“Human presence is a creative and turbulent sacrament, a visible sign of invisible grace”. John O'Donohue

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Dogma

dog·ma

1. an official system of principles or tenets concerning faith, morals, behaviour, etc., as of a church. doctrine, teachings, set of beliefs, philosophy.
2. a specific tenet or doctrine authoritatively laid down, as by a church: the dogma of the Assumption the recently defined dogma of papal infallibility. tenet, canon, law.
3. prescribed doctrine proclaimed as unquestionably true by a particular group: the difficulty of resisting political dogma.
4. a settled or established opinion, belief, or principle: the classic dogma of objectivity in scientific observation. conviction, certainty.


As I write the title of this post, I feel the tension creeping up the back of my neck. Even the word makes me tense. So why am I choosing to write about it? Well, it's has come up for me and my writings here come out of what comes up, practically, intuitively and spiritually. In the "about me" page I talk of shying away from dogma. An intrinsic rejection, perhaps of being told what to do.

I do a lot of reading. Books and blogs and websites on the topics of spirituality. And I come across lots of pagan sites all of which claim, emphatically that paganism is not dogmatic. And, do you know, I am not entirely sure that's the case. Ironically, this insistence on lack of dogma, seems to me rather like dogma! Most of these declarations are followed with a lengthy description of what paganism is and perhaps more significantly, what paganism isn't!

I have just read the following (from a established organisation representing pagans worldwide)

"A religion without goddesses can hardly be classified as Pagan." 

Oh?..

I have never been 100% comfortable with describing myself as pagan. Because I am not entirely comfortable with labels or with defining myself as one thing or another. I have a practical Earth based spirituality which is generally accepted as falling under the pagan banner. And I have found kinship and a sense of belonging in my pagan community.  But I  also accept many aspects of other faiths and I am not entirely sure that my belonging is not dependent of believing certain things and by the same token, rejecting certain things. Readers of this blog will know that I embrace Hindu, Taoist, Buddhist, Native American, Sufi and Christian mystic teachings along with any of the vast range of practices that might fall under the pagan banner.

A good example, I suppose is Christmas, as the season is upon us. I have no issue with celebrating the Midwinter festivals in all their guises. I celebrate the Solstice and Christmas.  And I know many others who do the same. I am not a Christian, but I happily celebrate and honour the idea and symbolism of the birth of Christ. And why shouldn't I? It is part of my cultural heritage.

This doesn't sit easily with some as they feel it is disrespectful to a faith to cherry-pick in this way. And I acknowledge and honour this, being very mindful of cultural appropriation. I do not practice what I don't fully understand or integrate (my own practice honours Celtic spirituality) but I do acknowledge the truth and teachings of other faiths and use those practices which are appropriate for me to use.

By creating community we also create rules. It allows groups and organisations to function. But this also determines who should be be part of the community and who shouldn't. Rules of belonging. And in spiritual communities, these rules of belonging can also be about what we believe or don't believe.
Perhaps  "an official system of principles or tenets concerning faith, morals, behaviour, etc." ? Dogma, even? A way of deciding who belongs and who doesn't.

There is more to say about this idea of belonging and community. As I leave this particular post I still feel uneasy. I feel on the edges of belonging.  

2 comments:

  1. It's hard to feel that I belong when my beliefs are not the same as those around me. It's hard to feel I belong when my practices are different from others I meet with and I find myself compromising what I want to do with what I feel others will be comfortable with too.

    And yet...

    Spirit speaks to spirit with no words. Connections are made through shared experiences and emotional ties. Belonging in a group doesn't need to mean thinking the same way as the rest, doesn't mean feeling the same as the rest. Belonging is feeling accepted with my differences.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Potia, you are right. The feeling of not quite belonging is very much my own. I suppose at the heart of belonging is the need or desire to be loved and accepted for who we are. In a spiritual community, this cuts deep to our true essence, so in many ways, that sense or desire for, or expectation of, acceptance can feel even more vital. Of course, there is always complete acceptance by spirit, so in many ways this is ironic. I am conscious though that in groups, there is always a "we" and from time to time individuals may feel more or less part of that concensus. In most groups, there are also leaders, and this can have a huge impact on the sense of belonging of the others. I have encountered so many "gatekeepers" on my pagan journey. Deciders of my fate, of whether I should belong or not. It takes a lot of strength of will to continue on your own unique path and retain that sense of belonging at the same time. So I suppose what I was reflecting was a sense of tiredness at having to work so hard at it. xxx

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