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I spent much of the last decade as a practicing Pagan. So when I came across an article entitled Agnosticism is Lazy Thinking, I figured I would check it out. I do not really consider myself agnostic, but what the author describes as agnosticism is close to where I am.
The author of this article believes that any good faith system should be able to explain everything.

Any good worldview should have explanatory power that relates to all of the things that can be observed in the universe. This would include the material universe: the nature of matter, energy, and time; and the immaterial universe: logic, truth, justice and morality. In other words, a good worldview will be able to adequately address both science and philosophy.

He goes on to say Greek Mythology fails this test because there was no god of quantum mechanics. This is actually laughable to me because the Greeks had no understanding of quantum mechanics and many Christians actually reject most of the research that comes out of physics, but as a pagan, I feel qualified to say that Apollo as god of math and science would also be the god of quantum mechanics. I don’t really feel the need to beseech a god too often about physics, but if I did, I would be ask Apollo for assistance.

An Agnostic states that they do not know how to explain both science and philosophy in a unified manner. Implicit to Agnosticism, however, is that they reject all of the alternative worldviews.

This is not lazy. In order to reject these answers we have to be presented with them first. Many agnostics search endlessly for answers and simply do not deem your answers satisfactory. That is not laziness. I have read probably 500 books just to help me understand where I stand in the past 5 years. That is more books than many Americans read in a lifetime. Just because I cannot find a unified theory, does not make me lazy. Physicists still haven’t found a unified theory, but that doesn’t mean they, like many agnostics aren’t searching.

I think the rub for the author is the latter part of the agnostic equation, agnostics reject “all of the alternative worldviews.” This means they reject his worldview. I know this may be unfathomable for the faithful, but for some intellectuals, your faith doesn’t make sense. That doesn’t mean I haven’t researched your faith, participated in your ceremonies, prayed to your god, and in general tried to understand. It takes a lot more effort to have to justify constantly why you have rejected the faith of your family than it does to embrace what is offered to you.

I reject the notion that because agnosticism isn’t positivist, you can’t criticize it. In fact, agnostics often analyze their beliefs, particularly when new facts are offered up. Agnosticism is flexible and accepts that we will never have all of the knowledge. We will never know everything. That is okay. We work with the information we have in order to shape our understanding.

Finally, I reject that “it is also the duty of the critic to show how some other system better explains the facts.” If you want me to believe want you do, you have to show how it offers answers to my questions. So far, my conclusion is that we have insufficient knowledge to create a unified theory that makes my spiritual beliefs in a higher power with our current level of science. This is more consistent to me than rejecting science outright so I can cling to belief or rejecting the possibility of a higher power just because science as I understand it doesn’t require a god. If you can present me with evidence, particularly evidence outside of your religious texts that help to me to formulate a unified theory, I will be grateful. My understanding of the universe is constantly changing and I appreciate those who help to fill in the blanks. Maybe I am not a “traditional Agnostic” any more than I am a “traditional Pagan” or ever was a “traditional Christian,” but my agnosticism is not lazy, it is formulated around a pursuit of understanding and an acceptance that there is always something more to learn.

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I think sometimes we try so hard to figure out the things in life. I spent hours thinking about the questions of God, the Universe and whether or not it is okay to be an atheist I realized that biggest problem with the whole event that trigered the creation of this blog was that I assumed there was something wrong with being and atheist As if the idea that science ad the idea that my matter and energy would live on without whatever it is that makes my consciousness is somehow depressing or not hopeful.

I have talked to a number of people and asked a lot of questions. I have asked a lot of questions, and many people have concluded that I am trying to get them to find God for me. In some ways maybe after many years of failed attempts to find the Christian God, I wanted to see why it is that Christians I know have so much faith. I really didn’t manage to figure out what it is that created their faith, everyone seems to have a different way of getting there. What I found was that faith and belief all come from a feeling, a feeling I seem to be unable to have relating to their God, though I definitely had a supernatural experience while camping, just that experience was related to an alter to Artemis in the forest and not the Christian God.

So, I suppose I haven’t ended up an atheist, more of a spiritual theist who isn’t really sure there is something more, but connects to the magic of nature and the forest. I still trust strongly in foundations of scientific inquiry, and am not yet willing to accept that we are all there is in the universe, though I don’t think that is a depressing thought.

I took some time off from writing. Sadly, when you have a chronic illness, you do not feel like writing. I lost the battle with convincing myself to write the past week or so, and for that I apologize to anyone who missed my witty ramblings about religion. (Seriously, I love you guys. My readers are awesome!)

