I think it confuses people that my name is Christian but my religion isn’t. It confuses them more if they know that I grew up as a Catholic. Especially because the Catholic Church drills home the message that you will be going to Hell in no uncertain terms if you leave the Church. Except, I don’t believe in Hell. Never have. Which is one of the rumblings I had in my head as I shifted away from hierarchical religion and embraced loose-leaf spirituality in adulthood.
I call this a “Forbidden Topic,” because it’s one of those no win issues. Consider the United States, where I live. Though 75% of the U.S. population follows Christianity, a segment of this population feels oppressed each autumn/winter when Christmas rolls around. Stoked on by infotainment hosts on television and the radio, people get upset over the term “Happy Holidays” or when someone in this country built on secularism wishes that public land not be used to single out one religion over all others. Yet, Christmas is ubiquitous on television, radio, and in the movies. Stores are decorated for Christmas around October 15th. Radio stations switch their music to holiday tunes around November 1. And yards spring up with lights and figurines shortly thereafter. Still, some people perceive themselves as aggrieved and oppressed.
But, let’s consider European Druids, not the neo-pagans of today, but the folks who lived in the Middle Ages. Consider: Religious inquisitors killed many who did not share their faith. Churches outlawed pagan symbols – a fir tree placed in the house near Winter Solstice, wreaths made of the fir tree, candle light, belief in elves, and mystical thoughts or substances that created the idea of flying reindeer. When prohibition didn’t work, the churches usurped these pagan traditions, recasting their symbolism to fit their own needs. All but pushing out the originators of these celebrations. Is that not oppression?
Or, let’s look at indigenous Amazonian cultures of Central and South America. Promised wealth, members of native tribes are convinced to shirk the culture handed down to them through the ages to convert to a monotheistic hierarchical religion. Thoughts of equality and innocence disappear and division grows as those who refuse to change become outcasts and centuries of wisdom disappear. Rather than looking for coexistence, a more peaceful obliteration than the Inquisition occurs. A bloodless coup. Is not something important lost?
I grieve for those people, because different choices would ensure greater diversity and more happiness on this planet. Let us let everyone believe in the mythology they choose undisturbed. If they choose none, let’s honor that, too.
Each November, as the War on Christmas heats up, I will see a very angry Facebook post that reads, “It’s Merry Christmas, NOT Happy Holidays!” Around this time, I will post information about the co-opted symbols and the spiritual paths that are endangered by a dominance theory that leaves no room for coexistence. And shortly thereafter, I get excoriated for noting this. Apparently I manage to ruin Christmas for some people by November 16th, even though I spend all of ten minutes each year throwing together a few posts. This year it culminated with one friend slapping both sides of my face. First I learned, “No one cares about what happened in the past!” Then, I was told that my daughter is going to have a miserable childhood if I teach her truthful history and don’t participate in certain rituals.
The first admonition was really a truism. Very few people seem to care about history, or at least accurate history that involves the uglier side of things. We want to believe everything about what is dear to us has a sheen of perfection and might not involve ill-gotten gains. But some things have a dark side. Understanding those truths can make us better as we practice our rituals and pass them down. It could even chip away at dominance theory so prevalent in religious conversation and introduce us to peaceful coexistence and inclusion. Seventy-five percent is not a whole and for two months, twenty-five percent of our U.S. brothers and sisters are left out in the cold. When you are not part of the majority, you recognize this a whole lot more.
The other part was quite personal and inspired many mean ideas inside my head. I kept them to myself and I answered with as much even-handedness as I could, noting that we have vibrant traditions or will be creating them for our family. They might not be what everyone else does, but it doesn’t make them less valid. Further, I don’t know how understanding the truth and learning compassion for others will make our daughter miserable.
Sara and I are still figuring out how to bridge the earth-based spirituality we hold dear with the traditions of the people we love. We are involved in the early stages of our own journey, so we’re sort of winging it as we go. I haven’t figured out what’s necessary in terms of a deity, though I do believe in a spiritual energy that is hard to perceive in our quite literal narrow-mindedness. (We use so little of our brain, after all.) Is that a god or a goddess? Or Mama Earth? The ancestors? Can it be all of them? Or none? Well, it’s not none to me. I’m open to the possibilities.
As for raising our daughter, it is hard to venture away from the safety in numbers that was organized religion. It’s a common language that the whole country speaks, because 82% of the population affiliates with some sort of organized religion. We’re quite fond of working with the seasons and looking at the earth-based celebrations that go with them. We don’t want to reclaim them from those who recast them; rather we want to celebrate on par with the predominant conversation. Because holidays are in the air as winter approaches, we’ve become fond of Winter Solstice as our touchstone. It looks as though our cohort will celebrate that day and then we will branch to our extended family and celebrate U.S.-cultural Christmas with them on their days of celebration. Our daughter will have Father Winter gifts in our home and Santa gifts elsewhere. Coexistence, not dominance.
But dominance exists. We’re going to have a lot more questions to answer, because one message dominates our society. When I worked at an herb shop, people talked to me in matter-of-fact tones that told me to agree with them when they discussed Jesus or God. They didn’t even pause to think that maybe I did not possess their worldview. Perhaps it was that first name of mine confusing them. I would listen and nod along. And as I have drifted more toward the security of my chosen path, I’ve noticed just how much conversation is dotted as such. So, we’ve been more open, too. Our holiday card declares, “Warm Solstice Greetings.”
And here’s where the diversity of belief systems in this country is key. It provides learning opportunities. We will raise our daughter (or children if another comes along) within a set of traditions that we will make our own. She will know about the traditions the people we love hold dear and celebrate the commonality within both. And someday, she might come to us, the way we did with our parents, and tell us that she has found a fork in the road. Maybe it will be organized. Maybe it will be new. Maybe it will be nothing at all. Whatever she chooses will be right for her. If she truly owns it, it will be a vibrant, beautiful, and rich experience for her.
And hopefully it won’t involve a creepy elf on a shelf.
That said, the start of Spring is just around the corner. The pagans called it Ostara or Eostre. You might know it by a different name. Have a happy one!