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On Religion

Plinky asked, “Do you con­sider your­self reli­gious?”

Anti-Abor­tion and Pro-Life Teapot Athe­ist Protest Ful­ton Street Octo­ber 13, 20101

Not at all. I was always more spir­i­tual than reli­gious, but I was raised in a very reli­gious fam­ily in which I was forced to par­tic­i­pate in their South­ern Bap­tist church. I started ques­tion­ing the con­tra­dic­tions in the Bible at an early age and did my best to rec­on­cile my intel­lec­tual objec­tions with the emo­tional com­fort reli­gion can offer. 

After inves­ti­gat­ing many other denom­i­na­tions of Chris­tian­ity, I finally left it alto­gether in my early 20’s. I dab­bled in pagan­ism and researched many other faiths before arriv­ing at my cur­rent stance, which is tech­ni­cally agnos­ti­cism while prac­ti­cally athe­ism.

I still find the Uni­tar­ian Uni­ver­sal­ist Asso­ci­a­tion to be a good spir­i­tual home, as it is as wel­com­ing to agnostics/​atheists as it is to any­one else. Dif­fer­ent con­gre­ga­tions vary, of course, as they do in any other respect.

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Diane Duane Rocks

The Sword and the DragonBack when the Meisha Mer­lin ware­house was being cleaned out, Sam picked up a copy of The Sword and the Dragon, first vol­ume of the Epic Tales of the Five by Diane Duane that MM put out. It con­tains The Door Into Fire and The Door Into Shadow.

The Door Into FireI’ve wanted my own copies of the first three Tales of the Five books for decades, since read­ing an old friend’s copies. I’m still dis­ap­pointed that MM never put out the next vol­ume, which should have included The Door Into Sun­set and the never-before-pub­lished The Door Into Starlight. But then, there are other peo­ple who have far more rea­son to be dis­ap­pointed about MM mat­ters than I do, so I can’t fuss too much. And I have this vol­ume, and will con­tinue to hold out hope that Duane will find a new pub­lisher who will bring out the oth­ers some­time in my life­time.

The Door Into ShadowAny­way, I had to stop read­ing to show this bit to Sam. It sums up much of what I love about Duane’s phi­los­o­phy.

…death is inevitable. But we have one power, as men and beasts and crea­tures of other planes. We can slow down the Death, we can die hard, and help all the worlds die hard. To live with vigor, to love pow­er­fully and with­out car­ing whether we’re loved back, to let loose build­ing and teach­ing and heal­ing and all the arts that try to slow down the great Death. Espe­cially joy, just joy itself. A joy flares bright and goes out like the stars that fall, but the lit­tle flare it makes slows down the great Death ever so slightly. That’s a tri­umph, that it can be slowed down at all, and by such a sim­ple thing.

The Door Into Sunset


Let us give thanks for chaos and logos
and impli­cate order;
for dark mat­ter, bright galax­ies,
and non­lo­cal con­nec­tions; for crys­tals and con­ti­nents;
for Lucy’s skull and Mary Leakey’s
foot­prints in vol­canic ash; for Thales’ water,
Her­a­cli­tus’ fire, and Pythagorean forms; for the
Indian zero, alge­bra, and algo­rithms; for the
oscil­la­tions of the Yin and the Yang; for
acupunc­ture, Su Sung’s astro­nom­i­cal clock, and
Huang Tao P’i’s tex­tile tech­nol­ogy; for Ara­bic
alchemists on the Old Silk Road and Ibn Sina’s
Canon of Med­i­cine; for Euclid and New­ton and “God
play­ing dice”; for Kepler’s snowflake and Kekule’s
dream; for Mendel’s monastery peas and the genetic
Tetra­gram­ma­ton on the spi­ral stair­case of life;
for frac­tals, ferns and fall foliage; for
cater­pil­lars and cocoons; for the infant’s first cry;
for Pachebel’s canon; for stained glass win­dows,
Leeuwenhoek’s micro­scope, and the Galileo
probe; for the World Wide Web to help us become
con­scious of cos­mic inter­con­nect­ed­ness; but most
of all, let us give thanks for the twin pas­sions
which make us fully human – the yearn­ing to
tran­scend the bound­aries of time and space by
learn­ing and by lov­ing.