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As a culture, we have become hypersensitive to criticism and questions. Most of us, particularly when it comes to questions from people of other religions, do not know how to separate frustration over not knowing the answer to a question and thinking people are personally trying to attack our beliefs. When we feel comfortable in our views, we do not like that comfort to be challenged, especially, if we find not knowing the answer troubling. On the bright side, many of the questions faced by both believers and non-believers are philosophical questions that have been examined by people for a very long time.

Both believers and non-believers have something to lose if we cannot learn to treat each other’s opinions with respect. The ability to think for ourselves and choose what we believe is something that most cultures have only tolerated for the last century, and some cultures still do not tolerate this. If we want to avoid the need to take up arms against our neighbors who do not share our beliefs, we need to stop trying to impose our beliefs on others. It is one thing to try to discuss in a respectful manner why you think someone has not thought through what they believe, but we need to stop name-calling and intimidation.

If you have a question, phrase it in a manner that is deferential or at least polite. If you do not know the answer, be honest. Nobody knows everything and it is usually better to be honest about what you do not yet know than to try to make something up. If you are interested in looking in to the subject deeper, then do so.

We have reached a point where we have learned to shout at each other, but ignore what the other person is saying. It has led to a major cultural clash because all sides want to be able to impose their beliefs on others, but we have seen from generations of societal experiments where religions have been banned entirely, such as in the USSR, or some religions have been banned, such as the treatment of Native American religions in the 19th and early 20th centuries, that people rebel. Oppression is not a welcomed part of the human condition.

My call to you is this: be tolerant, be willing to ask questions, give questioners the benefit of the doubt (they may be genuinely interested and if you shut them down you kill the chance for dialog) be willing to admit when you don’t know, and respect the honesty it takes to make that admission. We live in a world that is troubled by religious conflicts. People are persecuted every day for their beliefs, or their lack thereof. This is the 21st century. We should be able to move beyond this and respect the rights of everyone to worship whatever god or goddess they choose or choose to believe there is not god at all without penalty, without fear for their safety, and without having the religious beliefs of others imposed on them.

Freedom

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I want to talk about freedom.  Many people believe that freedom gives them the right to do anything they want.  This is problematic because if that were true, that would mean you have the right to infringe on the freedom of others.  This means that in order for there to be anything resembling freedom for everyone, then that freedom is naturally limited to those things that do not infringe on the rights and freedoms of others.

It is also important to note that freedom isn’t free.  I am not even talking about the traditional way this statement is used.  For freedom, soldiers give up their freedoms.  Freedom costs money.  If you have money, you have more freedom than others in America do.  Not only that, you have the “freedom” to provide your employees with a salary below the poverty level, insuring they have fewer freedoms than you do.

What do I mean by freedom isn’t monetarily free?  Let’s talk about college, which is supposed to be the great equalizer, but statistically students who go to good colleges tend to do better than those who do not.  The thing is, as a first generation college student, I know getting into those colleges isn’t the hurdle.  I had no problem getting in, where the problems arose was actually being able to afford to go.  Where you go to college, limits what you can study and what you will end up doing.  Ultimately, money limits opportunity.

Money determines your access to healthcare, too.  In light of the recent Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case, your employer can determine what is covered by your health insurance compensation and you then would be responsible if, for example, your insurance does not meet your medical needs.  If you were rich, you could just pay for it yourself, but when it costs 2 weeks’ pay to cover your medication (which is about what an IUD would cost if you make around $13 an hour. Many Americans affected by this law make less than that).  If you are rich, you also have the freedom to buy political favors.  In theory, all of this influences the freedoms of everyone else, but in the United States, the so-called “Land of the Free” we are all supposed to be free.

This is why I support a single payer health care system, so all Americans have equal access to the medical care they need.  This eliminates the employer religious concerns over covering whatever birth control a woman and her doctor decide she needs because instead of covering insurance as part of her compensation for working for you, it would be provided through the government.  Yes, this has tax implications, as did the billions of dollars we have paid on wars.

Since we are talking about my politics, I also support big government.  I think there are certain important roles to be played by the government.  These roles should include: education, health care, employment oversight, environmental oversight, and the protection of the equal rights to freedom of everyone under the law.  The problem I see in our country is the unfortunate lack of free and open elections.  This has been further impacted by the Citizens United ruling, which codifies the rich being able to manipulate elections and buy political favors.  The American government no longer is for the people by the people, it is for the few and by the few.

