are drug mules. If your job is to bother people who did not ask to be bothered, that’s a bad job.

So not only do telemarketers annoy me, they are fair game within the confines of law, just as are missionaries who dare bother me on my property. It does not follow that I am always necessarily dishonest or mean to either. It simply means that, within the confines of the law, I may be so if I choose, and I feel I’ve done nothing wrong. They always had the choice not to bother me. I wasn’t bothering them.

The only enjoyment I can get from a telemarketing effort, therefore, is a sense that I made it less worthwhile for the telemarketing company and its employees. To some extent, whether I do that through comedy, annoyance or venting depends upon the conduct. Obviously-read scripts offend me. Scripts that imply insults to my intelligence offend me. Illegitimate questions offend me, and since the querent has no right to ask me anything about my whole life, all telemarketing questions are illegitimate, especially if the individual has not even asked whether s/he may start asking them.

I’ve handled it various ways over the years. I actually got a robocall operation to leave my cell phone alone when, after about eight hangup calls from them, I called back and strongly implied that I had the power and will to traverse the electronic medium and cause grave physical infirmity. (That’s illegal, and not normal for me, but I was pretty tired of what amounted to crank calls. Oh, and it worked.) With males, I have been known to attempt a sultry tone hinting at seduction. I often take charge and say “I’m asking the questions here. How did you get my number?” I’ve pretended to have comprehension disabilities, or to speak little English. I give stupid answers, or make up a bunch of baloney. If I’m feeling lazy, I just say I’ll go get the person they want, pretend to call someone to the phone, lay it down and just not return. A minute wasted, some other person somewhere spared a call, the company’s money wasted, my little good deed for the day.

One time, some twenty years ago, I decided that I had the perfect screw-you planned out. I would preach. I was raised around a lot of that, for my father loved the 700 Club and religion was rammed down my throat by emotional and physical abuse all through my teens, until I (predictably) threw up. I know how to imitate a televangelist. So, next time the phone rang, and it was someone telemarketing me, I had all tubes loaded with canister. This was going to be my most successful, obnoxious telemarketing response ever. This would be for the ages.

“Good evening, sir, I’m Susan with Suchandsuch Co. Who is the main decis–”

“You know, I’m going to give you something better than a sale today,” I blared in my outside voice. “I’m going to give you the truth of your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! It says in the Bible…” I went on. And on. And on. I pontificated for minutes; no hangup, no interruption. I turned up the heat: “…because the alternative is the fires of Hell, and there is a real Hell, and it’s even worse than you imagine…” I quoted John 3:16 and offered interpretation. I began to wonder why she hadn’t just hung up, or butted in to bring the conversation around to what she wanted to sell, or responded in any way. I did this for about five minutes, getting a little curious, but starting to run out of wind.

When I began to slacken, she finally spoke up. “Wow, this is so wonderful. I also am born again, and it’s so great to meet someone who believes as I do and isn’t ashamed of the Gospel. Sir, this has been the best call of my day, and thank you so much for sharing your faith with me. I’m at work though, and I have to get going on other calls now, but God bless you, and have a wonderful evening. Good night!”

*click*

I never did find out what she wanted to sell me. I stood there, blown-out, dumfounded, struck silent, my whole plan having backfired about as back as a plan can fire. It was like the South Carolinians had tried to fire on Fort Sumter, but due to incompetent artillery direction, had shelled downtown Charleston instead.

Then I did the only thing that a sense of justice or humor would allow. I laughed until I was incoherent, red-faced and gasping for breath. In fact I’m tearing up laughing just thinking about it.

I haven’t pulled the preaching stunt since.

Sedona: the truth

If you are in any way connected to metaphysical beliefs, neo-paganism, auras, or for that matter your sacred healing spatula, you’ve heard of Sedona. “Amazing, you can feel the energies.” “Such a special, spiritual place.” “I want to move there and start a natural healing center.”

Trust me, they got a lot of those. But the point is that second to Stonehenge, Sedona is to New Agers (and anyone like me who comes unglued when mistaken for them, no offense) as Mecca is to Muslims or Hagia Sophia is to Orthodox Christianity. There are those who have been, and those who wish they had been. So let’s have the candid reality.

