Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Religion versus Spirituality: What a Crock!

The annoyance came to me while on Facebook. This picture (to the left), posted by a couple people on the same day, right on the heels of a debate that I had (in a small group of pagan-esque seekers) about cultural appropriation in spiritual practices.

In the debate, one particularly offensive member of the group misquoted Crowley (stating, "do what thou wilt" as a way of saying- "appropriate away, if it works for you".) I cringed, then took on that issue. And took it on, and took it on, and took it on.

Because the idea that we are ENTITLED to whatever we are attracted to is pervasive in this culture- and people fight to keep that "entitlement". No one wants to believe that they are being racist or some similar ism.

It has been couched as the "religion versus spirituality" debate. But that is a false trope.

The media tells us we "deserve" what we desire through news, commercials, and entertainment. Most people in the United States (and elsewhere) actually believe it. (If you can afford it, that is. This is why I think cultural and spiritual appropriation are so commonplace in the US- it's essentially low cost or free (monetarily speaking)- so anyone can do it.) But theology is not for sale. Anyone telling you otherwise is a religious profiteer. These folks are usually selling you a book, a workshop, or something from their pagan shop most of the time, ever notice that? How convenient eclecticism is for these folks who have something to sell- there's always a new product line!

It is my experience that people who appropriate other people's spiritual practices, cherry picking this and that without deep understanding of historical or theological context (and studying those traditions in depth for quite some time) are hella defensive about their "practices"- defending them by calling names ("bullies" or "elitists") on those who would call them out on their offenses.

So people fight me on this point A LOT:
"It works for me."
"Who are you to criticize someone else's spiritual practices?"
"Each path is individual! You do what works for you, I'll do what works for me."

Do you notice any commonalities in those statements? The common thread is ME ME ME.

From my original Facebook rant:
The word religion actually means "to retie" and the function of religion is to retie a person to everything else. It's about connection (for my religion, it re-ties me to other creatures (including humans), other living beings (plants, non-corporeals), and the land. 
Spirituality is about individualism "I do this, this works for ME". It is about the individual (which is why it works so well in capitalist systems- everyone is looking for the shiny new thing right out of the package. This works well for Deepak and all the other capitalist gurus out there, be they New age, pagan, or otherwise.)  
People who insist on only doing things THEIR WAY never advance spiritually. They pick things that are comfortable. Religion isn't about comfort- it's about connection. And damn if that isn't uncomfortable some days (anyone who takes public transit knows what I mean.)
I call bullshit on individualism wrapped up in a "spiritual" package.

Irresponsible eclecticism is cultural appropriation. It is white supremacist thinking (regardless of who individually is appropriating). It is capitalism** applied to theology. Which I also call "New Age"- because New Age is about providing a product or service, for a cost, to address your "spiritual need". It's the "take a pill" mentality.

And make no mistake, Deepak Chopra is all about New Age thinking. He profits wildly from "spiritual" capitalism pumping out feel-good platitudes that challenge no one. Because again, spirituality is not about challenge. It's supposed to make you feel good about what you are already doing or not doing. It may inspire a new hobby or interest- but only so far. "Spirituality" is for dabblers.***

This picture's sentiment irritates the crap outta me, particularly in pagan circles. We should be better than this. Our ideas, theologies, holidays, and more were appropriated by folks that wanted to convert or exterminate us. And we do it to others? No, I say. And I will speak out when I see it happening.

Deepak is so fucking wrong- the quote is just plain wrong. Religion is a set of traditions but it does not exclude personal experience at all. There is room for gnosis in religion. And religion does not *have to* include belief. My religion does not need belief, as I have experience and deep gnosis that tells me what is true. Deepak is being reactionary and throwing the baby out with the bathwater (for a tidy sum, I'll add snarkily).

"Spirituality", on the other hand, is a watered down term that is basically meaningless because there is no specificity. It could be anything. Just like that term "pagan".

*It should go without saying (but because this is the internet, I will say it anyway to avoid assumptions on the part of a reader) not ALL authors, shop keeps, or teachers are cultural appropriators (or even eclectics). Many are deeply rooted in a specific tradition and do the work of their calling. But beware of eclectics and dabblers who ride the latest wave of shiny (This week, traditional craft! Last week: conjure!). They have no substance.

** I can criticize capitalism for multiple blog posts in and of itself, but for the sake of this post, when I say "capitalism" think, "making money off of anything and everything possible- including ideas and other living creatures".

***There is nothing wrong with dabbling. I have dabbled in plenty of things. But call your "practice" what it is. Dabbling does not a complete theology make. Dabbling does not lead to mastery. And that is what a true religion does- religion is designed to make us masters of ourselves. And that means tackling the hard stuff.

Sidebar: I understand that many criticisms of religion (ie. "organized religion" or abrahamic religion, or even more narrowly, Christianity) come from people eschewing all organization and structure. They do this because they have been stung by hierarchy. Shit, we ALL have. But that approach is foolish.
Structure and hierarchy are not the same thing. (Shit, even the word hierarchy has been co-opted. It doesn't have to mean "unilateral power over people and things". It simply means "structure" too. ) And ALL living things need to have a structure to survive and thrive.  Folks who have valid criticisms of systems of power and their abuse owe it to themselves and the struggle to know what it is that you are criticizing and to be specific about it.

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