This needs to change.  Just because I see serious flaws in the system, I love this country and I believe it has the ability to be better than it is.  In fact, as Americans we should insist on whatever it takes to make our country the best in the world.  The first step is to seek true equality of freedom.  This means giving people equal access to opportunities, an equal voice in deciding the future of America, and an equal right to practice their religion, so long as that practice doesn’t prevent others from being able to freely practice their religion.

How do we do this? You didn’t really think I was just going to write a philosophy article without giving you some sort of suggestions did you?

First, we need to work to overturn Citizens United.  It is going to be very difficult to have anything resembling equality of access to opportunities if we continually give the rich a megaphone while forcing the poor to whisper.  Check out the Mayday PAC

Second, you need to vote.  Your vote is important.  You should do your research and think critically about what you are told.  Who is saying talking, who is paying for it, and what do they have to gain from it?  I don’t care if you vote against my beliefs, but you should still make your voice heard.

Third, you need to stay engaged. Sign petitions, run for office, write and call your representatives, and keep informed on the issues.

Ultimately, I believe your ability to live freely, impact elections, and decide how to practice your religion should not depend on your personal wealth.  Freedom shouldn’t be dependent on the socioeconomic status of your birth.  While we are on that topic, my friend Marie posted today on Freedom, particularly freedom from slavery http://t.co/ZfM09mMlw6.  July fourth is a fantastic day to talk about freedom, particularly as “patriotism” in the United States focuses a lot on the idea of freedom. For me your freedom to do something should not impede the freedoms of others. You should read Marie’s post before you continue because what she has to say here is the first half of what I have to say.

I’ll wait… seriously, this blog isn’t going anywhere.

Now, that you have read that, I’m sure half of you are thinking “but Crystal, I’m not a Christian,” so I would like to amend Marie’s conclusion with this.  My changes are in italics.

 Good people of the world, it’s time we came clean. It’s time we stopped hiding … behind the term “addiction.” Certainly one can be addicted to almost anything, but let’s at least call it what it is. Every time we click the link, flip the page or pay the john, we are exploiting someone. A person. A human being just like you. It is nothing short of evil for anyone to abuse another in this way.

The wealthy using their privileged position to impact legislation in their favor at the expense of everyone else is also a form of exploitation, particularly when the legislation there are seeking is specifically formulated to ensure that the poor stay poor.  We have a crisis of exploitation in our society and much of it revolves around the privileges of wealth, maleness, and whiteness, but that is a topic for another day.

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Exhale

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It’s five minute Friday, and I wasn’t going to participate on two hours sleep, but I enjoyed participating last week so much I’m going to try my hand at it again. #FMFParty
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I tend to be a high strung individual, but sometimes I need to just be able to take a moment and exhale, remembering that life doesn’t have to be the serious endeavor I try to make it.

One of the best exhales of my life happened at 4:12 am this morning when I finally finished a massive rewrite of my MA thesis. This was particularly difficult because I have been struggling to be able to get motivated lately. The lack of motivation doesn’t stem from laziness; unfortunately, I am starting to think my depression is showing its ugly little head again. It doesn’t help that I have been quite sick from unwittingly poisoning myself for several days last week.

Exhales are one of the great and under-appreciated joys in life. When done correctly, they offer so much in return for something you were going to do anyway. As the breath leaves my body, I relax a little. Focusing on my breathing allows me to live in the moment. This has helped me so much because like most Americans, I tend to be using technology and multitasking a lot, but taking a moment to feel the exhale makes me feel a little more alive.

Five Minute Friday Join in! It’s fun I promise.

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I feel the magick in my veins
It follows me even when I stray
Its with me everywhere I go
A fiery companion of my soul

Crystal Dreamgazer 2014, All Rights Reserved

photo credit: Frances Lane via photopin cc

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I want to take a moment and put a human face to the other side of the Hobby Lobby case, the ruling to which should be announced in about 8 hours. Hobby Lobby has argued that what is at stake here is a question of religious liberty, but for me it is actually a question as to whether or not my employer could actually bar me from having birth control. You see that IUD they claim causes abortions, is the only birth control I can use.

I get something called a paralytic migraine. This is exacerbated by any artificial hormones, meaning the Hobby Lobby approved contraceptives can actually give me a stroke. If the court rules in Hobby Lobby’s favor today, that means I will either need to avoid employment by companies with religious exemptions or contribute even more of my wages to my healthcare. It has been suggested that the government would actually be forcing me to subsidize my employers religious beliefs, because I would pay more than employees of non-religious employers. I guess the question at stake is do religious beliefs trump all? Do these liberties extend to other laws? What about Civil Rights laws? Do corporate religious beliefs trump employee religious beliefs?

