Not Your Life, Not Your Soul

I’ve talked about this before—this being the religious rights of young children and infants. Circumcision, where it is not medically necessary (in most cases, it is not), should not be practiced upon infants or upon children too young to give informed consent (if you’re too young to have a say in which parent should have custody of you in a divorce, you’re too young to consent to minor elective surgery).

And I have mentioned that infant baptism is creepy as hell. And please do not misunderstand my meaning—if you are fifteen or twenty and you decide that you are a Christian and want to dedicate yourself to whichever denomination of that faith, more power to you. Get baptized. If you decide on Judaism or Islam, then, by all means, get circumcised. At such a time as you are capable of making that decision for yourself.

I understand the mechanics of baptism—which, depending upon the denomination or the family, ranges from a pledge by the family to raise the infant as a Christian to claiming the child’s soul for the Christian God to divinely cleansing the infant of spiritual evil (sin) believed to be inherent to all humans. As with all religious rites, some members of faith communities treat these as expected social events and give them no more thought than one would a bridal shower, while others hold baptism and other early religious rites as being of vital spiritual importance—as well as mandatory.

Please stop it. Like the title says—it’s not your life. It’s not your soul. This extends beyond infancy and early childhood. If you are a Christian and your thirteen-year-old wants to start reading about Theravada Buddhism or another denomination of Christianity or otherwise does not believe what you do—that’s normal.

Adolescence is a standard time for children to begin striking out on their own in small ways—questioning the political views of their parents, seeking alternative activities ( Like the cliche: “But you love football.” “No, dad. You love football! I like ballet!”), discovering where they fit in socially, and very likely reconsidering their religious beliefs. Atheists may take up an interest in Jesus. Reform Jews may look into Orthodox Judaism. Agnostics may start reading about contemporary Paganism.

It’s called being in high school. Students are more open about it in larger schools, when greater diversity makes them feel more comfortable being honest with themselves (my school had about a dozen Pagan students and you were likely to have an openly LGBT classmate in every class, especially by senior year—but, in college, I met people who never met a non-Christian until high school).

It’s also called growing up.

If you’re a Methodist and you are worried that your child may leave the church because he or she is reading about Buddhism in his or her free time, relax. Sometimes, students just read about their friends’ beliefs, or for school projects. And sometimes looking at other faiths can help you to put your own into perspective—and to strengthen your preexisting beliefs. Faith is not worth anything if it cannot be challenged.

Now, in some religions (namely, the Abrahamic religions), being outside of the faith is believed to have severe consequences—beyond simply making one’s parents uncomfortable. I’m a Pagan. Specifically, an eclectic Revivalist. If my child became a Buddhist or an atheist or a Christian, my response would be mild, mostly silent, disappointment. I would much prefer that to a child who did sports, dangerous drugs, or worse, was an otherkin. That’s it. I would never raise my child to be a member of my faith. I would not withhold affection or financial support or dangle incentives in the hopes of getting a hollow admission of adherence.

Why? Because, in any religion, accepting a label and having genuine belief and devotion are radically different. Going through the motions without true belief is completely meaningless.

You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink. Your children are not equines—in this metaphor, you can recommend your favorite drinking spots and watch them figure it out for themselves. That way, if they choose the same one that you chose, whether they are in middle school or college or later in adulthood, it will actually mean something.

(Christians are certainly taking notice of drops in church attendance and religious adherence among their children who go to college and, for the first time, find that they have a choice. Give them a choice earlier on, and they’re more likely to make one that will make you happy. Even if they make another choice, it will still be their choice.)

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Wintry Mix

photo of holiday versus christmas pictures
As I may have mentioned, I can be a bit less than fuzzy during the holiday season for a few reasons. A friend of mine was, I kid you not, referred to as a terrorist the other day at work because she told someone “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.”

A terrorist.

Anyway, though I lived in the mountains for five years (not like Katniss Everdeen or actual terrorist Eric Rudolph, but it was the same mountains) and delighted in the weather (it is not often that I feel that it is cold enough for me to need to wear long pants outdoors, but there, I could feel cold even when thoroughly bundled up. A bit of a pain at times, but wonderful, and highly preferable to being too warm. You can always bundle up more—even if you are alone or in the right company, you don’t get any less dressed than naked, and being naked and still being too warm is the worst. And where I live now, well, even a light dusting of snow would be a pleasant surprise. It has been in the 70s for a total of like a week this December, and, as I write this, we are only two weeks into the month. Blurg.

