Sunday, January 16, 2011

Criteria of a Religion

I have long been seeking a conclusive list of what is necessary for a religion, since, as I define my own, I can only rule on where I stand as particular arguments arise. Death and rebirth. Identity of the divine. Worship methodology. Magick versus science.

Only as I think up these scales do I find where I weigh in on them, and that is a far from efficient practice. I have attempted to steel myself towards exploring and comparing other religions to see which topics they address and which they leave up to the individual believer, but that is a long and treacherous journey, and one I have difficulty becoming passionate about, even regarding Christianity.

On a lark, I googled "criteria for religion" and stumbled across an evaluation of William James' approach, published here in The Gadfly Magazine. My notes are available below:

    founders had personal communion with the divine
      the feelings, acts, experiences of individuals in solitude
    what is the divine
      has to be the primary truth
      treated in a solemn and serious manner
    believers undergo emotional states of passionate happiness

  what is religion able to accomplish?
    make the necessary easy and bearable
      suffering, death
    prepare believers to positively embrace suffering
    does not need
      rituals, social gatherings, demands on followers, demand worship

One: my religion is indeed very personal, as opposed to institutional. It is my own alone, and no other's.

Two: before I address my personal communion, I must give identity to my divine, as you've likely seen in previous posts: the Earth, Gaia, the local major planetary body. As for my communion, why, that is every time that I step out into the world, whether the air I breathe is dry and cold, freezing my blood, of warm and humid. I have lain in grasses with the world alive around me in it's most natural state and never felt more at peace. Time itself has faded away, and my mind enveloping my surroundings.

Three: moments of passionate happiness are just as I described above. I would be hesitant to call such moments serious or solemn, but there are some times when they are not joyous,

Four: does my religion make emotionally difficult things bearable? As biblical as "dust to dust" may sound, and as Disneyfied as the "circle of life" appears, I find it is true in my beliefs. The earth is our mother, and when we are born, we depart from her womb, to grow and life and prosper. Eventually, all such things must and do come to an end, and we return to her, either in baskets created from her own fruits, or as ash, both of which, after a time, return to the earth and help future generations blossom.

Five: does this belief system of mine prepare me to embrace suffering? At first, I am inclined to decline, but when I return to the concept, I realize it is indeed so. When I know that all is never lost, that Sol will indeed come out tomorrow, though I may never fully embrace suffering, I will strengthen my back against it, bear through the long nights of my despair, with the knowledge that all will turn around. Embrace suffering? No, but I will embrace the belief that the suffering will end, and I must remain strong through the trial.

Six: what does my religion demand of me? It demands that I embrace the earth as my mother and respect her. Respect is not worship. Respect is much more closely affiliated with trust and mutual companionship. I will hold to her and speak for her when she cannot speak for herself. I will not try to convert others to my beliefs but I will do all in my power to protect her from those who believe otherwise. However, these are not things she asks of me, these are things I do willingly out of passion and compassion.

I'm certain that I have not addressed many of the aspects I mentioned above, but I do believe I have answered an unasked question: Can this system of beliefs that I hold to rightly and reasonably be called a religion?

Yes, yes it most certainly can.