This is the walking catfish.  Originally native of Southeast Asia, it is currently inundating parts of the "Bible Belt" such as Florida... It is a fish that has developed the ability to breathe oxygen outside of the water and walk over land between ponds in search of food.  That's right, these people will still deny the validity of evolution even when it's walking right past their front door.

The image that triggered this post

 

I am not a huge fan of writing two blogs in one day, particularly when it takes time away from my research.  The problem is, I saw a comment earlier today about how walking catfish cannot be a demonstration of evolution because they aren’t turning into apes.  First, this makes me really sad about the state of education that somehow only the evolution into apes counts in the minds of many as evolution.  Evolution is so much more beautiful and complicated than that.  Second, a couple weeks ago, after finishing Richard Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth, my mom asked me to take a look at people who disagree with Dawkins, perhaps she doesn’t entirely understand my research, but I figured I would humor her.  The lies that get spread about evolution by people who have absolutely no understanding of science concerns me.  Many people buy into the arguments made by apologists, in part because the apologists have an unfortunate tendency to not understand the science themselves, so they interpret it in a way that makes it have little to no resemblance to the real thing.  This is why people throw out questions about the “missing link” as if missing a piece of the puzzle means the puzzle doesn’t exist.

There is a huge misunderstanding about what the theory of evolution states.  Evolution is about tiny changes over time, leading to the creation of different species, and sometimes even different genus.  This process is slow. This is why we wouldn’t necessarily notice evolution as it happened. In fact, we see mutations all the time, some of these could make survival easier, and thus over time couple with other traits to lead to new species.

Walking catfish are a cool example of this because they show one obvious mutation from traditional catfish; they walk on land and can survive longer out of water than other species.  It doesn’t take a genius to see why this would be handy.  They can move beyond their traditional hunting ground, perhaps finding a new untapped food niche.  If this had not work, it would have been a failed evolutionary attempt, and they would have died out. Now say over time we have another mutation, this time our catfish has a baby with legs instead of front fins.  With these legs, it walks a bit faster and can get away from predators.  It mates with another catfish, and some of the offspring have legs, others have fins.  Eventually, they will develop into different species.  Each successful mutation changing them a little bit, until they don’t look like the same species at all.  Each negative mutation, and there will be mutations that hinder survival will simply lead the holder to eventually die out.  Our original catfish could eventually end up more like a crocodile than a fish.  It just depends upon what mutations develop and how they influence survival.

These sorts of small shifts can lead to huge shifts over time.  Some of these fossils survive and show us a little piece of the puzzle, while some of them will not.  This could have to do with bad conditions for formation, climate change, or even flooding.  Missing puzzle pieces do not indicate a lack of a puzzle.

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I just awoke from a very strange dream, but it is a dream I feel is trying to tell me something.  I was in a dark cave with a couple of people.  They had Biblical concordances, and they were trying to prove to me that other gods or goddesses are not mentioned in the Bible and therefore there are no other deities.  Everything they showed me continued to convince me that not only were other gods mentioned in the Bible, but they were real.  I just knew deep down that their God wasn’t the only one.  What I didn’t know is what this meant for me.

When I got up, I picked up a Biblical concordance and the first thing I found was an article about Artemis, who was worshipped by the Ephesians.  I have always felt a close affinity to Artemis, so I found this to be really quite fascinating.  The article claims that Artemis worship died out, and that no one worships her now.  This is not true.  I have found a number of Artemis worshipers throughout my life, but I am certain that when this article was written you could only have found them if you knew what you were looking for.

In fact, what I found makes no indication that the other gods and goddesses worshipped by other regions in Biblical times weren’t real, but rather that the Hebrew God was jealous and did not want his followers to worship anyone else.  From an anthropological/folklore standpoint, I would argue it is unlikely that anyone writing the Bible would have been willing to claim the other gods and goddesses simply did not exist, something I hear often from modern Christians.  Their argument that not only is there God superior to other gods, other gods simply do not exist.  If they did then people would still worship them.  I think this ignores the actual history of the Western World where people even under suspicion of worshiping another god would have been put to death.  Worship of any other deity would have gone underground.  It simply wasn’t safe, much in the same way that it isn’t particularly safe to be a Christian in Sudan.

From a scientific standpoint, I can neither prove nor disprove the existence of the divine.  I have had experiences that indicate to me that magick is real.  My first inclination of this was actually at church camp in fourth grade.  We did light as a feather stiff as a board in the cabin under the leadership of our camp counselor.  I do not remember if the girl actually levitated, but I do remember feeling something was very strong in the room with us.  It was rather incredible.