Right, so. This time of year, I do have some music that I enjoy listening to. It is not really the traditional music* for this time of year (i.e. Christmas carols—I don’t really hear Spin The Dreidel in grocery stores too often), but it is my playlist, and I enjoy it. So here it is! Because . . . feminism.

Ahem. Here is my playlist. I call it “Wintery Mix,” because forecasters say that and because I am easily amused.

1) Christmas Tree, by Lady Gaga (featuring Space Cowboy)

This one is pretty obvious. I love this song. I love the sound of this song. I love the lyrics to this song. I love the attitude. If you are, for some reason, unfamiliar, the line: “Ho, ho, ho, under the mistletoe” should provide you with a clue. I love slutty music. Also, I assume that by “Christmas tree,” she means her lady-parts, but I have not the faintest idea how she’s seeing it as a tree. But whatever.

2) Cool, by Gwen Stefani

This one is, um, really just because of the song title? I know, it’s abhorrently simple. But …

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The Dead Come Back Home On Samhain

photo of halloween pictures
Halloween, All Hallows Eve, Gay Christmas, and various other names that get increasingly goofy, is coming up at the end of this month. I am always so excited. Halloween is a fun time of the year (unless you’re one of those fun people who calls it The Devil’s Night in all seriousness and passes out bible tracts to unsuspecting children), and not just because everything that 30 Rock said about gay Halloween parties is true (but it is all true).

The last time that I dressed up for Halloween, it was in a white-and-blue dress as Her Imperial Majesty, Jadis, Queen Of Narnia (“The White Witch” from The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe). For reference, I am a six-foot-three man.

There is occasionally talk (especially by the scripture-instead-of-candy folks) about Halloween’s origins as “The Devil’s Holiday.” While I don’t believe in the devil (or any other sort of Pointlessly Malevolent Entity), there is a lot of misinformation about the origins of Halloween. On both sides. The Celts celebrated Samhain, but we honestly don’t know that much about it—the Celts weren’t compulsive wall-bloggers like the ancient Egyptians. It had something to do with death, and we know that there was never a deity or other entity by the holiday’s name. We know that ancient cultures from many places throughout the world have holidays around this time that are related to death. Honoring the dead, reburying the dead or tending to their tombs or remains.

The rowdiness aspects of Halloween are modern, arising in the early 1900s. I looked up a wonderful collection of (speculations regarding) the origins of Halloween traditions, and …

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Faith And Gender: Are Women Taken Seriously?

photo of megan fox as a nun pictures
Are female religious leaders taken seriously?

We see deeply religious women taken seriously, in religious or political settings. But when you hear about a female minister or reverend, do you feel the same way that you do about a male minister or a reverend? Do you feel a sense of pride that senseless inequality in church settings is slowly going away?

Or do you start to make assumptions about the woman in question—assumptions about what sort of congregation she has (or wondering if she has a congregation)? Assumptions about her religious and political views (possibly New Age Christianity or ultra-liberal)? You might wonder about these things not because she is a woman, but because of the sorts of cultural circumstances in which many women who are also in positions of religious authority are sometimes found.

I’m not saying whether or not these (hugely unfair) stereotypes are misogynistic or simply unfortunate byproducts of how human minds work. I just want for people to think about how they see women in positions of religious authority. It is important to be consciously aware of your knee-jerk assumptions when you see a woman in the pulpit—if you have those assumptions.

“Religion” is not, of course, a synonym for “Christianity,” and this problem is not limited to Protestant Christianity. There have only been female rabbis since the 1970s (and there still are not in Orthodox Judaism). Nuns are in positions of revered service in Catholicism; they are the female equivalents of monks, not of priests, and do not wield religious authority. There are some female imams, but simply the fact that they are female can be controversial.

Of course, in my religion (and in various faiths within the “umbrella” of Paganism), women can be found in religious positions with at least as much frequency as men, and regarded within the community with as much respect (or, sometimes, greater—though that probably should not be the case). In Vodou, a mambo is the female equivalent of a houngan (priestess and priest). Anywhere in Western society, you will find Pagan communities led by women, or in which Pagan priests and priestesses are on equal footing.

But I wouldn’t say that Pagan women have any advantage over women in other faiths in terms of external perception. Too often, Pagans (from Wiccans to Kemetics to practitioners of Santeria) are either shown as superpowered fantasy characters on television or referred to as people who “claim to be” in news reports. Neither of which carry the kind of respect that women (or men) who are serving their religious communities deserve.

What about you? Do you have any thoughts on these stereotypes for women in clergy and other religious positions? Have any of you had experiences with anything like this?

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