Invo­ca­tion, by Ingrid Shafer
For the open­ing of the Okla­homa Acad­emy of Sci­ence on 7 Novem­ber 1997 

A friend emailed the piece to me sev­eral years ago. I wanted to link to it, but couldn’t find a copy of it on the web, so I made one (with Dr. Shafer’s per­mis­sion, of course). Today seems a good time to move it from the old ver­sion of my site into Word­Press.

R.I.P. Madeleine L’Engle

I started this post on September 7, the day after the grand lady moved on to find out what's next. I find myself certain that she wasn't afraid, that she looked forward to a reunion with her husband Hugh and others who had gone before. And yet I, who never even met her in person, was too upset to finish the post or even look at it again for two months.

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Is there a pentagram badge?

In an intro­duc­tory post to a news­group, I men­tioned at one point that my part­ner and I have been active in start­ing a CUUPs (Covenant of Uni­tar­ian Uni­ver­sal­ist Pagans) chap­ter in our area, and also that I had just started train­ing to be a Girl Scout leader. The com­bi­na­tion of those two state­ments resulted in quite a bit of dis­cus­sion from peo­ple say­ing “Isn’t Scout­ing a Chris­tian thing? How are you get­ting to do that?” I soon real­ized that there’s a lot of con­fu­sion going on, and fig­ured I’d try to dis­pel it.

I think some of this con­fu­sion is com­ing from the per­cep­tion that there’s one big Scout­ing orga­ni­za­tion some­where, and all the pub­lic­ity in recently years over the Boy Scouts of America’s poli­cies regard­ing homo­sex­ual mem­bers. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have always been sep­a­rate orga­ni­za­tions. The BSA was founded in 1910. The Girl Scouts of the USA were founded in 1912. They are not the same, and the deci­sions of the BSA do not reflect the poli­cies of the GSUSA. 

Yes, I’m openly pagan. Yes, I have been a Girl Scout leader while being openly pagan. The pri­mary troop leader each year knew that I’m not Chris­tian, and didn’t express any con­cern about it. There’s not a word in the screen­ing and recruit­ment process about any require­ment that lead­ers or scouts be Chris­tians. One year there were two pagan, one Bud­dhist, and five Chris­tian girls in our troop. There was another who didn’t express any kind of reli­gious views her­self, but whose mother described their fam­ily as “mostly athe­ist.” There wasn’t any trou­ble due to that diver­sity between the girls or the par­ents in the troop as far as I know. 

From the offi­cial GSUSA web site:

The “moti­vat­ing force in Girl Scout­ing” is spir­i­tual. Girl Scouts respects the spir­i­tual val­ues and beliefs of its mem­bers, leav­ing the inter­pre­ta­tion of spir­i­tu­al­ity to each indi­vid­ual and the fam­ily.

The Girl Scout Law embod­ies the core val­ues of Girl Scout­ing. Our “moti­vat­ing force,” described by the con­sti­tu­tion as “spir­i­tual,” is con­sis­tent with the val­ues of many reli­gions. Reli­gious lead­ers have often praised the “rules for liv­ing” con­tained in the Girl Scout Promise and Law, which are so com­pat­i­ble with the val­ues they bring to young peo­ple through their own reli­gious edu­ca­tion pro­grams.

And later:

Girl Scout poli­cies, sum­ma­rized below, ensure that all Girl Scouts are treated equally in regard to their reli­gious beliefs:

–Every Girl Scout group shall respect the vary­ing reli­gious opin­ions and prac­tices of its mem­ber­ship in plan­ning and con­duct­ing activ­i­ties.