I think my subconscious is trying to figure out whether any sort of divinity is real, and I still am falling on the side of yes.  Is there just one Christian God?  I don’t know.  The Bible seems to indicate that not only are there other gods, but humans have a tendency to idolize things.  Are there two aspects of one god as suggested by some Wiccans?  It seems possible to me, though the goddess-focused Earth-based spiritual movement beyond Wicca is in many ways a response to the patriarchal rule of Christians.  This doesn’t invalidate the importance of this worship; however, it could explain why there are many groups who ignore male deities entirely.

I have spent my whole spiritually conscious life oscillating between Paganism and Christianity.  I believe this is because of several issues:

  1. My mother is very strongly convinced of her God’s powers and constantly forces me to evaluate my beliefs.  I think this is actually a very good thing because unlike many people I have to justify my beliefs.  As an intellectual, I dislike the idea of blind faith; therefore, I find this to be very useful.
  2. Sometimes I just want to fit in.  The majority of my family, my boyfriend, and the majority of the people in the United States are Christian, so I begin to question my feelings on God every so often.
  3. I always end up back at Paganism because I haven’t had that moment of spiritual conversion to Christianity.  Some Christians argue that I’m trying to make God do all the work, but I struggle to believe that trying daily prayers and asking for help from their deity is me not trying hard enough.  Something is missing.
  4. I also end up back at Paganism because I am a scientist and most apologists I have struggled through either reject my field of science entirely, or pick and choose what parts to accept.  This doesn’t work for me.
  5. I end up back at Christianity because while blind faith is thoroughly unappealing to me, I find faith in general to be beautiful.  I like to see people who have experienced something so deeply that it means everything to them.
  6. I ask a lot of questions and hold my beliefs up to a high level of scrutiny.  Some things about spirituality, I suspect, cannot be explained by science at the level it is at now, and so I end up trying to make sense of what I know in terms of the faith I am not following at the time.

So I suppose I will continue to oscillate until I either become an Atheist, have a conversion experience, or accept my Paganism aha moment as the foundational moment for understanding the spiritual realm for me.

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“I was born on the night of Samhain, when the barrier between the worlds is whisper-thin and when magic, old magic, sings its heady and sweet song to anyone who cares to hear it.”
― Carolyn MacCullough, Once a Witch

I was born on the night of Samhain. My mom prayed hard that I wouldn’t be born on my due date, Halloween, though I am not really sure why. I love Halloween. That is probably part of the reason I have spent the better part of the last decade as part of the Pagan community.

When I was 14, I read Silver Ravenwolf’s Teen Witch. I was on a trip to the Oregon Coast with my sister and her family. My niece’s friend had brought the book. I think it was supposed to be forbidden, but after the first chapter I was hooked. I cast several spells while on the trip. Since then I have read pretty much any book on magick I can get my hands on.

With one exception, I have no regrets about any spell I have ever cast. While they didn’t always turn out the way it hoped, nothing disastrous has ever occurred. I have learned to see the magic in nature, which my Christian friends inform me is God. My Pagan friends would likely agree, though their gods are many.

My mom thinks I believe in the wormhole aliens from DS9.  She had asked if I somehow have projected my beliefs into outer-space. This is not the case, though I am considering the possibility that gods are also supernatural extraterrestrial beings.

I see many similarities in the way Pagans practice their religion and in the way Christians practice their religion. For example, the other day I was told by Christian to open the Bible to a random page, there I would find my answer. Pagans call this divination. It isn’t really all that different from drawing a random Tarot card, or opening up to a random page of any old book. It is predicated on the belief that at random we can find answers.

A friend of mine suggested that this works because in fact because we are part of the God and goddess. We already know the answer, we just need assistance recognize it. Scientists would argue this is just a self-fulfilling prophecy. We don’t know anything, we simply react to what we see and assume that it is true, bringing about the intended result.

Similarly, prayer and spell casting are very similar. When I do a spell, I’m essentially putting out energy into the universe asking for an intended result. If it works the universe agreed to my request. If it didn’t then nothing happens. When you pray, you ask for an intended results. If your prayers answered that it is well but the will of God, if it is not God simply didn’t want it to happen. Of course, this is a massive oversimplification of both magic and prayer.

Science has shown that the universe is both complicated and beautiful. This may be one of the few things that all religions could agree upon. The difference I find, as the some religions rely so deeply on faith, that they fail to be able to see what is in front of them. Science can be eloquently demonstrated, but means nothing to them. This simply makes no sense to me. I am willing to consider opposing viewpoints, but I struggle to understand why someone who would reject what they see in order to cling to an unseen.  This is why I struggle to wrap my head around faith.