We drove up from the southern approach. The scenery is reason enough to see Sedona even if you’re an atheist (amazing geology and views), a devout Southern Baptist (check out what God makes when he’s in a good mood), a Mormon (Brigham Young missed the southward turn, oh my heck), or whatever. You can say faaaaaaaaa to all the hematite jewelry and vortex maps and types of healing you don’t even know what they mean, and just love the trip for the sake of pure scenic loveliness. Sedona is essentially palisaded by tall red walls with very clear multicolored rock layers that are impressive even by the lofty standards of ‘Zona. An overlook near the airport lets you survey a major part of the town–highly recommended.

It is a town very stretched out, yet without sprawl. Roundabouts make it very easy to turn back around to check out that art gallery or crystal shop or restaurant. They manage to have enough parking in spite of the hordes of tourists. I admit I came in very skeptical of the whole business. I promised not to, under any circumstances, blurt the phrase ‘crystal weinie.’ Most essentially, today was for Deb. She has done much of the driving for two weeks, without complaint (I spell her on request, and navigate), and coming here was more her thing than mine. She was due a day driven only by what she desired, with me cheerfully tagging along wherever she wished to explore.

You might have expected Sedona to have a vast excess of metaphysical shops, quaint eateries with vegan-friendly menus, art galleries and enough hematite jewelry to cover the dome of the Arizona State Capitol. (I’m surprised they haven’t thought of that.) Your expectation would be 100% correct. You could not check them all out unless you devoted a month to it, as a day job. If that’s your shopping paradise, by all means make the pilgrimage. Sedona will sate you. However, most people who don’t come for the scenery come for the energies.

On one level, I think there’s something to it. For reasons I cannot explain, my knees–which frequently stiffen up and pain me lately, especially when I first stand up from a long period of sitting, such as in a passenger seat–felt twenty years younger. I felt as if I could walk ten miles or play nine innings. Deb came into town with eyes irritated, we believe by smog in Tucson and Phoenix, but they felt so fine she forgot about it until I asked her if they were better. She’d also had a headache. Vanished. One might attribute those to cleaner air. Cleaner air didn’t give me such a great knee day, I’ll tell you that. What I felt most of all was a sense of calm and tranquility, which I hadn’t anticipated in a moderately crowded place and is rarely the case anywhere I don’t exactly feel like I fit.

Except for the photo ops, of which she took fullest advantage, Deb tired of Sedona the town after a couple of hours. I think the Raven place that turned out to be a timeshare marketing front was the first point of impact. At the same time, she felt the same calm I did in the area. We disappointed the Sedona money machine by buying only one greeting card and one lunch. Fun observation, to which I was alerted in advance by my nephew (who, with my niece, graciously showed us around the natural beauty of the Sonora) in Tucson: the bulding code in Sedona demands that, without exception, all commercial structures conform to a strict code, including color restrictions. The McDonalds in Sedona has teal arches, not golden ones. Dead serious.

Deb and I did find our own spiritual connection in the Sedona area, but we didn’t find it by seeking out a ‘vortex’ crowded with eager seekers in search of energies. Here is the lesson I drew from it. Sedona and its surrounds are so beautiful that I’m not sure how anyone could sustain a bad mood. They represent a special sense of nature, spirits, gods or God–whatever you choose–presenting its/their very best. If you want to find spirituality there, you will find it anywhere you feel drawn–it is an attitude within you that you find reflected in what you see. Deb and I felt a profound sense of unity and love, and wherever we looked, we saw symbols that reflected this. Maybe the place amplifies what you bring to it. Maybe there are ancient spirits who don’t resent the masses of medicine wheel setter-uppers, Whole Foods junkies, mountain bicyclers, pagans and flabby tourists. Maybe it’s something I don’t understand and may never grasp.

Doesn’t matter what I think or understand. Take my word that the scenery of the entire side drive between Rimrock and Flagstaff that includes Sedona is reason enough for any non-blind person to go. As for the rest, bring a good heart and an open mind, seek what you wish, and you may find it. Far as I’m concerned, the shopping is overrated but the natural beauty is Grand Canyon-level smack-you-in-the-soul stuff. The rest is your call.