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Category: Spirituality

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

Thanksgiving

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