–When a Girl Scout troop is spon­sored by one reli­gious group, mem­bers of dif­fer­ent faiths or reli­gious affil­i­a­tions within the troop shall not be required to take part in reli­gious obser­vance of the spon­sor­ing group. 

The Girl Scout Promise and Con­sti­tu­tion do men­tion “God.” The leader’s guide* says: 

In the Girl Scout Promise, the word “God” is used to rep­re­sent the spir­i­tual foun­da­tion of the Girl Scout move­ment. “On my honor, I will try to serve God” is how the Promise appears in print, the same as it has been since the begin­ning of the move­ment over eighty years ago. Most girls when say­ing the Promise will use the word “God.” For some girls, how­ever, words other than “God” may be used to express their spir­i­tual beliefs. Because Girl Scout­ing encour­ages respect for the beliefs of oth­ers, girls may sub­sti­tute for the word “God” in the Girl Scout Promise the word that most closely expresses their per­sonal spir­i­tual beliefs. 

It goes on to explain that the leader should work with a scout, her fam­ily and her reli­gious lead­ers to find the appro­pri­ate word or phrase for that scout if “God” isn’t right for her. 

I’ve found noth­ing in the Girl Scout mate­ri­als that’s offen­sive to me as a pagan or a Uni­tar­ian Uni­ver­sal­ist. I can­not, in fact, find any­thing that I could see as being offen­sive to any­one of any spir­i­tual path. There are reli­gious awards for scouts from var­i­ous reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions — you can find some of them listed at Pro­grams of Reli­gious Activ­i­ties with Youth. One that isn’t listed there but is of spe­cial inter­est to pagans is the Covenant of the God­dess’ Hart and Cres­cent Award (The Hart & Cres­cent mate­ri­als are also avail­able online, with the CoG’s per­mis­sion.)

I have seen men­tion of Chris­tian Girl Scout troops. I imag­ine those troops wouldn’t be as accept­ing of me or my daugh­ter, but then I wouldn’t seek them out. If I did have a per­sonal encoun­ter with a troop that wasn’t sup­port­ive of spir­i­tual diver­sity, I’d try to work things out with the troop’s lead­ers, then go to the local GS Coun­cil of nec­es­sary, as it would clearly vio­late the GSUSA’s poli­cies. There’s no place in Girl Scout­ing for any kind of pros­e­ly­tiz­ing by any­one of any faith. 

And yes, I do strongly encour­age other pagans to be involved with Girl Scout­ing and open about their beliefs. The GSUSA has a real prob­lem in some areas with get­ting enough adults involved to serve the num­ber of girls who want to be scouts, and this is one of the ways we can serve our daugh­ters and com­mu­ni­ties and do a lit­tle activism to improve people’s aware­ness and atti­tudes regard­ing pagans. Need I men­tion that it’s fun, too? 

As for sex­ual pref­er­ence, I can’t speak for the expe­ri­ence of any openly homo­sex­ual or bisex­ual peo­ple with the GSUSA, but I’ve found absolutely no overt or covert mes­sages in any GSUSA pub­li­ca­tions regard­ing homo­sex­u­al­ity, bisex­u­al­ity or het­ero­sex­u­al­ity — and I’ve looked. Appar­ently the GSUSA just con­sider sex­u­al­ity to be a pri­vate mat­ter. There’s cer­tainly no place for any overtly sex­ual activ­ity at any offi­cial scout­ing activ­ity, so that’s a per­fectly rea­son­able stance as far as I’m con­cerned.**

*The Guide for Junior Girl Scout Lead­ers, page 6, copy­right 1994 Girl Scouts of the USA
**In May 2001, after this arti­cle was writ­ten, I came across a mar­velous pin at the Badge and Sash — the offi­cial Girl Scout store. It’s a gay pride flag with the words Girl Scouts Cel­e­brate Diver­sity on it.

Orig­i­nally pub­lished Feb­ru­ary 23, 2001