Thoughts on Religion & Spirituality

Today is the first day of Occupy Southby, the Occupy Austin occupation of the massive SXSW festival that takes over Austin every year. We’re offering free events, music & classes every day this week to counteract the commercial, expensive alternatives.

The atheism & agnosticism panel at Occupy Southby. From Left: Amanda Michele, Dallas Aycock, Kit O'Connell & Claire Hischkind. Photo by Kat Freedom

The theme for today’s events was faith & spirituality. One of the core values of Occupy Austin is that we are nonreligious. This does not mean we are anti-religion, but simply that we don’t endorse any particular faith, beliefs, or lack thereof. In order to balance out the religious & spiritual topics of the day I offered to lead a panel discussion on Agnosticism, Atheism and Occupation. It was very successful & thought-provoking. I shared the stage with Amanda Michele and Dallas Aycock and Claire Hischkind. We had a wonderful diversity of backgrounds, from Claire who was raised an atheist to Amanda’s devout upbringing.

For me, I began as a Catholic from a liberal New England tradition. As I grew older, the lack of equality in the Church felt wrong to me. I couldn’t imagine what made women “lesser” that they could not serve the same roles as men, and this was a large part of turning away from that faith. I also found ritual appealing, but the Catholic rituals are very one-sided — the congregation watches while the priest performs.

Around the time of my parents divorce, my mother began to explore Neo-Paganism and Wicca. I got interested then, but didn’t join any organized group until moving to Austin where I spent a lot of time working with Tejas Web. The nonhierarchical nature of the group appealed to me — there were no secrets or ranking; anyone could take part who chose to do so. I led rituals and became very involved for a time. Yet I realized that while the ritual form worked for me, appealed to me on some deep level, I found the spiritual framework less appealing.

And then, of course, I discovered Burning Flipside and the global Burning Man community. My first Burn became a deeply spiritual experience for me. I embraced a path of ethical hedonism — the belief that my role is to experience as much that I can in life, to touch as many lives as possible, and cultivate pleasure in others wherever possible. At the same time, I realized that I really did not  know what came after this life, if anything. And not knowing, I found it wasn’t important — what is important is living now, not later.

But the Burn instilled a deep, continued respect for ritual in me. As Claire pointed out on today’s panel, all cultures regardless of religious beliefs have found the value of ritual. It would seem that humanity is hard-wired to respond to ritual; it helps us feel connected to something larger than us, if only to the people & world that surround us. Whether the ritual of the Burn or the Occupy Wall Street General Assembly, when people gather together for ritual it is a powerful experience.

As an agnostic occupier, I have deep respect for the work of those with faith. The people who walk the walk — are out doing good works & trying to change the world, inspired by their religions — deserve our help and support. Yet I also think there is an important place for the skeptical viewpoint to balance the credulity I sometimes encounter among occupiers.

How do you beliefs affect your choice to Occupy, or your political views?

Comments (3)

  1. Bonnie wrote:

    Just a sampling from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer:

    26. For those who suffer for the sake of Conscience

    O God our Father, whose Son forgave his enemies while he
    was suffering shame and death: Strengthen those who suffer
    for the sake of conscience; [Occupiers]when they are accused, save them
    from speaking in hate; when they are rejected, save them
    from bitterness; when they are imprisoned, save them from
    despair; and to us your servants, give grace to respect their
    witness and to discern the truth, that our society may be
    cleansed and strengthened. This we ask for the sake of Jesus
    Christ, our merciful and righteous Judge. Amen.

    30. For the Unemployed

    Heavenly Father, we remember before you those who suffer
    want and anxiety from lack of work. Guide the people of this
    land so to use our public and private wealth that all may find
    suitable and fulfilling employment, and receive just payment
    for their labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

    36. For the Oppressed

    Look with pity, O heavenly Father, upon the people in this
    land who live with injustice, terror, disease, and death as
    their constant companions. Have mercy upon us. Help us to
    eliminate our cruelty to these our neighbors. Strengthen those
    who spend their lives establishing equal protection of the law
    and equal opportunities for all. And grant that every one of
    us may enjoy a fair portion of the riches of this land; through
    Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

    Friday, March 30, 2012 at 12:25 pm #
  2. Kit wrote:

    Thanks for quoting these, Bonnie. It’s important to remember that Christianity was a revolutionary movement at one time, and still has this radical notion of caring for the downtrodden & the poor at its core. I hope its clear I have no problems with those of religion, and openly admire those who follow these ethics.

    Friday, April 6, 2012 at 7:12 pm #
  3. This is my first watercolor post. Is it too late to be a few weeks behind?

    I’ve been rethinking religion the past few months. When I was young I saw religion as a sort of conformity institution. Christianity was being forced upon me. I’ve always been very very stubborn. Being stubborn enables me to determine my own destiny. I would not submit and I would not conform.

    Religion was poorly taught. Poorly explained. I wanted rational explanations and received none. I found rational explanations in science and the natural world. So I identified myself as an Atheist. However, my ethics have always been largely aligned with Christianity.

    In a college art history class I learned an interesting bit of information about the enlightenment: The enlightenment was a period of scientific endeavor established to discover God through the Nature that is his being or creation. Science wasn’t in opposition to religion like we’re told on the Zombie Box (TV). Christians should not be spending their time opposing evolution, but instead discovering the Creation.

    What I mostly learned about religion in college were the crusades, the inquisition, the opposition to scientific advancement, witch hunts, symbolic relation to Roman Pagan Gods, and other weird products of the Catholic Church. I never understood the place of religion in the world. But that’s changing as I am studying communist subversion, and central bank subversion practices.

    Religion has played an important role in small human social structures like towns. It ties the community together with common stories, common ethics, common traditions, and a common culture. The church was a true community center. People were proud of who they were, where they come from, and proud of their traditions and culture. This is still alive in the Old World. Baltic people still hold on to their traditions and culture because they are proud of it. Children and teenagers participate in their culture because they want to. They respect their ancestors who fought and died for their home and way of life. Their home is their heritage.

    Subversion systems work to destroy religion. Without religion to tie a community together, they can be divided against each other on trivial matters. Dividing people against each other is the core objective in any subversion. People are distracted and unorganized. They have no heritage to defend. The subverters move into government positions and rewrite the laws. They set up a central bank and put an entire country into an eternal debt spiral.

    Religion enables people to believe in something that is immaterial. Something that can’t be taken away. When people live to do what is right, they will not fear anyone or anything. People consider it an honor to die for something they believe in. A person who lives by ethics and morality can be imprisoned and die a peaceful death knowing he has done right by his life. A person lacking those ethics can be coerced through fear to do the bidding of another. He may say, “Long live Obama!” knowing that he may not live so long. And that person will not live a peaceful life.

    I discovered religion is really a pre-emptive anti-subversion system. Being part of the local religion should tie people closer together. In doing so it keeps foreign subversion out. However, I think many churches have lost their way. People are religious Sunday morning and are Atheists by noon. I think large churches are alienating; some churches are money scams; some are misguided by poor leadership, some simply maintain hierarchies; some work to divide people against each other. So I think the subversions have been very effective.

    Mike Rupert said, “Religion is for those that fear Hell. Spirituality is for those that have been there.”

    It’s a good quote, I think. Finding spirituality is a quest unique to everyone. Finding a common cultural identity with the people around you to reform what was lost in religion shouldn’t have to be difficult. We’re Texans here. We’re Froot Loop Austinites. We like our unique city and our diverse culture. Let’s maintain it cooperatively.

    Thursday, June 28, 2012 at 1:06 am #